The queen presided over the banquet but he couldn’t help but notice that she barely touched any sort of food. And when she did; there was a look of utter disappointment on her face, as if the fare, rich beyond anything he’d ever known, wasn’t good enough. He couldn’t determine why the young monarch would deem the repast she served her guests unsatisfying. Wouldn’t she have changed cooks if the one in the kitchen didn’t meet her expectations?
And how could the queen think the meal wasn’t good? It was delicious, better than anything he’d ever had; and he’d visited many kingdoms in his years as an emissary to his own King. He could honestly declare the dinner surpassed any he’d ever tasted. The smooth, almost silky boletus mushroom veloute, slithered down his throat leaving a slight aftertaste, which made him certain the cook had used a dash of dry vermouth. It enhanced the taste of the mushroom in the most fascinating manner. The fine white wine they served with it had the tiniest taste of oak and was as creamy as the dish it accompanied.
The wild boar was phenomenal stimulating his tastebuds in a way he hadn’t known in years; more often than not, the roast was overcooked and the sauce too thick. Here there was a marriage of the boar wildness, earthiness with the lightness almost airiness of the sauce in which it rested. The clump of green beans and the jelly of redcurrant offered the perfect contrast of salt and sweet.
And what to say about the fantastic dessert? He could rave forever about the perfect association of hot and cold, sweet and sour: cold sorbet bathing in hot caramel or chocolate, the cake of cherry and redcurrant with a dash of ginger to flavour it all.
So really the queen’s disgruntled look left him wondering. And though he was a plenipotentiary and the ambassador to a king, whose grace and manners were famous and respected, he must know. So when she left the table, while her guests were still gorging themselves on fruit and pastries, which – by their looks – would make any person in their right mind melt, he followed. Any other representative of another court might have been sent away, but his kind was known for their tendency to disregard the rules assigned to mortals. He was a leprechaun after all. And pushing his luck was something he must do. He was after all a lucky one.
So when she turned to face him, whatever annoyance she might have felt but not shown, disappeared. She smiled. Like every other person she knew: satisfy a leprechaun’s curiosity and you might get more in return.
“What can I do for you Master Seamus?”
“Ah you might answer a question bothering me.”
“And what might it be?”
“Well, I couldn’t help but notice the meal left you… unsatisfied.”
There was no mistake: her face looked sad as she considered his question. But she offered no denial; nor did she dismiss him. She might still have done so; he was after all smaller than she and there were guards around. Instead she led him in one of the side room and showed him a seat.
“It’s a long story.”
“We like stories you know.”
“Yes. I remember.”
She wove her tale as any tale weaver of the Elven court.
Once there was a king and a queen; they loved their comfort. They had the best cook, the best tailors, the best musicians. They loved the good things of life: food, music, family, wealth. And when the queen eventually got pregnant their happiness knew no bound. The queen’s appetite for tasty food increased during her pregnancy; thus the King called upon the best cooks and chef of the realm to satisfy his wife’s cravings. Many came only to leave dismissed, some disgraced. For in her quest for the best food to ensure her baby grew strong and healthy, the queen became quite virulent in her critics.
One woman came from an unknown place; maybe beyond the border of the realm. Nobody ever found out. She prepared a full meal for the queen. At the end, the royal criticized everything harshly, no matter how her husband tried to soften the blow: he had enjoyed the meal, but nothing could find grace in his wife’s eyes. The appetizers were too heavy, the soup too watery, the entree had no finesse and the dessert could have been prepared by a child. That woman cursed the queen’s child, who was responsible for its mother’s meanness. Never would this child be able to taste any food, any wine… Everything would pass through her mouth without ever titillating her tastebuds, without her ever getting any satisfaction from a dinner well prepared.
It took some years to realize the princess had no sense of taste. But she appeared as unimpressed by chocolate and sweets as she was by brocoli or asparagus. In vain did the king look for the woman who cursed his child. Years passed and the monarchs passed leaving the young princess to rule. She didn’t dismiss the cook or the kitchen’s staff; she left the duty of replacing the old one to her seneschal who could determine the quality of the candidates.
She could still smell the food and the wine… And she could tell, it smelled wonderful; it must be just as wonderful to eat. So every time she took a bite she would hope that maybe, finally she would taste it. Every time it would be a disappointment, a stab of pain because everyone around her enjoyed it.
It was so very sad: eating was one of the greatest pleasures of life, and this lass didn’t get to enjoy it at all. Maybe he could do something.
“I know leprechauns are lucky but I don’t know if you can help.”
“I can try.”
“What would you like in exchange?”
There was a hint of weariness in her voice, as if she expected him to make some unreasonable request.
“My King would like you to consider a suit from one of his sons.”
“No promise of marriage?”
“No… That would be dishonest of me. And it would make you a hostage of luck. That is not how it works.”
“Thank you Master Seamus.”
He bowed, as the young queen stood and left the room, her back straight against the pain she felt. It was a worthy quest to embark upon.