Chapter 24:

The Essential Spice

Atk 0 Crit All ~My attack stat is negligible, so I can't help but rely on critical hits to succeed!~

Though I was out of immediate danger, I still had to deliver the promise of a selection of cuisine that all worked well with nutmeg. With two guards accompanying me, I made my way to the Faulkner trading company to request for the ingredients I would need to make it happen. They had returned the cart to me along with the barrels of nutmeg to work with.Bookmark here

As I approached the building, Eryn's uncle, Roland, was standing there waiting for me with his arms crossed. I hopped off the cart and looked at him, who returned a rigid stare. Suddenly, he drew back his arm and socked me in the cheek. The blow only stung a bit due to my reasonably high defense stat.Bookmark here

"That's some risk that you took there. C'mon in. I already heard the news. If you manage to succeed, then I'll take back that swing."Bookmark here

Roland had already been notified about Eryn's current condition. Pietro and Carina were currently looking after her with a priest from the church. That was one load off my shoulder.Bookmark here

Roland and I went to an empty table as I discussed with him about my plans. I had initially planned to make some sweets that paired well with nutmeg, but Roland had given me full access to his storehouse of goods.Bookmark here

"Let's see. Eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, pasta, apples, squash…" I continued to circle off as many ingredients and spices that I thought may be useful from the papers Roland handed to me. Every so often, my hand would hover over something that I had never heard of, so I'd look at Roland questionably. He asked people to fetch a sample for me to taste. In the process, I had found similar ingredients from my world that were just under a different name. There was still much for me to learn. For the moment, I was satisfied with the breadth of ingredients that I had to work with.Bookmark here

After I had completed my list of needs, Roland turned around and barked orders to the staff to gather them up. In the meantime, I would need a place to experiment. As if reading my mind, Roland motioned for me to follow him. He led me to a nearby tavern, as the guards followed me.Bookmark here

"You can use this place. I'm friends with the owner, and he said he could use a vacation."Bookmark here

Soon afterwards, the trading company staff came back with the supplies I needed.Bookmark here

"Good luck. I'm expecting a hefty return on the investment I'm making. Gwahaha~," Roland said as he left the tavern.Bookmark here

He had spoken like a true merchant catching wind of the next big thing. Suddenly left alone, except for the two guards, I started having some doubts as to how good things would turn out. I shook my head to clear my thoughts.Bookmark here

"It won't do me any good to think too hard. Gotta just dive right in."Bookmark here

I first had to make some test samples. Taking the ingredients I had available, I began measuring and mixing a batch of batter. It was the same routine as making cakes for Eryn before, but now I had to prove that the spice in the barrel was indeed the nutmeg that I thought of. Pretty soon, I had the batter in the oven, and a sweet, fragrant smell drifted into the air. So far, it aligned with my memories. When the cake was done, I cut a piece and tried it. Sweet and spicy, with a complex mixture of flavors, the signature taste of a spice cake. Not too shabby.Bookmark here

Just then, I heard a stomach grumble. One of the guards had grown an appetite from the scent. I offered him a piece, but he simply rejected it without giving me a reason. A pity…it was pretty tasty.Bookmark here

A knock echoed from the front door, interrupting us. There, Katsys had shown up, holding something in her hands. It was the mixer that I had requested. I totally forgot about that!Bookmark here

"Um…I was told that you'd be here, Claude."Bookmark here

"Oh, thanks! Just what I needed!"Bookmark here

It took a bit of effort to mix the cake batter properly, so I was wondering if I had to limit my creations. I wanted to verify if this would make things easier. I immediately went to work making something new. This time, mixing sugar, butter, and milk in a bowl, I supplied the mixer with mana, watching it whirl in the air before I brought it to the mixture. Within minutes, the contents had turned into a frothy frosting that perfectly accompanied the spice cake. The feeling of the mixer in my hand felt so right at that moment.Bookmark here

Spooning a bit from the bowl and glazing a piece of cake, I held it up to the ever-curious Katsys, who had been watching over my shoulder. She bent forward as I watched the slice of cake in my hand disappear into the hood she was wearing. I felt a slight nibble on the tip of my fingers before she drew back quickly.Bookmark here

"Th-Thish ish diricious!" She exclaimed with her mouth full.Bookmark here

Well, that's one happy customer down. I was thankful that someone else was there to try the cake, as it gave me a boost of confidence in what I was doing.Bookmark here

"Hey Claude, I heard all about what you're trying to do here. It's a bit of a shock. To think that a mysterious drug would end up being used as an ingredient for food, you're a bit on the strange side."Bookmark here

"But it's pretty common from where I came from."Bookmark here

"I know. Which is why you interest me. I feel like sticking with you will bring me good ideas…Say, would it be fine if I joined you in your creations?"Bookmark here

"Not at all. I could use another hand in the kitchen. I'd be glad to have some help."Bookmark here

Katsys suddenly brightened up and was eager to get started. As I began working on my next dish, I handed my new 'sous chef' simple tasks to take care of as part of each creation. The more I cooked, the more adventurous I started feeling as I fought with my memories to imitate what I had seen before. Moving away from confectioneries, I ventured to soups and entrees, all using nutmeg as the star ingredient. My passion soon spread to Katsys as she scrambled to keep up with each portion given to her.Bookmark here

As evening approached, the dining table had been lined with a spread of different foods that were fit for royalty. By the time I realized that it had gotten this late, I suddenly felt very tired. My hands were also trembling, partially from exhaustion and partially from the excitement which hadn't died down. Katsys and I both sunk to the floor to catch our breaths. Our mutual passion to create had kept each other going beyond our normal limits. Guess we should eat some of the food to recover.Bookmark here

At some point in our meal, Cornelius and Roland showed up to check on us. The guards were excused as Cornelius took over guard duty, along with one of his men. The guards dashed away as soon as they had been relieved. I was disappointed that they didn't want to try some of the food that we had made.Bookmark here

However, the newcomers had no qualms about partaking in the feast, as they happily tasted the dishes.Bookmark here

"This is delectable!" Cornelius said in between bites of butternut squash soup.Bookmark here

"Amazing! This really hits my tastes!" Roland was currently chowing down on chicken glazed with Béchamel sauce.Bookmark here

The guard that Cornelius brought with him was eating wordlessly with tears running down his face.Bookmark here

As dinner winded down and our stomachs full, Roland turned to me with narrowed eyes.Bookmark here

"Surprising that this food here was all made with that one spice in mind, but what's the game plan? I take it that you weren't just planning to cook a bunch of food, eh?"Bookmark here

"Yes, there is still the problem with the drug trade and people being made to overdose. How do we convince others of your intentions?" Cornelius placed his hands together in the classic Gendo Ikari pose.Bookmark here

"If this spice becomes a popular commodity, then there should be no reason for it to exist in the black market as a drug, right?"Bookmark here

I thought about how strange it was for nutmeg to be abused in such a way, but perhaps part of the initial charm had been that it was a new and mysterious product imported from elsewhere. Certainly, there were cases of people abusing it back home, but the general populace had no idea of its drug-like properties.Bookmark here

"If I can demonstrate how much it can enhance the quality of food, won't buyers be grabbing it up for that purpose then?"Bookmark here

"True. And the rumors of it being a drug would die down with it." Cornelius nodded in agreement.Bookmark here

"With that said, that means that I'll have to secure a trade partner for a constant supply. Best to jump in before any of my competitors catch wind of this." Roland's excitement grew at the prospect of profit.Bookmark here

"Here. Check out these guys." I opened my notebook to the entry which contained the words 'Lumpy Mermaid'.Bookmark here

"I see. Then I shall do some investigation on my own." Cornelius got up to leave. "There were a number of things that bothered me about Knight Madiswil's report, so I've sent my own people out. Be sure to hold out until then."Bookmark here

Each of us parted ways to do our thing, as the day of the exhibition drew near.Bookmark here

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The guild certainly pulled out all the stops. I stared at the marketplace in wonder.Bookmark here

The center square of the marketplace had been reserved solely for my creations, as makeshift booths sprang up. Members of the Faulkner trading company tended to the booths, each advertising a different dish. The attention that it drew from the townspeople gave it an overall feel of a town festival.Bookmark here

Roland had gathered the local cooks the day before the competition and delegated a dish to each of them to follow as per my recipes. With so much help around, the event certainly grew much larger than I had originally expected. While I was glad that someone felt enthusiastic about my cooking, all that attention just made the pressure that much worse.Bookmark here

Roland wouldn't have it any other way though, as it was sure to draw a large number of people his way and make his business flourish.Bookmark here

By the time judging was about to begin, the market square had been filled with onlookers wandering about the square. Castia made her way to a makeshift podium to greet them.Bookmark here

"Welcome, people of Engelberg! I invite you today to sample a new series of cuisine made by Chef Evers of the Faulkner family! The people here will decide today the competency of one who claims that he will revolutionize cooking!"Bookmark here

Though the crowd was somewhat confused, they cheered anyway at the prospect of free food. The townspeople had not been informed that this had been a trial to determine the truth of my statements. It was better to keep it simple, as it was easy enough to gather plenty of judges in this way. My body jittered in anticipation as my fate was left in the hands of the several hundred people that had gathered there.Bookmark here

"With that said, please partake-"Bookmark here

"Wait a minute!" Someone from the crowd shouted. "I heard that this food has been spiked with a drug called GateDown!"Bookmark here

"GateDown?! We don't want to get sick! Are you trying to poison us!?" Another man chimed in.Bookmark here

A few people scattered among the crowd were making objections to the food, leading to the spread of worry and discord among the rest of the onlookers.Bookmark here

I looked over at Stark, who was standing off to the side. He was holding back a laugh but couldn't keep his face from grinning.Bookmark here

'Dammit, he did that on purpose to make people suspect me!' I was growing weary of his constant interference. He was hell-bent on making me fail.Bookmark here

As most people were distracted by the uproar in the crowd, barely anyone had noticed a lone figure covered in a hooded cloak approaching the podium with a large plate of food.Bookmark here

"Excuse me," She said as she casually moved in front of Castia.Bookmark here

Katsys? What are you doing?Bookmark here

"I really don't know how anyone could resist such delicious food that has been placed here," She said between bites. As she pulled off her hood, revealing her face to the crowd, the clamor suddenly ground to a halt as everyone turned their attention to the podium.Bookmark here

"Princess?"Bookmark here

"It's Princess Sistina!"Bookmark here

Members of the crowd started to shout in surprise.Bookmark here

Huh? Was I hearing things right? Did they just say princess?Bookmark here

"My my, Claude. You certainly have friends in high places." Cornelius put a hand on my shoulder.Bookmark here

"Who would have thought that I had been dining in the presence of Princess Katalina Bastia de la Sistina just two days ago?"Bookmark here

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