This poem came out of the April 16, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from whuffle. It also fills the #5 Epicurean slot in the Rainbowfic Sunlight list. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the series Path of the Paladins.
People still tried.
No matter how bad things got,
somebody made an effort
to cling to the trappings of civilization.
It gave Shahana hope,
in a world with little of that left.
"Agreed," Shahana said,
shaking the spice merchant's brown hand.
"We will travel with you to the next town
in exchange for a share of your cargo."
"We're getting paid in spices?"
Ari said. "What in the world
are we supposed to do with those?"
what it was to be a peasant girl
with no more knowledge of seasonings
than mouse garlic and wild thyme
and whatever else might come from
an herb garden or a trip in the woods.
"We can eat them. We can trade them,"
Shahana explained. "We can learn about them,
for the spice merchant is sure to know his wares
and how to use them all to best advantage."
So they did, for Navish devoted himself
to the epicurean philosophy of comfort,
not just for himself, but for everyone around him.
"I find awe and reverence in things of beauty,"
Navish explained. "Pretty pictures, delicious flavors --
why are they in the world if not to inspire
our worship for those who made them?"
He stirred a pot of stew thick with peppercorns
and laurel leaves, onions and venison.
"The gods may not walk this world all the time,
but they've left us tools enough to do their work."
Shahana and Ari learned about
the earthy golden taste of saffron
and the peppery verve of redpetal
as they ate rice the color of sunlight.
They learned about star anise
and moon lavender, making cookies
in a lidded skillet nestled in the campfire coals
while Navish sang a song from his distant homeland.
"Did you know that you can stir your tea
with a stick of cinnamon, then dry the stick
and use it again tomorrow?" Navish asked
one morning as he made the tea.
"We do now," Ari said with a laugh,
and sure enough, it worked.
The smell of cinnamon in tea
would forever remind them of these mornings.
When a quartet of Gorrein's men
stopped the caravan to demand its goods,
Shahana and Ari faced them down.
"You will not take what does not belong to you,"
Shahana said to them, hand on her sword hilt.
"We will not leave empty-handed,"
their leader retorted, eyeing the caravan.
Navish eased the way with free samples,
plying the hungry mercenaries with
small packets of redpetal and moon lavender,
candied ginger and dried passionfruit.
"We could have stood them off,"
Ari said staunchly.
"Of course," said Navish,
"and if I'd been without you,
they might have taken everything.
This way, though, they may get a taste
for finer things in life than the point of a sword."
Ari could not argue with that,
and Shahana smiled
to see the girl thinking it over.
When they parted company with the caravan,
they took with them a small box of spices.
It was a good thing to have, for eating and trading;
Shahana and Ari were grateful for such bounty.
They took also their memories,
and small fragrant mementos
of the epicurean caravan.
Shahana kept a stick of cinnamon
long after it had done all it could for her tea,
folded into a scrap of fabric.
Ari retained a single star of anise
among her tiny collection of keepsakes,
threaded on a bit of yarn to make a necklace.
Sometimes, when the harsh world wore them down,
they would take out these touchstones
and remember the sweetness
of hope for better days.
* * *
Navish has rather sneakily handed out free samples of spices with a calming quality.