Story for the Day: Five-Second Rule
Tales from Frewyn: Short Stories from the Haanta Series will be out next month! The volume will feature early stories from the series featuring Rautu, Boudicca, Kai Linaa, Unghaahi, Leraa, Otenohi, Martje, and Alasdair. To give you a peek at the publication, here is one of my favourite stories:
The Five-Second Rule
There was a long-standing rule in the kingdom of Frewyn pertaining to food that had gained tolerable popularity, but while it was followed with decent devoutness, the exact stipulations of this rule had gone mostly unspoken: the Five-Second Rule, though a favourite with many a man in Frewyn, contended that any meal which had the unfortunate claim of falling to the ground might again be picked up if done within the boundaries of five seconds. There were other more precarious iterations of the practice that allowed for a period of ten seconds, but those who kept such a prolonged observance were certain to die from the disease that would latch onto the fallen article within the added time. It was generally unknown when this practice had begun or whence in the kingdom it came, and while it may have begun as a means of salvaging food during times of privation, the rule was soon a settled thing, ingrained into many a mind and practiced by young and old.
Men were the great champions at applying this rule, for those who took their daily feriation in the taverns aspereged about the kingdom became well versed in the art of reclaiming a fallen slice or two during their bouts of mild insobriety. It became a sport, the finer points of which were discussed and remonstrated over pints of Mother Morlund and Go to the Wall. Rules within the rules were made: damp and dirty floors must never be eaten from, cooked meats and steamed foods must be left for the hounds, but anything that was somewhat dry and could be easily swept away might be taken up again and eaten with tolerable comfort.
Fallen food, once assessed by a discerning eye, could not be eaten with careless alacrity; it must first be subjected to the proper scrutiny, must be blown upon and turned over and blown upon again, must be examined for any excessive debris, must be burnished with a somewhat clean hand or polished with a corner of a sleeve, and then it might be passed round and subjected to a public assessment before it could be deemed eatable. All this, seemingly a waste of time and effort, while prized by many a Frewyn farmer, had been used to horrify the Den Asaan. Many time during the Galleisian War had he observed a cern or a captain reclaiming fallen provisions, and while to lose dried beef and cured pork was a terrible thing, it was far more terrible to see a sullied piece, knocked about by many a boot, taken up and eaten. The poor giant agonized over such a practice. He should starve rather than eat something that had been so bemired. His chief horror in the business was in seeing the cerns take up a fallen piece which had been kicked about and trod upon and eat it without any attempt to clean it. The giant’s looks of horrified disdain garnered an explanation: the ground, though dirt itself, was not dirty, and indeed there was no time in a war to bother with cleanliness or epicurism. Disgusted by such an insalubrious practice, the Den Asaan had avowed never to understand it and swore never to accept such a ridiculous rule, but the imminent loss of a piece of Tyfferim Dark, forged by the hands of so skilled a chocolatier, soon changed his mind.
He stood at the kitchen table, unpacking a delivery made to him from Diras Delights, and as Betsiegh was in the secret of the giant’s favourite treats, she had placed the large slab of Tyfferim Dark at the top of the parcel. Instantly, upon opening the box, did the giant attack the chocolate, tearing away the thick brown packing paper with all the fervency that his dependence could excite. His eagerness, however, had been his ruin: a small piece of chocolate broke from the bar as he finished unwrapping it, tumbling down and skittering across the ground, stopping at the foot of the table, waiting patiently to be picked up and admired and eaten. Consternation struck him most forcibly: what was he to do? He could not merely leave it derelict and forlorn, but taking it up only to throw it away should be an unbearable shame.
One second passed. The chocolate remained on the ground, and his heart was racked with sadness. Should he suffer to leave it alone and allow time to decide its fate, or should he stoop and salvage the lonely piece? He might use it as a ruse, he might replace it on the table and wait until Martje were by and have all the joy in watching her eat something that had been sullied by her own floor, but he should never allow the abdominous cook to touch what had been sent for him, regardless of its being dirt-ridden and rejected. Had it been white chocolate or even milk chocolate, he might have consented to leave it where it was, but dark chocolate, regardless of quality, must never be left to one who could not appreciate it with tolerable delectation.
Two seconds were gone, the chocolate was still on the ground, and the giant was still looming over it, his mind slowly conceding to try the Frewyn custom. He began considering and humphing over all the minutiae in the question: had the floor been cleaned lately, had anyone entered the kitchen from the yard, had the larder been swept, were there remnants of soapwort or soda on the ground?
Three seconds, and the giant’s resolve was faltering.
Four seconds. He must retrieve his precious piece whether he would eat it or no. Martje would soon be along to sweep the ovens and prepare the bread, and as he had seen her bend down for a few fallen crumbs of muffin or a half a slice of toast, she should certainly exert herself for a piece of Tyfferim Dark. Never should he relinquish what was rightfully his to her, and at last he resigned himself to the notion that even if he should decide not to eat it, at least it would never find its way to Martje’s plump hands.
Five seconds. His captiousness was lain aside, and he was decided. He bent and took up the piece from the ground. The chocolate had been salvaged, his disquiet was assuaged, and all his equanimity was returning. It was relief overpowering, and seeing that the piece bore no tarnishing made him consider whether the once-fallen piece might not be eaten at last. He examined it from all sides, deemed it in tolerable order, and as he inhaled and prepared to grant it an inaugural huff, Boudicca entered the kitchen, and what was her astonishment upon finding her mate blowing on a small sliver of chocolate.
“Iimon Ghaala,” she exclaimed, “you cannot have just picked that up from the ground.”
The giant looked about, ashamed of his conduct. “Perhaps,” he murmured, turning aside.
“Never did I think I should see you stoop to such base tactics, but I daresay the chocolate should never have forgiven you had you left it on the ground.”
The giant gave her a flat look.
“Well,” said she, the first thrill of horror over with her, “I do hope you blew on it within the recommended five seconds.”
The giant glanced at the piece in his hand and seemed bemused. “I reclaimed it within five seconds.”
“And you waited until the sixth to blow on it? You’re taking your chances there, Iimon Ghaala.”
He sighed and gave the piece of chocolate a longing look. It could not be left to welter in uncertainty. A half a second should make little difference in the case, and once he had bid his mate to give his treat one last assessment and had received her sanction, all was amended, and the chocolate, which had nearly succumbed to ruination, might now be eaten. He smiled at his chocolate, and his smiles grew broader as he relinquished all remaining apprehension and gloried in the fallen piece.
“I thought your scripture says that your people are not permitted to eat from the ground because of the various diseases caused by doing so,” said the commander, suppressing a smirk.
“There are exceptions,” he firmly asserted.
“And I suppose chocolate is one of them?
The giant pursed his lips and glared at his mate. “It is, woman,” was the final word on the subject, and the Den Asaan took his parcel from the table and returned to the commons, rejoicing in his conquest, pleased that he had discovered so useful a custom, and while he should never agree to eat something that had fallen in the dirt, the notion of the kitchen floor now being considered as safe ground was a decided comfort.