One morning, as I was making the preparations for lunch, the doorbell rang. Pietro immediately left the kitchen to greet our guest.
It had been a quiet few days after the birthday party had ended. Since then, I would come down from my room just in time to see Eryn walking outside for morning self-training. As she opened the door to step outside, a trail of sparkling gems would glitter behind her for a moment. I was pleased to see that my gift was being used.
After breakfast, Eryn left for the guild as part of her new daily routine. Being a senior knight, we no longer had the luxury of reporting in whenever we completed a job. She would be constantly on-call in case any large issues popped up. However, this was balanced by the ability to delegate most of the jobs to the knights under her command.
In part, I was glad that I didn’t have to go out in the field during the winter. However, I couldn’t help but look over my shoulder occasionally, expecting Roland to burst in with another one of his merchant schemes and whisking me away to be the canary whenever he smelled profit.
For that reason, I had been hiding out in the kitchen and spending time with Carina as of late. The old lady was pleased to broaden her own repertoire of cooking after seeing that I had matured greatly. Working with her together on new dishes, I felt the nostalgic comfort of familial bonding that I had neglected for so long.
As I was rolling out the dough for a pie, Pietro walked into the kitchen carrying a letter. He placed it on the table in front of me, with an expression that beckoned me to open it right away.
Dusting off my hands, I flipped it over, seeing a fancy wax seal with the same emblem as that on the currency used in this kingdom. Breaking that seal, I pulled out the note inside and read the first line aloud.
“Royal summon for one recognized by the king. As a chef of exemplary skill, you are hereby requested to present yourself on the 26th day of the month of Deci at the royal castle grounds. Henceforth, you shall be examined for the position of royal chef to the kingdom…”
Eh? My words started trailing off at that part. Judging from the rest of the letter, it seemed like I was being scouted for a new job.
At that moment, the sound of light footsteps stopped abruptly at the entrance of the kitchen.
“What! Summoned to be a royal chef!?” Eryn repeated as if verifying what she had just heard.
“Seems to be the case…,” I answered, glancing through the note once again.
“My! That’s such an honor for someone so young!” Carina clapped her hands together.
No doubt that my recent actions had led up to this.
The nutmeg exhibition had spread the popularity of my creations all throughout the kingdom, reaping large amounts of profit for the Faulkner trading company. Since I had recently slayed a demon, merchants were eager to slap my name on their products in which even the smallest contribution was made by me. Somehow, they had also dug up the Pizarka oil and the method of stir-frying to further widen the scope of goods produced by the hands of a famous chef.
On the other hand, I was not seeing the royalties from any of these new creations, so it irked me to discover new lines of dishes that I hadn’t even heard of claimed as my specialties.
Cooking with the royal chefs for the celebration banquet also likely put my name in the running as they had first hand experience with how I worked.
“Are-Are you going to take it?” Eryn nervously asked.
“Hmm, nothing’s been decided yet.” I scanned the rest of the document.
The job offer was not a sure thing, as it had mentioned an examination of sorts.
“Please be prepared to create an original, impactful dish that demonstrates the extents of your cuisine.” The rest of the document read.
I scratched my head at that. Original and impactful, huh? That would probably mean that the nutmeg specialties would be out, since they had been around for a while. I would have to dip into my knowledge and pull out something new.
Eryn, who had been standing at the entryway, anxiously waited for my answer. Seeing her like this, I could tell that she didn’t look forward to potentially losing her partner.
“Should I…just ignore the summon?” I hesitantly said.
“NO! You cannot!” Eryn yelled back immediately.
Taken back by this, I shot her a look of confusion as I didn’t expect this response.
“Wait, I mean that you have to go…but I don’t want you to, I mean we have a job to do after all!” Eryn stammered with her words.
I had never been a particularly sharp person when it came to feelings, but even I knew what she meant by that.
“I see. As my master commands.”
Turning over what I had been doing to Carina, I left the kitchen with Eryn for our next assignment.
“Oh, back here again, huh?” I said. A cold breeze carried the smell of the ocean to my nose.
We were rolling into the town of Gibraltar, a place I had vivid memories from before. Having been sent to investigate a drug shipment before, I was amused to find out that we had been tasked to do something similar once again.
However, in this case, it was more of a preventive measure, rather than a suspicion of devious behavior. A new shipment of goods had arrived into port, teeming with unknown goods from the southern isles.
Who else was appropriate for the job than the otherworlder that had discovered the true use for the GateDown substance? Hopefully, there would be nothing that caused ill side effects this time.
As we arrived, Eryn reminded me that we had never checked in on the slum residents after the events last time wrapped up. Taking a brief detour, we were pleased to see that the distinct had pretty much returned to normal. Some of the residents noticed us passing by and came up to offer thanks and apologies. Apparently, a few of them recalled just how strange they had been acting while under the spell of nutmeg poisoning. It was probably better that their memories were hazy.
I was glad that they were doing well again.
Returning back to the harbor, we stopped in front of a boat with the familiar figurehead of a mermaid and her lumps. Little did the captain know, we had spied on him before, but Eryn set that aside and introduced herself as a magic knight and representative of the Faulkner trading company.
At one point, I had questioned whether having a representative of the kingdom policing her own business connections would be a conflict of interest, but she simply shrugged at that remark.
“When you’re higher up, people don’t question your actions as much.”
Regardless of what world I was in, questionable practices were seemingly okay for those with power. I sighed, letting it slide as I trusted Eryn’s judgement.
Rather, my mind was on other things instead, namely the summons and what dish I would prepare for it. Luckily, I was in the perfect place to brainstorm.
The captain led us to a small warehouse, where his goods had been temporarily placed for the inspection.
“Well Claude, give us your insight as to whether any of these items are suspicious.” Eryn turned the task over to me.
I rubbed my head a little, as the memories of my time with Roland floated in my mind. Even if I had otherworld experience, it’s not like I was an encyclopedia of hidden knowledge. There were bound to be some things that I had never seen before. If only I had a smartphone that could access the internet across dimensions. Why couldn’t I have been given such a cheat instead?
I approached the barrels, noticing how aromatic they all seemed as I got closer. The scent of all sorts of spices hit my nostrils, triggering a reflex to sneeze.
“ACHOO! Man, it’s so strong in here. It’s like I’m at an Indian buffet.”
Certainly, the collective of smells was reminiscent of Indian curry dishes. Though I could maybe recognize some of these spices, I wasn’t quite sure how to imitate that cuisine. It would likely be hard to pull off due to my lack of experience.
“Hey Cap, can you tell me a bit more about these southern isles that this all came from?” I turned to him, in part to get away from the strong smells.
“Hmm…what is there to mention? It’s much warmer there than here…I can even go shirtless and go for a swim at this time of year. The babes there are some tanned beauties…the girls here have nothing on them, err…no disrespect to you, of course, Miss Knight.”
“No, no. Aside from that. Do you know anything else about these goods? Where are they grown? How do they use them? What kind of cuisine do they typically serve?”
“Actually, we don’t know much at all about them. Their country is closed off, and we only interact with them through an isolated port town. They do seem to be eager to trade though as we are getting this stuff for dirt cheap. If it weren’t for having to fulfill these trade agreements with that Roland guy, I wouldn’t mind living there.”
The more he talked about it, the more it seemed like what happened with the Portuguese traders and Dejima. Well, it wasn’t like we really needed to know about them just yet. No need to become the ‘Perry’ that forced them to open their doors.
However, I wondered just how much variety was waiting to be unlocked. It set off my curiosity sensors as a chef looking for new ideas to try. For now, I went back to categorizing the products, which had mainly been dry spices.
Three-quarters of the way through, my eyes stopped on one open barrel. It had been filled with small, red bulbs with a waxy surface.
Seeing me direct my attention to them, the captain stepped forward to stop me.
“Whoa, be careful with those. One of my men tried a bit and started running around like the kraken was chasing after him. We tried to rinse his mouth, but he said that it made it worse. Finally calmed down when we gave him some bread to chew on.”
‘Where had I heard that before? It wouldn’t happen to be the same guy?’ I thought, amused that his men hadn’t learned their lesson from before.
However, I was quite familiar with this red plant. The reaction he felt was likely his tongue burning from spiciness, characteristic of a chili pepper. I took one and bit into it slightly, ignoring the panicked expression of the captain.
Yep, it was spicy, but not something that I couldn’t tolerate. Being half-Chinese, I had my fair share of Sichuan cooking, many dishes of which would be hellish torture to the uninitiated.
I looked over at the adjacent barrels, each containing more of these hot peppers in different varieties. Likely, they would each contain a different level of spiciness. The wheels in my head started to turn as a smile crept onto my face.
“Claude…? What’s wrong? You’re looking a bit…devious?”
I broke out of my imagination to respond back, wiping the grin I had unknowingly made.
“Nothing. The goods here can all be considered safe for consumption, however…”
“However…?” Eryn looked at me with worry.
“I wonder if this is the kind of impact they are looking for.”
“What?” She didn’t like the feeling that she was getting.
Once the idea hit me, it was, of course, hard not to try it.