Welcome back to another Worldbuilding Wednesday! I’m doing something different with these posts. I decided to write a story and blog how I do the worldbuilding as I go. Once I’ve finished the first draft, I’ll edit and proofread it and then publish it as normal for people to read. Onwards to the story!
So where did we leave off last week?
Shizuka turned back and smiled to find Ammad bemusedly holding the shorter slave in his lap. The taller slave had knelt in front of Duke Laughing Seal so that he could lean into his lap and allow the Duchess to pet his hair. That, at least, gave Shizuka an idea of what she should do.
It felt very strange to curl up next to Nabeela and yet very familiar at the same time. Shizuka’s family had always hugged and held one another. She had grown up sleeping on the same futon with her little sisters. Nabeela’s arm wrapped around her back felt much like that but at the same time it was totally different.
Her sisters’ breath didn’t catch when Shizuka put her head on their shoulders. They didn’t shiver at the feeling of Shizuka’s arms wrapping around their backs. They certainly didn’t moan so very quietly that only Shizuka could hear it.
Nabeela did and it made Shizuka blush. It also made her smile shyly. She wasn’t sure what to make of Nabeela and Ammad’s attraction to her. Truthfully, it didn’t really matter. Shizuka was there to learn new skills and earn money that would help her family get back on their feet. A little flirtation along the way was nice but she couldn’t allow it to distract her from her duties to Lord Bilal and her family.
Right! It’s time for a new chapter and a return to Nabeela’s point of view. Plus a very interesting to research ‘impress the visitors’ dinner. I spent entirely too much time researching Pakistani food and cooking. Which is okay. At least I can go try some of the recipes later, yes? *grin*
I made an active choice as I did my research for this that Lord Bilal’s chef cooks a mixture of traditional Pakistani and Japanese foods, mixed in with copious amounts of salmon. There are major salmon runs in the Mukilteo area so salmon would be a fish in abundant supply for people to eat. It was a major source of meat, along with other native fish in the area, for the natives in western Washington.
That works well with Japanese cuisine. It’s based quite heavily on seafood. Pakistani cuisine appears to be based far more on land animals like goat, beef, pork and chicken. Given that this story is based in Washington, the goat and beef would be replaced most of the time by elk and deer. Western Washington never did have buffalo (as far as I know) so that wouldn’t be available. Antelope would be rare as well as that’s an eastern Washington animal. There are several varieties of birds that could be used, including domestic chicken, from goose and duck to pheasant and quail.
So the base meats in the dishes would be different but not too different. Off we go!
Nabeela wasn’t sure if the slaves’ decision that it was time for cuddles was a good thing or a bad thing. Father seemed to view it as a highly amusing thing given that he didn’t have one of them in his lap. Ammad didn’t seem to know where to put his hands, much to the shorter slave’s amusement. For her part, Nabeela desperately wished that they hadn’t chosen cuddling as the way to deal with the awkwardness following Duchess Chin-Sun’s question.
Her heart felt as though it was going to burst through her chest. Piyari felt as good in Nabeela’s arms as she looked. The girl was soft and gentle, settling into Nabeela’s embrace as if she’d wanted to be held forever. Nabeela had never asked about the training slaves received prior to being sent out to the masters. For all she knew Piyari might be touch deprived.
It was an excuse and Nabeela knew it. Holding Piyari felt good. She wanted to keep doing it. Possibly forever, though that wasn’t likely to happen.
“When will dinner be served?” Duchess Chin-Sun asked with an expression that suggested she desperately hoped that this conversational gambit didn’t blow up in her face.
“Soon,” Nabeela said.
“The servants said in about half an hour, Your Grace,” Piyari agreed.
“Oh good,” Duchess Chin-Sun sighed. She tugged the taller slave up so that he could cuddle on her husband’s lap.
They both laughed at that but Duke Laughing Seal didn’t look at all upset to have the young man there. To Nabeela’s amusement, the slave draped his feet across Duchess Chin-Sun’s lap. She grinned and tickled the arch of his foot, laughing when he jerked his feet back.
“Cheeky boy,” Duchess Chin-Sun said fondly.
“That’s what you like, Mistress,” the slave said so proudly that Nabeela nearly laughed out loud.
“Too true,” Duke Laughing Seal agreed. He pretended to duck behind the slave when Duchess Chin-Sun glared at him. “That was how I proposed to you, after all.”
“No,” Nabeela breathed, staring at the two of them while hugging Piyari who had started quietly giggling.
Duchess Chin-Sun rolled her eyes and nodded. The look she leveled on Duke Laughing Seal was equal parts amused and annoyed. Father straightened up a little bit as if he was as curious as Nabeela. Ammad, on the other hand, leaned back into Father’s legs as if he was waiting for the story to be told. His slave grinned and squirmed until he was comfortable in Ammad’s embrace.
“He’d made it clear to my family that he was interested,” Duchess Chin-Sun explained. “We all thought that it was a political match. My family is quite powerful, shipping up and down the coast. I have two other sisters, as well, very lovely twins. I was quite convinced that he wanted one of them.”
“Completely missed all the flirting I did,” Duke Laughing Seal sighed even though his lips were twitching as he fought a huge grin. “Really, it was appalling. I’d bring her these huge salmon, kings longer than I was tall, and she’d just smile, bow and have them taken to the kitchen to be cooked.”
“Then he brought me a sturgeon,” Duchess Chin-Sun said, shaking her head with dismay. “It was bigger than his canoe. They had to tie it to the side of the canoe and sail that way. Six of his best warriors in full regalia, all of them standing there impassive but proud with the sturgeon.”
“She said that her sisters would be delighted by it,” Duke Laughing Seal groaned. “They invited us in, had a huge party. Her parents knew who I was interested in so they kept pushing us together only to have her slip away at the last second with comments about her sisters being interested in whatever I was saying. Eventually I gave up being subtle. I waited until she sat down with some of the sturgeon and some elk kahari and then I sat down and put my head in her lap.”
“Almost spilled the food on his head,” Duchess Chin-Sun confided to Nabeela and Piyari.
Nabeela’s efforts not to laugh collapsed as Piyari’s nearly silent giggles turned into high-pitched laughter that she attempted, and failed, to muffle against Nabeela’s shoulder. Ammad spluttered and broke into belly laughs. Father grinned, sucking air in and holding it as he fought not to laugh or cough. Nabeela’s laughter was nearly as loud as Ammad’s but she thought that could be excused. Every time Piyari peeked at the Duke and Duchess she started giggling again and that set them off all over again.
Fortunately for Nabeela’s nerves, it also seemed to finally have broken the ice. Father relaxed. Ammad no longer looked as though he was going to come out of his skin at any moment. And both the Duke and Duchess smiled much more openly.
They chatted about the Duke’s efforts to convince Duchess Chin-Sun that yes, he actually had been courting her all along until the servants arrived to inform them that dinner was ready. Nabeela had been ready for the interruption long before the servants appeared. The smell of elk nihari had seeped through the house, rich and warm which is just what they needed. She could just smell pai as well, which was a perfect treat for people who had been traveling by sea. It was lucky that they had a fresh batch of pai given how long it took to cook.
“Dinner is ready, Your Graces, My Lord,” Noriko, Kosuke’s younger sister said while bowing deeply to them all. “If you will follow me?”
So, what’s nihari? Well, it’s a traditional Pakistani dish that my friend said is absolutely perfect for guests and keeping warm. It’s traditionally made with beef, lamb or chicken but here it was prepared with elk. Specifically because elk was available.
And what’s pai? Brace yourself. It’s a dish made by cooking cow or goat hooves for a very long time, sometimes a full day. According to my friend it’s sticky and delicious and the best for being warm and comfortable. Not too surprisingly, I couldn’t actually find an English-language recipe for cooking pai online. *laughs*
I find it completely unsurprising that people in Ambermarle would prepare hooves to eat. American culture has, in general, been very reluctant to eat such things but I personally blame that on our relative affluence. I grew up very poor. We ate virtually everything of the deer my father killed each fall. Not hooves but I knew people who did do so.
Cultural standards for what qualifies as ‘edible’ and what doesn’t varies widely. Go to any Asian market with a deli and you’ll find duck that’s been cooked with the head intact. Some white people of my acquaintance refuse to eat anything that has eyes on it. In Japan squid and octopus are both delicacies. Here they would be thrown back.
My father, who grew up in the south, refused to eat crawdads until he was in his mid-sixties. My boss at work is the same way. Crawdads are bait, not eating material. And yet if you go to New Orleans you can get jambalaya that has crawdads in it and it’s delicious.
All of which is to say that it’s kind of fun exploring what other cultures would consider adding to a feast. I think everyone hears about Roman feasts with pickled dormice and baby quail. My history teachers treated it as though it was incredibly strange. But my husband who grew up with German home cooking (very meat and potatoes, very bland) considers Green Chili and Fried Rice to be a punishment from hell. In his mind anyone who adds peppers to their food is doing something insane. It all depends on what you’re used to and comfortable with.
Back to the story!
The dining room was warm. Nabeela sighed, relieved, as she walked in. That was one very good thing. Sometimes it could be quite cold given the serving window on the far wall. She made a point of seating Duke Laughing Seal and Duchess Chin-Sun on the opposite side of the room from the serving window so that they would be warmest.
The middle-sized table was already loaded with huge plates of food. Nabeela didn’t ask if they’d packed away the small and large table tops properly. She’d do that once everyone had gone to bed. For now, Nabeela made sure they were all seated, father with an extra cushion to support himself, Duchess Chin-Sun with a new hot brick under her feet.
Piyari immediately went to the window with the other slaves, bringing in plates and bowls for everyone to use. Nabeela directed them, served rice and bread, all while making sure that no one ran out of blackberry wine or spiced cider to drink. Only once everyone had full plates and glasses did Nabeela take her place at the table so that the meal could begin properly.
That’s a good place to stop for today, I think. I do need to do a bit more research into du’a, the prayers said at mealtimes by Muslims. Plus I definitely need to research Japanese customs, as well. And what Lord Laughing Seal would do, too.
Either way, that brings me to about halfway through the chapter. Thank you for reading!
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