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?
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.
So what does that table full of food look like?
Something like this or or this or even this. It is a low table, rather like this one only longer, rather than a standard Western table that you sit in chairs at. If it had been a truly formal affair the table would look very much like this. The slaves quarter’s table looks almost identical to this kotatsu. Which Lord Bilal would be perfectly happy to curl up under because it’s warm and comfortable. In fact, I think that Duchess Chin-Sun probably has her blanket with her so that she stays warm while eating.
Now, what are they eating? I bought a couple of Pakistani (English Language) cookbooks and consulted with my friend. We already know that they’re eating nihari made with elk meat, as well as pai (slow cooked hooves–sorry for those who don’t want to know that!). In addition to that they would need rice.
Rice is a staple crop for both Pakistani and Japanese culture though it’s prepared in very different ways. It’s been grown in Hokkaido, which has much colder winters than Western Washington, with much heavier snows. While rice is not currently grown in Washington (warning for everything you never wanted to know about rice production in the US), it is actually possible to be grown here. I’ve actually thought of trying it in my back yard and may yet do that this summer just for the experiment.
I firmly believe that as people immigrated from Asia, they would bring rice with them. They would breed varieties that thrived in the local environment. Rice is a hugely important part of Asian culture so I can’t imagine that they would leave it behind, especially since the native populations didn’t have a comparable grain (that I’m aware of).
Salt would be easily available given that the ocean is right there. Other spices might not be as easily obtained though. The spices used in Pakistani cooking are distinctive and necessary to achieve the flavors of their cooking. Some, without a doubt, could be grown locally. Others would need to be traded for, perhaps shipped across the Pacific Ocean at a very high price.
Lord Bilal certainly had the means to acquire the spices his chef would need. He does rule over a major shipping port in Ambermarle. However I think that most of the time he would save those very expensive spices for when visitors came in. Also, given that his chef is Japanese, the majority of the meals served when no one is visiting would probably be Japanese or native, both of which tended towards very simple spicing (salt and vinegar predominantly, with smoking being a major method of preserving food) and very elegant presentation.
*laughs* I kind of want to make the feast that the characters are going to eat even though I’m really not a terribly good cook. I spend entirely too much time writing and never have dedicated myself to learning proper cooking techniques. Still, might be fun someday go give it a try.
I’ve actually been to a formal Japanese dinner. It was an experience. Instead of a table covered with food, you get little plates with just a couple of bites of food brought to you, first sushi as that’s the assumed appetizer, and then miso soup with tofu chunks (at least in my dinner), then your main course with five or six tiny plates instead of all the food on one plate. That’s followed up with tiny not-sweet Japanese deserts. In our case, since my husband and I were American, we were given tiny scoops of green tea sherbet.
The experience was a very different one from what I understand would happen for a Pakistani formal dinner or for the story’s dinner. Instead of tiny plates, there are large plates that people communally take portions from. I think that in Ambermarle the two very different traditions would blend. Some food, say rice or soup, would be served communally. The other dishes, say meat roasted on skewers (called shish kebabs in Pakistan and yakitori in Japan) or various sorts of curries, would be served individually on plates. Which gives a nice idea of how the meal with be served.
So what exactly will they be eating? I have elk nihari and elk pai, rice prepared both Japanese style (plain, white sticky short grain rice) and Pakistani style (long grain cooked golden with delicate spices flavoring it). There would be bread, as well, because that’s a major part of Pakistani cuisine. They would certainly serve roghni naan or the simpler and crisper naan bread. (I’m really thinking of trying to make roghni naan, really, really hard. It looks tasty!)
They would definitely have some achari, probably with chicken, maybe with a different bird like goose given the weather they’re dealing with. A nice warm curry would be delightful, after all. The soup course would almost have to be udon. It’s perfect for a soup, filling, warm and wonderful on a cold day.
I think that they would have to serve salmon or another fish. Living on the water as they do, fish would be a huge part of their diet. And, given that their chef is Japanese, I think it would be prepared Japanese style (very simply, with salt and few other spices besides sorts of seaweed) but served Pakistani style so that people could take what they wanted of it. They’d probably have some sort of stuffed dish, as well, more than like stuffed apples or potatoes or turnips. I don’t think they’d serve stuffed cabbage or grape leaves for a formal dinner. That’s more peasant food than something you’d serve a duke.
I think they’d have Halwa for desert rather than something more Japanese. In my experience, Japanese desserts are not terribly sweet. They’re tasty, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t approach the sweetness that people in the USA expect.
All right, that gives me a good idea of what their dinner will be so let’s get back to the story again.
Nabeela murmured a quick prayer of thanksgiving as Ammad bowed his head and Father simply closed his eyes. Duke Laughing Seal nodded his approval and grunted as he started eating. If he said a prayer it was completely silent, not that it was Nabeela’s place to chide him for lack of thanksgiving.
Duchess Chin-Sun grinned at Piyari before saying bright and loud “Itadakimasu!”
“Dozo,” Piyari said, grinning back and bowing as she went to get extra napkins that had been pushed through the serving window.
It was fairly obvious that Piyari had been trained in how to serve everyone but she didn’t recognize any of the food. Nabeela did her best to ignore Piyari’s confused expression when Father asked for a bit more nihari and Piyari didn’t know what to give him. The other slaves pointed it out to her with little gestures and significant looks so Nabeela wasn’t required to scold or educate Piyari.
Which didn’t mean that she wouldn’t need to take some time after dinner to tell Piyari what everything was. Maybe she should have Piyari work with Kosuke for a bit so that she’d learn exactly what everything was. The dinner conversation was innocuous discussions of when Father or Duke Laughing Seal had eaten similar meals. Nabeela let their words flow over her head as she monitored everyone’s plates, Piyari’s performance and Duchess Chin-Sun’s amused approval for Piyari’s work.
“She’s quite good,” Duchess Chin-Sun murmured as her husband launched into a dramatic retelling of how he’d caught the sturgeon, using one of his spoons as the canoe and a shish kebab of mingled tomato and grilled halibut as the sturgeon.
“Their Majesties did a good job training her, yes,” Nabeela agreed equally quietly.
“And quite cute,” Duchess Chin-Sun said, dimpling at Nabeela as she blushed.
“Very lovely,” Nabeela agreed in a somewhat strangled tone of voice.
“I like the nickname,” Duchess Chin-Sun said so slyly that Nabeela felt justified in huffing at her and lightly swatting her elbow with her napkin. “It suits her. She is quite lovely, after all.”
Piyari noticed the teasing. That was quite obvious. Her cheeks went bright red and she ducked her face so that lovely hair hid her expression. Nabeela bit back a groan and ate a big bite of pai specifically so that she would be too busy chewing to say anything she might regret.
The nickname had seemed quite innocent before other people learned it. Now it seemed like another thing entirely. As much as Nabeela liked Piyari, she was here to learn, not for courtship. Tempting though that prospect was after cuddling with Piyari before dinner. Duchess Chin-Sun’s giggles didn’t help Nabeela’s blush or Piyari’s embarrassment.
“You stop that,” Nabeela huffed at her. “You’re embarrassing Piyari.”
“Embarrassment was not the goal,” Duchess Chin-Sun replied. “Proper communication might eliminate some or all of the embarrassment.”
She sipped her cider and arched one eyebrow challengingly enough that Nabeela nearly dropped her food into her lap. Piyari had apparently been watching through her veil of hair because she dove forward, catching the plate before Nabeela’s favorite outfit got ruined.
That left Nabeela with Piyari half draped over her. Her face was pressed against Nabeela’s cheek. Worse, her breasts, small and firm, pressed against Nabeela’s back. Nabeela took a deep breath and put her hands on the plate despite the way Father, Ammad and Duke Laughing Seal stared at them, and then pushed the plate firmly back onto the table.
“My dear,” Duke Laughing Seal said so mildly that Nabeela felt Piyari whimper against her cheek, “are you teasing again?”
“Tease?” Duchess Chin-Sun replied with such an exaggeratedly innocent expression that their slaves started snickering loudly. “My darling, why ever would you say such a thing?”
Ammad coughed to try to hide his wide grin. Father bent his head and pressed his hands against his ribs as he fought with laughter. No surprise, Piyari whimpered rather more loudly as she pulled back. The loss of her warmth against Nabeela’s back made her realize that maybe Duchess Chin-Sun’s teasing had more importance than Nabeela would normally want to admit.
“She was giving me advice,” Nabeela said firmly enough that all eyes in the room landed on her. She straightened her shoulders and raised her chin slightly, trying for a confident smile. “Good advice, I think. I may follow up on it after dinner.”
“Good,” Duchess Chin-Sun said as their dessert of halwa flavored with strawberries and rhubarb was pushed through the serving window. “I’m always happy when my advice is taken seriously.”
“Now you are teasing,” Nabeela said.
“Oh, maybe a little bit,” Duchess Chin-Sun said and laughed.
The conversation at the table resumed, Duchess Chin-Sun turning her attention to her husband’s story now. Nabeela sighed. She couldn’t help but be acutely aware of Piyari’s still red cheeks and the way her fingers shook. The Duchess was right. Something did need to be said. Honestly, Nabeela probably should have told Piyari what the nickname meant before she told anyone else about it.
After dinner, as their guests went to their rooms, Nabeela would explain. Adding the explanation into descriptions of what dinner had been would be good. Then she could downplay it a bit and make it seem less important than it really was.
Because Nabeela already knew, after just a few hours around Piyari, that the last thing she wanted was to upset their new slave so much that she chose to work with Ammad rather than Nabeela.
That’s a perfect spot to end the chapter! Even better, I think I have an inkling of how I want the next couple of chapters to go. I may even have a good ending for the story (or at least for the first draft of the story). The actual chapter itself is a little shorter than I’d want but I will be adding in a good bit of sensory detail about the food and the smells. I went thin on those details in this draft.
I frequently do go thin on sensory details the first time around. It seems to work for me to write thin and then fill it on later drafts. Either way, I think that’s enough for this post. See you next week with a new chapter from Ammad’s point of view!
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