Dinner, when it was ready, turned out to taste like nothing Caleb had ever encountered before.
He knew, logically, what had gone into it – he’d recognised most of the ingredients, and the twins had done their best to explain the more esoteric and odd spices and herbs they’d been adding in – but what had emerged when the cooking was done and Tam had started dishing up seemed to bear almost no relation to its constituent parts. It tasted… hot, somehow, in a way he couldn’t quite place, and homely without being in any way familiar, and left a feeling like a glowing coal in his belly, warming his rain-chilled body even as the night closed in and the temperature plummeted.
The twins must have noticed the expression on his face, because Alak grinned and clapped him on the shoulder, nearly making him spill his second helping of soup into his lap. “You like it?”
“It’s delicious,” Caleb replied, completely honestly. He poked around with his spoon, unearthing one of the small pale seeds which seemed to be the main cause of the heat. “What did you say these were again?”
“Ghostfire seeds,” Kala chipped in, scraping her own spoon over the bottom of her bowl to catch the last dregs of her portion. “Tasty, ain’t they?”
“How do they…” He paused, casting about for the right word. “How are they hot?” He winced, hearing how daft the question sounded, but there didn’t seem to be a better way to phrase it.
Kala blinked at him in confusion and seemed about to say something, before Tam laughed suddenly and leaned across to kiss her on the cheek. “Let me handle this one, jewel. You two’ve known spices since before you could talk.” She turned her attention to Caleb. “Y’know, it’s really tempting to just say ‘magic’ right now, but I ain’t that mean. It’s a type of spice.”
“But… they’re seeds.”
“And other spices ain’t?” She pulled a face, and then spat one of the seeds into her palm. “Close as I understand it, the plant they’re from grows someplace really hot, and some bit of the warmth from the sun gets trapped inside the seed. So when you bite into it, it tastes hot.”
That….didn’t sound completely right, to Caleb’s ears, but it wasn’t as though he had another explanation for the strange properties of the little seeds. “Where do they come from?” he asked, taking another spoonful of soup.
This time it was Tam’s turn to look confused. “…Y’know, I don’t actually know,” she admitted, after a few seconds of consideration. “Someplace hot, for sure.” She looked down at the seed in her palm for a moment, then flicked it into the fire, where it burst briefly into a spark of blue-white fire before being consumed by the roaring flames. “Hells. Maybe that could be our next adventure. Going across the sea, finding where the…whatever-it-is these’re the seeds from grows, getting ourselves a nice little cargo to take back and sell to the highest bidder.”
Alak laughed. “You’re still thinkin’ like a pirate, Tam.”
“Aye. Never said I’d stop, did I?”
“Wouldn’t want you to.”
“Good. You’d likely end up disappointed otherwise.” She flopped backwards onto the grass, hands behind her head. “So. Sound like a plan?”
“I’d be up for it.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Kala agreed, leaning down to steal a kiss from her girlfriend as she dropped her bowl into the bucket by the fireside. “Assumin’ we can get the Captain on board, of course.”
The words dropped into the sudden silence like a pebble in a well, ripples of unease breaking the stillness of the comfortable warmth of the fireside. For a short, sharp moment, the air sang with tension, thick as storm-cloud, and Caleb found himself starting to back away from the fire, looking for a way out-
-and then, as suddenly as it’d built, the pressure vanished. Tam laughed, the sound ringing like a bell in the clear air, and reached up to draw Kala down into a tight hug. “She’ll love it. Trust me.”
And weak as a whisper on the wind, a voice in Caleb’s ear murmured She’s right.
Copyright © 2021 by Finn McLellan. All rights reserved.
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