Warnings: Loupa swearing, slight slash undertones, implied cultural discrimination, foreign terms (translated at the end, guys). Obscure cooking terms that I may misuse. Linguistic disparities. It's a harmless chapter.
Chapter One: Soup Is Simple; Foreigners Are Not
"Fucking hot." Loupa clashed the pans together, suds spilling onto the floor, noise grating on Tari's ears. In addition to the whining. And there was a lot of that too.
He wasn't even the one standing over an open fire. No, that was Tari, who was actually doing his job. Loupa was making a racket on the other side of the almost-kitchen, grand total of three feet that it was. He was bitching his way back and forth, noise swelling and receding a little out of time with the throbbing headache behind Tari's eyes.
"Fucking furnace in here, gonna fucking die…"
Tari crushed some black cardamom with a little more anger than the cardamom deserved. There wasn't enough counter space either, among the many other complaints he had about the almost-kitchen. Maybe he should start a list. Reasons why his life was out to get him.
In went the cardamom, along with turmeric, nutmeg, cayenne, and ginger, already strewn across the half-foot plank of polished wood Tari used as a crushing board. The one nice thing about it was that he could just lift it and dump the right spices in without covering his hands in colorful dust. That, and the fact that after Tari had polished it for hours with a pathetically small sample of oil, it had yet to transfer splinters in with the seasonings.
The spices floated on the surface of the soup, which was suspended over the fire pit and bubbling languidly in its pot. It was spicy curry, as thick as Tari was willing to make it. Vok'hair had whined about being served spiced broth or something equally ridiculous before and if he wanted it thicker, then he'd damn well get it thicker.
Bend. Sniff. (Ignore Loupa crashing around behind him). Taste. Not quite right. Pepper—not yet. Galangal? …Maybe just a pinch more. It was already crushed, so Tari picked up the jar, and…
…At last his patience met its bitter end when Loupa bludgeoned something that gave a very near human shriek; the so-called pinch barely avoided being a fistful. Spinning around was not advisable near open flames and easily-upset pots of scalding liquid, but Tari did it anyway. "Loupa…"
His voice carried and Loupa froze, shooting Tari a look of mild alarm. Tari narrowed his eyes at Loupa's face and hoped it conveyed a glare well enough to remind him that he was closer to the almost-kitchen's set of knives. "…Shut up."
"It's hot…" Loupa protested, looking a little bit fascinated now that Tari was talking. The voice from the walking curtain. He could see Tari's eyes and hands and that was pretty much it unless Tari started stripping. Which he was never going to do. Ever. No matter how hot it was.
Oh heavens, stripping with Loupa. Bad thoughts.
Tari's highly disturbing imagination made his words come out a little harsher than necessary. "Shut up or get out," he offered, and stirred the soup. Loupa heaved an irritable sigh and grumbled significantly more quietly.
"Loupa." The mumbling ceased momentarily.
It didn't last. "What? I'm being quiet!"
Tari suppressed a snort. "If you're going to do some actual work now…"
"I AM working!"
No, he wasn't. "…I need white pepper." Loupa was allowed to do that—grinding was very, very difficult to mess up to any catastrophic extent. Loupa went about it with his ongoing commentary of displeasure, words drifting through the boiling workspace in place of a breeze. Tari tasted his curry again and contemplatively added one or two more spices before Loupa brought over the pepper and Tari gave the curry a generous helping.
A little more fussing followed this, but he was mostly done. The smell was divine and the taste was just the way Tari liked it. Not everyone liked curry the same way, but if that was the case, no one was making the philistines eat his food. He hadn't done anything remotely proactive in terms of customer attraction in the first place.
The location of Tari's restaurant was in a side alley between a carpentry workshop and a dressmaker, tucked out of sight—almost impossible to find unless you followed your nose or a set of very clear instructions. This wasn't the greatest part of town either. Tari was poor. Poverty did not expensive leases allow.
Besides, Tari had systematically refused to serve anything that didn't come in a bowl. If people who were unprepared to deal with the chef's personality ever arrived, they could just take their obnoxious selves to that prissy little sandwich shop down the road and get a slab of tasteless beef on three-day old bread.
Tari carefully transferred his curry from its pot to a bowl and slipped out of the almost-kitchen into the refreshing cold of the restaurant proper. Which he could feel on next to nothing thanks to the layers of his tsotlhe clothing. Oh well. He felt better spiritually, knowing that he was out in more reasonable temperatures and Loupa was not.
The restaurant proper wasn't a vast improvement on the alley it opened up onto or the kitchen adjoined to it. There were bigger closets. It basically consisted of a bar for guests and a foot of walking space from bar to door. It made the cleaning easier, though.
Vok'hair's eyes fixed on the bowl in Tari's hands as if drawn by magnets and underneath his veil, Tari cracked a smile. He slapped a placemat down in front of his customer and gently placed the bowl on top of that. Copper coins appeared on the table as if by magic.
"There's more if you're still hungry," Tari informed him as Vok'hair took the first bite and looked momentarily as close to blissful as a grizzled, perpetually crotchety metalsmith could manage. Tari got a nod of affirmation and moved off to see to his other two customers. There was a girl he'd seen a few times—shy about coming to a foreigner's shop but plainly having formed some sort of life bond with Tari's onion stew. She had no complaints. Chandra was a regular and Tari just knew her tastes-there would be no complaints, but she wanted conversation. Tari settled against his side of the counter, prepared to oblige her, when the bell on the door chimed and a newcomer came in.
"Welcome…" Tari called, straightening up with an apologetic wink at Chandra. His eyes were the only thing visible; winking encapsulated his entire emotional range. His emotional range wasn't that profound in the first place. That helped.
The newcomer moved into the shop and when he was no longer silhouetted against the doorframe in black and gray, Tari sucked in a breath. Golden hair, like his own under his cowl, cut long and shaggy hung down this man's shoulders. A foreigner—but not wearing the tsotlhe garb. Someone high class.
This begged the question of what he was doing in Tari's restaurant. Did he want directions? Obviously he needed them if he'd gotten lost enough to find this place.
The man did not move towards anyone in particular, however, and merely cocked his head in a way that reminded Tari immensely of a sparrow—sharp and focused and sudden. Tari watched warily for a moment, wondering if there was about to be trouble, and then suddenly found the foreigner's eyes—copper and not at all warm—fixed on his.
"Welcome," Tari said again, repeating himself and feeling sort of mentally deficient about it. The rest of his customers were staring too, though. And it wasn't like he was that surprised.
The foreigner gave him a nod and stepped up to the bar, slower than that tilt of his head but the movements still seemed alien and Tari fought the urge to step back. His copper eyes fixed on Tari's chestnut brown ones. He opened his mouth and out flowed a gravelly voice—"Ureglash elath su?"-in a language that made Tari's eyes narrow.
Pointedly, he replied in Umhai instead. "Today we're serving Maghotan curry, onion stew, lentil soup, and shellfish chowder. We can also make beef stew or mushroom soup, but those will take longer."
The foreigner blinked at him, a frown on his face and Tari considered the wisdom of incurring the displeasure of someone high enough on the food chain to merit Umhai citizenship. He considered it. He just promptly decided that ass-kissing wasn't worth his pride. The gravelly voice was just as fluent in Umhai, Tari discovered.
"Can you make reivy?"
Tari's eyes narrowed further. "I cannot. If you would like to be fed, stick to the menu."
His customers were giving him dubious looks at this point. None of them were exactly high class themselves. This was really not terribly bright of him.
But the foreigner's lips quirked in a smile and he gave a short, amused huff of breath. "My apologies. Lentil soup, you said?"
"Four coppers," Tari replied automatically and watched the foreigner palm the coins onto the table before they vanished back into his purse. Yes, he could pay. Alright then. Money was good. He gave a short bow and moved to retreat back into the almost-kitchen.
"Wait," the foreigner called suddenly, and Tari turned reluctantly back to him to find that he was still being smiled at. "My name is Harker, brother. Will you tell me yours?"
Tari gave a short nod. "I am Tari," he said, and left to let the foreigner mull over the fact that although Tari plainly wasn't, his name couldn't be mistaken for anything but Umhai.
Loupa glanced up at him when the door closed and promptly asked, "Sheesh, what crawled up you and died?"
That really wasn't fair, with the veil and hood and all. Tari suddenly wished that his eyes were a bit less expressive.
Sighing and blinking in a likely futile attempt to restore his outward composure, Tari moved past his apprentice and took the pot off the fire, replacing it with a new one. "Nothing," he said. Dried lentils spilled into the pot with a clatter and Tari nearly tripped over the hem of his robes trying to get to the water jugs. Loupa caught him with a well-placed elbow and gave him a very unimpressed look.
Tari sighed and decided that cowardice was his best option. He made Loupa go and serve Harker his soup and hid in the almost-kitchen for an hour.
A/N: Alrighty, this is me trying out a very new style of writing, so—especially if you've read something else of mine—I would really appreciate the feedback! It's much shorter and choppier than usual, but I think it's still conveying what it's supposed to. If I get some feedback, this story will be multi-chaptered and potentially interesting. I might keep writing it even if you guys hate it, since it's one of my study projects, but… yeah. Anyway.
tsotlhe garb- Concealing outer wear worn by foreigners in residence in the Empire of Umharal and its satellite nations. Although exemptions are made for the rich and powerful, for everyone else, it's required by law. The name can translate to either 'purifying' or 'binding'.
"Ureglash elath su?"- Iosian for basically 'what's on the menu?'
Umhai- The language spoken in the Empire of Umharal. Also the adjective referring to Umharal (adjective form isn't in italics).
reivy- a traditional herb broth from Ios. Not usually served in Umharal, so it can also be translated to 'Harker being a pushy shit.'