Saturday Storytime: The Banquet of the Lords of Night

Liz Williams has written a police officer who herds demons and a librarian who maintains the boundaries between dimensions. Is it any wonder to find her here writing a chef who would be a revolutionary?

Opening the refrigerator, de Rais takes out a container and places it on the table. He opens it carefully, not wanting the essence to escape. The container is full of ice: glassy dark ice from the seas near the southern pole, a place that de Rais knows only from legend. It seems to hold its own glow: it’s almost green, like the stories the old folk tell about dawn. With a sharp scalpel, de Rais touches the edge of the sheet of ice, so that it splits and cracks into a nest of slivers. De Rais arranges the shards of ice in the center of each of the twenty seven sorbet dishes, then reaches back inside the refrigerator for the ingredients of the sauce. He plans a complex, subtle accompaniment to the simple ice: a touch of fragrant Indonesian darkness, gathered close to midnight, redolent of cinnamon and incense and spiced smoke. Placing the darkness in a bowl, he adds a pinch of flavors: twilight from Japan, warm and clouded, with a hint of star anise. Then a touch of evening from the Sinang Delta, water-clear and cool. De Rais stirs all of these elements nine times with an ebony spoon, then pours the swirl of darkness into a silver pan and lights the chilly flame beneath it. He waits, frowning, as a drift of smoke begins to rise from the sauce and then he casts it in a spiral around the little columns of ice and claps his hands imperiously for the serving staff to take it into the dining hall, where the Lords of Night are waiting. The head chef looks up, once, as the procession passes by, and gives a single grudging nod of approval.

Having dispensed with the appetizers, the responsibility for the meal passes on to the head chef for a time, while de Rais busies himself with the desserts. He hopes to get the chance to take the parcel from his overcoat pocket and slip it into the oven, but the head chef has got the apprentices out of his fevered way by sending them over to work in de Rais’ corner, a not-uncommon occurrence. Frustrated, de Rais gets on with his own tasks. He prepares fondants of gloom, sorbets of shadows, and sherbets of dusk; each one gathered from the far and unseen corners of the Earth. Then de Rais wipes his weary hands on his apron and steps back to admire his handiwork. Behind him, the booming voice of the head chef says,

“Not bad. Perhaps there’s some promise in you after all.”

De Rais jumps like a tortured hare. Turning, he snaps, “Don’t do that! You startled me.”

“Why?” The head chef thrusts his cadaverous face close to that of de Rais. “Nervous? Been doing something you shouldn’t? Been gobbing in the fondants again?”

De Rais bridles; he’d never dream of doing such a thing and the head chef knows it.

“Get over there, boy, when you’ve finished. I want some help to scrub the floors.”

The head chef’s head jerks in the direction of the apprentices and they scramble after him as he ambles back towards the cold crimson glow of his own territory. Heart pounding, de Rais sidles into the store, retrieves the parcel at last and slides it underneath the iron floor of the little oven. The package is still warm. It seems to radiate its own heat, and de Rais is relieved when at last it’s safely out of sight. Then, he goes to where the head chef is waiting and begins to rinse the stone floor clean of blood. He keeps thinking about the package lying in the oven. Once more he rehearses the plan that has been steeping in his mind ever since the girl gave him the parcel.

Once the kitchens are quiet, and everyone has left for the night, de Rais will take the package out of the oven. And then, he will begin to cook. He’ll prepare a special dish for the next banquet of the Lords of Night, which will take place tomorrow, on a day that was once called Midsummer. De Rais thinks of the eternal, plunging rain, which he fancies he can hear beating on the pavements above the dungeons of the kitchen, and he shivers as he swabs the bloodstained floor. Mechanically, he goes over the plan once more in his mind, but in the next few minutes, he realizes it might be too late to even think about executing it. The Unpriests have arrived.

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Saturday Storytime: The Banquet of the Lords of Night
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