From yesterday through mid day Thursday, August 6th, I have a Prompt Call running here – anyone can prompt and please do!
Scheffenon is a city on the North See, in the norther-western part of a sprawling Empire. Eliška is an Informer, an Imperial position which is part anthropologist, part internal spy, part propaganda artist for the Empire.
And there is something creepy about the sea in Scheffenon.
“Fresh fish! Freshest fish, pulled from the ponds and rivers to the East! Fresh fish!”
Eliška had been in Scheffenon for two months. She had spent some time listening and more watching and a great deal of time writing and almost no time at all talking, except the occasional question when it seemed safe and meet to ask (Which was even more rare in this place than it was in most places). She had seen people go into the water, as they had bathing there. She had seen people speak of the sea.
She had seen quite a bit, some of which did not make it into her notes, no matter what the Creed of the Informers said. (The private creed, the one they all knew and none spoke of, was some things are best left unspoken and unwritten, and every Informer she knew followed that one far more closely than the one that the Imperial Authority had them recite.
She had not seen anyone fishing.
There were always fish for sale – Eliška, who was from a different part of the Empire and did not enjoy northern fish, had been eating almost entirely vegetables and the rare bird or game meat – but nobody was ever fishing in the North Sea.
She stayed near the fishmonger this time, as there were a few tourists shopping the market and she thought they might ask the questions that would be too obvious, too direct, for her to ask.
And indeed, the family – three adults, four children – who sounded as if they were from the capital region, where everyone’s vowels were too long and everyone’s consonants quite lazy – were asking the fisherman.
“You’re on the North Sea,” the tallest of them asked. Or stated, Eliška supposed. “You’re on the North Sea and you fish in ponds? What kind of fish do you get in ponds?”
“Oh, all sorts,” the merchant answered. His tone was breezy and his smile bright and E had a feeling he’d answered this a thousand times. “These lovely whitefish are called Vescorve, for instance, and they take a sauce very nicely. The citrus that Riniji three stalls down has – brought in from the Western South – tastes very good with these. And then you get this big pinkish-purple one. This is called a Westara, and it is delicious salted and sugared and served over some very thick bread, like Heleentje bakes; her stall is right past the flower stall.”
“But what about the sea?” asked the shortest adult. Eliška refined her guess as to their origins: almost certainly the smaller city of Violetta, south and east of the Capital but still within a comfortable train ride. “What sort of fish do you get from there?”
The vendor’s expression faltered, but only for a moment. “None that you’d want to eat, I assure you. None that you’d want to eat.”
Eliška made a note of that. There were questions to ask, so many questions to ask, but now was not the time.
“Tch.” The tallest adult seemed disappointed. “The Vescorve? It looks just like fish we get at home. I’ll take a slab of the Westara, then. Why come to a foreign place if you can’t get foreign food?”
Scheffenon was not foreign, but Eliška, of course, said nothing, and neither did the fishmonger. He packaged up the food with several small recipe cards, but as the people walked away, he caught E’s eye.
“Nothing you’d want to eat,” he repeated firmly.
It was clearly a warning this time. Eliška considered it as she walked away.
What sort of fish come from the Northern Sea?
She was going to have to find out.
The image teaser, which has become appropriate to post here due to conversation in the comments:
The fishmonger had two tables of fish.
Everyone knew that; the woman who sold bread and the vendor who sold imported citrus had two tables too.
Everyone did: one for locals and one for tourists.
The trick, Eliška was discovering, was convincing them that you were local enough, despite your far-flung antecedents, to be sold to from the back table.
Want more? See here first!