From yesterday through mid day Thursday, August 6th, I have a Prompt Call running here – anyone can prompt and please do!
This comes afterr R is for Rituals and Linguistic Tricks and Finish It: Scheffenon, but the information you need to read the below story is:
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!
Given that there are fishing boats on the North Sea — http://www.lynthornealder.com/2017/05/03/crayon-bingo-black-coral/ — yes, she might want to do that. But there could be uses for the fish & other creatures that aren’t food — medicines or poisons, scales or leather or bone, shells or pearls or coral, magic, even fertilizer …
*cough giggle* Thank you! You can always be relied on to remember details I’ve long since forgotten.
<looks faintly guilty> It’s not remember, exactly. It’s more … that tickles something, which kicks something else, which gives me a keyword, and then I can try looking it up — which you explicitly said you didn’t want to burn a lot of time on during your writing day. “Coral” is even relatively easy to search for in your work …
Actually, it might just be that non-locals shouldn’t/can’t/don’t want to eat the fish. If you have a common local enzyme mutation, or grew up here eating the local flora and fauna, or get plenty of [obscure local acquired-taste vegetable] in your diet, or know how to prepare it properly, eating the North Sea fish is fine (or at least not going to do you any more harm than has already been done). But under Empire regulations it’s not food, so you can only get it by bartering with the local fisherman at the dock or from your door-to-door fish monger who only visits folks whose families have bought from them for generations.
That is a very interesting option! I think that’s definitely possible for SOME of the fishlike things that come out of that water.
Point. Eating anything even vaguely related to that black coral sounds like a bad plan for pretty much anyone. :}
Also, research counts as memory in this case 😀 😀 I had totally forgotten about that story~~
Check out the added image-teaser-text (when I post things with images to Masto, in the alt text I include a sideways-related-story which ties in with, without spoiling, the main story. So I’d written this before our convo started and I found it a very interesting tie-in.)
Also check out my comment below, and now I am going to see if I can change the levels wordpress allows comments to nest.
ANNND I fixed it
August 6, 2020 at 8:07 am Edit
Things that may be in the Northern Sea:
Things that are sentient beings
Things that belong to Elder Gods
Things that cause mayhem by their very being (this is also a sentient being, or at least a being with the ability to push forth its goals)
Things that have so much of certain vitamins/minerals that only someone acclimated by a lifetime or possibly evolved from the beings who once lived here can take it in without dying (like… polar bear liver?)
Things that are sacred to someone you’ll never see coming.
really, really tasty fish.
Yup, that side-thread is pretty much predicting this conversation. So, if you’ve got the local equivalent of some selkie ancestry, maybe you can eat the Northern Sea fish?
But … not a single boring thing to be found in the Northern Sea? Fish you could eat but they’re kind of meh? Old boots or lost fishing gear? Bodies buried or otherwise disposed of at sea? Sunken ships?
<goes to look up polar bear liver>
p.s. Much as I might like it to, me leaving 5+ comments on the same post should probably not count.
You leaving 5+ comments TOTALLY counts, at least once, because the point was FEEDBACK.
I mean, yeah, I’d like other people to comment toooo 😀
I’m sure there are boring things… Somewhere in the sea
Old boots, for sure.
Scheffenon is the place with the dubious, creepy, strange statues in the fountains, isn’t it?
If it is, I’d be cautious about eating any fish from there.
That’s the one! 🙂 Just a wee bit concerning, those statues.
One wonders what they could mean….
As K said, it is! And yes, I mean, considering I’ve written merfolk elsewhere in Things Unspoken, I’d be cautious about the sea anywhere…
…then again, with trees that seem sentient, I’m not sure what IS safe to eat…
Aha. I’d wondered what had happened to this setting, I was hoping it’d show up in the prompt call, it seemed particularly well suited to the theme.
(Surely this should be the 5th comment by now? Or have I missed it entirely?)
Rix’s was the fifth, but it was while I was in bed or not reading the site. 😀
Yes, it’s a very good setting for this prompt – and it shows up on the Patreon Theme Poll Every Month because I like writing in it 😀
“Do you live here? Have you gone through the binding ritual a sufficient number of times? No? You don’t want the fish from the sea.” I’m imagining that if you don’t have whatever the locals have — genetics, repeated rituals involving the sea, eating things grown in the right sort of dirt or water, having had the correct diseases, or whatever, that the fish will do… something unpleasant. First thought was the chestbuster from Alien, but it could also involve transformation into something like the Deep Ones from Lovecraft’s Innsmouth, or — as you suggest above — you simply die a horrible death from massive nutrient overload.
Hrrm! Both, both is good? (All is good). (Well, except the chestbuster…)
I DID just recently go through the first 6 seasons of Buffy, so there’s the thought of “or turning into a fishperson.”
I would be cautious about using the fish from this place for anything like fertilizer. I mean, if you don’t want to eat them for mysterious possibly magical reasons, you don’t want to eat plants fertilized by them.
I like this one, and I think I prompted it and I swore I commented on it but apparently I just did so in my head? Dunno.
I hope she finds out more about what is going on…
Good point. Plant these fish under a rose, what do you get? A rose that tries to eat you…
I am reminded of the Simpsons tomacco episode. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-I-E-I-(Annoyed_Grunt)
Depends what’s weird about the fish. If the problem is a nutrient imbalance, a poison, or a local microorganism, the local decomposers shouldn’t have a problem breaking it down. If it’s magic …
I could read this all day…if I do that thing, no chores will be done…goodbye, chores…
I wouldn’t know anything about doing that at allllll.