A Day of Histories
Section I: Episode 18
November 25, 2014
The Day of the Dawn was a kal day, a holiday of repose. Leisure and recreation were deemed inappropriate on such occasions; neither should anybody perform labors except to answer an urgent need. Down in the Academy refectory, the caterers had laid out a durable spread the night before, of creamseed butter and flatbread alongside fruits, but besides this food there was a tradition among the older pupils to prepare for all the children of the Academy their own dinner on this day, and it was to such a commotion that Galavar arrived, freshly bathed and dressed in his costume of ceremony.
He headed for the large kitchen, a sprawling leviathan deep inside the building, lit only by fires and oil lamps, but lit well. The place was crawling with his own kind this morning, who were enjoying themselves right up against the edge of the embargo on fun. It was strangely quiet, voices soft and laughter scarce to be heard, as if they were all engaged in some great sneak, nor was there any roughhousing or the customary smell of perfumes. People were mainly telling stories as they worked, because stories—truthful stories, at least—were exempt today. The Day of the Dawn was a day of histories.
The great enterprise of his peers this morning was sampofish jelly soup. Every year it was the same dish. Sampofish were the work of Sourros, appearing in the water wells when called upon, and some of the only regularly available fish in Ieik. Perhaps counterintuitively to the tenets of logic, sampofish were difficult to eat. They were bony, with little flesh, and prone to toughness. They had hard scales and internecine guts that could spoil the meat if not handled properly. And they had but little flavor. Thus, despite their nourishing quality, sampofish were not a food of first resort.
Sampofish jelly soup was Ieik's favorite preparation of the fish, though its association with the Day of the Dawn meant that people rarely ate it outside today. It took all day to make, beginning with the bleaching of bones and skins for stock, progressing through the pounding of the fish into sticky balls of meal and vegetables, served in a tart broth of gorayners,1 and only finishing in time for the evening repast. Bland enough to pass privative muster, it was nonetheless far more satisfying than yet another meal of creamseed butter. Elaborate preparations were not strictly forbidden, but frowned upon so sternly as to invoke the ban of peers,2 and so sampofish jelly soup it was, year after year, and for Galavar it had become a treat, a memento of the Day of the Dawn. All his life, ever since he could take solid foods, he had eaten sampofish jelly soup on the day of the dawn. When he was very young he hadn't much cared for it, but in time the familiarity and the specialness of it had warmed his spark. And now he was among the adolescents, old enough to work in the kitchen, and bestowed with the great honor of helping to prepare the soup.
The kitchen was equipped to feed hundreds of children every day. It took some time just to walk the length of the place, but he did until at length he spotted his friend Miatysacis juicing gorayners.
"The sele of the morning to you, Galavar," she said, looking up from her work only momentarily, and smiling. "You're awake late this year."
"I was up last night talking with Javelin."
Miatysacis had a friendly nature. It was more than the affability of Ieik for which its people were well-regarded throughout the world, but a genuine warmth. Such a warmth could be had only through deep caring, but more importantly it needed something spicy, something not straightforwardly wholesome. In Miatysacis, it took the form of the imp. She was a mischief-maker.
She asked, "Did she talk you into inheriting the team in her place?"
"How would you know about that?"
"A lot of people are talking about it. Word spreads."
He joined her beside the counter and helped her with the juicing.
Miatysacis continued, "Cathar was saying that if Javelin had been born in the Empire, she'd be a sure bet for the Anixiad."3
"I can't imagine Javelin wanting to live anywhere else but here."
"Still, she's in her rights to want a legacy. She's earned it. She could still do so much with those legs."
"Spoken like a cosmopolitan. She's the pride of our village. In Panathar, she might be no one."
"Do you really think so?"
"How would I know?" The monotony of the work caused his imagination to drift. "One thing I know about the Empire is that it's a lot bigger than here. But no," he added, "we didn't talk about it that much. We were talking about many things. It's hard to fit it all into a few words."
"Those are the good conversations."
"How many more of these are we going to juice?"
"Not many. I've already been here for a little while. Most of them were already juiced when I got here, and when I leave somebody else will take over. I could leave them in your hands, but you're not very good about getting all the juice out."
"It's just as well. Someone of my station deserves to work on the fire spigots!" He puffed out his chest with mock self-importance.
"I don't think they need their kitchen to be on fire."
"I won't light it on fire."
"You won't mean to light it on fire."
"You're besmirching the dignity of my person, and grossly underestimating my exceptional pyromantic skill."
"If you ask nicely they might let you clear the garbage."
"Oh, Galavar, I figured out the trigonometry problem. We were using the wrong function."
"Really! I suppose that's why we couldn't find the computational error."
"Exactly. Simple mistake. I won't tell anyone if you don't."
"That's not very Ieikili."
"But it does salve the ego."
Galavar finished juicing one of the fruits, and ate the leftover flesh.
"I like these."
"They're the only part of the soup with any flavor," Miatysacis said. "I can't stand them raw, though. Too sour." She tossed a leftover of her own into the grinder, where it would be made into paste. "But in sampo jelly soup they're the best. You know…lots of people make it in their own homes."
"So I'm told. I've never actually been into other people's homes on the Day of the Dawn."
"I have. I mentioned it to Historian Kilter and he told me to make an inquiry. So I did, and as best I can figure the tradition actually comes from here. People grew up and left the Academy, and took this tradition with them."
"I'm not surprised. That's why the Academy exists. To give foundation to people's lives. I expect I'll take quite a bit of it with me when I leave."
"The sampo soup tradition was first mentioned seven hundred years ago. Our predecessors some seven centuries gone."
She smiled, and was silent for a trice, before concluding, "I wonder what they were like."
Gorayners are green, turning purple when ripe. They're very sour, with sweet undertones that become more pronounced with cooking. In flavor they're closer to lemons and sauerkraut. In texture they're closer to honeydew. In application they're closer to tomatoes.
2 The Ban of Peers
The ban of peers is an Ieikili idiom applied to popular mores. It sometimes carries legal force.
3 The Anixiad
The Anixiad, also called The Great Sport, and upon which the Summer Spring Relay is based, is not so different from our own Olympic Games in appearance (and I took the word from the Greek meaning "springtide"), though in function it is more practical than the Olympics, serving as a social status elevator to connect worthy people with occupations suited to their talents, and usually entailing several pragmatic goals such as the construction of edifices or the clearing of obstructions. Ieik is too small in population for its own Anixiad. One reason that the Summer Spring Relay is only for adolescents is that this gives everyone a chance to succeed, whereas otherwise people like Javelin might dominate their sport for ten or twenty years.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!