Michael and I are absolutely delighted to welcome talented author Jim Webster to Robbies Inspiration today. Jim has provided a wonderful story about a delicious fruit cake for the blog and I can tell you that it is a real treat.
The surname, Gates, is not an uncommon one in Port Naain; everybody will know at least three families with this surname. Hence it is a commonly practiced expedient to attach the location of the family home to the name, so you can tell the various families apart.
So the heroes of our story are the Bogat Street Gates, because they dwell, obviously enough, in Bogat Street. This is one of those small streets which the inhabitants like to think form part of the Merchant Quarter, but which the city fathers petulantly include in Ropewalk.
Mrs Telmia Gates was never a patron of mine, but when she was single she was the cook for a patron of mine, Harl Bronnen. At some point in her career she was swept off her feet by the young man who was to make her Mrs Gates. She continued working but with her first child on the way she tendered her resignation.
Madam Bronnen is a lady who runs a happy house. She went down to the kitchen and sat down with her cook and a cup of tea. The upshot of it was that the young Telmia agreed to remain for a couple of weeks to train her successor in how the family liked things. Then once the baby had been born she would come in to provide cover on the new cook’s day off, and also to help with the catering when Madam was organising a soiree or similar.
This agreement proved entirely satisfactory to both ladies, and if Mister Gates was working, Telmia would take her children to work with her. There they would be spoiled rotten by the other staff and even Madam Bronnen would indulge them with grandmotherly affection.
So for Telmia life was running along perfectly happily. She had a loving husband whom she called ‘Gates’ and who addressed her as ‘My Dear’ even when in company. She had three delightful children, and money, if tight, was not tight enough to be a constant worry.
Now Gates had been a clerk working for a usurer, but not long after he married he had the opportunity to set up as an independent accountant. He built up a loyal client base, and dealt with everyone from peddlers and shopkeepers to a petty mage. The latter was one of Gates’ more interesting clients. When Gates took him on and saw his records for the first time, all income and all expenditure went down under one heading, ‘Miscellaneous.’
It was Gates who taught him the magic of itemised accounts, followed the next year by the deeper wisdom of ‘accruals’, ‘contras’, ‘creditors’ and ‘debtors’. After three years it was the petty mage who regarded his accountant as the magician, and spoke of him favourably to his colleagues. This led to more work and other accountants occasionally referred to Gates’ client base as ‘the magic circle’. It all made for security and modest prosperity.
Still there was one dark cloud in the life of Telmia Gates. Her grandmother of revered memory had also been a cook. It was she who had taught and encouraged Telmia as a girl, and so supportive of her granddaughter was she that she gave the girl her fruit cake recipe. Now this secret recipe the old lady never shared with anybody else, even though people had offered her cash for it.
There is good reason for this; the old lady’s fruit cake was widely agreed to be the finest anybody had ever tasted. The combination of fruit and spice, the fact it was perfectly moist but not heavy; no other cake could match it. The old lady was widely agreed to have achieved the ultimate mastery.
Whilst everybody agreed that Telmia’s fruitcake was as good as anything her grandmother had made, Telmia wasn’t convinced. She felt there was something missing, some small detail that she was overlooking. She was sure that if she could only get that right, she would, to her own satisfaction, match her grandmother.
Now most husbands would tend to dismiss her quest for perfection, but Gates was an accountant, and he understood the sanctity of getting everything just so. Therefore he supported her. Indeed it might have been him that put her on the right track. One night as they lay in bed on the edge of sleep he suddenly asked, “Is the plum brandy good enough?”
He then fell asleep, whilst Talmia was instantly awake and worrying. Once the cake had been made, she had been taught to feed it with Urlan plum brandy. Now it must be confessed that in Port Naain that term is used to describe a lot of liquor which hasn’t seen real plums never mind a real Urlan. Perhaps, she asked herself, this is the missing ingredient.
So next day, after Gates had gone to work and the children were with Dame Mugwart being exposed to the principles of literacy and numeracy, Talmia sprang into action. She had heard in passing conversation that there was an Urlan who served Lord Cartin. So without thought as to what this might involve her in, she decided to go and find this Urlan. Do not think she went unprepared; she took with her a fruit cake.
Her journey took her virtually from one end of the city to the other, but she had sensible shoes. She also took advantage of the trolley-way, an unusual expense in her case but one she felt justified in on this one occasion. Once in Dilbrook she asked a passing man-at-arms for directions on the not unreasonable assumption that he would know. He did and once he discovered she wished to speak to an Urlan, he not merely directed her, but escorted her in person. He knew that there was a legend in the making and he was not going to miss the confrontation between Taldor Vectkin, swordsman and warrior, and this rather short lady in a respectable dress and sensible shoes. Indeed he swept her past the guards and took her onto the training ground where Taldor Vectkin was training with a couple of the younger fighters.
When informed that a lady wished to speak to him, Taldor immediately and courteously halted the bout and made his way across to see why he was wanted. Faced with a warrior who was a good head taller than her, casually carrying a naked blade, his mail festooned with fetishes and charms, Talmia merely explained that she was trying to produce the perfect fruitcake and was worried that she was using inferior plum brandy.
To read the rest of the story through to the denouement click on the link below