A Summer Interlude from BELOVED PILGRIM
by Christopher Hawthorne Moss
Place, the villa of Lord Andronikos in Constantinople. Time, one sultry afternoon in 1101 VE
The servants came in with platters and bowls of what seemed as rich a variety of delicacies as the Basileus's great reception. Andronikos had them put the dishes on a low table in front of them. “Have some oysters,” the eunuch suggested.
Elias reached into the plate, picked out an oyster that simmered in a rich garlicky sauce, and popped it into his mouth. Andronikos did the same, looking into his face as he bit his oyster in half, ate the rest, and sensually licked the sauce from his lips.
“I thank you, your Excellency, for your generosity in providing me and my squire such a magnificent lodging.”
Andronikos proffered different bowls and platters and asked, “And you are being served well, my lord, by my own servants?”
Elias nodded vigorously. Around a mouthful of rice and fruit that had been cooked in a dark-green leaf, he said “Indeed, most satisfactory.”
“And the girl. She pleases you?”
Elias looked up sharply. Blushing, he said, “Maliha? Well enough, my lord. I have not had much for her to do. She is willing enough.”
The older man looked down, as if trying to think how to say something. “You do not take her to your bed?”
Elias reddened further. Telling himself it might be a proper question for a host in this part of the world, he counseled himself to calm. “M-my lord, no. It is not necessary. I have no need of that… her.”
A pleased smile spirited across the eunuch’s lips. “If there is anything at all you require, my lord, do not hesitate to ask.”
“I did ask the young woman to make her known and wait for invitation to enter the chamber. I should like all the servants to do the same,” he asserted.
“I shall make it known. Never fear. Now let us enjoy this modest fare so we can relax and… talk… after.”
The meal was pleasing but did not leave one overfull. Andronikos continued to press wine and the hookah on Elias. Though the air in the tent was not hot, it was warm and fragrant. Elias took his cup and leaned back on the cushions, feeling more than a little somnolent.
“My lord, may I call you Elias? I insist you call me by my given name,” the eunuch said softly.
“But of course, Andronikos,” he replied and toasted him with wine.
Andronikos smiled and gazed up at the roof of the tent. The sun was creeping behind a thick tree, muting the light within. “In Germany, in your home, did you have a betrothed?”
“I did. I left… ah, her behind.”
“Did you have anyone… special? Besides her, of course.”
Elias thought about his brother. “There was one… fellow, like a brother to me, really.”
“Yes, very much like a brother. He is no longer with us.”
“You mean he left the pilgrimage?”
“No….” Elias’s voice trailed off. “He passed on. He died.”
Andronikos lifted himself on his elbow and leaned closer. “Oh, my dear, how sad. I grieve for his loss, for your loss.”
Elias smiled gratefully. “I miss him terribly. So does Albre… so does my squire.”
Andronikos’s eyebrows lifted. “So?”
Elias closed his eyes. A languor had stolen over him. He thought he might drift off but lacked the volition to fight it. He felt Andronikos shift on the cushions. All at once, the eunuch was lying lightly on him, his arms on the cushions on either side of Elias’s waist. Elias’s eyes shot open to find Andronikos’s face inches from his own. His eyes were so full of desire that it took his breath away.
“Andronikos!” he breathed when he could speak again. The languor, the sensuality of the food, the drink, the scented air, the muted light and soft pillows made him want to let Andronikos sink down into him.
“My sweet, do not fear. I know the truth, your secret. It is safe with me.” He lifted his hand and stroked Elias’s cheek. “So soft, so smooth.”
“You know? How can you know?”
Andronikos reached for his throat and caressed it, letting his finger slip under the collar of his tunic. “I sense it. If you know what to look for, it is easy to see.”
Ahem. We will leave Elias to deal with the amorous Byzantine and turn to the delicious platters of food and drink.
Constantinople, founded in 660 BCE and later renamed for the Emperor Constantine, had a ruling class of primarily Greek origin. Its cuisine was therefore more Greek than Turkish or even Roman. According to Rebecca and David Wendelken in an article quoted on Gode Cookery [link: http://www.godecookery.com/byznrec/byznrec.htm]:
"What did their food taste like? We have a number of earlier Greek cookbooks, such as Gastronomia by Archstratus (5th century BC), and we know what Greek cooking is like now. To tie them together we have the work of such scholars As Nicholas Tselementes, who traced back to earlier times such dishes as Keftedes (meatballs made with grain), Dolmades (grain and/or meat stuffed into vegetables or plant leaves and cooked), Moussake (a layered dish of meat, cheese and pasta or grain), Yuvarelakia (meat and/or grain dumplings cooked in broth), and Kakavia, the Greek version of Bouillabaise. He also traced back to the ancient Greeks the making of white sauce - using flour and fat to thicken a broth or milk mixture. Although some of these dishes are now known to the world by Turkish or European names (even the Greeks call white sauce "béchamel"), their origins are Greek.
We know they ate three meals a day - breakfast, midday and supper. They had many fast days. While the lower classes made do with what they could get, the upper classes were served three courses at their midday and supper meals consisting of hors d'ouvres, a main course of fish or meat and a sweet course. They ate all kinds of fish and other seafood, meat including pork, and numerous types of fowl. There were many types of soups and stews and salads were popular. They liked a variety of cheeses and fruits were eaten both fresh and cooked. Fruits included apples, melons, dates, figs, grapes and pomegranates. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios were used in many dishes as well as being eaten by themselves."
Let's look at a plausible recipe for Byzantine dolmades, the rice and fruit stuffed grape leaves Andronikos served to his seductee to help clear his palate after the aphrodisiacal oysters in garlic. You will need olive oil, onions, uncooked rice, dill, pine nuts, salt, and your choice of Middle Eastern dried fruits, but apparently not testicles, judging by the prowess of the eunuch Andronikos.
Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice; cook, stirring until rice begins to color. Cover; lower heat to low. Cook 5 minutes. Stir in the water, dill, pine nuts, salt and freshly ground pepper, grape leaves and juice of two lemons. Place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center of each grape leaf with the shiny surface down. Fold the sides of the leaf over the filling; roll up loosely (the rice will swell when cooked). Place rolls in layers in a Dutch oven. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Add remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1 1/12 cups hot water. Place a heatproof plate over the rolls to prevent them from opening. Cover; simmer over low heat 1 hour. Let cool in the pan; refrigerate until ready to serve. **
The fruit is my addition, so use your own choice, chopped up and simmer with the filling.
What wine would Andronikos ply Elias with, along with the repast and whatever was in that hookah (Colorado and Washington State only)? It's a young adult novel, but for the adults who enjoy reading all types of fiction, you might try an Eastern Mediterranean wine. According to the Constantinople article in Wikipedia "During the crusades and after, western Europeans valued costly Greek wines. The best known varieties were Cretan wines from muscat grapes, Romania or Rumney (exported from Methoni in the western Peloponnese), and Malvasia or Malmsey (likely exported from Monemvasia)." You might choose to serve it with one of the currently trendy yet ancient in origin Cretan white wines, such as Silva-Daskalakis Psithiros White, an award-winning wine that is a blend of Malvazia and Moschato. It exhibits a distinctive richness of aromas and offers a balanced mouth feel and long finish. *** Something tells me Andronikos is definitely after a good mouth feel.
And while you are at it, why not read a chapter from BELOVED PILGRIM to your proposed inamorata. The adventures of a Bavarian knight who, though born in a woman's body, has always known his heart and mind were that of a man, and who finds challenges, disillusion and a woman's love. in the disastrous Crusade of 1101. You can get the ebook and paperback at Harmony Ink Press.
* From a now out-of-print publication called Early Period, issue #5, written and published by Rebecca and David Wendelken, original date unknown (circa late 1970s - early 1980s).
** From Food Network UK. See this recipe for quantities.
*** From Meet and Eat in Crete
Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate and often humorous characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger, the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband of over thirty years and four doted-upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions at http://www.shield-wall.com. He welcomes comment from readers sent to christopherhmoss@gmail.
It’s the time of the earliest Crusades, and Elisabeth has always known that deep inside she is not the young noblewoman she appears to be. When her twin brother falls victim to a mortal fever, she has her chance to take his identity and live as a man, a knight. Now Elias, he is on his way to the Holy Land, to adventure, passion and death in a vividly drawn medieval time where honor is rarely found where you expect it. Can a transgendered person "pass" among knights and soldiers and survive furious battle, deadly privations, moral uncertainty and treachery and return to his new-found love in the magnificent city of Constantinople?
Buy Beloved Pilgrim here.