A Feast Among the Dead

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Author (in-game): Severia Quasitto

By Severia Quasitto, renowned traveler

A Feast Among the Dead, Chapter I

My journeys through the Dunmer homeland have taken me on a circuitous route, but having finally secured a berth on a merchant vessel bound for Vos, I was able to travel to Sadrith Mora. From there, it was a matter of taking a silt-strider across the Narrow Sea to Ald Isra (a voyage only made during the doldrums of Sun’s Height and Last Seed; the crossing is too treacherous otherwise) and, finally, joining a pilgrim train to Necrom.

Necrom! The City of the Dead is paradoxically both an apt sobriquet and also wholly unsuitable. At certain hours, I give you, the city is as a mausoleum—full of stillness and solemn reflection. The atmosphere in these hours weighs heavily on the soul and wrenches a mournful moan from the lungs. At other times, however, the city becomes a flurry of activity—Dark Elves from all Houses and walks of life walk as equal kindred here, and they seize upon the chance to engage, to trade, to cajole, and to feast. Here an Indoril and a Redoran set aside house banners, knowing they share the blood of an ancestor who lived some dozen generations past. Together they honor this ancestor, that they may rest easier.

As was my dearest hope, I managed to secure an invitation to one of these graveside gatherings. My bunk-mate at the boarding-house—two-a-bed, ugh! But mercifully clean and free of fleas—was a portly and convivial textile merchant from somewhere west of Ebonheart who had come to Necrom to pay homage to some distant and long-dead relation, as had several dozen of his kin. (I must confess my eyes glazed over when he started explaining the distinction between a great-great-aunt’s third cousin and a third cousin’s great-great aunt.)

The deceased—the subject of this family gathering—had a name composed of so many H’s and L’s as to be incomprehensible. He was once a cook of some great renown—he served in the Refectory of the High Fane in Vivec for nearly sixty years. His death had been some two hundred years previous. I am given to understand that many ancestor spirits prefer to move on from the mortal plane much sooner. My host, however, took great care to inform me that the deceased was unwilling to forsake the mortal plane until he was satisfied one of his descendants proved sufficiently capable of bearing his culinary legacy.

I was intrigued. Who would not be? And so as night began to fall across the city, and the long shadows drew a shroud over the bone-white stones, we set off to the Necropolis and into the ancient vaults beneath.

A Feast Among the Dead, Chapter II

There were over two dozen in our party, each laden with some manner of goods (an older woman took one look at me and gave me a stack of linens, noting the load seemed “within my ability”). There was much laughing and small talk as the group meandered through the dark and musty catacombs of Necrom, at times in near-total darkness. I must admit I found those periods without light to be alarming. Eventually we reached the end of a hallway with a small metal door, green with verdigris. The oldest of our number, a wizened and gnarled old Dunmer, reached into his vestments and produced a key. He thrust it into the door.

The small door belied the large chamber beyond. It was, while sunless, a well-appointed kitchen as was often found in larger Dark Elf estates. A small fountain of spring water collected in a basin and a gutter of the same water carried kitchen scraps away into dark pits below the city. My hosts told me as they lit oil lamps that the deceased took great pains in the last years of his life to ensure his mausoleum contained all the amenities I saw. The large cooking fire, as it turns out, was also the ash pit where the deceased’s mortal shell had been cremated. My hosts took the small urn that now held his ashes and placed it at the head of a great stone table.

In some small amount of time the room was made warm and pleasant. The bundles carried, including my well-borne linens, were unpacked to turn the room into a hall suitable for fine dining. Wonderful smells perfumed the air as my hosts began to prepare the food they brought with them into tomb. One of the younger descendants whizzed around, bearing a tray of small glasses. I was more than happy to imbibe. It was some manner of spiced sujamma that I found to be most palatable.

Soon we were called to sit, for the meal was to be served. All heads bent down in prayer as my hosts implored the spirit of their honored ancestor to appear and find among the meal some dish satisfactory enough that he may finally pass beyond the mortal plane without regret.

The urn shook and the table rattled briefly as the phantasm appeared before us. The deceased—a strikingly handsome Dark Elf with imperious eyes and wild hair—glowed above the table. With stern words this spirit acknowledged the presence of his family and the meal they had prepared. He demanded we begin eating. To wait any longer, he claimed, would allow the food to become as cold as the grave.

One by one, family members brought the courses to the table, stopping first to allow the spirit of their ancestor to inspect each dish. I found this curious—do ghosts eat?—and took many notes on each dish as it was presented.

A Feast Among the Dead, Chapter III

The first course of the meal consisted of a trio of wickwheat crackers, as eaten by the clergy of the Temple Canton in Vivec City. Each cracker received its own topping: a whipped guar-milk ganache for the Mother of Mercy, a spear of bittergrass for the Warrior-Poet, and a lard-like oil that, I am told, symbolized the machinery lubricant of the Father of Mysteries.

Our appetites having been whetted, the second course featured small dumplings in a sour gravy. The dumplings were made of ash-yams, each selected for their sweetness, that had been roasted, peeled, and pureed. Fermented saltrice, which I am told are grown in the lands surrounding Tear, was then ground into a flour which was mixed with the ash yam puree and boiled in the gravy. The sweet dumpling and sour sauce make for a delicious dessert, but an altogether unorthodox second course.

The third course was salad. Fennel, I believe, was piled onto each plate. I was rather unimpressed, but I was proven to be too impatient—one of my hosts soon ladled a quite piquant sauce over the sorry plate of vegetables. The sauce seemed to be primarily an oil-based decoction, for the servings that came from the bottom of the jug contained several small, chitinous bits that resembled lice. I asked, altogether too hopefully, if the bits were the withered remains of hot pepper—I had seen oils prepared from hot pepper on Cybiades and found the idea much more appetizing than the alternative. My question went unanswered.

The fourth, fifth and sixth courses were brought out simultaneously, in honor of the Tribunal—one course to honor each of the Living Gods, and none to take precedence (nor, I am told, gut-space) from the others. They were each magnificent in their own way.

The first dish I sampled came from a platter of steamed kwama scrib. Each guest received their own and, by some strange culinary alchemy, the hard shells of these creatures had been rendered as soft as jelly. I am told that the secret to this preparation involves blanching the creatures in solutions derived from the eluvium of Red Mountain. My hosts were quick to note that they had blanched each scrib over a dozen times in the solution to achieve such a tender carapace. I was also assured the procedure makes for an excruciating ordeal for the scribs. While I found that detail distressing, it apparently makes the meat much sweeter.

The second dish featured a number of kagouti sweetbreads. This is something of a misappellation on my part, for I couldn’t make out the name of the dish even though it had been mentioned to me several times. Suffice it to say that, as with the sweetbreads of a creature such as a sheep, we were presented with several different glands of a kagouti. To each was ascribed a virtue in the manner of the Warrior-Poet. These, too, I cannot recollect adequately, but it was more due to my disdain for the Dunmer’s vainglorious Living God than any complication of the Dark Elf language.

The final dish struck me as more performative than not. Eels, freshly killed, were filleted and set before us along with small basins of a caramel-colored brine that had been made from fermented marshmerrow. I watched my hosts as they carefully dipped their fingers into this brine and allowed drops to roll off their hands, falling upon the flesh of the eels. How the creatures contorted! They writhed and wriggled as though they were still very much alive (though the lack heads assured me to the contrary). The creatures’ unnatural movement soon subsided as, most curiously, the flesh of the eel became cured by the brine. How this honored Sotha Sil I didn’t quite understand. Probably a cultural thing.

A Feast Among the Dead, Chapter IV

The main portion of our meal now past, my hosts turned to face the spirit of their ancestor. He had regarded our feast with a stoic quietude. I could see his eyes flitting from one table setting the next and afterward I learned from my bunk-mate that he had been assessing how will each dish had been prepared based on sight alone. Such was his culinary aptitude!

A silence washed over the room as the spirit began to speak. He told the kindred assembled that he had been feted over twoscore times since his remains were burned in this room. And in all that time there had not been a single meal that had measured to his standard. Many had come close, but none were equal.

Until now, that is. The spirit’s brow quivered almost imperceptibly. His voice very slightly quavered as he extolled the virtue of each dish that had been presented that evening. All that remained was to close the meal with the customary tart made from egg custard and topped with vverm. The anticipation of the gathered diners was palpable as the tart was brought to the table. All members of the assembled kin waited to hear their ancestor’s final judgment, and potentially his permanent departure from the mortal plane.

The tart was set on the table, and the heavy copper cloche was removed from it. The faintest upturn of the ancestor’s lip was judgment enough. A cry went up among the kin at that end of the table, which was taken up by all of my hosts. The pie was without flaw.

What transpired the rest of that evening was almost beyond recollection, for we drank so much in celebration of the perfect feast that my head still aches at the memory of it. But my heart also swells when I recall that solemn event, and my stomach still growls when I think about my feast among the dead.

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