We're now at number 4 of the Thorstruck Press Anthology The Secrets Of Castle Drakon and although it may be wrong to pronounce my favourite story among 11 outstanding pieces of fiction in multiple genres, up till now I personally think Bev Allen's short "A Solemn Curfew" is the most brilliant of them all. Not only is the story truly mouth-watering due to all the processing of delicious food that goes on page after page, the story's moral is so helplessly human and Bev sticks closest to the title of the anthology: secrets that take place in a castle.
But don't get me wrong, all the stories of the anthology are of unusual quality and as they are so totally different, it's in fact impossible to compare them. Preferences are therefore not based on quality but only on personal grounds. After we've shed light on all 11 treasures, I'll let you know my top 3 stories and I'll ask the other authors and our friends to vote for their favourite Top 3. I hope that this way all our stories will be liked by many. It's great to see reviews for our anthology popping up like the mushrooms in Bev's story
So I also asked Bev if "A Solemn Curfew" was written in her usual style.
My usual genre is YA sci-fi, often with a strong military theme, but not always. The current book "The Tattooed Tribes" has an ecological basis, but it is still the sort of adventure story I love to write. I also, just for a change, rather like the weird. I can't do the full blown horror stuff, but I can do the creepy and the strange. I'm not sure what that says about me I once wrote a story for SFX called "Maud: a Garden Tale", you can find it on my website. I think its a good example of me being weird .
What inspired you to write "A solemn Curfew"?
When I saw the title for the anthology involved a castle, I decided to avoid all the obvious and try and write a "downstairs" story instead of an "upstairs" one. So I decided to explore the politics of a medieval kitchen. I had a lovely time researching mushrooms. You wouldn't believe the number of delicious ways there are to kill someone.
The salsify Quine cooks at one point seems to be interesting a number of people. It looks like this, but is really yummy, honest.
Here's a taster of "A Solemn Curfew":
Taking a lump of the best butter, he cast it into the pan and watched it fizz and foam. It was too hot, but that was the price he would have to pay for cooking on such a crude source of heat. He added the slices of mushroom, carefully turning them in the hot fat. As he watched the butter took on the purple shade of the gills, but the blue and white of the fungus stayed. It reminded Quine of the fantastically expensive blue and white china which adorned the sideboard in the dining hall, not even his lordship dined off those.
When he thought they had cooked enough, Quine took the pan to the table. His instinct was to add salt and pepper, but he thought it would be best to see how they tasted in their natural state. He speared a piece with a fork and carried it to his lips.
And there it stayed, hovering in mid-air, he wanted to put it in his mouth, he wanted to know how it tasted, but he also did not want to die. On the other hand this could be his golden opportunity. He tried again, but once again his courage failed him, it was no good, he could not bring himself to eat something which might mean not only death, but an agonising death. He would throw the mushroom on the fire and that would be an end of it.
As he turned to toss the contents of the pan into the grate he caught a sudden blast of aroma. There was no way of describing it, it was not the usual smell that came from well cooked food or the delightful odour which had come from mushrooms in their uncooked state, it was all of them only a hundred times more powerful.
Saliva filled Quine’s mouth and his stomach rumbled in anticipation. He had to eat it! He had never in his life experienced such hunger or greed. He wanted to eat this one and the ones hanging in the privy, and any more that Hurl could find for him.
The fork rushed to his lips and the warm slice was inside before he knew what he was about, and his mouth was full of the taste of the wild. There were earthy tones and the suggestion of wild boar and juniper and quail, hints of heather honey and bilberries and chestnuts.
When these passed there was an aftertaste of wild thyme and fresh water mussels. Never in his life had Quine tasted anything like it and he could hardly contain his rush to eat another. If this was going to kill him, it was worth it.
He looked with deep regret at the final slice, he wanted to savour this last morsel, make it last, enjoying every tiny layer of mind blowing flavour, but the sounds of others on their way to begin work meant he had to rush it into his mouth. He had no wish to be found alone in the kitchen this early, plus he needed somewhere to go and see what reaction he might have.
Quickly he ducked into the dried goods store; it was a long narrow room with a dog leg down the end where he could wait unseen if the boys came in for porridge, or the bakers for more flour. Hidden around this corner he sank down to the floor amongst the sacks of dried beans and pulses to await developments.
To his relief and delight nothing happened, apart from a small burp which rose from his stomach and again filled his mouth with the delicious bouquet. It was quiet and warm. After his succession of sleepless nights Quine was tired and began drifting.
As the sounds from the kitchen began to fade and his limbs sagged into a state of wonderful relaxation, he jerked himself back to life. Was this how the blue mushroom killed, not violently with all the drama of vomiting and fits, but softly and quietly? He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the fatigue.
It passed and he thought it probably was nothing more than being tired, but there was a slight feeling of elation which was unfamiliar. There was also a tingling around his lips and cheeks. It was not painful, but it did itch a bit.
The feeling spread to his nose and he had to rub it hard, which eased it, but did not stop it; then he felt as if itching had exploded over his whole face, up to his eyes and onto his forehead, across his cheeks to his ears and down his chin to his neck. It lasted barely a second, but it had been a disgusting and frightening sensation.
And Bev's editing buddy C. Reg Jones wrote this review:
Bev Allen's story, "A Solemn Curfew" doesn't actually give us a time and place for the setting, but it has a definite medieval flavour to it that manages to lend credibility to the fantasy element of the story somehow.
Set in and around the kitchen at Castle Drakon, it follows the trials of the vegetable chef, Quine, as he strives to catch the eye of the head of the household, known only as His Lordship.
Bev has a way of sucking you into her fiction and regardless of the fact that most of the main characters are known only by their titles and jobs, the simple human nuances she describes make them all too real and identifiable.
I won't go deeper into the plot, but I can assure the reader a "can't put down" reading experience that I loved.