Photo credit: Jay Reed
The head advisor wiped his brow for the fifth time. Now that the jayanta had returned from his journey, he would have to be told about… the situation.
He tried delaying by asking more about the jayanta’s trip. The jayanta was not swayed.
“Come out with it. What happened while I was gone?”
“Ah, your perception is as fine as ever, my lord. Something did happen, yes. It seems that the city has been invaded — er, infested — by, well, mini-pigs.”
“Is that all?” The jayanta laughed. “We’ve dealt with rat infestations before. Surely you can handle some mini-pigs.”
“That’s just it, sir. These particular rodents are, shall we say, an unusual size. That is to say, not ‘mini’ anymore.”
The first junior advisor piped up. “Not compared to pigs, at least.”
The second junior advisor clarified. “Compared to bears, maybe. We should call them mini-bears.”
The first junior advisor snickered. “Oh that’s good. Very clever. They do look like little bears, don’t they?”
“Yes, exactly! I thought it–”
A glare from the head advisor ended the junior advisors’ chatter. He turned back to the jayanta. “They are quite large, my lord. At the rate they’re eating, we’ll have no vegetables at all by winter. Especially given how fast they’re multiplying.”
The first junior advisor nodded gravely. “That’s all they seem to do, my lord. Eat and… you know. Mate.”
The jayanta leaned forward. “You’re telling me they’re devouring all our crops and you haven’t done anything about it?”
The head advisor stepped back. The jayanta was usually a reasonable man, but the only thing he liked more than a cup of ale was a big plate of vegetables. “For a while we were able to keep things under control with lilacs, of all things. Turns out that they calm the mini-pigs into an almost trance state, producing a brief pause in the eating and mating activities.”
The first junior advisor shook his head. “But now we’re almost out of lilacs.”
The second junior advisor shook his head at the same exact pace, like they were matching bards-dolls. “The mini-pigs eat the lilacs faster than we can grow them.”
“They are remarkably eager to eat more.”
“Violently so, I would say. And they have these nasty, big, pointy teeth…” The junior advisor positioned two fingers in front of his mouth to demonstrate. Spotting the head advisor’s expression, he trailed off and tucked his hands under his thighs.
The jayanta frowned. “Is that honestly all you’ve tried? Did whatever weird magic that made them so large also make them immune to sharp objects?”
The head advisor flinched. “In a manner of speaking, it has, my lord. You see, in your absence, her majesty the bharat issued an order of protection for them ” He wiped his brow again. “Her highness thinks they’re cute.”
The jayanta’s frown deepened. “Oh, dear.”
The head advisor shifted from one foot to another. “Yes, exactly, my lord. To make it worse, she has taken several on as pets. She dresses them in human clothes and teaches them tricks. It’s… well, I’m afraid it’s become quite a popular fashion.”
“Ah. That is indeed a problem. I expect you have a solution?”
The advisor shifted back to the original foot. “We have been discussing options, my lord. If we could arrange for the bharat to catch her giant mini-pigs doing something she abhorred, perhaps she would change her mind about how cute they are. Something…” He felt his face flush. “Something sinful.”
“Something disgusting.” The first junior advisor looked sickened just thinking about it.
“Something utterly grotesque.” The second junior advisor grinned, nodding enthusiastically.
The jayanta pressed for more. “You said all they do is eat and mate. What did you have in mind?”
“Well, er, the latter, my lord.” The head advisor couldn’t bring himself to say it out loud in front of everyone, so he whispered in the jayanta’s ear.
After the jayanta stopped laughing, they selected a victim to “volunteer” for the demonstration, and planned the supposed accidental encounter for as soon as possible.
Much to the head advisor’s surprise, the plan worked.
That night, the head advisor sat to one side of the jayanta at the high table, the bharat on the jayanta’s other side. The crowd before them merrily celebrated the welcome-home festivities. When the first meat course came, the head advisor watched the royal couple carefully. The bharat grimaced and pushed the plate away, untouched. The jayanta stabbed a thick piece with his knife, bit in, and immediately smiled. Even before he’d finished chewing, he proclaimed his positive review.
“Mm, that’s good!” He pounded his heavy cup on the table for emphasis. “But we need a better word for it than giant mini-pig. Something less cumbersome and more appetizing.”
The second junior advisor leaned forward, poking his head around the first junior advisor. “We’ve been calling them R.O.U.S., my lord.”
The head advisor reached back around to slap the second junior advisor, but the jayanta didn’t seem to notice.
“Rous? I like that. What does it mean?”
The head advisor coughed. “It’s, mm, from Annar, my lord.” Then he mumbled a bit, being unable to come up with a convincing lie. The jayanta had stopped listening at the first mention of the ancient language anyway.
The jayanta, always looking for an excuse to do this, banged his cup on the table again. “It’s settled, then. Rous for everyone!” The assembled crowd, having no idea what rous was, cheered mightily anyway, figuring that even if it wasn’t that tasty, at least there sounded like there was plenty of it.
Rous in cream sauce with candied lilac became such a delicacy in the region that even the bharat relented and tried it, declaring it acceptable as she took her third portion. In fact, the dish was so popular that in no time, they had eaten up all of the giant mini-pigs they could find. They waited for more to appear, from wherever they had come from initially, but none ever did.
And that’s how a small port city in southern Layor became known for their traditional dish of rous with lilacs. But be warned, it is considered exceedingly rude to point out that the rous they serve these days are rodents of a perfectly reasonable size.
Written for last week’s Sunday Sin/Fun challenge from Jane Dougherty Writes. Yes, it took me a whole week to finish writing this, in part because I kept questioning whether I should do it at all. But the image she posted (see below) was just so bizarre… I couldn’t resist the challenge. Thanks Jane!
Painting by Antek Wajda