Chapter 273: When Life Hands You Tapens

on January 14, 2015 in Volume 2 Book 8: Elven Holiday, Volume 2: Sophomore Effort

In Which Education Is On The Menu

Even though the ship never touched ocean and spent much of its time sailing over solid, dry ground, it seemed like the vaguely nautical motif of everything extended to the fare of the lounge. It was very heavy on seafood, tropical fruits, and tropical-sounding marinades and other garnishes.

We decided we’d each pick out three things to begin with. We had debated getting more, though Glory had pointed out we could always order more afterwards. It was mostly the size of the table that held us back. The Starlight Lounge had been created for intimate little dinners, with an emphasis on “little”.

“What the hell is ‘tapenade’?” I asked Glory when she laid her choices out.

“The sweetened juice of squeezed tapens,” she said.


“No, and it’s pronounced ‘tapenahd‘,” she said. “Like promenade.”

“Well, then what is it really?”

“You like salsa, right?”


“It’s like salsa made from olives, anchovies, and capers,” she said.

“I know what one and a half of those things are,” I said.


“I have some ideas about anchovies but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one,” I said. “I’m guessing tapenade doesn’t taste like salsa.”

“No, it’s saltier and more savory,” she said.

“…I’m never actually sure what ‘savory’ means,” I admitted. “In my head, it’s just a synonym for ‘delicious’, but then people talk about it like it’s supposed to mean something more specific.”

“Flavorful, but in a way that contrasts with sweetness,” she said.

“…salsa is sweet?”

“It’s made from tomatoes, peppers, onions, so… yes.”

“I don’t think of any of those things as being sweet,” I said.

“You have never been alive in a time and place where refined sugar and alchemical substitutes weren’t readily available.”

“You’re only like eighty years old yourself,” I pointed out.

“And you have no sense of how quickly the world has changed in the past century,” she said. “When I was a child, human children regarded fruit as a sweet treat. Now they’re seen as an obligation.”

“Okay, you’ve got me.”

“Anyway, this is why we’re ordering different things,” she said. “So you can try new things. Do you have your choices?”

“Almost,” I said. “What’s… remoulade, exactly?”

“You’ve had remoulade.”

“I know I’ve had it, I’m just suddenly curious what it is,” I said.

“You don’t want to know.”

“I’d be very surprised if there are anchovies hiding in it,” I said.

“You’ve had salad dressing with anchovies ‘hiding’ in it.”

“Come on, what is it?”

“Basically? Seasoned mayonnaise.”


“I told you that you didn’t want to know,” she said.

“…I’m not grossed out, just surprised,” I said. “I just don’t… I know enough about fancy food to know that mayo is not good eating.”

Mayo isn’t,” Glory said. “Mayo is something Magisterians slather on sandwiches in weight exceeding that of the bread. Mayonnaise is one of the cornerstones of Merovian haute cuisine.”

“They put it on oats?”

“That’s kind of impressive,” Glory said.

“What is?”

“That I can’t tell if you’re serious or not,” she said.

“I am serious that I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said.

“Then just remember that you’ve had remoulade before and you liked it,” she said.

“I wasn’t about to disavow it or anything,” I said. “I just thought, since we’re talking about what stuff is and you probably knew, I might as well ask. The answer surprised me… and you kind of sounded like you knew that it would, so… anyway, that’s all. I was just wondering.”

“Okay,” Glory said. “Have you made up your mind, then?”

“Almost,” I said. “What’s… aioli?”

“Now you’re doing it on purpose.”

“I don’t know what all these words are, okay?” I said.

“Didn’t you grow up in Blackwater? I’m fairly certain the Merovian influence was even stronger there than it is in Prax.”

“Merovian cuisine was a bit ‘ethnic’ for my grandmother’s tastes,” I said. “And probably a bit expensive for my mother’s. Anyway, just tell me, please. It can’t all be mayonnaise.”

“To be perfectly technical, aioli is… let’s say it’s a creamy emulsion of oil,” she said.

“I have no idea what that really means.”

“Well, you know how oil and water don’t mix?”

“In metaphorical terms, yes,” I said. “I didn’t know before this moment if that was one of the sayings that’s also literally true or if it came from a story about a goat who wrestles foxes or something.”

“…why would…”

“I also don’t know a lot of that kind of folk story,” I said. “Sorry. Pretend I said ‘yes’.”

“Well, alchemically speaking, you can make an oily liquid and a watery liquid mix by adding an emulsifier,” Glory said. “Like garlic, or mustard, or… in this case… eggs.”

“Eggs and oil… wait, isn’t that kind of like how you make mayonnaise?”

“…broadly speaking, yes.”

“Is all gourmet cooking secretly mayonnaise?”

“No, but like I told you: it’s a cornerstone,” Glory said. “And there is a lot of Merovian influence along the Crescent Coast.”

While my curiosity made the dishes with unfamiliar-sounding condiments jump out, there actually were plenty of choices on the menu that I was pretty sure didn’t include high-end mayo. It was true that I had enjoyed remoulade in the past, but I thought I would probably give it a few months before I had it again.

Mayo had not been too exotic for my grandmother’s palate, and I felt like I’d had enough to last me a couple of decades. That was also why I was inherently suspicious of anything called “salad” that wasn’t ninety percent leafy green things by volume.

We did get chips and salsa, which probably wouldn’t have made my top three except Glory had put the idea in my head and it kind of sounded really good. The plate-sharing arrangement ended up working out pretty well, because I had lots of excuses to reach across the table and watch the stars.

“How does this work, anyway?” I asked Glory, holding out my arm. I checked something quickly. “It’s not enchanted, you weren’t kidding about that. This is all natural materials, all natural magic.”

“There are strands of starlight woven in among the silk.”

“…how exactly do you weave starlight?” I asked.

“Very carefully, I imagine,” she said.”There are only a handful of elves who can even gather it, and a smaller number of the same who can work it. It’s a dying art… the practitioners don’t leave the world very often, but there haven’t been any new ones in ages.”

“I guess it’s a closely-guarded secret?”

“Well, that’s how humans describe the high elven arts, isn’t it?” Glory said. “When they talk about the boots, the cloaks, the mail… you’ve long-since managed to duplicate or surpass those crafts with enchantment anyway. But they were never secret. You all just misunderstood ‘I can’t teach you how to do this’ as a decision rather than a statement of fact. The fact is, most of us couldn’t learn how to do that stuff, either.. The ones who can are very old.”

“I guess it would take a long time to train a replacement, then,” I said.

“It’s not just the training,” Glory said. “You have to give up a lot of mortality to be able to do things like sew silence into the sole of a shoe, and that just doesn’t happen very often, not as completely as the high elven crafters have done. Almost no elf has gone that route since the age of humanity began.”

“Really? Why?”

“There are all kinds of ideas,” Glory said. “If you ask me, it’s because humans gave us the clearest picture of what we’re missing when we let ourselves go all eerie and ethereal… but I might be biased in that regard. I don’t know. Maybe the world was just really different back then, or maybe there just haven’t been enough elves who’ve lived long enough to reach a tipping point in the intervening ages. The world did get a lot more violent and dangerous after the fall of Athanasia.”

“Really? I seem to remember a lot of wars in the old elven epics,” I said.

“Yeah, which means a lot of soldiers died so queens and kings and nobles could live forever,” Glory said. “But then, I’ve never been big on the idea of royalty.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”

“Good, then I won’t have to have you executed,” she said. “It’s funny…”

“What?” I said.

“I didn’t really expect this to be your response to the starweave, but I guess I should have.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re fascinated by it, which… who wouldn’t be? But you’re more interested in where it comes from and what it means than how it looks.”

“Well, I feel like I could look at it for hours without getting bored, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s going to keep looking the same,” I said. “And it’s like you said about the other high craft things… you could totally do this with artificial magic. I could make an illusion of this. Well, I couldn’t make it, but someone could, and it would look more real than the real thing. But ageless artisans who can… what, pluck rays of starlight from the air?”

“Probably something like that,” Glory said. “I don’t know how it works, exactly, and no one can watch them do it… I think it throws the light off somehow, if it’s going into someone’s eye. They have to do it by feel.”

“That… kind of makes sense?” I said.

“I hope you’re not disappointed by the normal fabric version, after this.”

“Well… you’re not wrong that I wouldn’t wear this all the time,” I said. “But I really am comfortable in this outfit, and I don’t think it’s just the elven silk… I mean, it does feel like me. I guess I know that I can’t go around in t-shirts and jeans forever, even with a few upgrades. Do you think something like this is like suitable business-wear?”

“Oh, definitely,” she said. “At least if you’re not going into a more conservative sector like finance or something… elven minimalism is very popular in the entertainment world, for instance.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, it’s fashion,” Glory said. “By definition, it’s not a secret. You know they have whole magazines about it, right?”

“Do you know what’s big in the applied enchantment industry, then?” I asked.

“Well, I imagine that enchantment probably falls somewhere in between the two,” she said. “Or maybe everywhere between them. I mean, you’ve got your slick, innovative start-ups and you’ve got your, like, business solution whatevers that are just making bigger adding devices for the financial types, right?”

“I guess,” I said. “I wonder if I shouldn’t go for a more conservative look, though? Keep my options open?”

“That will keep some options open,” she said. “And close off others. Take a look at how Acantha presents herself. She wears sharp suits to let the human suits know she’s one of them. She’s trying to tread a middle ground between the people impressed by style and the people impressed by stability. Is that what you want to do?”

“…normally I’d say that finding a middle ground sounds like a good idea, but when I think about what she does in terms of image, I’m imagining someone walking a tightrope… which is probably part of why she does it,” I said. “I guess I’d rather find solid ground than middle ground. I just… I’m not sure I want to see myself as slick or, you know… stuffy. Are cool and conservative my only choices?”

“If you’re asking me? I think you should authentically be yourself.”

“But my authentic self wants to wear the same t-shirt three days in a row?”

“Does it not also want to wear a cool minimalist suit?”

“…okay, it does,” I said. “So you’re saying I should be strategically myself.”

“I’m saying find some place that’s advantageous for you to stand that’s also comfortable, and stand there,” she said.

“That makes a surprising amount of sense.”

“Don’t I usually make sense?”

“I didn’t mean… I just… I’ve never really thought to ask you about this kind of thing.”

“What, life planning?” she said. “You’ve got to figure out what the hell you’re doing with your life in the next three years, but I’ve been doing that for decades, always knowing that by the time I’m out in the world living my life, things are likely to be very different. I mean, we were still playing the same foolish games, but the modern Magisterius University didn’t even exist when I entered Treehome. Take it from someone looking forward to a long, immortal life: every opportunity has a cost, and the price you pay is usually other opportunities.”

“That’s… kind of gloomy?”

“It’s realistic,” she said. “I mean, magic can’t undo time, can it?”

“According to our prevailing understanding of the world? No,” I said. “Well… unless you mean in the sense of undoing all of it at once, and no one’s very confident that it could be put back together afterwards.”

“…well, that’s a fact I kind of wish I didn’t know.”

“Nobody’s tried it lately, that we know of,” I said quickly. “The point is, no, you can’t use magic to go back in time or change the past. No one’s managed it, and there’s no reason to think it’s possible, and good reasons to believe it’s not.”

“Okay,” Glory said. “So, then, think about it this way: no matter how long you live… and both of us might live a very long time, relative to the well and truly mortal… but no matter how long you live, in each moment, or each phase of your life, you can only do one thing, while there’s an uncountable number of things you could be doing. Some of them are things you could maybe back and do later, but while you’re doing whatever you’re doing, the world is changing. Look at my relationship with you.”

“What do you mean?”

“I could have chosen to pursue you later, after you had graduated or even later, once I was recognized as an adult… but if I’d waited to do that, maybe to focus more on building my legacy in the middling world or for whatever other reason, I might have come back to find out that you weren’t available. Or that you’d changed in a way that made you less appealing to me… or that I would have changed. I saw that this opportunity was here, and while I like to think I’ve steered things in a way that aids my other agendas… the choice is made. By doing this, there are other things I’m not doing.”

“Do you think it’s worth it?”

“I hope it is… but apart from obvious crashing failures, I don’t think it’s worth worrying about,” Glory said. “As we’ve said: time can’t be rewritten.”

“…that kind of makes it sound like you do regret choosing to be with me, or that you would if you’d let yourself, but you’ve chosen not to because you know it can’t be undone,” I said.

“Is that what it sounds like? I have a more optimistic perspective on it,” Glory said. “From where I’m standing: I wanted you, I pursued you, and I have you… which means that whatever happens in the future, if we drift apart as you approach graduation or go our separate ways when you leave the school, or even if I’m killed in some stupid middling intrigue that goes a step too far the instant we land in Prax, it will still be true, always and forever, that I wanted you and I have had you. It can’t be undone. No one can take that away from me.”

“That’s… that’s… actually, I don’t know if I can make myself see things that way, but it’s a better view of the future than I’ve ever had,” I said, thinking not just of Glory but of all my relationships, intimate and otherwise. It was hard to see my way to a real future with any of my lovers… Ian was maybe the most realistic choice there… but it was perhaps harder to imagine a life long past our college years where I was still close with Dee and Hazel. Having friends like that was such a new experience for me that it kind of hurt to think that we’d go our separate ways, which was why I didn’t.

“It’s the kind of thing you think about, when you’re an elf… especially one who loves mortals,” Glory said. “Even the monogamous among us are by definition serially so. Growing old with someone isn’t going to be in the cards, so I’d rather pick partners I know will grow, so I can grow with them. There’s a saying that if you want to live a hundred lifetimes, you need to spend them with mortals.”

“But you’re interested in me, even though I’m going to age a whole lot slower than humans if I can just live long enough to do so.”

“I’ve also seen you grow more in a year and a half than a lot of elves I’ve known have done in the decades I’ve known them,” Glory said. “Even before you knew me, I think watching you fumbling your way forwards helped me to grow with you.”

“So I’m not just a shiny jewel you want because you found my… antics… interesting?” I said.

“No,” Glory said. “Don’t get me wrong, the sheer entertainment value is what caught me eye. I mean, I didn’t look at you and say, ‘That girl looks like someone from whom I could learn a thing or two about living like a mortal.’ I’m a little surprised that you’ve stayed with me, if that’s all you thought you were.”

“Well, you’ve never really explained your interest beyond the fact that eavesdropping on my life was fun, and the fact that I’m culturally human,” I said.

“I’ve had to keep my cards pretty close to my chest,” Glory said. “Though, to some extent and in some cases, I think it was only because I didn’t know any other way to play things. I’m so glad you agreed to this trip, Mackenzie Blaise… and so glad you made the decision to be bold at the outset of it.”

“Well, I think you deserve at least some of the credit for me being here,” I said.

“Oh, I’m well aware of that… I’m just secure enough in the knowledge of it that I don’t feel any need to mention it.”

“Well, thank you, anyway,” I said. “It’s… apart from anything that changes between us or anything I learn, it’s the most generous thing anyone has ever done for me.”

“Possibly the most expensive,” she said. “But it never would have occurred to me to think of it as generosity… in my mind, I was simply paying to add another amenity to the cruise I was already taking.”

“At least you’re honest about that, I guess.”

“I have no reason not to be,” she said. “If I didn’t think you were amenable to that interpretation of things, I wouldn’t have approached it that way. Are you?”

I thought about it, but I didn’t have to think long… another amenity. A feature to be used, enjoyed…

A flush crept over my face.

“Yes, my queen,” I said. “Very amenable.”

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28 Responses to “Chapter 273: When Life Hands You Tapens”

  1. Elle says:

    Aw, that’s a good relationship talk. And it didn’t take a big crisis to bring it about.

    Current score: 11
  2. Dani says:

    I’ve had aioli, remoulade, and tapenade – but I still need to look them up again when I encounter them on a menu.

    I don’t know whether to be pleased or disappointed that Mack isn’t looking mystery foods up online. (What’s the world-wide-weave equivalent of ‘online’?)

    Current score: 1
    • erianaiel says:

      How about ‘stranded’?

      Current score: 1
    • Oni says:

      I will constantly forget what remoulade is, though this is likely new reason for me to remember. Maybe I should compile an image of all the different forms of mayo…

      Current score: 1
    • Navi1101 says:

      I’ve had that exact conversation about tapenade with myself, too.

      Current score: 0
    • Thorbjorn says:

      And i keep forgetting that a big part of the world remoulade is uncommon 🙂

      (Also wow i did not expect my first comment to be about this)

      Current score: 1
  3. Zathras IX says:

    Silk would be so much
    Better if strands of starlight
    Were woven in it

    Current score: 8
  4. Anthony says:

    “…well, that’s a fact I kind of wish I didn’t know.”

    “Nobody’s tried it lately, that we know of,” I said quickly.

    That’s really not very comforting!

    Current score: 7
    • Nocker says:

      I can’t help but remember our one alternate timeline, viewed for a few days but never seen again thereafter…

      Mainly because I’m always remembering that timeline. Once you’ve seen Mackenzie with a big giant sword and a hint of lovable arrogance you can’t help but want more.

      Seriously how much would it cost to get us another AU story? I’d give anything just for a Black Door cameo.

      Current score: 6
    • zeel says:

      “Well… unless you mean in the sense of undoing all of it at once, and no one’s very confident that it could be put back together afterwards.”

      I just love lines like this. The idea that someone has actually tried this too. . .

      Current score: 3
  5. Yumi says:

    So I’m still at the beginning, but Tales of MU just taught me how to pronounce promenade…

    Current score: 2
    • Brenda A. says:

      Although if you are square dancing, there is a move called “promenade” which does rhyme with lemonade…

      Current score: 2
      • Yumi says:

        *flashbacks to all my Girl Scout square dances* Thank you for that, explains my confusion.

        Current score: 0
      • acob says:

        That’s the same word, it was just taught to you with the pronounciation that’s more natural in English. Trying to consistently pronounce words correctly according to their roots will probably make you go crazy (and make you sound like a douche in all but the most highbrow company), because there is a huge number of words whose accepted pronounciations are a completely mangled version of the original word – especially bad with Greek words (like pseudo).

        Ps. Lots of dances contain moves that are called promenade, because the so-called moves are close to walking – and promenade means a walk or stroll.

        Current score: 0
  6. Order of Chaos says:

    And Macks love of being used comes out again, so sweet. I like how honnest elves are about being together for more than one reason, most of them selfish, are.

    Current score: 2
  7. undertheteacup says:

    Loooooooved this chapter. The part about strategically being oneself and finding an advantageous place to stand that is also comfortable has so concisely put into words something I’ve been struggling to express for ages! Thank you!

    Current score: 1
  8. LetsSee says:

    Good aioli is an emulsification, but is most definitely not mayonnaise and does not have any eggs in it.

    A lot of people call provençal garlic mayonnaise by the name of aioli, but a lot of people are wrong as to what it actually is or was. Classic aioli is free of eggs, these days when aioli is egg free in western society it is called allioli to differentiate. Simply put together EVO, garlic, salt, and lemon juice and grind like crazy. Garlic acts as the emulsifier in this case, rather than the eggs. Here’s a recipe if curious:

    Carries far more of a bunch to it.

    That said, in the midwest and most of the U.S. . . . aioli is just a fancy word for garlic mayonnaise, which can be quite insipid stuff. Then again, a good mayonnaise without sweetener can be great.

    Current score: 3
    • Silverai says:

      My favourite brand of coleslaw dressing got discontinued a few years ago and I haven’t found anything that works as good for my potato salad since. I’m going to give this aioli recipe a go and try that 🙂

      Current score: 0
  9. Iain says:

    “It’s realistic,” she said. “I mean, magic can’t undo time, can it?”

    “According to our prevailing understanding of the world? No,” I said. “Well… unless you mean in the sense of undoing all of it at once, and no one’s very confident that it could be put back together afterwards.”

    This is how I feel everytime there’s a reCreation Event in my campaign world, and we change to a new edition. Ha!

    Current score: 0
  10. Mo says:

    I loved this whole food talk. I was actually laughing out loud. But then I love food too.

    Current score: 0
  11. Peter Granzeau says:

    For someone who had not eaten anything (other than that monthly cup of virgin’s blood) until last year, Mackenzie sure seems to have learned a lot about food.

    Current score: 0
    • Silverai says:

      She ate until she was eight or somewhere around there. She was predominantly human until her demon side presented itself at that age.

      Current score: 0
      • Nocker says:

        When she was eight she was poor and couldn’t exactly go gourmet dining every night. Remember by her admission her family didn’t have a bunch to eat, and even considering that Laurel was a single teenaged mother who left with no savings to speak of and moved around a bit.

        Current score: 0
      • zeel says:

        Plus, being able to eat as much as you want with essentially no limit means trying multiple things is easy. Go to a buffet, try literally everything.

        Current score: 1
  12. Anvildude says:

    Heh. All gourmet food is secretly mayonnaise. That’s great.

    Current score: 1
  13. Arancaytar says:

    “They put it on oats?”

    Oh Mack… 😀

    Current score: 1
  14. Arancaytar says:

    “Nobody’s tried it lately, that we know of,”


    Current score: 0
  15. FeralK says:

    Amenable amenity. Mmm.

    Current score: 0