|THE SOUP CHRONICLES by Steve Carr
It would be impossible to recount this abridged tale had the monks of The Three Moons Guild not written the one thousand page tome to begin with that details the incredible journey of a tureen of soup. The story begins in the kitchen of the palace of His Greatness, Rah-Ming-Yu, the ruler of the Western Hemisphere on the planet Manicula.
Bellisa Hata, the king’s head chef, held in her hand the message sent directly from His Greatness. She was a woman whose food, especially her soups, brought about such magical results with those who were ill, had suffered a misfortune, or needed punishment for doing a bad deed, that many believed she was a witch, especially villagers in remote areas who had many superstitions. She was well-known and talked about in both hemispheres but in The Scrolls of Time maintained by the monks there was no reference to her being a witch, or her age, or where she came from. There were some who thought she was a spy who worked for both sides, pitting one against the other. However, anyone who met her in person didn’t question her allegiance to His Greatness. Upon meeting her, most felt as if a spell had been cast over them. When they walked away they didn’t recall what she had said or her demeanour, only that she smelled like herbs and exotic spices, her hair hung to her knees and was the colour of ground cinnamon, and her skin was the same pale yellow as the second moon, Promus-Minos.
She read the message carefully which said a courier had arrived with an urgent request from the ruler of the Eastern Hemisphere, that he was in dire need of help that only Bellisa Hata could provide. What His Greatness demanded of her as a result of the request from the ruler of the Eastern Hemisphere could mean the end to the seemingly endless war between the two hemispheres, something His Greatness wanted more than anything else. She then balled it up and tossed it into the flames beneath a pot of bubbling clither, the king’s favourite porridge. She rushed her apprentices, aides and pot scrubbers from the kitchen, locked the huge wooden door, and as the message commanded her to do, set about secretly fixing the soup.
She first prepared a broth with the tears from weeping dragons from the first moon, Solis-Orbis, boiled sap from the two-hundred foot tall moshus trees that grew in the waters of the inland sea, milk from the rarely seen fiery-red lolo songbirds that lived in the jungles of the coastal islands, and from rainwater collected in earthen pots a thousand years old at precisely the moment when rainbows formed above the planet’s north pole. To the broth she added fresh herbs grown in underground caverns, dried herbs she carefully crumbled between her left thumb and index finger, and spices gathered from all over the planet that were kept in jars on shelves that lined the cavernous cellars beneath the kitchen. The last ingredient was secret, something only she could provide. For three days and nights she fed the fire flower petals while constantly stirring the mixture until it was the consistency of a thin soup.
When she at last unlocked the kitchen door she handed a blue ceramic soup tureen to one of the king’s most trusted messengers.
“Just as His Greatness commanded,” she said. “This tureen of soup must be carried in human hands and by no other means until delivered to King Puy-Ule Lir in the Eastern Hemisphere.”
Only Bellisa Hata knew if she had prepared the soup to do what it was intended to do. She didn’t agree with His Greatness about everything and it would be easy enough to simply say that the soup didn’t have its desired effect. She brushed the remains of the herbs and spices from her hands and then set about restoring the kitchen to its proper state.
Jasma Oh-Kirt hurried along the corridors of the castle, her capes billowing behind her. The fragrant aromas of the soup filled her nostrils as she left the castle, holding the tureen close to her armoured chest. Several of the king’s soldiers followed in formation, their booted footsteps echoing all the way to the golden membrane in the arched doorway that allowed only those blessed by the king to pass through without being turned into mounds of salt and ashes. The soldiers halted behind her and saluted her as she passed through the semipermeable doorway into the blizzard conditions that swept across the landscape. Clutching the tureen she descended the hundred steps leading from the castle to the courtyard where a mechanical klosu stood, its six metal hooves planted firmly on the frozen ground. She pulled her cape around her, covered the tureen with it, and climbed into the saddle strapped atop the klosu. She made certain her scimitar was securely attached to the saddle, looked up at the two of the three moons present in the afternoon sky, and mumbled a short prayer.
“On klosu,” she called out as she grabbed the reins and kicked its gleaming silver sides.
The klosu retracted its legs into its body, released a small cloud of vapour through its nostrils, and then bolted away at a hundred miles an hour. In a matter of moments it carried Jasma from the safety of the countryside that surrounded the castle into the vast scrublands where herds of the murderous ape-like creatures, purng-els, hunted for scarce prey. She held the tureen in one arm while guiding the reins with one hand, allowing her thoughts to flow through her hand and down the straps of the reins and into the klosu’s mechanized brain.
She travelled two days and nights without resting, keeping her eyes on the eastern horizon. Her strength and training as a warrior allowed her to shrug off the icy winds and blowing snow. The soup inside the tureen warmed her chest; its tantalizing aromas kept her alert. On the third day she came upon a narrow stream, its water rushing beneath a thin layer of ice. She hadn’t had anything to drink since leaving the castle and though she tried to ignore it, the sloshing of the soup inside the tureen tested her ability to ignore her body’s need for water. She commanded the klosu to stop, tucked the tureen under her cape, and climbed down. As she knelt in the dead grass on the bank of the stream preparing to break through the ice and scoop water into her hands, the shrieking of purng-els came from all around her. She quickly stood and saw dozens of them standing on hillocks all around her. She rushed to the klosu and pulled the scimitar from its scabbard just as a dozen purng-els rushed toward her.
Clasping the tureen to her chest, she raised the scimitar and slashed and stabbed the first wave that came at her, and then another dozen descended. The fiercest among them bit into her arm with their pointed fangs before she decapitated them. Others cut into her legs with their razor-sharp fingernails before she impaled them with the scimitar. Before the next group could attack she jumped on to the klosu, grabbed the reins, and commanded it to go. It wasn’t until she was miles away from the purng-els that she realized that during the melee she had spilled some of the soup on her cape. She raised the lid and saw that the tureen was now only two-thirds full. Bloodied and near exhaustion, she slumped forward on the klosu, sent the message to it through the reins to continue eastward, and fell into a deep sleep.
When she awoke she was lying on the ground, clutching the tureen that was concealed under her cape. She had difficulty breathing and was in excruciating pain, symptoms of a bite from a diseased purng-el that was inevitably fatal. Around her stood men and women dressed in a variety of garb pieced together from yomo hides. She recognized them by what they wore, the roundness of their faces, and the orange shading of their hair, as villagers from near the border between the two hemispheres. She glanced around, sizing each of them up. Her eyes rested on a muscular young man who was taller than the others and had a dagger inserted into the sash around his narrow waist.
“What’s your name?” she asked him, raspily.
“Ith Gil-Har,” he answered.
“I will die soon, Ith Gil-Har,” she said. “You are to complete my quest commanded by His Greatness. Take my klosu and carry this tureen of soup to the ruler of the Eastern Hemisphere.” She pushed aside the cape and held the tureen out to him.
“I’m just a farmer,” Ith Gil-Har responded with some timidity.
“I was just a young girl when I became a warrior,” she replied. “This is your destiny.”
“I’ll get my head chopped off if I enter the land of King Puy-Ule Lir,” he protested.
“Tell whoever stops you that it is their king himself who has sent for you,” she said. “Whatever you do, carry this tureen in your hands at all times. Use your dagger to guard the tureen with your life.”
He gingerly took the tureen from her weakening grasp, stuck his nose to the lid and inhaled. He moaned with delight. “Who made this delicious smelling soup?”
A mixed murmur of awe and fear arose from the small crowd.
“You should have told me that the witch Bellisa Hata made the soup,” Ith Gil-Har said, his voice trembling.
“Do as I say and you’ll have nothing to fear. Ride as fast as the klosu can carry you,” she said. She then closed her eyes and moments later, died.
The pale yellow cast by Promus-Minos blanketed the landscape. At the edge of the great petrified forest where the fossilized trunks of millions of trees formed the border between the two hemispheres, Ith Gil-Har sat on the klosu and nibbled on his last piece of dried yomo. He held the tureen cradled in his left arm, rocking it back and forth like a baby, listening to the soup slosh against the sides of the tureen. He watched the man-sized drone-like bugs that circled the sky above the forest, their deadly stingers extending out from their metal bodies, their rapidly fluttering wings humming. Released hundreds of years before by the then ruler of the Easter Hemisphere to fend off an invasion from the west, the drones had learned how to procreate, becoming independent of their makers and twice as lethal.
It will take speed and cunning to get through the forest, he thought as he put his dagger in his mouth, holding it between his clinched teeth. He grabbed the reins, transmitting his thoughts to the klosu. He curled his arm around the tureen and pulled it close to his body, kicked the sides of the klosu, and gripped its sides with his legs. It snorted a cloud of vapour from its nostrils and sped into the forest, winding its way through the trees at top speed. The bugs swarmed, racing behind Ith Gil-Har and the klosu. Their screech-like buzzing filled the air. The klosu needed no instructions about the direction it was going, so Ith Gil-Har concentrated on maintaining his grasp on the tureen while using his dagger to fend off the bugs that dived at him. Thoughts entered his head of tossing the tureen away to use both of his hands to hold and guide the reins to assure his safety but were quickly dismissed out of fear of what wrath it would bring down if he did it and it was found out by Bellisa Hata or the rulers of the hemispheres. When the klosu escaped the forest two days later, leaving the bugs gathered in the air above the trees, every muscle in Ith Gil-Har’s body ached. He brought the klosu to a stop at the ruins of one of the monasteries once used by The Three Moons Guild.
He slid off of the klosu and scanned the fallen fortress-like turrets and arches of the monastery for signs of life. All of the monasteries in both hemispheres had been abandoned for hundreds of years after the monks left the planet to set up permanent residence on the moon, Gabrus-Lux. It was no secret that a few monks remained living among the ruins of each monastery as watchful guardians of the planet and as recorders in The Scrolls of Time.
Cold, hungry and thirsty, Ith Gil-Har sat on a stone that was once part of a monastery wall, lifted the lid of the tureen, and began to drink the soup. He drank a third of it before his limbs became numb and then his entire body became paralyzed. He slid from the stone onto the ground with the tureen still in his grasp and lay there wondering how long it would be before he died.
Brothers Ko-Urs, Poes-Yuloo and Mare-Lind were identical in every way, as were all ten thousand android monks of the Three Moon Guild, both those who remained on Manicula and the ones on Gabrus-Lux. The androids were originally created as warriors by the ruler of the Western Hemisphere at the onset of the wars between the two hemispheres, but something in their makeup made them averse to killing, so those that weren’t destroyed secretly found a way to replicate themselves, never varying in how they saw themselves physically or spiritually. Originally they believed their mission was to observe and record the history of the Maniculan race in The Scrolls of Time, which continued up until the time the vast majority of them transported to the hostile environment of Gabrus-Lux to live a more contemplative existence. Those monks left behind at times veered from their original mission and involved themselves in the affairs of the Maniculan people.
Standing around Ith Gil-Har the three bothers observed him with dispassionate interest.
Unable to move, Ith Gil-Har looked up at them from the ground and repeated his story of the quest he was on to get the soup to King Puy-Ule Lir.
“The soup was made by the woman called Bellisa Hata?” Brother Mare-Lind asked for the second time.
“Yes. She’s a very powerful witch. Have you heard of her?” Ith Gil-Har replied.
“We have heard of everyone who ever lived on this planet, past and present,” the monk answered. “I just want to get the facts straight.”
The three monks chattered quietly among themselves for several moments.
“Brother Mare-Lind will complete your quest and deliver the soup to the king while I and Brother Poes-Yuloo try to restore your health,” Brother Ko-Urs said.
“Thank you,” Ith Gil-Har replied effusively. “The klosu is very swift and should be able to get you to the castle of King Puy-Ule Lir in just a matter of days.
Brother Mare-Lind bent down, put the lid back on the tureen and took it from Ith Gil-Har. He studied the tureen for several moments and then hugged it close to his robed chest. “Monks of The Three Moons Guild don’t subject other sentient mechanized creations to the indignities of being ridden on. I’ll walk.”
“Take my dagger for your protection,” Ith Gil-Har said.
The monk looked at him quizzically. “Your dagger will not protect me from a larger dagger.” Without saying another word, he turned, and barefoot, began the trek across the Pluro Jup Desert.
The strong, cold winds that swept the sand across the landscape buffeted and battered Brother Mare-Lind as he walked over the shifting dunes, holding the tureen in the folds of his robe. He pulled the robe’s hood over his head, but it did little good. His ears, nose and cheeks were nearly frostbitten. The moons rose and set many times as the days and nights passed, with him steadily placing one foot after another.
When the castle of King Puy-Ule Lir was within sight, its golden turrets gleaming in the light of Promus-Minos a nine-legged cogled, as tall and massive as ten men stacked on one another, rose up from under the sand, bared its fangs at the monk and then using one of its claw-like appendages knocked him off of his feet.
Holding on to the tureen, the monk scurried across the sand on his knees. The cogled followed after him, its hot, foul-smelling breath washing over him. Just as the cogled was about to impale the monk with one of its fangs, it fell over dead, killed by the arrows of a hundred Eastern Hemisphere warriors riding across the sand on klosus.
Brother Mare-Lind stood up, and then realized that the top of the tureen was broken and that only a drop of soup remained in the tureen.
King Puy-Ule Lir loved his daughter, the princess Hil Ma-Yu, more than anything on the entire planet. It was foretold by wizards and seers that she would one day unify the two hemispheres, thus ending war for all times. Even as she lay in a coma and near death in her bed from the bite of a wanwung butterfly, she radiated a golden aura of love and compassion. The king held the tureen in his hands and inhaled the faint fragrance that wafted up from it. He knew of Bellisa Hata’s powers; she was, after-all, his twin sister, banished from the Eastern Kingdom when it was discovered when she was a child that she could perform witch-like magic. All records of her were erased from the royal history after her banishment. It would take the blood of a female member of the royal family to restore Princess Hil-Ma-Yu’s health, and Bellisa Hata was the only other remaining female member of the family. In order for the prophecy of what the princess would do to be fulfilled it would depend on if Bellisa Hata had added her own blood to the soup. As he tilted the tureen, pouring the drop of soup into his daughter’s mouth, the king prayed that Bellisa Hata remembered the times they spent as children playing together in the royal flower gardens.
The princess opened her eyes and smiled.