9 Chapter 9 Stella
After Stu left, Joseph sat there staring at FOOD on the paper. He concentrated on it for over an hour as it slowly seemed to wiggle on the paper, even though he was sure it wasn't moving. Staring at it so hard everything else just faded away, and he found himself in a blank space. Faint blurry glows were in the distance. He knew they must be the other runes. In front of him the only rune he could clearly and distinctly see was FOOD, which he already knew the shape of. He stared at it as the colors changed. Sweet scents filled his nose and a sour taste tingled on his tongue. His stomach went from starving one moment to completely stuffed the next. A texture in his mouth seemed as if he was eating warm soup with bread and crispy chips at the same time before all of those sensations went away and new sensations replaced them. It took several minutes before he was able to overcome the sensations enough to continue focusing. Concentrating on the rune assaulted his mind. He couldn't even spare the concentration to check his progress.
Opening his eyes, he found himself looking at an unfamiliar ceiling. When he sat up, he was rather groggy. Light was filtering into the room from the window.
"Oh! Young master! You've awakened!"
A maid ran from the room before he could even respond. Footsteps rushed down the hall a few moments later. Father came in with Stu on his heels.
"Joseph! You're awake!" his father exclaimed joyously.
Stu also had a relieved expression.
"Umm. What happened?" he asked, sitting back on his pillows to get comfortable. His head was pounding.
"You fell into a mage trance. It happens rarely only with strong mages, but I've never heard of it happening with an apprentice."
After Stu's probably completely correct, but still insufficient explanation, he turned to father.
"Apparently, the strength of the runes is affected by your understanding of the subject. Grand mages with exceptional comprehension can sometimes be brought into a stronger meditative state, especially during an epiphany. You were trapped in it for over 2 days and have been sleeping for most of another day since leaving it. Stu said forcefully bringing you out of it was dangerous and the healers were more impressed than concerned."
Stu looked at him and spoke. "Young master, you must have an incredible foundation in food. Can you tell me about it?"
His first thought was that there was no way he could know more than Stu, a professional mage and chef, but then he stopped. If he included the knowledge from his past lives…both were global cultures. Food from almost any place in the globe could be had. Compared to such a small world like this, where most of the world had been reduced to wastelands, of course ingredients and local specialties would be lost. He especially thought of Life 1 in high school. He had lived in an enormous city with millions of people and often ate out at weird places. Even if he didn't know how to cook those dishes or even know for certain what was in them, he still had a wide experience of different foods. Was that enough?
Stu and father just continued to look at him while he was lost in thought. Joseph quickly checked his progress.
(ESTIMATED TIME FOR COMPREHENSION OF FOOD RUNE 37 HOURS REMAINING)
63 hours of the first 100 for comprehending FOOD was completed! Right as he was about to open his mouth, his stomach growled. Stu looked at him a little sheepishly.
Father said, "How about we get my son something to eat first?"
"Of course, Master."
"Let me get in the kitchen, too, Stu. I want to see what you have to work with."
Stu wasn't about to deny him after that. They were soon immersed in a room full of different things cooking.
Joseph stood in the middle of a room that was 20 feet long and 20 feet wide. Counters and cooking stoves lined every wall, where a door leading somewhere didn't block. In the middle of the room was a huge island covered in various food items, in various stages of preparation.
A young girl, about his age, rushed into the room, balancing a basket of tubers on one shoulder, dangling a string of sausages from the same hand that held the basket, clutching a bucket of water in the other hand and a string of something he didn't recognize immediately was thrown around her neck. Joseph watched her as she carefully placed everything down, then rushed to her next task.
"Bring that bucket of water over her, girl," said Stu, stirring a pot on the other side of the room.
The girl didn't hesitate in her movements, grabbing up the bucket in a fluid movement as she also grabbed a knife on a counter on her way. She grabbed something else after placing the bucket down, and returned to where she had been, to start peeling the tubers. It was obvious she knew her place and how to move around the kitchen. Stu, however, called her girl, instead of by her name, whenever he asked, or told, her to do anything.
While Joseph was impressed with the way they worked together, he was confused by the girl. She wasn't a slave, as he was very familiar with how they looked by now, but she didn't have the appearance of an apprentice, either.
"Stu? Who's the girl?" he finally asked.
"Oh, her? She works here, in the kitchen, and in return, I let her sleep on that cot over there, and she gets to eat whatever scraps are left at the end of the day."
Joseph could see a small little cot, pushed up behind a couple of large baskets under the sink.
"No, I mean, what's her name?"
Stu paused for a moment, scratching his head in thought, then shrugged.
"Guess I never asked. She's only been here a few months. Knocked on the door and demanded a job. I told her to get to work, and if she caused trouble, she'd be back outside. I must admit, it was a bit of a surprise when she demanded the job. Never had anyone her age, do that before."
He watched her work, curiously. For some reason, he seemed intensely intrigued by her. His main reason for coming to the kitchens had been pushed to the side, and he knew that until he got to the bottom of her mystery, he wouldn't be able to focus on his main goal.
"Girl, what's your name?"
She opened her mouth in a surprised little 'o', then curtsied in the quarter bow his father's slaves did to him. "Stella, Master."
"Stu, her name is Stella. Call her by her name from now on, instead of girl."
"Of course, young master."
With a nod, he turned to examining the various vegetables and fruits laid out, and began quizzing Stella and Stu on what they were.
"Stu, do you ever smoke anything other than meat?" Joseph asked after they finished telling him about the intricacies to smoking sausages.
"Why, no, young master, I don't think I ever have." Stu seemed perplexed by this idea, as if it was the greatest thing to consider.
Joseph was dismayed to find that the vegetables in his memories from his other lives were different than the food items he was finding before him. Corn in this life was yellow but it was blue and had bigger kernels in a previous life. Potatoes in this life had a skin but something similar in a previous life had a husk, like rice. He didn't see sherp-like, desur-like, or rice-like grains, but maybe in other places?
It was something he would have to investigate.