Volume 2 Number 4


Autumn 2004

Tasty Treasure

Norman A. Rubin

Once upon a time there lived a pleasant fellow whose name was Boris Raskolnikov the Dreamer; a man whose thoughts were sometimes set absentmindedly on dreams. His fantasies were of a roving and adventurous nature that took him to lands afar. He was always ready to travel in his mind and to explore the fantastic treasures and vistas that were pictured temptingly in his dreaming -- until that day when a fortune was made in the offer of the tasty treasure to an emperor of a faraway land.

Boris Raskolinokov, when he was not in his reverie, was a man of substance, albeit rather limited in the small town in which he raised his family. Close to his elder years, he was the owner of the horse and wagon which catered to the hauling needs of the community. His station was at the village marketplace and his husky middling body was known to all. Boris Raskolinikov was of pleasant countenance; his florid features had laughing blue eyes, and his full lips a ready smile.

He was known as a good provider to Ludmilla, his wispy wife, and a brood of little ones -- four growing boys and an equal four growing daughters. True, the earnings of a waggoner were not lucrative, yet it provided a steady income. His only competitor was a gross-looking chap by the name of Mischa whose behavior was as mean as his appearance. Thus, Boris the Dreamer got the cream of the hauling trade of the village.

It was a quiet day in midsummer when a traveling herbalist was seen in the village. He was an elderly chap, white in hair and beard, and weighed down with a worn canvas knapsack filled with magic formulas, incantations, and remedial herbs. He was a trusted soul as his sack of potions and sayings helped in finding a cure for all ills, the curse of the evil eye, and for the bonding of love.

Somehow, the herb doctor had removed the knapsack from his weary back at Boris' feet. The Dreamer was as usual in his fantasy world while waiting for customers and he adopted a 'never you mind' attitude and did not give a cause of complaint. Within moments, a bond of friendship ensued and the two men were in a confab talking on one topic then another.

The aged mystic searched the eyes of Boris the Dreamer and in a low voice said, "I have been to strange lands in all my travels, but the strangest of all was a faraway country where onions were unknown. Fah! The taste of their cooking was horrible. There were no onions added to their meat and fish, no onions mixed with their salads, and no onions added for flavour to their soups."

"No onions!" repeated Boris in the guttural of his tongue. "What a sacrilege as onions has been known from time immortal. What sort of pleasure can these poor folk derive from their food without onions?" Then, without further thought, Boris Raskolnikov decided to go there, not in his dreaming but in the taking of the long road. He was determined to introduce this tasty bulb to the kind folk of this faraway country. The tempting prodding of the gross Mischa, who envisaged sole rights to the transport trade, helped his decision.

The passing of the coin to the herbalist and a map with directions to the onionless country was in the waggoner's hands. The land was far, and it called for traveling many many verts, maybe a thousand or two through roads and trails. Boris hardly traveled more than a few verts in his trade, not more than fifty. Yet he remembered a time when he had traveled over a hundred verts in the name of the Holy Father of the town.

The direction to the faraway onionless land was northerly, through the lands of the Aleut tribes of mighty warriors. The route ran through dark forests, swift rivers, and past the plateaus of ice and high mountains where fierce winds blew. Then, from the top of the peaks, the road led downwards to a fertile valley below to that onionless faraway country.

Without further delay he acquired a wagonload of onions. He settled all accounts, made provisions for his family, and started out for that faraway country. It was a distant land and the travel took a month or more; yet the Dreamer had a safe journey as no brigand could get near the odorous smell of the onion-filled wagon.

Sure enough, the map was correct in its directions. Through ice and storm, hill and dale, his horse plodded along pulling the wagonload of onions. And, at times, Boris Raskolinov the Dreamer sided with the animal and helped in the toil. From the crest of the hills the path was easily trailed, both for man and beast, as it led downwards to the sweet valley of that onionless land.

Finally, after the wearisome journey, he saw the gates of the palace. Without much ado, he arranged for the care of his wagon and horse at the stables. Then he went directly to the royal courts and asked for an audience with the emperor of that faraway land.

The audience was immediately granted, as it was the custom of the land to admit strangers to the inspection of the ruler. Boris the Dreamer entered the spacious and well-decorated court of the emperor. He bowed, as was proper, and then he addressed the high and mighty:

"Your Highness, I have brought to your kingdom a bulb-shaped vegetable that has the unique quality that will improve the taste of your food, be it cooked, fried, or boiled," stated Boris Raskalinov. "Even by itself, it is a gourmet's delight."

Boris offered the king one of his onions to taste, but the monarch disdained, as it was a frightful habit of nefarious persons of that country to poison the rulers. Still, the emperor was willing to give it a try. "But if this strange looking vegetable would prove injurious to my health and to my court, I will have your head on a platter."

Then Boris immediately brought a sack of onions to the royal kitchen where he supervised the preparation of the coming banquet. Onions were chopped and put into the soups; the royal chef tasted a spoonful and he beamed in delight. Onions were sliced and mixed with the cold fresh salads; again the chef tasted and again he beamed in delight. Then, before the meats and fish were grilled, onion slices were placed on top and the flavour watered the mouth of the royal chef.

The large banquet hall was all a-glitter where all the ministers of state and their wives, high and noble princes and princesses, and the temple priests were gathered. The dishes, brought by servants in the finest livery, were first tasted by Boris the Dreamer finely dressed in royal robes, then by the royal tasters, and then served to the gathered potentates, nobles, and fine gentlemen. Finally the emperor was served.

It was the well-dressed and bejeweled wives of the very important persons of the kingdom that first let out an ecstatic reaction to the delicious taste of the food. "Delicious," "tasty," and all sorts of "oohs" and "ahhs" were heard as they ate with gusto of every plate. Then the astute gentlemen at the banquet dug in and found the food most appetizing. The king followed and the liveried servants couldn't pass the dishes fast enough.

The following day, the emperor called in Boris Raskolinikov the Dreamer to his throne room and read out a proclamation that ordained the waggoner a prince of the realm. Then the good monarch ordered the appropriation of the wagonload of onions for his court; in return Boris was given its weight in gold coinage. And on top of all the awards and plaudits, Boris was given a contract to deliver further wagonloads of onions at stipulated dates.

It was tears of farewell when Boris Raskolnikov hitched up his horse to his wagon. The head chef of the royal kitchen with an onion to his lips was tearing. Noble gentlemen and their ladies with onions to their lips were tearing. Princes and princesses with onions to their lips were tearing. Boris drove off with a guard of brawny riders to assist him across the windy peaks and iced plateaus.

But, if the carter had bothered to ask before he left as to why they don't grow onions, he would have learned that the sweet soil of that faraway country only yielded to the planting of sweet vegetables like sweet peas or broccoli. And that Boris Raskolnikov the Dreamer was the first waggoner to dare the treacherous route in the haulage of onions to that faraway land.

When the adventurer returned home from his travels, he was cheered and greeted as a hero as the onion growers of the nearby farmlands had a dependable market for their crop. Boris Raskolnikov tearfully hugged his beloved wife and added kisses to his brood of four growing sons and four growing daughters.

Many gold coins were distributed to the poor and needy, a few others were lavished on his wife and children, and great deal was given to the town for its many institutions. A new wagon with a fine dray horse was purchased and a driver hired. The rest he deposited in the village bank and the interest accrued.

Jealousy crept into the heart of his rival, Mischa the Boor, when he witnessed all these events. But he was a clever devil as he thought and schemed. He then conceived a plan to make an even larger fortune than Boris Raskolnikov the Dreamer.

"Let him haul his onions to that faraway kingdom, but I will outsmart him with a bulb more fragrant: garlic!"

So he schemed and plotted. In the end he cornered the garlic market with his limited savings. Then he filled ten sacks with the pungent, yet tasty vegetable, and placed them in his wagon. His horse and wagon followed the tracks of Boris, but his quadruped was burdened solely in the passage. The brigands en route were deterred by the odour and they left him in safety.

"Surely if they exchange gold for onions, they certainly will exchange his load for sack of precious stones," he grumbled greedily.

The greedy man succeeded in making the treacherous route to that faraway land where he obtained an audience with the emperor. Then, after much bantering, he was able to convince the monarch to give his innovation a try. The preparation of a festive meal was in order and the royal chef beamed in delight at the taste. And at the banquet the coming night, the garlic taste was relished much more than the onion, and all oohed and ahhed.

Until they faced each other and their breaths dictated that the delectable taste of the onion was more suitable at banquets even though the garlic had a fine quality of its own. The pungent flavor of the garlic could therefore be only eaten in the privacy of one's home.

The following day, the emperor called together all his wise men, ministers, and royal advisers to decide the form of recompense to be paid to this noble visitor who brought a somewhat tastier bulb to the kingdom. They put their heads together, whispered, and argued that gold would be a poor reward for such a treasure. And Mischa the Boor heard the wrangling from behind closed doors. Within his mind thoughts revolved around a treasured payment of precious gems as fair compensation for his wagonload of garlic.

Trumpets sounded through the halls. A decision was reached as to the reward. Buzz, buzz, whispers whirled through the palace as pleasant voices agreed with the final verdict.

Mischa the Boor returned home with his reward: five sacks of onions, the tasty treasure of the kingdom in exchange for his garlic pods!