Travelogue 4 — A Night at the Blue Pineapple

Codex Inversus
8 min readJun 10, 2024

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Lord Neberius was over the moons with the green quarto in his hands. He licked his lips after every entry he read, tasting each imaginary dish listed. He was tormented by indecision, flipping the pages back and forth, alternating frowns of doubt with the wide-open eyes of illumination.After a long internal deliberation, Lord Neberius decided on the Blue Pineapple: probably the more outlandish and expensive establishment of all.

Lord Aspis’s selected list of Mizanian Taverns and Inns.

The Blue Pineapple.

Riparian Street (near the river port’s south docks). South Eastern Gnome cuisine. The establishment shines for its magical ambiance and exotic dishes. The surprising sweet-and-sour flavors and unpredictable meats are not for all palates but worth the adventure. The exquisite yet enigmatic cutlery matches the uncooperative yet efficient staff. Sophisticated and wealthy clientele.

The place was almost on the other side of the city, near the eastern gate. We take a convoluted route to get there since the Lord took impromptu detours every time he saw something interesting: a plant on a window, a curio shop, the sound of a bard rehearsing.
The viscount was in a chatty mood: he told me he was in the Principality Capital when a crate of pineapples arrived for the prince’s ninth birthday. The fruits descended the ship like a royal delegation, sitting in silk pillows, escorted by guards between wings of curious. He was a kid, this was 30 years ago, and people are more apathetic these days. But he always saw food as something exciting, a window to the world, a source of emotions and knowledge not so different from a book. He was lucky to attend the birthday party and taste it, and it tasted terrific, he pointed out.
Apparently, Lord Neberius and Prince Elector Zotor are friends, like actual friends, not just acquaintances, allies, or distant relatives, as I imagine most aristocrats’ relationships are. When the viscountess died, the Prince sent a gold pineapple figurine to Lord Neberius to accompany his condolences.

Thanks to the meandering walk, we reached the tavern at dusk. The outside was unremarkably dull and plain as the nearby docks, but that only accentuated the marvel that waited for us on the inside.
The walls were covered in golden tiling, and pillars of potted plants reached the high ceiling. But, most impressive of all, the lighting was literally magical: the whole salon was bathing in sunlight, and even if we could see the night falling outside the window, the light coming in was bright as day.
I was speechless. The idea of someone casting a quite complex illusion, probably for hours, to make a tavern look nice seemed so alien to me. I know Uxalian wizards use mechanisms and clockwork to ease such complex magical tasks, but still, it seemed so weird to me that an arcanist, probably with a decade or more of training, would spend most of his day doing such frivolous magic.

The waitress clip-clopped on her clogs to greet us with a fake smile and a bored expression, indifferent to our amazement. She made us sit on some pillows in a nook and started to enumerate the daily dishes in a droning litany. I translated the best I could but half of the words had no meaning to me, it seemed she was pulling my leg with nonsense words. “Banana”? “Papaya”? “Dodo”? They all sounded like the first words of a babbling baby. Lord Neberius cut to the chase and asked for a selection of dishes, chef’s discretion, as long there was something with pineapple and something fried. The waitress’s smile was now sincere and satisfied, but the satisfaction you see in your chess opponent when you blunder.

While we waited we glanced at the other diners and all were indeed sophisticated: there were two “regular” tables, one with six humans wearing white (our guess was tea merchant from the unison); the other with a mixed company of two bearded humans and a Tengu (clearly some scholars). In the other nooks and the short benches near the walls all well-dressed parties of gnomes, the only exception of an elven couple on a romantic outing.
While the viscount tried to guess what the others were eating, with Bazim nodding along, I was mesmerized by the chandeliers that, on a more careful look, revealed complicated mechanisms running inside them.

The first course arrived quickly. It was a jellyfish salad with sesame seeds and little cubes of pickled fruits. It was cold served in a bowl, with a side plate of mysterious pastry balls, covered in sesame as well. Our puzzlement grew when we were given a U-shaped tong and a spoon with a pointed end as cutlery. The drink was a jug of orange wine, not because of the color but of the ingredient: wine made out of oranges. The Waitress thoughtfully left us a little jar of mustard, supposing that we would love a little spicy kick, but disappeared before we could ask how anything… worked.
Every time we attempted to deal with the food we heard a rustling, a little couch, and a clink of silverware, something that made us stop and lift our heads, only to see the gnomes guests eyeing us and trying to instruct us with minimal nods. When Bazim tried to eat the ball whole using his hands a gnome woman intervened, friendly but exasperated, explaining the etiquette. While the salad is cold, the sesame ball is scorching hot on the inside and must be “deflated” piercing a hole with the pointy end of the spoon. The rest is eaten using the tongs, that she showed us how to use. The spoon is for the leftover condiment in the bowl. She waited to see if we were compliant with the instructions and then moved back to her nook.
The dish was a clash of texture and temperature: the jellyfish was crunchy yet rubbery, acidic yet sweet, refreshing (due to much cilantro) yet spicy. The pastry ball had a similar counterpoint, with the frail crust hiding a creamy core.

Lord Neberius gestured towards the woman and her companions, two other gnome ladies, inviting them to join us. They politely refused, until they saw our main course, then they had to come to our rescue. The dish was a trio of fried insects: locusts, ants in rice, and quite massive dream spiders. The silverware looked like a surgeon’s tool kit, with scissors, a hooked spoon, a normal spoon, some long skewers twisted like corkscrews, a fork with two very wide prongs, and another with two very narrow prongs. A tray of colorful sauces and a pile of paper-thin pancakes arrived as well.
The gnome lady, Adina, and her two friends, Bilen and Kokeb, showed us the workings before we made a fool of ourselves.
You use the large fork to stab the spider in the abdomen and the thorax, then use the scissors to cut the two parts. The abdomen is then picked up using a pancake to cover the finger. You put the sauces on the pancakes first, if you want any. You can then either do the same with the thorax or use the narrow spoon-hook to scoop out the meat on the plate, using the narrow fork to eat it. You use the pancake method to eat the locust and the ants as well, but first, they have to be put on the plate. The locusts must be taken with the skewer, and you can add a screw motion to avoid an unelegant stabbing. The spoon is for the rice and ants (at least that was easy).

Lord Neberius ordered a round of something stronger to offer our helpful guests and after a round of another fruit wine (plums?), the three women became more friendly and talkative. They were seamstress, celebrating the end (and payment) of an important commission, the dresses for the Pasha family (the Pasha is the gnomish equivalent of the Archduke). They had a lot of backhanded compliments for my outfits, praising (while also mocking) my alchemy satchel. They pointed me to some shops in the bazaar, dwarves are good with leather. And If I wanted to give some life to some pretty but out-of-fashion dress (like the one I was wearing) I should go to them, they can embroider something nice.
Lord Neberius was more interested in fashion than me and amused the gnomes pantomiming his ideal outfit for a gala (I’m not sure if they were laughing at him or with him). I took advantage of the distraction to clean my plate putting some locusts in my bag: they were very tasty but the feeling of the little legs in my mouth was unsettling.

We were served a grilled pineapple with an herb liquor as a last course. Delicious as promised, I must say. The Viscount was ready to go on all night long: the gnome ladies were all delighted by his attempt at communication, a bard was singing and games of cards were afoot. But the Dream Spider kicked in: we were not made present that the dream spiders have mild psychotropic effects, specifically a shift in color perception. Yellow became green, blue became purple, and red became a swirling iridescence. The dizziness of the alcohol surged tenfold and Bazim ran out to throw up. Me and the Viscount were swaying our heads gazing at everything with incredulity.

The waitress suggested we take some fresh air, and maybe go for a walk, a long walk home, for example. Lord Neberius was willing to stay, encouraged by the gnomes eager to see us make fools of ourselves (I imagined) but seeing my shaken face and hearing the distraught sounds coming for Bazim outside, he thought it was better to leave.
The waitress handed the Lord a small piece of paper with the bill and he left on the table a pile of gold coins high enough to sustain a farmer for half a year.

We stumbled out of the local and recovered Bazim, ashamed and full of guilt leaning on a dock’s wall. The night was purple and moonless but some windows were still bright green, reflecting in the teal waters of the canals.
I suggested we drank some tonics I was bringing with me from such occasions, but the simple incantation to activate them made my stomach churn, and I joined Bazim in his shame. If we were in the empire I would have been fired or worse, but here my disgusting actions were met with a laugh. Lord Neberius chained arms with us and dragged us to the Xenodochium.

Before going to bed I gave the locusts to a rainbow kitty snooping from outside the window. He ate them voraciously and I could swear it meowed “Thank you”.

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Codex Inversus

A world-building project. Art and stories from a fantasy world. All illustrations are mine: collages and rework of other art. https://linktr.ee/Codex_Inversus