Olingo the Sedulous had studied the creature’s routine, and was thus surprised to see the pelgrane flapping back to its nest a good hour before its projected time of arrival. The scholar, no longer as young as he wished to appear, attempted to clamber from the collection of firmly packed branches comprising the monster’s home. As the pelgrane soared his way, the striped velvet garter attached to Olingo’s left pantaloon leg caught on a wooden gnarl. Dropping the sack of important artifacts he had gathered, he bent down to work it free. By the time he had finished, the pelgrane was perched on the edge of its nest. In a neat motion the creature tucked its vast, bat-like wings behind its back. A thread of saliva dripped from its elongated spear of a beak.
The creature pointed its beak at the bag of items at Olingo’s feet. “I find myself in the presence of a connoisseur,” it said.
“Permit me an explanation,” Olingo responded.
The pelgrane sighed. “Belay all tedious lies. The year’s darkest night is upon us, and I am gnawed at the edges by melancholy.”
Olingo took the risk of picking up the sack. “You are correct, Sir Pelgrane, to guess that I possess some expertise concerning these items. Perhaps, in exchange for my erudite commentary upon them, you might consider sparing my life.”
The scholar withdrew a thin glass orb, covered in a sparkling crimson glaze. “This dates back seven eons, to the Caoropoan Rift—”
“Five,” said the pelgrane. “Five eons. But continue.”
Olingo took a breath. “From the earliest eras of civilization, we humans have marked the winter solstice with a feast of lights, a promise of night’s end, offering hope of birth. Or, depending upon the culture, rebirth.”
“A quotidian observation.”
“Indeed yes but one must ease into any topic. Among the tumultuous peoples of the Caoropoan, competition to display solstice ornaments of the finest subtlety—”
“You mentioned feasting. Frankly, that is a matter nearer my interests. Describe a Caoropoan winter banquet with sufficient piquancy, and I’ll let you go.”
“Let me start with the salad course,” said Olingo. “First, there is the pickle board, which starts with fermented lettuce in a bed of sesame paste.”
The pelgrane wrinkled the soft tissue at the top of its beak.
“I shall glide quickly over the preliminaries, and onto the meats and sauces,” Olingo said.
Watching the expiring sun inch behind the Cuirnif mountains, Olingo described it all: the candied grouse, the gilded carp, the sweetmeats in orange sauce. Not stinting on the side dishes, he conjured the flavors of puffed yam, vault-roasted maize, and jellied sea asparagus.
“It is a shame,” said the pelgrane, “that in these dwindling days it is no longer possible to earn a living as a poet of the culinary. It is there, my friend, that your true talents lie.”
Olingo bowed low. “You humble me, sir.”
“You may go,” said the pelgrane. “I forgive you for coveting my treasure.”
“But wait,” said Olingo, drunk on flattery. He had enjoyed no audience as rapt as this pelgrane. “Our imagined feast is not yet finished. I have not described the sweets course.” He sank back into monologue, beginning with the cacao mousse. He lingered over the shimmering biscuits, and finally listed each of the nine spices, three of them no longer extant, that went into the brandy-soaked cake of the Figgy Extravagance. “Finally the most lissome serving boys drizzle the center with the simplest of caramel sauces, nothing but golden Almery sugar and—”
The pelgrane surged forward, driving its beak through Olingo’s breastbone. It withdrew it a moment later. About to ease a chunk of flesh down its gullet, it caught itself, and spat it out. Horror and shame convulsed its reptilian features.
Hands struggling in vain to close the wound, Olingo gasped his final words: “But you spared me!”
“I concede error,” the pelgrane said. “You were speaking of pudding, and I became distracted.”
Merry Holidays to you and yours from the jolly crew at Pelgrane Press!