The rain was pouring down, rivulets of water making their way across the cobblestones; tributaries to roaring rivers gushing through the gutters towards drains further down the street.
The street was nearly empty of pedestrians. The people regularly frequenting the exclusive shops and boutiques of Thistleshrub Alley opting to seek shelter from the rain in their countryside mansions or downtown penthouses. The few poor souls sheltering under umbrellas and skipping between puddles were to a man servants sent out by their masters on missions of acquisition.
The rain had been falling for days and business was slow for most of the businesses on the street. The rich and the famous prefer to do their shopping when the weather is nice; when they can show off their outfits or wives while strolling down the street or sipping a latte at The Kafé.
Despite this the shops remained vigilantly open. It was a source of pride among the shop owners. The signs on their doors stated they would be open and so they were. It wouldn’t do to be unavailable if some starlet decided that what she really needed in order to deal with the rain and gloom was a new swimsuit and a matching pair of sunglasses. The customers spent a lot of money and they had the right to expect their providers to be available at their whim.
Still, the weather was awful and business was slow. In most shops the attendants had holed up in back rooms with books or magazines, waiting out the storm while sipping hot beverages from the specialty shops down the street. Business wasn’t good, but life was pleasant and the weather would change. It can’t rain all the time.
Not all shops were quiet though. Slow but steady streams of visitors passed through the shops providing luxury beverages of their respective kind; Garmin’s for coffee, JG’s for tea and Rudolf’s for the best hot chocolate and pralines in the world. It really was the best hot chocolate available over disk anywhere in the civilized world, or at least in all the north which, as far as anyone who lived there was concerned, was the same thing.
Rudolf was a master and a magician with a special talent for chocolate. He’d traveled far and wide to learn from all the great masters about the magics that could be wrought from the cacao bean. Eventually he’d settled down and opened up shop in Kul Viller and had since then made a name for himself as the worlds most accomplished chocolatier. That he was a skilled magician there was no doubt about, but what the secret magic of his chocolate was remained a mystery. When asked about it Rudolf would answer that there was no secret, there was only chocolate.
On this day Rudolf was a happy hobbit. He presided over his shop, his little chocolate empire as he liked to call it, with a firm but loving hand. The fact however was that despite the shop being busy there was not much for him to do. The stores were full to the brim with all of the most common varieties of chocolate, the majority of it produced by himself and all of the rest produced under his close supervision.
The shop was also fully stocked with all the raw materials he could conceivably need, and plenty he couldn’t. Should someone for some reason desire a particular variant of chocolate currently not in stuck Rudolf would be able to produce it within the hour – no exception.
At the moment he was standing by the stores big display window, gazing through it at the rain endlessly pouring down outside. He was leaning on a mop he’d used a minute ago to sweep water out the door after the last customer departed. He would undoubtedly use it again once the next customer to arrive had left, but for now he was just standing there; lost in thought, looking out the window. He was happy.
Behind him, behind the shops glass counter his two assistance were quietly busying themselves. Their tasks for the day mainly administrative, measuring and packaging the wares that the customers ordered as well as answering the phone to receive said orders.
Eileen, who was born in the city and who spoke with a pronounced but clear local accent was generally the one who picked up the phone when it rang. The other woman, Eilyvondriel, was from the Deep South and had only lived in Viller a few years. She spoke the language passably, but with a heavy accent that didn’t carry well over the phone. She also had a hard time keeping up with some of the thicker local accents.
Despite being well over three thousand years old and with many other great qualities, the elf didn’t have a mind for languages. Fortunately, Rudolf mused, he hadn’t hired her to talk, but to work. Originally, all he had wanted was an elven store assistant with hair and skin in chocolate hues. As it were, in Eily, he’d also acquired a good friend and a worthy apprentice.
Dark skinned elves were exceedingly rare this far north and after the whining her first real winter Rudolf thought he understood why. He’d paid a fortune to get her to move up here and after that first winter had been forced to considerably increase her salary.
She was expensive but she was worth it. An elf with chocolate hued skin was a rare and exotic treat for the eyes, but more importantly it was a good omen and a symbol of fortune and quality wherever chocolate was worked. The same, of course, was true for humans and hobbits, but they were far more common in the region and Rudolf had wanted something truly exclusive to set his business apart from that of other chocolatiers.
Even so, Eileen, his human assistant, also sported smooth milky brown skin and dark, nearly black hair. She too was considered a beauty and while Eily was an exotic and stunning woman in her own right it was Eileen who won the hearts of the customers. Her beaming smile, infectious laughter and unending stream of pleasant conversation charmed everyone. On top of that her uncanny ability to never forget the combination of name and face of anyone she met made her an invaluable asset to the business.
Young men from all levels of society were constantly vying for Eileen’s affection and coming up with new ways to try and woo her and win her heart. After all, they couldn’t well impress her with fancy chocolate, which was otherwise a standard trick for winning the heart of a woman.
A muffled knocking was heard from the back room and Eileen went to open the door to the delivery entrance. The last few days, Rudolf had had six boys running deliveries all over town, way more than the usual one. Patrick was a good lad, well mannered, handsome and efficient, but he couldn’t be everywhere at once. Busy times like these Rudolf would call up a staffing agency he had an agreement with and they would provide him with some reliable delivery boys. Of course, they weren’t really boys; he was a respectable business owner and couldn’t hire under-age staff, especially not for deliveries to respectable customers. He still thought of them as his delivery boys though. He just liked the sound of it more, even if they were grown men and women distributing his wares to his clients.
The olf-fashioned bell hanging by the entrance jingled as the door was thrust open and a man in a heavy, soaking wet overcoat and broad brimmed hat entered followed by sharp gust of wind and rain. The jars and boxes on the shelves rattled as the wind found its way in through the room and out again by the delivery door that must still have been open in the back. Then the door slammed shut and shortly after a thud from the back room was heard as that door too was closed.
- “Lovely day for a walk isn’t it.”
The voice from underneath the hat was deep but cultured. Rudolf vaguely recognized it but couldn’t for the moment put a name on it. Either way, it didn’t matter; Eilyvondriel would handle the customer. It’s what he paid her for, among other things, and if she couldn’t do it Eileen would shortly be back behind the counter to save the day.
A small torrent of water splashed on the floor as the man shrugged and fumbled for something in his coat pocket. He produced a wrinkled piece of paper and handed it to Eily who started reading aloud from it to confirm what the order was.
- “Kaiser Truffles, Dark Sea-salt Squares, Hazelnut Hearts, Gossamer Wings, Cherry Shells, Blackforest Dreams, Hot Chocolate Mix, Chili Truffles, Rum Squares, Punch Squares and Dark Temptation Hearts. Is that correct sir?”
- “Yes, that is correct, do you have it all in stock?”
- “Yes sir, I do believe we have it all in stock, let me just double check with the master.”
- “No, we don’t.”
Rudolf’s heart had skipped a beat as Eily was reading the list. Usually reserved for celebrations on par with royal weddings Gossamer Wings was one of the most complicated pralines a chocolatier could attempt. The ingredients were rare and extremely expensive but, of course, in stock. Rudolf wouldn’t be the world’s best chocolatier if he wasn’t prepared for all eventualities. Without turning he continued:
- “We don’t generally stock Gossamer Wings, but if you truly desire and are prepared to wait for them I will be happy to produce a pair.”
Rudolf’s heart was beating fast and he could barely contain his excitement. Crafting a pair of gossamer wings was en exquisite challenge worthy of his genius. He relished the thought of getting to use his powers to their full extent. It would also be a golden opportunity for his apprentice to observe the creation of a truly intricate praline. Eilyvondriel had been a great student and had advanced to a level where most of what was sold in the shop no longer challenged her abilities. Seeing him create Gossamer Wings would remind her how much se still had to learn and spur her to study harder.
“How long would it take and is there somewhere private I can wait, I’m trying to be discreet? And I would like four pairs if that’s possible.”
- “F… four pairs? Four pairs of Gossamer Wings?”
- “Yes, is that a problem?”
- “No. No no. No problem at all. It won’t be no problem at all sir. They’re rather costly though and I will unfortunately have to charge full price for all four pairs. Very exclusive, Gossamer Wings.”
- “That’s not a problem. How long will it take?”
- “Oh, my, I’m sorry, yes, no problem then. I’d say I be able to have them done in forty-five minutes or so. No more than an hour, tops.”
- “Ok, forty five minutes. Can I wait here or should I seek shelter elsewhere and then return?”
- “Oh, wait, yes. You’re welcome to have a seat with me in the back room while I work. It’s quite small, but dry and comfortable.”
- “Dry and comfortable sounds good to me.”
With that the big man took off his hat and with an exaggerated motion shook the remaining water off it on the floor.
Rudolf ushered the man towards the door to the back room and shouted for Eileen to prepare the guest seat. They didn’t often use it but the little seating area was there for just this type of occasion; a waiting place for customer who wished to discreetly wait in comfort while their order was being prepared. He could hear Eileen fussing about the visitor in the back room, making sure his coat was hung to dry, that he was seated comfortable and wondering if he would like the day’s paper.
With their guest out of the way Rudolf instructed Eily to mop up the water on the floor and to then join him in the working area once Eileen was able to relieve her behind the counter. The elf nodded and solemnly went to pick up the mop, which lay forgotten on the floor.
In the back room Eileen was chatting away with their guest who politely nodded and hummed at the right places. Rudolf thought he detected a faint, uncharacteristically nervous, edge to her voice. The woman must be close to panic. She was normally able to make relaxed and pleasant conversation with the most distinguished of dignitaries but this man clearly unsettled her. It must be as he’d suspected Rudolf mused; their guest was a truly significant individual. Who else would order, and afford, four pairs of Gossamer Wings.
He was curious who the customer might be but would not embarrass himself or his guest by acknowledging his ignorance. It wasn’t as if the man’s identity was any of his business any way. The guest clearly wanted to be discreet, which basically meant he was here incognito or in secret and didn’t want his presence or identity to be known.
Rudolf himself approached the man, asked if he was comfortable and if there was anything he needed. When he’d satisfied himself the expectations of hospitality had been met he order Eileen out in the main room to take up position behind the counter and told her to send Eily in.
He then proceeded to explain to the guest that he would be creating the Gossamer Wings in this very room and that his apprentice, Eilyvondriel, the elven lady, would be observing the process and, when necessary, assist him in the production. The guest nodded politely and explained he was delighted at the opportunity to observe a master craftsman at work and that looked very much forward to it.
As they were speaking Eily had entered the room and started preparing the work area. Being a diligent apprentice she would have taken the opportunity to look up what tools and ingredients were needed in the Big Book of Chocolate Magic that always sat on the counter next to the cash machine. She had a good memory and would have remembered it all. Not that Gossamer Wings required a multitude of tools or ingredients; a bowl for mixing a standard chocolate base with a mere handful of very rare and expensive additives for taste and substance.
The work would be done, not with tools or by hand, but with magic; the wings being shaped in the air above the bowl, suspended there until they were ready to be put into little boxes and carried away by the customer.
Rudolf took up position behind the working table, strategically set up in a way that allowed waiting guests to observe the crafting of the wares they’d ordered. A quick look at the table indicated that Eily had set it up correctly and a more thorough inspection confirmed that this was indeed the case. Still, Rudolf fussed about a bit, moving things around a little and swapping the bowl for another one, identical except for the color. Eily looked on with an amused smile but didn’t say anything. She normally wasn’t one for making a show of things but had learnt to accept Rudolf’s penchant for it and to not comment upon it where anyone could hear.
Satisfied everything was in order and that nothing had been forgotten Rudolf signaled he was ready. He felt a faint mental click as Eily’s magic locked on to his. In this way she would be able to observe not only what was being done with the chocolate, but also how the magic used to do it was woven. At first this magical eavesdropping had bothered Rudolf, but over the months and years since he’d apprenticed the elf he’d gotten used to it and it was no longer a hindrance in his work.
Thus it began. Rudolf theatrically cracks his fingers like he is a pianist about to start playing. Instead of actually using his hands for anything he clasps them behind his back, takes a deep breath and closes his eyes.
On the table in front of him, the chocolate base gently floats into the air and hovering above the bowl it slowly starts to melt. As the liquid chocolate drips into the bowl the various additives are slowly added to the mix. A small blob of a thick, semi-transparent, gold-colored liquid hangs next to the chocolate base and very slowly releases drop after drop into the mix. Pinches of white flour-like powder intermittently jump from a small tin to land on the melting chocolate base and join the thick brown goo dripping down into the bowl. Thin black flakes float from a carton and as they arrive over the bowl they catch fire and the ashes fall into the mix.
As the last of the chocolate base drips into the bowl a small sachet floats from where it lay on the table. Arriving over the bowl a dome of green light appears around it; the edges of the dome perfectly matching those of the bowl. Inside the dome the sachet is ripped apart and the dome is filled with a fine fluorescent powder and a faint humming sound can be heard. Rudolf’s brow creases and little drops of sweat start to appear.
The powder slowly falls down into the bowl, not wholly unlike the white flakes in a snow globe. Eventually all of the powder is absorbed into the mix and the green dome disappears. The bowl starts to gently rotate on the table and for a while nothing much happens; the bowl quietly spinning away around its own axis.
After a while a large white drop of chocolate rises out of the depths of the bowl and is shortly followed by three more. Wavering for a moment the drops eventually find their places, split into pairs and then lock into position. These are the bases upon which the wings will be built.
Short thin strands of chocolate thread, someime brown but mostly white, appear out of the bowl, attach to the bases and strand by single strand the wings start to take shape. It’s a painstakingly slow process and even with the motions being mirrored threefold to simultaneously craft all four wings it takes nearly half an hour to complete the task.
All this time the room is quiet; the only thing that can be heard is the faint noise of the rain outside and twice the muffled sound of conversation as Eileen serves customers in the store’s front room.
Finally the modeling of the wings is finished. Four small globs of a transparent liquid sail out of a bowl and place themselves underneath the wings; one glob of liquid per pair. The globs start to simmer; the fumes rising from them enveloping the wings, coating them in a thin layer of glazing. After this nothing happens for a while as the glazing dries and the wings settle into their shapes.
With the glazing done the crafting of the Gossamer Wings is completed and they float off to the edge of the table to settle into four specially designed boxes.
Rudolf opens his eyes and smiles. He sticks a hand into the bowl, feels around a bit, pulls out a finger covered in chocolate goo and sticks it in his mouth. He makes a happy satisfied sound, sits down on a little chair behind the table and promptly falls asleep. Rudolf may be a master magician and a world famous chocolatier but right now he’s most of all just a very tired hobbit.
Eilyvondriel, unfazed, closes the lid on the four little boxes and gently picks them up. She nods toward the door to the main room and then follows the guest out. A few minutes later, all business concluded, she reappears, grabs a blanket from a shelf and drapes it over her sleeping master.
The rest of the day is quiet.