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Old 03-25-2017, 02:56 PM   #2
Benny Mon
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 37
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Default Chapter 1

Chapter 1

The city of Qala, capital of of the kingdom of Lajjar, sat at the heart of the Amman Plateau, a vast, lush expanse wedged into the greater Barahar Mountain chain. Qala was the only Lajjari city to speak of--hamlets and towns dotted the plains that covered the plateau, but none matched the density and scale of the capital. So long isolated behind the mountains, there was little commerce in Lajjar, so the small merchant corps in Qala existed mostly existed to funnel the agricultural produce that wasn’t consumed by the landed nobility from the plain to the city. But the military presence in the city was substantial: Lajjar kept its soldiers in peak condition not only to protect against the Western threat that never came, but also to manage their eastern border, where mountains gave way to steppe, and nomadic bands and royal patrols clashed in skirmishes and raids. The Lajjari thought so little of the nomads--no cities, no settled life, almost no agriculture--that they still thought of their kingdom as perfectly isolated, untouched by any other civilization. The nomads were a threat, but hardly an existential one.

Deep within the castle, however, the royal staff paid little mind to distant military matters. Hundreds of servants scurried through the corridors of the massive building at the center of the city, daily preoccupied with keeping this city within a city afloat. The grounds staff tended the trees and vines that plastered the outer walls and the hanging gardens nestled high in the towers and balconies of the castle; dozens of others maintained the bedchambers and other private spaces, washing clothes, changing beds, sweeping floors and stoking fires. And it was impossible to miss the procurement team, over one hundred runners who darted back and forth between the castle and the noble residences distributed throughout the city. The nobility who owned the kingdom’s countryside estates were absentee landlords, enjoying the luxuries and fashions of city life while delegating the management of their estates to esteemed managers. It was the job of the procurement team to visit each noble residence every day and collect the tribute they owed to the royal family--tribute that, over the course of the year, amounted to a tenth of the produce of the estates’ farms. Next to soldiers, procurement runners were the most visible population circulating through the city, driving oxen pulling wagonloads of potatoes, wheat, apples, plums, pears, figs, berries, and sugar beets to warehouses and processing centers around the city. Breweries and distilleries transformed the roots and grains into rum and beer; mills ground the wheat into flour. The castle itself maintained stockyards and pastures in and near the city to raise dairy and meat. And as each foodstuff nearly completed its transformation from raw material to finished product, the procurement team again rushed through the capital, ferrying these ingredients past the giant oak doors of the castle and through the sandstones halls, with manually operated counterweight elevators depositing them in the heart of the castle: the Kitchens.

Tahar, the head chef of the Royal Kitchens, beamed with pride as the runners ushered their deliveries out of the elevators and into the complex of rooms that constituted his domain. They bowed in reverence to him, and as usual he let them linger on their knees a second more than was necessary, for the Royal Chef was in Lajjar one of the closest confidants and advisors of the King and Queen. Outside the military, he was, perhaps, the most powerful commoner in the castle. But soon enough he recalled them to their feet, his round, full face grinning with condescension and benevolence. As in all of Lajjari society, Tahar’s high position in the social order meant greater access to food, everything from necessities to luxuries, and his direct command of the Kitchens only reinforced that access. His power and prestige were evident in his round cheeks, his slight neck rolls, and the modest belly pressing gently against his long golden tunic. Even so, Tahar was hardly obese--his work kept him on his feet all day, and excessive indulgence would in any case be effeminate: such was the province of ladies.

“Anything to report?” he asked the procurement team’s Captain?

“Alas, Your Excellency,” the lean captain replied as he rose to his feet, brushing flour from his knees, “more vagabonds from the countryside than ever. We seem to find more and more of them on our streets with each passing day, and today a band of them tried to rob a crate of plums from one of our wagons. A few off-duty soldiers passing by just then defended us, but had they not been there, we might have lost the whole wagon.”

Tahar’s eyes narrowed slightly. Since the estates had begun using the fertilizer developed under King Sadesh (may He rest in peace), their productivity had skyrocketed, and as a result they needed fewer and fewer peasants to work their lands. The aristocracy increasingly drove these surplus tenants from their estates, but the vagabonds gradually made their way to the city, where they had little work and less food, and were now, apparently, resorting to theft to stay alive. Of course, Tahar had an especially balanced assessment of the situation: his knowledge of his supply chains was detailed and immense, and he understood the dynamics that drove the newly landless into the city. Most, even and especially the nobility, simply saw them as a sudden and inexplicable nuisance. Tahar knew better, but he had little sympathy for the vagabonds. They were now interfering with the networks that sustained his power in the castle and in the city, and something would have to be done about that.

“Very good, Captain,” Tahar finally replied. “I’ll inform the King and request that he double patrols during procurement runs. You may go.” The captain bowed and quickly, efficiently led his team back into the elevators and up to the main floor of the castle.

Still troubled by news of the theft attempt, Tahar forced himself to put away such concerns for now and looked around his kitchens. Already his staff was at work, gathering ingredients for bread and pastries, soups and roasts, porridge and cookies. They worked doughs at counters and fired ovens for baking and cooking. A few men were present to tap and transport barrels of rum and beer and to tend to other tasks that required greater strength, but most of Tahar’s staff were women--including Almarka, the Royal Sous-chef, who approached him now. While she wasn’t part of the King and Queen’s inner circle like Tahar, she was still one of the most powerful commoners in the castle, and also, unlike Tahar, a woman--and so forth both reasons, she was even fatter than her superior. Her clothes were somewhere between elegant and practical, several layers of a shear mint fabric layered to make her pants - loose-fitting, as was the style among elite Lajjari, to exaggerate the shape of her legs. Indeed, her thick legs were hardly the largest part of her body, and her bountiful, round belly strained against the tight waistband of her otherwise loose pants. A broad length of white fabric twisted around her torso several times, draped elegantly over her shoulder, and tucked into itself in the back, leaving her somewhat chubby arms bare and exposing a triangle of flesh--her smooth, soft, rotund belly--above the waistband. She bounced toward Tahar as she approached, her pants flowing, her hair tied neatly into a bun that sat atop her head, her round, full cheeks bouncing with every step.

“Chef,” she said as she reached him, remaining on her feet but bowing slightly. Her exposed belly bent into soft folds against her waistband as she moved.

“Rise, Almarka,” he replied. “How goes the preparation?”

“Well, Chef,” she replied. “The staff is working diligently, and we haven’t had trouble expanding our usual production. All the food will be ready for the queen’s Name Day Feast tonight.”

“Very good,” he murmured. He glanced around the room: most of the staff was active in other chambers of the kitchen, though one scrawny woman lingered, scooping flour into two large buckets connected by a horizontal wooden bar. He looked back at Almarka and lowered his voice: “And have you conveyed instructions to set aside several dishes from the main feast?”

Almarka’s blush was evident, even through her dark brown skin. She patted her belly nervously. “I have, Chef. My personal staff believe it’s a separate feast for the queen to indulge in at bedtime.”

“Very good,” Tahar muttered, and his face flushed too. His eyes followed the remaining servant girl as she hoisted the wooden crossbar over her shoulders, laboriously carrying the flour out of the room. He could barely contain himself now: he grasped the somewhat shorter but much wider Almarka, his grip sinking into the sides of her belly, and pulled her close. She felt his erection push into her soft flesh of her belly as he kissed her passionately, briefly, and let her go. Her corpulent body heaved as she took heavy, excited breaths, her legs feeling unsteady beneath her.

“Just as I instructed you,” he resumed, seeking steadiness himself. His eyes gleamed: “I can’t have my sous-chef wasting away under the labors of overseeing the kitchen. She must share in the prosperity of the kingdom!”

Almarka grinned, her cheeks spreading to make her face even rounder than it already was. “As you command, Chef.”

Two young men marched through the chamber again, carrying a spit to which a slaughtered pig was tied. They didn’t seem to notice anything, but quickly more and more of the staff hurried through in both directions, continuing the great work of preparing the Queen’s feast.

Tahar immediately regained his composure. “Until tonight, then, Almarka?”

The sous-chef was still flustered, but she pulled herself together as best she could. “Until tonight, Chef.” And with that she scurried off again, her shoulder blades shifting her back fat up and down briskly as she walked.

* * *

And so night came, and the feast began. Tahar led an endless procession of servants through the corridors of the castle from the Kitchens to the Great Hall, each carrying a platter or pushing a cart loaded with the most ornate, richest food one could imagine. They approached the giant, gold-encrusted doors to the Hall, flanked by two guards, and Tahar hesitated, trembling slight now not with desire but with anticipation. This was one of days of the year when he shined brightest, when he took up the bounty of Lajjar and crafted it into a feast unmatched in history. The Lajjari Court had always prided itself on the richness and sophistication of its meals, but with the agricultural gains of recent years they had exceeded all past milestones. Feasts became larger and more elaborate, meals grew in size and taste and richness, new dishes were invented to make use of the new wealth of food. And Tahar was the master craftsman, the conductor who envisioned the whole, who commanded and coordinated all the individual parts and united them into a brilliant whole. The feast the kitchen staff carried behind him was like nothing the kingdom had ever seen, and he was personally responsible.

And so the world must know: he nodded, and the guards pushed the doors, and slowly but surely they swung open onto the front of the Hall. One table ran from the doors to the throne at the back of the hall, and seated along it were the host gathered for this momentous occasion. The army’s greatest generals, long absent from the battlefield and round with age and indulgence, bantered with each other and tossed back goblets of beer. A handful of the kingdom’s wealthiest merchants and their wives were interspersed among them, dressed in flowing finery and sipping on their beer even as the generals gulped it down. Closer to the head of the tables sat the nobles: men dressed in flowing tunics of bright colors, trimmed in gilt or silver, and women clad in long, single lengths of broad fabric that twisted around the from ankle to shoulder, tucking into themselves in the back and forming a dress of sorts. It was a rare occasion that brought the entire nobility to the court, yet the Queen’s birthday would do it.

As he surveyed the scene, Tahar couldn’t help but notice that the new bounty of the kingdom--and his eagerness to make full use of it--had had its effect on the bodies of the people joined together that night. The Lajjari elite had always valued obesity, especially in women, but they had never been so fat as they were under the new prosperity. The generals were little changed, but the merchants who shepherded the new produce through the kingdom were now thick and round--formerly the province of nobles and generals alone. The noblemen themselves sported double chins and bellies, their faces shaved clean and their tunics worn tight to ensure that all would know. Their wives were fatter still, thicker in every part of their bodies: legs and arms, bellies and breasts, backs and shoulders and faces. The swathes of fabric that wrapped around them once accentuated this roundness, but now they had a hard time containing it, with pudgy bits poking through the gaps in the wrap. The closer to the head of the table, the larger these ladies became (though the men seemed to plateau at some point), their chins and jowls and neck rolls dominating their faces more and more. But Tahar needed no reminder that no one had prospered more under the new bounty than the Queen herself, Muzara.

She was the fattest queen the kingdom had ever known. Already quite large even by Lajjari standards when Garun, the brother of Sadesh (may He rest in peace), was merely the Crown Prince, she had taken full advantage of her royal prerogative when her husband took the throne. She and Tahar were a tacit team, each an ally in celebrating the glory of Lajjar through these abundant feasts. If Tahar saw these feats as the mark of Lajjari greatness, Muzara confirmed it by consuming that greatness in massive quantities, incorporating it and embodying it in her own person. She was the glory of the kingdom in the flesh, and as long as she remained massive Lajjar was great.

That greatness was on full display tonight: to show it to the court, and to make sure there were no obstacles between her gluttony and this feast, the queen wore only two pieces of fabric, a golden sash tied around her hips that only just covered her sex, and a second bound around her breasts. Each sank somewhat into the bountiful flesh it encircled, for her legs were elephantine, and her hips only slightly wider than her thighs. Her belly was round and puddled on her lap, but her breasts were by far the largest part of her, only barely restrained by the sash as they blossomed from her chest. They were of a piece with pillowy fat covering her collarbones, the massive arms that looked like giant sausages, the rings of fat circling her neck and her fact. From her bellybutton, indeed, the queen only became wider as you went up her body, culminating in gigantic cheeks and a double chin that took up as much space as the cheeks themselves.

Tahar’s eyes wandered to the king, seated to Muzara’s right: he was the fattest man in the room, but not by much, and he paled in comparison to his queen. They sat at a table perpendicular to the long feast table, and on either side of them sat the queen’s attendants, a dozen young women who were chubby or fat in various proportions, clad in golden robes that hugged their curves but revealed very little. They chatted amongst themselves and occasionally gazed admiringly at the queen, as did her king, who evidently had little to say at the moment. But the queen noticed none of this: she was guzzling down a huge goblet of beer, trying her best, Tahar knew, to stave off her hunger until the food arrived.

And so it had. The king noticed right away, always solicitous of his wife’s comfort and satisfaction, and he rose to his feet, silencing the room.

“We gather here,” he boomed, his voice as deep and rich as the feast itself, “to honor the Name Day of my queen and celebrate the bounty of the realm. On this day, we enter the two hundred twenty-eighth year of our splendid and prosperous isolation. Unmolested by foreign powers, Lajjari civilization has flourished, of which the abundance in which we take part today is the surest sign. Your former king, may He rest in peace”--and here everyone bowed their heads for a moment--“gifted us with the greatest prosperity we have ever known, and it has been my duty as his brother and as both leader and servant of the kingdom to protect and extend that prosperity, to ensure that you taste the harmonious meeting of heaven, earth, and mankind that is Lajjar. And so we waste no more time: partake of this feast with full knowledge of the greatness of your queen and the glory of your kingdom!” The crowd cheered.

At this, Tahar wasted no time in sending his small army of servants down the length of the table, depositing dish after dish before the guests. The queen’s table received the greatest share, of course, and Muzara dug into it with abandon: she put away buttery rolls and creamy soups, generous cuts of pork and beef, peppers stuffed with meat and meal, pies filled with apples and berries and covered in whipped cream, all the while nursing her chalice of beer. Once this flurry of activity was underway, Tahar took his place near the head of the long feat table: Almarka, in fact, handled most of the work of orchestrating this complex feast, while Tahar got to savor his handiwork firsthand and occasionally appreciate the queen’s gluttonous enjoyment.

As the queen dug into a wedge of cheese that one of her (relatively) slimmer attendants had handed her, the king called Tahar to his side. Muzara remained oblivious.

“You’ve outdone yourself, Tahar,” the king grinned.

“You’re too kind, Your Highness,” and Tahar bowed briefly.

“All is well?” asked the king.

Tahar nodded. “Yes, Your Highness, though the vagabonds show increasing disrespect for your rule and your glory. The largest attack yet was mounted on some of our procurement runners today. It appears to have been well coordinated and was only stopped by some passing soldiers. I fear an organized sedition against your rule is taking shape.”

“An attack on one wagon is a small affair,” replied the king. “How are you so sure?”

“I would take no risks, Your Highness. The smallest threat is a threat nonetheless.”

Garun nodded. “You are right to be cautious. I questioned you to test your thinking, but in fact I agree with you. General Ayumeth has gotten wind of rumors, rumors that the criminal element of our city denies the legitimacy of my rule and calls for a new king. Only with this attitude would they be so bold as to attack royal procurement runners. Do what you must to put this down.” He sighed, and rubbed his brow with his thumb and forefinger. “The inheritance of my brother is mixed. With this bounty comes a curse as well. I have managed it as well as I can, but the vagabonds, they blame the wrong man.” Tahar remained silent. He knew better than to intrude on such delicate introspection.

Just then, a number of things happened at once. A loud cry went up outside the windows of the Great Hall: Tahar couldn’t tell for sure, but it sounded like it was coming from the streets outside the castle walls. Just moment later, a messenger burst into the hall and dashed toward the very General Ayumeth the king had just mentioned. Ayumeth listened for a moment and his eyes went wide. He stammered, and then spit out, “Impossible!” and stood away from the table. By now the group understood something was amiss. Some kept eating, tentatively, but even the queen put down the bun she was currently inhaling, her mouth just barely hanging open, framed by her massive jowls. Ayumeth strode to the head of the table to convey the message to the king, but Garun frowned and uttered one, short, uncharitable laugh. “Nonsense! What could be the meaning of this? Surely it’s a rumor begun by the seditious forces in our city.”

Tahar couldn’t hold back anymore: “Your Highness,” he implored, “what has happened?” General Ayumeth turned to the Chef, ready to explain, but he was cut off by a large gasp from the crowd. Tahar spun around and saw a remarkable scene, framed by giant doorway onto the Great Hall:

There stood Sadesh Wasim Metheli Melekia III. Tahar’s king. Sadesh was unmistakable in his strong, square features, the green flecks in his eyes, the broad shoulders, though he was somewhat leaner and more muscular than Tahar remembered. He stood there as though raised from the dead, but undiminished and as alive as the last time they had seen him. A red hood hung behind his head, and he was clad in brilliant red armor, streaked in rain and mud yet brighter and more beautiful than anything Tahar had ever seen. A large, straight sword hung sheathed at his side, and around his right arm was tied a band of fabric marked with the seal of Lajjar: a white grain of wheat set against a golden sun, with green grass below and blue sky above. It was impossible to read his expression: there was no joy in his face, but neither was there suffering or anger or resentment. He was calm, detached, and yet entirely present and supremely confident.

Just behind Sadesh stood someone almost equally remarkable: a woman as tall as the resurrected king but many times wider, easily the fattest woman Tahar had ever seen. She had red eyes and olive skin--lighter than the skin of most Lajjari--with high cheekbones and rounder cheeks, and a strong but gentle chin that just barely defined itself against a generous but proportionate double chin. Her neck broadened at the base to a pillowy chest and generous arms, but by far her largest features were her enormous belly, gigantic ass, and massive legs--which nonetheless tapered to narrower, chubby ankles and chubby feet. Each leg looked the size of one of Muzara’s attendants, and it was remarkable that this titanic woman could stand or move, and yet she did so with grace and poise. Muzara herself was probably only half the size of this woman and much more graceless and awkward. But to either side of the king and this mysterious woman was a soldier clad in red armor, one holding a platter of cheeses and the other a goblet of some dark red drink. The entire scene was like a sacred portrait, a god and goddess and their angelic attendants posed in divine stateliness and power, framed by the door. The enormous woman helped herself to cheese as they stood there, an action that jolted Tahar from his shock.

The entire room was frozen. No one was eating, the servants stood frozen as though petrified, and the guards at the door had fallen to their knees and prostrated themselves before Sadesh. Soon the table followed suit, even the largest lords and ladies awkwardly bringing themselves as close to the floor as they comfortably could. Muzara simply remained sitting, her mouth now fully ajar, and Garun, filled with a thousand contradictory emotions, hesitated before falling to one knee. General Ayumeth moved to prostrate himself and pulled Tahar down with him.

“It is thus,” he muttered to the Chef. “Your king has returned.”

Last edited by Benny Mon; 03-25-2017 at 08:09 PM. Reason: copy editing
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