The following is an excerpt from JULES AND THE DJINNI MASTER, a middle grade fantasy novel by J.M. Roddy.
From J.M. Roddy: This scene happens about midway through the novel. Jules, a fourteen-year-old boy, joins the members of a secret community hidden in the mountains in a world where animals talk. This scene came about from my own love of culinary arts and my experience living in a mountainside community in Switzerland for several months. I wanted to capture those magical nights spent around the table with characters of all sorts, the valley below and the mountains beyond in the clear alpine air. For a full description of JULES AND THE DJINNI MASTER, look here.
Chapter 21: The Peaceable Kingdom
At the main house, dinner was already being served in the dining hall and Jules and Perrin slipped into a table near the door. Each table was laden with summer bounty: dark greens sautéed with garlic, steamed artichokes with melted butter, roasted carrots and potatoes, nectarine juice and pear cider, egg and cheese pies with flakey warm pastry crust, steaming tomato soup, leafy salads, and hot crusty herb bread with soft butter and berry jam.
Many more were here than just the council members: the badger who had met them in the entry the night before, men and women who refilled platters and removed empty ones in a continuous stream from the kitchen, and many more seated at the over-spilling tables of every age from infants to elderly. Some had the small, pale, elfin look of Catriona. Most had the tall, clear-eyed look of Perrin.
What was really surprising to Jules, though, were the many woodland beasts that either sat at tables with the humans, or congregated in groups on the dining hall floor or rafters. All were much larger than their Earthly counterparts, as if they had drunk from a magic spring that made them half again as big. Among them were moles, raccoons, hummingbirds, cardinals, swallows, hedgehogs, even deer, and, at Jules’s table, two river otters whose husky voices carried jovially through the room.
“Hoy, hoy there,” said one otter through his whiskers and a mouthful of berry jam. “Welcome to Spy Haven.”
“That’s right, welcome,” said the other.
“Thank you,” Jules answered.
“I’m Guffer, and this is Mundo.”
“Nice to meet you,” Jules said.
“Hoy, hoy, young ‘un. Hungry, hain’t you? Eat up, then.”
“Else it’ll be gone between my brother’s whiskers if you wait two winks longer than you should!” the second otter, Mundo, guffawed at his joke and Guffer clapped a big paw on Mundo’s shoulder and joined in.
As mountain air drifted in through the open windows and pinpricks of stars stood out against the black silhouette of the mountain’s teeth, the fire was lit in the cavernous hall hearth and fruit pies and pots of tea were passed to every table. Perrin stood up from his place next to Jules and took a place before the hearth. The room grew quiet. Those gathered settled into benches or onto the floor, cupped tea between their palms, or leaned forward on elbows or paws. With no prelude, Perrin began to sing in a sweet tenor voice that filled the room, the strains of melody carried out to the night on the summer breeze.
J.M. Roddy is a domestic creative, food enthusiast, and children’s author.