“All’s Fair in Love and Wolves” – An Open Letter to the Tandem Tea Tasters
I regret that I was unable to attend last Sunday’s Tandem Tea Tasting, and I equally lament that I never got to make the real(-ish)-time acquaintance of Xavier – the original Smiling Frenchman. While you might think I either flaked out on it, or had something better to do, I assure you the reason behind my absence was far more bizarre than that. And it all started with a snowstorm.
As most of you already know, Oregon finally felt the brunt of “Snowpocalypse 2014”. Some viewed it as karma for laughing at the East Coast and southern U.S., others looked upon it as a freak of nature. What no one knows…is that I was indirectly responsible for it.
Thursday morning, news reports were starting to pour in about the impending inclement weather. In a rare case of forward thinking, I packed a bag in preparation. You see, I work at a hotel. If snow did fall, I had a place to stay. By noon, snow did fall…and hard.
What was originally supposed to be a day’s stay turned into two…then three. Then four. For a while, I looked upon it as a “staycation” of sorts. There was a microbrewery nearby, and free food was offered to the employees that stayed the night. But by the the end of the fourth day, I was starting to grow weary of my surroundings.
I had hoped to return home Sunday afternoon after my shift, but – while some of the snow and ice had started to melt – much of it still remained. There was no way my little Ford Focus would make it out of the driveway. Another night in, it was.
After grabbing a masala chai latte at the bar, I headed back to my room. As I lumbered down the hallway, I beheld an odd occurrence. Snowflakes were falling inside the hallway. They appeared out of nowhere…then disappeared before hitting the ground.
I continued down the hall and found the door to my room. Something must’ve been in that latte, for I was seeing things. Or perhaps I had been cooped up too long. As I opened my hotel room door, I was greeted by…
A wolf. Or was it a man? No, scratch that. It was a…
“WOLFMAN!” I screamed.
The werewolf appeared taken aback by my girlish scream. He was dressed rather peasantly – ripped jeans, flannel shirt and a tattered scarf. His get-up was actually rather hip. He would’ve fit in well in Portland – wolfhead and all.
“Th-th-that’s racist!” the were-hipster sputtered. In a French accent.
Where had I heard that answer before? Ah yes…from a were-tiger. That calmed me down right quick.
I closed the door and plopped down on the bed. “What do you want to be referred to as, then? Lycanthrope?”
The hip-wolf stared at me – stunned at my change in composure. What he didn’t know was that I had experienced similar occurrences before. Magical creatures whisking me away was nothing new to me.
“That’s even worse,” he said. “I am a loup personne.”
I glared. “That just means ‘wolf person’ in French!”
He said nothing.
“Fine,” I gave in. “What do I call you, then? Quel est votre nom?”
“Your French is terrible,” the werewolf said, disgusted.
“Pas de merde,” I replied. No translation needed.
“Theodor,” the wolf sighed. “My name is Theodor.”
“Theodor,” he corrected.
“Whatever, Ted,” I continued. “Why are you here? And what’s with the snow inside the hotel?”
“The snow is a side-effect of opening a Narnia Gate,” he explained. “And I was told that you were a great warrior.”
My head hurt. “Narnia Gate?!”
“A magical tear in reality for transport from one place to another. The side-effect is snow within a three thousand mile radius.”
My eyes widened. I wasn’t very good with geography, but I knew what that encompassed. “How long ago did you cast that spell?”
“I started the incantation about two months ago.”
My stomach tightened. Just like that. I learned I was indirectly responsible for Snowpocalypse 2014.
“Why didn’t you use ley-line travel?” If it was good enough for Zombie Robert Fortune, surely it was good enough for a werewolf.
“On my salary?” His ears perked.
“There’s…magical minimum wage?”
Theodor said nothing.
I got up and patted him on the back. “I know that feels, bro.”
“So, are you?”
“Am I what?” I returned.
“A great warrior that helps others?” he clarified.
“Who told you that?”
“Shere Kahn of the Tee Faktorei.”
“I’m a tea blogger,” I corrected.
“What?!” Theodor roared. “The tiger-man lied!”
“Calm down,” I said, palms out. “What exactly did he say?”
“He told me to seek the aid of a Norman. I simply assumed he meant a warrior of Norse descent.”
I laughed. Hard. “Dude, I’m not even close.”
Theodor’s ears drooped, and he sighed a bit like a Saint Bernard I knew.
“How can I help?” I finally offered.
“I’m not sure you can. My mate, Romaine, was kidnapped by a dragon.”
“Any idea why?”
The wolfman shook his scruffy head.
“Well, I’d better get dressed,” I said, lifting myself from the bed.
“Aren’t you already dressed?”
“Not for a life-or-death tea tasting, I’m not.”
I grabbed some clothes and headed to the bathroom. When I re-emerged, I was attired in flannel-blue pajama bottoms, a blue J-TEA t-shirt (one size too big) and sneakers without socks. Theodor gave me a once-over.
“My mate’s life is on the line,” he argued. “This isn’t a sleepover.”
“Khan sent you to me,” I explained. “That means this has something to do with tea. This is my tea-tasting attire. If I’m going to help you, I’m going in uniform.”
I’m not sure what Theodor did next, but it looked like a facepalm. Or rather, a facepaw. We left the room.
One moment, we were walking down a snowed-in hotel highway, the next we stood in a grand cavern. Statues lined the walls – all of them various dragons of different shapes and sizes. Some Eastern, some Western. At the center of the cavernous meeting hall was an altar of some sort. Dead center, shackled to the wall was…well…a female werewolf with jet-black fur. She was unconscious but otherwise looked unharmed.
“Romaine!” Theodor yelled and ran forward.
I tried to grab him, but I was one step too late. As the wolfman dashed forward, the ground rumbled. A high-pitched roar echoed throughout the interior. Pink smoke billowed from the right side of the room. Theodor froze in mid-stride – legs shaking.
And a dragon appeared. Or rather…what passed for one
The “dragon” – if one could call it that – stood approximately seven feet tall with milky-white scales. Along its spine were various horns and protrusions, but they were knobbed and uneven. Its eyes looked glassed over, and – to my surprise – it wore actual glasses. With the thickest frames I ever did see.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that the dragon was fat? I mean, morbidly obese.
“So, Theodor,” it spoke. “This is the warrior you bring to face Francis the Ferocious.”
I tried really hard not to laugh. I failed.
“Who dares chortle in my direction?” spoke Francis the Ferocious. Oddly enough, his voice reminded me of Benny Hill.
“Uh sorry, Francis…um…sir,” I said. “I was just…laughing at the coincidence of your name. You see, my middle name is Francis.” It was the truth, too.
Francis brought a pudgy paw to his chin, “You have good taste, o’ warrior.”
“I’m not a warrior,” I said. “Just a tea geek. Like yourself.”
The dragon glared, “How did you know this was about tea?”
“You look like a tea drinker.” And in truth, he really did. Then I added, “Mr. Ferocious, sir.”
“Then perhaps you can help me where our Theodor here could not,” Francis said, pacing toward me.
The ground shook near me, and several black obsidian pieces magically coalesced into a table. A white Ceylon steeper cup and a sample bag shimmered into being. A stainless steel kettle winked into existence as well – water already heated.
The brand on the bag o’ tea I’d seen only once before, a couple of weeks back. Maison de thè THEODOR – the company my Tandem Tea Tasting group was covering today. What were the odds?!
The sample bag read: Thé Du Loup. My high school French was a little rusty, but I knew “Tea of the Wolf” when I saw it. Awesome name, I thought. I should remember that for a story.
The blend looked exactly like it was supposed to…a blend. A very French one, at that. The black tea base consisted of small-cut pieces with flecks of yellow flower petals for visual appeal. Marigolds, I thought to myself. Couldn’t be sure, though. I thought I also noticed a piece of orange or something akin to it.
As to aroma, this thing wasn’t kidding around, and I voiced as such. “It smells like…cookies.”
“Well, what kind of cookies?!” the dragon asked urgently.
“Girl Scout cookies?” I shrugged.
“Made of actual Girl Scouts?” Francis asked…a little too excitedly.
“You watched The Addams Family recently, didn’t you?”
The dragon looked confused.
“Nevermind,” I grumbled.
I thought I recalled a recommendation for 185F water or the Celcius equivalent. I found that a bit light for a black tea, but then again the tea leaves were small. And the blend was French. A lighter touch, it was.
The liquor brewed to a dark red-brown, almost like a chocolate-dipped cherry. The aroma was cocoa mixed with vanilla with a floral underpinning – sweet all around but not too perfumy. Some of the floral character came through on the taste with a very pungent forefront that reminded me of candy-dipped flowers. (Or whatever I thought that would taste like.) The rest was rather pleasant. Some of the natural tea flavor showed up in the middle, and the blend ended on a candy-ish finish.
“And now for the ‘Love Tea’,” Francis ordered.
The obsidian slab rotated in on itself, replaced by a near identical taster cup. I marveled at the transformation, but remained bewildered at the fact that this dragon’s brewing equipment looked exactly like mine. Great minds…?
I looked at the sample bag. Indeed, it was a “Love Tea”, literally. The ornate letters on the bag read: Je t’aime. With Valentine’s Day a week away, I had to groan a little.
The leaves for this blend looked like…ah, hell, they looked the same as the Thé Du Loup – small black tea leaves, marigolds, orange pieces et al. The only considerable difference I could glean between the two was that the Je t’aime smelled creamier and more citrusy.
“Are you sure these are different blends?” I asked the dragon.
“These samples were gifted to me by a trusted colleague!” he roared. “Do you doubt me?!”
“No, sir!” Theodor kowtowed. Then shot me a glare and whispered, “Stop pissing him off!”
“I’m not trying to!” I rasped back.
I brewed the Je t’aime up the same way I had the Loup. The liquor turned out a shade lighter than the prior tea. The aroma was similar but a lot more delicate. Vanilla and something citrus-ish took point. Taste-wise, it was a lot more spry and less full-bodied that the wolf-named tea. It was also the most French. And, ironically, it was my favorite.
“Very French,” I said with a nod. “But very good.”
Theodor rolled his eyes. “You’re a poet.”
“Your mom’s a poet,” I countered.
The werewolf growled. It was about as threatening as a puppy chewing on a fake steak.
“Well?” Francis the Ferocious pressed.
“Well what?” I asked, confused.
“Are they worth buying?”
Theodor looked at me, pleading.
“Um…” I had no idea what to say. “Blends aren’t usually my thing, but…yeah?” I shrugged a little with the cup in hand.
“Splendid!” Francis squealed, clapping his pudgy hands together. He pointed at Theodor. “I’ll take four ounces of each.”
“I…don’t sell tea,” Theodor said. “I’m a cashier at a butcher shop.”
“….What?” the dragon growled, fists clenched. Knuckles turning even whiter.
Before wolfman could answer, I stepped between the two of them. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”
“How so?” Francis said, eyes leveling on me.
“I think you confused the ‘wolf’-named tea and ‘love’ tea from the THEODOR brand…with an actual wolf’s lover…named Theodor,” I explained.
“I never make mistakes!” Francis whined.
“What browser do you use?” I asked again.
“Um…Internet Explorer.” Francis answered.
“I can see where you got confused, then.” I nodded, hand to chin. “How about you let this poor wolf’s girl go, and let them leave in peace. In return, I’ll help you make the tea purchase, okay?”
Francis kicked up some dirt, looking slightly embarrassed. “Okay.”
Over the next hour or so, as Theodor made his escape with Romaine’s unconscious form, I stayed with the dragon. Apparently, no one in his usual dragon-y circles had heard of Google, nor learned that some sites could be translated into different languages. Lucky for us, the THEODOR site had an English version, thus dispelling any future confusion…or kidnappings.
Before long, the dragon/nerd and I were having tea – an Uva Ceylon he had on hand. It was also nice to have a dragon nearby that could heat the water simply with his breath. We talked of small nothings and big anythings. All the while, sipping the night away.
Francis returned me to my hotel’s hallway via ley-line port. Far smoother than the Narnia Gate, and less cold. When I returned to my room, Theodor was waiting by the door.
“Where’s Romaine?” I asked.
“Two floors up,” he said. “We got a room for the night. I…can’t afford to open another Narnia Gate.”
“Just be sure to take human form when you go to breakfast.”
“Something else you needed?”
“I doubted you,” he admitted. “You are a great warrior.”
“Nope,” I confessed. “I just look good in pajamas.”
Theodor seemed to accept that answer and left.
I slept rather soundly that night.
The next morning, I worked a six-hour shift. I was a bit ornery the entire time, longing for home. As I was pushing a housekeeping cart, a couple passed by me. The man was wearing a flannel shirt and a scarf, and the woman on his arm had a long mane of jet-black hair. Both were speaking French. The man looked back, and shot me a nod and a grin. I nodded back.
And that, my friends, is the truth of it. I hope nothing quite as outlandish happens by the time the next Tandem Tea Tasting comes around. But I make no promises. The magical world is a tricky mistress, and she always seems to catch me in my pajamas.
Geoffrey F. Norman
The Lazy Literatus