Title: Earl Maldini the Epicure
Pairing: one-sided Kanon Maldini to Schneizel el Britannia
Disclaimer: Code Geass is the property of Sunrise
Dedicated to: Italian food—my personal third favourite cuisine in the world
Warnings: non-explicit shounen-ai lime, hyperbolic and florid diction
Timeline: pre-series, shortly before Prince Clovis left for Area 11.
Author's Note: I'd be glad to accept correction for any mistake—be it spelling, punctuation, grammatical or misinformation. I use British English for this particular fanfic.
After submitting his thirty-page-report for his employer, Prince Schneizel el Britannia, Earl Kanon Maldini walked home. He did not normally walk, of course. Earlier that day, there had been an accident on the suspension bridge his car had been passing. The traffic jam had been unbearable: after an hour, all the cars had still not been able to move from the spot. He left his chauffeur to be in charge with his white Lamborghini Estoque as he decided to travel on foot himself.
Nevertheless, for someone who was not accustomed to walk at such distance, this was a torture. The summer sun refused to show him any mercy. No taxi was within his sight. Fifty minutes later, the earl found himself exhausted while passing at a ghetto at the outskirt of Pendragon. Worse still, severe hunger invaded him. Earlier that day, he had wanted to finish the report no matter what and skipped lunch accordingly, while he had only consumed a slice of toast for breakfast.
He could spot an Italian restaurant in a yonder with an "Il Forno" sign above the door, but hesitated to visit it. Not that he had any grudge against Italian food, but this edifice, like the rest of the buildings in its neighbourhood, was so scruffy. Would the food be hygienic enough? However, his stomach grumbled once again. He had no better option: there didn't seem to be any other consumable source in this district. Otherwise, why would he—an aristocrat—would bother to visit such shabby restaurant?
Wait, 'restaurant'? … No matter how he looked at it, this place was an 'eatery' at best. An osteria.
'Table for one, please,' he announced upon entering the place. A jingling sound greeted his arrival as he swung the green painted wooden door open; the brass chime attached to the door top performed its function well.
An upper teenage boy in black and white waiter outfit answered him, 'This way, signor.'
Where is the 'please' bit? Reminding himself that this was an osteria, not a ristorante, Kanon followed the waiter in silence. At least, the chairs and tables are ostensibly clean…, he deduced while seated, … and the menu seems passable, he concluded after consulting the food list.
He tossed the wine list aside, however, since none of the cheap wines on the list appealed to his taste. Nil nisi bonum.
After the waiter retired to the kitchen with his food order, Kanon glanced at his surroundings. He was the only visitor in that eatery. The music of a tenor voice singing Santa Lucia filled the air. The ceiling was bedecked with discoloured plastic grape vines dangling from the planks of wooden trellis crisscrossing against one another. Watercolour paintings of Italian countryside decorated the otherwise empty walls of which pale yellow paint was peeling off, accompanied by occasional cracks here and there. Actually, had it been not due to this place's shabbiness, it would have been fair to call this place a trattoria instead—the interior was worthy as much.
Having nothing else to do after inspecting the small eatery, Kanon's mind was soon occupied by his prince—as always. Schneizel had been mourning a lot lately. A fortnight before, Tristram rho Britannia, the twenty-sixth prince, had been killed in a rebellion in Area Thirty-Nine. Two days after that, Lindsay es Britannia, the eighty-third princess, had died from a high fever in her toddlerhood.
Kanon had tried to console to his adored employer but to no avail, for in this world, what kind of words could have healed the wound of a grieving brother? Frustrated that his supposedly impressive linguistic skills were helpless in this matter, he had resolved to action by using his own body to offer Schneizel 'a new comfort'. But this method, too, had failed. Expectedly.
The night of offering had only made matters worse. He had hoped to give his lord a balmy night, but in reality, he had created a nightmare for the both of them instead. His majestic prince had offered no resistance albeit hesitation clouded his eyes.
That night, heat had been trapped between them, but something that had been trapped had not been meant to last forever. That night, his suave lord had given him his gracious smiles, his intoxicating touches, his sweet words, but not his sincere feelings. That night, Kanon's long-pined love had been confirmed to be positively unrequited.
Inasmuch as he had desired for Schneizel to go in and out of his body, the fact had remained that he had madeSchneizel go in and out of his body. The prince's limbs had tangled with his own, but their blue blood would never mix; the mind of the royalty had been and would always be too unaffordable to a mere aristocrat. After all, what had he—Earl Kanon Maldini—been, compared to the entire Holy Britannian Empire, no, the whole world to dominate?
While kissing his subordinate's neck, the superior had probably been thinking of a strategy to conquer Area Twenty-Four. While nibbling the auburn's nipple, the blond had probably been devising a proposal of conditions for a peace treaty with Area Fifty. While caressing the aide's inner thigh, the prime minister had probably been plotting a scheme for a clandestine attack in Area Forty-Three. While entering the earl, the prince had probably been thinking of how to utilise the natural resources of Area Thirty-One most expediently.
Thus, the moment he had surrendered himself to the prime minister of the Holy Britannian Empire had become the moment Kanon Maldini had given up happiness: his one, true love would never answer his feelings.
'Excuse me, signor, your antipasto: insalata dei frutti di mare.' The teenage waiter laid a dish of seafood salad on the table before the auburn-haired earl, dismissing him from the contemplations of Schneizel.
For a moment, Kanon unconsciously held his breath. The dish looked nothing like an osteria cuisine. It was superbly garnished, aesthetically pleasing, no less beautiful than a gourmet dish from a ristorante. The mussels, calamari, prawns and fish were arranged harmoniously on a bed of lettuces, bedecked with olives and cherry tomatoes with the drizzles from olive oil-based dressing. But since 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating'…
One bite was all Kanon needed to change his whole perspective of that gloomy-looking osteria—who would have thought he stumbled upon a hidden jewel in Pendragon's ghetto by pure luck? This one bite set him free from the stress of the day. This one bite opened him the door to a new universe where indulgence of bliss became the only findable substance. It was said that 'hunger is the best seasoning', but would that alone suffice to explain such marvellous savour?
True enough, some posh ristorantes could provide a wider variation of seafood, such as scallops, crabs and even lobsters, but could such excellent ingredients excel this dish in taste?
The seafood was neither undercooked nor overcooked; hence, each piece was slightly chewy—just the right tenderness to bite off. The white wine in which the fruits of the sea had been cooked drove away any unpleasant fish odour. The garlic taste was not pungent at all; instead of being used to cover the original taste of the seafood, like some less skilful cooks' poor attempt to conceal the fishy odour, the garlic here enriched these ocean treasures instead.
While masticating, Kanon even heard the sound of a conch-shell trumpet from inside his head—the fishtailed marine deity Triton was playing a fanfare to greet Neptune. His tune roused the waves of Kanon's epicurean appetite, while the seashell-shaped conchiglie pasta danced euphorically, clustering themselves to hail the lord of the sea.
Needless to say, the seafood salad was utter d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!
As soon as the waiter took away his empty plate, Kanon drummed his fingers onto the table. He did not wish to believe it, but he—an aristocrat with refined taste in culinary art who had dined in countless ristoranti across the globe—was actually anticipating his main course from such a shabby osteria!
The aroma of the sizzling hot veal had reached Kanon long before the dish was served. And when the treasure reached him at last, the gastronome swore that unless his tongue deceived him, the veal was flawless. The meat itself was not of the wallet-robbing priced top-notch quality. Usually, to tenderise such third-rate meat, a cook would sprinkle it with or soak it in papain or bromelain enzyme. In that case, with inaccurate timing and proportion, the meat could turn too mushy. If a chemical, such as bicarbonate of soda, was applied instead, the meat would decidedly lose its juicy character and when marinated for too long, the meat's texture would macerate and be somewhat reminiscent of damp Styrofoam.
The meat Kanon currently chewed, however, bore none of these defects. The cook, no, chef, had cut its tendons carefully so as not to create a discordance against the tenderness of the flesh. Appropriate seasonings had been added at a precise quantity so as not to ruin the original taste of the meat, but enhanced it to the fullest.
The asparagus vinaigrette that accompanied the veal was splendid. These verdant spears had been plunged into boiling water prior to the charcoal grilling and repeatedly brushed with sherry vinegar throughout the grilling process; hence, each individual stalk possessed the right amount of crunchiness.
Even the vinaigrette dressing itself held a noteworthy taste. Having tasted all brands of dressings in Pendragon, the epicurean earl could tell that this one was homemade. All the herbs used for the olive oil infusion were fresh, their ratio was pleasing to the tongue, and, really, there was nothing to criticise about this dish.
The main course was finished before he could get enough of it. Much though he wanted to have a second main dish, he was never a big eater. The only way to satisfy his spoiled, no-longer-hungry stomach was by ordering a dolce, which he had skipped on purpose earlier.
Kanon was tempted to choose Zuppa Inglese immediately, but his eyes flickered at the sight of 'Zabaglione' in the dessert menu. Marsala—the main flavouring of Zabaglione − was among the list of his least favourite wines. Even if the Marsala were substituted with Prosecco or Amaretto, he wouldn't be keen on them either. Would the chef, who had been impressive with the appetiser and main course, be able to create a dessert of his liking out of a material he disliked?
Mmmmm … paradise!
Kanon was not usually fond of Marsala wine, but this … this was truly one of the rare exceptions! Its proper hint of slightly bitter taste blended harmoniously with the rich, creamy, velvety taste of the sugared eggs and mascarpone. Fresh raspberries, dipped in golden syrup beforehand, were sequestered atop the viscous dairy mixture, as though forming a diadem for the dolce. Their sweet and somewhat sour taste, too, counterbalanced the heavy custard. Once again, the palate provided the biggest delight: the zabaglione continued to be the chef-d'oeuvre.
'Excuse me, signor, it is my employer's wish that this bottle of wine is on the house.' The waiter, the same waiter who had attended him earlier, the sole waiter available in that room, was holding a bottle with care so as to make sure that the label was illegible from Kanon's angle. 'He also insisted that I should serve it blind.'
Kanon quirked an eyebrow: why would the restaurant owner want to treat him? Nevertheless, slightly embarrassed that such waiter appeared right when he was licking his lips for any remaining crumbs—instead of wiping them mannerly with a napkin − he let the waiter do as his master bade him to without further ado. The earl examined the way the waiter opened the wine bottle for him—so unrefined. The way he poured the liquid into the glass was even cruder; the flow was nowhere near smooth and the liquid splashes too wildly. This. Is. An. Osteria.
The wine seemed all right, surmised the earl upon lifting his glass against a blank background, holding the spotless glass by the stem. Its colour shone with brilliant red like ruby. It was by no means cloudy or murky either.
But what about its smell?
Will it be vinegary? Kanon imagined the wine fault caused by acetic acid. Will it smell like a nail polish? In this case, the wine's fault reflected the formation of ethyl acetate. Or rubbery? This meant the fault was induced by sulphides.
And yet, the wine contained no fault as far as his nose could tell. Instead, it exuded the woody aroma of tobacco, vanilla, and strawberry when the glass was gently swirled around. 'Tempranillo,' the auburn-haired man announced with a flicker of hesitation; such wine was not listed in the menu.
An applause, followed by footsteps approached. 'Excellent, Your Excellency!'
'Ferdinand? Ferdinand Vaihinger?' The earl relinquished his drink at once to salute his old friend.
At the age of sixteen, Kanon had spent three months each in Germany, Italy, and Spain to experience the respective culture; he had been, after all, the best student in his class for those three languages. Ferdinand Vaihinger was the only son of the German family he had been staying with and was senior in age to him by a gap of a mere year.
'The prime minister's most trusted assistant still remembers my name? I'm honoured, sir!' exclaimed the man in chef's attire.
'Enough with the formality!' Kanon chuckled, 'How long have you been here? Are you staying?'
'Here? As here in this room or here in this building?' he replied jokingly.
Kanon displayed a fake pout that very few people had the privilege to see.
'All right, all right, I've been in this country for almost two months. It's a long-term stay, yes. I've immigrated here.'
'That's wonderful!' beamed the earl, 'But what about your family?'
'Ah, that,' his mouth twitched, but his tone contained no unease, 'My parents and I are no longer speaking to each other. They insisted that I should take over the family business—you know, the wool factory—which has been running for three generations, but my passion has always been devoted to cooking, especially Italian cuisine. So I left, moved here, opened this osteria, and with a bit of luck perhaps I can develop it into a trattoria or even ristorante one day.'
'I'm sure you will. Your cooking talent is far too brilliant for an osteria,' encouraged Kanon.
'It isn't even half as remarkable as your wine connoisseurship.'
'I don't practise very often now,' Kanon blushed slightly, 'My skill has been rusty.'
'Well, excuse my blatancy, sir, but I don't believe you. Go on, be more specific!'
Kanon immersed the tip of his tongue into the Spanish wine. 'Lopez De Heredia Rioja Vina Bosconia Gran Reserva?'
'Close enough,' answered Ferdinand in bemusement, 'It's Lopez De Heredia Rioja Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva. Dare I ask you know the year, as well?'
'You know so well that my ability does not extend that far.'
'Take a guess.'
Kanon sipped the Tempranillo this time. He moved the liquefied ruby around his mouth to cover all of his taste buds before pursing his lips and suck a little air across the wine, thus aerating the liquid to feel its "weight" before swallowing. Only then, he gave his answer, '1956 ATB.'
'It's 1957. See, your skill has not rusted with time. I've always dreamed to be a chef where you stand by my side as a sommelier. So, care to join forces with me?'
The joyful expression Kanon gained upon meeting an old friend turned into an apologetic one at once.
'I was only joking,' he tapped Kanon's upper back lightly, laughing as he did, 'Who'd be foolish enough to think that the recherché prince's most trusted aide will abandon his duty for a scruffy osteria?'
But Kanon's face became even more serious at the very mention of his prince's name and that instant Ferdinand knew he had overstepped the red zone's boundary.
'Something … happened to him,' the chef surmised in a tone which, he hoped, did not sound too nosy.
Kanon tried in vain to make a noncommittal reaction. As much as he was able to control his emotion in all sorts of politics, economics, sports, and arts, among many other subjects, this one subject—anything related to his worshipped prince—had always made him vulnerable.
Eyeing Kanon's troubled expression and his waiter's great interest in eavesdropping, the restaurant owner remarked, 'May I show you my herb garden?'
Appreciating his friend's goodwill, the earl nodded and let himself to be led into the aforementioned garden.
They walked passed an archway and a sepia door which led to the kitchen. The kitchen was quite small for a restaurant. Pans and pots were hung in lines above the island table. The row on the right hand side was filled with hobs, griller and oven whereas the left hand side, with cupboards and shelves of storage jars. Even in a glimpse, Kanon couldn't help admiring how organised Ferdinand arranged his kitchen. The top row of the first shelf, for instance, was solely dedicated to many glass bottles of olive oil with a differently infused herb for each, like garlic or basil. The row underneath it was ladened with sealed jars of various pickles. Salt, pepper and other seasonings occupied the third row. The fourth one bore what seemed like containers of flours, sugars and other dry ingredients, but his swift steps disallowed him to examine them further.
The two men then proceeded through the brick red door at the back of that kitchen. Behind this door was the garden, which was covered by the verdures of velutinous Rosemary, Marjoram, Thyme, Chervil, Basil, Sage, Oregano, Tarragon, Parsley, Cilantro, Mint, Chives, and Dill Weed.
A wooden table and two benches were set on the other side of the garden whereupon Ferdinand offered Kanon to sit.
'All right, which one is it?' the osteria owner began without further elaboration, 'A: H.H. Prince Schneizel has been diagnosed with an incurable disease and he hasn't got much longer to live. B: one or more of your colleagues have been envious of your success and spread a false rumour about you or blackmail you. C: You've made a mistake which has gravely disappointed the prince. D−'
Ferdinand was aware of the uneasiness in Kanon's eyes and knew that he had hit the bull's eye. 'What sort of mistake was that? Did you miscalculated an attack and caused thousands of casualties?'
Kanon only shook his head.
'Did you slip some royal secret and that news has gone to the press?'
Again Kanon shook his head.
But at this point, Kanon cut him off. 'Ferdinand, let's not talk about this. His Highness has been kind enough to pretend that my mistake never happened.'
Ferdinand stared at his friend, tacitly asking, 'What's that troubled look on your face for then?' However, he thought it'd be wiser not to tamper Kanon's temper. Kanon was mild and gentle, but once he snapped, even the wrath of strictest teacher in his school was nothing to compare to Kanon's gaze.
The door that separated the garden from the kitchen flung open again. The waiter—now Kanon was convinced he was the only water hired by Ferdinand—did not step onto the garden but shouted from where he was, 'Mr Vaihinger, we've got orders of one Prosciutto and Melon, one Beef Carpaccio, one medium Four-Cheese Pizza with additional Pepperoni topping, two Tagliatelle Alfredo, a Rigatoni Carbonara and Rotelle Alio Olio!'
'I'll be right there, Jesaiah. Why don't you prepare their drinks first?'
When the boy was swerving, Ferdinand added, 'And, Jesaiah, could you also slice the cantaloupe for the Prosciutto e melone, please?'
The waiter said nothing although his gesture showed that he was going to oblige. After the door swung close again, Ferdinand spoke apologetically to Kanon, 'Well, he still lacks the manner of a proper cameriere, but he's learning. Nobody's perfect. He's a hard worker, though.'
Both men rose from their seats. Ferdinand walked towards the door, but Kanon approached the herb grooves. 'May I stay here for a while?'
'Certainly,' his friend answered with a smile, 'You are most welcomed to do so.'
Kanon pretended to be deeply immersed in examining the herbal plants until Ferdinand disappeared behind the door.
Nobody's perfect, Kanon reminded himself on Ferdinand's words, not even such a beauteous and beguiling blond prince.
As far as the techniques concerned, Schneizel had nothing to be complained about. His act as a keen lover was impressive. He even asked Kanon to rest his head against his chest after their carnal activity and made sure the earl did not leave the bed till morning came. And yet, it was very wrong to assume that either of them could be happy, even just for once.
Kanon was grateful that Schneizel regarded him as an 'assistant in both public and private matters' instead of a mere whore after that accursed night. Nonetheless, this did not erase the guilt in his mind. He had always prided himself to be the one who was nearly on par with Schneizel strategic aptitude; he was capable of calculating his master's next steps long before they were put into action; he even became the prime minister's best chess opponent in Prince Lelouch's absence. And yet, love had blinded him and now their lives could never be the same again because of this one fatal mistake!
The earl sighed and left the herb garden. As Ferdinand was busy cooking, Kanon decided that it was best to bid him a quick farewell. The music had been changing into an unfamiliar tune with mandolin accompaniment when the auburn head passed the dining room again. The number of guests was increasing. The chime on the door top jangled again as he swung the door and stepped away from the eatery.
'I'll see you around.' His own words echoed in his head. He meant it when he verbalised every syllable to Ferdinand. He had indeed been thinking of making regular visits there fortnightly. No matter how unpleasant the place was, as long as the food quality was this exquisite, he would be more than glad to return.
But if … if he could dine Ferdinand's masterpieces at a more convenient place and time…
He turned back to his friend's restaurant with one question in his mind, 'Ferdinand, would you like to be His Highness Prince Schneizel's personal chef?'
Il Forno = "The Furnace" or "The Oven"; quite a common restaurant name.
Nil nisi bonum = Latin phrase for "Nothing unless good"; in other words, it is better not to receive anything at all than to acquire anything substandard.
Zuppa Inglese = Italian translation for "English soup" is layers of pan di spagna (sponge cake) or savoiardi (ladyfingers) which were previously dipped in Alchermes liqueur, then covered in crema pasticciera (vanilla custard cooked with lemon zest).
Cameriere = waiter