The Battle of Hastings

This is in the nature of a story correcting the boo-boo The Powers That Script-Write made in a conversation between Aristotle and Nick in the episode Forward Into The Past, per The Challenge thrown by Lynn Messing, though I'd actually started writing it immediately after watching the episode in question for the first time last week. I meant it to be a Spotlight story for Aristotle, though of course our Nick has to show up at some point near the end. The story is set some time in the 1800s. I have little knowledge of history--beyond knowing that there is no way Nick could have been at the Battle of Hastings with Aristotle--and so do not wish to peg the date, as you too-tutored lot will find me out and nit-pick! I got the pseudo-historical mode of speech from such stellar and historically accurate (ha-ha) sources as Blackadder the Third (which spoofs the late 18th/early 19th century) and Poldark (end of the 1700s), with a touch of Alexandre Dumas' Dictionary of Cuisine (pub. 1870)! Suspend your disbelief and please enjoy:

The Battle of Hastings

by Celeste Hotaling-Lyons

It was a most beautiful restaurant; tastefully renovated in the Parisian style by its new owner in keeping with the French/Anglais cuisine the restaurant now offered, but still conservative enough to soothe the breast of those habitues who had been making her their home-from-home for many a year. She had first been opened as a simple tavern some one-hundred fifty years earlier and had since endured good owners and bad owners, kitchen fires and food riots, fine foods and utter rot fit for pigs alone; but through it all she had sailed like a great ship upon the sea of profit, attracting clientele come-what-may due to an advantageous location upon the corner of the busiest street in London town. Her name was Hastings. Say it to another, "I'll meet you at Hastings at the o'clock of ten," and there was no need for further explanation. Your acquaintance would just know and be there, or not, if he were ill-mannered enough to stand you up, but not because he knew not where to meet you!

The new owner, who had spent much on the refurbishment of that well-known domicile of comestibles, puffed into his mustache. A fine mustache it was, full and luxuriant as the mustache of a middle-class gentleman with money in his pockets should be, but it was becoming fluffed and worn from the puffing, and that would not do. Mr. Boggins, owner of said mustache (and of the eatery in question) smoothed his upper lip as one would smooth a ruffled cat and decided that enough was enough.

"Martha," said he to his good lady, "Martha, enough is enough!"

Martha smiled a tight, put-upon smile, as one accustomed to a beloved but peevish spouse will cultivate now and again. "And what, my dearest love, is `enough'? Do you find the ravigote too piquant, as do I?" She knew full well what was `enough', but also knew to play the game.

"Oh, bother the ravigote! That man is here again, eating of nothing but my profit! Such cheek!"

That man--her patient eye fell upon the small, fussy man who, twice weekly, occupied the table in the far corner by the kitchen from dusk to closing; he of whom her husband had complained incessantly since his first day of restaurant ownership. Yes, she nodded, it was indeed he who wore upon that worthy's poor nerves. (Say that sentence three times fast, I dare you!) Never did the man order a veal chop, nor a pudding, nor a meat-pie, nor even a lowly pastie--not a single comestible to be found on the menu did the confounded blockhead order, ever. It wasn't a good table he sat at, but it was a table, and a restaurant keeper wanted a paying customer at it.

"I'll take care of this, see if I don't," said Mr. Boggins to his Martha, moving towards that table.

"Now, Jeremiah," she soothed, a hand upon his arm. "Now, sweetest, you know what Mr. Delyon said!" She was referring to the gentleman from whom her dearest had purchased the restaurant. "`Mr. Aristotle is a fixture at Hastings,'" she quoted: "`Mr. Aristotle, himself, neither eats nor drinks, but the steady stream of those who consult with him, whom he pays well in silver, more than make up for it.' Indeed, at my place by the cashbox, I had noticed a goodly portion of that silver is invariably turned around into our hands for meat and drink, and so, `tis true, he pays his way through his powers as an attractant of free-spenders."

"Free spenders, aye," Mr. Boggins growled: "And such a motley crew to be in a fine eatery such as this!"

Now, that good restauranteur was not being fair, it must be pointed out, gentle reader! True, some were ragged men who dealt in information for Mr. Aristotle; others, sneaky-eyed cutthroats who looked as if they knew the inside of Wingate Prison well enough; but most were of a sturdier sort-- whether men who worked in wood and metal for their living or, as earlier that evening, an insurance agent in good standing at Lloyd's of London; they were for the most part pillars of their community. But, high or low born, one and all made their way to Mr. Aristotle's table in the back, next to the kitchen, to take his instructions and do his bidding. He truly was a fixture in the great city of London, an eccentric oddball of the sort that gave city life its texture, and had been such for nigh on to thirty years . . . the man himself looked to be any age between thirty and sixty. He pored over a ledger book, though how he could see the spider'sweb writing upon that page was a mystery no one had found the answer to in all the years he'd sat there.

Mr. Boggins shrugged off both his wife's concern and her hand upon his arm with the same impetuous gesture, and advanced upon the oblivious Mr. Aristotle.

* * * *

Yes, yes, that would do, thought Aristotle to himself. He had to create a fulcrum upon which would turn the medium-sized fortune of a brother vampyre from the Balkan states, and his confederate at Lloyd's would be the pivot in that fulcrum. He'd been feeling a bit off lately, had Mr. Aristotle, but the rapid approach of the finish of this particularly ticklish bit of business banished all feelings of nausea. To complete a task well-done! What more sense of accomplishment could he ask for? He went over the documents in his dark corner table by the kitchen doors for possibly the hundredth time.

The neighbors of an autocratic Duke in Gottstardt had already begun to notice that the nobleman in question had not aged appreciably since he first moved into the neighborhood (despite a judicious application of a graying agent upon said nobleman's golden locks), and so it was past time for the Duke to find a new life elsewhere. He would set out from his estates, never to be seen again, and a young student, made newly rich by a highly insured disaster at sea that had sadly taken the lives of most of his family, would arrive in London. Upon his arrival, the student, a Monsieur R. Foquarde, would take ownership of a tidy, refurbished country house just outside the bustling city- -a house 'refurbished' with windowless rooms, impenetrable oaken doors, secret chambers, and a false cellar.

Good! mused Aristotle, all was in readiness--the house was just far enough outside the city for privacy, but no so far his friend could not find ample nourishment among the blackguards who plagued the city's slums. No one would notice the riff-raff who disappeared in the coming years beyond commenting that the streets had grown marginally safer in some quarters of London. The vampyre sighed to himself, tempted to succumb to the sentimental pleasures of the flash-back that threatened to steal his attention from the task at hand. Too late! He was in its dream-like, yet utterly factual, grip!

He remembered that once upon a time, one simply loaded one's horses with one's belongings in the dark and left for another town when the time of one's life had ripened to harvest. One need not even search for a place so very far afield, so uncommon was it for the folk in those times past to move from place to place. But, some one-hundred years ago or so, an old friend (on the order of a thousand-year acquaintance) had implored him to make a place for her in a city nearby where he dwelled, that she might be free of past associations and pursuers. How difficult it was becoming to change one's old life for a new one in these modern times! she'd said--the records petty officials often now demand of one! He'd arranged all for her, and so pleased was she with the life he'd created, she'd mentioned his eye for detail to others in their sanguinary circle. Soon enough, he'd found himself arranging an existence for a harried vampyre here, transferring a fortune there, creating a past for a fellow creature-without-a-past that was so convincing, even the vampyre who'd assumed the created existence might be fooled into thinking he was, for instance, a Monsieur Reynault Foquarde, bibliophile and stamp-collector, descended of a long line of military Foquardes--and had always been so!

In doing that favour for his old friend who'd found it too difficult to create a new life for herself, he'd inadvertently discovered his one true talent: the weaving of threads into the tapestry that makes up a life. A difficult calling, yes; but Mr. Aristotle had never found it dull, no, never tiresome; it was his joy to design the ins and outs of a new life, to layer detail upon detail so that a new individual stood where another had stood moments before.

"My dear sir, can I offer you a medallion of pork sauteed with garlic and onion in clarified butter?"

"Eh?" Aristotle looked up from his pleasant reverie to take in the form of a middle-aged mortal in expensive clothes, be-wigged, extravagantly mustachioed and portly. The fellow beamed down at him, yet did not present all that friendly a picture to the slightly confused vampyre. Something about the challenging stance. . . .

". . . and shall I serve with that our truffle ragout, of which our chief is so justifiably proud? That proud fungus of the forest, adorned with a succulent meat sauce, redolent with garlic and parsnips! He is equally proud of his tomatoes a la Grimod; the tomatoes are stuffed with sausage seasoned with garlic, parsley, tarragon, and new scallions, then baked in a shallow earthenware dish. Delicious!"

Aristotle frowned as ferociously as he could at the annoying mortal, which is to say, he looked a trifle cross. (He had never been possessed of a menacing countenance, much to his chagrin--until, of course, the beast within emerged.) This mortal looked familiar, now where had Aristotle seen him before? "No, sir; I--" he began, only to be cut off.

"--No?" said the mortal; ". . . no? Well, then, perhaps the leg of mutton is more to your liking, we serve it braised and English style, with turnips. I prefer the braised, myself. We insert cloves of garlic under the skin and cover the entire leg with crushed mustard-seed steeped in vinegar, which acts as an astringent upon fattyness of the meat, a delicious combination. Or the salmis of pheasant, yes! We had them on the spit this morning! The consomme they've been stewing in since then is as zesty and flavourful as any you would find in a fine Parisian restaurant! The broth contains diced garlic, as well as various other secret herbs known only to our chef!"

"No! No thank you, sir, I will not have any of it at all!" sniffed Aristotle, beginning to feel queasy again--all this talk of garlic, a substance to which he was particularly sensitive, even for a vampire--no wonder he'd been feeling a bit mingy the past few weeks. Garlic upon the steam that wafted over his table whenever the kitchen doors were thrown open by one of the waiters! "I noticed a theme to your litany of victuals to be found in this establishment. Do you mean to say all of your dishes contain," he gulped convulsively; ". . . garlic?"

The jolly mortal smiled an oily, insincere smile. "No sir, not at all-- the cherry compote contains no garlic, nor does the bread pudding! Our tapioca is entirely free of all garlic. True, our chef does rely heavily upon that flavourful, heady cousin of the onion, but even he does not put it in the desserts, nor the ale!"

Aristotle short-sightedly shook his head, then made a dismissive gesture with his pen. "Well, it won't do, will it? We can't have garlic in here, no we can't. No more garlic. See to it, my man." Assuming the topic had been settled, Aristotle shot his cuffs, cleared his throat, and turned back to his important work. As far as he was concerned, it was business as usual, as it had been for some thirty profitable years.

Had he looked up, he might have noticed his avuncular host turning a bright shade of plum-tomato red. Had he been listening, he might have noticed the man's heart beginning to pound thunderously beneath his quilted, embroidered waistcoat. But he did not look up, and he did not listen.

"Very good, sir," spoke the human to the still air above the vampyre's head, for indeed, Mr. Aristotle no longer considered him important enough to notice. "Very well, I shall simply have to get the chef."

Pretty Martha Boggins dimpled at her spouse; chubby, well-manicured hands poised on her ample hips. "I thought you were going to deal with little Mister Aristotle?" she said sweetly as he swept past her to the kitchen.

"Rrrrumph!" was all her darling growled at her over his shoulder. Were that quaint, frustrated snarl translatable, she might take its meaning to be `safety in numbers', for one could be particularly safe if one stood behind that most formidable of gentlemen, the head chef at Hastings, Monsieur Jean- Luc de la Champignon--as long as one avoided the swinging meat cleaver that seemed permanently attached to his brawny right hand.

The Great Chef, Monsieur Jean-Luc de la Champignon--his appellation did not begin to describe him. Quite unlike the shy mushroom that was his family name, he did not peep out from behind blades of dew-spattered grass, innocent of the knowledge of his own tastiness. He burst forth and was formost (in his opinion) in all things: the most skilled lover of women, the most expert wine-taster and--most important of all--the greatest chef, not merely in London or on the continent, but the greatest chef in all Europe! He'd had to leave Paris for reasons her husband refused to go into, telling her it was their good fortune he'd been so amenable to their offer of employment; but she was beginning to suspect she knew why he'd deigned to grace such a restaurant as theirs--Hastings had a good location, but no culinary reputation to speak of. Desperation and a passel of irate Parisian duelists, eager for `revaunche', had no doubt been a powerful inducement to flight. Now the garlic-loving chef was their problem, and was about to become the problem of poor little Mr. Aristotle, who sat with so preoccupied an air, poring over his ledgers and papers at his favourite table.

Her husband's broad back disappeared behind the swinging door of the kitchen, but the level of noise in Hastings easily covered the heated discussion that was undoubtedly going on behind that door. It was the height of the second wave of evening diners, about eight of the o'clock, and she hoped against hope that this matter would be taken care of with some delicacy and tact. When her husband stormed out of the kitchen, their grimacing chef in tow, she knew it was not to be so.


Mr. Aristotle first became aware of his audience when the warm, wet odour of garlic wafted across his cheek, raising a rash of goose-bumps in its wake. He drew back, and looked up . . . and up, and up. A mortal of considerable height towered above him, breathing great blasts of garlic- flavoured breath upon him, glaring down at him. It had been over a thousand years since Aristotle had known fear at the sight of another man, but the intensity of that stare was enough to take aback even a vampyre. At least, Aristotle thought the object of the human's attention was himself. He looked from side-to-side, to see if anyone had seated himself at his table whilst he'd been pre-occupied with the Foquarde affair, but, no, there was nobody at the table but himself.

"Yes?" Aristotle ventured, though with a bit of an inquistive snap to his voice. He had no time for this, his client would be arriving in London within twenty-four hours, and there was so much left to be done!

"H'am I to be told, Monsieur, that you will be 'aving of the young partridge in garlic sauce, this h'evening?" said the fully-six-foot-five-and- one-half-inch tall apparition, its waist tied 'round with a food-stained apron, a white cap upon its head.

"Whoever told you that is a bloody fool," said Aristotle shortly.

His inquisitor's hirsute arms flexed. "H'ah. Then you will be 'aving of the h'ortolans en terrine? H'or the fresh 'erring Matelote? 'Ow about a simple bouillabaisse for Monsieur?"

"Dare I suspect that these calamitous dishes, too, are smothered in that most unfortunate of all the plants in Mother Nature's arsenal, garlic?"

"You may dare to suspect as much, Monsieur!" rejoined the mortal. "Garlic clears the sinuses and cleans the blood, and is a general promoter of cleanliness and good 'ealth. If more people h'ate of the garlic, there would be less of a need for the medical professional and its leeches."

"Well, that's as may be, my man," said Aristotle. "But it won't do, it just won't do. It's vile stuff, it is--hey!" He had just remembered where it was he'd seen that first mortal, the jolly one he'd spoken to earlier. The one who was hiding, almost unnoticed, behind this obstreporous example of unnatural gigantism--a neat trick, still, considering the jolly mortal's bulk. "You there! Aren't you the new owner?" He remembered being a bit distracted by the forgery of some deeds of ownership for the vampyress Lady Wilberforce at the time of their introduction just over a month ago; that was why he'd not pegged the fellow right off.

Mr. Boggins stepped to the fore and bowed. "I am the new owner, sir," he murmured faintly.

"Well, you can just tell this cookery-man here that all this garlic just won't do!" Mr. Aristotle stated positively.

The spectacle of the owner of a restaurant and its head chef taking a restaurant patron to task is not one that goes unnoticed by the general public. During Mr. Aristotle's interview with his two examiners, gentlemen who had moments ago been engaged in pleasing conversation with their dinner- companions ceased their talk, to fasten eyes upon the vulger display at hand. And take part in it.

""Ere!" cried one of their audience; "I been comin' to 'Astings since before my first marriage; that's about nigh on twenty year now, and I ain't missed a Thursday at 'Astings in all that time! But my second wife, she's taken to lockin' me out of my bedroom come Thursday ev'nin' this past month since you lot took over. She said I smell a fair treat and she won't have it no more. I reckon it's this garlic stuff!" Aristotle recognized the man as one to whom he had nodded companionably each Thursday, but had never spoken to in all the time they'd both been regulars at Hastings.

"That's right! Good heavens, man; a bit of garlic in a red sauce is permissible, but this?" another regular held up a forkful of steak-and- kidney; "well, it's quite as if you added a bit of meat to your garlic, and not the other way 'round."

General sounds of approbation greeted this assertion, and cries of 'Hear, hear! Let's have an end to this garlic nonsense!" filled the air. Mr. Boggins moaned piteously and sank into a nearby chair at an empty table. One could assume this was not going as he'd planned.

The Great Chef, Jean-Luc de la Champignon, seemed to swell with rage. "Peasants!" he hissed; "you H'anglish pig-dogs are not fit to partake of the repast from the 'and of the one, the only, Champignon!"

Already Mr. Aristotle found himself growing less and less interested in this mortal's temperament outbursts, and the call of the Foquarde situation beckoned from the papers set before him upon the table. He only half-caught that last from the Great Chef and responded thusly: "Pigs? Champignons? No, no, no. No pork, no mushrooms; neither with nor without garlic. Vile stuff. Leave me be, and thank ye kindly."

Now, if there was one thing you did not do under any circumstances, it was make fun of The Great Chef's family name, let alone do it in concert with an insult to his abilities as a chef. At just that moment, a waiter bearing an enourmous tray for table fifteen came through the swinging door, blissfully ignorant of the revolution developing in the dining-room. Monsieur Champignon reached over and grasped the domesticated goose a la Chipolata that took up most of the tray, then heaved it at Mr. Aristotle's head. Mr. Aristotle gave a pathetic cry and went over backwards in his chair, taking the table and all of his books and papers to the floor with him.

In heaving the goose at the vampyre, The Great Chef was not particularly tidy in the doing of it, and so a quantity of the accompanying potatoes and stewed tomatoes that had decorated the main course of goose also went flying, though with somewhat less accuracy of aim. These vegetables, greasy with cooked goose, went into the laps and faces of the men who had been crying for an end to the regimen of garlic only moments before, and caused quite an uproar. Many of the men, though now staunch business-men, had once been in the military, and it is true, once a military man, always a military man; and so a campaign against the French chef was immediately assumed. Any foody substance that came to hand, be it a roll or a leg of lamb, became a weapon thrown in the direction of Monsieur Champignon.

Mr. Boggins screamed and ran into the kitchen.

Martha Boggins quickly nipped behind the counter into a comfortable hidey-hole, hugging the cash-box to her ample bosom. She'd been a bar-maid in her father's pub in Liverpool before she'd married Mr. Boggins and improved her accent, and knew what to do during a pitched battle.

Poor Mr. Aristotle lay feebly twitching under the garlic-soaked goose, unable to affect a return to an upright position no matter how hard he tried, so strong was the influence of the garlic. One can only guess at the horrors that lay in wait for him had not a hand reached down and removed the goose from his countenance, then pulled him, still in his chair, to the upright position he craved. That hand proved to be attached to a cuff with lace upon it, and the cuff attached to a loden-green velvet coat, and the velvet coat upon the back of a fine-looking young gentleman who brushed off the badly- burned vampyre and inquired after his health. "Gaaaah!" came Mr. Aristotle's first gasp of breath, then he said, "Oh, you're one of us! However did I fail to sense you?"

"I was arranging a business deal with some acquaintences over by the front and wondered at you sitting so close to the kitchen," the young vampyre said; "it seems to me that you've been affected adversely by the potent garlic vapour wafting with such vigour from those doors there. Most unpleasant. My business associates seem distracted at the moment. Shall we quit this place?" He ducked a roast fowl that flew past his ear as if it were still a live bird.

"Oh, yes, please," responded Aristotle. "But my papers! My books!"

The young vampypre helped him to collect his belongings, then escorted him from the dining room whilst protecting him from the worst of the edible projectiles, and out they went into the street. The newly touched-up sign proclaiming "Hastings" swung in the breeze over their heads.

Mr. Aristotle sighed and clutched his belongings to him. "So caught up was I in the threads of other vampyres' lives that I did not even see it was time for me to be moving along, myself! And your name, good sir?"

"Nicholas de Brabant," the young vampyre introduced himself to the elder one. "And you are, I believe, Aristotle, who helps our kind to find new lives when we've out-grown the old ones? You have become somewhat well-known in our select circles, have you not, sir?"

"Well, I suppose that is true; but it is also true that I am in your debt, young man, and must thank you for your services; e'en one day I must pay you back in kind!" said Aristotle, then he began to chuckle. He had had to turn to look his young companion in the face, and so caught sight again of the sign that hung from the front of the restaurant they'd just quitted, from which sounds of battle could still be heard. "It seems to me," he said at last, "that that marks the second time I've lived through the Battle of Hastings, and one day we will speak of it in remembrance!"

The End

Thanks for staying with me this far, even tho' this isn't a story about your favorite character!