I love apples. They taste good, they look good, they are good. The real question is, does my boss like them? I only get to taste what he wants to eat.
I am, His Majesty, King Henry I of England’s food taster. This is the story of how he met his end.
Rebels were constantly rising up. People could tell that Henry was reaching the end of that rope we call life. His wife and son, Queen Matilda and Prince Geoffrey, realized if he died without granting them any of his lands, somebody else might rise up and take everything. They asked him to give Matilda control of all the castles in Normandy. Henry refused, so when the rebels rose up for the last time in his reign, they joined them in their cause. It was a dangerous time for anyone near the king. I was at the middle of it all. If someone tried to poison my liege, I would very likely die in his stead.
Despite the danger of death by poisoning, I enjoyed my job. I got to taste pretty much every possible type of food that a king could eat. You would not believe what I have had to taste. At one point I was told to try a roasted cat. It was so stringy. I will never, ever eat a cat or anything like it again. I always used to wonder what an avocado would taste like. Well, I got to try one once. Here’s how it happened:
His Majesty was going on a campaign in Normandy when a scout troop managed to catch a foreign trader on his route. His cart was full of exotic fruits and spices. The chefs prepared all the best foods they could find in the cart to create a feast of massive proportions for the His Majesty and all the dukes who decided to fight like they were supposed to. It was amazing. Of course, before the food was brought out I got to taste it all. The cooks talked to me as they worked.
“I never thought I’d get to use these spices!” one told me.
“It’s delicious” I responded as I always did. I still remember that day, the avocados sprinkled with vinegar, the baked toad in a hole, a huge haunch of beef with sprinkled mustard seed, and some spotted puddick for dessert.
I tried to taste all the food he consumed, but too often he would eat something without my knowing, and ultimately that was the cause of his death. It was the year 1135 and His Majesty was campaigning in Southern Normandy against rebel barons led by William, the Count of Ponthieu. King Henry campaigned for a few months throughout Autumn, destroying rebel resistance. I traveled along with him to help keep him safe.
When November came King Henry traveled to Lyons-la-Forêt, Normandy to enjoy some hunting. When he arrived His Majesty was healthy, but soon he became ill. I was in the kitchens testing the food the cooks were cooking for the King’s dinner, when suddenly a man ran into the kitchens yelling hysterically.
“Woe! The King is poisoned! He ate something terrible! He coughs up blood!” Most everybody in the room immediately sprinted toward the King’s rooms where a commotion was occurring. The King’s personal guards bore him into his rooms with much haste. A herald was yelling at everyone to move away, attempting to control the chaos.
“Away, away! His Majesty has fallen to sickness! Clear away, away!” Then the gravelly voiced guards began to form a sort of wall.
“In thirty seconds, all people here without authorization will be put in the stocks!” After that everybody practically disappeared. It was like some amazing magician’s act. For some reason, I was allowed into the room. I think somebody thought I was some sort of apprentice to the King’s personal physician. The King lay on his bed. His face glistened with a combination of sweat and blood. His closest advisers were making a huge clamor around the lushious bed. The physician listened to his heart and checked other such things. Everybody knew the truth, though, because his face betrayed it.
His Majesty King Henry I of England died within the week. I became an assistant cook because I didn’t exactly have much of a job. I learned later that King Henry had eaten a plate of wild lampreys, a sort of parasitic eel, against his physicians advice. For a while I was worried someone would connect the death with me, but luckily nobody ever tried to, probably because I had nothing to do with it.
Unfortunately, my career as a taster was ruined since nobody wanted me now. I wrote this as a record of these events, so that my descendents would understand why we went from being tasters to the King, to assistant cooks in the kitchens.
Remember me always,
George Rowdy, once King’s Taster, currently Assistant Cook