Title: A Recipe for Success
Theme: International Fanworks Day
Author's Notes: Disclaimer: Tolkien built the sandbox, I only play with the bucket and shovel that he left for me. No money, profit or non, is made from the publication of this story.
Summary: Why was Olórin embraced by so many peoples, even the reclusive hobbits? What did he offer that others did not?
Word Count: 2273
A Recipe for Success
Olórin was at loose ends.
It wasn't that he was unhappy turning the occasional stone on Nienna's beachfront so that the constant movement of the waves would round the sharp edges off. He enjoyed the feel of the cool stones in his hand and the pebbled patterns they created of light and dark against the water-darkened sands. He had other tasks as well, such as tending to his Lady's fruit trees; coaxing them to bear, although the light from the Two Trees was muted and weakened on Nienna's western estate. Yvanna had assured him the trees would bear and taught him how to gauge their health. She had assured him that the trees would follow their nature even though they were smaller in stature and bore a smaller size of fruit than similar trees growing in Lórien or Valmar.
No, he wasn't unhappy, he was … to be honest (and he was always honest) … bored.
Others had noticed his mood and discussions had ensued. Now plans were poised to be set into motion that would change his life forever.
Walking along the shore, he looked out to sea, noticing a storm blowing in. Pulling his robe up, the wet hem catching around his ankles, he began walking toward Nienna's dwelling. By the time he was at the front entrance the rain had caught up with him, soaking him from head to foot. He quickly went incorporeal, reforming inside the entryway door, leaving the water drops behind on the outer side of the ebony door. His bare feet were dry where he stood upon the slate floor.
"You look pensive, Olórin," Nienna's voice sounded from the upper story. Glancing upward, he saw her leaning against the balustrade overlooking the atrium.
He bowed. "Lady Nienna, I am not pensive, but I admit to feelings of restlessness. I cannot seem to find joy in my tasks any more, although I am pleased when I walk the beach and see the patterns of the stones, or when the trees bear their sweet fruit. I do not understand why I am now unsatisfied with my usual duties."
"Come to my workroom. I have an assignment for you."
He bowed, appearing next to her seconds later. After making his obeisance to his Lady, he followed her into a room he rarely entered. Between walls that were not windowed, yet reflected the current outside views on all sides, was a large table. At various times he knew it depicted the physical land of Valinor when others of the Valar requested her sage input. This day the table's surface held a wide variety of leaves, twigs, nuts and berries, many from plants that were new to him.
"Olórin, after long years my brother has confirmed that the Children have finally appeared across the sea. It seems Eru's wisdom requires their bodies to renew themselves through consuming food and drink. When my sisters Yvanna and Vana created the plants of Arda, they gave little thought to their properties, seeking only beauty in their aspects. Now the Children are discovering the plants and animals sharing their land and are eating them. It seems logical that some plants will be beneficial to the new race, but others may be poisonous, or inedible. I also suspect that some plants may combine with others to make some foods taste better.
"My brothers and sisters are anxious to meet the Children, but we feel that if we all visit them, we might overwhelm them. I feel that knowledge of plants and food products might well be an avenue toward friendship and the exchange of information with these new beings. I would like you to travel throughout Valinor, examine and experiment with a variety of possible foods. Discover which plants should and should not be eaten, which can be cultivated or harvested, and which ones are dangerous."
"You said that plants may be combined to improve the taste of an item?" Olórin asked, walking around the table and examining many of the plant samples lying there.
"Yes. It will require you to experiment and acquire skills with foodstuffs. As a Maia, you have had no need to eat or drink, but now you must begin to examine all aspects of the world within which the Children live. Begin here in Valinor, making sure you thoroughly examine and experiment with all of the varied plants and animals sharing our home. It is possible that in the future Manwë may ask you to travel across the sea to the East and there you may discover new plants and animals not seen on our shore. You will need to use all of your senses and intuition to guide you. Do you consent to this assignment?"
A spark of excitement filled him as he looked at the plants scattered across the table and listened to Lady Nienna. This was a task that would be his alone; allowing him to wander the world, exploring it in depth. Humbled, he bowed deeply to his patron. "My Lady, gladly will I accept this assignment."
Nienna placed her hand on his head. "For uncounted turns I have fostered in you the skills of patience and observation. Now you have an opportunity to apply these skills as you gather new knowledge. I look forward to your reports."
Olórin left Nienna's lands as Laurelin waxed, walking toward the Gardens of Lothlórien and the guardians, Lord Lórien and Lady Estë. They provided him with a glade in which to work, complete with an oven, a fire pit, a clear well of cold water and various vessels, containers, tables and implements. Several lesser Maiar volunteered to assist him and they went to work, gathering, drying, processing and combining a variety of plants. He tested different methods of preparing and cooking animals. Gathered plants were ground and masticated, leaves were compressed and dried, and stems and flowers were added to mixtures in an attempt to increase or alter flavors. When he found good combinations of ingredients, he invited various Valar and Maiar to join him for an evening of food and drink.
He also explored fermentation methods and made varieties of wine and beer. He mixed and thickened flavors into sauces for poultry and heavier meats, and steamed a wide variety of vegetables and grains. He experimented with roasting beans and leaves for non-alcoholic beverages and discovered the pleasing results of adding yeast to loaves of ground grains.
He strode throughout Valinor, from the frozen north to the darkened south. As he traveled, he gathered bits and pieces of more plants and expanded his skill, becoming a talented cook.
War was declared against Melkor and he accompanied other Maiar across the sea. He drew weapon against the forces arrayed against them, but when possible he moved to the healing tents to aid those of his kin who had been injured. As he wandered the Eastern lands he collected plants that seemed new to his eyes, often finding that they were actually familiar but changed in form because of the differences in soil or light. He asked to remain in the East and continue his work, but his request was denied and he returned to Valinor, serving Lord Manwë.
Eventually the Children were brought to the land of the Two Trees; first the Vanyar and Noldar, and finally, separately, the Teleri. He moved among these new beings, both teaching and learning from them as they taught him their own recipes and methods of cooking they had developed in their former homelands over the sea.
Periodically he reported to his mentor, Nienna, telling her about the latest taste sensation he had found or a new way to amplify flavors. Although he performed other tasks for the Valar, he never stopped taking some time to enjoy a meal with special friends or to try a new recipe. When he had free time, he would often be in Nienna's kitchen, a room she had designed after the elves had moved to the West. She would walk in to find him up to his elbows in flour as he kneaded bread or kneeling in the dirt of the connected kitchen garden as he harvested select herbs for the next repast.
Manwë called a meeting of the Valar and their Maiar. Here he asked for three volunteers to go over the sea to offer subtle assistance for those of the Children remaining in the East in their fight against evil. Although Melkor had been defeated and imprisoned in Námo's halls, the seeds of evil had been planted deeply in the East and those elves still living there were hard-pressed. Manwë accepted the volunteered services of Curumo and Alatar. But when he requested Olórin, the Maia begged to remain in the West. Another two names were offered, Aiwendil and Pallando, and under pressure, Olórin reluctantly agreed to join them, becoming the fifth. Manwë met privately with them before they sailed.
"To thank you for agreeing to this task, I will allow each of you to keep one memory or aspect of knowledge, to take oversea with you," the Vala said. "Most of your powers will be stripped from you to allow you to be more subtle and restrained when working with the Children, but each of you five will be permitted to keep one skill or memory. Perhaps you want to never forget the glory of the Two Trees, or the white heights of Taniquetil? Or maybe it is a special friend or even a specific experience?"
The others gave their responses to the Vala and finally, he turned to Olórin.
"Lord Manwë, I would ask to remember how to cook. My recipes and knowledge of herbs and cooking lore have become an important part of me." At these words the other four Maiar began laughing. Manwë held up his hand for silence.
"So be it," Manwë declared.
Upon arriving in Middle Earth, Olórin discovered that most of his powers had been minimized. The five scattered and soon Curumo was putting his fingers into the politics of the land. Olórin, rather than set up a permanent location, continued what he had been doing previously, wandering and exchanging recipes, collecting and testing herbs, helping to heal when possible, and gently encouraging those he met to walk the paths of good rather than evil.
After many years he wandered back toward the northwestern parts of the land and there he met a new people, one he had never met before in his wanderings, and one that he heard nothing of before. They were tightly tied to the land, loved the simple things in life, and attempted in a way no other race he had met before, to enjoy each day to the fullest.
He wandered into the lands and set up camp, bringing down a young deer. After preparing the animal he seasoned it, placed it into a ground oven he had lined with burning hot coals, and began roasting it. He had seen bright, watchful eyes peeking at him through the thickets around his glade and as the animal cooked, he settled down with a pipe and some pipeweed, to smoke and relax a bit.
Slowly several hobbits walked into the clearing. He offered them food and drink, and as the sun set, he enlisted their aid in pulling the cooked carcass from the coals. As was their want, the hobbits sent their sons to gather other relatives and soon he had a grove filled with hobbits sharing his food, setting up a corner for dancing, and some of the braver matrons and maidens had brought sweetstuffs for after meal. He began talking and exchanging recipes and soon was talking herb lore with several older females as several clan heads watched on. In a few days he left again, and through the years he wandered in and out of their lands, welcomed as a guest who understood the serious nature of proper food and drink.
Long years later after the destruction of evil and his return to Valinor, Manwë asked him whether his one memory had helped him in his task.
"My Lord Manwë, I've never felt more welcome than sitting in a hobbit's hole, the table groaning under portions of fine cheese, good beer, and subtly seasoned breads. Truly, these beings, short of stature but large of heart, expressed their love of the land and their place within it by celebrating the basic needs with the flourish that only great love can bring. They were masters of the table and I learned more in my time with them than in hundreds of prior years of wandering, inventing and collecting recipes. I was never more honored than when a matron consented to allow me to read a cherished recipe handed down from generation to the next.
"I have found, my Lord, that the beauty of Arda exists in even the smallest thing. One sprinkle of the right seasoning can pull the ordinary into the memorable, just as one pinch of the wrong herb can turn the taste of the meal from good to bad. In this fashion I worked with those I met. I tried to add the correct seasoning to my words, to pull them away from those who would sit on the sidelines and let life pass them by. I spiced my words to appeal to those who strode boldly out to meet challenges with the understanding of what might entail, but who met the challenge nonetheless. In those I have met and shared time with, I have been enriched. Yes, I was well served by my memory and the many doors it opened for me."