When I agreed to write a post for But What Are They Eating I must admit I was a tad overwhelmed. I am working on three different series simultaneously, and all three could easily have a post. So, how did I make my final decision? Well, there wasn’t any deep, thought-provoking way I went about it. To be honest, I did eeny-meeny-miney-mo.
*hangs my head in shame*
I suppose I really shouldn’t. I mean, we all have those moments, right ...... right?
Regardless of how I made my decision, I chose my short story Redemption from the series The Legacy of Ilvania. Because it’s a short story, I didn’t delve into what the main character Jae is eating. Nevertheless, what he eats, more specifically what he doesn’t eat, plays a crucial role in his life and greatly influenced what he is today.
At the age of sixteen, Jae’s parents sold him to the Mé’Draak.
A fighting force able to wield powerful magic, the Mé’Draak are Ilvania’s most revered defenders. Having a son chosen to join their forces is considered a high honor. But in the College where the recruits are trained, it quickly becomes apparent that the Mé’Draak are nothing to be commended. For the young boys aren’t students. They’re slaves.
Put in tiny, cramped cells and given thin rags to wear, they spend their days huddled against the damp stone walls, dreading the moment a key turns in the lock and they are taken to their session. Unlike a normal school, the boys don’t learn to call upon their magic through instruction. They learn through pain.
Twice daily, each student is taken to their session. Their trainer attacks them with lightning, the most common spell of the Mé’Draak. The boys quickly learn to raise their magical shields in defense, or they die. For those who survive the first onslaught, the attacks increase in strength until the pupil falls unconscious from the strain or they are driven to the point where anger and resentment take control. Defending is no longer an option. They turn their energy around and attack. They’re broken. They’re a Mé’Draak.
So far, I haven’t talked at all about food, but you can probably imagine what I’m about to say isn’t going to be pleasant. As I mentioned earlier, the food given to the boys at the College plays an integral role in their Breaking. In order for the method of training to work, they need to be completely demoralized. They aren’t given any kindness or compassion. They aren’t given time to socialize. But above all, they aren’t given food.
Jae grew up on a farm. He was used to hearty, simple cooking. But he was also one of eleven children and a poor family. Meals need to consist of a few cheap ingredients and feed a lot of mouths. Soups and stews were what his mother cooked most often. Potatoes, squash, and root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips transformed into hearty stews that somehow always managed to taste different. Sliced cabbage, potatoes, and carrots made a light soup which was one of Jae’s favorites. Squash pies were his favorite food in the fall, and for the hotter summer months, he enjoyed lightly fried squash and zucchini tossed with rice. Once a month, Jae’s father would trade some vegetables grown on the farm for meat from the local butcher. Jae looked forward to that time of the month with baited breath.
Jae was never hungry, but he also never truly knew what it was like to be full. Nevertheless, when he arrived at the College, he quickly learned what it was like to starve.
The Master doesn’t want the boys to be healthy. He doesn’t want them to be strong. The quicker they become weak, both mentally and physically, the quicker they will be Broken. He wants them to have no willpower left to resist.
Part of how that’s achieved is by feeding the boys next to nothing. Jae thought he was hallucinating when he was served his first meal—if you could call it that. A tiny wooden tray smaller than an average plate was plopped in front of him. On it was a half a slide of bread and a small cup of light yellow broth. No vegetables. No rice. No meat. Broth.
Jae devoured the food in seconds and spend the rest of the day reassuring himself the next meals of the day would be more substantial. To his dismay, he received only one more meal that day. And it was exactly the same.
Still, the Master realized there needed to be some concession on his part, otherwise the boys would die of starvation before he’d even have a chance to break them. Once a week, he let the boys receive three meals. The first two were the same as every other day; bread and broth. The third consisted of a slice of roasted meat, boiled potatoes, and a roll.
When Jae arrived at the College, he was fit and muscular. Five months after eating the Master’s prescribed diet, he was emaciated beyond recognition. If not for that one special meal a week, he would have forgotten the taste of food.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Andi!
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