“So, you know about the siege?” said Marie. She looked around the table at the blank faces of her husband, Miss Henderson, Morag, Phlebotomous and Osvold.
“The one in Paris,” said Sir John, trying to be helpful. “With the, the whatnots… In, er…”
“1870,” said Marie. Osvold leaned in to Phlebotomous and started whispering rapidly, glancing over at Marie from time to time. After a few minutes the whispering stopped and Phlebotomous looked at everyone around the table.
“That was before Osvold’s time,” said Phlebotomous. Sir John looked confused.
“But I thought vam… I thought you were immortal?” he said.
“Yes,” said Phlebotomous, “but we have to be born sometime. Osvold was born in 1871.”
“But he looks older than you,” said Sir John.
“I was… turned at a younger age than Osvold,” said Phlebotomous. “I’m actually over 200 years old. We don’t age after… it happens.”
“So there’s a 200 year age gap between you and Osvold?” said Miss Henderson. “Is that a bit difficult?”
Phlebotomous looked confused.
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean,” he said. Miss Henderson went to speak but then felt Morag’s paw tap her foot.
“Anyway,” said Marie. “In 1870 the Prussian army surrounded Paris. There was shelling every night and day. Nothing could get in or out. Even the the mail was sent by balloon. And there was no food. It was… it was terrible. When the good food ran out, people ate whatever they could find.”
“I thought French people did that anyway?” said Miss Henderson. “I mean snails, frogs.”
“I mean whatever,” said Marie. “People ate…”
Marie glanced at Morag.
“People ate anything that could be eaten,” she finished quickly. “There was a zoo in Paris. There were many creatures there, and they were… cooked… and served in the more fashionable restaurants.”
“Cooked? Like what?” said Miss Henderson.
“Like kangaroo, like antelope, like, like elephant,” said Marie. “It is a sad story I know, but one borne of necessity. And it fits what we are looking for. A garden on the lake, a place of joy and sadness, where things have been caged and where death has been seen.”
“Is it far,” said Sir John.
“Not far, but it will be dark now.” said Marie. “We should go tomorrow.”
Silence descended in the room.
“What a horrible story,” said Miss Henderson.
“War is a horrible thing,” said Marie. “Need is a horrible thing. It drives people to such horrors.”
“I think I’m glad I grew up in England,” said Miss Henderson. “At least we always had good wholesome food like tripe, sausage and black pudding.”
“What do we know about the test?” said Morag. “Can we prepare ourselves?”
“Earth was a physical test and Air intellectual,” said Sir John, glad of the change of subject. “This is likely to have an emotional aspect.”
Morag looked at Marie, who in turn was looking blankly at the table, lost in the horrors of the past.
“Aye,” said Morag. “It certainly has that.”
The Christmas Menu can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Paris_(1870–71)