The sounds of horse hooves echoed: ba doom ba doom. Ba doom ba doom. Like coconut shells, but a lot less funny. Thickets of wet leaves whipped past, shouts filled the burning forests, and she found herself slipping, thudding onto the hard ground, which gave way to a long, dark tunnel, the depths of which had no end.
The Princess sat bolt upright, her heart speeding in her chest. She blinked and looked around. A sea of white pillows ballooned around her, bordered by a canopy of purple silk which stretched all the way from her royal bed to the doors of her expansive chamber. She put her hand on her heart and closed her eyes, willing the vivid images from her dream to stay. The wet earth beneath the horses. The rebel leader’s grip on her arm as he led her to the entrance of the secret tunnel. It had been no dream – well, at least, not only a dream, but a reality that she continued to relive each of the five nights since she had returned to the palace.
Her waking hours were a haze of banquets held in her honor, military parades with hundreds of dancers and drummers and musicians, and a constant showering from the prime minister and others in the King’s cabinet of reams of silk and brocade and wagons of salt from the northern mines and dried fish from the sea, all celebrating her safe return.
And all she could think of were her months on the road – the crude jokes of the rebel men and women, their rough ways of eating – the hearty laughs and shining eyes as they’d sat around the cave fire on frigid nights, listening to the rebel leader’s stories and promises of a better world.
Tonight she had yet another banquet to suffer through – not just honoring her this time, but the emperor from the North, come down from the remote island lands to negotiate the latest trade treaty with her father. She didn’t see how she could stomach it – another four hour ceremony of bows and futile rituals, of surfeit and platters of food stacked as high as the palace ceilings – the best the royal larder had to offer repellent to her now that she knew how her people suffered outside the palace.
But dress she must. As her maid tied her into her ceremonial garb, she couldn’t help thinking about the practical peasant hanbok she had worn the past few months – dirty and torn, but great for riding horses and running from palace guards. In this explosion of silk she could manage nothing beyond a slow-motion twirl.
“Come, Princess. The Emperor has arrived.” Holding back an eye roll, she floated down her chamber stairs and into the courtyard, lining up behind her father as they prepared to receive the royal procession. The tables before them were laden with food, this time with delicacies the Princess had never seen before: tranches of raw fish, pink and purple and arranged in impressive murals depicting their country’s landscapes; and green and yellow rosebuds formed by an alchemy of royal honey and powdered roots.
The Princess sat down and reached for a green rosebud. A hand gripped hers and she whipped around, prepared to deliver a scathing judgment on whatever servant had so broken custom. But to her surprise, it was not a servant at all, but one of the foreign dancers, wearing a large pewter mask. She would have said something nonetheless, if not for the crinkle around the man’s eyes, which gave her pause. The man put his fingers to his lips, gave her a crooked smile, and backed slowly away from the table, disappearing into an alleyway.
In the courtyard the performers gathered and a gong rang out. The ceremonial dance was about to begin. She craned her neck, straining to catch a glimpse of the masked man. As the music echoed up to the royal table, the Princess tensed in anticipation. Something was about to happen – she could feel it.
[This seems like a good place to end this installment of the Princess & the Rebel saga. For past episodes, click here. Also, caveat, I make no claims as to whether something along the lines of this dessert actually existed in ancient Korea or Japan (I’m no food historian after all) – but they did have honey, and green tea, and assumedly they could produce collagen/gelatin, so I bet they did too have something like this! And even if they didn’t, well this is only a loose fictionalized account anyway (yay artistic license). But, if anyone does know more about ancient Korean/Japanese desserts, feel free to shout it out in the comments!]
- Bloom (mix) gelatin in ¾ c cold water in metal mixing bowl with matcha and sea salt.
- Simmer honey/maple syrup w/ remaining water (1/2 c) in pot over medium heat until mixture reaches 240 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer.
- Pour (very hot) mixture carefully into bloomed gelatin and beat on high with electric mixer. Mixture should quadruple in volume and start to look like liquid marshmallows (about 5-10 minutes of mixing).
- Beat until stiff peaks form (but don't overbeat, stop before mixture is solid).
- Pour mixture evenly onto parchment-lined pan or molds. Refrigerate for an hour or two to set and cut into squares. Dust with tapioca to prevent sticking (optional).