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The Island in the Mind by Rodney Hall

Book cover for The Island in the Mind
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My new responsibilities as Gentleman of the Royal Bedchamber included supervising the poison-tasting of dinner. The palace kitchens were a separate building across the street, out through the side gate. This was where I had to present myself, accompanied by a Clerk of Office who was to risk his life doing his daily gastronomic duty. Such a sight these kitchens were: by the time we arrived the chef was arranging a massive succession of silver serving dishes piled with roasted pheasants, succulent little squabs, pigeons and partridges; scullery hands made ready to help lift whole pike from simmering pans; stewards broached jars of pickled crabs; and cooks unhooked roasted kid from racks above the open fires. Flames blazed and spat, sparkling with burnt fat, tiny flares darting into the blue air. Smoke fogged the whole place to mingle with steam ballooning from pots as their lids came off, a mixture so fragrant and intoxicating it choked us as soon as we stepped inside the door.

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