From Candle Iron
Source: A native species growing in McAnerin
Author’s inspiration: A cross between truffles and potatoes with a touch of mushroom thrown in
'Sweetloaves!' She fell to her knees, scooping out the firm, egg-shaped spheres.
Allyso Tormblood had escaped the doomed Castle Torm through the well-way. An enemy soldier, Scholar Ankooria, allowed her to leave on condition that she took his spellhound, Tace, to safety. Allyso had no real choice, so she agreed.
Tace turned out to be a calm presence on her journey. She also proved to be of real practical help.
The hound sniffed and sneezed, then began to investigate the ground. Allyso watched as Tace snuffled her way in a circle. She seemed particularly interested in a small depression a few paces off the road, sniffing loudly and scraping the soil with her paw.
Allyso loosened the leash, and the hound began to dig with both forepaws, pausing now and again to sniff and whine.
The busy paws scraped up turf and clods of earth, then a shower of fine, friable soil. The hole grew rapidly deeper…
…She found the hound had dug herself almost out of sight. All that Allyso could see were two neat hind paws spread wide apart to gain good purchase and a pert tail that quivered with the effort of digging…
…Tace stopped digging and scrabbled her way back up to level ground, waving her whip of a tail and panting with triumph.
Allyso peered into the hole. At first, she didn't recognise the cluster of cream-coloured globes at the bottom, but then a waft of their fragrance drifted up.
These were the sweetloaves, and they proved a much better meal than the bits of bitterstem which were all Allyso had been able to find.
Their texture was cheese-like, their perfume that of new-baked bread. 'How clever of you!' she added. She set down the fungi and hugged Tace before scraping away at the bottom of the pit to collect the rest of the booty.
But no - she must leave one. She remembered Merrit telling her that one sweetloaf must always be left to provide the parent for a new crop. Odd that she should remember that, for she had never seen these delicacies anywhere else but served on a kitchen platter.
Crouching on her heels, she selected one and bit into it. The skin was a little gritty, and the flesh inside mealy and satisfying. It seemed a long time since she had eaten the scrap of cheese Scholar had given her, and longer still since the meagre bowl of gruel she'd had in Torm.
She became aware that Tace was watching with gleaming eyes, licking her lips and giving the occasional soft whimper.
Allyso almost choked at her own ingratitude. Tace had made the discovery and done the work and of course she was hungry too. She selected another sweetloaf, brushed away the clinging soil and offered it to the hound. Tace took it delicately and set it between her paws then began to gnaw with evident enjoyment…
Allyso meant to save some of the sweetloaves, but she and Tace were hungry, so she hoped the hound would find more for the next day.
Later, when she met the strange acolyte Leonard who was a girl despite the name, she got to eat some roasted sweetloaves.
Leonard stabbed a sweetloaf on her dagger and offered it to Allyso. 'Go on,' she said. 'It's quite safe to eat. You won't be turned into a toad or anything - supposing you have toads in this place. And do sit down.'
Cautiously, Allyso took the fungus. Its creamy globe was puffed up crisp and golden and she hesitated only a moment before sitting down cross-legged and biting into it. She might not have come for a meal, but she was hungry and roasted sweetloaves were even better than the raw ones. She must remember to take some back to Tace.
Allyso became fond of Tace as well as depending on her for company and her skills. She was sorry when they eventually parted.