Darjeeling

Tech Fails & Travails #2: Darjeeling & Housekeeping

Blogger’s note: This is a companion piece. To read it’s sibling for further understanding first, go HERE.

Sunday was to be the day.

The day that I would change out one computer to a newer one. That didn’t go quite as planned. Inevitably, I stuck with the old one to get work done. I had two blogs I wanted to write: one revolving around tea and job hunting, the other…a- about the complacency of the porn industry, put as a nursery rhyme. Yes, really.

However, the only writing I ended up finishing was a tea review for a fabulous Turzum estate Darjeeling put out by Thunderbolt Tea. Seriously, it was perfect. Put simply, it was like a Yunnan Jin Cha and a Taiwanese Ruby 18 made sweet-sweet love and produced a cocoa-flavored Indian offspring. (Er…I left that out of the actual review.) I had three pints of the stuff over the course of the day, and it remained strong throughout each steep – even in terms of caffeine.

After giving up on one attempt with the new computer set-up, I hooked up the old one long enough to attend a “meet-up” of sorts. TeaGeek.net (aka. Michael J. Coffey) was hosting a meet-up via Google+’s “Hangout” function to discuss Dan Cong oolongs. I wanted to attend since a blog of mine on the very subject posted the week prior.

My first attempt to connect via phone succeeded, but the sound was garbled. Whole chunks of speech from the various participants simply didn’t show up. To correct this, I also connected on my computer. However, this created an echo effect toward the other members in the Hangout. I tried to mute my phone, but the volume wouldn’t turn off all the way. To correct this little fluke, I logged off and tried to again. My phone registered the Hangout as having ended. That was simply not the case since my computer was still logged in! I gave it at least ten tried before finally giving up.

I was pissed. Tech fail after tech fail had me all red-faced and gritted teeth. I needed an outlet, something to act as meditation. But I couldn’t relax, the three pints of strong Darjeeling wouldn’t let me. Movement, something that required movement!

I know! I thought to myself. I’ll clean the f**king house. ALL of it!

I vacuumed the living room, emptied the dishwasher, dried and folded towels, took out the trash, swept around the litter box, and cleared off the kitchen counters. Once all that was done, I braved my room. My private man-space hadn’t been gutted and cleaned since…uh…The Before Time. Actually, in real terms, not since the mate de coca/flea plague incident of 2010. So, two years. Wow.

Through fits of curses and grunts – manly high-pitched grunts, mind you – I raised the bed, took out old boxes, washed the sheets/comforter, tossed old files, and removed old shoes. How so much stuff had accumulated in my ever-so-small space was beyond me. Over the course of three hours-to-four hours, I practically deloused the place. Hopped up on Darjeeling-fueled determination.

By the time I was finished, I looked at the clock. 7PM. I hadn’t even showered or changed out of my pajamas. That and I had to pick up my brother/roommate and his girlfriend from the airport. I did one last vacuum-run of the kitchen, checked on laundry, then rushed into the bathroom like a military cadet. I was out the door in fifteen minutes. At the airport in twenty. (It was usually a thirty-minute drive.)

All tasks completed, and bad mood abated, I returned to my comfy, pajama-clad self. The thought entered my head to make a Joy’s Teaspoon Lemon Zest latte. I whipped out my IKEA-made milk-frother, but promptly remembered that it had no batteries. I asked my brother for some AAs…and found they didn’t fit. I asked for AAAs. Those were too small. My brother gave it a try with the AAs – he fit ‘em in perfectly.

I gave up on technology for the night, settling in with a teabag of mint instead.

The animals were so scared, their eyes glowed in defense.

The animals were so scared, their eyes glowed in defense.

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Monday, October 22nd, 2012 Steep Stories No Comments

Guan Yins,Tigers and Lords, Oh My!

For context, READ THIS FIRST

For once, I thought I’d get a full night’s sleep. The work week had been murder, and for some odd reason, I couldn’t stay in bed for more than six hours. Well, this time I had an excuse. A loud roar jolted me from sleep. When I opened my eyes, standing in front of me was the Bodhisattva of Compassion herself – Guan Yin – standing atop a rubber ducky (???). And she looked pissed.

How did she get in my room? Wait…where was my room?! I was greeted by blackness all around me as I sat straight up. The only occupants in this void/nullspace were me (still in bed), the ducky-perched Chinese goddess, and a third shadowy figure.

“Are you the one they call the Lazy Clitoris?” the bodhisattva asked.

“That’s…Literatus,” I corrected her.  “Ma’am.”

“Silence!” she snapped.

“But you asked me to speak,” I reminded her.

She did not take my dry comment well, bringing a lightning bolt down within an inch of my bed. The smell of ozone wafted once the crackling ceased. I didn’t even know she had that ability.

“You have wronged me greatly,” Guan Yin said, lowering her duck.

“Is this about the story?”

“Of course, it is!” her voice boomed and echoed.

“But it was all true,” I replied.

“True or not, you have sullied my name,” she said. “And now, you must make reparations.”

“Why are you on a duck?” I had to ask.

“My dragon – Ao Bing – is…on vacation,” she replied, flustered.

“But why a duck?”

“A mutual interested party provided him,” she said, motioning for the shadowy figure to step forward.

A youthful man in dated formal attire approached in a carriage…pulled by two very imposing Bengal tigers. His attire was a mix-and-match of Victorian and Georgian influences, his cravat was flashy, and his top hat seemed to glow with its own aura. The man’s visage bore a striking resemblance to American actor, James Franco.

The Faux-Franco bowed in my direction, “Viscount Petersham, at your service.”

I cocked an eyebrow, “Petersham?”

“Yes?”

“Who is Peter, and why is he a sham?” I asked with a half-smile.

He simply looked at me for a moment, then spoke, “Oh! That was an attempt at humor. How precious.”

“And why are you here?” I asked of him again. “Wherever here is?”

“The lovely Bodhisattva and I have come to an arrangement,” the viscount explained. “One that involves you.”

“What for and why me?”

“My, you’re annoying quizzical,” Petersham sighed. “You wronged her and an associate of mine. She brought you to this ‘space between spaces’ where you will be subjected to a Trial by Tea.”

“Trial by-”

Tea!” Guan Yin finished for me. “If you pass, you live. If you fail…”

As if on cue, one of the Bengals roared. I gulped. No one wanted to die in their pajamas, especially not out-of-season Santa Claus pajamas.

“The idea, my good chap, is this,” the viscount said, dismounting from his grand tiger-chariot. “There are two teas in my repertoire that need testing. One was tailored specifically to me, the other – well – named for my feline friends over there.”

“So…what do I have to do?” I queried.

“Simply try them,” Petersham said with a grin.

“And if I don’t like them?”

“That won’t be possible.”

“Get on with it,” the goddess said impatiently.

“Yes, m’dear,” he said with a roll of the eyes.

He stretched out his hand. A platter, a teapot, a metallic kettle, two transparent 8-ounce teacups, and an hourglass perched above his hand.

“How did you-?” I started.

“I’m a dead man with two pet tigers,” Petersham stated flatly. “What can’t I do?”

“Fair point,” I nodded.

“Now, how do you take your tea, lad?” he asked.

Me? A lad? I look older than him! I said inwardly.

“1 teaspoon of leaves, boiling water, three-minute steep,” I replied.

“Only three minutes?!” Petersham looked aghast. “What are you, some kind of dandy?”

“You asked,” I shrugged – an odd question coming from a man with a lisp.

He sighed dramatically. “Very well.”

With a wave of a few fingers from his other hand, steam rose from the kettle – bubbling was heard from within. I wondered where the water had come from, but this was a magic void. Wondering was pointless. The kettle, then, poured the water itself into the pot. I guessed the leaves were already housed within. The hourglass flipped itself over independently and remained suspended in mid-air.

Three minutes passed by with awkward silence. Guan Yin had dismounted the rubber ducky and crouched down to pat the head of one of the tigers. It bellowed a loud purr in response. Petersham made unique use of a snuff box in the interim.

When the hourglass ran its last grain of sand, there was a loud chime. The tigers perked up in alarm. The source seemed to resound from all over. Petersham was unperturbed by it, gingerly waving a finger, and levitating the pot.

The liquor that poured into the clear cup was an even copper with a light gold ring on the periphery. It was a lovely looking beverage. I put cup to lips. On introduction, there was a bit of a citrus bite, followed by a slight tannic lean in the middle. Then it snapped at the top note with a presence of peppers, allspice, honey and Keemun sweetness. So many different flavors were at play – all vying for steeping supremacy.

“Damn,” I said with approval.

“Poetic, isn’t he?” Guan Yin said dryly.

The viscount, however, appeared overjoyed. “And, now, the Two Tigers blend.”

He repeated the same songless dance with a new set of “tea”-quipment. Water boiled, apparatuses flew about, and another clear cup was magically filled. The smell of the rising steam was strong on the nostrils.

The liquor had brewed only a slightly deeper copper than Petersham’s namesake blend with a very even and sweet aroma. Malt was also there but understated. Flavor-wise, it possessed a very crisp forefront, which transitioned to a strangely floral middle. It tapered off nicely without much lingering bitterness.

“A strong morning cup, for sure, but one polite enough to call you a cab afterwards,” I said.

The viscount looked puzzled. “I don’t quite follow.”

“It’s a sex reference,” Guan Yin growled, arms akimbo. “He does that.”

Again, Petersham was un-phased. “Splendid! You passed!”

“All I did was like the teas,” I said.

“That’s all that was needed,” Petersham said, clasping my shoulders. “You live to drink another day.”

With that, the youthful – and possibly immortal – lord retook the reigns of his tiger mounts, bid a gloved farewell with a “toodleloo ” of his left fingers, and rode off into the darkness. The cups of tea and brewing equipment, however, remained suspended in place – hovering. All that remained were me, the tea, an ill-tempered goddess, and a rubber ducky.

“Okay…” I started. “I passed. Guess that means I get to go now?”

“No,” she said.

“No?” I gulped – voice a little higher.

“You get to live, yes,” Guan Yin agreed. “But I get to determine the ‘where’.”

I said nothing, but my gaze narrowed.

“Here in the void,” she said with arms outstretched. “This suits you perfectly.”

“So, it’s like that, then,” I said, taking the cup with the Petersham blend.

“It’s like that,” she repeated.

I also grabbed the cup of the Two Tigers blend. “You’ve never read my work, have you?”

“You work?” she chuckled.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”

I held out both transparent cups so she could clearly see them. At first, she appeared puzzled…but then her eyes widened. I bore a toothy grin as I poured the contents of one cup into the other.

“NO!” she screamed.

“You forget, Bodhisattva,” I began. “When I blend, I don’t think of the consequences. And when I drink…”

One of the cups began to glow. The copper liquid bubbled and churned from other. Out of thin air, a third cup appeared. No, not a cup. A mug. I moved the three together. The shape looked…oddly (but appropriately) phallic.

“This. Is. MY CUPPA!!!” I bellowed, taking a swig.

Both blends combined tasted like all the things that men are made off – earth and smoke with an astringent stubbornness that couldn’t be quelled. I relished in the power. This was true tiger’s blood.

Cracks and fissures of glowing light pierced the pocket void-realm. The “ceiling”/sky/whatever flaked and crumbled. Shadows retreated and the intruding rays of luminescence penetrated ever-inward. Guan Yin screamed as her handiwork unraveled in mere moments. Without a means to retaliate, she retreated to the solace of the rubber ducky and made a hasty retreat.

As the last of the shadows receded, I found myself back in my haphazard room. All was in shambles, but it was the mess I had made – not the goddess. My bed was as I left it. Yet I still held the combined, phallic-looking tri-teacup.

“This isn’t over, Clitoris,” boomed a disembodied woman’s voice. “Those blends were his, and he still owns you until you finish.”

“His? He who? Finish what?” I asked the ceiling.

There was no response, only the echoes of tittering laughter.

“That’s LiterATus!” I corrected…to no one in particular.

What had she meant by being owned? Who was I indebted to? Who owned and/or made those blends? Not Petersham, he said they were commissioned. Then whom?

The realization hit me when I looked down at my computer.

The rubber ducky? Petersham? I inhaled sharply. HIM?!

I was in someone’s debt, someone for whom I owed a writing project. So long as it went incomplete, he owned my soul. Without further thought, I fired up the computer and went to writing. Shivering all the while, imagining his eyes (and ducky) were looming over me.

Acknowledgements:

Thanks are owed to Jackie, one of the co-pilots of Tea Trade, for passing the two Devotea blends my way.

Thanks, also, to The Devotea himself – Robert Godden – for making them. They were superb. (As if there was ever a doubt. One of these days, I’ll have to pick his brain for the recipes.)

You can buy the Lord Petersham blend HERE.

You can buy the Two Tigers blend HERE.

And, lastly, thanks to Jason Norman (my cousin) for helping me out with some last-minute Photoshopping. Much obliged.

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Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012 Prose, Steep Stories No Comments

Trippin’ on Moonlight

Some weeks back, I got a message from my cousin. He made an outright demand for “ADVENTURE!” Yes, in all caps. At first, he had a hankering to go to the Oregon Coast, particularly a brewery (or two) we had stopped at before. I suggested something a little more approachable – an idea we’d discussed in passing, the Columbia Gorge. There was a brewery on the Washington side of the river we had yet to hit. He jumped on that idea like it was a trampoline.

Photo by Bruce Berrien

Before leaving for parts un-sober, we grabbed burritos for lunch and did a quick run to Starbucks. My cuz happened to be the customer of the month at this place. They even had his picture framed, knew him by name, and cracked barbs with him like he was Norm from Cheers. So, both he and the baristas kinda looked at me funny when I only asked for hot water rather than tea or coffee. Like a true pretentious douche, I brought my own tea leaves in a do-it-yourself baggy. Worse still, I was all shifty about it.

Once we hit the highway – and I’d timed the coffee cup steep at three minutes (yes, I do that) – I took a sip of the contents.  I’m not sure what happened, but I had a full-body euphoric reaction. It was like a lazy man’s outta body experience…’cept no one went anywhere.

My cousin looked over and said, “Jesus, man, you look like you had an orgasm.”

In a tea-ist – almost spiritual (and less messy) – sorta way, I did. The tea in question was a second flush Darjeeling that was sent to me by a Twitter friend in Darjeeling – one Benoy Thapa of Thunderbolt Tea. Who is he? Probably one of the nicest fellows I’ve ever e-met. That and the only motorcycle-riding, tea-field-diving, ponytail-donning, camera-weilding family man/tea vendor I’ve heard about. It was thanks to him that I was finally exposed to real Darjeeling tea in the first place – not just the dust found in teabags.

He sent me a peculiar tea from the Castleton tea estate. Said garden was named for a building in the neighboring city of Kurseong that looked like a castle. The fields were first planted in 1885 by a Brit named Dr. Charles Graham. At present, the estate is 70% British-owned and quite known for its Chinese varietals that produce a world-renowned second flush product.

The one I had in my possession – and the one that caused the full-bodied teagasm – was a different sort of offering. Unlike the other OPs produced, this was technically an oolong. I even asked my Thunderbolt contact what type it was and he confirmed it, saying that was the information he received from the current owner.

This was unlike any other second flush Darjeeling I’d encountered. Okay, I’ve said that on other occasions, but I really mean it this time! The leaves were the color of…um…forest? Yes, a veritable bouquet of colors you’d associate with that image – root brown, soil yellow, canopied tree green, and sun gold. I had a little trouble finding a comparison. Its anomalous aroma didn’t help, either. The scent brought feelings of fresh water streams, wild berries, lemons and honey. I know, this is sounding more metaphoric than olfactory; I’m sorry. This was difficult to pin down.

There weren’t any specific brewing instructions for this on the Thunderbolt site. Mr. Thapa – as mentioned above – said this was an oolong. Granted, during the trial sip, I went lowbrow with a coffee mug. This time, though, I figured the best way would be to give it a traditional oolong send-off. And I bought a new gaiwan for the occasion. (It’s a he, and his name is Guy-1.) I heated some water to just under a boil, and prepped four successive infusions – two at thirty seconds, two at forty – with 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves.

First infusion (thirty seconds): The liquor brewed light amber with a malty nose. (Very Indian.) The flavor possessed an herbaceous front that transitioned creamily to a vanilla-dipped grape crescendo before tapering off gently. A damn good start, if I do say so.

Second infusion (thirty seconds): The soup infused to a prime-gold color with an amber-ish periphery. It was lighter but also…shinier. As for taste, the initial sip was crisper than before, followed by a bolder middle profile kicking with lemon and apple. Very cider-like, except – y’know – without the fizz or mind-numbing parts.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Yep, still gold. However, the steam aroma changed its tune to something creamy and sweet – like actual vanilla was in there. That didn’t quite translate to taste, but it was still wonderful with a floral aspect appearing alongside the citrusy lean.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): This was the lightest of the four infusions, but it was also the most obviously “oolong” of ‘em. The foretaste was still crisp, yet there was a rougher, mineral-like transition to the muscatel middle. I likened it to a Formosa Alishan.

Two more steeps followed the initial four, but I didn’t take notes on them. Needless to say, they were nifty. While it held up to a gongfu(-ish) approach quite well, I think the Western way gave it a one-time punch of perfection. Like a liquid rendition of a one-night stand. That isn’t to say the four short steeps weren’t awesome; they just weren’t dipped in awesome like the A-MURR-ican mega-steep.

As luck would have it, I had an opportunity through another vendor to try the first flush Moonlight. I liked it quite a bit, but it had nowhere near the nuance of the summertime cup that nearly road-tripped my tongue to tea-ish ecstasy. Without exaggeration or pontification, this was the best darned Darjeeling I have ever had. Worth a howl or two.

To buy Thunderbolt Tea’s Castleton Moonlight (2011 2nd Flush) go HERE.

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Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

Smells Like Pure Nirvana

In Buddhist thought, nirvana is defined as “freedom from suffering”. That doesn’t just mean pain, but rather freedom from the game of life (or “samsara”). It also signifies freedom from the endless cycle of death and rebirth – the ultimate goal for attaining spiritual oneness with all things. The word was also the name of an overrated grunge band from the early 90s that somehow became the voice of “my generation”. Their music symbolized freedom of a different sort.

While nirvana no longer holds the same connotation thanks to that rock-‘n-roll inception, it does still hold significance. Being a thirtysomething with a dubious lot in life, I try to find peace wherever I can get it, preferably not in a harmful and addictive way. Well…one out of two ain’t bad. Oolong may be good for me, but it’s also really addictive. Funny, since I started off hating oolongs.inflatable water slides

Ever since learning to brew the semi-oxidized teas in a gaiwan, they’ve become habit forming. Oh, I still prefer my matchas, white teas, and Yunnan golds over ‘em, but I could drink oolongs all day. All. Day. White teas are like Cavendish pipe tobacco. Oolongs are menthol cigarettes.

Thus far my favorites have all come from the isle of Taiwan (or Formosa to the old school sort). Some Chinese ones have proven themselves worthy of multiple sips, but they don’t hold a candle to a high-altitude Bai Hao or Alishan. That said, there was one region that I hadn’t tried oolongs from, even though I’d heard scant mentions of them – Darjeeling. A random message from East Pacific Tea Co. changed all that.

In appearance, their Pure Nirvana bore a striking resemblance to just about every Darjeeling first and second flush OP I’ve ever seen. The color palette ran the gamut from tippy gold to roasted, dark brown. If I was looking at this blind, I would’ve guessed it was an Indian black tea or a Formosa oolong. The aroma was also inviting with its clean, grape-spice profile – almost like a white tea but deeper.

Brewing instructions recommended a steep of three-to-five minutes in 195F water. I agreed with the temperature but not the prep. If it was an oolong, there was only one way I could do it. You guessed it, in a gaiwan.  I used 1 heaping teaspoon of leaves , did four successive steeps – first two for thirty seconds, the last for forty – and jotted down my opinions of each. I hoped there were shifts in flavor between them like its Chinese counterparts.

First infusion (thirty seconds):  “Holy whoah!” was my first reaction to the scent of this pale, amber-colored infusion. That grape lean I detected on a dry whiff had doubled after brewing. It smelled like a first flush Darjeeling with a muscatel lean. Taste reflected that as well. The only major difference was the roasty finish, reminiscent of other oolongs.

Second infusion (thirty seconds):  The liquor was darker this time, taking on a copperish-gold palette. The aroma was deeper on the spice with a slightly nutty trail-off. This echoed as well in the taste with a tamale-esque forefront, followed by a fruity body and a faint astringency on the aftertaste.

Third infusion (forty seconds): Straight amber infusion this time ‘round with a more balanced spice-grape aroma. One nostril note didn’t dominate over the other. The flavor was also more even, if a little more subdued. Heavier fruit taste on the finish, though, and almost no dryness/bitterness.

Fourth infusion (forty seconds): While more bitter than the other three steeps, this was perhaps my favorite. Everything just seemed louder and lovelier from the scent to the flavor. There was also an earthier tone to it, which truly made it an oolong in my eyes.

Pure Nirvana kept its strength for at least three infusions later, never letting up on its muscatel profile for a moment. After a rather long work week, it was truly a pleasure to experience this wonderful oolong. I stayed at home in my pajamas, sipping the day away like some fat, thirtysomething Buddha. And I was happier for it.inflatable water slides

For more information on East Pacific Tea Company, go HERE.

To buy Pure Nirvana, go HERE.

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Tuesday, June 21st, 2011 Steep Stories No Comments

The Legend of Lapsang

The following story is not to be taken as fact, nor as an allusion to the real origin story of the namesake tea. It is a screwball (and possibly epic or stupid) yarn concocted after a lengthy conversation over Twitter…and copious amounts of caffeine. I wrote it in one night, twelve hours (and six pints of tea) straight. Errors may be present. To some of you, I apologize in advance. To the rest of you…”BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Um, ahem. Enjoy.

The novice journeyed for days to reach the meeting hall where the Council of 34 convened over all things tea-related. The bicycle he rode whirred with the clockworks powering it, anticipating the stop ahead. Why he traveled in so antiquated a ‘mobile was the subject of much derision in his circle. Common answer? “I lost a bet at sci-fi convention.” And stuck with the steampunk gizmo, he was.

He was adorned in his best, amber-colored uniform. Musket to his back, rapier sheathed to his right; he was proficient in neither.  Yet both were required ornaments for the Order he was a part of. To be a Tea Musketeer meant looking the part. “All for one, and tea for all!” was the credo. One he only loosely followed by. While he was a champion of the loose leaf, there were times – in secret – for the sake of convenience he dipped a teabag for a beverage on the go.

And like so many times before, he was caught in the act.

“That is neither the steed nor steep fit for that uniform,” said a strong but soft Aussie voice behind him.

Names were not used in the Order, but monikers were commonplace. Many called this man The Herbalist, mainly for the elaborate gardens worldwide he was caretaker to. He was known to be a mild-mannered man, slow to anger, and scholastically wise in the ways of the steep. But none dared cross him. All remembered The Great Teabag Burn of ’87…and his part in it.

“A-a thousand apologies,” said the novice, chucking the contents of his travel mug. Bag and all.

“Don’t waste a cup, either,” The Herbalist whispered with a smile.

The bespectacled man was likewise dressed in Musketeer amber. Whoever selected that as the Order’s color needed a serious talking-to. Rumor had it that the company tailor based the palette off the first cup of tea he had that day. Much to everyone’s dismay, it was a Darjeeling first flush. Great tea…bad uniform color.

The Herbalist’s steed was an unimposing mare -chestnut brown with white points. He chose not to stick out unless he absolutely had to. Such an approach suited him well. When an impression was needed – but unexpected – he made his presence known. He was an easy friend but one to fear. And the man never stopped smiling. Knowingly.

Further down the road, both caught eye of a lone gent in “similar” amber-colored clothing but custom-made differently. His uniform coat was cut and adorned like a troubadour’s traveling cloak, the usual feathered hat was exchanged for a fedora, his boots were stouter, and instead of pants he wore pantaloons. In place of a musket was a guitar; in place of a rapier, a knife sheath and a satchel for mustard. Musketeers didn’t call him The Bard for nothing.

The Bard traveled without a steed, preferring his feet to aid his wanderlust. And wander, he did. Part of his role in the Order was to spread the word to men across the world that tea was as manly as breathing. In certain parts of Northern and/or Eastern Europe, he got his point across wearing Viking horns. Sometimes he forgot to remove them once he hit Asia Major, which – in turn – caused confusion.

He appeared lost in thought, humming some unknown tune as the duo approached. The Herbalist put a finger to his lips, directed at the novice. Riding up beside The Bard, he slapped him hard on the back. That awoke the minstrel from his reverie so effectively that he accidentally drew his mustard bottle instead of a proper weapon in response.

The Herbalist guffawed. The novice stifled his laughter. Humorous, though it was, he dared not mock a senior Musketeer – especially not The Bard, who was quick of wit and knife.

“I’m afraid you won’t find us appetizing, no matter what condiment you use,” The Herbalist said.

“Anything’s a weapon if it is thrown true,” The Bard retorted, adjusting his hat.

“Truer words were never mustarded,” the novice offered with a nervous laugh.

Both simply looked at him quizzically. He thought he heard crickets and a cough.

“Mustered…I mean…nevermind,” the novice sighed.

“So, hes the wordsmith,” The Bard said to the older Musketeer.

“He has no title as of yet,” spoke The Herbalist in his place. “But his cup is true. Most of the time.”

“And he was the third one sent to represent the Order at the Council of 34?” The Bard asked.

Sick of being referred to in the third person, the novice chimed in, “I volunteered since others refused.”

The Bard scoffed, “Our brethren are scared of it, too.”

The Herbalist nodded. “So it would seem. If the reports are true, we all should be.”

“You’ve had it, I assume?” The Bard asked. His lilting voice cracked a little at the ‘it’.

“I have,” The Herbalist said flatly. “Increased my chest hair count. Tenfold.”

“That’s not so bad,” The Bard shooed. “First time I tried it, I woke up in another country.”

“My first had me yelling obscenities at strangers. Doctors thought I had Tourette’s . The Order’s Scribe finally told me that was a common side effect, and that Tourette’s was borne from the stuff.”

“Um…excuse me,” the novice interrupted. “What are we talking about?”

The Bard looked at him, dumfounded. “Do you even know why we’re here?”

“Some issue about a tea?”

“Not just any tea,” The Herbalist corrected. “The most dangerous tea known to mankind. The stuff can blow up an asteroid.”

The novice chuckled at that, but The Herbalist’s face was a mask of intensity.

The Herbalist continued, “The only thing harder on the Moh scale than carborundum is this tea.”

“Don’t forget about The Scribe’s third testicle,” The Bard interjected.

“That too,” The Herbalist eye-rolled

“Not to mention it causes women’s breasts within a ten-mile radius to increase three sizes,” came a young-ish voice from behind them. “Of course, I kinda like that part.”

The source of the voice originated from a brass chariot pulled by two grizzly-polar bear hybrids. Within the chariot were two twentysomething males – one plainly dressed with a blonde woman under each arm, the other in a Victorian suit with a leather bound book cradled in his right hand. A keg could be seen in the rear seat of the chariot. It bore an immaculate, etched sign that read: “Da Hong Pao”.

Stories of the Acolytes of the Iron Goddess were widespread. Two men traveling the world in excess, quoting from the Book of Oolong, and leaving a path of destruction and broken hearts in their wake; one in charge of his own duchy and earldom (with successful tea gardens in each territory), the other a purveyor of various brothels from Turkey to Tucson, Arizona. Occasionally, their “business” ventures crossed paths. Said partnership had yet to be outmatched.

One was simply known as Duke; his lothario compatriot, Pain. The Bard often referred to them in passing with a light-hearted sneer. A friendly rivalry existed in spreading the word of tea and manliness. In some ways, their methods – while uncouth at times – fared with better results. The ensuing property damage (and pregnancy scares), though, sometimes undermined their efforts. Membership to the Tea Musketeers had been rejected – mainly for insurance reasons – but they were often brought in as “consultants”.

It was Duke who spoke. “And let’s not forget that heroin was once made of it before being deemed ‘too potent’.”

“Or that even J.J. Cale was too scared to write a song about it, changed the title to ‘Cocaine’,” The Bard lamented.

Or that the Opium Wars were fought over it. The other name was deemed too long.” The Herbalist volunteered.

Pain stood from his women-sandwiched seat, “Remember the Acolyte who drank it? Boom! Tasted its fire, sang with a voice like Barry White…killed thirteen. Cause of death? Fainting.”

“The Bonfire Debacle,” The Bard said, nodding solemnly. “Two of our Order died that day. May they rest in peace.”

WHAT TEA?!” screamed the novice.

“It cannot be named,” warned The Herbalist. “To do so would cause the aura of the one who utters it to self-destruct. They’d live, but others might not.”

“Only the sacred hall of the Council of 34 is protected from its might,” said Duke. “Legend has it that the Council hall was where the first batch was made. Someone divided by zero and…there it was.”

“Yep, time-space continuum nearly collapsed,” agreed Pain, once more sitting, propping an arm around each of his damsels. “Practically swallowed the Universe whole. Council was born that day, too. Kept the tea world in check ever since.”

“Various representatives from many tea groups around the world – consolidated and cooperative,” The Herbalist added.

“Well, cooperative most of the time,” The Bard countered. “The Overseer’s a temperamental old coot. Some say he’s over ten thousand years old and not even human, alive when The Tea That Shall Not Be Named first came into being.”

The Herbalist looked to the sky, “Speaking of which, sun’s starting to fall. The Overseer’s big on punctuality when holding Council.”

All five pressed on with their various means of transport. Duke and Pain held the rear, instigating the occasional bellow from their unholy bear-mounts. The novice stiffened his back at each roar. No one appeared to notice. A fear of bears was perfectly natural…even when the bears in question weren’t.

An hour and a half passed, and a chrome-colored, saucer-shaped structure came into view. Mounted atop the oddly-discus building were four curled spires – jet black and ominous. They were situated at the four “corners” of the temple. It reminded the novice of a Frisbee with spikes. This was the great hall of the Council of 34 – a ten thousand-year-old tribute to tea throughout the ages. The fact that it looked like the lair of a supervillain hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice.

The Bard was the most vocal critic of the hall, “You’d think the Overseer would brighten it up a bit. Maybe a little aqua-blue?”

Duke overheard the minstrel’s grumblings and shot back with, “You’re not…serious, are you?”

“Primer?”

“Much better,” Duke approved.

They arrived at an imposing, Asian dragon-carved gate. The Dragonwell Door stood as a sentinel to the great hall’s inner chamber. The design was that of a whirlpool with three serpentine dragons circling an invisible drain, each one joined by the tail and mouth. It was supposed to symbolize tea appreciation throughout the centuries. Instead, it looked like the downward spiral of a very deep tea cup – the drinker pulled further in by the dragons. Nothing was more alluring – or awesome – than dragons, according to Pain.

To the novice’s surprise, the dragons appeared to move when the door rumbled. It wasn’t his imagination. As if on invisible tracks, the three dragons began to “swim” in reverse, irising (or unfurling?) as the ancient door unlocked. Once the great wyrms were at a distance, the grand gateway parted open to let the travelers enter. They were apparently the last to arrive.

From within the spacious domed building, statues of marble, obsidian, and other unidentifiable minerals lined the walls – legendary figures of tea’s past. The novice recognized Wu Long, the Zen Buddhist Eisai, and even the 2nd Earl of Grey. Duke saluted the latter statue. The novice didn’t know why. Among the statues, various figures – clad in robes of their respective orders – stood next to the statues. He recognized, maybe, two of them – The Picardian Priesthood and the Mad Hatters Hive Mind.

(Sidenote: There were female orders – such as the Tea Trolley – that had tried to gain acceptance within the Council of 34. But given the feminine stigma placed upon tea to begin with, all attempts were denied. With the masculinity of tea under constant attack, only the brotherhoods were granted access.)

“No women are allowed within these walls, Acolytes of the Iron Goddess,” came a high-pitched, nasal voice from the shadows. A diminutive figure in white-and-gold robes pointed at Duke and Pain.

Pain paled a bit, Duke shot him a glance. The two blondes in their company recoiled at the voice. The two young men dismounted their bear-chariot and shooed the girls out the gate before it closed.  They promptly took their places near one of the statues.

The three Tea Musketeers did likewise. The Herbalist ushered them to a spot by a statue of a man with a dog. The Bard told the novice that it was an Irishman named “Sencha mac Ailella”. No one knew for sure if he was directly connected to the Japanese green tea, but apparently important enough in the tea world to have a statue. An amazing feat. For an Irishman.

All eyes were on the white-gold-robed figure positioned at the center of the meeting hall. A single tile, the one he stood on, hummed with life and hovered upward. With a motion from a single, slender finger, the tile stayed suspended ten feet in the air. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind who the Overseer was.

“Minister Norris,” the Overseer commanded. “You will present your case to the Council.”

“Thank you, Overseer,” was the calm reply from a broad-shouldered, open-robed man at the other side of the room.

Had the novice heard that correctly? Surely, it couldn’t be…

Minister Norris pulled back his hood. Indeed it was the Terror of Texas, perma-fifteen-o’-clock shadow and all. Just staring at him caused beads of sweat to pool on the novice’s brow. His eyes were steely resolve, his clasped hands were veined, calloused and battle-worn. And only known to a select few…he was a tea drinker. He represented no order, no brotherhood, and no collective. His position on the Council wasn’t honorary but earned; and the title of Minister of Tea Manliness was his and his alone.

The Bard had extolled about the man in great detail, for he desired his seat once he ever did retire. There was no greater cause in the Council than the promotion of masculini-“tea”. And Chuck Norris was the proverbial fist of that operation. Rumor had it that it was a particular tea that gave him his power, but no one knew what that was.

“Friends, colleagues, and tolerables,” he began. “You all know me. You all know what I stand for. You also know why we are here. In the last five decades, something has secretly been changing the face of the world as we know it. Both the Exxon Valdez and the recent BP spills were not caused by oil, but rather another crude substance. Both were a means of preventing smog caused by said liquid. In the last year, NASA launched a space shuttle, testing out a new fuel system. They accidentally sent it to Mars. No word yet on what happened to the crew. Even more recently, the no-fly zone over several countries in the Middle-East were enforced through the consumption of a mysterious drink.

“The crude, the fuel, the no-fly zone,” Norris cleared his throat. “All were caused by one tea…Lapsang Souchong.”

A veritable gasp resounded throughout the meeting hall. Tremors and commotions of dozens of dialed-down voices filled the dome. The Bard was arguing with a red-robed figure to his right, while The Herbalist leaned up against the leg of Sencha’s statued dog – fingers clasped to mouth, lips pursed in thought. The novice didn’t know what to do, until…

“Silence!!!” bellowed the Overseer. “Minister Norris, pray continue.”

“Yes, Overseer. My fellow tea drinkers, we’ve known of this tea for millennia. It has survived throughout the ages, spoken of only in hushed tones, never given name by we of the ‘tea’-lite. Those not in the know speak its name freely and frequently. They give it power. A force that even I cannot surpass.”

“I don’t believe it!” cried the novice. He meant to say it to himself, but the words came out of their own accord. Both The Herbalist and Bard glared at him.

Minister Norris merely smiled, “I wish that were true, but there is one thing you must know about me. It is Lapsang Souchong that is the source of my power.”

The dull commotion in the room crescendo-ed to fevered protest. Shouts of heresy even rousted The Herbalist from his contemplation.  At the far end of the room, Pain and Duke joined in the verbal carnage. Cries of “Silence!” from the Overseer were deafened by the frenzied, robed mob.

Only one dared a voice of opposition to the crowd. A mocha-skinned man, chiseled by the tea gods themselves, disrobed and stood by Chuck Norris’s side. “He speaks the truth!”

Many knew him merely as Old Spice Guy. He had a name, but it didn’t matter here. The position of Deacon of Diamonds was held by him. In many ways, he was better with words than the venerable Norris. In the world of wordplay, he was the undisputed king. He took over the mantle of Deaconship after Sam Elliott and Morgan Freeman retired.

“Friends, settle down and hear the words from my magnificent mouth,” Old Spice Guy continued. “It doesn’t matter where Minister Norris received his godly powers but how he uses them. I – too – was touched by the titillating tendrils of that smoky-sweet beverage so long ago. Old Spice scientists discovered me after I had imbibed it and realized how much manlier it made me smell and sound. Tests were also administered in households with pets. It was conclusive: The lovely Lapsang eliminated any and all odors simply by opening the tin.”

“My mother was a Lapsang Souchong drinker,” said a raspy-voiced man with a shorn scalp. It was Bruce Willis. “Since then, I’ve never had need of hair.”

“On deh set of mah moovee,” chimed the thickly-accented Arnold Schwarzenegger (to Bruce’s left). “Special effecks veren’t needed to make mah skull metallic. Mah skeleton really eez metal! Thanks to Lapsunng Soochong. The supah-secret last round of the Meester Yooniverse competition was drinkeen eet.”

This time the Overseer took over, “But for all the good done by that cursed drink, look at the evil it has wrought tenfold. Two continents were destroyed by its very inception. My people wiped from the face of the Earth. Only I remain – the last Lemurian. It took centuries to convince the world that a simple village in China created it from pinesmoke. The Council figured that most would ignore a drink from so humble an origin, but that is no longer the case.

“Up ‘til now, all we’ve had to contend with are the clones of the original batch. Their power is significantly diminished, resulting in only mild ripples in the status-quo of the tea world. Someone is threatening that balance. There is an entity out there that seeks to divide by zero yet again – risking the very fabric of our reality – in order to create a new flush of Lapsang Souchong. The destruction…could be the end of tea as we know it. Manly or not, this tea cannot be created or recreated.”

There were general mumbles of agreement from the gathered assembly.

“Pardon, sir, but I’m gonna hafta disagree.”

“Sam Elliott? Is that you?” asked Old Spice Guy.

“Nope. Close, though.”

A flash of light struck the center of the chamber. The ground shook with thunderous ferocity, statues shuttered, and smoke plumed from the impact point. The Minister, Deacon, and two action celebrities were thrown from their respective places. Only the Overseer held steady on his floating tile, but his hood had flown back…

Revealing the face of a blonde-haired, hook-nosed woman in alien-esque sunglasses.

“Lady…Gaga?” the novice sputtered and stared.

The Herbalist shrugged, “Not surprising, really. She’s a man. And a tea drinker.”

“And not human,” The Bard interjected.

The novice shrugged in reluctant agreement.

From the impact crater, sparks cackled and smoke rose. The room filled with a familiar fragrance – equal parts chocolate, hickory smoke, campfire, flowers and death. It was the smell of Lapsang Souchong – “smoked tea”, the manliest and most dangerous drink in existence. And the mysterious figure was bathed in its scent.

It took the novice only a moment to realize that the smoke was not smoke at all, but rather steam rising from within and around the huge silhouette of a man-thing in front of them. The creature’s aura emanated the cursed tea. As it came into the light, its appearance shocked the masses. It – or rather, “he” – was covered in brown fur from head-to-toe. He held a shovel in his gigantic left paw. As far as clothing went, he only wore faded blue jeans with a leather belt held in place by a brass buckle.  A beige forest ranger’s hat sat atop his large head. One word was etched into the front of it – “Smokey”.

“I-I’ve heard stories about him,” The Bard said with a quiver in his lilting voice. “Rumor has it that some idiot camper left a mug of tea in a forest. Trees burst into flame. A feral bear cub happened by the mug, and – miraculously – it became, well, him. No one knew what tea it was.”

“We do now,” said The Herbalist, rapier drawn. The blade crackled with lightning.

The Bard followed suit, brandishing knives that appeared from out of nowhere. From across the room, Duke and Pain could be seen reading from the leather bound Book of Oolong. An apparition coalesced into being at their summons, taking the form of an ironclad woman with two curved blades.

From the center of the room, “Ah-nuld” sprang to his feet, his eyes glowing red; his expression like that of a stern machine. His hands morphed into two abnormally large Gatling guns. Bruce Willis, likewise, took a stance with two Desert Eagles brought to bear on the…uh…bear. Minister Norris dropped his robes and donned his trusty wide-brimmed cowboy hat.

“You’re no ranger,” Norris growled.

“Horse, come forth!” bellowed Old Spice Guy as a gargantuan Pegasus/unicorn hybrid manifested at his words. Its fur and mane burned of a radiant blue fire; its eyes, diamonds.

Overseer Gaga clasped his/her/its hands together, spoke something unintelligible (in what sounded like Swedish), and a large ball of red flame appeared above her head.  Gaga held the fireball in “their” hands for a time, floating off the hover-tile. With a scream, the blonde she-man let the ball fly.

“Take that, monster!” the Overseer shouted.

Old Spice Guy also responded. He pointed at the ranger man-bear, and the blue-fired uni-Pegasus flew to intercept – corn point lowered. It “nay”-ed with a hideous screech as it closed in.

Smokey placed both hands on the base of the shovel; the blade in front of his face. Calmly, eyes closed, he raised the shovel above his head. When both the fireball and fire-horse were within inches of him, he opened them again. Time seemed to slow, sound muted, and visual space rippled as he brought the shovel stick down. And hard. A shockwave expanded from the shovel, blanketed in the same aural smoke that surrounded the man-bear.

The fire-horse and fireball were extinguished instantly.

The thirty-four robed Council members flew back as the shockwave passed through them. None were harmed, just dazed. The novice felt around his person and was relieved that all body parts were accounted for. The Bard and The Herbalist were dizzied by the wave but still on their feet with weapons drawn.

Gaga stared at the bear, face whiter than usual.

“Don’t you know Lapsang Souchong puts out fires?” Smokey asked in his mild-mannered, Elliottine drawl. “Cancels it out.”

“What are you doing here, you…dazzling beast?” Old Spice Guy demanded…oddly.

“Isn’t it obvious?”  the man-bear countered. “The world needs more Lapsang. I need more Lapsang – newer, better, smokier – even if I have to destroy a continent or two to do it.”

“It’s your life force,” Norris sneered.

“Bingo,” Smokey winked and pointed.

“I veel crush yoooo!” shouted the gun-armed Austrian behind Chuck Norris.

Arnold’s Gatling barrel-hands spun to life, revving with heat, and with a thunder-clapping FOOM!-FOOM!-FOOM!, he unloaded spent-uranium shells at the humble-looking assailant. The man-bear in turn sighed, brought his shovel up, and spun it counter-clockwise. The more he twirled, the faster it spun. The bullets whizzed off their intended path when they connected with the propelled shovel. Statues, pieces of ceiling, and even a robe-clad Council member (or several) fell prey to the stray rounds.

The Governator ceased firing when he heard the screams of casualties. In a blur of motion, Smokey was in front of him. And with a loud clang of the flat end of the shovel, Arnold was down. His eyes went from red to glassy-blue.

Gunfire erupted from behind the bear’s position. Willis had used Arnold’s bombastic attack to get behind the threat. Both Eagles poised, he fired round after round into Smokey’s back. The man-bear actually seemed surprised at each hit.

“Magic nullifier bullets, motherfucker,” Bruce one-lined and continued firing.

Each time a null-bullet struck true, the wound glowed. After the umpteenth round, the bear looked like he’d had enough. Not out of weakness, but rather visible annoyance. At first he was kneeling with a glow-dotted back, the next he was in front of Bruce. With one sidestep.

Smokey sighed while face-to-face with the bald action star. “I always liked you.”

“Ah shit,” Bruce opined.

With a clank! of the shovel, “Die Hard” was down.

The novice looked around. The action stars were decommissioned, Old Spice Guy was whining about his ashen horse, “Lady” Gaga was still frozen in fear, and Chuck Norris merely stood there, taking it all in. Other Council Members didn’t intervene, nor did they look like they could.

Then Norris looked at him.

“Kid, if you’re going to do anything, now’s the time,” he said with a nod.

Right! the novice thought to himself.

The rookie Tea Musketeer stepped forward – dropping his musket and rifle – and withdrew a small pouch, a briar pipe, and a kitchen torch.

The Herbalist grinned. His rapier glowed with arcs of energy. “Looks like it’s our turn, eh?”

The Bard shrugged. “Dunno what we can do against that thing, but I’m ready.” He had three knives in one hand, arranged like a deck of cards, and the bottle of mustard in the other.

“You two upstarts ready?” The Herbalist asked the Acolytes.

“Fuck yeah!” they said in unison. Their “Iron Goddess” automaton raised its swords in recognition.

“Get to it!” Norris commanded, charging at the bear with a flying scissor kick.

Smokey turned to intercept Chuck’s foot with the shovel blade. As he did so, Duke and Pain’s Iron Goddess golem advanced on him, plunging her blades down on his shoulders. One connected, the other missed. The man-bear roared in pain and fury.

The Herbalist brought his arc-rapier down, and a bolt flew from the blade. A long tendril of pure, white lightning coiled around the struggling guy-grizzly. It singed his fur as The Herbalist pulled the rapier back, tightening the lasso.

Now it was The Bard’s turn. He uncorked the mustard bottle and lathered the three knifes with the condiment. On touchdown, the blades glowed magma-yellow in his gloved hand. After dropping the mustard, he gingerly removed one blade from his hand by the hilt then flung it at ol’ Smokey. He repeated with each knife. One struck the man-bear’s foot, one missed, and the last hit him square in the eye. The roars of fury transitioned to high-pitched wails of agony.

The bear went berserk.

With his one free hand, he pulled against the lightning lasso. In doing this, The Herbalist slid forward. Smokey brought the shovel up, and struck at the Iron Goddess’s torso repeatedly. Dents formed in her abdomen as sparks flew from the repeated bashes. With each hit to the golem, and each pull of the energy rope, the man-bear regained his footing. His smoke-aura strengthened.

Norris looked at the novice again. He, too, had a pouch, a pipe and a Zippo. “Now, kid!”

“Y-yessir!”

Both Musketeer and Minister plucked small batches of black leaves from their pouches.  They pressed the contents into their respective pipes, and with their torches, lit them. The novice watched as smoke billowed forth from the mouthpiece of the briar. With that smoke, he began to write.

The words that formed weren’t in English or any language known to humankind. The markings were sigils of a bygone alphabet of a long lost time. Years had passed since the novice had smoke-written anything in Old Lemurian. He wasn’t sure he remembered how, until this moment. It was just like riding a stupid steampunk bicycle; you never forgot how, no matter how much you wanted to.

Norris’s scripting was far better than his, but the words were the same. He hoped his were effective. Once he dotted the ancient “I”-s and crossed the ancient “T”-s, he puckered his lips and blew. The long-forgotten words flared with life, and flew on the wind toward the berserking bear.

The two glowing sigil-sentences struck Smokey, and he flared with blinding light. The smoke aura around his body turned white, glowing in unison with the Lemurian sigils. The man-bear convulsed, reared back, and struggled against the binding smoke.

“You can’t do this!” he roared. “I need it! I nee-“

Chuck Norris stood in front of him, arms akimbo. Smokey froze in his frenzy.

“Only we can prevent you,” Norris said softly as his beard glowed white.

From the aura around his facial hair, a fist formed.  Smokey looked down on the beard-fist as if accepting his fate. He closed his deceptively gentle eyes. The spirit punch hit the man-beast square in the jaw. And he shattered into a dazzling debris of fur, smoke, shovel steel, denim and ranger beige.

Lady Gaga came to from her stupor and surveyed the damage. Over half of the statues in the great hall were rubble. Twelve Councilors were dead or dematerialized. The rest were in some state of wounded or wellness. Arnold and Bruce also awoke from their shovel-induced slumbers. Old Spice Guy said a small prayer for his lost steed then stilled his diamond tears.

“Minister Norris,” the Overseer began. “I am leaving the Council in your care. Clearly, I’ve outlived my usefulness to this world. My race has diminished…and I should follow.” Gaga removed the now-tattered, white-gold robe and handed it to him. “You are now Overseer Norris. Govern well.”

The torch had passed, and he/she/it simply vanished.

Overseer Norris stared at them for a moment then looked up at the remains of the Council. The novice, The Bard, The Herbalist, the two Acolytes, Arnold, Bruce and Old Spice Guy stood to either side of him. The other Councilors retreated through the Dragonwell Door. Only those nine were all that was left of the Council of 34.

“You all fought well,” Chuck said.

“What was that you did back there?” Duke asked.

“Epic Beard Fist?” Pain offered as a guess.

Norris shook his head. “Nope, just a little trick I picked up.”

The Herbalist studied him. “And you’re a smoke-writer.”

“I prefer ‘Lapsang Laureate’,” the new Overseer returned.

“Wait…what’s that?” Pain said, scratching his head.

“The Laureates of Lapsang are a somewhat secret order of scholars and writers who protect the original Lemurian recipe of Lapsang Souchong. They also prevent said recipe from falling into the wrong hands.”

It was the novice who explained.

“And you’re one of them,” The Bard pointed.

“Was,” the novice corrected. His face reddened. “They…kicked me out. For being too lazy.”

“Not surprised,” said The Herbalist, arms folded. “Teabags.”

“Leave him alone,” The Bard said, slapping his back. Hard. “I think he’s earned his keep.”

“Indeed,” Norris agreed. “You’re welcome at Council, anytime.”

He surveyed the damage again.

“Might choose better digs, though.”

***Epilogue***

The three Tea Musketeers parted ways with the new Overseer and his equally-famous ilk in the morning. A little worse for wear save for The Herbalist. The Iron Goddess Acolytes were kind enough to share the contents of their Da Hong Pao keg the night prior. Turned out it was whiskey-infused Da Hong Pao. All partook except for The Herbalist, who viewed the desecration of Red Robe oolong as a travesty. The Acolytes had left earlier in the morn – courtesans in tow – slurring something about “finding Teasus”. No one knew who they were talking about.

While back on the road, The Bard had an epiphany.

“It occurred to me that you still don’t have a title, dear novice,” he said sing-songedly.

“I have a name, why not just use that?”

“And that is?” the minstrel asked.

“Martin,” was the reply. “Martin Stuart. But most folks call me Marty Stu.”

The Bard made a face of disgust. “No, too droll. Songs can’t be sung of Marty Stu.” He said Martin’s name with effeminate emphasis. “How about, ‘The Laureate’?”

“Oh yes, wildly creative,” The Herbalist said dryly.

“You can do better?

“Teabagger.”

“God no!” Marty and The Bard said in unison.

“Then Literatus,” The Herbalist answered again. “The Lazy Literatus.”

“Um, that doesn’t quite send a good message,” Marty replied warily.

“You think I wanted ‘The Herbalist’? I wanted ‘The Devotea’.”

“The Order’s higher-ups thought it was too, what’s the word?” The Bard patted his chin. “Punny! That’s it, punny.”

“Whatever, Lahikma Joe,” The Herbalist mumbled. “What does that even mean?”

“It’s poetic!” The Bard protested. “And they would’ve gone for it, too… if I had more time to convince them.”

“Can we wait on the name until we get back to HQ?” Marty requested meekly.

“Oh alright.” The Bard folded his arms, pouting. “But you’re not off the hook yet.”

“What a beautiful sunrise,” Marty said, looking ahead (and changing the subject).

“You know what we have to say at sunrise, don’t you?” The Herbalist chided with a wink and a nudge.

“Oh please, no. Not that,” The Bard whined.

“All for one!” Marty shouted, rapier drawn.

“Come on, guys. Plea-”

“And tea for all!” The Herbalist finished.

“Huzzah,” The Bard muttered with a finger twirl.

“And teabags for none,” The Herbalist added.

“Except whe-” started Marty.

“TEABAGS FOR NONE!”

***Credits***

If you weren’t plainly aware, the four principle characters (i.e. the non-celebrities) were based on actual people. They were the ones mentioned in the footnote that contributed greatly – albeit unwittingly – to the inspiration of this cheeseball yarn. Here they are:

The Devotea (i.e. “The Herbalist”) is a dear Twitter friend with an extensive list of accomplishments. Among them, he is a Youtube vlogger, a blogger, a blender, and a published author. You can find his vlogs HERE and read his diatribes HERE.

Lahikmajoe (“The Bard”) – another Twitter friend is an acoustic musician, writer and teacher; a veritable renaissance man like his counterpart here. You can read about his tea and travels HERE.

DukeOfEarl and Tea_Pain (“Duke and Pain: Acolytes of the Iron Goddess”) are founders of The Tea Blag. Arguably, the funniest tea review blog on “teh Internets”. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little envious of their prowess with prose. They are just as nuts as I made their fictional counterparts. Don’t believe me? Follow them on Twitter. Then watch your brain melt.

To those of you who made it through the entire story, I say “Thank you”. To the rest who thought it was pure dung, I say “Sorry”. (Although, I regret nothing.)

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Sunday, April 10th, 2011 Prose, Steep Stories 4 Comments

I work for tea money.

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