Shadowswarm Honey

“We just got married,” the woman with short hair explains to me, smiling brightly and looking over at her partner. The smile is genuine, but the look in her eyes has a slightly anxious cast, like she’s not sure how her excitement will be received.

“We wanted to start our marriage off with adventure,” her partner explains, “and so we thought: where more adventurous than the border of the Cataclysm? And here we are in Sayorsen.” She gestures expansively at the teas that surround the shop in all their glory and fanciful names. Outwardly she’s more collected, but it’s brittle, a front designed to contain her emotions.

“And someone must have mentioned Talmeri’s Teas and Tisanes can give you a taste of that adventure,” I say.

“Oh, yes, our travel consultant told us about you right away,” the first woman assures me.

Talmeri will be pleased, but I have worked here long enough to have met many travelers by now, which is to say I know that younger travelers rarely consult experts.

“Is this your first trip, then?” I ask.

She blinks, perplexed, while her partner frowns a bit, not wanting to appear unworldly. “I—yes. How could you tell?”

It doesn’t take long to tease out the salient threads: it’s their first time leaving home, being away from their communities, and truly being alone not just in a foreign place, but being alone together. They’re in love, but it’s still new and untested, and they’re nervous about how this will go. So they’ve approached their trip to the tea shop as a passing fancy, a fun and ephemeral thing, not a thing that could be emotionally complicated or risky.

I won’t contravene their plans or push them into an experience they’re not ready for. But I decide that, for these two on their first adventure, I can give them an experience to remember; something with a little more weight than they’re prepared to admit to wanting.

I consider as I return to the tea counter. Not a tea that will reveal their emotions: that should come from them. Nor a tea that will change their appearance: they need to see each other truly.

All at once I have it, and I smile, reaching for the tea canister.


 

“This is a yellow tea sweetened with the honey of the shadowswarm,” I explain as I lay out the tray.

“That’s an ominous name for honey,” the short-haired woman notes.

“Isn’t it? Our guides don’t always come up with inventive names, and in this case it’s fairly literal. The shadowswarm are locust-like creatures—please don’t ask me where the honey comes from since they’re not bees—that disperse to hunt before coming together to overwhelm their prey. They have a unique way of communicating: they can feel each other’s reactions even when they can’t see or hear.”

“So they, what, report back fear or smugness to let the rest of the swarm know whether their strategy is proceeding according to plan or should be aborted?” her partner asks.

“That’s the essence of it, yes.”

“That is pretty ominous,” the first woman confirms.

“And I don’t want a tea that will share my emotions, if that’s what you’re getting at,” the second says.

“Or hide them,” says the first.

“Not exactly,” I say, pouring each of them a cup. “If you both drink tea from the same teapot, for the rest of the day you’ll feel whether you’re in accord or if you disagree. The taste will vary depending on the distance between your impressions. If one of you finds a joke hilarious or only mildly amusing, the taste will be different from whether one of you finds it hilarious as opposed to appalling. And if you both find it hilarious but for entirely different reasons, the taste will be whatever it is when you first drink.”

“What does each taste mean?”

“That’s for you to discover,” I explain. “It’s different for every couple and group. All the tastes are good, nothing objectively awful, because having different reactions is entirely normal given different lived experiences. The tea can’t reveal the emotions or reasons behind anything, only the degree to which your emotional responses differ. So perhaps this can be not just an adventure together, but an adventure of discovering each other, together.”

They consider each other this time, not looking at me.

And then without a word, they lift their glasses and drink, together.


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