A Sleeve in Pea Soup

2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
Three young descendants of the Guild of Ultra Tasters navigate their ancient rules in a modern world, resulting in a series of tragedies and triumphs. They learn that their calamitous family history is never too far forgotten to stir the bitter broth of entitlement, power, and legitimacy.
First 10 Pages

Sowerberry Estate. Kent England 1925.

Ever since her father installed that new American-style kitchen, the grand stairwell had become a flue to every culinary triumph and disaster in Sours Mansion. And whilst some would relish the complexity of aromas with churns of salivating anticipation, Persephony Sayers found it nauseatingly avant-garde, even painful as far as gastronomical pursuits go. Bewildering as it was to those who knew the English ultra-tasters’ youngest living descendant, Persey would much prefer an uncluttered plate of Mr Ribergaard’s garden carrots with burnt butter and a sprig of rubbed thyme for her lunch.

Without those distracting aromas, she had always found it calming to arch her skinny back between the fourth and fifth rung of those meticulously ornate stairs. Determined to stand her adolescent ground, she set about devouring the content of the dusty old book she had recently discovered in her grandmother’s sewing room. The Atlas of Olfactory and Gustatory Gastronomy had its own chemical signatures, cochineal, and musk mainly. At least it vied with those heady cooking smells coming from down the hall. Her hairless nostrils flared involuntarily as each plume of fungus spore fought for the canal of her olfactory receptors. A tarred woven pocket adhered on the inside cover kept a borrower card. Its last entry was her deceased grandfather, Cleophas Sayers, 17th June 1901. The pages, jaundiced by time, were randomly marked with an indelibly pink stamp, reminding the reader of its custodian:


The Guild of Ultra Tasters- Epicureum Vault of Gastronomy.

Kent, England.

Persey wasted no time locating the chapter,- Anatomy of the Human Tongue. It came with intricate detail. It might even have made one squeamish. Persey, however, was captivated by the graphic depictions of the mouth cavity and taste receptors, dissected and magnified from every angle.

A surfeit of loose handwritten notes slotted throughout the book, showing that this tome of taste and smell had been heavily referred to. One page, a crude tree diagram with circled text where its foliage might have otherwise been, were scratched with musings of Bastard ultra tasters, pagans, Thomas Segas, Etheldrea Freresbairn, Sowerberry – Greensleeves, hypocrites. None of these mind maps made a great deal of sense to Persey. Probably a genealogical map of her tumultuous family ancestry, she figured. For certain, none of those scribblings seemed helpful in gaining an empirical understanding of this thing she had inherited.

Persey’s father pretentiously tried to articulate his philosophical explanations of the ultra-taster: “ Persephony, my dear. A vessel of the sacred Adroit[1] should be revered as the Tchaikovsky of taste, the Gauguin of gastronomy.” He would flap his arms around for dramatic emphasis. Her father was certainly enjoying his extraordinary talent for tastes and smells. Constantly sharpening his abilities by blind tastings and many entertaining challenges from the family cook.

Barley notes detected- poor creature must have had a tough winter. The connoisseur of all things indulgent would decipher to another round of cheers and admiration from his devoted conventicle. The talented Danish chef and his zesty interpretations were always a source of intellectual discourse amongst GOUT brotherhood. Today’s vol-au-vent of lamb’s brain with caper and mustard velouté was no exception. Lord Ambrose would dash about the corridors of Sours mansion to enlighten his wife, Blodwen, and mother of his kitchen’s latest culinary triumph.

English lamb, Suffolk variety - south sloping paddock! The high priest of the guild could be heard flexing his inherent talent for olfactory and gustatory interpretation to all that would listen. Lady Ora thought her son resembled a Hampton Court trumpet when he became excited about food. Persey and her younger brother Basil would collectively roll their eyes at the sighs of wonder and amazement gushing from their father’s culinary brigade of admirers.

For Persey, however, the naivety of her nascent palate was much less reason to celebrate. What may have been a masterly narrative of aroma and flavour for the connoisseurs of 1920s gastronomy was, mostly, an agonising and violent attack upon her highly sensitive olfactory and gustatory sensorial organs. During those long family dinners where Persey picked pieces off her plate like a barn martin, Lady Ora would be at pains to assure her wilful granddaughter that the highly responsive palate of the ultra taste does settle with age, even becoming an admirable gift of discovery and creativity-albeit with atomic accuracy and precision.

After studying for most of the morning, Persey’s shoulders ached from balancing the heavy atlas upon her skinny lap. As she stretched her body, her primogenitors’ portraits adorning the bold crimson walls had been staring over her solitary inquiry the whole time. Each ancestor decorated with the brass fork of the English Guild of Ultra Tasters dangling from their thickened necks. It seemed by their half-hearted smirks; they were well aware of her destiny, but Persey preferred to steer her focus towards their common physiology than the ethereal perils of her forbearers. Yet it was difficult not to imagine their lives. These vessels of the Adroit lived when the ultra taster was bred for servitude to their overlords- simply by virtue of their superior ability to taste, smell and interpret what ordinary humans cannot. Some may have been actual cadaverous models in this book. The thought crossed her mind. Comparing their features with those macabre diagrams, she examined their blood-engorged lips in all their clarity, wondering if intense flavours ever burned their tongues and if the taste and smell of cucumber had ever turned their stomachs.

Persey was always told to be thankful that the cruel demand for the ultra-tasters had waned, albeit leaving the world with a dangerously depleted gene pool of vessels of this extraordinary gift. There had to be a way she could use her condition to divest from the path of her forbearers, whose eyes seemed in search of an answer- as if they had no authority as to their purpose in life. Yet another tragic commonality, Persey lamented.

The Guild of Ultra Tasters of the twentieth century had their own ideas about purpose and destiny. The ancient cabal had decided that the best way to confront this conundrum of modernity was through and by its brave search for a medium of culinary exactitude and bliss- and to have the jolliest of times doing so. Persey may have been a child teenager guarded by a realm of decadent adults, but even she could see that the ancient society of gastronomy aptly named GOUT seemed more intent on preserving its depleting social life than upholding the ‘ancient’ ways of Halotus, the founder. Persey’s father, being the ringleader of the English chapter and well-known for his vigour without the rigour, was adamant that the tired old society should embrace the concept of convivial gastronomy, contributing to the continuation of arts and culture in a modern society, which, according to the rosacea-ridden and largest members of the Guild, had also been on a frightfully dangerous slide into cultural oblivion.

Suddenly, Persey remembered why all this culinary experimentation was billowing from the kitchen. It was only a week before these gourmets and gastronomists from around the globe would converge on Sowerberry Estate for their annual weekend of bacchanalia and symposium.

One year younger and dashingly well-attired for the weather, her younger brother contorted on the landing beside his sister, his fingers gracefully skimming along the reed of his clarinet as he inspected it against the diffused sunlight light seeping through the dome above the stairs. “What’s all the fuss about?” Basil asked.

“Father is extracting tasting notes from some poor sheep’s brain.” Persey sardonically reported.

“So, why aren’t you in the kitchen learning skills? You are the ultra-taster, apparent after all.” Basil satirising his sister’s lot in life was deliberately unhelpful and annoying. “Vive la gastronomie conviviale and all that?” he addended in his lazy schoolboy French.

Persey’s palate suddenly became parched by the thought that her ambitions would never be of consequence to her family, the archaic Guild of Ultra Tasters and, least of all, to those droll-looking ancestors hanging on the walls. She heaved the heavy atlas shut and turned towards her brother. “I have my interests in gastronomy, Basil. I just find the tool more intriguing than the timber.”

“What Dickensian scheme are you concocting this time, sister?” Basil never understood this sister’s appetite for the intricacies of human anatomy. “And where on earth did you find that grotesque book? You better not have taken it from the Epicureum.”

“For your information, dear brother, I found it in the sewing room, and Grandma told me it was okay to read.” Persey became defensive by her brother’s probing. As Persey shuffled all those loosened notes, a parchment with faded English cursive fell onto the step below. Basil caught it under his foot as it attempted to float down the stairs like some dying butterfly. Upon unfolding the fragile pages, the letter revealed a beautifully preserved script penned in dark, faded ink that seeped into the fibres of the yellowed parchment. The handwriting, careful and ornate calligraphy, flowed sternly across the page, its loops and flourishes a testament to the skill of the scribe who had penned it.

“Be careful, Persey. It could be from the vault.”

“Grandma said the price was paid already- many years ago, mostly by our grandfather.” She lectured her brother. “And besides, you’re not an ultra taster, so you can read anything from the epicureum you please.” There were strict rules against knowing too much, but it only ever applied to ultra tasters. The premise being that there was no point in torturing an ultra taster for information they never had. It was where the expression one cannot suck blood from a turnip originated.

Basil wasn’t afraid to learn the intriguing content of this old English letter handwritten in 1542. And had read enough Shakespeare to understand the premise of the faded words. The language, a blend of Latin and an archaic form of a European tongue, confirmed the letter’s origins and the era in which it was written. He made a quick mental calculation to realise that the monarch referred to in the letter was none other than Henry VIII, the Tudor ruler of England; the king who bequeathed this very Sowerberry Estate to the Guild of Ultra tasters around four hundred years earlier:

Catherine Freresbairn

On this day, the 15th of February, 1542.

To the Keepers of the GOUT.

With hearts shattered in grief, we have learned the circumstances by which our Adroit-Vessel daughter has been brutally taken from this world. Without a doubt, we declare that her unjust death occurred at the hands of one Thomas Segas, the overseer ultra taster, to the Placentia Court. Envious of the king’s affection for our child in her role as His Majesty’s closest taster, this heinous Apex taster and appointee of GOUT used this power and status and even willingly admitted to her murder.

My grieved family hence discovered the perpetrator has escaped punishment, and demand such injustice and humiliation must not continue without consequence under the laws of GOUT, even if the king himself sees no reason to grant us justice.

As an ultimate act of evil, the Segas clan of ultra-tasters ha seen fit to mutilate the body of my child for explanations I can only describe as macabre, and evil. I demand that each of his descendants be banished as maladroit traitors in the eye of Halotus. Further, under the tradition of committing such maladroitery- that once captured, his tongue be severed from his mouth and forced down the successive throats of his descendants.

Guard the Adroit

Catherine Freresbairn

(Widow of William Freresbairn and mother of the late Etheldrea Freresbairn).

Concubine of Benedict Snodgrass, Purveyor of fleshes for the glee of His Majesty the King.

“She sounds nice.” Basil reflected glumly by its untimely emergence. “Do you think this would affect our friendship with Si?” Basil looked on as his sister tried to distract herself in a chapter on The Sensorial Stealth of Poisons.

“Surely not. We’ve been friends since we were toddlers.”

The siblings were certain on one thing. Their childhood bond with Sion Freebody would matter not one zot, once his clan of tasters learned that this crucial piece of that mediaeval puzzle had re-emerged.

Grandfather Cleophas, like many before him, was attempting to resolve the historical pawl that had hung over the Sayers-Segas clan of tasters for centuries. One which involved the murder of one ultra taster by the hand of another. Some even assert that any investigation into this matter inevitably led to the untimely death of those brave enough to seek the truth.


Persey spent all morning fending off chores from her parents. Her cotton pantaloons clung to her thin frame as the sweltering summer dogged the Kent countryside. Abandoning the cooking smells for a quiet bench outside the mudroom, she had taken two glaring conclusions from reading that smelly old atlas; That her aspirations as the heir of GOUT went far beyond cake decorating, needlepoint, and parlour games. And that the ceaseless stream of controllers of her destiny could at the very least afford the 14-year-old a future of her own design. Persey decided it was time to assert her plan to family.

“Father, I believe my path lies elsewhere.” She proudly announced as he hovered over the busy brigade of household workers.

“Oh, does it now. And what would that path entail?”

“To study anatomy at Greenwich University.”

“What has that to do with gastronomy?”

“I would presume the associations are endless.”

“My dear, people like us rarely get to choose our path; the Guild does all that.” Her father put down a pine box of champagne, conceding his bookish daughter had achieved her goal of gaining his undivided attention.

“Why can’t I study as well?”

“Persey, you are an ultra taster. Life is all laid out for you, don’t you realise? Why burden yourself with all that study when you and Basil have all this luxury to enjoy? Why not simply accept life’s pleasures and indulgences?”

Persey tailed behind her father as he dashed to the kitchen to speak to the cook. “What’s the purpose of GOUT if education has no role?” She was determined to challenged his intellect.

“I didn’t say that. I merely point out that academic pursuits would be a waste of time for a high priestess. Especially a girl with your talent.”

“So, GOUT’s charter to guard the Adroit means to oppress the Adroit? Until we are expected to save some noble from dying of poison - in which case it becomes sacrifice the Adroit?”

“Times have changed, Persey. We aren’t poison fodder to wicked overlords these days,”

“Unless, of course, one is a simple female ultra-taster who aspires to pursue her own goals instead of being confined by fear that she might gain her independence - or worse, slip on the pavement and ladder her stockings?”

“It’s reasonable for the ultra tasters’ role to be different for a woman, Persephony. Women give birth to future ultra-tasters.”

“Is that all that GOUT care about, protecting their breeding stock? Is this what you learned from chewing that sheep’s brain, Father? I have other receptors, you know.”

“Seriously, Persey, you reach for the most profound paradoxes. In all the wrong places, I might add. Try being mad and outrageous like me. It helps, let me assure you.”

“Even Grandma says I must be ready to pay the price so that important people don’t die from poisoning. Is this true?”

“Well, your grandma would say that, wouldn’t she? Your grandfather was a loyal taster to the King, but you mustn’t concern yourself these days, my dear. We’ve surpassed the point of being martyrs. We can use all our talents for pleasure these days.”

“Unless you are a woman.”

“Please place the gramophone and recordings on the sideboard,” Lord Ambrose instructed the Butler. “Persey. Things can shift rapidly in our world. We Sayers must always be vigilant of our expendability in the Guild. So, try to focus on your tongue test this weekend.” Ambrose added one more point to his lecture. “We tasters do come from peasantry. We are just the help when one thinks about it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, Father,” she noted the irony of his wisdom as he directed a trolley of Cristal Vinothèque 1914 towards the conservatory.

“Oh, and Basil and I discovered we are all Maladroits. Basil and I found the letter in Grandfather’s old tongue book.” Persey broadcast with an air of baiting. “Apparently, we are all supposed to chop our tongues out and poke them down each other’s throats.”

Lord Ambrose’s face furrowed with alarm. “What letter?”

“A letter we found in the tongue atlas I’m reading.”

“Bring it all to my office, and don’t speak of it again.”

“But I’m studying the palate, father.”

“Persephony Sayers. You must stop this scientific silliness and bring that book with everything in it to my study. Do you understand?”

Persey had never heard her father so unnerved about a silly book. “Yes, Father,” she shrugged at his demand.

It was finally confirmed. Persey’s lot in life was to be idle, unlearned, and unfulfilled, all while being mollycoddled and gawked at by an ancient cabal obsessed with archaic rules and regalia. Among those laws, one that forbids a female vessel of the Adroit from accessing the vast manuscripts concealed within the gastronomical library on the other side of the estate.

Children of GOUT were deliberately haunted by stories of torture, tongue removal and boiling people alive until their flesh peeled off like a baked bell pepper. Not that anyone really believed it. Lady Ora was the primary source of these frightening tales in the Sayers family. She seemed to take glee in filling the minds of her grandchildren with fear and dread, spinning stories of those who had perished in their dare to learn the ‘parallel history’ of the world that the Epicureum Vault had collated over the centuries. The Vault’s amass of table talk over the centuries beckoned like forbidden fruit; its allure was only heightened by the ominous tales of chaos it would inflict upon the world should anyone expose its contents.

Persey couldn’t care less about a bunch of historical gossip and conspiracy. What she wanted was empirical facts. Unfortunately for now, however, this teen would remain shackled somewhere between her yearning for erudition, for scientific explanations of this sensorial ability they call the Adroit; and her parents’ obsession with convivial gastronomy, a new purpose towards the pleasure principles of life. Little wonder, Persey found herself remote and resentful of her obligation to confirm her clan’s ultra-taster forte at the upcoming palatum vivum[2], where she would be expected to don the venerated apron and its accoutrements, all of which would inevitably smother her dreams like a damp blanket upon a flame. Persephony Sayers will become the symbol of servitude, paraded among ostentatious onlookers this weekend for everybody’s entertainment but her own.


[1]. THE ADROIT - the unique gift that resides solely within the Ultra Tasters. These rare humans possess exceptional gustatory and olfactory sensory anatomy, which allows them to identify, navigate, describe, and detect poisons before it reaches their master. The Ultra Tasters were historically highly sought-after by the nobility owing to their remarkable ability to detect tainted food down to microbial levels, thereby preventing stealth acts of slow-dose poisoning.

[2]. PALATUM VIVUM - A sensorial taste test periodically conducted by GOUT using complex flavour concoctions to identify the existence and vitality of the Vessels Adroit. This test ensures the continuance of the Ultra Taster bloodline.