A Showdown at the Rosen Bakery
“Aha, so, there it is...”
Mysterious visitors love to come during the night, don’t they? This large Neopet, covered in a dark trench coat and a hat with an overlarge brim, walks hunched over. A purple, scaly tail peaks out from underneath the coat. A mysterious visitor with mysterious motives and possibly up to mysteriously mysterious plots.
He arrives on 2030 Seine Road, and stops in front of a certain shop. Its purpose is barely recognizable, being covered on the inside with metal shutters for security. There is just one sign, painted on the window in lovely white Book Antiqua font: The Rosen Bakery.
The visitor scowls, and after a second of inspection, whips around and shuffles angrily away.
“What on Earth am I doing here... What an uncultured, distasteful place... ”
The Rosen Bakery is Ferdinand’s pride and joy.
Nothing else in the world could make him happier. It is the reason, after all, why he gave up his life of wealth as a nobleman’s son to become a humble baker. And while the great Rosen Bakery has reached the ears of those far outside Brightvale, to those all the way on the other side of Neopia, the humbleness of the little shop has never left.
Why, imagine yourself, arriving after a long travel to see this so-called heavenly bakery, to see something you were not fully expecting. Were you expecting a grandiose restaurant, with the finest silverware in Brightvale, decorated with golden swirls and ruby roses? Were you expecting Ferdinand, the Royal Boy Zafara, with a uniform made by the finest tailors, with a large chef hat sitting like a crown on his head? Why, that would be quite silly of you. We need to bring you back down to Neopia, my friend.
Granted, there is one certain Neopet who thought something similar, but we will get back to him later.
The shop, made of beech and red oak wood, front consists of three things: two doors, and a large shop window. There is a little bell at near the top of the entrance door – but the door is always kept open anyway. Displayed in one half of the window are just a few of the treats inside. If you had stopped by yesterday you would have seen some Fresh Baked Chokato Pies, a plate of Berry Tarts and Snowberry Biscuits, another of Kaussants and Tchea Scones, and below, a row of Hissinamon Rolls.
The other half of the window shows the scene inside the shop, wooden tables that were all different, mismatch chairs and illustrative paintings that adorn the walls. The counter also showcases the delicates the place has to offer, and on the wall behind it, written on a chalkboard, is the menu for the drinks and other made-to-order foods. The Rosen Bakery started out as just that, a bakery, but soon turned into a petite eatery, a homey café. You could say the charming little place was magical.
And Ferdinand himself, well, he may be painted Royal, but I have yet to see him act like royalty in any way. He wears no silly hat or cape. He wears only a shirt and slacks, and a worn-out, off-white apron, with pink flowers embroidered near the bottom. If you had been imagining the grand scene I had mentioned before, you would have probably thought him one of the dishwashers!
With that, I will take you to a certain sunny day in the Month of Running. It starts out as any other day for Ferdinand. He wakes up from his room above the bakery, prepares himself, and rushes down an hour early to start opening the shop.
“Ah, Micheal, you’re here early again today ~!” He greets cheerfully, opening the front door to let the younger Spotted Cybunny in. He is the youngest of his crew, and the most inexperienced, but he is learning.
“Mornin’, Cassanovax,” Micheal replies, walking in and grabbing his apron - the one adorned with blue star balloons - off the coat rack. “Yeah, I keep wakin’ up earlier than my alarm in the mornin’s, so I decide, hey, why not come early? I can’t believe you set up in the mornin’s alone, Cassa!”
Ferdinand’s nickname, Cassanovax, is a curious one, isn’t it? It’s just as long as his name, until you give his nickname a nickname! But it is fitting for him, you see. Ferdinand is a soft one, a daydreamer and a romantic. His thoughts are usually up in the clouds, and at night, up dancing among the stars, like the little Novas.
The Zafara just smiles. “I don’t mind it, Micheal. After all, you guys come in only an hour, so it’s not like I’m lonely or anything. Besides, everything needs to be perfect! Ah, would you mind taking care of the metal window shutters? I need to do something in the kitchen...”
So the morning passes by nicely. The two of them clean and prepare the kitchen and the tables, and the others start to arrive at around 8:00am. The crew is small and tight-knitted. And as soon as 9:00am strikes, the Rosen Bakery flips over its ‘OPEN’ sign, and the warm, fresh smell of food fills the air.
At 10:35am, exactly on the minute, Ferdinand’s friend Noah rushes in, looking too anxious for someone who’s not picking up an order.
“Ah, Noah!” Honey, the Biscuit Kacheek, greets, while she is handing some Islandberry Pudding to a customer. “We haven’t seen you in a while! How are you? Ferdinand is in the kitchen. Ah, and thank you for coming, have a nice day -!”
“Yes!” the Faerie Ogrin gasps as he slams his paws on the table. “Well, no, I need any of you! I saw something last night... I saw... I saw a monster! I was flying here last night, right, and then I happened to be over the bakery when I saw this... shadowy thing in front of it!”
But, of course, a visitor who visits in the night, usually comes back in the day, yes? And, as with the magic (or unluckiness) of coincidence, he is the one next in line. And the two Neopets near the counter realize this instantly.
He still has his coat, but his hat is gone, revealing the dark face of a Darigan Skeith. “Morning,” he greets curtly, his eyes staring them down. “Are you the owner of this store?”
Honey turns to look at Noah, but he is already gone, and she is left to fend for herself. “T-The owner? N-No, but I can, um, get him f-for you, sir...” When his glare darkens, she quickly dashes from the counter. Ferdinand comes out, his face concerned, as he easily spots the Skeith and approaches him.
If he is the least bit daunted, he doesn’t show it. “Good morning, sir. Is there anything I could help you with? Did you find the food okay?”
His face only seems to get more sour with those words, but he looks at the counter. “I have never been here before. What do you recommend?”
That, among the warm aroma of baked goods and sweet desserts, is music to Ferdinand’s ears.
He quickly checks to see if anyone is behind him in line (nope, it’s all clear), and Ferdinand waves his hand over the glass counters. “Well, sir, for starters, we have a huge selection right here that you can try out. Most of them baked fresh this morning! Here, we have some slices you might try – a piece of Krakuberry Pie, Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake, even some Sugar-Free Tooth Faerie Cake, haha. Or if you prefer a more sharp-tasting palette, we have one piece Thornberry Mince Pie and Lemoran Pie left, some Raspberry Kiko Swirls, Oranella Hot Cross Buns, Stuffed Figs... But, perhaps, you want none of those, sir?”
The Skeith looks up from the counter with a frown. “What?”
Ferdinand’s eyes run over the counter and turns to him with a knowing, almost mischievous smile. “I think I have just the thing for you, sir. Wait there, and try this.” He runs into the kitchen, and in a minute he comes back out, holding a small something on a little plate.
“... A Zeenana Crepe?” the Skeith grunts, taking the plate.
“It’s your favourite, isn’t it?” Ferdinand hints, as the Skeith, just like his species, stuffs the whole thing in his mouth.
He chews, savors the flavour, and gulps it down. But while Ferdinand expects his broody expression to lift up, it only intensifies. “It’s okay,” he says, putting the plate on the counter, “but it’s not my favourite.”
And with that, Ferdinand’s smile falters. “What?”
“Listen,” the Skeith growls, leaning over to the counter to stare at this clueless Zafara’s face. “I don’t like this bakery, and I don’t like you. And the food’s... okay at best. In fact, I even bet I can cook better things than you can.”
Ferdinand looks like he’s been slapped across the face, but he quickly draws up another smile, if more artificial. “I’m sorry our food isn’t to your liking, sir. Is there anything else I could offer you?”
The Skeith scoffs, and then he cracks a small, devious grin. “A cook-off, then. You and me. Just to show you that I can make something better.”
“Ha,” Ferdinand laughs sheepishly. He is not one for competitions. “A cook-off, you say? I’m honored for the invitation, sir, but I those just aren’t my thing, you see –”
“What’s wrong? Scared of being bested, little coward?”
He is not one for competitions, but he is definitely not one to be degraded. His eyes spark up in annoyance, and soon the Skeith is not the only one staring the other down. “Fine,” Ferdinand says brashly, “come back here when the shop is closed at seven o’clock. We can use my kitchen.”
“Then it’s a date.” The Skeith grunts, and quickly walks out of the store as new customers come in. Ferdinand is frozen at the counter, still hurt from his words, and even more confused at what had just happened.
“Cassa?” Micheal peeks out from the kitchen door, with Honey right behind him, “W-Who was that?”
“Ferdi!” Noah comes out of his hiding place from under one of the empty tables, looking more anxious than ever. “Ferdi, what the heck was that?! I thought you were a pacifist, and that guy was so scary!”
“He was, but I’m not a coward,” Ferdinand tells him, but he, too, sighs at what he just agreed to. There is little that makes him angry, but when he does, he’s always the first to leap before he even opens his eyes. He motions to them with a smile and a nod that he is alright. “It’ll be a friendly competition, you guys. It probably won’t be that bad.”
Let us skip forward from 10:42am to 6:42pm, when the sky is in bright shades of oranges and pinks and purples, and the Rosen Bakery is getting ready to close. Well, when it would normally close. Ferdinand lets the others leave while he sits at one of the wooden tables, waiting.
Micheal and Honey are still inside, both of them worrying over the mysterious visitor who was to come later. (“What if he beats you up or something?” “Yeah, Cassa! Or what if he starts runnin’ away with all of the pasteries! Or worse, all of the money?!”) Noah also refuses to leave, and sits next to the Zafara at the table.
“I’m sure you’re all overreacting,” Ferdinand says calmy, although he is thankful for the company. “Maybe he’s really just a nice, misunderstood guy? I mean, just because he looks scary...”
Noah facepalms. “Are you kidding me, Ferdi, this is no time for your happy fluffy daydreams! He’s menacing, he’s mysterious, he’s... a murderer!”
“Stop that, Noah,” reprimands Honey, “It’s not nice to –“
“- call someone such a bad thing, you know?” finishes a deep, all-too recognizable voice. The four of them turn and, lo and behold, the Skeith, wrapped in his dark clothes, is standing at the doorway. If a thunderstorm was happening during this story, this would be the ideal time to strike some thunder and lightning. He smiles mockingly. “So you brought along a couple of bodyguards, little coward?”
Ferdinand frowns angrily, but shakes his head. “They are my friends.”
“Doesn’t matter. They will be our taste testers. But if they are biased, then we’d have to give them something more than food, right, friends?” Honey stands her ground and glares, with Micheal shivering as he hides behind her. Noah has disappeared again.
“Hey, hey, no need to frighten them, ehm...” Ferdinand replies, his easy-going expression back on his face. He needs to keep his calm, and maybe this will all go smoothly... with him winning, of course. But he realizes he still doesn’t know the Skeith’s name.
He notices. “Proleré.”
“Proleré, then.” He languidly rises from his chair, and stands up straight, summoning a proud stance worthy of his Royal colour. His eyes seem to light up. “Well, how should this cook-off go?”
His opponent senses the change, and changes his own posture, as well. Proleré steps closer and stares down at the Zafara. “It’s simple. We each cook the same dish, and we see which is better.”
“And what do you gain, if by the off-chance that you win?”
“Ha, that is not important now. But if I do win, then I get the prize of being better than the greatest baker in Brightvale, isn’t that right?”
Ferdinand grins. “I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you.”
“Well, what will you two cook?” Honey speaks up, watching them intently.
“How about...” Noah has gotten up from under the table. “Bread pudding!”
Ferdinand quickly agrees. “That’s good, I like that. We have everything set up in the kitchen for that, and more. Proleré?"
He turns to barely catch the Skeith’s bewildered expression before it flows into smugness. “Whatever makes your life easier, Cassa.”
“Do we start then?”
The two opponents turn to their taste testers. Micheal shrugs. “Um, go?”
And they’re off.
7:24pm hits and Micheal, Honey, and Noah all sit on one side of the wooden table, with Proleré and Ferdinand on the other. Between them are their two dishes. One of them looks to be a light orange colour, with white cream in a nice swirl over it, topped with a simple cluster of cranberries. Two slices of Funnydew melons sit next to it. The other seems like it’s berry flavoured, with a variety of berries and white chocolate flakes sprinkled around it, topped with a sort of creamy syrup. On top, there are two decorative leaves of parsley, settled down by a Loveberry.
The three taste testers don’t know who made what.
“Oh, that one’s very cute,” Honey says, smiling at the one with the Loveberry. “It all blends nicely.”
Micheal looks like whatever he’s going to say will cause the whole bakery to burn, but he does so anyway. “I, uh, like that one, too. It looks tastier.” But what if it’s not? His face says.
“Well, I like the Funnydew one,” Noah says casually. He doesn’t have any culinary experience like the other two, but that’s a good thing. He is your everyday guy. “It looks like it’d be a tasty dessert. Plus, I’ve never seen any pudding with Funnydews before. Can we eat them now?”
The two chefs simply nod. They have silently agreed to not say a word, to keep it all fair. But Ferdinand watches Proleré out of the corner of his eye. He was watching him cook, after all. But, in all honesty, Ferdinand thought that the Skeith had never set foot in a kitchen in his life (or maybe once or twice tops). Even though Ferdinand had told him where everything was, he seemed to fumble about in the kitchen, as if he had only an inkling of what he was doing. He looked like he was slapping things together, his face turning into an excited young boy when his bread pudding mixture turned out right.
But he knows, and I’m sure you do, too, dear reader, that all of that may have just been an act, or a trick of the overspeculation. Ferdinand wonders if he spent too much time watching Proleré and not his own dish. He knows he didn’t, he’s done what he can, and it’s perfect, he’s sure of it... but let us give him the benefit of doubt.
The three taste testers begin with the Funnydew dish.
“Oh, wow, this’s acfuarry prehhy tastee!” Micheal says with his mouth full of pudding and melon, and gulps it down, “The pudding’s kinda strong, but the watery-sweet melon evens it out.”
“Almost evens it out,” Honey puts her more experienced thoughts on the table, “It’s alright, but it’s far too strong for my tastes. The melon is too sweet and watery and it clashes with the rougher texture and sharper, orange taste of the bread. The cranberries are like they’ve just been thrown on.”
“Hey, don’t eat all the Funnydew, Micheal,” grumbles Noah, as he takes the last slice and a spoonful of the pudding. “Eh, it’s okay, I l like it, the pudding’s like, ZA-PANG-ZOW, and the melon just makes it kinda sweeter, so it’s like, SA-PANG-SOW.”
“What does that even mean?” Honey sighs exasperatedly.
“I get it,” Micheal replies. “You don’t understand, Honey?”
“Just move on to the next one,” grunts Proleré, and they do so.
Bliss falls on Honey’s face as she bites into the Loveberry one. “Ahhh, now this one! This one is wonderful. The cream on this one compliments the flavourful berry pudding, and the bread is soft to match. And the white chocolate flakes add the finishing touch to it all.”
“Eh, it’s okay.” Noah shrugs as he licks his spoon. “It tastes nice and all, yeah, but it’s not very exciting, like the Funnydew one. ”
“I shink it tathes great!” Micheal nods, as he reaches for another bite. “It’s very smooth, and I love berries, and everything goes together very nicely. It’s like heaven!”
The two chefs wait until they’ve finished eating everything, and Honey brings the other two to a corner to discuss. Ferdinand’s face is full of anxious confusion. Both the dishes had pros and cons. This is why he hates competitions – there is only one winner in the end. One will be shamed and the other will get to stand victorious. Proleré is smiling – but it isn’t the smug one that he’s had all day. It is a small, happy smile. Ferdinand notices and raises his eyebrows, but says nothing.
When the three come back, Noah looking happy with a full stomach and Micheal looking like he’s going to get whacked when the winner is announced, Honey clears her throat. “We have chosen the Loveberry Bread Pudding. The other one, while a nice surprise and very experimental, is not polished enough to be a good winner.”
“Now whose was that one?!” Micheal asks, as if he had been the one in the competition.
Proleré says, “It’s Ferdinand’s, of course.”
Micheal sighs in relief, but then, as if he had just remembered Proleré is a Darigan Skeith, looks as if he is about to run under the table like Noah earlier. Honey claps her hands happily – she had a hunch that that one was her boss’s. And Noah nods and smiles, and is just happy that his stomach is full.
Ferdinand’s nervousness slips away and his relaxed demeanor returns to him. He is about to say something to Proleré – what, even he doesn’t know – when the large Skeith stands up from the table, towering over all of them
“Oh Fyora, please don’t kill us!” Micheal cries, and shrinks back. Noah is, of course, not in his seat anymore.
“Kill you? Why would I do something like that?” Proleré says incredulously, looking at the young Cybunny. It is to everyone’s surprise that he is not gone raging made. In fact, he looks like he had just won instead. He doesn’t look at Ferdinand as he compliments him, “Well, I guess you are as good as they say, little coward.” He turns to leave.
“And you are not as good as you imply,” Ferdinand replies, willing to brush the insult away and looks up at him inquiringly. “Are you even a chef, Proleré?”
He turns around, his face saddened. “I have never baked in my entire life,” Proleré admits. “I only follow what I vaguely remember in cookbooks.”
“You’re not a chef?” Honey looks at him surprisedly, almost annoyed, “If you’re not a chef, then what on earth are you thinking asking a professional baker to a cook-off?”
Ferdinand answers for him, grinning in the Skeith’s direction. “He wants to become a chef. You do know that the Chia in the Bakery in Neopia Central gives cooking lessons, right? Even King Hagan’s top chef runs a small cooking school.”
“I am not allowed to become a chef,” Proleré sighs with a disheartened smile. “My parents insist that it is a peasant’s job. They are rich Neopets in Meridell, you see. They insist on me, the eldest, to be a doctor or a knight to King Skarl, a fitting job to my standing.”
“Ah, we are the same!” Ferdinand says happily.
“Heh, yes. I’ve heard about you, you know, and the Rosen Bakery. You’re not famous, I won’t compliment you that far, but your name does go far in passing. A baker who was once a son of noble Neopets, like me? So I decided to pay a visit, my parents thinking I’m visiting scholars in Brightvale. I expected a fabulous restaurant fit for kings, and I was more than disappointed to see that it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I thought that I could live better than that. But... as I entered and ate that crepe, I realized, that this was all wonderful. I was envious. So, I challenged you, knowing I’d lose. But at least, I would have gotten a taste of working at a bakery...”
“And did you like it?”
Proleré laughs. “I’d be lying if I said no.”
Ferdinand looks to the three taste testers, who are looking at the Darigan Skeith in a new light (although Micheal still looks a bit shaken), and stands up. “Well, Proleré, do you want to work with us? I’m sure I could teach you, like I’m teaching Micheal.”
“He’s gonna work with us?!” Micheal gasped, Honey hushing him. “I mean... yeah, that’s cool. As long as I get to be his chef-school senior!”
Proleré’s eyes lighten, and he looks like a young child for a moment, but he just chuckles and heads for the door. “I will sleep on it, little coward.”
“Hm, I’ll be waiting, you bigger coward,” Ferdinand adds, with a little smirk of his own.
Proleré does not join the Rosen Bakery.
Noah is seated at one of the wooden tables, casually chatting on to the Neopet in front of him, “ – And so, I grabbed that Gormball from that Usul and threw it to Ferdi, and the ball explodes right in his face!”
“Hey, hey, stop telling embarrassing stories of me.” Ferdinand arrives at their table, holding their surprise-me orders. He places the Hazelnut Banana Crepe for Noah, and the Strawberry Kougra Pudding in front of the other.
“Ah! And also, are you two still coming over later? Today, Micheal wants to make Altadorian Ambrosia.”
The other Neopet laughs as if Ferdinand has been joking. “Have I missed any of the lessons so far?” Ferdinand shrugs, good-naturedly.
“And you do know,” Proleré continues, looking at the Kougra pudding, “that I am not a Kougra, right?”
“Ah, yes, of course,” Ferdinand says, “but this is your favourite, isn’t it?”
Proleré grins. “Hah. How did you know?”
Ferdinand just smiles back.