It was with a pang of distress that Goushou observed the dishes laid before himself and his friend. 'The sage eats no flesh,' he'd told his servants, trusting that his cooks would contrive a decent meal nonetheless. He'd happily abandoned the vegetarian fare of Heaven once he was home, and so hadn't registered how little the oceans produce of that kind of food. Rice from the continents there was in plenty, served with crumbled nori and diced wakame, and that was well enough. But in place of fish there was only ocean vegetable coloured and shaped into molded forms, and laver dried and toasted so it resembled smoked meat.
"This is overly plain," he told Pipang. "I will have them bring more suitable food from the southern continent for tomorrow's meals. Is there anything you specially care for? Bean curd? Red beans?" He racked his brains, trying to remember what he'd eaten in Heaven. "Bamboo shoots? Cabbage?"
"I'd happily share the food of your court, Goushou-sama, and eat what you ordinarily do. I'm such a homebody that I almost never get to taste foreign cooking, and I hear the Southern Ocean is known for the delicacy and variety of its fish."
"But you don't eat fish--"
"Not the fish of my own stream and waterfall," Pipang smiled. "They are my guests. But the fish of your ocean are strangers to me, and I have no reluctance to eat them at all."
"In that case--" Goushou clapped his hands and ordered a feast of sea bass, steamed crab, spiced shrimp, and shark fin soup. His major-domo bowed with happiness as each item was named.
"And if Your Majesty pleases, this person has just today received the tribute of sea cucumber from the Great Island--"
"That will not be necessary," Goushou said sharply. "You may go."
"Ah-- yes. Your Majesty's pardon." The major-domo took himself off, a picture of mortified consternation. Goushou looked back to find Pipang's wondering eyes upon him. His mouth tightened in mortification of his own.
"One cannot stop servants talking, and mine certainly will. But they can learn not to make insinuations to my face."
"Insinuations? About a delicacy such as sea cucmber?"
"A delicacy which is also a famed aphrodisiac," Goushou muttered, and was surprised by Pipang's peal of laughter.
"Oh, I see. Indeed, indeed. That won't be necessary at all."