Birds of a Feather

THE SMALL BOY AT SONOMA Plaza came running up to the ducks.

Great, I snarled to myself. Just what we need — another damn kid chasing the local waterfowl. Why can’t they leave the birds in peace?

As I considered this, he turned from the flock and ran to an old woman in a wheelchair. “Would you like to feed the ducks?” he asked with youthful enthusiasm, offering her two slices of rye bread.

Some days, crow doesn’t taste half-bad.

Teachable Moment

WHILE HITCHHIKING BETWEEN PLACERVILLE AND South Lake Tahoe in 1985, my ride — who had just offered me a beer — taught me a valuable lesson on which I still reflect constantly: “When you’re on the road, and someone wants to give you something, take it.”

People like to help. So much so, that when you refuse said help, they feel at least annoyed and at worst, insulted. Whether it’s carrying something, taking something, getting ahead of them in line at the grocery store, or whatever, it makes a vital human connection between otherwise-strangers. We all like to feel needed; and when someone else implies that we’re not, it grouses us on a visceral level.

In Lower North America, we pay a good deal of lip-service to the Rugged Individual who’s admonished to “stand on your own two feet.” But that gets lonely after a while. When that loneliness-wall is breached, it feels good — both to the giver and receiver. And who wants to refrain from helping someone feel good?

So the next time you receive an offer of help, acknowledge it with a cheery “Thank you.”. It’s the human thing to do.

Prosatio Silban and the Paid Piper

WHEN THE CHICKENS COME HOME to roost, there is often confusion in the henhouse.

What a strange dream, Prosatio Silban thought, sitting up in his sleeping-berth. So vivid. So compelling.

Then he caught his breath and listened.

Someone or something is here in my galleywagon, he thought.

Prosatio Silban and the Midnight Summons

WE HAVE READ MANY TIMES of the Heirs Second, who rule the Uulian Commonwell by solemn duty and occasional whim.

But who rules the Heirs Second?

Late one night, Prosatio Silban was hard at work scrubbing the inside of a large copper boiling-pot. A wave of frustrated fatigue washed over him; he had several times passed the vessel through his immaculator – a wide bone-hoop set on a heavy ironwood base, whose magik could (in theory) remove even the most intractable stains. However, after several passes, his work was still without any visible result. So it was no wonder that his surly mood was further aggravated by a loud knock at his galleywagon door.

It’s no longer the hour for visitors – and I should be abed myself, he thought, stepping with soft tread across his ornate braided rug and grasping a doorside cudgel.

Prosatio Silban and the Jade Hawk

NO ONE HAS YET DEVISED a satisfactory agency for long-distance intimacy – but in every world, there’s at least one that tries.

With a protracted high-pitched scream, an enormous emerald-hued bird circled Prosatio Silban’s galleywagon in descending spirals as the vehicle made its careful way along the tamped-earth road between the villages of Bottle and Wardhaven.

At last, the cook-errant thought, and smiled in anticipation.

Prosatio Silban and the Sleepless Heat

“WHO IS WISE?” ASKS THE old sage-monk – and answers: “One who learns from everyone.”

Prosatio Silban squirmed in his damp sleeping-berth for the hundredth time, then finally rolled himself out of it and onto his feet. ENOUGH, he thought, passing a hand over his sweaty face and rubbing his wet fingers. Perhaps it will be cooler outside. I hope.

Prosatio Silban and the Hushed Revelation


Prosatio Silban glanced up at epicurean Pormaris’ massive dockside clock-tower, an accurate timekeeper and source of immense civic pride. A quarter-hour past fourteen, he thought. My customer should be arriving soon – and aha! here he is.

An almost-shabby youth clad in an academic’s robes shuffled his hesitant way through the makeshift lanes of the grand city’s fabled South Market, a packet of scrolls under one skinny arm. Seeing the Cook For Any Price, lodged between a fatberry-oil presser and seller of imported curios, he broke into a brief half-hearted smile and sat down at one of the two empty tables-and-chairs.