IN ALL THE STEAMING LANDS there are none so pious as the villagers of Imperny. And yet, even within that island of serene certitude, Prosatio Silban found a disturbed soul.
The cook had parked his galleywagon a-purpose, on the edge of Imperny’s market square closest to the local shrine. but his “COOK FOR ANY PRICE” banner had attracted only one breakfast customer — a serious young man who had picked his way half through a plate of Random Eggs. He sighed and looked up at Prosatio Silban.
“I have not seen you before, nor do I expect to again,” he said. “May I impart a stranger’s truth?”
“The eggs are not to your liking,” the cook began.
“No! No, they are perfect,” replied the young man. “But I am not, or rather my understanding isn’t. I cannot decide whether or not my prayer is effective.”
Prosatio Silban, a former holyman who long ago decided to feed people’s bellies instead of their souls, had ceased to wonder why his gods wouldn’t let him alone. Instead, he asked, “What do you mean?”
“I was deep in my devotions this morning,” replied the other. “And it occurred to me: am I praying because I am grateful, or am I grateful because I am praying? In other words, do the gods grant me peace of mind, or am I fooling my mind into peacefulness?”
Prosatio Silban thought for a time. “Does it matter?”
“Yes. I think. Yes.”
“Because by one I am doing the gods’ will. By the other, I am silly.”
“But that is already true, in the eyes of those who don’t share your particular piety,” Prosatio Silban said. “If you live for others, you will be concerned with what they think of your actions. If you live for yourself, you will be concerned with what you think. But if you live for the gods — you won’t care what anyone thinks.”
The young man smiled. “Pass the tomatoes,” he said.