Prosatio Silban and the Ambitious Intern

ONE OF THE BEST WAYS to learn what you know is to teach it to someone else – and sometimes, to yourself.

Prosatio Silban swore under his breath and pondered what to do next. His latest intern convinced him that some people shouldn’t come near a kitchen, much less work in one.

That was the case with Vello Pirior, who had distinguished himself by spilling expensive ingredients, dropping fragile or injurious equipment, and almost burning down the cook-errant’s cozy galleywagon – comfortable for a party of one, but uninhabitable depending on the personality and habits of a second party.

The Cook For Any Price had gotten into this professional predicament through a good-faith request by his old friend and colleague, Crasso, the current Ranking Culinarian at Pormaris’ Archive of Gastronomic Artifice. In addition to a culinary museum, reference library, and all-around resource center, the Archive also offered formal classes for cooks and would-be cooks hoping to enhance their skills or learn the trade. It was this latter instance in which Prosatio Silban now found himself, having played mentor for week-long intervals to a mixed assortment of hopeful aspirants.

“We want the students to have a taste – pardon the pun! – of a working cook’s life,” Crasso had said.

“We want the students to have a taste – pardon the pun! – of a working cook’s life,” Crasso had said. “And who better to initiate them than you?”

Prosatio Silban’s unintended ordeal had begun with Arfus Ied: a decent enough chap, but one who would hold forth for long whiles on the various philosophies and particulars of Commonwell cookery, despite knowing very little – if anything – of what he was talking about. Next came Alekka Zarn, a young woman with a penchant for drama and a protective love of all things living.

“Fidget-hens?! D’you know the conditions under which they are raised?” she demanded.

“For that reason, I only buy from ethical meat-farmers, who –” began Prosatio Silban.

“There are no ethical meat-farmers! You shouldn’t be buying them at all, anywhere! Those hens are sentient beings – you can’t just eat them because the notion takes you!”

She was succeeded by Penzo Alkalar, another fine youth, but one who needed help holding the safe end of a chop-knife and stirring a simple bowl of soup. Thus, despite Crasso’s glowing accolades, it was with anticipatory unease that he greeted Saneia Thuviarl one morning.

“You’ll love her,” the Ranking Culinarian had said. “She’s quick, curious, attentive, inventive, and has a respectable grasp of our craft’s fundamentals. And you might yourself get something out of the experience.”

I wonder, Prosatio Silban thought with a dour frown, as he opened wide the galleywagon door in answer to her brisk knock.

“Good morning,” he said, with half-hearted sincerity. “Welcome to my domain.”

“Good morning,” he said, with half-hearted sincerity. “Welcome to my domain.”

Saneia Thuviarl entered the galleywagon with a warm and genuine smile. “I first want you to know that I appreciate that you’re even considering me,” she said. “I hope to learn whatever you can teach me, and help me to become more than I am.”

Her appearance matched her manner – a cheerful, open face; kind, alert eyes; and the sort of relaxed bearing that suggested a panther ready to spring. Her strong hands were calloused, evidently from long acquaintance with a chop-knife and retrieval of hot items from a roaring oven. She took in the galleywagon’s interior with measured appraisal and happy approval.

“I love how this space is arranged,” she said. “The stove next to the preparation-counter, across from your pantry and – is that a magiked coldbox? I’ve often heard of such things, but never hoped to see one. May I?”


She lifted the heavy lid and peered inside. “The interior seems larger than the outside would have you believe. Fascinating! I see also that you have it divided into zones of relative coldness. Do you have a problem with over-refrigeration, say of delicate items such as fresh palm-berries?”

Prosatio Silban started. “I do, yes,” he confessed. “But I thought I was the only one who noticed that. It has more than once posed a challenge to my practice.”

“You might want to wrap them in salted-water burlap,” Saneia Thuviarl said. “It works in the Archive’s ice-vaults, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t do the same here.”

A pinprick of disquiet pierced the cook’s vitals. She’s good, he thought. I shall have to watch her, just like she’s watching me.

* * *

By the week’s end, Prosatio Silban’s pinprick had become a stab. Saneia Thuviarl had reorganized for greater efficiency his coldbox, pantry, and ceiling-mounted tangle of herbs, meats, cheeses and cookware; demonstrated creative shortcuts for braising, pan-frying, roasting and stewing; tweaked Onward’s fatberry-cake diet to somewhat lessen the dray-beast’s considerable girth; introduced a baker’s-dozen of new and tasty ingredients, including desert sage, fruited cheese, and green duliac-vinegar; and so intuited his tasks and requests that they were accomplished before he could state them.

And she’s so damnably easygoing that all these innovations look artless and logical, he thought. Next to her, I am a beached elephant-seal. This woman could not be less threatening – so why do I feel so threatened?

With reluctant tread, he climbed the stairs to the Ranking Culinarian’s office atop the Archive’s sprawling, three-story bulk to give his report on her activities and suitability.

“Well?” Crasso asked. “How was she? Are you duly impressed?”

“Well?” Crasso asked. “How was she? Are you duly impressed?”

“I …” Prosatio Silban began, then stopped. What can I say? That she makes me feel old and in the way? That the job is not for her? That I have never been more fearful of anyone in all my days as a mercenary cook? I don’t wish to undermine my own status, or hers, but I cannot be less than honest.

“Excuse me for a moment,” he told Crasso. “Before I can give you an accurate and objective account, there is a matter to which I must first attend.”

With that, he descended the three stair-flights and made his way back to the galleywagon, where Saneia Thuviarl was seated at a table-and-chairs, anticipating his return.

“I have something to say to you,” he said. “And it is not easy.”

“Oh,” she said, a shadow of concern flickering at the edges of her mouth. “What is that?”

He sat down across from her and looked her straight in the eyes.

“Teach me,” he said. “No matter long it takes, please – teach me.”

(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. And if you want another 85 stories in one easy-to-read package, here’s the e-book!)

2 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Ambitious Intern

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2022.06.20 at 1926

    Anyone who can swallow their pride and learn something from someone they thought was an inferior, is a gem in my book.

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