Prosatio Silban and the Assembly Eclectic

AS THE WISE SAY: “Some aspirations should remain so.”

Prosatio Silban put the finishing touches on a plate of fidget-hen confit and pureed artichokes, and stood back to admire it. I don’t know how I do it, but I’m glad and grateful that I can, he thought in expectation of his longtime customer’s expression. Blessings to you, O Julchi, Goddess of Autodidactic Gastronomy!

With the steaming plate balanced on one raised hand, he descended his galleywagon’s three wooden steps, then sauntered over to a table-and-chairs where sat a pleasant-faced and stylish woman of his own middling years. He placed the dish before her with a flourish, and she sighed in anticipatory delight.

“I don’t know how you do it, Master Prosatio,” she said. “You never disappoint.”

She leaned toward him. “Do you know of the Assembly Eclectic?”

The beefy cook closed his eyes and bowed in self-effacing acknowledgment. “That pleases me no end,” he said, straightening. “It is a sincere pleasure to serve everyone who comes to dine, but especially those of an appreciative palate like yours, Madam Fulvia.”

She caught his eye. “Perhaps I may serve you in return. What are you doing after you close your business tonight?”

He shrugged. “If tonight is a typical evening, I’ll count the day’s coin, eat a frugal supper, read a bit in Barbatus the Elder’s latest tales-collection, and sleep the sleep of a tired but happy tradesman,” he said. “What did you have in mind?”

She leaned toward him and dropped her voice to a low but audible whisper. “Do you know of the Assembly Eclectic?”

“Of course!” Prosatio Silban whispered back. “I daresay everyone in the Commonwell is acquainted with that society of and for the realm’s leading public figures. I myself have often wondered what lay behind the club’s storied golden door in the heart of epicurean Pormaris.”

Madam Fulvia cocked an eyebrow. “You need wonder no more,” she said. “I should like you to accompany me there tonight as my guest – and as a potential member.”

* * *

His hostess had called the evening a “Prospects’ Presentation,” but at first impression, Prosatio Silban decided the gathering was more an unsubtle display of wealth and power.

Take the enormous, well-appointed chamber in which the cook and his sponsor found themselves. Porphyry side-columns supported a high vaulted-granite ceiling complementing subtly woven carpets of dizzying complexity. Between the columns, painted marble statuary alternated with exotic examples of the taxidermist’s art, each in assorted poses. Waiters in subdued garb and submissive demeanor glided among the rich-clad attendees, offering dainty bites of this and sparkling glasses of that. In a far alcove, a three-piece improvisto ensemble (flute, viol and voice) played unobtrusive melodies, while here and there scented braziers lent the scene a dancing ambience of perfumed light and shadow.

As Prosatio Silban and Madam Fulvia slid through the convivial crowd, the cook caught tempting snatches of conversation…

As Prosatio Silban and Madam Fulvia slid through the convivial crowd, the cook caught tempting snatches of conversation:

“…and so I said to him, If that’s the best you can do, then drop that boulder!”

“Rendo, darling! How went your aquatic expedition to abhorrent Khum?”

“The goat was as confused as the rest of us. Seriously.”

“I was completely embarrassed, but at least it was for a good cause…”

“No, the real money is in voles. Tireless and small, and very inventive when the mood takes them.”

“Master Prosatio! What brings you here?”

The cook pivoted toward the familiar voice. Pelvhi, the owner of Pormaris’ only establishment catering to the city’s vast profusion of hospitality professionals, regarded him with undisguised and smiling curiosity.

“I didn’t recognize you without a long mahogany bar before you,” Prosatio Silban quipped, returning her smile. “Pelvhi, may I present to you Madam Fulvia, a devoted customer of mine. Madam Fulvia, this is Pelvhi, my taverness and closest confidante.”

The women exchanged mutual pleasantries, and Pelvhi repeated her question.

“Through circumstances unknown, I am being considered for membership,” the cook-errant replied. “I may not be as moneyed or influential as these others, but there must be something about me that earned tonight’s invitation.”

The taverness raised an almost-full glass. “Here’s to finding out,” she said.

Prosatio Silban opened his mouth to concur, but Madam Fulvia bent her head toward his. “On that sentiment, it is now time for you to meet the Gatekeepers,” she murmured, taking Prosatio Silban by the arm and steering him toward a brocade-hung archway.

“Good luck,” Pelvhi called after him.

They passed through the heavy curtain and down a straight, long corridor hung with endless portraits of distinguished-looking men and women in ritualistic garb. At the other end his hostess rapped three times on an iron-hinged cedar door, which creaked open to reveal what seemed a cozy candlelit library. Groaning bookshelves lined the five high walls. A squat semicircular dais surrounded a knee-high stool; atop the dais stood five identically black-robed figures, their faces invisible within deep hoods.

The door creaked closed.

“Sit,” the apparitions chorused in a flat, menacing monotone.

“Sit,” the apparitions chorused in a flat, menacing monotone.

Prosatio Silban sat, uncomfortably aware of Madam Fulvia on the opposite side of the door.

“Let us begin,” said one. “Why are you here?”

Prosatio Silban gave a curt but respectful nod, his mouth dry. “I do not quite know,” he managed to say, “save that I am being interviewed for membership in this famed and exclusive organization.”

“Your qualifications?” asked another.

The cook-errant considered for a moment, his thoughts outstripping his attention, then took a deep breath. “I am a mercenary cook with an exemplary reputation for service, quality, and accommodation,” he said. “My name is a byword throughout the Uulian Commonwell and environs, wherein I have traveled for the past quarter-century as ‘The Cook For Any Price.’ Despite that, I am always seeking improvement and excellence.”

“Tell us about your past,” commanded a third.

How much do they know? Prosatio Silban wondered. Whatever the question, I shall keep my answers brief.

“My parents were tenant-farmers for our local Heir Second,” he said. “My father had higher hopes for his three children, however, and ‘prenticed us off to various masters and mistresses in various trades and professions.”

“Why are you a cook?” asked the fourth.

“It seemed a good idea at the time,” Prosatio Silban said with a smile. Hearing no reaction, he added, “I was facing an otherwise bleak future, and needed a cause into which to throw myself after … ah … an earlier, less successful foray. I was fortunate to find myself a kind and capable cooking-master, and here, at last, I am.”

“What do you like best about your work?” asked the fifth.

“The people,” the cook said without hesitation. “I enjoy traveling, and cooking, and of course working my own self-set hours. But in point of fact, service to those I meet is what I love most of all. So long as I can be useful to my fellow folk, I am content.”

“Now,” began the first figure. “Why did you resign from the Sacreanthood?”

“Now,” began the first figure. “Why did you resign from the Sacreanthood?”

There came one of those sudden, empty silences that fill space and time with acute and awkward discomfort. Prosatio Silban cleared his throat.

“You know about that,” he sighed.

“We know everything,” replied the third figure.

“This is how it was,” the cook said, his pulse thundering. “Overfamiliarity with the Flickering Gods led to a spiritual ennui. I could no longer formally honor Those Who very kindly gave me life and purpose. Service to my customers, though, has reawakened that divine spark, and I now honor Them once more – albeit in my own small way.”

Another intense silence. The spell broke when the first figure waved a deprecatory hand.

“We will proffer our decision through your sponsor,” it said, and the door creaked open again. “Meanwhile, please enjoy the rest of the evening.”

* * *

What else could I say? Prosatio Silban thought as he made his solitary way homeward through Pormaris’ cold and foggy midnight streets. There was no possible subterfuge – not that it’s in my nature, anyway. I did my best. We shall see what we shall see. But I do hope they’ll accept me.

* * *

Three long, self-wrestling days later, Prosatio Silban had just served his sixteenth breakfast of the morning when Madam Fulvia strolled up, her handsome face a study in ambiguity. He dusted his hands and met her inscrutable gaze.

“Well?” he asked.

“You may relax,” she breathed.

“You may relax,” she breathed.

“I’m in?”

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded, his emotions turning somersaults. “So I imagined,” he muttered. “Can you tell me why?”

“One of the Gatekeepers cast the Black Stone,” she said with a half-shrug. “Membership must be decided upon unanimously, and if one judge disapproves … you understand. I cannot say who or why it was, only that it was. But I am sorry. Truly, I am.”

“As am I. I was looking forward to making new social and business connections. And now they are lost to me.”

Madam Fulvia spread her hands. “It is not your fault,” she said. “But see this: You had an otherwise wonderful evening, saw some interesting people, and glimpsed the behind-the-gold-door goings-on. And anyway, as it happens, you are already a member in a successful club of your own.”


She swept an arm toward his happily chattering customers. “A club of an unlimited membership,” she said. “Or, to be precise – of one at a time.”

(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. And if you want more of them, in two easy-to-read packages, here are the first and second e-books!)

4 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Assembly Eclectic

  1. Audrey Darby
    2023.05.11 at 0431

    Delightful as always.

  2. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2023.05.11 at 0540

    Probably dodged a bullet anyway.

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