Prosatio Silban and the Blank Tyranny

ARTISTRY IN ONE ARENA DOES not always guarantee artistry in another.

“My proposal is a simple one,” the young man said. “Grant your endorsement, in a few choice words, of my latest cookbook, New Tastes of Pormaris. It is a simple matter of between three to five hundred words. Should take you less than a day, if even that long. What say you?”

Prosatio Silban’s mind raced for the softest possible protest. Belio Pharval was the eldest son of a professional acquaintance from Pelvhi’s Chopping-House. A nice enough fellow in his own right, but his request was a bit far afield for the cook-errant – whose heart thumped as he weighed the situation.

What do I know about writing? he thought. For that matter, what do I know of this lad? True, his mother credits him with verbal skill and cooking talent; he can turn a fair phrase or flavorsome dish at need. But how far goes my social obligation to his mother? And how many others might come seeking the same favor? I cannot. I must not. I shall not. How can I?

“Of course I will,” he heard himself reply. “By when, did you say?”

* * *

Three days later, Prosatio Silban’s galleywagon floor was littered with discarded tributes and useless commendations.

How do scribes do it? he thought in desperation.

How do scribes do it? he thought in desperation, crumpling yet another piece of inkstick-scribbled paper and bouncing it off the nearest wall. How do they conjure up an atmosphere, a sensibility, on command? I can navigate any kitchen, but that’s nothing compared to finding my way around a simple paragraph. Or even a sentence.

He shook his head to clear it. “Hmph,” he muttered. “Feeling sorry for myself isn’t going to get anything done. In any case, I must see to the noonday rush.”

After two hectic hours had passed, the beefy cook took advantage of his post-lunch buzz to better focus his thoughts. Only one customer remained: a well-dressed young woman whose attentions were divided between her slowly diminishing lunch and a large paper tablet on which she had been jotting.

“With what else may I please you?” Prosatio Silban asked as he sauntered over.

“Nothing, thank you,” she replied, and glanced about. “Oh! I see I am your last lunch customer. Let me get out of your way – you must be exhausted!”

She began to collect her things, but he said, “You’re very perceptive. Please. Take your time. May I ask what you’re writing?”

“It’s work, for a patron. I am a mercenary scribe. Aureia Zon is the name.”

“A ‘mercenary scribe?’” Prosatio Silban asked. “What does that mean?”

“Oh, you know,” Aureia Zon replied, and cocked her head. “I contract my services to whoever needs them for whatever purpose – say, shy lovers’ letters. Elders’ memoirs. Mercantile propositions. Private proclamations. That sort of thing. Not everyone can express themselves in words, you see. Why do you ask? Do you know of anyone who might hire me?”

He sat down across from her. “Yes,” he said with intensity. “What are your rates?”

* * *

“Thank you so much!” Belio Pharval exclaimed. “This is exactly what I wanted: heartfelt and succinct, and just the right tone between playful and serious. This is so good, in fact, that … well … no. I can’t ask that of you.”

“Ask what of me?” queried Prosatio Silban.

“That you coauthor my next cookbook!”

“I … what?”

“We could even call it ‘Prosatio Silban’s Commonwell Cookery.’”

“You certainly have the experience, knowledge, and accumulated wisdom necessary for such an undertaking; plus, you know how to write. What would happen to the culinary world if you died without passing along your hard-won history? We could even call it ‘Prosatio Silban’s Commonwell Cookery.’ I would be more than happy to take a secondary role, if that’s more to your liking …”

How did I get myself into this? the cook thought in a panic. More importantly – how do I get myself out? If only I could … wait! Mistress Aureia! I’ll have to find her again – and triple-quick!

“I shall consider it,” he said, avoiding Belio Pharval’s eyes. “Give me a few days, and I’ll see what and whether I can create for you. Or, of course, (cough) not.”

Belio Pharval nodded. “A few days, then. I can’t wait to see what you’ll have for me.”

Neither can I, my young friend, Prosatio Silban thought, grinding his teeth.

* * *

As Pelvhi’s Chopping-House met the needs of epicurean Pormaris’ legion of hospitality workers, Oliola’s Place served the great lake-island city’s scribes and letterpress-laborers. The modest half-timbered inn – not far from Pormaris’ quaint East Market, long-known for its sellers of books and other imprinted wares – was redolent from down the street with the minty acridity of fresh-brewed yava.

Unfamiliar heads turned as Prosatio Silban entered, and he returned several curious gazes with a courteous nod. Various objects of the printers’ trade – used chases, pica poles, empty inkpots, framed and colorful proofs, quoins – adorned the blue-plastered walls or hung from the arched ceiling. The woman behind the long, L-shaped mahogany bar on one side of the cozy, half-crowded room looked up from polishing a small ceramic yava-cup.

“I see we have a visitor,” she said in a theatrical tone, eyes locked on the newcomer. “I am Oliola. And this is my place. What can I serve you?”

“May I please have a small glass of white duliac?” the cook asked. Hearty laughter echoed from all around, and his cheeks blazed.

“Duliac is for drunkards, and others seeking uncomplicated dreams,” replied a man with ink-stained fingers. “Our drink is yava. Keeps the mind agile, the hands steady, and the years at bay. Have a cup. On me.”

“I believe I will, thank you,” Prosatio Silban said, and turned to Oliola. “A double measure, if you please. I never begin my day with less.”

The assembly chuckled its approval, and with many a “Well done!” and “There’s a good fellow!” they turned back to their doings as the taverness served her newest customer. “What else can I do for you?” she asked.

“I am seeking a scribe,” the cook-errant replied, sipping. “A particular scribe. Do you know Aureia Zon?”

“You are in the right place,” said Oliola. “But it is the wrong time. Her visits are irregular. She is often to be found in the small hours, rather than – well, plant my feet and call me a tree! Here she is now!”

“Master Cook! What brought you to this part of town?” she asked.

A sudden breeze from the opened door announced Aureia Zon. As she swept toward the bar, her sideways glance took in Prosatio Silban, and she smiled a greeting. “Master Cook! What brought you to this part of town?” she asked.

“You do,” the cook replied, matching her smile. With quick and pointed words he described his current predicament. “So you see,” he finished, “I can either confess my inabilities and disappoint an associate, or I can hire you to continue a deceptive yet profitable façade. What do you say?”

Aureia Zon cast her eyes toward the bar-top for several heartbeats. “There is a third solution, but I do not know whether you will like it,” she said in low, even tones. “Listen closely and tell me what you think …”

* * *

“What do you mean, you didn’t write the endorsement?” demanded Belio Pharval. “Then, by the stark fist of the All-Limiter, who did?”

It was late the next afternoon. He and Prosatio Silban were seated at one of the latter’s tables-and-chairs, and Aureia Zon approached from behind the consternated cookbook author.

The cook raised placating hands. “Someone more fluently literate than I,” he replied, and gestured. “My realm is the kitchen. My colleague’s is the written word. Mistress Aureia, may I present –”

“Belio Pharval?” the scribe exclaimed.

“Aureia Zon?” cried the author, rising.

They fell into each other’s arms as Prosatio Silban gaped in disbelief. Fragmented sentences – “I thought I’d …” and “Where have you …?” and “It’s been so …” – and “So good to …” – trickled out of their jubilant tangle. Finally, the reunited lovers disengaged.

“Master Prosatio! I must –“ began Belio Pharval.

“We must –“ interrupted Aureia Zon.

“— thank you for –“

“— bringing us together –“

“— again,” finished the author. “And for such a noble purpose!”

The cook looked from one to the other, beaming. “It has been my privilege,” he said. “I suppose this means you won’t need my contribution to your cookbook after all?”

“On the contrary!” the author said. “I welcome your participation. My long-lost darling can help you capture whatever you wish to say. Right?”

“Right!” the scribe said. “There’s no reason all three of us shouldn’t become rich from this, yes?”

Prosatio Silban’s grin widened. “No reason that I can see,” he said. “No reason at all.”

(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. Enjoy!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *