Prosatio Silban and the Consequential Light

THERE IS A REASON THAT the expression “take care with your wishes” is such a widespread cliché.

It was a fine spring day, mixing an unbroken vault of blue, the alluring scent of sun-warmed fragrantia, and magah-birds crooning sprightly refrains from the branches of occasional latticewood trees. Prosatio Silban tugged at the plaited yak-hair reins, brought his dray-beast and galleywagon to a gentle halt, and whistled in wonder.

They had emerged from the trees into a broad lawn encircling a tall white dome set atop a gentle rise. The dome seemed to be missing a vertical section, but from his perspective, the cook-errant couldn’t see what lay within the darkened cavity. A slight, elderly man sat motionless on the building’s doorstep, garbed in a sage’s modest black robes and flat-cap; a grey bandage covered his eyes. As Prosatio Silban descended from the driver’s bench, the man raised his head.

“Who is there, please?” he asked.

“I am Prosatio Silban, The Cook For Any Price. And yourself?”

The man coughed, then turned it into a dry chuckle. “It has been so long since I have used my name within the company of humanity that I have all but forgotten it. But I am Vesto Slipher. You may call me the Blind Astronomer.”

“What is an ‘astronomer?’” Prosatio Silban asked.

“What is an ‘astronomer?’” Prosatio Silban asked.

“One who examines the starry heavens in hopes of discovering their secrets,” came the reply.

“And what secrets have you discovered?”

“Aha. That is a tale worth telling – and, I am told, worth hearing. Would you like to so do?”

Prosatio Silban seated himself on the doorstep. “Very much,” he said with an audible smile. “But first, I must ask when and why you began such an endeavor. It seems an odd career for one sightless.”

“I was not always as you see me,” Vesto Slipher said with a soft sigh. “With former eyes, I witnessed such marvels as possess an unsurpassed beauty, one hard put to describe in words. I have spent most of my long life in their seeking.”

“Yes, but how?” the cook persisted. “When I look overhead, all I see are the three moons, and – if I’m lucky – a sower’s bright hand-cast of shimmering sparks.”

“Let me enlighten you, then,” said the astronomer, and rose. Grasping a thin bamboo cane, he turned about and tapped his way through the open doorway.

Inside was cool and quiet, lit by sunlight through the dome’s missing section. The room was lined with concave shelves bearing books, scrolls, charts, and various glass-and-metal contrivances whose purpose Prosatio Silban could only guess. The circular interior was otherwise dominated by a long, fork-mounted tube whose upper end pointed diagonally to the open sky. Beneath its bifurcated lower end squatted a comfortable-looking chair.

“This is what I call my ‘far-looker,’” Vesto Slipher declared in a proud voice, patting the tube. “With it I have made many discoveries, and alas! also met my downfall.”

Prosatio Silban whistled again. “How does it work?” he asked.

“By a series of lenses, such as used by those whose eyesight needs mending. Light enters that at the top of the tube, and is conducted down to these two parallel lenses. I originally had constructed it with one, but through pains-taking empirical research, discovered that my eyes felt less strained with two. In addition, I could see greater detail on the objects of my examinations.”

“And like others possessed by their own indomitable convictions, that arrogance led to my ruin.”

“Which were?”

“Oh!” Vesto Slipher spread his arms, and his voice became animated. “I have spent many happy starlit hours studying all three moons – great, blue-white Evyhr; smaller, greenlit Anod; and the never-setting and baleful ‘Eye.’ Winking stars of all colors: singly, paired, and arranged in clusters. Ringed and mottled orbs, whose slow dance draws them inexorably against the stellar background. Spirals, curtains, and rings of light. In short, I explored all the vast overarching dreamscape of the Flickering Gods.

“However, as my inquisitiveness and familiarity grew, so did my arrogance. For many folk, a night under the distant yet intimate stars evokes humility and awe. But from the seat beneath my far-looker, I felt increasingly as though I alone laid claim to the cosmos. I believed that nothing could be beyond my reach, that there was nothing I could not behold. And like others possessed by their own indomitable convictions, that arrogance led to my ruin.”

Vesto Slipher paused. Prosatio Silban opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and the astronomer rewove the yarn of conversation with a sweep of his hand.

“I recorded in these scrolls all that I observed, and through my review, perceived that there was one celestial target I had not yet conquered. I had come to believe that our sun was but one of many filling our universe, like any other I had observed from afar, and could not resist the opportunity to study it closer at hand. I thought, ‘What would be the harm?’ Thus, consumed by pride and curiosity, I turned my equipment-fortified eyes thither to embrace the sun.”

He touched his eye-bandage with one trembling hand and lowered his head. “Well. I still have curiosity, though no longer the pride,” he murmured. “That latter has been literally burnt out of me.”

Once again the silence stretched into discomfiture, and once again Prosatio Silban opened his mouth to offer an expression or two of sympathy. But as before, Vesto Slipher beat him to the final word.

“That is my tale,” the hapless astronomer concluded. “Let my life be a warning to those whose conceit would have them grapple with matters that cannot be mastered.”

2 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Consequential Light

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2023.02.24 at 0045

    “Audible smile.” I like that.

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