Prosatio Silban and the Curious Artifact

MISTAKEN IDENTITY AND MISTAKEN IDENTIFICATION are two entirely different things – but both have the potential to spark unintended consequents.

Prosatio Silban was driving his galleywagon along one of the Uulian Commonwell’s little-known and lesser-used roads, though not far from the city of epicurean Pormaris. The day was as beautiful as one could wish: sunny but comfortable, with the sort of tumbling clouds that beg to be serenely watched by hillside-spread picnickers. The mercenary cook and his quaint lumbering dray-beast, Onward, were making good time (for traveling in no particular direction), when their eyes were caught by a sharp red glint just ahead.

Onward hooted, with alarm as much as curiosity. “Easy, boy,” Prosatio Silban told the restive animal. He reined his companion to a halt and hopped down from the driver’s bench for a closer look. “What is it?”

“It” was half-buried in the muddy roadside ditch.

“It” was half-buried in the muddy roadside ditch. A souvenir of this glorious day, at least? the cook thought. He dug it out with some effort and inspected his find.

The object was unexpectedly light and about the size and shape of a shallow serving bowl, but with a two-handspan-long spike projecting from the center of its concavity. Both bowl and spike were composed of some burnished white metal; the bowl’s bottom was mounted on a large, five-sided box of the same material. Colorful jewels on the box’s sides and one at the spike’s tip gave the whole a faux-elegant, almost vulgar look.

By Ghu the All-Crafter – what could this possibly be? Prosatio Silban thought. Ah, well – whatever else it is, it’s now mine.

* * *

A month later, and after a thorough cleaning, the beefy cook had at last found a use for the whatever-else-it-was.

“Where did you find such an…unusual oyster tray?” asked a well-dressed woman. “I have never seen the like.”

The woman was one of some two-dozen guests milling about the capacious dining room of Sir Neptero Dyarr, a lately wealthy if boorish gem dealer who had made his new home in one of Pormaris’ more posh sections. Tonight was his birthday buffet, and Prosatio Silban had been hired to mark the occasion with something appropriate and inexpensive. The cook had called upon his most creative skills to craft various small plates and finger foods; the ice-packed “oyster tray” – and several other various comestible displays – were being proffered by wandering, black-clad waitrons.

“I cannot say for certain,” Prosatio Silban demurred. “It is just one of those things one acquires over the course of a quarter-century’s travels in and around the Commonwell. But it holds the cold wonderfully, so there it is.”

“I am very struck by the decorative base,” said a heavy-set man. “What sort of jewels do you suppose these are?”

“I’m more innarested in the oysters,” interrupted Sir Neptero in a thick, drink-lubricated voice. “Those jewels look fake to me. Y’should use better quality things, Mas’r Cook. ‘Specially on my birthday! But the oysters are real enough!” He seized the shucked mollusks, knocking the tray from the waitron’s grasp and onto the tessellated parquet floor.

At that point, events took an odd turn.

At that point, events took an odd turn.

The spiked serving-dish landed on its boxy base, and emitted a sound like furious hornets; its jewels lit up at random as an all-surrounding, up-register hum slid from deep bass to high treble. With a dazzling flash, a woman materialized in the room’s center. She was of medium height with short, bristly white hair and large, wide-set grey eyes. Her slim build was clothed in a tight-fitting silver garment with gold boots and a clunky ornamented belt.

“Tanis rem ezri zhazh qapla?” she sang in a rich soprano. Receiving no reply, she paused, shook her head, and manipulated her belt buckle. She repeated her question, but this time the buckle addressed the company in perfect Uulian: “Where am I – and who are all of you?”

No one answered. Some of the guests had fled the room when the box started buzzing, and those remaining were silent with bewilderment. Prosatio Silban, himself no stranger to strangeness, raised placating hands toward the woman. “We are no threat to you,” he said in a measured tone. “We only wish to talk.”

The visitor cocked her head at the cook and tapped her left ear, suspicion clouding her eyes. Sir Neptero spoke up. “A beau’ful woman,” he said, grabbing her arm. “I’s my birthday! Give us a kiss.”

In one fluid motion, the woman drew a small black tube from her belt and pointed it at her assailant. A red light lanced out and struck him square in his chest; with the faintest of crackles, he disappeared. All that remained were two footprints burned into the parquet.

The woman replaced her weapon, hefted the flickering contraption, and fingered its base. Again came the rising hum and blinding flash. But when the sparks cleared this time, the woman had vanished, along with her curious artifact.

Silence filled the room, but not for long. The guests began an excited babble – “Did you see that?” “What do you suppose…?” “That was magik! real magik!” “Where did they go?” – which soon turned to an ominous murmur in the cook’s direction.

Prosatio Silban surveyed the crowd’s uncongenial eyes with mild apprehension.

Prosatio Silban surveyed the crowd’s uncongenial eyes with mild apprehension. How do I get myself into these circumstances? he thought. More to the point – how can I get out of this one?

* * *

Alone and bundled against Pormaris’ night-chill, Prosatio Silban strode with dark ponderings through the empty streets to his waiting galleywagon, which was parked in the great island-city’s chief marketplace. Poor Sir Neptero, he thought. I cannot believe my eyes. But I cannot blame the woman.

The cook mounted the three galleywagon steps, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. He sighed, lit a fatberry-oil lamp – and caught his breath.

Standing next to the oyster-tray on the ornate braided rug was the woman who had ruined Sir Neptero’s party. She was gazing at Prosatio Silban with an inscrutable expression.

“Do not be … afraid,” her belt buckle said. “I am not here … to harm you.”

“Why are you here?” the cook asked. “And how did you get in?”

She indicated the machine at her feet, its jewels still blinking at random. “It is a … tool, one which enables the swift passage through … separations. It was lost, and I was … tasked with its recovery. However, I did not expect to be mistreated … and so acted by reflex.”

Prosatio Silban bowed. “Your ‘reflex’ was not without cause. It was a tragic reaction, but understandable. At least by me.”

The woman returned his bow. “You tried with grace to … speak with me, which is why … I am here now. What did you … wish to say?”

“Are you an enchantress?”

A low beep sounded.

“My translator does not know … that word,” she said. “I am a … traveler.”

“From where?”

“No place you might … recognize. It is both far and … not far.”

“Do you always speak in riddles?”

“I am telling … the truth as you would … understand it.”

“Where is Sir Neptero?”

Another beep. The woman raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“The man who assaulted you,” Prosatio Silban clarified. “Where is he?”

“The man who assaulted you,” Prosatio Silban clarified. “Where is he?”


“Did he deserve to be, well, ‘gone?’ He made a mistake!”

“One he … should not have … made.”

“I agree. But he is an otherwise good man. The spirits in his glass went to his head, and he did a foolish thing.”

“On that … we agree. In my … world, such … foolishness … is a crime.”

“It is a crime here as well. But not one punished by death!”

“He is not … dead.”

“Where did he go?”

“Where he … belongs.”

“Can he return?”

A pause, then:


Prosatio Silban lowered his eyes and sighed.

“And now,” said his visitor’s belt buckle, “I … must go to where I … belong.”

Lifting her flashing device with one hand, she extended the other toward the perplexed cook. It held a gem-topped black box, which he received with trepidation.

“Kindness for … kindness. In case you should … wish to talk … again.” She smiled, then fingered her device.

After the sparks had dimmed, Prosatio Silban examined the woman’s gift. The box was hand-sized, as heavy as a gold coin, and its gem looked like a dull ruby.

But somehow, he knew it wasn’t.

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

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