Prosatio Silban and the Evasive Death


Where am I? Prosatio Silban thought.

He tried to make his voice work, but couldn’t find or even feel his throat. In fact, his entire body seemed to be missing.

What am I?

Only silence answered; a silence so profound that he felt part of it, that he was it.

Am I?

He had no answer to that question, nor to the next one.

“He is dead.” A man’s voice, with simple finality.

“What happened?” A woman’s voice, shaded by concern.

“He is dead.” A man’s voice, with simple finality.

No! I am not!

“No, he is not.” Another woman’s voice, rich with calm competence. “Give him some air, everyone.”

By degrees, Prosatio Silban could feel his hands, his feet, his back. His head was pillowed by something soft.

“By Omriol, Dispenser of the Unexpected Benefit!” The first man, wonderstruck.

Sensations continued to filter into his consciousness: whispers of worried conversation, the texture of hay-strewn stone beneath his fingers, the smell of cooking meat, the taste of blood, a fading pain in his gut. He became aware of his eyes, opened them.

He was lying on his back in the middle of a retreating ring of anxious faces. He tried to clear his throat, found he could, and spoke the words appropriate to the circumstance.

“What. Happened?”

A youngish woman with an obliging face – a Sacreant, judging by her bare scalp and Rainbow Robe – smiled down at him. “You were dead,” she said. “And now you are not.”


“Yes. You are in the Soharis vegetable-market. An ox gored you, but thanks to Galien the All-Mother, you were drawn back from the clutches of Angrim the All-Limiter’s stark fist. For now, rest. You should be able to stand in a few moments.”

Prosatio Silban ran his hands down his body, felt a jagged wet hole in his cotton tunic – his second-favorite tunic! – and drew up his arms, elbows resting on the flagstone pavement. He sat up, surprised to feel no ill effect, and tried to stand. Dizzy nausea swept through him, and he sat back down.

“You do not understand,” the Sacreant said gently. “You were dead. You must give yourself time to heal.”

“But I have an evening engagement,” Prosatio Silban said, casting a gloomy glance at his scattered groceries. “I am the Cook For Any Price, and today’s price has been met by … by … ah … let me think …”

“You see? You need time, both to heal and to reorient yourself. The onion-seller knows your client, and we have sent a porter-boy to inform him of your accident. I am certain that if you –”

“No! You do not understand. In more than a quarter-century, I have never failed to honor a contract. And I will not do so now. Help me up.”

“That would be unwise.”

“Unwise or no, it is my will. Now – help me up!”

“Unwise or no, it is my will. Now – help me up!”

Shaking her head, the Sacreant encircled the beefy cook’s upper torso with one strong arm and heaved. The dizzy nausea returned, and Prosatio Silban looked at his savior with sheepish eyes. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said with resignation. “Perhaps I will lay here, for just a moment…or three…”

* * *

The Cook For Any Price examined his plump belly in the galleywagon’s mirror. I can barely see the wound, he thought, but I know it’s there. Or was. I will need a new tunic, although I could keep the damaged one as a reminder of today’s incident…

He shuddered. On second thought, perhaps it’s best left unremembered.

Prosatio Silban bent, opened one of the drawers beneath his sleeping-berth, withdrew a clean blue tunic, and pulled it over his head. I do resent that Sacreant’s telling my client that I wouldn’t be able to work. That should be my decision. He frowned at himself. On the other hand, I suppose I’d rather be alive with no contract than dead with one. But what am I without my livelihood? I suppose there’s no harm in dropping by Sir Bileo’s kitchen to lend a hand…is there?

He closed his eyes to think.

Someone shouted, “Make way! Make wide way!”

The thundering hooves.

The approaching ox.

The pounding heartbeat.

The impacting horn.

The toppling into darkness.

He opened his eyes, gasping. It seemed so real – as though he were back where and when it happened instead of safe within his galleywagon. He ran a shaking hand across his forehead; it came away wet.

What was that? he thought. Do soldiers have the same reaction after they’ve been in battle? Or does anyone anywhere, having had a brush with…with … by the All-Mother. I can’t even say the word.

He sat down on the berth’s edge and tried to quell his sobs.

* * *

The next day dawned as did most in many-harbored Soharis – cool, breezy, fog-damp.

The next day dawned as did most in many-harbored Soharis – cool, breezy, fog-damp. Prosatio Silban slid the painted menu board out from his galleywagon’s undercarriage, set it up, then did the same with two tables-and-chairs. Business should help me take my mind off of what happened, he thought. At least, for as long as any customers may indulge me.

He struck his usual pose next to the menu – arms akimbo, open-faced hospitality – and scanned the morning parade. A number of folk were starting to fill the market-street; a vendor of hot tea, a governess leading two unruly children, a handful of house-wives looking for the best bargains. And a brace of oxen, drawing a double-axle mason’s-cart.

Heart pounding. Brow sweating. Fists balling.

Did I just whimper? Prosatio Silban thought, placing a steadying hand on one of the galleywagon’s chest-high wheels. Please, O my gods, please – don’t let me topple into darkness again.

“Master Cook? Are you serving breakfast?” A young woman, expression bright with polite and professional interest.

He replied with his standard greeting. “With what may I please you?”

She sat down, eyes on the menu board. “Let me see…marbled eggs, bean-bread toast, thick bacon, and a hot mug of cream-laced yava. Will it be long?”

He forced a smile. “Not at all. I shall return presently.”

Inside the galleywagon, he placed into the warming oven two slices of bean-bread, then dropped a small knob of butter into an empty skillet and lit the burner beneath it. He reached overhead for a sweetbark-smoked pork-belly, lifted it down to the chopping-counter and commenced cutting rashers.

After a moment, he stopped.

Something about the sound of the slicing blade made him uneasy – wasn’t it the same sound the ox’s horn made when it penetrated … ? He set down the knife, shook his head – I have got to get hold of myself! – and gazed heavenward.

“O Galien, Bestower of Life and Consort of Angrim, Lord of Time; hear my plea and grant my boon,” he murmured. “You saved my life when all seemed lost, and I am beyond beyond-grateful to You for this and for Your other myriad kindnesses. Please, I beg: Comfort my spirit. Ease my heart. Soothe my soul, that I may continue to serve You in Your world and in Your way. Make me a worthy vessel of Your will, and I shall relate in full Your benevolence whenever I tell this tale of Your deliverance. This I affirm.”

He waited, but there came no mood-shift as often happened after prayer: no lightening of temperament, no calming of emotion. All he felt was an agitated emptiness. He sighed, almost moaning.

Perhaps some spirituous duliac will suffice, he thought, uncorking a small round bottle. He selected a small glass from the servingware-closet and poured it brimful of clear sapphire liquid. He raised it to his lips and inhaled its clean sharp scent.

WHAT am I DOING? he exclaimed silently. His hands shook as he emptied the glass into the sink. That is a road down which I wish not to go. I have too many responsibilities, too many customers to serve … my customer!

He looked through the galleywagon’s open doorway, but she was gone. Heaving another ragged sigh, he dropped his head into his hands.

I need help. And soon. I can’t go on in this way.

* * *

“It is as though some malign force is dogging my steps and constraining me from my usual happiness.”

“So you see,” Prosatio Silban was saying, “I am trying to forget what happened in the marketplace. But despite great effort, I cannot. It is as though some malign force is dogging my steps and constraining me from my usual happiness.”

“Quite right,” said the Sacreant who had helped save his life. “In a sense, it is.”

They were sitting in padded leather chairs in one of the many anterooms in Soharis’ Fane-on-the-Rimless-Sea, the local temple of the Flickering Gods and their hairless and rainbow-wrapped servitors. On the walls hung tall tapestries depicting sacred historical scenes; from elsewhere in the Fane came the sound of rhythmic chanting.

“What do you mean?” the cook asked.

She looked at him with serious eyes. “You have suffered a traumatic event. It is not unusual for one to feel as you do. You have had a great and painful experience, and will take time to heal.”

“How long?”


“I cannot wait that long. How if I exert myself?”

“Perhaps weeks.”

“And with greater exertion?”

“Then it will likely take months.”

“Bosh!” Prosatio Silban said with disgust, and fell back in his chair.

“You must understand,” said the Sacreant in a sympathetic tone, “that this is not an easy process. You did well in deciding not to numb yourself with the duliac, for if you had, your healing might take years. One cannot heal without feeling. It is a difficult process, one leading not to happiness so much as to joy. The end result will be for you to integrate this experience into your daily awareness without being any more frightened by it.”

The cook turned to her a mournful gaze. “What must I do?” he asked.

* * *

There is something both calming and invigorating about a steady drumbeat, and especially so for the drummer.

Eyes closed, Prosatio Silban risked a smile. So soothing, he reflected, then pushed that thought aside to listen more fully to the Sacreant’s voice while his hands kept tapping the rhythm.

“As we have been doing throughout these extended exercises, picture a safe, comfortable place that you well know,” she said. “Be within it until you can visualize it completely.”

With his inner vision, the cook saw his galleywagon’s chopping-counter: waist-high, sturdy grey oak scored by years of use. Bit by bit the view expanded to take in the small window over the counter, the servingware-closet, sink, and six-burner fatberry-oil stove; behind him was the silver-edged, translucent coldbox and oaken pantry. Overhead was a happy tangle of pots, pans, and slow-curing meats and cheeses. A mélange of cooking smells filled his mind’s nose.

“I am here,” he whispered. “I am in the most secure place I know.”

“I am here,” he whispered. “I am in the most secure place I know.”

“Good, good,” said the Sacreant. “Now let us add to that the holy presence of Galien, Lady of Life; Tuanal, God of Subsequent Calm; and Hegwain, Patroness of Affordable Cures. They are all here with you, manifesting from the Pure City and imbuing you with protective force.”

The inward scene began to glow with warm golden light. Prosatio Silban risked another smile as he imagined three deific and attentive faces beaming at him.

“It is alright to smile,” said the Sacreant. “Do you feel the gods’ presence?”

“That is why I am smiling,” Prosatio Silban said. “They are with me, and I am with them.”

“Good. Nothing can hurt you.”

“Nothing can hurt me.”

“You are wrapped in a protective aura.”

“I am wrapped in a protective aura.”

“The gods are watching over you.”

“The gods are watching over me.”

“Keep the rhythm steady.”

Prosatio Silban complied, beating softly with both hands on the oubaq-skin drum.

“Now. From wherever you are, look outside.”

His thought-self peered out the window over the chopping-counter.

“What do you see?”

“A crowd of people, queuing up for breakfast.”


“I am seeing potential customers from inside my galleywagon.”

“Ah. Do you see the street?”


“Now let us introduce the fear-spirit.”

“Now let us introduce the fear-spirit.”

A knot formed in Prosatio Silban’s vitals. “Fear-spirit?”

“Yes. The gods are keeping you perfectly safe, warm and content. Here comes an ox down the street. But the gods will not let the fear-spirit harm you. How do you feel?”

His heart quickened in rhythm with the drum. “Stimulated,” he said. “My heart is pounding.”

“Feel that emotion in its fullness. Do not hide from it. Do not move away.”

His forehead became moist, his hands clammy. But he maintained the drumbeat.

“Remember,” she said. “You are in your safe place. The gods are keeping you from harm. Nothing will hurt you. Nothing can hurt you. No fear-spirit can stand against a godsly triad. Feel the fear and keep the rhythm.”

He took a deep breath, sighed it out. His heartbeat slowed. The sweat dried on his hands and forehead, and he smiled in earnest.

“It is only a memory. It cannot harm you,” she said. “It has become a part of you. You may and must live with this now. The question is, how?”

* * *

Whistling a tuneless melody, Prosatio Silban deployed his painted menu-board, then did the same with two tables-and-chairs. A brisk business today, he thought. Or so I hope.

He stood by the board in his customary posture, hands on hips and open-faced. The market-street was beginning to fill up with morning passersby – a woman with child here, a browsing house-chef there, liveried servants elsewhere, and a porter leading a large ox.

The cook’s eyes took it all in, and he sighed with joy. What a beautiful animal, he thought.

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

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