You’ve read the preface. Now here’s the introduction.
ALTHOUGH NOW A FORMER SACREANT, Prosatio Silban retained a sensitivity to the more spiritual aspects of his daily routine – but since his was the life of a mercenary cook in a buopoth-drawn galleywagon, the word “routine” was not always applicable.
His days usually began the same way: arise from his sleeping-berth in his galleywagon’s rear; feed his dray-beast, Onward, a morning fatberry-cake and kind word; make small greetings to the Flickering Gods; and breakfast on a poppyhorn and large mug of hot, lightly sugared yava laced with thick cream. Because Sacreantal investiture involved an all-over depilatory bath, he would at this point affix a pair of grey mouse-fur eyebrows; though somewhat itchy, they were far more comfortable than answering probing questions about his past. Finally, he would inventory the galleywagon’s well-stocked pantry and coldbox (a waist-high, silver-edged cube of magiked glacier-ice).
Here is where Prosatio Silban’s days diverged: If they involved travel, he would hitch up Onward, climb onto the driver’s bench and be on his way; if he awoke in one of the Uulian Commonwell’s Three Cities and Thousand Villages looking forward to a hired engagement, he would proceed marketward in search of fresh ingredients and attendant consultations. But if, as often happened, he was on his own in someplace busy, he would unsling a table-and-chairs or two from the galleywagon’s undercarriage, set out a large painted menu, and prepare for hungry passers-by.
He was the Cook For Any Price, and he never turned away a customer.
And so would the day proceed with its particular delights and disasters, until brilliant stars peeped through the darkening sky. Then Prosatio Silban would secure his galleywagon and buopoth for the night, wash whatever dishes had remained unscrubbed, count his earnings, remove his artificial eyebrows, crawl into his berth, and thank the Flickering Gods for giving him another day’s usefulness.
Somewhere in there, he might also experience what he called the Golden Moment.
The Golden Moment was always and never the same – a calm, comforting, wordless sense of perfect at-onement illuminating the different circumstances through which it flowed and bringing them into a clarified and revelatory whole.
It might come from chopping potatoes or onions, as something big methodically became something small.
It might come from sautéing fidget-hen breast, watching heat and fat transformed light pink to golden brown.
Or it might even come from handing someone a plate filled with well-crafted nourishment.
A Golden Moment could not be predicted, but it tended to manifest itself in the seamless connection between Here and There, Now and Then, Self and Other. Prosatio Silban had a theory (which he kept to himself) that the Golden Moment was the true essence of existence; waiting to be discovered, but never quite absent. After all, where could it go?
One of the most memorable of these experiences, in fact the first, occurred when the cook was a lad new-arrived at Pormaris’ Diamond Shrine, under consideration for the Sacreanthood. He was swimming with a friend in the Shrine’s iridescent pool when he was overtaken by a feeling of perfect, pieceless peace. His sense of ego and individual separation vanished. Colors looked brighter, outlines sharper. Seeing the bemused look on his young face, the other boy asked him what was wrong.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Prosatio Silban said. “I just feel like I’m dreaming.”
The other began splashing him. “What are you doing?” Prosatio Silban asked in mild alarm.
“Waking you up!” cried the boy.
Just like that, the feeling vanished, leaving behind a memory tinged with sadness that it was only a memory.
Over the years, Prosatio Silban was to cherish further such memories, savoring them like flowers pressed between the pages of a holy and beloved book. They were partly responsible for his leaving the Diamond Shrine; as he got older, he couldn’t reconcile his Golden Moment encounters with Uulian religious doctrine. He still believed in the Flickering Gods, and was beyond beyond-grateful for Their patronage and kindnesses, but couldn’t shake the persistent feeling that They were as much a subordinate quality of the “pieceless peace” as he was, rather than reigning supreme as his tradition taught.
Thus he wandered the Commonwell and the Exilic Lands serving people’s bellies instead of their souls, though sometimes managing to do both. And on those rare occasions that he stumbled into oneness, he would close his eyes – and smile in thankful surrender.