You’ve read the preface. Now here’s the introduction.
ALTHOUGH A SELF-DEFROCKED SACREANT, Prosatio Silban retained a sensitivity to the more spiritual aspects of his daily routine — but since his was the life of a traveling cook in a buopoth-drawn galleywagon, “routine” was only partially applicable.
His days usually began the same way: arise from his bunk in the galleywagon’s rear; feed his buopoth, Onward, a morning fatberry-cake; make small greetings to the Flickering Gods; and breakfast on a poppyhorn and large mug of hot, lightly sugared yava laced with thick cream.
Next, he would inventory the galleywagon’s generally well-stocked pantry and coldbox (the latter 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 into the driver’s seat and be on his way; if he awoke in one of the Three Cities and Thousand Villages of the Uulian Commonwell looking forward to a hired engagement, he would pat the quaint dray-beast’s flank, tell it what a good buopoth it was, and proceed marketward in search of ingredients and attendant consultations. But if, as often happened, he was on his own in someplace busy, he would unsling a table-and-chairs from the galleywagon’s undercarriage, set out a large painted menu board, 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, crawl into his bunk, and thank the Flickering Gods for giving him another day.
Somewhere in there, he might occasionally 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 some things small.
It might come from sauteeing fidget-hen breast, as heat and fat transformed light pink to golden brown.
Or it might more simply come from handing someone a plate filled with well-crafted nourishment.
A Golden Moment could not be predicted. 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 patiently to be discovered, never entirely 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 newly arrived at the Commonwell’s Diamond Temple, under consideration for the Sacreanthood. He was swimming in the shrine’s iridescent pool with a friend when he was overtaken by a sense that everything he saw fit together into one pieceless puzzle. A deep stillness suffused his spirit. Colors looked brighter, outlines sharper. Seeing the bemused look on his young face, the other boy asked him what was wrong.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he 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 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 partially responsible for his leaving the Temple; 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 deeply grateful for their patronage and kindnesses, but couldn’t shake the persistent feeling that they were as much a subordinate part of the “pieceless puzzle” as himself, rather than reigning supreme as his tradition taught.
Thus he wandered the Commonwell and the surrounding 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 briefly – and smile in thankful surrender.