Prosatio Silban and the Good Death

“SO ANSWER ME THIS QUESTION: what exactly is a ‘good death?’”

That compelling query hung in the smoky air inside Pelvhi’s Chopping-House while the conversationalists – Prosatio Silban; Primea Ultar, private chef to a wealthy Pormaris wine-merchant; the famed waiter Agra Ochan; and Pelvhi herself – pondered its answer in brow-creased silence. The hour was late, but the spacious tavern was filled with roistering hospitality-workers, each shouting to be heard above the din of everyone else’s raised voices. The clink of glasses and tableware sounded a bright counterpoint to the genial hullabaloo.

At last, Pelvhi spoke. “I don’t know that I can define it, but I can describe it, as one occurred some time ago here in this storied establishment. Let me paint for you a complete picture.

“It was a typical crowded evening, much like tonight – cooks, waitstaff, and similar folk, all gabbling away with each other about how no one understood The Profession save those blessed few who professed it.”

“A not inaccurate sentiment, by the way,” Prosatio Silban put in with a knowing nod.

“Are you or I telling the story?” Pelvhi asked with a pointed smile.

“Are you or I telling the story?” Pelvhi asked with a pointed smile.

“My apologies,” said the cook-errant, and bowed. “By all means – pray continue.”

“As I was saying, a typical evening, punctuated by raucous toasts and collegial laughter,” Pelvhi continued. “Suddenly, the door opens and in strides the noted restauranteur Paleor Ytri. ‘My good friends! Drinks are on me!’ he cries, and with a flourish of good fellowship, drops right here on the bar” – which she smacked with her palm for emphasis – “a jinglingly full coin purse. ‘By Hopmon’s good graces, I have just had the best night of my long career – and I cannot wait to tell all of you all about it!’

“I hefted his purse, shrugged, and commenced pouring. But no sooner had I filled the first glass than he clutched his chest, groaned, and fell to the floor. Despite our efforts to revive him, the stark fist of Angrim the All-Limiter prevailed, and he woke no more. A good death indeed.”

There was a relative hush, at last broken by Primea Ultar. “How is that a ‘good death?’” she asked with incredulity. “The man had a heart attack!”

“Yes,” Pelvhi replied. “But he had it in a grand mood, doing something in a place and with people he loved. One cannot ask for better. Could you?

A pause, then Agra Ochan raised his hand. “I can think of one that’s both good and bad. One of the staff in our restaurant, Bear and Wolf, had been an assembly-cook for I don’t know how long. Atro Marung was exceptional at the dutiful tending of whatever line-station would be his lot – deep- and pan-frying, greens, stews and braises, roasting, desserts – night after night, year after year. He never wavered from the high standards set by our lead chef, but he was also unsatisfied. ‘One of these days, I am going to die on this line,’ he’d often say to anyone within earshot.

“So the time passed for him, until came his long-awaited deliverance. The lead chef was retiring, and one night, after a bit of a dither, he named Atro Marung as his successor. ‘He has mastered every station here, and knows well what each requires,’ said the chef. But so overjoyed was the assembly-cook at this sudden and unexpected piece of news, that his heart failed him. We too gave our all to bring him back from Angrim’s ironic grasp, but alas! just as he foretold, indeed he did ‘die on the line.’ Not a good death as such, but one that ended a life without its desired reward.”

“Better to die with hope than in despair.”

“I don’t know,” said Prosatio Silban. “At least he lived to see his efforts bear ripe fruit, even if he couldn’t take the advantage of same. Better to die with hope than in despair.”

“True,” said Agra Ochan. “And for what it’s worth, his pyre was attended by scores of diners and restaurant workers alike, who remembered him fondly as a diligent and serious soul. So there was that.”

The others nodded, and Primea Ultar was next to take up the conversational gauntlet. “I once knew a baker named Bollio Arz,” she began. “He was as gifted as they come in all aspects of his craft – breads, biscuits, cakes, puddings, piping-work. All these flowed through his hands and from his ovens with effortless ease. Each day brought a new challenge, a new triumph, and new accolades.

“Early one morning, inspiration struck him as it never had before. For hours he labored with pains-taking detail, assembling what promised to be his masterpiece – a three-level pie composed of discrete sweet, sour, and savory elements, as well as the complex bas-relief pastry which contained them. Into the oven it went, and Bollio Arz, a necessarily patient man by nature, whiled away the long baking-time with his favorite hobby: crocheting complex and colorful potholders.

“At last came he time for opening the oven, which he did with a careful hand. It had worked! The pastry was a rich golden brown; darker highlights accenting his floury sculptures and displaying them to best effect. Bollio Arz set his creation on the counter, stepped back to admire it, and his eyes rolled back into their sockets as the All-Limiter removed his spirit. He was dead before he hit the kitchen floor.”

The convivial (if morbid) quartet was silent for an extended moment, until Prosatio Silban broke the spell. “It seems to me that there is a pattern here,” he said. “These folk all died of apparent heart failure, as opposed to, say, inescapable accidents or intentional mayhem. Can there be such a thing as a common cook’s death through unhealthy consumption of tasting too much?”

I never trust a skinny cook,” Pelvhi said. “Those who are stout, though, must evidently sample their way to culinary success before their inevitable end.”

“True,” said Agra Ochan. “But what bothers me is that this was not a good death.”

“Why and how not?” Primea Ultar asked. “He had just beheld his greatest creation, yes?”

“But he did not behold the enjoyment it brought to those who would consume it, nor their fervent and deserved praises,” countered Agra Ochan. “Without those, he may as well have not bothered.”

“Are you saying that food only matters by its eating, rather than its cooking?” Primea Ultar persisted.

“Are you saying that food only matters by its eating, rather than its cooking?” Primea Ultar persisted.

“I am saying that creativity is its own justification and reward. But I do see your point,” replied the waiter.

“I know that, for me, I must see the results of my cooking on the happy faces of those I serve,” interjected Prosatio Silban. “Without that, I feel unfulfilled.”

“And without their coin, I can scarcely fulfill my own needs,” added Pelvhi. “Speaking for myself, of course.”

“Aha!” cried the cook-errant. “That’s another topic entirely. What if …”

Thus the conversation ambled its merry and contradictory way toward no conclusion or other finality. All in all, a typical night at Pelvhi’s Chopping-House.

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