Prosatio Silban and the Great Wasting

SENSITIVE SOULS BEWARE: ALTHOUGH MOST of Prosatio Silban’s adventures are whimsically lighthearted, this is not one of them.

We find the once-beefy cook in his galleywagon at the side of a lately untraveled road, stirring the rather malodorous contents of a small saucepan. He purses his lips as he lowers a pair of tongs into the pot, then lifts with them a steaming, dripping – and empty – leather coin pouch.

Lunch, he thought. And not much of one either. But as the locusts have taken everything else, we must make do however we can.

He was not alone in contemplating a desperate meal. But he was one of the lucky ones who could.

Over the past month, locusts had eaten almost every crop wild and domestic in the Three Cities and Thousand Villages of the Uulian Commonwell, including provender for the Commonwell’s vast array of draft- and food-animals. Even the between-settlements foliage was gone: stark denuded trees; clean-picked shrubbery; and once-lush but now bare-dirt fields extended in every direction. Only the ubiquitous and fruit-thick fatberry bushes were left untouched. In addition to yielding a cheap and plentiful source of fuel, these were also the preferred fare of the cook’s own dray-beast – a quaint and lumbering buopoth named Onward – and inedible by anyone or anything else. I can go anywhere and cook anything, he thought. But where? and for the Flickering Gods’ sake, what?

Onward’s rattling hoot startled the cook out of his grim reverie…

Onward’s rattling hoot startled the cook out of his grim reverie; he set the pouch back into the saucepan and extinguished the low fatberry-oil flame beneath it. “My apologies!” he exclaimed, exiting the galleywagon. He dipped into the jute sack beneath the driver’s bench to produce the last two fragrant maroon fatberry-cakes. These he offered to his hungry friend, first telling him what a good buopoth he was. “Forgive me,” he said. “I was distracted by my own hunger. We have survived much together, and we shall survive even this as well.” Or so I hope, he thought.

Prosatio Silban glanced back toward the pouch-poaching saucepan, and his throat choked with revulsion and sorrow. I can’t. I just can’t, he thought. Better to let him eat, then get back on this road to nowhere and find some fatberry bushes for his dinner. He sighed a long, agonized sigh, and waited for Onward to finish eating.

Soon the pair were traveling again, at a slow pace, the cook lost in a misery accented by the pangs of his empty belly. The cries of the omnipresent circling carrion-birds didn’t help his mood either. I remember a time when these harsh-voiced harbingers were scarce, he thought. If only we could eat them… But I suppose that would be akin to a sailor dining on shark meat. Better not to tempt the all-seeing gods with such poetically just provisions.

A bit further along the road, and the source of the birds’ incessant orbit became apparent. I wonder from where these ill-met folk walked, in fruitless search of what to eat, Prosatio Silban mused, closing his nostrils against the putrid air. Poor folk. Poor all-of-us. Poor…hello. Who’s this?

A lone figure ahead was trudging in the same direction as he. Tall, clad in a hooded grey robe and carrying a shepherd’s crook, and appearing unaware of the galleywagon about to overtake it.

“Hail, traveler,” the cook called with all the volume his dry voice could muster. The figure turned, disclosing a gaunt-faced woman with deep-set, piercing eyes and a formidable nose. She lowered the hood and addressed the cook in a tone of ringing authority.

“Have you heard the word of the Flickering Gods?” she demanded.

“Have you heard the word of the Flickering Gods?” she demanded.

Oh, no, Prosatio Silban thought. Aloud, he said, “I have heard a word, yes. But I do not know if it is the same word you are no doubt about to tell me.”

Her eyes flashed. “The word is this, my brother: Atone! The gods are displeased with us. That is why They sent this locust-fashioned famine – to get our attention, that we may return to the path that the six-hundred-thirteen Flickering Gods have marked out for us. This crisis will endure until we shift our life-ways and repent. Their love is in abeyance until then.”

“I had not heard of any of the gods behaving so boorishly,” he replied. “We must not presume to know the Flickering Gods as They know Themselves, or to speak for Them when it suits our – ”

“You do not understand. The way is clear. It has been revealed to me. And I am on my way to decadent, epicurean Pormaris in order to begin revealing it to the Commonwell. You have been chosen to aid my mission – by driving me thither.”

Prosatio Silban shrugged. In these dire days, I suppose any company is better than none, he thought, and forced a feeble smile. “Climb up here with me,” he said, patting the wide driver’s bench. “We might as well go there together.”

* * *

Before travelling by ferry to Pormaris from the port-village of Ruins-Across-the-Water, the great island-city’s visitors were usually stopped by chainmailed guards and asked their business and intent. But now, scarce prospective passengers – in this case, the cook and the would-be prophetess – were greeted by a brooding and emaciated ferryman.

“Fare is five in copper,” he declared in a dead voice. “One apiece for you both, one for your beast, and two for your double-axle…what sort of vehicle is this?”

“A galleywagon,” Prosatio Silban said. “I am the Cook For Any Price.”

The ferryman forced a laugh. “Business slow these days?”

The ferryman forced a laugh. “Business slow these days?”


As they were pulled in subsequent silence across the southern reach of turbulent Teardrop Lake, surrounded at distance by barren grey hillsides, the cook frowned at the sprawling city’s famine-wrought change. In former times, Pormaris’ golden domes and tall spires would have been festive with pennants and partly shrouded by smoke from hundreds of cooking-fires. Aromas sweet, savory and nameless would tickle arriving nostrils, and the low buzz of human activity – bright song, lusty conversation, and light industry, punctuated by cries from the markets’ leather-lunged hawkers – would fill the ears with a happy and welcoming din.

However, the only smell on this afternoon’s air was corruption and decay; the only smoke came from greedy dockside funeral-pyres; and the only sound was the low, whistling wind-sweep. How fallen is the mighty, Prosatio Silban quoted to himself as the ferryman made fast his craft’s mooring-lines. I never thought to see proud Pormaris humbled like this. And I hope I never do again.

The cook flicked the plaited yak-hair reins and the galleywagon lurched forward onto the cityside landing. Everywhere was death, ruin, and corpse-smoke. As they entered the wide-renowned South Market, they were met by a scattered mob of scraggy inhabitants.

“Halt your wagon,” the prophetess said. Prosatio Silban pulled back on the reins, and his passenger stood up on the driver’s bench.

“Citizens of Pormaris, hear me!” she declaimed. “You have forsaken the Flickering Gods. And in turn, They have forsaken us. This is why They have sent the locust-plague – to call you to atone for abandoning Them. You must re-ignite the altar-flames and return your hearts anew to following Them.”

“And what shall we offer on those altars?” a bent old man retorted. “We have no food fit for god, or even man!”

“Do you mock me?” the prophetess asked. “In the face of so much sorrow and lamentation, do you dare to mock the gods who gave you life – and then removed that life for your sins?”

“I am all that is left of my family. And I wish I could have died before they did, so as not to look upon their last breath,” jeered a middle-aged woman. “You are the one who is mocking us – not otherwise!”

“You must atone! Now! Today! Admit your misdeeds – confess and correct them!”

The prophetess continued her exhortations. “You must atone! Now! Today! Admit your misdeeds – confess and correct them!”

“We have done nothing to deserve this fate!” cried a skeletal young man. “Are you saying the Flickering Gods are this cruel? That they are punishing us for some unknown and undone misdeed? Begone with you!”

“Yes, begone!” “Now!” “Go! Or we will drive you out!” others shouted. Some began to gather and heft fist-sized stones.

At this point, Prosatio Silban rose, spreading his arms above his head. “Wait! Good people, wait! I have something else to say!”

“Why should we listen to you?” “Who are you?” “Are you her accomplice?”

“I am simply a man. Please! Hear me.”

With slow hesitancy, the crowd ceased collecting stones and listened with unwelcome expressions.

“I have just this to say: the Flickering Gods have not abandoned us. And neither have we abandoned Them. It is difficult to see Them through our tears and our hunger, but They do not live only in the Pure City of the Before-and-Afterlife. They live in our small kindnesses and honest dealings. In compassionate touches and sympathetic smiles. And, most of all, They live in our knowing and understanding silences.

“Offerings are important; not as an end in itself, but as a lens, to focus our hearts so we can perceive Their handprints. But They are only waiting for us to speak, to see, to hear. To be. And that is the type of atonement which They require. Let us pray together. What have we to lose? Will you join with me? Will you?”

Taken aback, first one and then another of the broken-eyed throng complied with Prosatio Silban’s request, bowing their heads and taking each other’s hands. The prophetess cast the cook a disbelieving glance, but she too followed suit and grasped his hand in hers. When the moment was right, he raised his voice and began.

“O You Who pass in and out of our senses: Galien, the Mother of Life; Angrim, Lord of Time; Bohoran, Giver of Strength Where None is Felt; Aarein, Goddess of Humble Propriety; Rytram, God of Semantic Invention; and all the hundreds of Your eternal and benevolent panoply: give voice to my plea and an ear to my prayer. We stand before You guilty of no crime, committers of no trespass – but merely to express our gratitude and wonder toward all You have given us. We know that nothing can transpire without Your direction and consent. So too, it is Your will for us to know You and appreciate Your handiwork.

“Please: Aid us. Give us the strength to endure. Help us find the courage to withstand this trial and to do Your work, in Your world, in Your way. We but ask to become worthy of Your attentions in this, the most interesting of all possible worlds. Assist us in becoming more than we are, in all ways and places. Let us rise to that challenge, and we will speak Your names with honor and affection. This we affirm.”

“This we affirm,” came the crowd’s hushed response.

“This we affirm,” came the crowd’s hushed response.

There was silence for some heartbeats, save the soft whisper of the chill wind.

“Thank you for your words,” said the bent old man. “They ring true.”

“For me as well,” said a thin young woman.

One by one, the assembled downcasts murmured various degrees of assent. “And I.” “Also me.” “I still hunger, but my spirit…feels lighter.” “Can prayer have such efficacy?”

“I do not know,” said the cook. “But I believe camaraderie can.”

Last of all spoke the prophetess. “I owe you a debt of gratitude,” she said, averting her eyes. “Perhaps this was not my mission after all.”

Prosatio Silban bowed. “Who is to say? After all, were it not for you, these people would not have gathered. That is the real miracle – that we came together as one. And now” – here he sat down on the driver’s bench – “if you will excuse me, I must return to the mainland.”

“So soon?” she asked. “Why?”

“I must see to my buopoth’s provender,” he replied. “Fatberry bushes do not grow in Pormaris.”

“Well. May Elindra, Goddess of Equitable Denouements, guide you.”

“Thank you.” He flicked the galleywagon’s reins and made for the ferry-dock, whistling a tuneless melody.

Meanwhile, far across the lake, the grey hills were perceptibly shading a pale green…

(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!)

2 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Great Wasting

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2021.08.27 at 2120

    Is this to be continued?

    • 2021.08.28 at 2023

      Nope. I am working on a three-parter, though, but I’m also “working on” about 60 other stories at the present moment, so …

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