SMALL KINDNESSES CAN OVERCOME GREAT cruelties, as Prosatio Silban discovered one day to his everlasting pleasure.
The circumstances began with the beefy cook reflecting on yet another boisterous morning crowd surrounding his painted menu-board in the Itinerants’ Quarter of Pormaris’ famous South Marketplace. If only there were some way to serve my clientele without their jostling each other for primacy, he thought. I am grateful for their coin – but my board, and seating, is not up to their numbers.
Natheless, he survived the brisk, six-patrons-at-a-time breakfast service with his trademark aplomb.
Natheless, he survived the brisk, six-patrons-at-a-time breakfast service with his trademark aplomb. He had just finished the morning’s washing-up when a well-dressed man and rags-clad adolescent appeared at the menu-board. The man ran a cursory eye over the listed offerings, nudged the boy with a wicked-looking, belt-hung quirt, and broke into a toothy smile as the cook-errant approached.
“With what may I please you both?” Prosatio Silban asked.
“It’s not how you can please me, but rather how I can please you,” came the man’s reply. “I am Aufsetto Ab’dik, late of toilsome Tirinbar, and I am an imprinter by profession. This” – the boy flinched – “is my apprentice.”
“It is good to meet you both. An imprinter, hey? In woodcut? Or movable-type?”
“Neither. I employ a device of my own invention, one which I have not immodestly named after myself – ‘Ab’dik’s Amazing Replicator’ – and I would like to offer to you my services.”
“What makes you think I need your services?”
“I have seen your expression these past few mornings from my adjacent market-stall. You seem a man in search of a solution.”
“And what will it cost me?”
“Naught but mutuality. You will help me to publicize my invention, and I will help you to control your custom-tide.”
“Well. Convince me.”
After a bit of fiddling, the apparatus emitted a succession of loud whirrs and clicks before discharging a series of stiff wood-pulp cards.
Aufsetto Ab’dik snarled at his subordinate, who cringed and produced a luminous mirrored paddle from a wagon-mounted, chest-high metallic box in the stall abutting Prosatio Silban’s galleywagon-space. The lad passed the paddle over the menu-board, then attached the implement to the gleaming cube. After a bit of fiddling, the apparatus emitted a succession of loud whirrs and clicks before discharging a series of stiff wood-pulp cards. The boy collected these and placed them, eyes downcast, into the cook’s waiting hand.
“By the All-Mother!” Prosatio Silban exclaimed, leafing through the stack. “Perfect replicas in every way! Is this magik?”
“Better than,” Aufsetto Ab’dik replied. “It is machinery.”
“Whatever else, it is also ‘amazing.’ What are your terms?”
“I have created nine pieces. You may have seven as a gratuity, and I will retain two – one as a proof for future jobs, the other for my portfolio. Should they serve you as promised, you may have more for a nominal fee to offset my costs, labor, and apprentice’s meager wages. What say you?”
A moment’s pause, then the cook proffered an open hand. “Done,” he said.
The next morning, instead of battling a bustling, menu-crowding human cluster, Prosatio Silban laid out the replicas on his two tables-and-chairs and directed to them a string of first-seated, first-served breakfasters. He repeated this for what turned out to be profitable lunch and dinner services, and at the day’s end, he gathered the six menus and secured them in his galleywagon.
It wasn’t until the end of the second day that he realized he had only five. I am certain there were seven, he thought after a thorough, frustrating, and fruitless search. O Beltryx, Goddess of Unstoppable and Inopportune Retrieval, he thought. Where and why have You taken them?
More disturbing to Prosatio Silban than the misplaced menus, however, was Aufsetto Ab’dik’s mistreatment of his young apprentice: shouting, cuffing his ears, even striking him now and then with the quirt. Whenever the cook raised the issue with his temporary neighbor and inadvertent partner, he received the same answer.
“Boy’s got to learn,” the imprinter would say with a dark frown. “Besides, that’s how I learned – and look how well I turned out.”
One day, Aufsetto Ab’dik absented himself from the vicinity to search out clientele. The cook took the opportunity to engage in affable banter with the skinny, anxious-eyed adolescent.
“What is your name?” he asked.
The boy cast glances left and right, then regarded his all-but-tattered shoes. “Uggit,” he said in a near-whisper.
“Where are you from, Uggit?”
“Bellyback. Village. Near Tirinbar proper.”
“Everyone must be from somewhere,” Prosatio Silban said in a kind voice. “How did you end up in your current situation?”
“M’father. He ‘prenticed me for to get himself out of debt.”
“Did that help?”
“He used the coin to purchase more spirits than he could drink and live. So, no.”
“He used the coin to purchase more spirits than he could drink and live. So, no.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“So was I.”
The ensuing and awkward silence was broken by Aufsetto Ab’dik, returning with his package-laden pack-lizard. “You! Boy!” he shouted at Uggit. “Come unload these parcels. Or do you want the quirt?”
With a resigned grimace, the boy excused himself. The imprinter slapped him on the back of his neck and sauntered over to Prosatio Silban, who was making a great show of uninterruptable busyness.
“Are the new menus working as expected?” Aufsetto Ab’dik asked.
“Quite well. The only problem is that they keep disappearing.”
“Disappearing! Indeed. Perhaps someone wants a souvenir?”
“I’d not thought of that. I shall have to watch over them; that’s easier now due to my not being overcome by would-be customers.”
“Good, good! As for the menus, I will be glad to replace them – for a fee.”
“One in copper. Apiece.”
Humming to himself, Aufsetto Ab’dik entered his stall and barked an order to Uggit.
“But worth it, as I’m sure you’ll agree. I’ll replicate them from one of yours and return straightaway.” Humming to himself, Aufsetto Ab’dik entered his stall and barked an order to Uggit.
Two weeks later, the mystery had deepened. One menu per day continued its enigmatic departure, and Prosatio Silban’s investment in the imprinter’s business continued its steady subsequence. Not long thereafter, Aufsetto Ab’dik, as had become his daily wont, ambled over to the galleywagon after the breakfast rush to boast to his captive fellow-tradesman.
“I am on the cusp of great things,” the imprinter said. “The Heir Second Vajang Capito will be visiting me today. If I can make a good showing of the Replicator, he will finance me to create more of them. Imagine! It will change my profession forever, and make obsolete both woodcut and moveable-type. I will control all the Uulian Commonwell’s imprinting – and become wealthy beyond my most avaricious dreams. You may attend the demonstration as my esteemed witness. But I must first make myself presentable.” So saying, he strolled off in the direction of Pormaris’ public baths.
Once he had gone, it was Uggit’s turn to pay the cook a visit.
“I know where your menus are going,” the lad said with his usual furtive air.
“Yes. He” – Uggit jerked a thumb in the direction of the departed imprinter – “is stealing them. Faking your signature. Selling them on the undermarket. Calls them ‘souvenirs used by the Commonwell’s best-known mercenary cook.’”
Prosatio Silban’s face flushed. “You are certain of this?” he asked, voice trembling.
“I operate his machine. When I make a new menu, he takes two of your used ones. That way he can sell truly ‘used’ menus.”
“Is that so?” asked the cook, clenching and unclenching his fists. “Well. Here is what we shall do …”
M’Lord Vajang Capito, flanked by a trio of liveried retainers, was seated in Aufsetto Ab’dik’s stall, and the latter was sparing no compliments to impress his important caller. Much to his potential patron’s increasing delight and amusement, the imprinter had already replicated a closely written deed-of-title and a silhouette of the noble’s mother, Allita, and was working up to a much-ballyhooed finale.
“As your keen eyes can discern, good m’Lord,” he said with naked obsequity, “the Replicator can manufacture swift reproductions in a variety of colors and styles, sizes and shapes, no matter what the material subject – text, portraiture, even living models. Master Prosatio here can attest to that, and my apprentice will show you an example. Uggit? Please demonstrate for our wise benefactor the Replicator’s capabilities. If you will permit us, m’Lord Vajang?”
“Of course!” said the aristocrat. “I am quite enjoying myself. Pray continue as you will.”
With care, Uggit passed the glowing paddle over the Heir Second’s face and plugged the wand into the waiting machine.
With care, Uggit passed the glowing paddle over the Heir Second’s face and plugged the wand into the waiting machine. After the mechanism made its signature noises, Uggit retrieved from it a large sheet of pulp-paper which he handed to the waiting noble.
“Do you see the resemblance?” asked Aufsetto Ab’dik.
M’Lord Vajang cocked an eyebrow. “I see a resemblance, but I do not believe it is the one you intended I see,” he said. “Explain this, if you please.”
He handed the paper to the curious imprinter, who gasped and sputtered. “What is the meaning of this?” he spat at his apprentice, his face crimson. “Is this some sort of prank?”
“No, sir,” replied Uggit, raising his eyes to meet his employer’s. “You know yourself. The Replicator can only make true images.”
The imprinter cast down the paper where Prosatio Silban could see it. Superimposed in large red letters over the Heir Second’s crisp and colorful likeness were the words, “AUFSETTO AB’DIK IS A THIEF, A LIAR, AND A BULLYING CHEAT.”
“Damn your impudence!” Aufsetto Ab’dik snarled, slipped the quirt from his belt, and raised it.
“Cease! What are you doing?” demanded m’Lord Vajang. “It is forbidden by Commonwell Law for masters to strike their apprentices. Too many have abused their office for it to be otherwise.”
“It would not be the first time he did so,” said Prosatio Silban. “I have witnessed it myself.’”
“In truth?” asked the noble.
“In truth,” replied the cook.
Aufsetto Ab’dik let go the quirt. “I-I was just trying to teach my apprentice in the way I was taught,” he stammered. “I meant no harm.”
“Ah,” said the cook. “But you did.”
“And have,” added Uggit.
M’Lord Vajang gestured to two of his retainers. “Take this cruel man away,” he said.
As the protesting inventor was dragged from the scene, the noble extended to Uggit a welcoming hand. “My boy,” he said in soft tones. “You seem to have more than a little skill with this equipment. How would you like to become wealthy in my service?”
It was the first time Prosatio Silban had ever seen the adolescent smile.
(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. And if you want another 85 of them (so far) in one easy-to-read package, here’s the e-book!)