Prosatio Silban and the Haunted Oyster

OF ALL THE THINGS THAT make the Three Cities and Thousand Villages of the Uulian Commonwell unique, perhaps none so typify that uniqueness as their calendar.

Where other peoples marked time in a strictly numeric fashion, the Uulians used a more lyrical form of temporal accounting. Each of their years was named by the High Sacreant at the exact turn of said year, with duration expressed simply as “ago.” For example: Rather than saying thus-and-such happened in such-and-thus year since “King Felix’ birth” “or “history commenced” or “the world began,” the Uulians stated it poetically, viz.: “Twenty-seven ago, in the Year of the Moonlit Oak,” or “Thirty-two ago, Year of the Cerulean Tide.” Some years bore cyclic overtones, as: “Forty-seven ago, in the Fifteenth Year of the Lurking Jest.”

That latter period was the birth-year of the mercenary cook Prosatio Silban, whom we find on this last day of the Year of the Weighted Table in the great square adjacent to epicurean Pormaris’ Diamond Shrine: a vast, three-cornered sapphire-brick pyramid overtopping a labyrinth of smaller chambers and courtyards, with a jutting circular public-address balcony overlooking the crowded square. Along with a massed throng drawn from throughout the Commonwell, he is standing beneath a star-strewn sky waiting patiently for the midnight annunciation that would irrevocably fix the coming year in the Uulian Tome of Times.

The crowd’s mood of festal solemnity was contagious, so he refrained from loudly hawking his wares.

The beefy cook was no mere spectator at this signal event; he was also trying to make the odd copper or three by selling packets of hot golau-nuts from a portable warmer. The crowd’s mood of festal solemnity was contagious, so he refrained from loudly hawking his wares. Instead, he milled from person to person, advertising his merchandise by asking politely, “Roasted nutmeats? Hot and choice?” But try as he might, the multitude proved impenetrable – they were either not hungry, or didn’t want to lighten the event’s gravity, or simply had no curiosity about what he was trying to sell.

I would do better to simply eat these myself, he thought. Here I am, trying to interest a mouse-intent cat in a nice piece of fish. Well, midnight is less than a quarter-hour away…

Prosatio Silban set down his warmer and sighed. At that moment, another vendor – this one carrying a frame festooned with dangling loops of twistbread – did the same right next to him.

“Not a happy night for custom, eh?” asked the cook, rubbing his hands together.

“Excuse me,” the other said. “But I am selling here. You will have to move along.”

“I am simply resting my arms,” Prosatio Silban replied. “No need to worry about me.”

“Rest them elsewhere. You are cutting into my profits.”

“I believe Temple Square is the property of all the people of the Commonwell. You have no claim to this particular space. And as for profits, you are no more making any than I am.”

“Shhh!” someone shushed.

“That’s because you’re driving away my business!” whispered his rival.

“I’ve only just gotten here,” the cook whispered back. “The problem is, no one wants to spoil the occasion with loud crunching – or in your case, strenuous chewing.”

“I said, move along!”

“I won’t!”

“Excuse me! ” said an annoyance-browed woman. “We are in a holy place here. You are ruining our concentration. Besides, no one wants to eat hot nutmeats at such a time as this.”

“There!” said the twistbread peddler. “You see?”

“Thank you, sir,” said Prosatio Silban. “Would you like to buy a packet of nutmeats?”

“It’s not the nuts,” interjected a tall man wearing a bright green fez. “The fact is, twistbread is salty. And there are no beverage-sellers here.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Prosatio Silban. “Would you like to buy a packet of nutmeats?”

“No, thank you.”

“Will you all please be quiet? ” another woman whispered.

As this was going on, a rainbow-robed figure appeared on the shrine’s balcony far above. “Greetings, Citizens of the Commonwell!” came a rich, magikally amplified voice. “The time has come to bid farewell to the Year of the Weighted Table, and to welcome a new day and –”

“I am not moving from this spot,” said the twistbread purveyor through gritted teeth, and shoved Prosatio Silban so that he lost his balance and toppled through three bystanders to the square’s diamond-motif pavement. Golau-nut packets scattered everywhere.

“Hey!” someone shouted, and shoved the cook’s adversary, exclaiming, “No fighting!” Then, to Prosatio Silban: “Are you alright?”

“No one shoves me,” the twistbread-baker cried, and lit into the cook’s defender with swinging fists.

“—and on this most sacred night, we are both proud and humbled to gather and hear –” the amplified voice went on.

At this point, the crowd surrounding Prosatio Silban and his aggressor had divided into factions of shoving, punching and arguing, each taking one or more sides in the brawl. Cries of “Let me go!” and “Take that!” and “Don’t you accost me!” filled the air.

Oblivious to the commotion below, the annunciating High Sacreant raised her voice to proclaim, “We now join in and commit to entering the Year of the –”

“Get your hands off me!” cried the twistbread-baker as a burly man grabbed him around the waist.

“What? What was that?” asked a short, wide man. “’The Year of the Hunted Roster?’”

“I thought she said, “the ‘Year of the Jaundiced Rooster,’” said another woman as she kicked Prosatio Silban’s shins.

“No, it was ‘Hunkered Ostler,’” said a small but wise-looking child.

“You made us miss it!” shouted the annoyance-browed woman. “I haven’t missed an annunciation since the Year of the Slipshod Axe!”

Heedless of the puzzled discussion around them, the combatants continued their quarrel until pried apart by arriving town watchmen. I don’t care about the reckoning, Prosatio Silban thought as he nursed his shins, so long as I can make it the Year of the Hungered Customer.

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