Prosatio Silban and the Integrated Pests

(Story idea, with thanks, by Ann Clark.)

SOME TROUBLES ARE ONLY small – if not in importance, then at least of stature.

Whistling a tuneless melody, Prosatio Silban bustled about inside his galleywagon in anticipation of a healthy Pormaris breakfast-crowd. He propped open the lid of his coldbox, marveling (not for the first time) at the magikal waist-high contrivance’s larger internal dimensions as he ticked off the usual inventory.

Fidget-hen eggs. Cow’s milk. Butter. Uncured pig-lizard belly, he thought, placing each item on the preparation-counter behind him. And now, for the potatoes, onions, bread and other meal products.

He closed the lid, opened his pantry doors, and gasped. A teeming mass of almost-invisible insects met his disbelieving eyes, heedless of their sudden exposure.

By Onrea, Goddess of Unexpected and Pivotal Calamity! he thought, and slammed shut the doors.

By Onrea, Goddess of Unexpected and Pivotal Calamity! he thought, and slammed shut the doors. There was no sign of infestation on the adjoining walls and floor, but he dared not open the doors again. His heart thumped as he considered his options.

Poison is out of the question, he thought. I need someone to rid me of these things, without harming myself or my livelihood into the bargain. And I can’t advertise the fact that I need them. So how would I secure such a someone?

* * *

“You have been surreptitiously and circuitously recommended for both efficiency and discretion,” Prosatio Silban told the exterminator. “I assume you know that I can’t have you rendering my galleywagon uninhabitable in any measure, and for any protracted period?”

They were standing before the cook-errant’s pantry, having just opened and shut its doors for a brief peek. Nicro Diar was dressed in non-committal tunic and kneebreeches, and flourished a dismissive hand to match his not-to-worry smile.

“Let me allay your fears,” Nicro Diar said, and patted the small leather valise he carried. “I do not use poison or any other contaminants. What I do use is ‘cohesive vermin control.’ In essence, I deploy those fauna for whom your infesting creatures – a variety of common pantry-mite – are food, then collect them once they have accomplished their happy task. No toxins, no residue, no disagreeable smell or side-effects. I must caution you, however, that my efficiency and discretion are not inexpensive …”

“The alternative is unthinkable,” Prosatio Silban said. “I will pay what you ask. When can you begin?”

“Immediately. Please wait outside.”

* * *

“Have you opened yet for business, Master Cook?” a passing would-be customer asked.

“Have you opened yet for business, Master Cook?” a passing would-be customer asked.

“Not yet. But presently.”

* * *

The exterminator pocketed a handful of Prosatio Silban’s silver and smiled. “The raptor-ants have done their work, and done it well,” he said, hefting his valise. “You shall be troubled no further.”

“Once again, I cannot thank you enough,” the cook said with sincere warmth. “Do not misunderstand me, but I hope our relationship has been a brief one.”

He waved farewell to the departing tradesman and closed his galleywagon door. Humming a wordless tune, he opened the pantry door to assess the efficacy of Nicro Diar’s measures – and paused in mid-grin.

A line of ants was embracing the cornmeal sack, each tiny blue insect bearing in its brawny jaws a yellow grain of meal as they carried their burdens into an unglimpsed hole in the pantry’s corner. They ignored Prosatio Silban; he imagined their nonchalance was a mere display for his benefit.

He slammed the doors again. I have been robbed, he thought, and I don’t appreciate it. He exited his galleywagon, surveyed the city’s famed South Market, and caught up with Nicro Diar as the exterminator browsed a nearby selection of corduroy kneebreeches.

“Excuse me!” said the cook, and lowered his voice. “Our business is not concluded.”

“Oh?” came the surprised reply.

“Yes. You have not collected your ants – at least, not all of them. And I should like to have them removed. Now, if you please!”

“You must be mistaken. I counted them with precision – one hundred raptor-ants in, one hundred raptor-ants out. Our accounts are balanced.”

“No, they are not. Just come and see!”

“I shall. But I am certain that you are in error.”

Soon the pair were standing before Prosatio Silban’s open pantry. “You see?” the cook said. “Here they are.”

“I do not wish to contradict you, but these are not my ants.”

“What do you mean?”

Nicro Diar extended a finger, retrieved one of the six-legged interlopers, and presented it for Prosatio Silban’s dissatisfied inspection.

“Look closely.” Nicro Diar extended a finger, retrieved one of the six-legged interlopers, and presented it for Prosatio Silban’s dissatisfied inspection. “These ants have a red thorax, typical of an ordinary merchant-ant. Raptor-ants are completely blue. I do not owe you anything, but I would be happy to set on these a different type of predator. For a price, of course.”

“And what ‘price’ would that be?”

“Let me see … there are fewer ants here than there were pantry-mites, so I shan’t need a full deployment of cavern-beetles … say, half what you paid me for my initial action?”

“Alright. Just get rid of them!”

* * *
“Are you not serving lunch today?”

“Perhaps tomorrow. But I do thank you for your future patronage.”

* * *

Prosatio Silban stormed up to Nicro Diar as the latter was negotiating the price of a silk tunic.

“My dear sir!” said the exterminator. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Do you remember the … (here the cook dropped his voice) … handful of cavern-beetles you used to rid me of the merchant-ants?”

“Of course.”

“Well, now there is an armload! I am not paying you for another engagement – you will promptly remove the beetles, at your cost, and see that they do not trouble me again.”

As before, they both peered into the pantry’s interior. Unlike before, it was now swarming with beetles – a greater plague than even the initial pantry-mites. Nicro Diar raised one eyebrow and coughed.

“Again – I do not wish to gainsay a client,” he said, “but these are not my beetles.”

“Do you expect me to believe that?”

“Here, I’ll show you.” The exterminator crouched, then lifted his bug-laden fingers to Prosatio Silban’s eyes. “These are a two-headed variety of burgham-beetles, not often seen in these parts. I use only –”

“PLEASE!” shouted the frustrated cook. “I want them gone – and I want them gone now!

“And so shall they be,” said Nicro Diar. “This time, I shall employ something larger – carnivorous mice. A bit more expensive, but very effective.”

“Do you expect me to pay you again?

“Do you expect me to pay you again?

“Of course not. You could always use pestbane powder instead, as effective as the mice and at half the cost, but that could complicate your business. Here’s what I shall do: in the interests of mercantile amity – and also, because I am growing fond of you – I will only charge you that same amount. It is, of course, your choice.”

Prosatio Silban glowered in silence. I cannot keep on like this, he thought. He is taking advantage of my natural reticence regarding my plight. Perhaps I should hire him to exterminate himself? He forced a smile, and when he spoke, his even tone belied his extreme aggravation.

“Very well,” said the cook. “But if this series of unfortunate events continues, I may need, perhaps, other recourse.”

“I would not blame you in the slightest,” the exterminator said. “It is a dire situation, to be sure. And while I am happy to retain your custom, I would not fault you for seeking other, more toxic, alternatives.”

“Let us hope that this is the last time I need your ‘assistance.’ Between paying you and replacing my pantry’s contents, and the ongoing lost custom, my coin jar is leaking both copper and silver. Unleash the mice, and we shall see.”

* * *

“Is everything alright, Master Cook? You have been closed for three days!”

“Could not be better. I am simply … ah, taking an impromptu vacation. I hope to see you here tomorrow. Thank you for your interest.”

* * *

“Lo and behold, I have re-gathered the mice.” said Nicro Diar. “And as you can see, your pantry is in pristine condition. I believe we may call it quits?”

“May your belief herald some great truth,” Prosatio Silban said.

“Would you care to inspect your pantry’s latest contents?”

“Would you care to inspect your pantry’s latest contents?”

“I would, yes.” The cook conducted a random examination of noodle-packages and meal-bags; seeing no apparent harm done, he turned to the exterminator. “All seems in order. I will have to replace most of it again, of course, but I would have done that anyway.”

“Very good. As always, it has been a delight to work with and for you. I will now take my leave, and should you ever need further attentions, you may always call upon me.”

“Thank you. Now – goodbye.”

“Goodbye.” With a conspiratorial smirk, Nicro Diar descended the galleywagon’s three steps and was lost in the teeming mass of afternoon marketgoers.

Prosatio Silban sighed. Closed the galleywagon door. Padded across the ornate braided rug to his pantry. Opened it for one last, suspicious check.

On a middle shelf, atop a mesh sack of kobi-nuts and paying him no regard, crawled a single red-and-black dot-bug.

The cook-errant extended toward it a trembling hand, hesitated, then grasped the insect with care between two fingers and plucked it from its perch. He opened the galleywagon door, raised his fingers to his lips, smiled, and puffed the winged visitor gently away.

Fare you well, o happy herald of economic success, he thought. And I thank you for your blessing.

(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. And if you want another 85 stories in one easy-to-read package, here’s the e-book!)

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