“I AM THE KEEPER OF Memories,” said the man in the natty blue silk robe. “What do you offer?”
“For your custom, or your breakfast?” replied Prosatio Silban.
“Breakfast first!” cried the Keeper of Memories, and chuckled. “Always. Food before thought, you know.”
“For that, ‘the house’ offers your desire,” the cook replied with a slight bow. “That is, so long as your desire is limited to what’s on this menu board. With what may I please you?”
“Would you favor me with any suggestions?” he asked.
They were standing in the lee of Prosatio Silban’s galleywagon, now parked at the edge of Riverguard’s busy marketplace a half-dayride upriver from cosmopolitan Soharis, the Uulian Commonwell’s chief seaport. The Keeper was about the same size and build as the beefy cook, though older by at least a generation, and despite the grey in his dark temples and beard his faraway blue eyes held an ageless quality. Beneath the fashionable robe he wore a spotless, belted grey tunic and green kneebreeches, all trimmed in the latest Soharis style. From a bulging leather sack at his side protruded, like fish bones from a frog’s mouth, a handful of tight-rolled scrolls. Pouches (velvet, oal-hide, wire mesh) were hung from his broad sealskin baldric; he leaned on a blackwood cane with carved ivory handle as he studied the day’s listed fare. “Would you favor me with any suggestions?” he asked.
“The poached duck-eggs are particularly good this morning – I get them fresh from one of the local flocksmaids,” the cook answered. “They marry well with pan-fried meal-sausages and green grits, and by adding a hot cup of yava you will be hard put to find a better start to your day.”
“Let it be so!” enthused the Keeper of Memories, and took his seat at one of the two tables-and-chairs.
Prosatio Silban disappeared into the galleywagon for some moments, then emerged bearing a bamboo tray laden with the promised refection. He set this before his guest and bowed.
The Keeper of Memories tucked a red linen napkin into his tunic’s open collar and set to work. His “my goodnesses!” and “oh mys!” were mingled with the clink of silver on ceramic and the quiet but earnest sound of energetic chewing. Finally, he set the utensils on his empty plate, dabbed at his pursed lips, and sighed a sigh of utter contentment.
“Thank you, thank you,” he said. “Ah! it has been long since I have had such an excellent breakfast. As far as I can recall, anyway.”
Prosatio Silban raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “Do I misunderstand you? Are you not known as the Keeper of Memories?”
“You see before you both a living vault in service to nobility and the highly-placed, as well as a figurative bridge for anyone who can afford passage.”
“Indeed I am,” the other replied. “But not of my own. Rather, not exclusively my own.”
“I do not think I …?”
“You see before you both a living vault in service to nobility and the highly-placed, as well as a figurative bridge for anyone who can afford passage. In fact, although I can more than afford the three in copper you ask for this morning’s excellent victuals, I would be more than happy to exchange for them a small demonstration of my abilities.”
Prosatio Silban thought for a moment. The breakfast rush was over, and he was always curious about everything which caught his attention. And after all, a Keeper of Memories did not happen by every morning. “Done,” he said, and sat down across from his customer.
“Ah! then let us get down to cases: what have you forgotten recently? Or even more than recently?”
The cook creased his brow, then relaxed into a smile. “My mother used to make the most exquisite sweet-biscuits as a treat for my siblings and I. She called them, simply, ‘spice cookies.’ I do not know the recipe she used – I was not culinarily inclined when I left home to seek my fortune – but should I taste one again I feel certain that, thanks to a now-informed palate, I could replicate it.”
“Taste-recall is one of the easier accomplishments in my repertoire,” replied the Keeper of Memories, and placed his hand on the cook’s head. “Close your eyes, and picture the treat as vividly as you can.”
Prosatio Silban complied with his guest’s request. In his mind’s eye he saw a dim, hand-sized confection shaped like of one of the suits of a deck of gambling-cards. It was a creamy tan, flat rather than mounded, and edged in well-baked brown. He sniffed with his inner nose; the cookie smelled somewhat like the spices used to mull wine or cider, but with a subtle difference…
“Now take a bite, and let it linger on your inner tongue.”
Instantly, the cook tasted crisp cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg…allspice…not too much sugar… He opened his eyes.
“I have it,” he said, and produced from his apron’s chest-pocket the pencil and small pad of paper he always kept there. He scribbled madly, nodded, smiled, and re-tucked the implements.
“That more than pays for your meal,” Prosatio Silban said. “What exactly brings you to Riverguard?”
“To tell you the truth, I am not quite sure,” replied his customer. He riffled through his scroll-pouch, removed one labeled “ITINERARY,” and proceeded to study it with great care. “Ah! I seem to have an appointment with the First Heir of Soharis in two days’ time; it has only been fate that brought me to you. The First Heir A-th is in his fading years. There are memories he would like to pass on to his children, and theirs, while he can still recall them in fullness. For that, he needs me – and these.”
The Keeper of Memories smiled. “You are thinking of banquets, I take it?”
The wonder-worker hefted one of the baldric-hung pouches and gently rolled it between his fingers, producing a raspy tinkle. “These will contain memories with which someone will entrust me,” he explained. “I enable a transfer from my customer’s thoughts into the seed. Later, the seed is planted and, given proper conditions, bears fruit. Eating the fruit imparts the memory into the party or parties who consume it.”
“Indeed! Can the fruits be cooked?”
The Keeper of Memories smiled. “You are thinking of banquets, I take it?”
Prosatio Silban returned the smile. “Specifically, those for anniversaries, birthdays, national holidays or other cyclical celebrations.”
“An astute idea. However, I am afraid that they do lose their effect if passed through too many processes.”
“Well. The question needed to be asked. Are there any hazards associated with your trade?”
“Only one comes to mind, but it did not happen to me directly. A certain elderly client who had lived adventures beyond his dreams bade me charge a variety of seeds for his descendants, to be planted as a small orchard at his rural demesne. This was done, and done right, but through a combination of circumstances the trees were mistaken by a new cook for one of the demesne’s kitchen-gardens. She harvested the fruit for a prodigious chopped raw salad, upon the eating of which the family lost their minds.”
“By the gentle mercy of the All-Mother!” exclaimed Prosatio Silban. “What became of the hapless cook?”
“Nothing good, as I recall,” replied the Keeper of Memories. “Her mind, however, did remain intact. The practice of having ‘the help’ eat alone, while perhaps somewhat discriminatory, can also have its advantages.”
“Speaking of advantages – or rather, disadvantages – why did you need to consult that scroll?”
“Retrieving others’ memories takes a toll on my own. Sometimes I even mistake for mine some of those I have imbued. Ah! but every trade has its cost, and it all balances in the end. Besides, some experiences are better left unremembered.”
He sorted purposefully through his scrolls – among them “PREFERED FOODS,” “ACCOUNTS,” “THREE CITIES,” “THOUSAND VILLAGES,” “DIVINE ENCOUNTERS” and many others – and withdrew a small one edged in gilt. “Here is something that should be retained, and kept close to hand,” he said, opening it.
“My vendor’s license. It contains my name: Master Valis Pikadi…”
“What is it?”
“My vendor’s license. It contains my name: Master Valis Pikadi. I generally employ it when making professional introductions, or paying taxes. And now, I believe the midday Soharis conveyance will not wait for me overlong.”
“It has been a pleasure and a privilege serving you,” said Prosatio Silban, and bowed. “Who knows whether we shall meet again? but if so, I hope to be able to offer you a warm spice cookie.”
“I should like that,” replied Master Valis. “But if we do not, I shall cherish its memory as if it were my own.”
The cook watched as the Keeper of Memories toddled across the marketplace toward the carriage-stop. It never fails to amaze, he thought, how many different people have crossed my path over the years. He made to clean up the breakfast dishes, then paused in alarm. His blackwood cane!
Prosatio Silban grabbed the implement and hurried after his customer. “Master Valis!” he called. “Master Valis! Your cane!”
The Keeper of Memories turned to meet him with a smile. “Thank you, thank you!” he said, extending a grateful hand. “And to whom have I the pleasure…?”