Love Famine (A Prosatio Silban Tale)

(Five-and-a-half printed pages, and a bit ribald. If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction.)

THE KEEP’S NAME WAS “CASTLE Cautroffs,” after an ancestor of its then-current occupant. But Prosatio Silban was to remember it as a test of his tact, delicacy, and personal taste.

Castle Cautroffs was perched on a high cliff overlooking the Uulian Commonwell’s southwestern coast, about a week’s galleywagon-journey from cosmopolitan Soharis. The castle anchored the holdings of m’Lord Lakgor Tario, an elderly but still-vital Heir Second overseeing the local sea-frontier, a lightly forested hillscape, and a sprinkling of mostly productive villages.

Prosatio Silban had been hired by the noble to instruct his daughter in the art and craftship of cookery. She was somewhat younger than the beefy cook; tall, poised, and possessed of the classic Heir Second bearing. Her soft brown curls reached almost to her waist, and she had the sort of face and proportions about which Uulian poets enjoy rhapsodizing at length. She fixed piercing grey eyes on her proposed teacher as her father made polite introductions.

“Master Cook, I am pleased to present to you my heart’s treasure, Perya,” m’Lord Lakgor declared. “She has been courted vainly in the past, and I am eager to fit her more successfully for domestic life. I want her to know everything she needs to know, from provender preparation through table service. I have dismissed for the day and night my kitchen staff, so that you and she should be undistracted.”

“Of course, m’Lord,” replied Prosatio Silban. Turning to Perya, he made a shallow bow. “m’Lady, I await your pleasure as to showing me the kitchen,” he said.

Even without its scullions and house-cook, the Lakgor kitchen was cozy bordering on snug.

“And I shall enjoy yours as day turns to night,” she said with a more-than-welcoming smile. “I look forward to placing myself under your capable touch. Follow.” So saying, she clasped one of his hands in hers and drew him down the corridor leading from the foyer to the kitchen.

* * *

The first thing Prosatio Silban learned about Perya was that she didn’t know her way around a kitchen. The second thing he learned was that she thought she did.

Even without its scullions and house-cook, the Lakgor kitchen was cozy bordering on snug. Although the Commonwell’s modern nobility tended toward lavishness in their culinary facilities, this one followed an older style dictated by colonial frugality and a limited amount of both natural resources and a familial labor-pool. The stove was a four-burner, fatberry-oil affair, a bit smaller than what Prosatio Silban carried in his galleywagon but with an oven capacious enough to roast four large fidget-hens at once.

The cook ran a professional eye over the teak chopping block, overhead-dangling cookware, and well-stocked staple- and herb-pantries. “I can work here,” he said to Perya, nodding his approval. “Good things happen in this place, in both memory and currency.”

“It is a fine place for making memories,” Perya breathed. “Perhaps we will make some of our own.”

Prosatio Silban swallowed. I shall have to choose my words with more care, he thought. Aloud, he said, “That is, after all, why your father hired me. We will begin with a simple rice-and-vegetable recipe, as it will both take and teach some basic skills. Now – from where may I draw water?”

Perya dimpled. “From the water-drawing place, I should think.” She indicated a large wooden cask. “This has a spigot; why not try it?”

The cook pointed out the stylized cluster stenciled on the cask’s side. “Fatberry-oil makes a fine medium for lighting, but a poor one for boiling and simmering. I see you have an indoor pump; that should serve us well. Now, to cook this properly, we must boil water, measure the rice, chop and pan-fry some vegetables and bean curd, make a finishing sauce…”

Perya giggled. “And you boil water…how, exactly?”

Without effort, Perya slipped into the cook’s arms and slid her hands down until she was holding his.

The cook sighed inwardly with exasperation. More care. Much more care, he thought.

* * *

“This is the way to hold a chop-knife,” Prosatio Silban said. “Watch my hand – see how the thumb and forefinger grip the blade, while the other three fingers grasp the handle? Now you try.”

Without effort, Perya slipped into the cook’s arms and slid her hands down until she was holding his. “Like this?” she asked.

Before Prosatio Silban could disengage from her semi-embrace, her father entered the kitchen.

“Aha!” cried the Heir Second. “My daughter has taken a liking to you. Good, good. How is she progressing in her lesson?”

“Er…” began Prosatio Silban. “I am having some challenges with her aptitude, as she doesn’t seem to ever have been in a kitchen before. But…ah…it may be that I am not used to a student showing so much…interest in the subject.”

“I have never had such a teacher,” cooed Perya.

“Yes, she is an eager one,” her father said. “She has disapproved of all the suitors I have arranged for her, though perhaps I have found one suitable after all. Pray proceed.” With that, he left them alone again.

“What will you show me next?” Perya asked, gazing into Prosatio Silban’s eyes. “I am all a-prickle to progress in my lesson.”

“Well. Ah. Good,” said the cook. “Now that you know how to hold the knife, I will show you how to use it…”

After uncoupling himself, Prosatio Silban chopped his way through two large carrots, a handful of green string-pods, a fragrant shallot, a pair of goats-horn mushrooms and a firm brick of white bean curd, all under Perya’s approving scrutiny. He assembled a variety of small bowls and sorted into them the prepared vegetables.

“This is called the ‘set-in-place,’” he said. “It’s important to put your ingredients in the dishes prior to cooking them. That way, all you need do is tip them into the pan in the order that you want them to cook.”

“I see.” Perya nodded. “Applied heat is very important.”

“Well.” Prosatio Silban swallowed again. Hard. “That is true. One cannot cook…without it.”

She held his eyes for a few loud heartbeats, and reached up to the cookware rack. “Which of these whatsits shall we use for our…did you call it ‘pan-frying?’” She caressed the handle of a saucepan. “This one is cute. Can we use it?

“That’s a saucepan. We’ll actually need that instead to cook the rice.”

“Oh. But isn’t it cute?”

“You have a talent for understatement.”

Perya smiled broadly. “That’s not my only talent,” she drawled. “Now. What about that heat you were going to show me?”

Prosatio Silban chose a wide iron skillet, then the saucepan, and proffered to her the latter. “Fill this one halfway with water so we can start the rice, please. I will oil the skillet for the vegetables.”

“I can think of a better use for the oil,” Perya said, making a great show of bending over to pump water into the saucepan, all the while attempting to engage his nervous glances. She reminded him of an attention-seeking puppy, only less charming – and despite her great beauty, definitely not to his taste.

The cook selected a bottle of olive-oil, drizzled some of its contents into the skillet, then placed the skillet on the burner, all the while trying to avoid Perya’s eyes. I don’t know which is more difficult, he thought. An eager student or an obdurate one.

Things became more trying once the rice began to simmer. As they watched the sapphire-colored grains begin to plump, Perya said, “I like to see them swelling into fullness. Don’t you?”

“Ah…I always enjoy seeing ingredients transform into edibility. There’s a magik about it that can be quite…stimulating to the appetite.”

Perya took his hand. “I like stimulation too,” she said.

“Here is my hand,” she said. “Show me where it’s hottest.”

“I think it’s time to tend our vegetables,” Prosatio Silban replied, retrieving his hand. He lit the burner under the skillet and tried not to look at his charge. She couldn’t be more obvious if she stripped naked and covered herself in olive oil, he said to himself. To her, he said, “Once this reaches the desired heat, we will first add the shallots and bean curd, then the harder vegetables, then the more delicate.”

“How do you know when the heat is desired?” asked his student.

“Experience. You hold your hand over the skillet and…ah…feel the warmth of it.”

“Here is my hand,” she said. “Show me where it’s hottest.”

She took his hand again, just as her father re-entered the kitchen.

“Well, daughter?” he asked. “What are you learning?”

“All about desired heat, father,” she replied. “He’s a very hands-on sort of teacher.”

Prosatio Silban blushed, but m’Lord Lakgor waved his hand in dismissal.

“You could do worse than my daughter,” the old man said with a knowing smile. “I would not take it amiss to have such a talented son-in-law.”

“I’m glad to have your faith, m’Lord,” the cook said.

“Think about it, my son. Well. I shall leave you two to your studies,” the noble said, and exited.

Perya beamed at Prosatio Silban. “Father likes you as much as I do,” she said. “We will go far together.”

Oh, no, the cook thought grimly. We won’t.

* * *

“…And as you can see, the finishing sauce is nothing more than a bit of fidget-hen stock, curd-bean extract, toasted oil, sharp vinegar, and molasses sugar, all thoroughly mixed and thickened with grain starch,” Prosatio Silban said.

Despite her constant and unnerving innuendo, he had managed to show Perya how to pan-fry the vegetables over high heat, mix the sauce and add it to the skillet. “It’s all over now but the plating,” he said.


“Yes. We take a plate – three, actually – and lay on them a bed – rather, a mound – of rice…”

“Sounds sensual,” she interjected.

“…generously cover it with our sauced vegetables, and serve. We took the liberties…”

“My favorite hobby.”

“…of making enough for three: you, your father, and myself. Now all we have to do is serve it…”

“Good service is very important.”

“…and enjoy the results.” Prosatio Silban placed the three laden plates on a silver serving tray, hefted it, and nodded toward the door. “The dining room is that way?” he asked.

“Yes. And our bedroom – oopsie, my bedroom – is just down the hall.”

“I have shown her everything of which I am capable,” Prosatio Silban said truthfully.

By the All-Mother, thought the cook. How I long for the solitary peace of my galleywagon. Deeply.

* * *

“An excellent meal, Master Cook!” pronounced m’Lord Lakgor, placing his fork on the edge of his now-empty plate. “Truly, truly exquisite. And my daughter – she has learned well?”

“I have shown her everything of which I am capable,” Prosatio Silban said truthfully.

The old man turned to his daughter. “And you now know how to cook this dish, and perhaps others like it?”

“Yes, father,” she said. “Master Prosatio has taught me well. The next lesson is in proper washing-up. With your permission, father?” She made to put the plates back on the serving tray.

“By all means, by all means,” the noble said. “Thank you, Master Cook. Your pay will be commensurate to the service you have rendered us. Superb. And so, I shall to bed. I will not stand in the way of my daughter’s affections.”

What does that mean? wondered the cook as he watched Perya disappear with the tray in the direction of the kitchen. He shook out the napkins, folded them loosely, brushed the crumbs off the table, collected the cutlery, gathered up everything that hadn’t been on the serving tray, and sighed triumphantly.

I did it, he thought, heading toward the kitchen. Despite her distasteful attentions, I survived the evening with my honor and virtue intact. Now it’s all over save my wage – which I have earned more today than ever before.

He entered the kitchen, and stopped in his tracks. There, on the waist-high chopping-block, sat Perya – adorned only in what nature had given her, save the olive oil which covered her slickened and supple curves from neck to foot.

“Come to me, my applier of desired heat,” she snarled with passion.

“Not if you were the last woman in the Commonwell,” Prosatio Silban said. He dropped what he was carrying, turned, and sprinted for the door.

And over all else, he thought as he ran, she had to waste the good oil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *