Prosatio Silban and the Minor Plague


Prosatio Silban groaned, sat up in his sleeping-berth, and put his head in his hands. If these hiccoughs don’t (hic) end soon, he thought, I will.

His disorder had begun early the day before, with no perceivable cause.

His disorder had begun early the day before, with no perceivable cause. He had tried holding his breath, biting a lemon, sipping iced water, swallowing granulated beet-sugar, and, just now, laying supine and crunching forward into a sudden foetal position. All were sworn cures from various sources, yet none had worked to any appreciable avail. If anything, one or two of these measures increased the spasms’ frequency and intensity.

How am I supposed to earn my keep? Prosatio Silban thought in a panic. I can’t (hic) sleep – I can’t concentrate – I can’t even (hic) hold my hands steady! Perhaps I should (hic) do as was done in the olden ways.

He exited his galleywagon, descended the three steps to epicurean Pormaris’ bustling South Market, and rummaged beneath the vehicle. With a triumphant smirk he retrieved a broad wooden menu-blank and some scarlet paint, on and with which he painted in large shaky letters:


Satisfied, he leaned the board against one of the galleywagon’s wheels and turned beseeching eyes on the morning’s passersby. No sooner had he adopted a helpless pose beside the sign than a middling-aged woman in modest dress stopped to assess him.

“Oh, you poor man!” she exclaimed. “I have just the thing. Have you tried blocking your breath?”

“No, I (hic) haven’t,” Prosatio Silban said. “Does that (hic) work?”

“Like a charmer’s talisman,” the woman assured him. “First, pinch shut your nose.”

The cook-errant obeyed.

“Now, with your mouth also likewise closed, try to exhale. Hard.

Prosatio Silban’s cheeks bulged and his face reddened, but not a breath of air escaped his facial orifices. He held it in for a good quarter-minute before exhaling with a mighty “whoosh (hic).” He sighed.

“Sorry,” said the woman in a very unsorry tone before moving on.

“Excuse me. Excuse me! Sir?” Someone was tugging at his tunic-hem. A child of no more than eleven winters looked up at him through eyes wide with concern.

“(hic) Yes? What can I do for you, son?” Prosatio Silban asked.

“When I have hiccoughs, my gram makes me breathe into this,” the boy said, and proffered a plain grey-paper sack. “Do it in and out, and slowly. And make sure you take deep breaths. It always works.”

Somehow, I have (hic) heard that promise before, the cook-errant thought. Nevertheless, he did as he was told, and was soon deflating and inflating the bag in a spasm-punctuated rhythm.

“Slower,” the boy said. “Deeper,” he added after a minute. Then, after another minute: “I don’t understand.”

“Thank you very much (hic) all the same,” Prosatio Silban said.

“Thank you very much (hic) all the same,” Prosatio Silban said.

He fidgeted as the morning crowd passed before him – some reading his message-board, most not – when a young man in flashy red tunic and bright yellow kneebreeches stopped and pointed a flamboyant finger at the hapless sufferer.

I have what you need,” he said in a theatrical voice which turned more than a few nearby heads.

“Do (hic) you,” Prosatio Silban said.

“Right here in this small bottle,” the man pronounced, brandishing a circular green-glass vial. “Authentic distilled troll-sweat, gathered at great and personal risk, I might add. But it is a surely-fired cure for more ills than only hiccoughs – gout, rheumatism, aches, pains, and the inevitable infirmities of age. All yours for a mere five in copper.”

“I am (hic) desperate,” the cook said, a tinge of hysteria in his voice. He fished in his coin-pouch for the stated sum, and they made the exchange.

“Drink it all in one draught,” the man said. “For the full effect, that is.”

Prosatio Silban uncorked his purchase, brought it to his quivering lips, and drank. A spicy flavor like nothing he had ever before tasted burned its way through his mouth and down his throat. This might actually work, he thought. It certainly tastes (hic) –

“No refunds!” cried the man, and melted into the throng.

Thus it went throughout the day. Kindly souls would approach and offer their versions of the World’s Greatest Hiccough Cure: measured breathing, chest compressions, tongue-pulling, diaphragm pressure, palm-squeezing, ice-water gargling, carotid massage, even intense mental distraction – this last from an older woman who tried, but failed, to engage Prosatio Silban in a spirited game of dice-middles. Each method began with bright promise but ended in gloomy failure.

The beefy cook was about to remove his makeshift plea and resign himself to a life of distressful interruption when a marketplace porter strolled up, a beaker of water in one hand and an earnest cast in his pale brown eyes.

“My wife heard of your plight and sent me here to help.”

“Master Prosatio!” he exclaimed. “Do not despair. My wife heard of your plight and sent me here to help.”

“What (hic) will it cost me?” Prosatio Silban asked in exasperation.

“Only the attempt itself,” the porter replied. “If it doesn’t work, then no harm will be done – except to your dashed hopes. But she swears by this method, and over the years has made me a believer too.”

“What exactly (hic) do I do?”

The porter handed him the beaker. “Drink from its opposite side,” he said, gesturing. “Bend over, tip the beaker up under your chin, and drink it. All of it.”

Prosatio Silban sighed, but complied. The water almost ran into his sinuses, his head swam with mild dizziness, but he managed to drain the beaker’s contents without spilling a drop.

He straightened, and waited for the inevitable hiccough.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited…

A slow smile spread across Prosatio Silban’s face.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I don’t believe it! What do I owe you for this miracle?”

“Only your gratitude,” replied the porter with a slight bow. “We are just happy to have helped.”

“How if this,” said the beaming cook. “How if I spread the word that your porterage is unmatched throughout the city, and direct all my colleagues to charter you?”

“That would be a welcomed kindness,” the other replied. “Thank you. Very much.”

“No, thank you,” Prosatio Silban said, and bowed. “Truly. If not for you, I’d still (hic).”

(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. And if you want more of them, in two easy-to-read packages, here are the first and second e-books!)

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3 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Minor Plague

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2023.06.01 at 1053

    Didn’t anybody try to scare him? That usually works.

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