Prosatio Silban and the Sequential Narrative

SOME PEOPLE WILL GO TO any lengths for a good story.

Prosatio Silban fetched down his scrapbook form the shelf in his sleeping berth, opened it to the middle, and whistled. Fourteen lovingly steamed and pasted labels, he thought with a grin. I can’t wait for the fifteenth!

He was referring to one of the Uulian Commonwell’s most endearing products and enduring mysteries. Plithel’s Finest was acknowledged by gastronomes far and wide as the pinnacle of the brewer’s art. Despite a quartet of imported hops, some hailing from across the Rimless Sea, the ale’s signature pucker was well-balanced by a soft fruitiness; the fragrance whispered of sun-splashed spring flowers, sugar-lemon, and deepleaf pine; and it delivered a mellow yet unmistakable kick.

The bottles’ finely detailed labels told of a convoluted, five-part high romance.

Plithel’s Finest was a seasonal release, and its annual presentation was celebrated by eager appreciators, many of whom sought also to slake their literary thirst. The bottles’ finely detailed labels told of a convoluted, five-part high romance. Prosatio Silban, always up for a ripping read no matter its delivery system, had been collecting the labels since their debut fourteen years ago. The fifth and tenth episodes, both of them climaxes, had been very much worth their respective waits, and judging by the last four current installments, today also promised not to disappoint.

O, what we do to nourish our souls, he thought, closing the scrapbook and placing it with reverence onto his sleeping-berth’s bookshelf. And now, we shall see how it all turns out for The Abbess and her valiant paramour.

* * *

Despite the early hour, the line coiled about River Reaching Brewery was almost long enough for despair, had not the brewers’ six-bottle-per-person limit promised to accommodate the entire assembled multitude. Women and men of all walks of life were represented, from nobility to marketplace-porters; and with a resigned air the cook-errant took his place at the end of the line.

“It’s a long time until high sun, isn’t it?” he asked the well-dressed man ahead of him.

“No longer than it was last year, and the year before that,” the man quipped. “It goes by swift enough, though. And the object of our desire is always worth the time standing here, no matter the weather.”

“True enough, for me at least. What about you and the others? What makes the wait worthwhile?”

“Oh, you know. Of these two hundred-odd people, you will hear three hundred-odd reasons. Speaking for myself, I find this draught an excellent pairing with other springtime foods – your asparagus, your peas, your morels, and especially your tender lamb. Nothing is quite like a good meal and a bottle of Plithel’s Finest to herald the balmy Season of Rebirth. And you?”

“It’s the ale, certainly – but also, I have to know how the label-borne story turns out. Despite the direst of personal circumstances, I have never yet missed a bottling.”

“Nor I!” put in an old woman clad in once-opulent sable. “I have waited in this line every year since I tasted my first Plithel’s, and it might bring me bad luck not to do so!”

“It’s a pilgrimage, indeed,” said an ancient, cane-buttressed man, gesturing toward the brewery. “Plithel’s Finest is a holy liquid, and I have a special ritual attached to its consumption. I daren’t share it with ye, but rest assured that I shall enjoy it to the full.”

“So will I,” spoke up a young man just edging into drinking age. “I like to down a bottle in three gulps and enjoy its floaty warmth.”

“That’s not enjoyment – it’s sacrilege!” objected the ancient, raising his cane for emphasis. “You shouldn’t abuse it that way!”

The subject of his ire was about to spit a rejoinder, but a tall woman in a green Refectionists’ Guild apron spoke first. “There is more than one right way to enjoy this beverage,” she said. “I like to cook with it. The humblest stew can be elevated by Plithel’s Finest to the very heights of sublimity.”

Adjacent line-standers, overhearing the conversation, continued warming to it in their own way. A man in the livery of a local Heir Second’s house-staff related that his mistress, too, couldn’t wait to see how the stories turned out (and to use the empty bottles as dining-room candlesticks); two youngish men, perpetual novelty-seekers, just wanted “to know what all the fuss was about;” another youth was there “for the experience, sir;” and a furtive woman before him wished to sell her allotted six bottles for a substantial profit to finance a personal project. Prosatio Silban was about to ask her for specifics when a joyous shout sounded from around the corner.

“We’re open for business!” a high tenor announced, prompting more than a few joyous shouts.

“We’re open for business!” a high tenor announced, prompting more than a few joyous shouts.

“This is a moment I live for!” cried the ancient as the single-file multitude began a slow, measured march forward.

Considering the sizable throng, the line moved with brisk efficiency. They certainly are organized, Prosatio Silban thought as he rounded the brewery’s corner. Beside two cart-sized loading doors stood a smaller portal behind a sidewalk-jutting kiosk; customers stated their order, handed over their coin, and received their goods with hearty and sincere gratitude. When it was the cook-errant’s turn, he wasted no time.

“Three bottles, please,” he said with a conspiratorial grin to the burly man behind the kiosk.

“That’s nine in copper,” was the methodical reply.

They made the exchange, and as Prosatio Silban turned to go, his eye fell on the bottle.

“Wait a moment,” he said, turning back. “There’s something wrong here.”

“‘Wrong?’” the man demanded.

The cook-errant flourished a bottle. “Where is the label?”

“Ah. The illustrator, Mindela Rhovaz, suffered a grievous loss last month, so to honor her we went without. Most unfortunate, of course, but our product does speak for itself.”

“But I was expecting –”

“Excuse me,” snarled the furtive woman. “You’re holding up the line!”

A chorus of emphatic growls lent weight to her complaint, so Prosatio Silban mumbled his thanks and made good his hurried escape.

* * *

Two days later, the first door in the row of homes on which the dauntless cook knocked was answered by an angry-looking old man.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Prosatio Silban said before the man could speak. “Is this the residence of Mindela Rhovaz?”

“What d’you want her for?” the man barked.

“Does she not live here?”

“No! Now get you gone – I was feeding my pigeons!”

“Sorry for disturbing you,” the cook-errant said as the door slammed shut.

“Sorry for disturbing you,” the cook-errant said as the door slammed shut. He shook his head and proceeded down the block.

The houses, like many in this part of Soharis far from its many harbors and busy marketplaces, were humble, half-timbered affairs with tin rooves, painted doors, and brick stoops sporting a profusion of frontage decorations. They were also home to a variety of Freehanders: inhabitants of the Uulian middle class who, like Prosatio Silban, worked for themselves rather than for or over someone else.

A dozen assorted knocks and slams later, the dejected cook had reached the house at the end of the block. One more rejection and I may have to rethink my strategy, he thought. It’s possible that I will never find her – and that these fictitious adventures will have to remain without a third climax. Well. Here goes nothing.

He shifted the bundle under his arm and beat a staccato tattoo on the door, waited a few heartbeats, then turned to go. He had descended the stoop and set one foot on the sidewalk when a sad female voice beckoned him back. Its owner turned out to be young and slight with long black curls, reddened eyes, and a forced smile.

“Y-yes? May I help you?” she asked.

“I beg your pardon,” he said with a shallow bow. “Could you please direct me to the home of Mindela Rhovaz?”


“I am an admirer of her art. A sincere admirer.”

She stretched her smile wider, but not by much. “This is her home,” she said. “Um … that is to say … I am she.”

His bow deepened; straightening, he said, “I am Prosatio Silban, the Cook For Any Price, and I am very glad to meet you. I understand you are the artist responsible for the Plithel’s Finest labels?”

Mindela Rhovaz lowered her eyes. “I was, yes. But not since … since …” Her voice trailed into quiet sobs.

“Mistress Mindela!” Prosatio Silban interjected, proffering a hand. “It was not my intent to cause you more pain. Is there anything I can do to ease it?”

She dabbed at her tears, shivered, then gave vent to a deep sigh. “No. No one can. My dearest Pietoro has gone for another, and weeks later the wound is still fresh. I miss his company, his kisses, his caresses, and especially his food: not what he prepared, but the way he prepared it, as an expression of ardent love. I daresay I will never get over his loss. I certainly cannot draw anymore, at least not until my heart heals – if it does.” She sighed again, and raised her eyes to meet Prosatio Silban’s.

“Now,” she said. “What exactly did you want of me?”

“It is but a small matter. Perhaps I should return at another time?” he asked.

“No. Please. I could use the distraction.”

“No. Please. I could use the distraction.”

“Very well, then. My reason for seeking you out is this: I have been following your illustrated Plithel’s Finest tales from the beginning, enjoying as they twined their ways about and through the world and situations you have created. Reading them has brought me to both joy and its opposite. And I must know: what prevails with The Abbess and The Non-Duelist? Can you – if you are able, that is – enlighten me?”

She raised an eyebrow. “You are the only person who has asked that of me. I am gratified that you enjoy my saga, but as I say, I am too lovesore to continue telling it.”

Prosatio Silban was silent for a moment. “Not even for an inducement?” he asked.

“What sort of inducement?”

“I do not pretend to be able to mend your wounds, but I do take great pride in my work. And comfort comes in many forms. What if … what if I could recreate one of your favorite meals?”

It was Mindela Rhovaz’s turn to pause. “Could you do such a thing?” she asked in a hopeful tone. “Would you?”

“Only if you were willing – and only if my effort would not spiral you deeper into melancholy.”

Her silence stretched for many heartbeats, broken at last by a tentative nod. “I suppose,” she said, “that there is only one way to find out.”

* * *

“I never thought I would again taste the like,” she said.

Mindela Rhovaz pushed back her empty plate and shook her head in baffled wonderment. “I never thought I would again taste the like,” she said. “The creamed beans, the parchment-wrapped tubefish, and especially the mushroom porridge, were all just as he made them. You have both lightened and deepened my heart, Master Cook, and for that you have my gratitude. Tell me – how did you know what culinary notes to touch?”

“I did not know, at least directly,” replied Prosatio Silban. “I only called upon what you imparted to me through your descriptions, and let them alone guide me.”

“They certainly did. But why did you not include the spice-pudding? It was my favorite treat, and is still sorely missed – as is he.”

“Your answer is found within your question,” said the cook. “There are some intimacies upon which an outside party does not intrude. It would be cruel, and I am no friend to cruelty.”

“For that I am glad,” she said, and placed a delicate hand on his. “And for this as well: that you are now a friend to me. Unfortunately, however, I am still uninspired insofar as completing my work. Where did I leave off? And where can I go from there?”

With a sly grin, Prosatio Silban produced the bundle he had carried into Mindela Rhovaz’s home. “Perhaps I can help you find an answer to those questions,” he said.

“What would that be?” the artist asked.

The cook opened the lumpy burlap parcel and withdrew from it his scrapbook. “You have before you all fourteen chapters of The Abbess and the Non-Duelist,” he said, flipping to the appropriate page with a triumphant flourish. “I would be honored, if you are able, for you to elicit enough inspiration to complete this epic account in the space I have provided for it.”

This time, Mindela Rhovaz’s silence extended so long that the cook feared for her emotional well-being. At last, she smiled.

“For one as devoted as you,” she said, reaching for the scrapbook, “I will certainly try.”

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

2 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Sequential Narrative

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2022.06.23 at 1455

    Wonderful! I loved this.

    Ah, fandom. The excitement of arriving early, waiting in a huge line, and sharing that exclusive fondness with others, not minding the wait – you’ve captured it all.

    My experience was in waiting in a huge line, for many hours, to see Bernie Sanders. That may seem like a disparate topic – but the feeling is the same.

    • 2022.06.23 at 1608

      Well, They say “you can only write what you know.” 😉 I’m glad I could vividly bring that back for you!

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