TRYING TO HOLD A CANDLE to someone else is the quickest way to extinguish your own flickering flame.
“And then the High Sacreant herself complimented me on yet another job well done,” Egotio Nys said, lifting his expensive drink and smiling benevolently. “‘It’s what I’m here for, Eminence,’ I told her. You all know how hard she is to please.”
The speaker was holding court at the back bar in Pelvhi’s Chopping-House, surrounded by an admiring throng of well-wishers, which is to say, everyone in the tavern.
Well, not quite everyone.
Prosatio Silban stared into his half-drained glass of blue duliac, creasing his brow with a silent grumble. How long do I have to listen to this? he thought, stifling a sigh. He’s been performing his ‘look-at-me-I’m-so-wonderful’ routine every night for the past week. Doesn’t he ever get tired of the sound of his own voice? Or doesn’t anyone else? I certainly do.
The cook-errant had good reason to feel glum. Things had not been going well for him lately; his buopoth had taken ill, it was becoming difficult to procure ingredients even here in epicurean and comestible-rich Pormaris, and his lip was developing a painful cold sore. Thus, he was not in the perfect frame of mind to hear Egotio Nys spout off about how grand and well-connected he was, especially since his disquisition robbed Prosatio Silban of the unhappy cook’s own colleagues’ sympathetic ears – and just when he needed them most.
“I think it all goes back to when I was younger,” Egotio Nys continued. “Matra and Patra were very strict about anyone indulging us, but it’s hard not to be so when one is allied and endeared to by Pormaris’ own nobility. Right? Pelvhi, dear – another round for the house, if you please!”
Cheers went up at this announcement, at which point Prosatio Silban decided he had had enough and tossed back the remaining duliac. I don’t need to feel any shabbier next to Mr. High-and-Mighty, he thought and got to his feet. We can’t all have been born to a life of privilege – some of us have to work for a living, and to rise up early in the morning to do it.
“Where was I? Oh, yes,” Egotio Nys went on. “So then I attended the advanced class at the Archive for Gastronomic Artifice, and after two weeks they asked me to teach. Life is full of surprises, especially good ones, and – Master Prosatio! You aren’t leaving, are you?”
Caught off guard, the beefy cook forced a smile. “Some of us have to get an early start for that all-important break-fast rush,” he said in his most cheerful tone. “As lovely as your company is, I can’t stay here all night.” He turned to go.
Egotio Nys nodded with vigor, then focused wistful eyes on Prosatio Silban. “You know, Master Prosatio,” he said with great seriousness, “I envy you.”
Warm adrenaline shot through Prosatio Silban’s veins, and he paused in mid-step. “I beg your pardon?” he asked, unsure of what he had heard.
“I truly do. I know comparisons are odious, and I oughtn’t make them. But still. It is one thing to be heir to a life of opportunity and advantage, to be educated in the best schools, and hobnob with the wealthy and elite on a daily basis. It is something quite else again to make something of yourself by yourself. As you know, my accomplishments are many and multiform. But so are yours. It can be tiring to live up to my own reputation – and I don’t feel I have half the joy in my work that you seem to. That is why I envy you, sir.”
The room had fallen silent during Egotio Nys’s brief soliloquy, and Prosatio Silban’s cheeks and ears burned. “I don’t know what to say,” he said, bowing his head. “Thank you for the heartfelt and sincere compliment, Master Egotio. Coming from you, I shall treasure it always.”
With that, he headed for the tavern’s door. Comparisons are odious, he thought as he exited, a genuine smile lighting his face. But sometimes, they can also make you happy.