SOMETIMES, THE MOST RANDOM OF encounters can also be the most memorable.
Prosatio Silban was driving his galleywagon high on the switchback road between Mountainfoot and Overlook, and passing the time by whistling selections from Orcio Phatar’s famous musical suite, Grand Dreams Delayed. The early afternoon was as perfect as one could wish – warm sun, passing clouds, exquisite view, lazy drone of distant sapphire-bees – but the worried cook-errant paid scant attention.
If I don’t arrive by sunset, my would-be patron will not be pleased, he thought. His signal celebration is tomorrow evening, and I will need the entire day to buy provisions, prepare them, and see to the hundred-twenty details he specifies. If I must sleep on the road, as seems likely, I won’t have time to –
This fruitless fretting was interrupted by the sight of a young man standing by the cliffside edge of one of the road’s many curves. He was pale and slender, of medium height and unremarkable dress; his imploring eyes, well-stuffed travel-bag, and extended hand indicated obvious intent.
Prosatio Silban explored for a moment possible selfish futures, before the itchy and familiar weight of societal responsibility settled over his shoulders.
Prosatio Silban explored for a moment possible selfish futures, before the itchy and familiar weight of societal responsibility settled over his shoulders. With a resigned sigh, he twitched the plaited yak-hair reins for his dray-beast to halt.
“Where are you bound, traveler?” he called.
The man’s voice was shrill. “Just up the road! Literally!” he shouted. “I must be in the village of Overlook before sunset! Can you take me there?!”
“You are in luck – I too must reach the village by then. I’ll get you there with all speed.”
“You may ride with me.”
“Once again, please?”
“Thank you! You are most kind!” He hefted his bag and climbed on to the wide driver’s bench. “I am Delio Araxel! A poet by profession, and one whose riding-mount took an unfortunate and obstacular fall! I cannot pay you for this passage! But I can entertain you with stirring verses of my own invention!”
By Muraki, Goddess of Restrained Impatience! Prosatio Silban thought. Raising his voice, he said, “That will not be necessary. I am happy to take you for no cost.”
“Please! I insist!”
“Master Poet, you needn’t shout – I can perfectly hear you.”
“Was I shouting? My apologies. It is difficult to know; my ears are not yet matched to this altitude. Is this better?”
“Thank you. And to whom am I indebted for this kindness?”
“I am Prosatio Silban, The Cook For Any Price. I will be creating Sir Indo Plazar’s sixtieth-birthday feast tomorrow, so making Overlook tonight will ensure that I am well-rested for the next day’s challenge.”
“I am to compose spontaneous free-verse suited to the host and guests, and cannot do that without prior rest.”
Delio Araxel grinned. “I too will require a good sleeping. I am to compose spontaneous free-verse suited to the host and guests, and cannot do that without prior rest. Rest. Rest? REST! Ah! that’s better.”
“I take it your ears have adjusted?”
“Quite. I thank you for your forbearance.”
“Not at all. In what sort of free-verse do you specialize?”
“It all depends upon the moment. Poetic inspiration is a fickle beast, but one I have learned to coax and bend to my satisfaction. I imagine it’s much the same affair for creativity in general, including matters culinary?”
“To a degree, that. A wise savant once told me that ‘Creativity is the genius of seeing old elements in new combinations.’”
“Yes!” Delio Araxel nodded vigorously. “‘There is no new thing / that has not been before / in its time. / It is a law / unbreakable / as true love.’”
“Is that one of yours?”
“A mere sample. Were I to extemporize your and my initial encounter, I might say, ah … ‘Any man / bound by / his body / thinks his own constraints / apply to everyone.’”
“Indeed,” said Prosatio Silban, and frowned. “Why do you suppose that is?”
“An excellent question. I have always thought that since one’s perception of Life is so immediate and all-consuming, with no apparent contradiction, its universality is taken as read. Only a brave and capable person can step outside the ‘everyone-thinks-as-I-do-or-should’ cage.”
The cook raised an appraising eyebrow. “I can detect the fallacy in that line of thinking,” he said. “We are separate individuals, after all, with separate if overlapping experiences. But I admire your analysis and its conclusion. May I steal them for my later use?”
The poet swept a beneficent arm. “Consider it my gift to you.”
“Thank you. D’you think we will arrive in time?”
“We do share similar sensibilities,” replied his new friend. “I have no doubt that it will, at least, seem so.”