Prosatio Silban and The Public Discourse

IT BEGAN, AS SO MANY good tales do, at Pelvhi’s Chopping-House. But it didn’t end there.

That bustling asylum for epicurean Pormaris’ vast and varied army of hospitality workers was especially busy for a night in the stormy Season of Huddling. The sounds of lively conversation accented by clinking glasses and tableware were audible even before Prosatio Silban opened the stucco tavern’s brass-hinged oaken door. A rush of warm, smoky air enveloped him as he entered, as did a dozen loud helloes from familiar voices.

“Good evening, everyone!” he called, shaking rainwater off his clothes and making his way to the crowded long bar at the capacious room’s rear. He took the lone vacant seat and lifted one hand toward the tavern’s namesake, who – as usual – was conducting a handful of discrete and discreet conversations. She courteously disengaged herself and sauntered over to the beefy cook, a meaningful expression on her half-wizened face.

“What say, Pelvhi?” Prosatio Silban asked.

“And tonight, I say: ‘Someone is asking for you.’”

“I say many things,” the wiry taverness said. “And tonight, I say: ‘Someone is asking for you.’”

“Oh?” he replied, raising an inquisitive eyebrow. “And who might that be?”

“Me!” came am eager female voice.

He craned his head past a trio of animated busboys toward the voice’s source, where an earnest face cast an inviting look at him from four seats to his left.

“And who are you?” Prosatio Silban asked.

The woman indicated the chattering busboys. “Can we find a less boisterous corner to make introductions?”

Prosatio Silban looked around in vain, shrugged, then addressed the busboys with a voice raised above their laughter-punctuated din. “Fellows! Would you all mind shoving over one so that she and I could talk?”

With much suggestive chortling, the trio complied, and the young woman took the now-unoccupied adjacent seat. Her auburn curls framed an expression of open curiosity.

“I am Aleria Dwul,” she said. “I work for The Public Discourse. Do you know it?”

“Who in Pormaris doesn’t know our most prestigious broadsheet?” Prosatio Silban exclaimed with delight. “I particularly enjoy your regular commentary on the city’s lively culinary world. You are a fair and thorough correspondent. How may I serve your interests?”

“I will come to the point,” Aleria Dwul said, adopting a professional tone. “You have quite a following throughout the Commonwell. But few who know The Cook For Any Price know the man behind the moniker. I would like to dedicate a piece to you: your likes and dislikes, your philosophy of service and notable customers, your humble origins and climb to widespread fame, your this and your that. It would make for great reading. And who knows but that it might even bring you more business?”

“What an intriguing idea,” he said, thinking, so long as it doesn’t address my Sacreantal background. Few would understand why I defrocked myself; such things simply aren’t done. He said, “When were you thinking of?”

“Right now,” she said, brandishing a writing tablet and inkstick. “If this location isn’t to your liking, we could meet somewhere and somewhen else. But soon. I do have a deadline.”

Prosatio Silban forced an agreeable smile. “That won’t be necessary,” he said. “This place is a home for one, a fixed location to which I can return and have it be always the same. And I can easily hold up one end of a loud conversation. Ask me anything.”

“Well, then,” she began. “How did you become a cook?”

“Well, then,” she began. “How did you become a cook?”

“I had a kind mentor who saw me through the process – Trento Urdoin, now sadly among the not-living – and it is to him I owe my past quarter-century’s work. He taught me everything he knew.”

“Why did you decide to become an itinerant cook?”

“It enabled me to stroke two cats with one hand, providing me with a livelihood as well as a living space. And I wanted to bring my unique cuisine to places that may not have experienced the like. I also wanted to satisfy a lifelong wanderlust – it’s a great excuse to travel not only the Uulian Commonwell but the enfolding Exilic Lands.”

“Has your fame changed you in any way?”

“It has made me more cognizant of how I conduct myself. I never know whether I’ll be visiting the home-place of any past or future customers, so I must always be on my best behavior. One does not become well-known without a certain element of risk.”

“Let’s talk about risk,” Aleria Dwul said, spearing him with a direct glance. “How did you lose your hair?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There are but so many ways a man can lose all his hair, and then require artificial eyebrows to hide that fact. What was yours?”

A frigid fist seized Prosatio Silban’s vitals. This is what I feared, he thought in a panic. I’d better think of something plausible. “It was a childhood accident of an embarrassing personal nature,” he almost stammered. “It just … never grew back.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t Sacreantal investiture?”

Damn it. Time to go one the offensive. “Why do you ask?” he said, meeting her suddenly cold eyes.

“I have it from an informed source that you are not what you appear to be,” Aleria Dwul said, dropping her wintry gaze for a brief moment. “I would rather not name him … ah, them.”

“The flow of information must go two ways,” Prosatio Silban said. “I cannot tell you any more, or even expand on what I’ve said so far, without knowing your source. After all, I do have a right to know who’s making unproven accusations about me.”

Again the frosty stare. “Are they unfounded?”

Again the frosty stare. “Are they unfounded?”

“Who is your source?”

Aleria Dwul thought for a heartbeat and waved a dismissive hand. “No one you know. A talkative fry-cook named Bulero Eol. He seemed to know all about you, and I could not pass up the opportunity to verify that knowledge.”

Aha. “Let me tell you about Bulero Eol,” Prosatio Silban said. “He is a petty would-be tyrant who will let pass no opportunity to smear my good name – or even to do so through innocent intermediaries, whom he discards afterward.”

“Bulero Eol, eh?” A renowned restaurateur on the cook-errant’s right took up the thread. “His name is only spoken here with disdain and acrimony. He’s behind last year’s Minute Meals fiasco, which tried to put us all out of business – just to ruin poor Master Prosatio here.”

“And the year before that,” chimed in a popular barkeep, “he took the office of Ranking Culinarian of our Refectionists’ Guild toward the same malicious end. We all revolted – cooks, bussers, restaurant owners, caterers, every one of us – and deposed him. The man is a walking bundle of malevolence and bad intentions.”

“He’s the one you should interview – not an honest cook whose unwitting crime was to serve as the target of that man’s vindictiveness,” offered an up-and-coming waiter. “Wouldn’t it be more interesting to expose a spiteful wretch who uses others to work his dark bidding? He is an ice-hearted snake.”

“And a two-mouthed cheat,” declared one of the busboys.

“And a plague-instigating liar,” asserted a surly maître d’, spitting between his feet.

“Please don’t,” Pelvhi admonished him. “Bulero Eol is well-deserving of our deepest contempt, if there is such a sufficient depth. But my floor isn’t.”

As ripples expanding in a murky river, confirmation after emphatic confirmation of Prosatio Silban’s stinging pronouncement rolled into Aleria Dwul’s ears. Her inkstick flew across her tablet, stopping now and again as she asked for names.

“I had no idea,” she repeated, shaking her head as the bitter testimonials subsided. “I can abide many things, but I can’t abide being made a tool for someone else’s vitriol. Thank you all. It seems I have some work to do.” Turning to Prosatio Silban, she added, “My apologies for your trouble.”

She closed her tablet, nodded to the cook-errant, and pushed her way through the agitated throng to the door.

“Well,” Pelvhi said. “I suppose this means we’ve heard the last from Bulero Eol.”

Prosatio Silban shot her a weary look. “I wouldn’t take that bet, and neither should you,” he said. “Not until he’s breathed his last.”

(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. Enjoy!)

2 comments for “Prosatio Silban and The Public Discourse

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2023.07.13 at 2202

    Saved by the bell

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