Prosatio Silban and the Recipe Thief

SOME SECRETS ARE NOT MEANT to be shared – at least, not without consequences.

Prosatio Silban closed his eyes and inhaled the clean salt air of cosmopolitan Soharis-on-the-Rimless-Sea. I never tire of this city, he thought. Its ridiculously fresh seafood, its sharp-witted people, the music of its ceaseless custom – such a magnificent whole!

He opened his eyes and exhaled through a smile. His galleywagon was parked in Portside Market’s Wayfarers’ Quarter, between a fatberry-oil seller and a painter of decorative silks. Not far away was the city’s famous fish bazaar, that day’s prolific and splendorous catch displayed on sheets of magiked glacier-ice; an itinerant fortune-teller seated at a folding table was holding passersby spellbound with her verbose prognostications; hawkers assailed browsing shoppers with promises of mood- and life-changing merchandise. And best of all, he had just reaped the profitable benefit of hungry lunch patrons. Truly, it seemed the Flickering Gods were smiling upon him.

“Master Cook?” inquired a well-dressed young man with a cheerful, direct face. “A word, please?”

“Yes? I was about to close for the day, but as the Cook For Any Price I would be happy to meet your needs,” Prosatio Silban said, and gestured toward his painted menu-board. “With what may I please you?”

“My name is Arico Untar, and I am an author of small cookery-books.”

“Here is how you may please me,” said the man. “My name is Arico Untar, and I am an author of small cookery-books. Surely you’ve heard of me? Or any of my works, such as Leisurely Eggs Revisited? Dinner in Pastisi? Swift Meals for Slow Cooks?”

“I have not yet had the pleasure of encountering either your presence or your publications. What do you want of me?”

“Allow me to enlighten you. My forthcoming work will feature a collection of professional cooks’ everyday creations. Each recipe will be a favorite of said cooks, or at least, those for which they are best known.”

“How many have so far consented to your requests?”

“By the grace of Ampliora, Goddess of Anticipated Coin, you will be the first.”

Prosatio Silban frowned. “And how is that?” he asked.

“I only yesterday conceived the idea, and as I live here in Soharis, you were the first cook I happened upon. But I anticipate a vivid response.”

“‘Livid’ may be a more apt descriptor. Has it occurred to you that some may bristle at the idea of you disclosing to the reading public their own well-refined recipes?”

“Not at all. Why so?”

“Let me enlighten you. My recipes are my livelihood, and I would not feel comfortable doing anything which could stint my coin jar. If you share them with your readers, they may think twice about engaging my services.”

“So your answer is ‘no’?”

“It is. What I cook is my own, and I should like to keep it that way.”

“I am sorry to hear that.”

“I am sure you are. Thank you for your interest, though, and I do wish for you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”

“We shall see.” And with that, Arico Untar turned on his heel and walked away.

Prosatio Silban creased his brow as the author departed. Somehow, I don’t think I have seen the last of him, he thought. I hope I’m wrong.

* * *

“In your Humble Frugality recipe, do you soak the beans first? Or do you just put them on the fire to boil and then simmer?”

Weeks later, Prosatio Silban was deploying his tables-and-chairs for the expected breakfast customers when he was accosted by a housewifely woman wearing a quizzical expression.

“Master Cook!” she said. “Please – let me ask you something.”

“And that is?” he responded.

“In your Humble Frugality recipe, do you soak the beans first? Or do you just put them on the fire to boil and then simmer?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Here.” The woman produced from her half-loaded wicker basket a slim volume, opened it, and indicated a page with one stout finger. “This is your recipe, is it not?”

With foreboding, Prosatio Silban examined the text in question. “It is my recipe!” he exclaimed. “What is this book?”

Stovetop Secrets,” she replied. “The latest from Arico Untar’s ready pen.”

The cook’s pulse hammered in his temples. That unremitting bastard, he thought. “May I have this copy for my perusal?” he asked.

“This one is mine,” the woman said with a territorial grimace. “Uggit’s Printery has more of them, but at the price of ten in copper, they are selling fast. Everybody seems to want one!”

Prosatio Silban thanked her. Without another word, he stowed his tables-and-chairs, locked his galleywagon door, and stalked toward the printer’s shop.

A small but noisy crowd had gotten there ahead of him. The cook managed to grab a copy of Stovetop Secrets from the diminishing stack and leaf through it. Sure enough, in addition to his own, here was Postila Zarn’s recipe for Bacon and Potato Greens; Spunio Dzahn’s famous Pounded Ox Heart; and so on for almost three dozen others. By the busy vendor’s counter sat Arico Untar, serenely signing autographs for those lucky few who had managed to acquire one of his books.

“What in the Eight Hells have you done?” demanded Prosatio Silban. “How dare you steal my recipe? And the others? Are they ill-gotten as well?”

The crowd’s hubbub hushed to a whisper as Arico Untar grinned. “I did not steal these recipes,” he said with deliberate care. “In fact, I paid fair money for them, and am now recouping my expenditures.”

“How’s that? You never paid me for anything!”

“Oh, but I did. I sent proxies to buy your wares and those of the others in this book. Then I hired a professional taster to deconstruct their ingredients and techniques. After that, it was a simple matter of duplication and honing. The results, as you can see, are as accurate as can otherwise be.”

Prosatio Silban’s first impulse was to grab the treacherous author by his tunic-collar and drag him into the lane. But he was not by nature an impulsive man; instead, he fixed Arico Untar with an ice-hot stare.

“You will pay for your crime,” he said in as serious a tone as he could muster. “I will inform your other victims, and we will take you to this city’s Court of Maklun. Let the god of judgment judge you.”

* * *

Maklun, Dealer of Long-Armed and Equitable Justice, was one of the Uulian Commonwell’s ten most fundamental and important deities.

Maklun, Dealer of Long-Armed and Equitable Justice, was one of the Uulian Commonwell’s ten most fundamental and important deities. His specialized Sacreants were trained by deep study in the complex intricacies of Uulian law and bound by terrible oaths to uphold it. The Court was a squat black-and-white marble dome, windowless and austere. Inside, the capacious chamber was arranged with a plaintiff’s dock opposite a defendant’s bench, both encircled by a gallery. In the center, on a grey marble dais, seven seated Sacreants wore Rainbow Robes and impassive faces as Prosatio Silban, who had consented to act as the plaintiffs’ speaker, proclaimed their case in matter-of-fact fashion.

“We charge that Arico Untar did misappropriate the property of those gathered here today, without our knowledge or consent, in order to line his own pockets,” he said. “All we ask, O Eminences, is that he be restrained from publishing the recipes which we conceived and perfected over decades – no more, no less.”

The steel-eyed Principal Sacreant nodded. “And what says the defendant?”

“I say this,” Arico Untar said, with masterful innocence. “That I lawfully purchased the dishes in question. The dishes then became my property, to do with as I chose. And I chose to understand their making and share that understanding with the wider world. Can a man be held liable for indulging his curiosity?”

The collected cooks rumbled their disapproval, and the Principal Sacreant banged the small gong before him. “We will have no unrestraint here,” he said. “Do the defendants dispute the facts as presented?”

“No, Eminence,” Prosatio Silban replied. “Only the defendant’s interpretation. Would he say the same about a rare work of art, if he purchased that with the intention of copying and claiming as his own?”

“Your food is not ‘a rare work of art,’” countered Arico Untar. “It is purchasable anytime by anyone, and for the price of less than six in copper. You might just as well say the gods-created ingredients are your property!”

“We have heard claim and counterclaim, opinion and its opposite, and that will be enough for us to issue a ruling,” said the Principal Sacreant. “We will now deliberate.” At that, the divine intermediaries arose and exchanged silent glances accented by expressive facial gestures.

“You won’t win,” one of the cooks whispered to the alleged recipe-thief. “You can’t win.”

“We shall see,” Arico Untar whispered back through a self-satisfied smirk. “And that, soon.”

Minutes ticked by on Soharis’ nearby clock-tower. After a final round of pointed looks, the Sacreants reseated themselves.

“We have made our decision,” said the Principal Sacreant. “In the matter of Soharis’ Aggrieved Cooks v. Arico Untar, we find for the defendant.”

“Aha!” cried the defendant.

“WHAT?!” chorused the incredulous cooks.

“This matter has been settled in accord with the All-Decider’s will. You are now all dismissed; let us hear the next case.”

“Once its price has been lawfully paid, a dish is no longer the property of the one who created it, and the one who purchased it may do as they will,” continued the Principal Sacreant. “This matter has been settled in accord with the All-Decider’s will. You are now all dismissed; let us hear the next case.”

“I can’t believe it,” one of the plaintiffs muttered, rubbing her forehead. “I can’t.”

I can,” Arico Untar said, and his smirk grew more intense. He rose from the defendants’ bench and, chortling, made his exit.

A shocked silence prevailed among the dejected plaintiffs as they filed out of the Court-chamber, a silence broken by the impact of Prosatio Silban’s fist into his open hand. “The question, my colleagues, is this,” he said, “What are we to do next?”

The answer, of course, was both elegant and bold.

“A strike?” exclaimed Adendo Malaz, famed restaurateur of Soharis’ acclaimed Whispering Eagle.

All of us?” asked Buctor Dyarra, taverner of the city’s Arrow and Wheel.

“For how long?” queried Phillia Torl, house-chef to the wealthy shipwright Domadius Vorat.

“Yes. A strike,” Prosatio Silban replied in turn. “By all of us. For as long as it takes the Sacreants to see reason.”

“But they speak for the god of judgment Himself,” countered Pyrella Zoon, a street-peddler of skewered offal-sausages. “One cannot fight a god!

“No,” the cook-errant replied. “But we can fight his representatives’ injustice. An attack on one of our livelihoods is an attack on everyone’s. We will rally the affected cooks, and involve the Refectionists’ Guild from epicurean Pormaris if need be. The Sacreants are wrong. And they must be made aware of it.”

* * *

Two days later, the sizable throng of wronged cooks assembled outside the Court. Some held homemade placards – Down with Arico Untar, Support Your Local Chefs, that sort of thing – and all chanted, “Hear us! Hear us! Hear us!”

The Court’s double iron doors swung open with slow graveness, and a diminutive figure in Rainbow Robe appeared. “What is this about?” she demanded.

“This is about a desecration of the law!” Prosatio Silban cried with righteous ire. “This is about injustice in the halls where justice is meted! You have done the cooks of Soharis a painful disservice, and we are here to lodge an appeal – and an ultimatum!”

“Do you threaten a servant of the Flickering Gods?” countered the Sacreant.

“Not at all. But Maklun has a Consort to Whom He often listens, and Who on occasion tempers His strict justice with Her kind mercy. In Her name, I make this petition: ‘O Delolia, Goddess of Fair and Trustful Clemency, hear our plea and grant our boon. Do not allow base damages to be done to Your children, nor wrongdoers to prosper by the honest labors of others. Whisper in the ear of Your holy mate and counterpart, Maklun the All-Decider, that His decision here take into account and be balanced by Your most gracious aspect. In return, we will publicize Your kindness and intervention wherever justice-seekers gather in Your name. This I affirm.’”

“This we all affirm!” shouted the cooks.

The other six Sacreants, having emerged from within the Court, traded expressions ranging from mild bewilderment to extreme perplexity. “I don’t suppose we can ignore a sincere petition,” said one at last.

“We can if it won’t work,” said another. “Once the All-Decider has decided, He has decided. This ‘appeal’ will not change that.”

“But it did follow the correct forms,” said a third. “And the very basis of law has been elsewhere stated as, ‘The forms must be obeyed.’”

“But it did follow the correct forms,” said a third. “And the very basis of law has been elsewhere stated as, ‘The forms must be obeyed.’”

“Do we have time to waste on such pointless foolishness?” asked a fourth. “There are many other cases pending, and they concern more important matters.”

The fifth turned to the Principal Sacreant. “It is your voice which sets both precedent and procedure,” she said. “You must decide whether or not we again take up this case – and if so, how.”

The Principal Sacreant frowned, then sighed. “Despite my personal misgivings, the plaintiffs have invoked their right to appeal – obscure though it may be,” he pronounced. “Very well. We will take this matter under advisement, and summon the defendant to hear and inform his side of the case.”

“That is all we ask,” said Prosatio Silban, and bowed.

The following day, the cook-errant was back in the plaintiffs’ dock, with his colleagues in the surrounding gallery; the Sacreants took their seats on the dais; and Arico Untar again occupied the defendants’ bench.

“What is it now?” he asked with a defiant sneer. “Another pathetic attempt to badger me for a trumped-up crime?”

“Not at all,” replied Prosatio Silban. “Rather, a final effort to see Maklun’s graces fall upon the correct party.”

“We shall see.”

“This appellate proceeding will now come to order,” announced the Principal Sacreant, giving the gong a soft bang. “Does the plaintiff have else to say?”

“Only this,” said the cook-errant. “We do not dispute that the defendant made equitable purchases of our goods and services. But we do dispute that he can do with them as he wills without further compensation to their creators.”

“My answer is as before,” said Arico Untar. “The ‘goods and services’ are now mine. And it is no one else’s business what I do with them.”

“The parties having been heard, we will now render a final decision, from which no further appeal may be filed,” said the Principal Sacreant. The Sacreants arose, and as before, made meaningful looks at each other.

The clock-tower ticked.

A fly buzzed about the gallery.

Prosatio Silban cleared his throat.

Prosatio Silban cleared his throat.

Arico Untar looked bored.

After a final round of glances, the Sacreants took their seats.

“On appeal, we find that the plaintiffs’ case has merit which went unrecognized during their first action,” said the Principal Sacreant. “Given further consideration, we still hold that the purchaser may indeed do as he will with his purchase –”

“Aha!” cried Arico Untar.

“— but he may not so do if that will is to profit without recompense to his purchase’s creator.”

“Ah-what?” Arico Untar gasped.

“Such an action is hereby ruled unlawful,” continued the Principal Sacreant. “We direct that Arico Untar immediately cease his publication of Stovetop Secrets, and divide its accumulated proceeds among those who initiated this complaint. In addition, we further decree that he procure a feather-pillow and bring it into this city’s Central Square. He shall then rip it open and scatter its contents to the six winds.”

“Toward what end?” asked the nonplused defendant.

“Toward this: that if or when you collect the scattered feathers – all of them! – only then will you have fully undone the damage your book has done to these cooks’ livelihoods. You are all now dismissed; let us hear the next case.”

The two parties regarded each other in silence: the cooks with satisfaction, the author with apprehension. Prosatio Silban broke the uneasy quiet.

“If you’ll excuse me,” he told Arico Untar, “I shall fetch you a pillow.”

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

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