Prosatio Silban and the Road Taken

ONE GOOD TURN LEADS TO another – and also, sometimes, to unforeseen ends.

Prosatio Silban was sick. So sick, in fact, that he couldn’t sit upright on the wide driver’s bench as his galleywagon swayed along the tamped-earth road near … well, he didn’t quite know. All he knew was that his face was hot and sweaty, his senses swimming, his body cold and achy, and that the stark fist of the All-Limiter would be a welcome companion. He was aware, in a dim and distant way, of Onward’s soft coos of encouragement as the pair trundled toward no known destination. If only … he thought, before darkness took him.

After an indeterminate period, and through a buzzy haze, he realized that he was laying on a soft, flat surface. Good smells greeted him along with the sound of female humming. Am I delirious, or…? he thought before drifting back into a sea of pain-wracked blackness.

This pattern repeated itself several times before he washed up on the shores of wakefulness and stayed there.

This pattern repeated itself several times before he washed up on the shores of wakefulness and stayed there. Slanting sunlight illuminated a simple room: cot, table, chair, lamp. A robed woman stood with her back to him, chopping, to judge by her sounds and motions. He felt like himself again – and a very ravenous self at that.

“Am I … alive?” Prosatio Silban croaked.

The woman turned. She was older than Prosatio Silban, though not by much. Her black curls were brindled with grey, framing a face both tender and commanding. She moved with the precision of someone reveling in her favorite element.

She smiled. “You are alive,” she said in a self-assured contralto. “It has been awhile since you felt so, yes?”

“Yes. How long, exactly?”

“Three days, since you arrived here. Before that? I do not know.”

“And where is ‘here?’”

Her smile grew proud. “My home. In the village of Whittlewood. A few dayrides from Pormaris. Is that where you were headed?”

“I don’t recall where I was headed. All I remember is being on the road, and … and then …”

“Fortunately, your dray-beast was able to guide you here before your illness took you away from this most interesting of all possible worlds. I have fed him, and now it is your turn to eat. Come. Sit.”

He obeyed, marveling that he could rise without dizziness, and made his wobbly way from the cot to the table. A plain wooden dish of chopped and flame-kissed meats, beggar’s squash, and scoop-roots had been laid for him. He sat down with a grateful grunt.

“May the All-Mother bless you for your kindness, and for making me strong with your food,” he prayed, then picked up a fork and dug in. One bite later, he knew he was in the presence of greatness.

“By Scofi!” he exclaimed. “How did you learn to cook so well? Where?”

“By Scofi!” he exclaimed. “How did you learn to cook so well? Where?”

“That is a lengthy tale, and one of small consequence.”

“I have both time and curiosity.”

“Then let us begin with introductions. I am Franma Olmin.”

Prosatio Silban dropped his jaw. “You’re Franma Olmin? Chef of the renowned Pormaris restaurant Scarlet Begonia?”

“I was. Then I left behind Pormaris and its theatrical food and decided to settle here.”


His savior frowned. “I simply ceased to enjoy what the Commonwell thinks of as ‘fine dining,’” she said. “The restaurant-going public is fickle and flighty, and it became a burden to stay abreast of this or that latest trend or taste. Here, I have returned to the primal; to the earliest and most minimal cooking methods: fire and smoke, supplemented by such unpretentious seasonings as ocean-salt and whatever I can forage from the surrounding terrain. No pots, no pans, not even a stove. One does not need more than those fundamentals, as you can see. Or rather, taste.”

The cook-errant nodded. “I do understand your point. But how do you make a living?”

“I barter my skills for the little I need. The other villagers bring me meats and vegetables; I cook for them and take in trade either my share of food, or whatever other services I cannot provide for myself. It keeps me busy and them fed, and is not a bad life as lives go.”

“Don’t you miss cooking for a larger audience?”

“From time to time. It did give me great pleasure, at least in essence, as well as a focus and purpose. And that I do miss. But what can I do? I will not live in a city again.”

“Perhaps you can have the best of both worlds – simplicity and a purposeful focus. Have you considered opening a restaurant here in Whittlewood?”

Franma Olmin reddened. “That thought has left occasional tracks across my mind, yes.”

“You could follow those tracks!” Prosatio Silban said with enthusiasm. “Cook on your own terms, for your own reasons, serving a self-selecting group of gourmet wayfarers. They would more than pay for your ingredients and effort.”

“Whatever would I do with the extra coin? I have my home, and my needs are only few and modest.”

“Whatever would I do with the extra coin? I have my home, and my needs are only few and modest.”

“Aha. Is there a charity or cause to which you would like to donate your proceeds?”

Her eyes twinkled. “One or two.”

* * *

Some months later, Prosatio Silban was finishing the breakfast rush in Pormaris’ legendary South Market when a breathless messenger arrived at his galleywagon’s stall.

“I have a message for you, Master Prosatio!” he announced, and proffered a fold-locked paper envelope. “From Franma Olmin. She bade me put it directly into your hand.”

“Thank you,” said the beefy cook. He accepted the slim parcel – What could this be? he thought. Praise? Thanks? Recompense? – and slid it into a pocket of his apron, where it stayed until the last of his morning customers had departed. He entered his galleywagon, slit the envelope with a short-bladed knife, then withdrew and unfolded its contents.

“Master Cook,” he read. “I hope this finds you in good health and spirits. As for me, I am now elsewhere than when we last met. I took your advice and opened my home for such as were willing to invest coin and time in my cooking. At first, all went well – they were eager and appreciative, I was industrious and accommodating – but their numbers and needs soon exceeded my comfortability, and I found myself packing to leave. I will not tell you from where I am writing this, for I do not wish once more to ‘cook for an audience’ or entertain visitors. I have doffed my professional apron for good, except to serve no more than my humble needs require. Perhaps, should the Flickering Gods so dispose, we will meet again someday. (signed) Franma Olmin”

Prosatio Silban read through the letter twice, gave a deep sigh, and crumpled it into his undersink catch-bin. Perhaps we will, he thought. Until then, I suppose some pots are better left untended.

(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!)

2 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Road Taken

  1. Betty
    2022.04.14 at 0930

    Again, thank you for sharing. Lots to think about.

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