WHAT DOES ONE DO WHEN a beloved tool breaks down in mid-use?
With a series of staccato clunks, Prosatio Silban’s rosewood grinding-pot ground to a loud halt. He shook it, slapped it, frowned at it, then set it on his preparation-counter and removed the lid.
Inside was a tangle of partly pulverized kobi-nuts and twisted metal.
Wonderful, he thought with an exasperated sigh. It has been some time since I’ve needed to visit Mura Issthor, but there’s nothing else for it. I do hope she’s still in business.
He emptied and cleaned the broken appliance, tucked it under one arm, then set forth from his galleywagon and into the innards of Pormaris’ fabled South Market.
Prosatio Silban halted in front of an unpretentious building.
The South Market was justly fabled for its reputation as one of those places where anything could be obtained for the right, oft-haggled, price. It boasted around its periphery set-aside sections for transient merchants and informal stalls of a less-temporary nature, and a center populated by permanent two-story shops, many of which catered to Pormaris’ culinary community: victualers, cutlers, herbalists, greengrocers, pot-healers, grains vendors, wine-and-spirits brokers, noodle manufacturers, ceramicists, butchers, bakers, cookware-makers – in short, everything that both amateur and professional cooks might require, or anyway want. Prosatio Silban halted in front of an unpretentious building whose over-the-door plaque proclaimed, MURA ISSTHOR’S APPLIANCES. The muscular proprietress, clad in oil-stained kneebreeches and a tool-bedecked leather vest, was busy sharpening an auger bit. She looked up as the cook-errant jingled the entrance bell.
“Master Prosatio,” she said with brusque familiarity. “What may I sell or service for you?”
He presented the grinding-pot. “This,” he said. “It has performed in an exemplary manner for years, but as you will see, it now lacks the vigor of its youth.”
“Much like he who uses it,” she said, raising an ironic eyebrow. “No clear way has yet been discovered for restoring said vigor in the latter. Yet there may still be a chance for the former. Let me see.”
Mura Issthor took the faulty device in well-calloused hands with long, nimble fingers. She flipped down a headband-mounted magnifying lens and peered through it, muttering under her breath as she prodded and probed at length. Finally she fixed on the cook a tight-lipped grimace.
“What you have here is a busted sieve-reduction gear which shredded the grating differential,” she said. “It’s easily mended and won’t cost much for it to run as new …”
“Wonderful!” interjected Prosatio Silban.
“… but it will soon break again – irreparably so – and the entire appliance itself will need to be replaced.”
The cook raised an eyebrow. “’Replaced?’” he asked.
“Replaced,” she echoed, and swept one hand toward her shop’s shadowy depths. “I have several here which will work at least as well as, if not better than, this one. But as you may guess, they are expensive.”
“This one was a years-ago gift, so I can’t speak for price. How expensive, then, is ‘expensive?’”
“Five. In silver.”
“But it should then last you for a lifetime.”
“That’s the least-costing one. But it should then last you for a lifetime. Depending, of course, on how old you plan to become.”
“At that price, I should hope to long evade the All-Limiter’s stark fist. Very well. What are your exact terms for a replacement?”
“My exact terms are as stated. Five in silver, neither more nor less.”
“Will you accept an in-kind barter?”
“Thank you, but no. This is a complex mechanism, of difficult make, and must be priced as such.”
“How could I raise that sort of coin? Especially at this time of year?”
“That is not my concern. Shall I repair it instead?”
“How much will that cost?”
“Substantially less – only four in copper. But you will never know when it will break again.”
“Well. It seems I have little choice. With Hopmon’s assistance, I may earn enough coin before then to meet your considered price. Meanwhile, please see that this one is mended.”
“You may call again at daybreak tomorrow. And thank you for your patronage.”
* * *
Back inside his galleywagon the next afternoon, Prosatio Silban took great and deliberate pains to load the repaired grinding-pot with three thick-sliced blood-carrots. He closed the lid and twisted its central knob a smooth half-turn with fingertip ease.
It feels all right, he thought, and opened the lid. Inside was a perfect blood-carrot puree. He sighed with careful delight. Thanks and praise to Angrim the All-Limiter for extending the life of my appliance – up to now, at least.
It was that day’s third successful usage, but the cook-errant – generally a patient optimist – was finding the suspense a bit much. First had come an order for fried banana-paste; then wheat-threads with pepperbean sauce; and now the carrots, a bed for sautéed lake-prawns. The grinding-pot was holding up – but, he wondered, for how long?
Oh no, he thought. Oh, no!
The answer came by way of three orders for creamed potato soup, ordinarily a simple affair of leeks, onions, potatoes, cream, and chicken stock. After a quick sauté, He loaded these in sequence, but the knob, which had been turning freely, now stuck fast despite his most valiant attempts at physical persuasion.
Oh no, he thought. Oh, no!
He set the grinding-pot on the preparation-counter and tried raising the lid.
Then he tried again.
Prosatio Silban closed his eyes and sighed. Like this ‘pot, I suppose even Angrim has His limits, he thought, shaking his head. And so does my unflappability.
He stepped outside and addressed the trio of customers seated at one of his two tables-and-chairs.
“I do beg your pardon,” he said with practiced courtesy. “Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am unable to prepare your desired lunch. May I interest you in something else from the menu?”
The three exchanged meaningful looks and stood up as one. “Creamed potato soup is one of your specialties,” declared the flashiest. “It’s what we’re here for, and if it’s not here, then neither shall we be. Good day to you.”
“But …” Prosatio Silban protested to their departing backs.
“Is that true?” asked a disapproving-faced woman seated at the other table. “You are not serving creamed potato soup today? Then why am I here?”
“For the best meal in the Itinerants’ Quarter,” blurted the cook. “I can recommend many other fine dishes with which I may please your …” He trailed off as she passed out of earshot.
I’d better think of something, he thought, wiping the sweat from his face. And fast. If I don’t …
* * *
Pormaris’ Needful Aid kiosk was nine massive cobalt-teak pillars located at the confluence of South Market’s most-trafficked lanes and streets, festooned with fastened notices for lost items, found items, wanted items, unwanted items, items for sale, positions for hire, missing persons, wanted persons, and anything else deemed by those posting them as being in the public interest. After a bit of searching, Prosatio Silban found a place for his “Affordable Grinding-Pot Desired” handbill, stating his address as “Itinerants’ Quarter, South Market.” He tacked it up, offered a small prayer to Diell, Goddess of In-Time Deliverance, and hoped for the best.
Two days of little to no business later, the cook was in a blue mood. I am never going to see another customer again, he thought, standing by his revised menu-board with forced cheer on his face and a nonchalant hand on his hip. On the bright side, that means I won’t actually need another grinding-pot. So I should, in fact, rejoice.
A soft cough came from behind him, and he turned.
A soft cough came from behind him, and he turned. A somewhat overdressed young man was regarding him with cool but confident appraisal. He held up a lettered sheet of woodpulp-paper.
“This is your handbill, yes?” the man asked in a whispery drawl.
“Yes,” Prosatio Silban replied. “Do you have something for me?”
“Consider it … an opportunity. What would you pay for it?”
“What are you asking?”
“One in silver for a new grinding-pot. Half that price for one that’s slightly used.”
“Those are reasonable prices.”
“I am a reasonable man.”
“Evidently. How ‘used’ is ‘slightly used?’”
“A dent here, a chip there. But the machinery is in pristine condition.”
“That is all I need or want. I don’t care what it looks like, only that it works – and works well. When may I have it?”
The man smiled, showing gilded teeth. “I have but to fetch it. Say … within the quarter-hour?”
* * *
The gallon-capacity rosewood grinding-pot was just as described; although its exterior was battered in several places, the knobs and levers were in good repair and the inside was clean and fragrance-free The real question, Prosatio Silban thought, is – will it work?
“I should like to test its capabilities,” the cook said. “Shan’t be more than a moment.”
“Take all the time you need,” the young man replied with a magnanimous hand-sweep. “I would not dream of taking your coin without a thorough inspection.”
Inside the galleywagon, Prosatio Silban set out what seemed to be a fair test: shelled kobi-nuts, a head of garlic, a whole sliced ginger-root, a handful of volcano peppers. One by one, he placed these into the device, closed the lid, turned its top-knob, opened the lid, smiled, emptied the ’pot, and passed it through his magiked cleansing-hoop.
So far so good, he thought, then: What’s this?
So far so good, he thought, then: What’s this?
He had inverted the grinding-pot to discard into a shallow ceramic bowl the results of his last run-through. The bottom was burn-stamped PROPERTY OF MURA ISSTHOR’S APPLIANCES.
Prosatio Silban creased his brow and shook his head, then made a final pass through the cleansing-hoop. When all was in order, he carried the unit back outside and confronted the seller.
“It is perfectly serviceable,” he said. “And the price again is …?”
“Ten in copper,” the man replied. “A steal at that price.”
“A steal. At any price.”
The cook fished in his coin pouch for the requested sum. “Thank you,” he said as they made the exchange. “And where might I find you for future … opportunities?”
“Oh, you need only tack up another item-wanted handbill. I will find you.” The man nodded his thanks before disappearing into the late-afternoon crowd.
This is not the end of our little story, Prosatio Silban thought. Not by far.
* * *
“And you found this where?” asked Mura Issthor, rotating the grinding-pot before her measured gaze.
“I did not exactly find it, so much as recovered it,” replied Prosatio Silban. “It is yours, yes?”
“Yes. I am missing three others, in fact, and had despaired of their reclamation. My profuse thanks! I am in your debt.”
“I believe I have a line on the others as well. Just how much are you in my debt?” the cook-errant asked with a suggestive smile.
Mura Issthor returned the smile. “Enough to let you keep what you recovered,” she said, and handed him the grinding-pot. “As for the others, well … let us leap that stream at the proper moment.”
Prosatio Silban bowed. “That is a fair trade, and much appreciated,” he said. “Of course, it is worth any expense to make an honest deal.”