Prosatio Silban and the Sentimental Voyage

CASTING AN APPREHENSIVE BACKWARD GLANCE, Prosatio Silban flicked the plaited yak-hair reins to hurry his quaint lumbering dray-beast. He was passing through rough and rocky countryside, and wanted to reach his destination at speed – as befitted a pursued man on an urgent mission.

Let us wind back the calendar three days, to when that mission was first laid before him. The beefy cook’s galleywagon had been parked in the marketplace at Machar’s Rest for longer than he wanted it to be. If I can’t soon attract any custom, I will die in this village, he thought with a wry, if wan, smile. His dire economic situation wasn’t due to a lack of diligence or inventiveness. But what is one to do when the only passersby are as destitute as oneself?

Just as he began to despair in earnest, the Flickering Gods (for those who believe in them) lent a hand. A handsome older woman, her eye caught by Prosatio Silban’s painted menu board, slowed her preoccupied pace. “You are the one known as the ‘Cook For Any Price?’”

He bowed. “With what may I please you?”

“This one. Can you prepare it anywhere?”

She studied the board, and tapped her finger on one of the selections. “This one. Can you prepare it anywhere?”

“An odd question, if I may say. I prepare everything in my galleywagon. What are you asking me?”

The woman sighed. “I know a man. Or rather, knew. We have been estranged for some time. More than was perhaps reasonable. I wish to send him this, his favorite meal, one which has deep meaning for both of us. Would you travel to cosmopolitan Soharis and cook it for him – for me?”

Prosatio Silban put on his most polite face. “It is my policy to serve all customers to the best of my ability. But Soharis is five days away, and the road thither is at times difficult. The undertaking you propose will incur certain expenses. Are you committed to underwriting them?”

She blushed. “I am. Or rather, he will be. Hopmon, God of the Ever-Full Purse, has not been kind to me of late. But the addressee is quite solvent, and will gladly compensate you on delivery when you tell him from whom it comes.”

“Would it not be easier to send him an affectionate missive via Redhawk Dispatch? Your sentiments would arrive the sooner, and cost less overall.”

“The thought had occurred. But that avian service is strictly pay-as-you-send rather than as-you-receive, and in any case it lacks an intimate touch. Nothing says ‘I still love you’ like an appropriate dinner.”

“That is true. I must ask, however – how do I know he will pay me? He may simply accept the meal, and that will be that.”

“It is not the sort of man he is. And also, I shall send with you a promise-contract written in my own hand. As you know, such documents are sacred to Hopmon and hence irrevocable. You will not lose by this engagement, I assure you.”

The cook paused, creasing his brow.

“Well,” he said at last. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well,” he said at last. “What did you have in mind?”

And now it was three days later, with the sun making its inevitable dive toward the jagged horizon and an unseen pursuer not far behind. Darkness soon, Prosatio Silban thought with some trepidation. Why am I doing this? Because I am a mercenary cook, and the pledged profit is considerable. The spiritual reward of reuniting long-divided lovers has nothing at all to do with it, of course. But – why am I being followed?

He scouted the boulder-bordered roadside for a suitable camp, found one among an off-road circle of tall black stones, and halted within it his progress. Two of his dray-beast’s eyes regarded him with warm anticipation as he dug through a sack beneath the driver’s bench and proffered a fragrant pair of maroon fatberry-cakes. While the curious animal chewed happily, the cook peered back along the twilit, rammed-earth road from behind a large obsidian outcropping.

Nothing there. And yet, he knew he wasn’t wrong. Shrugging, the cook entered the galleywagon to see about his own dinner.

Soon, a frugal pot of something savory was bubbling on the fatberry-oil stove. Prosatio Silban sniffed, smiled, produced a bowl and spoon from the narrow but well-stocked serving-ware closet, and ladled out a generous portion. Nothing like a quick but hearty dinner to thicken the hungry sinews, he thought. Its very perfume alone –

He stopped, holding his breath. Was that a noise from just outside his galleywagon’s half-open door? The cook reached for his hidden weapon, but before he could draw it, a figure filled the doorway: a tall woman, younger than his own middling-years, dressed in nondescript travel-clothes and holding a short black quirt.

“We must speak,” she said in a voice like quiet thunder.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“You are traveling to Soharis on a mission of love. I must dissuade you.”

“I doubt it. Perhaps you can tell me what business it is of yours?”

“I know the parties involved. In fact, we are on the same mission.”

Prosatio Silban lowered his voice. “Far be it from me to become involved in a tripartite lovers’ quarrel. My stake in this affair is strictly monetary; if you wish to press your suit, I will not stand in your way.”

The woman looked at him with blank eyes. “What are you saying?”

The woman looked at him with blank eyes. “What are you saying?”

“I am saying that I expect to be paid for my services, whether the gentleman in question chooses you or your rival.”

“But you are my rival.”

It was the cook’s turn to gape. “What are you saying?”

Comprehension lit her face. “No. I believe you misunderstand. I am not someone’s lover. I am someone’s cook.”


“Yes. Your patron – or rather, matron – wanted to hire me for the task with which you are engaged. As she could not afford my rates, I saw no profit in her proposal and told her so. But having her paramour complete the transaction puts it in a different light. I will retake my rightful role in this happy melodrama and respectfully request that you bow out.”

“And I must respectfully decline. I have put three days’ worth of travel in this endeavor –”

“As have I!”

“– and I intend to see it through. I am bereft of coin –”


“— and while I can always find ample work in Soharis, this voyage’s pay is my only chance at replenishing my ingredient-store so that I may do so. I am sorry, but I have just means enough to provide for my traveling-needs and one special and commissioned dish.”

“Well, then. We are at an impasse, are we not? What do you suggest we do?”

* * *

“An excellent repast, Master Cook!” the rich man exclaimed, pushing back his emptied plate with a contented sigh. “Truly, she who sent you knows my taste as well as she knows my heart.”

Prosatio Silban bowed. “That is gratifying to hear, sir. May I assume our business is concluded?”

“You may indeed. Bolio! Please disburse for this man the amount specified in my good woman’s note. He has earned it by his wits and skills. And if I may request, Master Cook, I should like you to prepare for my reconciled lover a reciprocal offering. I shall pay you well, and follow a day behind in order to effect a perfect reunion. Years and circumstance may separate our bodies, but not our hearts.”

A moment later, Prosatio Silban had thanked his new patron and exited the sprawling manse hefting two fat coin-purses. Whistling, he tossed one to his one-time rival.

“You may now earn your own keep,” he told her. “He requests the same meal for his lady fair, and will accompany you at a day’s distance. He is expecting me to cook it, but I think – given his rekindled ardor – he will overlook such a small detail.”

The other cook smiled. “Indeed,” she said. “Thank you for such an equitable solution. What will you do now?”

“’While life exists, the possibilities are endless,’” Prosatio Silban quoted. “Something will turn up. It always has – and with the gods’ help, it always will.”

(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. And if you want them all (so far) in on easy-to-read package, here’s the e-book!)

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