Prosatio Silban and the Tainted Wind

NOT ALL AWAKENINGS ARE RUDE – but some may as well be.

Prosatio Silban stretched, yawned, sat up, and contemplated the interior of the curtained sleeping-berth tucked into his galleywagon’s rear. Something is amiss, he thought. But what?

His inquisitive glances took in the bookshelf above his feet, on which perched a dog-eared edition of Barbatus the Elder’s Truth, Life, and Other Comic Futilities; the ceiling-mounted fatberry-oil lamp; the small, diamond-paned window set high in the galleywagon’s aft wall; and the full-length black silk curtain screening him from the rest of the kitchen-cum-vehicle. Nothing seemed out of place.

Then it hit him like an ice-bolt through his chest: What is that wretched stench?

With instinctual trepidation, he cupped a hand over his mouth, exhaled into it, and took a cautious sniff.

BLEAGH! he shouted in his mind, and almost through his now-toxic mouth.

BLEAGH! he shouted in his mind, and almost through his now-toxic mouth.

He kicked open the curtain, swung his legs onto the floor, then padded across his ornate braided rug to riffle through the tall, well-stocked pantry. Now where did I put those cleansing-sticks … ah!

He selected a thick brown twig from a fat bundle of same, put one end in his mouth, and chewed. Instead of the bright taste of springy toothwood, the bitter tang of moldy alliums bathed his tongue. I’m only making things worse, he thought with a grimace, and discarded the stick into the catch-bin under the sink. What could be causing this?

Gargling with warm yava, and then blue duliac, also provided no relief. Neither did swishing his mouth with potent cold-leaf tea. Rubbing strong pungentine salve into his gums and tongue likewise did nothing.

At this point, the baffled cook was becoming frantic. I must begin preparing for the breakfast crowd soon, he thought, but I cannot serve customers with whatever this malady is – I’ll put them off their feed. And I can’t blame them for that. I’ll have to close down!

He frowned. On the other hand, my coin jar is almost empty. I must do something. But what?

* * *

“Why have you a kerchief tied across your face?” his patron, one of Pormaris’ legion market-porters, asked.

“Mouth injury,” the beefy cook replied. “I am quite the sore sight, and it is in truth embarrassing. However, I cannot allow a minor mishap to keep me from serving the customers I love. Where else would they find a hot and economical breakfast?”

His patron sniffed, and made a face. “What is that appalling odor?”

“Yes, what?” added the porter’s table-mate, an elderly courtesan of apparent means. “It smells like … garlic? Onions? Whatever it is, it’s gone bad. Very bad.”

I don’t smell anything,” Prosatio Silban lied. “Now, about this morning’s special –”

“‘Special’ is right!” chimed in a third customer, a down-on-his-luck flax merchant. “I’ve never smelled anything quite so foul.”

“By Apgar, God of Noisome Impropriety! It’s you!” exclaimed the porter, and stood. “Did you forget to visit the public baths yestereve? Or clean your teeth this morning?”

The other two also rose. “I have been frequenting your portable establishment for years, but I must needs take my morning meal elsewhere today,” said the merchant, and left along with the porter.

“Good day, or at least a better-scented one,” the courtesan said, making her own exit.

“Good day, or at least a better-scented one,” the courtesan said, making her own exit.

Prosatio Silban sighed, and his kerchief made that reflexive maneuver doubly noxious. He tore it from his face and threw it on the ground.

“Master Prosatio?” queried a female voice from behind him. He turned, and put a reflexive hand over his mouth.

There stood Abmellia Drroz, concern shading her soft brown eyes. It had been a year since their first (and last) encounter, but the attractive egg-seller with the greying tresses regarded the cook with, if not love, then a deep compassion for his welfare. And more to the point, she was not recoiling.

“Mistress Abmellia,” he mumbled. “So good to see you again. Please, though – do not approach. I am reek-afflicted.”

“So I gathered from your customers’ precipitous retreats,” she said with a kind smile. “It is good to see you, too. What ails you this time?”

“A plague more mundane, yet just as bedeviling,” he replied from behind his hand. “For whatever reason, I have become stricken with … very bad breath.”

“Oh, dear,” she said. “Have you tried gargling with yava?”


“Blue duliac?”

“Of course.”

“Cold-leaf tea wash, or thick pungentine salve?”

“Yes and yes.”

“I have some toothwood twigs in my –”

“Those did not work either.”

“Oh. Well, you have already done what I would. Perhaps we should try something else.”

“I will try anything. What did you have in mind?”

* * *

When last they met, a febrile Prosatio Silban had allowed Abmellia Drroz to minister to him using her purported herbalist’s skills. After several haphazard attempts at a cure, she had finally hit on the correct one, and they had parted with warmth – though without the affection for which she had harbored gently dashed hopes.

“I have learned more about remedies since our previous time together,” she said.

“I have learned more about remedies since our previous time together,” she said, hefting a sizable wicker basket full of herb-bundles, ceramic jars and vials, leather packages, and sundry other containers. “I do not think you shall endure the same difficulties.”

They were inside the galleywagon, with Prosatio Silban seated on the edge of his sleeping-berth. He had opened both halves of the door as well as all three windows; and though not very large, the openings were sufficient for an active cross-breeze to stir the curls of floral-fragrant steam arising from the saucepan simmering on the fatberry-oil stove. Abmellia Drroz bent over the saucepan, whispered into it what sounded like gibberish, then gave its contents a final stir and poured the greasy-looking purple liquid into a tall ceramic mug.

“Here,” she said, proffering the mug. “Gargle with this. It is best taken warm.”

He sipped at the mug, then took a mouthful and leaned his head back with a musical throat-bubbling. A moment later, he gagged, pitched forward, and sprayed the thick violet fluid all over himself.

“O All-Mother!” he coughed, then grimaced. “It’s dripping down the back of my throat!”

“Not to worry, not to worry,” Abmellia Drroz reassured him. “I shall clean you up. First, though, sniff some of this.” She handed him a thumb-sized paper envelope.

“What is it?” he asked with suspicious apprehension.

“Powdered clotwort. Its usual application is stanching nosebleeds, but it should work in your case as well. As for your original problem, let us try something else.” She gave the saucepan and mug a quick rinse in the sink, and drained into the latter two vials of what appeared to be rose-tinted water. As before, she whispered into the mug before handing it to Prosatio Silban with the following instruction: “Swish this in your mouth for twenty heartbeats, then swallow. All of it.”

“What are you whispering?” the cook asked.

“It’s … an enhancement,” she said with an enigmatic air. “It’s supposed to help the concoctions’ virtues. And it usually does.”

“Mistress Abmellia,” he began, then stopped. She means well, he thought. And I can’t argue with the price she’s charging me – the simple pleasure of my company – which is far less than would a Sacreant do. He knocked back the mug’s contents and swished. The flavor wasn’t too bad, sort of a cross between crisp bacon and rich sugar-dates, and he forced a smile as he gulped it down.

“Why am I swallowing?” he asked.

“Mouth-maladies often arise from issues in the stomach and/or upper digester,” she replied. “Swishing and swallowing allows the remedy to address both potential problems.”

“That sounds good and right to methl thathl paffle,” he said, then paused, creased his brow, and tried again. “Mithteithel muthl thathle math! Ohh ohh ohh! Mu muhf uh thung ith umm! Umm!”

“I beg your pardon?” she asked.

In reply, he grabbed a writing-stick and recipe notebook, scribbled with great alarm, and thrust the result at her.

In reply, he grabbed a writing-stick and recipe notebook, scribbled with great alarm, and thrust the result at her.

“Your mouth and tongue are numb?” she asked.

“Umm! Umm!” he replied in panicky agitation.

“That should not have happened,” she said, perplexed, then reached up to pluck a bright orange volcano pepper from an overhead-dangling garland. “Try this.”

The cook-errant popped the pungent fruit into his mouth and chewed with effort, drooling a bit. Soon his mouth began to tingle, then to warm, as life flooded back into his abused orifice.

“I am truly sorry,” she said, handing him another striped dishtowel. “I can only imagine your level of distrust of me, and don’t blame you for it one bit. I do have one other idea, but …”

He wiped his mouth, smacked his lips, and sighed. “I don’t distrust you exactly, but perhaps you should tell me what’s in your ‘cures’ before I try them? I should like to make an informed choice.”

“Fair enough,” she said, brightening. “What would you say to a different salve? One with scrubroot instead of pungentine?”

“That does not sound unreasonable. But just this last time – otherwise I’m going to throw myself on the mercy of the Sacreant healer” – or under a passing zebra-coach, he thought. “No insult offered, of course.”

“None received.” Abmellia Drroz rummaged through her basket and produced a fist-sized earthenware jar. She unscrewed the lid to reveal a burnt-sienna paste that smelt of smoky rose-petals. She held this up, murmured for a moment, and handed it to him.

“I don’t imagine you’ll want me to apply this,” she said with a shy grin. “Don’t use too much.”

Prosatio Silban accepted the container and dipped into it an experimental finger. “Strange – it feels warm,” he said. “Smooth, too.”

He rubbed the fingerful of paste into his gums, tongue and upper palate, then closed his mouth to concentrate the paste’s essence.

He made to open it again. And couldn’t.

“What new and mortal torment is this?” the cook tried to say, but his lips, teeth and tongue were sealed tight and the only sound that came out was. “NNN!” “NNNNN! NNNnnnnNNN!”

“I am so sorry!” she cried in alarm.

Abmellia Drroz’ face fell. “I am so sorry!” she cried in alarm. She flickered her glance around the galleywagon and spied a glass bottle of blue duliac on the honeywood sideboard. She poured three fingers of the powerful spirit into a butter-pot – a miniature, lidless saucepan – and warmed it on the stove. Meanwhile, Prosatio Silban leaned his head into his hands and quaked with frustration.

“Rescue is on its way!” she said, lifting the pot and handing it to him. “Rub this on your lips, and when they open, try to sip and swish it around your mouth. It should act as a solvent …”

He did as she told, and after a few minutes everything was settled. “I hope you aren’t tired of my apologies,” she said, studying at the galleywagon floor and blushing. “I really do mean well. It’s just that –”

“Abmellia Drroz, whatever am I to do with you?” he interrupted, and cast her a stern look. He cupped a hand over his mouth and inhaled through his nose again, gagging at the tenacious smell. “I am no better, but at least I am not worse off. I suppose I shall have to visit the Sacreant after all.”

She held his eyes with hers. “Please. I have one last die to throw, and if it doesn’t do as I plan, I shall pay for your Sacreant’s visit myself,” she said. She again murmured low in an unfamiliar language, swigged from the duliac bottle, smiled, took him into her arms, and kissed him soundly on the lips.

Great Mother! he thought as she sucked his lips between hers. What is she doing?

The air in his lungs was being yanked out of him, and he felt lightheaded and dizzy and cozy all at once. When he thought he would swoon from lack of air, she released him; he stepped back and drew in a blessed breath.

My breath! he thought, tasting nothing but the licorice tinge of duliac. I’m cured!

Abmellia Drroz threw back her head and puffed out their combined breaths with a noise like wind whipping through pine branches. She met his grateful eyes.

“I see it worked,” she said. “Finally.”

“Finally?” Prosatio Silban panted. “Did you … have any … doubts?”

“I learned it from a long-ago … suitor,” she said, blushing. “That and the whispered spell which activates it – but in all honesty, I thought he was toying with me. He called it “The Lovers’ Mingle.”

He regarded her with great kindness. “I’m glad to know,” he said with all sincerity, “that it also works on dear friends.”

(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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