Prosatio Silban and the Tavern Tale

THE BEST TOOLS COME WITH stories, and Prosatio Silban’s were no exception.

True, most of them – i.e., the overhead-dangling tangle of pots, pans, and cooking implements, along with a cork-sectioned drawer full of specialized knives – were acquired over a quarter-century ago as part of his galleywagon’s initial outfitting. But, as he related to a budding companion one night at Pelvhi’s Chopping-House, three exotic elements of his equipment-store came to him by a more circuitous route.

“Take my hydrator, for one,” he said, swirling his glass of blue duliac to release the spirit’s ineffable aroma. “A ready and steady water supply is important to any cook. However, my galleywagon’s architecture makes such a necessity somewhat challenging to engineer.”

“What, pray tell, is a hydrator?” asked the well-dressed woman of middle years. “And how does it work?”

“That’s just what I call it,” replied the cook-errant with a deprecating hand-wave. “It is a head-sized lump of greenish crystal, apparently meant to hang by its sturdy gold chain over a sink. Tilted to one side, it releases an as-yet inexhaustible supply of hot water; tilted oppositely, cold.”

“What if you want warm water?”

“What if you want warm water?”

“On those rare occasions, I plug the sink and alternate sides as needed. It is not difficult once you get the hang of it.”

“Ingenious! Where did you get it?”

“Aha! I am not certain. I awoke one morning here in epicurean Pormaris and found it on my doorstep. There was no note of explanation or instruction, and my trial-and-error fumblings made quite the mess before I figured it out.”

“I can well imagine,” the woman said through a tell-me-more smile. “You mentioned two other unusual devices?”

“Yes – a grinding-pot and coldbox,” Prosatio Silban said, returning her smile with interest. “I received the former during one of my infrequent engagements in stonyhearted Tirinbar.”

She made a face. “Don’t tell me you actually visited that den of amoral slavers?”

“It is not something I am in the habit of doing. My only excuse was that I desperately needed the coin, and depriving those soulless folk of such seemed a welcome alternative to starvation.”

“I see your point. Tell me, then, about this grinding-pot. What is it, exactly?”

“Just what the name implies. It is a rosewood jar about this tall by that wide” – he illustrated with his hands, and her eyes followed – “with a hinged lid bearing a silver knob on top and intricate gears beneath. One turns the knob to produce different textures; the farther, the smoother.”

“Fascinating! And how did you come by it?”

“I catered a private dinner for one of Tirinbar’s most noted and wealthy inventors. I don’t recall the specific occasion, but he was so grateful that he gifted me the pot in addition to considerable pay. Say what you will about that city – its residents are clever technologists.”

“So I have heard. Another drink?”

“Please. Am I boring you?”

“Not at all!” The woman gestured to Pelvhi. “Two more duliacs, if you please. Blue.”

“Right away,” the taverness replied, hiding a discreet yet benign smirk.

The woman turned inviting eyes on Prosatio Silban. “And the coldbox?”

“That tale,” he said, shifting a bit closer, “is rather involved. Do you have the time?”

“For such a tale,” she replied, “I will make the time.”

“Very well. (Thank you, Pelvhi!) It all began thus …”

* * *

The sun was at its scorching zenith as Prosatio Silban flicked the plaited yak-hair reins, encouraging his sturdy dray-beast to continue their ascent. They were nearing Skydigger Halls, on the border between the Uulian Commonwell and the mountain-rimmed Cold Waste. It had been a strenuous journey up the long switchback road, but the beefy cook’s chief worry was the temperature inside his galleywagon.

If the victuals go bad, he thought, I will have made this trip for naught.

If the victuals go bad, he thought, I will have made this trip for naught.

At last, the final turn hove into sight. It was marked by a leering statue of a four-armed Dulk, one of the Cold Waste’s most feared denizens. As rendered by the equally quadribrachial Skydigger Halls dwellers, however, the obscenely detailed sculpture was a sarcastic mockery of their otherwise frightful enemy.

The Delvers certainly know their stonework, Prosatio Silban thought with a silent chortle. And I’m sure that the Dulk would disapprove of such a ribald joke at their expense.

No sooner had he completed that observation and rounded the curve than the Halls’ formidable gate loomed ahead: a triple arch of granite supporting two great iron-hinged basalt doors and an impressively curved overhang. To the cook’s surprise the gate was open, guarded by three squat and muscular Delvers garbed in blackened chainmail. The trio raised their upper arms in welcome.

“The Cook For Any Price has arrived again!” one roared.

“We shall eat tonight – I hope!” bellowed another, and all three laughed.

“And I hope not a moment too soon!” rejoined Prosatio Silban. “I fear this merciless sun is still playing hob with your provender. May my galleywagon come under your shade?”

“Of course! Of course!” declared the third Delver, who sported a gold baldric of rank. He reached up to the dray-beast’s halter, then drew the compliant animal and its mobile burden beneath the overhang. “What is this about our provender? We are not paying you for spoiled meat!”

“That remains to be seen,” Prosatio Silban said, grimacing. “I have used a thicker pile of ice-sacks this time, and you are free to inspect the cargo with me. The difficulty is that oal-haunches, while tasty, are unpredictable travelers.”

The pair climbed the galleywagon steps, and Prosatio Silban opened the door – only to be assaulted by a ripe stench.

“By the All-Limiter’s stark fist!” he cried, flapping his hands to dissipate the vivid odor. “My sincerest apologies! I shall bear the full cost, and not trouble you again. It pains my honor to admit this, but it is a long way up from the oal-herders at the mountain’s foot; and as the beasts are averse to climbing, I do not know how to consistently compensate for the distance.”

After a few pensive heartbeats, the ranked Delver held one finger aloft.

“How if this,” he said. “You are recognized here and throughout the Exilic Lands as an accommodating cook. Allow us to accommodate you to accommodate us.

“What do you suggest?” Prosatio Silban asked.

“A loan. A conditional loan, that is, of one of our lesser and common creations.”

The cook raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “You must truly crave oal-meat, to entrust me with such a thing.”

“We do – especially as cooked by your skilled hands. Now. Here’s my plan…”

* * *

“…And so they lent me a magiked cube of glacier-ice, hollowed out and fitted inside with steel-wire shelving,” the cook finished with a convivial grin. “That coldbox is still on loan, even these many years later. As long as I regularly keep the Delvers swimming in roasted oal-haunches, I may use it as I will.”

“By your meticulous descriptions, I can easily picture all this equipment,” the woman said, holding his eyes with intensity. “But I would like to see them for myself. Is the hour too late for such a bold request?”

“For such a bold request,” Prosatio Silban said, laying a hand on hers, “I will make the time.”

8 comments for “Prosatio Silban and the Tavern Tale

  1. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2022.09.08 at 0949

    I like that. I’m going to use “By the All-Limiter’s stark fist!” next time I rot something in the refrigerator.

    • 2022.09.08 at 1447

      You are heartily welcome! Actually, I stole “stark fist” from the SubGeniuses (full disclosure: their version is the Stark Fist of Removal;” I do love peppering these stories with what’s now called “Easter eggs,” but I prefer the term “hidden jokes.”). It’s a good one, innit?

      • Kathryn Hildebrandt
        2022.09.08 at 1450

        Ha, ha! Yeah, Easter Eggs used to be geek-specific.

        Stark Fist of Removal sounds…hm, vaguely obscene.

  2. Kathryn Hildebrandt
    2022.09.08 at 1451

    They took away my off-color laughing emoticon! How rude :>p

    • 2022.09.08 at 2053

      It’s always something, right?

      • Kathryn Hildebrandt
        2022.09.08 at 2229

        Yep. By Grabthor’s hammer, it always is.

  3. Alana
    2022.09.10 at 1047

    For some reason I sense this woman is after his kitchen gadgets. 😀

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