(Two-and-a-half printed pages. If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction.)
ONE OF THE NICER THINGS about traveling in a buopoth-drawn galleywagon down a smooth dirt road is the slow pleasure of the unfolding scenery.
Prosatio Silban, as was his wont on such journeys, took it all in with wide eyes and a wider heart. The gentle hills just west of epicurean Pormaris were thick with rosemary, juniper and other fragrant underbrush. Olive and bay trees spread their branches over ubiquitous fatberry bushes rich with maroon fruit, with here and there a tumbled limestone shrine or bluerock outcropping accenting the landscape like three-dimensional punctuation marks. Now and then he could spy a furtive voonith near the undulating horizon, and musical birds in profusion cast their nets of song over the steady thump-thump-thump of his quaint lumbering dray-beast’s footsteps.
I should be at the inn at Baceous before sundown, thought the cook. A good meal that I won’t have to prepare, a bed to sleep in besides my galleywagon bunk…truly does it make a man glad to be alive.
Presently, he saw a crude stone hut not far from the side of the road, outside of which a portly man sat with legs crossed on a woven reed mat. His eyes were closed and his face was a picture of serenity. Next to a low tree-stump table gently piled with ingredients and cooking gear, a small grill sent faint fingers of smoke into the early afternoon sky. The cook drew back on the reins, halting his forward progress.
“I love nothing so much as watching raw ingredients transform into assimilable nourishment.”
“Greetings, friend,” called Prosatio Silban. The man opened his eyes and fastened them on the itinerant cook. He smiled, showing perfect teeth.
“Welcome, traveler,” the man said. “I am a monk of the order of Nyentei, Goddess of the Sojourner’s Refreshment. Pray dismount, that I may serve your needs.”
“Thank you,” the cook replied, stepping down from the driver’s bench. “But my needs are simple, and amply met by self-sufficiency.”
The monk looked at him with affection. “The inn at Baceous is still a long way off, but I can provide you with a meal that will obviate your preparing it.”
With an effort, Prosatio Silban kept his jaw from dropping. “How did you know?”
“I am an oracle by avocation,” the monk replied. “I take it business has been slow for you?”
“It could be better,” said the cook, “but I have no complaints.”
“That is the secret to placid living. Complaints disturb the soul, and not only one’s own.”
“True enough. May I ask what you are cooking?”
“You may. For the past several whiles, I have been in search of the Perfect Fried Egg, But it continues to elude me.” The monk indicated his grill, where a butter-slicked copper pan was in the process of heating over a cheerful wood-fired flame.
“As you may know, that is also a particular interest of mine,” said the cook. “Perhaps we may share knowledge?” He squatted next to the monk, and extended his hand. “Prosatio Silban.”
“Gustabo Bru,” replied the monk, shaking the proffered palm. “We may also share a meal, should the Flickering Gods prove favorable.”
So saying, with a deft gesture Gustabo Bru cracked two brown chicken eggs on the pan’s rim and added them to the butter. They sizzled merrily, exuding a nutty aroma. After some moments, the albumin turned opaque, then white, and the golden yolks began to firm up over the flame’s ministrations.
“Tending eggs is much like tending a life,” Gustabo Bru said. “It takes a light hand, patience, and a thorough knowledge and intuition of when to effect change.”
“How do you effect change?” asked Prosatio Silban. “In the matter at hand, I mean.”
“It can be difficult to choose between so many apt and pleasing methods,” said the monk. “I do, however, prefer to keep it simple and impressive.”
So saying, he lifted the pan from the fire and thrust it forward with a jerk. The eggs flew upward, flipped in midair, and landed back in the pan on their other side. Ruptured yolk bled out from beneath the yellow and white mass. Gustabo Bru tilted his head in sad acknowledgement.
“I have heard that it is all in the wrist,” he said. “I have also heard that the perseverant will be richly rewarded. However, I do not know when that will be.”
Prosatio Silban thought for a moment. “Allow me,” he offered.
He stood up and disappeared into his galleywagon, reemerging a moment later with a large tray bearing two eggs, a black iron skillet and small cruse of oil. He poured a measure of oil into the skillet, swirled it about, and set the skillet on the monk’s grill.
As the skillet heated, filling the air with the green smell of olives, Prosatio Silban cracked the eggs on the surface of the log-table and into a small bowl. He held his palm over the skillet for a moment, nodded slightly, and slipped in the eggs with a quiet hiss.
“This is my favorite part of any cooking process,” the cook said. “I love nothing so much as watching raw ingredients transform into assimilable nourishment.”
“Truly do the Flickering Gods work wonders,” said the monk.
Prosatio Silban dipped a spoon into the skillet and ladled hot oil over the frying eggs, turning the edges into crispy brown lacework. “Sometimes, effecting change means adding a bit of embellishment,” he said.
When everything was done to a nicety, the cook raised the skillet and slipped the eggs onto Gustabo Bru’s waiting plate. The monk took an experimental bite.
“Excellent!” he exclaimed. “How did you come by this technique?”
The cook bowed. “Necessity,” he said. “In truth, I was never very good either at flipping eggs with, or in, the skillet.”
Gustabo Bru laughed. “Perhaps the Perfect Fried Egg is in the palate of the taster?”
Prosatio Silban smiled in reply. “What isn’t?”