Prosatio Silban and the Vanishing Lesson

(Five printed pages, and a sequel of sorts. If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction.)

IT WAS THE MOST IMPROBABLE of places to meet someone from his past, but Prosatio Silban was accustomed to the improbable – in fact, one might even say he preferred it.

Riverwood was the northernmost border-settlement within the lands surrounding epicurean Pormaris, that most decadent of the Three Cities (and Thousand Villages) of the Uulian Commonwell. Nestled between tall, round Sentinel Hill to the west, and the thick-wooded Greenlanes to the north and east (and separated from that forest by the tranquil and iridescent Crooked River), the village was a destination not only for Uulian seekers-after-mystery but also, occasionally, to the Treeborn: furtive Greenlanes indigenes who traded in woodcraft and herbaceous treasures, culled from the very foliage that (rumoredly) gave them life.

Deploying a table-and-chairs for the use of hungry passersby, the cook waited to see what would come of it all.

As the Treeborn mostly kept to themselves, Prosatio Silban had not yet met any. But he was looking forward to the opportunity as he parked his galleywagon in Riverwood’s marketplace late one morning, between a scarlet-beeswax merchant and a dealer in carved curios. He fed his dray-beast a greasy maroon fatberry cake, told it what a good dray-beast it was, and set up his shingle: a large, painted menu board with the three-colored legend “COOK FOR ANY PRICE” at the top. Deploying a table-and-chairs for the use of hungry passersby, the cook waited to see what would come of it all. He did not have to wait long.

“MASTER COOK!” boomed a fruity, somewhat familiar baritone from behind him. He turned to see two men slowly approaching. The shorter was wearing a deep blue tunic and embroidered shawl gathered at the waist by a long grey beard tucked in at one hip; these clothes, plus a wide-brimmed straw hat and carved bamboo staff, proclaimed the wearer to be an Intuid: one of the M’zei explorer-sages whose city lay far to the north of the Commonwell. His taller, beardless companion was attired in a similar hat and tunic, and grinning an immense I-know-you grin. Something about them raised a dusty memory in Prosatio Silban’s mind.

“I’m sorry…?” the cook began, then the dust was puffed away. “Sir Darpino Phaval!” he exclaimed. “And…let me see…is it the Intuid Avinadav? Yes! How long has it been?”

The men bowed their heads in turn, and the taller man spoke. “(‘your’ presence may enlighten our eyes),” he said in perfectly-accented M’zei.

“(futures precede us),” Prosatio Silban answered automatically. “Your inflection and intonation have improved immeasurably, Sir Darpino. Have you been practicing?”

The pair exchanged mirthful glances. “In a manner of speaking,” replied the taller. “But it is ‘Sir Darpino’ no longer, merely ‘Phaval.’ Since the mystical dinner I had with you both in my Soharis manse last year, the Year of the Rain-washed Flagon, I sold my teak business, gave away my fortune, and became Avinadav’s acolyte. What I learned that night has more than amply repaid me since.”

“(‘he’ ‘is’ no longer pushing ‘his’ head through books),” Avinadav interjected. “(‘he’ ‘is’ also learning how to learn.)”

“What brings you to Riverwood?” asked the cook.

“Are you still a student of comparative religion?” asked Prosatio Silban.

“Avinadav has never been here, which – as you know from your own association with the M’zei – is reason enough for him to visit,” Phaval replied. “I have been here from time to time as a teak merchant, and volunteered to act as guide and interpreter. We would also like to meet the Treeborn, perhaps spend some time learning with them…”

“Are you still a student of comparative religion?” asked Prosatio Silban.

Avinadav burst out laughing, and Phaval joined him. “Hardly,” said the latter. “I am no longer trying to prove that all indigenous religions have their basis in the Uulian faith. But I am interested in how different traditions achieve certain…expanded mind-states. Practical spirituality, one might say.”

“(‘those’ who know, know),” said Avinadav, adding in whispered Uulian, “Wordless mind dies in words.”

“’Wordless mind?’” asked the cook.

Phaval smiled. “As I well know the local innkeeper, who owes me a favor or three, we are staying there tonight. Let us leave you to your customers, and I hope afterward you may join us – and I shall show you what we mean.”

* * *

The Inn at Riverwood, despite its pretentious name, had honestly earned a coveted three-star standing from Barbatus the Elder’s Commonwell Hostelry (“A fine place; decent and clean; better food, drink &c than its two-star counterparts. Slightly more expensive too”). The genial dining-room aroma followed Prosatio Silban upstairs, where he knocked on the inn-room door to which he had been directed.

“Enter!” came Phaval’s jovial shout. He and the cook exchanged pleasantries (Intuids only spoke when they had something to say) before broaching the evening’s purpose.

“It is an easy technique for bringing out the awareness common to all sentient beings,” Phaval said. “Easy – but also an exercise in diligence.”

“How does it work?” asked Prosatio Silban.

“To begin, recline on one of the beds, and close your eyes.”

The cook did so, suppressing a smile. “And now?”

“Breathe gently in and out for several heartbeats, until you are relaxed.”

“Now slowly take a negative inventory of your body, beginning with your feet…”

A moment later: “Done.”

“Now slowly take a negative inventory of your body, beginning with your feet. For each part, say, ‘I am not my thus-and-such’ – ‘I am not my feet; I am not my ankles; I am not my shins;’ and so forth, until you have fully removed said member from your inner attention.”

Shrugging to himself, Prosatio Silban commenced taking stock of – or rather, denying – his hefty form.

“(breath)…I am not my shins (breath)…I am not my knees (breath)…I am not my thighs…”

With each denial he felt somewhat…lighter? Freer? He couldn’t quite tell what was happening, but clearly, something was.

“(breath)…I am not my heart (breath)…I am not my lungs (breath)…I am not my throat…”

He stifled a laugh as he said this last (If I am not my throat, how can I be speaking?) then closed in on his identity-parts.

“(breath)…I am not my brain (breath)…I am not my mind (breath)…I am not –”

Suddenly, his words – his denial-inventory, and even his random and fleeting thoughts – dropped away as though he had burst upward through a tight and all-enclosing net. A great and timeless serenity filled him, from where he could not name or imagine. In fact, even the word “he” seemed to him aptless and inexact. “He” was a wave on a vast and silent ocean with no sense of separation from the “other” waves, only an all-encompassing awareness. It was a feeling he had felt before, but never with such intensity.

Slowly, the intensity faded; he could still perceive the silence between his thoughts – a perception that (he knew) connected him, and would continue to connect him, to all that lived.

Prosatio Silban sat up on the bed and looked at Phaval, then at Avinadav. The feeling of universal unification remained; he could not stop grinning, and his gaze was mirrored by their welcoming eyes.

“’Those who know, know,’” said Phaval. Avinadav merely smiled.

“Where did you learn this?” Prosatio Silban asked Phaval.

“His name was Anamar,” Phaval replied. “One of the early M’zei teachers. He lives again wherever and whenever his teachings are related. But Avinadav is the one who actually imparted it to me.”

Avinadav remained impassive save for his faint smile, but a shadow crossed Phaval’s face.

“Forgive me, but I have felt this before,” said the cook. “But not as intensely.”

Avinadav remained impassive save for his faint smile, but a shadow crossed Phaval’s face. “How so?” he asked.

With broad strokes, Prosatio Silban sketched out what he called his “Golden Moments” – unbidden, lifelong glimpses of the intertwined connection of all that exists. “I picture it as the world becoming a limitless, pieceless puzzle,” he said. “But I had no idea that the experience could be replicated at will – I thought it was just a fleeting view. Thank you for demonstrating otherwise.”

Avinadav beckoned to both of them, then bent his head. “Wordless mind dies in words,” he said in soft Uulian. “Do not kill eternity.”

“(‘what’ do ‘you’ mean?)” asked Phaval in the Intuid’s native tongue.

Avinadav pointed at Prosatio Silban. “Ask him.”

There was a pause.

“I think,” the cook said slowly, “he means that we should not try to analyze this knowledge, but only be aware – and enjoy it.”

* * *

Prosatio Silban stowed his painted menu board in its place beneath his galleywagon and sighed happily. He had just completed three days of adequate profit since arriving in Riverwood, and though failing to even catch a distant sight of one of the Treeborn, he did have one more fine and blessed moment to add to his spiritual storehouse. He had said his goodbyes last night to the inscrutable Avinadav and oddly subdued Phaval, wishing them well on the way to their next circumstantial combination, and decided to wander south toward the victual-rich city of Pormaris. I do so love the iridescent river, he thought. And one never knows whom one might meet.

“I want to become your acolyte,” he said in a muted voice. “That is, if you’ll have me.”

The cook was feeding a fatberry-cake breakfast to his dray-beast when Phaval arrived. He was less ebullient than previously, and when Prosatio Silban asked what he could do for him, the seeker looked down at his shoes before replying.

“I want to become your acolyte,” he said in a muted voice. “That is, if you’ll have me.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I see now that Avinadav is only a scholar. I don’t hold that against him – I have learned much from him – but your truth is more…vital. Natural. If flows from who you are, not what you are.”

Prosatio Silban frowned. “I do not know that anyone can make such a judgment,” he said. “Everything we do flows from who we are. The experience we three shared last year – and this week – informs that. It should deepen us, not define us.”

“That’s what Avinadav told me.”

“Then you know it is true.”

“How do you do it?”

“In a way that cannot be expressed in words, but only comprehended through a ritual-patterned, slowly unfolding life of service.”

“But that’s hard!” exclaimed Phaval.

“Yes,” said Prosatio Silban. “Yes, it is. But it gets easier with practice. As you said, it’s an exercise in diligence. Someone once told me that ‘to find water, dig one deep hole – not a lot of little ones.’ I have found that too to be true.”

Phaval stood quietly, gazing across the river at the Greenlanes.

“Do you want some advice?” asked the cook.

“Please.”

“Go back to the teak business. Or do something – anything – that will serve others.”

“Why?”

“Because,” Prosatio Silban said, “it is the only way to ever serve yourself.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *