Prosatio Silban and the Wicked Stage

DESPITE ITS GENERAL ALLURE, IMMORTALITY isn’t necessarily suitable for everyone.

“To the point: You shall live forever as the centerpiece of my next theatrical work, The Cook For Any Price; or, A Delicious Wage,” Amaeus Tozar said, raising his yava-mug for emphasis. “Nothing more, and nothing less. And I will not allow you to decline.”

The producer-playwright was seated with Prosatio Silban in the Three Masks, reputed for its late hours and bottomless yava-mugs, and likewise as a haunt of players, poets, tragedians, dramatists, comedians, composers, and others of that professional ilk. The two had met by chance one day at one of epicurean Pormaris’ smaller public baths, and the cook-errant had since, without success, been trying to shake off the other’s persistent presence.

I do not need greater fame, Prosatio Silban thought. And I do not want my past revealed to those who do not know me.

“So what did you do prior to becoming the Uulian Commonwell’s best-known mercenary cook?” asked the theatrician.

“I diced and stuffed lunch-potatoes in a house of courtesans,” he said.

The cook adopted a mild expression of attentive apathy. “I diced and stuffed lunch-potatoes in a house of courtesans,” he said. “The pay was decent, the work steady, and it was good training. Most of a cook’s time is spent preparing ingredients, you know.”

“Excellent!” Amaeus Tozar exclaimed. “It’s exactly that sort of detail that rings true on the stage. The more little-t truths we can provide, the better the audience’s experience. Oh! And I even have found the perfect actor to portray you – none other than the renowned Wersdan Ehgit!”

“I know so little of the theater that such information is lost on me.”

“He played, to great acclaim, the architect Sir Vando Lai in last season’s The Lover’s Confection, as well as Otton the Beggar in my own Lost Twilight. The audiences were wringing out their handkerchiefs over that one, I don’t mind telling you. He has your build, your vocal quality, and such range – by Galien the All-Mother, his range! – that he could play you from youth to your present middling-age.”

“Master Amaeus, I do not know quite how to tell you this, but I am just not interested in being portrayed or played by anyone. Please – find another subject for your ready quill.”

The playwright slitted his eyes. “What you seem not to know is that, as a figure of note, you are fair game for artistic depiction. This project will go forward either with you or without you; I prefer the former, but it is really your decision.”

Prosatio Silban sighed, and not for the first time that day. “Very well. What sort of influence may I hold over your finished product?”

Amaeus Tozar grinned a relaxed predator’s grin. “That depends.”

“On what?”

“On what you can convince me to give you.”

* * *

At first-light the next morning, the unlikely pair breakfasted at the beefy cook’s galleywagon on a poppyhorn and mug of yava apiece. Afterward, they browsed Pormaris’ famed South Market so that Amaeus Tozar could observe firsthand how Prosatio Silban conducted his daily business.

“One of the most important parts of my day is procuring ingredients. Today, and in lieu of having a specific client, I will purchase a general supply from which to build several different meals,” Prosatio Silban said as they strolled among shops and stalls being stocked and prepared for the coming day’s trade. Approaching a covered stall whose banner proclaimed Bollio’s Greengrocery, the cook raised his voice in greeting.

“Bollio Perrit, my friend!” he called to the tall man behind the counter.

“Bollio Perrit, my friend!” he called to the tall man behind the counter. “How are your wife and children?”

The shopkeeper smiled acknowledgement. “Very well, thank you for asking. And you – does your business bring you much coin?”

“Ah. That is for Hopmon, Lord of the Ever-Filling Purse, to decide.”

“May His bounty be upon us all. I take it you need what I have?”

“Yes – three bunches of green garlic, four stones-weight of good palm fruit, and six of your finest lettuce shells. Are the new tomatoes in yet?”

“Not yet. Master Arod’s draft-zebra is still sick, and the farmer? He can do nothing without her.”

“A pity. Please give me two dozen pickle-beans instead, and mark it all to my accounting. Can you have this delivered within the hour so that I may welcome my customers with breakfast? You will find me at my usual location in this market’s Itinerants’ Row.”


The cook and the playwright went on in this manner for a time, stopping at a baker here, a dairymaid there, a meats-vendor elsewhere, while Amaeus Tozar took profuse notes in a small wood-paper notebook. Mutters of “Wonderful!” “Excellent!” and “I can use this!” fell from his lips at random intervals.

Soon, they were back at the galleywagon, lodged today between a fatberry-oil peddler and a seller of ornamental herbs. Bundles and packages lay deposited in a neat pile on the portable premises’ driver’s bench.

“The next thing I do, even before unpacking the provender, is to deploy my painted menu-board and two tables-and-chairs,” the cook explained. “I can then attract early-morning custom as I bustle about with preparation and what not. My business is as much about showmanship as about cookery.”

At that point, Prosatio Silban’s good friend Pelvhi appeared from around a corner. She was dressed against Pormaris’ typical morning chill and greeted the cook with a warm smile.

“What say, Pelvhi?” he asked.

“I say many things,” she replied. “What would you like to hear?”

“I say many things,” she replied. “What would you like to hear?”

“That you are pleased to meet … this gentleman. Pelvhi the Taverness, I present to you Amaeus Tozar.”

“Not the Amaeus Tozar?” she said, eyes alight. “Author of Lost Twilight, Packing the Day, and A Little Dinner For Big Hearts? I have enjoyed your work immensely over the years.”

The dramatist bowed, took Pelvhi’s proffered hand, and raised it to his forehead. “You honor me with your kind patronage,” he said, releasing her. “It is always good to meet someone who appreciates theatrical works – especially my own.”

“Have you anything in current production?” she asked.

Amaeus Tozar swept an arm toward the reluctant cook. “His life story. What could be more of-the-hour than a biographic featuring the Commonwell’s most famous cook?”

“I am hardly the most famous,” Prosatio Silban demurred.

“This is the difficulty I face,” Amaeus Tozar told her. “He is unaware of his own greatness.”

“All the right people are,” she said. “Unfortunately, those who aren’t, aren’t enough.”

“Do you know him well?”

“I have known him for years, though not well enough to share his stories. He is a private man with private habits, and while I am often his taverness, I also respect his reticence. However, if you are searching for dramatic subjects, what about Oseon Dreyas, Andwilla Thork, or Filio Tharl? Or even Crasso, Ranking Culinarian of the Refectionists’ Guild? There’s a beans-to-beef story if ever there was one.”

From behind Amaeus Tozar, Prosatio Silban mouthed a silent “thank you,” which Pelvhi acknowledged with a just-perceptible nod. Aloud, he said, “Master Amaeus, how if you instead produced a play about my good friend here? She is the longtime owner of Pelvhi’s Chopping-House, where meet after-hours Pormaris’ hospitality workers. She has also led a much more interesting life than mine. And – best of all – you need only build one set: her tavern. Think of the economy!”

“And I would welcome such a treatment,” Pelvhi added. “It might be good for business.”

“Tell me, Master Prosatio,” rejoined the playwright. “I get the distinct sense that you’re trying to dissuade me from telling your history. You wouldn’t be hiding anything, would you?”

“Not at all,” said the cook. “As I have said many times, I just don’t think anyone would be interested in my life. They are more interested in my cuisine. And after all, that is the reason for my so-called ‘fame.’ If it even exists. Which I doubt.”

Amaeus Tozar fixed on Prosatio Silban the sort of gaze he reserved for strident and uninvited theater critics. “If you do have a secret, I will discover it,” he said with a sinister silkiness. “I have both time and resources, not the least of which is curiosity. For now, though, I should like to see your mobile kitchen – from the inside.” He turned on his heel and stumped up the galleywagon steps.

“That man could bring you actual trouble,” Pelvhi whispered.

“That man could bring you actual trouble,” Pelvhi whispered. “If he finds out that you’re a self-defrocked Sacreant …”

“… it could spell the end of my beloved livelihood,” Prosatio Silban finished.

* * *

The Sacreants of the Rainbow Robe (to use their official title) were the authoritative intermediaries between the six-hundred-thirteen Flickering Gods and their purported Uulian “children.” Occupying the social class just beneath the Heir Second nobility, the holy functionaries shared that station with wealthy merchants, officers of the guard, trade-guild heads, and all who control or profit from the labor of others. In addition to overseeing worship and life-cycle events, Sacreantal responsibilities included the administration of justice, education, commerce, defense, health services, public infrastructures, and everything else over which their gods were said to hold sway.

Leaving the Sacreanthood bordered on the scandalous. To do so of one’s own volition, as Prosatio Silban had, was at best suspicious. Small wonder that he sought to conceal that early chapter of his life – and feign brothel-adjunct employment as a more honorable alternative.

These particulars paraded before the Cook For Any Price’s mental review that night as he lay wide awake in his galleywagon’s sleeping-berth. If only I were the murdering sort, he thought with a grim smile. Or perhaps a kidnapper, or even that I knew someone who did that sort of thing for hire. Bah! I suppose these are the musings of the desperate. But what can I do? O Takavi, God of Furtive Scuffling; Nikkla, Goddess of Midnight Machinations; Yradoni, Offeror of Duplicitous Remedies; and Manch’nage, God of Frantic and Final Resorts: what can I do? Please – guide my reflections and direct me toward a solution, or at least a small measure of peaceful surrender.

He shook his head to clear it, rolled out of the berth and sat on its edge, gazing into the middle distance.

Knock-knock. Knock.

At this hour? Prosatio Silban wondered. He wrapped his blue woolen bed-robe tight around his ample frame and padded barefoot across the ornate braided rug to the latched double-door.

“Who calls here?” he asked.

“A friend,” came a familiar voice.

In the pale moons-light stood Pelvhi, clad once again in her warming-cloak.

The cook unlatched the door’s upper half and cracked it open. In the pale moons-light stood Pelvhi, clad once again in her warming-cloak. “It is cold out here,” she said, her voice touched with a hint of a shiver. “Please let me inside.”

Prosatio Silban opened wide both door-halves. After she entered, he closed them, struck a match, and lit the fatberry-oil stove. “Come,” he said. “Warm yourself by this fire, though it be small. Would you like something hot to drink?”

“I will not be here that long. I bring news of your nemesis.”

“Amaeus Tozar? What about him?”

“He is not without a reputation-killer himself. Listen …”

* * *

Early the next morning, Prosatio Silban had just set out his menu-board and collapsible dining furniture when Amaeus Tozar walked up.

“Master Cook!” he said with a broad grin, and opened his notebook. “Are you ready for another round of research?”

“No, I am not. In fact, I wish you to be gone. And take your ‘dramatic inspiration’ with you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I will put this in more direct language: Go away. And do not return.”

The playwright reddened. “I will not. I am writing a play about you, and if you will not give me material for it I can find it from other sources. And I will.”

“Like you did for Inconvenient Curse?”


“Or for Off-Shoulder Glances? Or A Desert’s Drowning? Or, most of all, Lost Twilight? I know your sources. And wouldn’t the theatergoing public love to learn that these productions did not originate with you, but rather with –”

“I believe you have made your point,” Amaeus Tozar interrupted, snapping closed his notebook. “Good day.”

As the defeated dramatist stalked away, Prosatio Silban turned to Pelvhi, who had been watching the encounter from behind the galleywagon.

“Thank you,” he said, and bowed. “I am in your debt once again. How did you discover his prolific plagiarisms?”

“There are certain advantages to being the ears of the tavern-going public,” she said. “One hears many things. The trick is in knowing when to listen – and to whom.”

(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!)

Leave a Reply

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