Small Packages (A Prosatio Silban Tale)

HAD IT NOT BEEN FOR a layman’s questioning, Prosatio Silban might never have learned of the Hidden God.

“What’s with all the filled fare?” he overheard someone say, on a day when the beefy cook was browsing cosmopolitan Soharis’ thronged street-food marketplace. The question was directed to the owner of a food stall whose offerings included dumplings, wraps, hand pies, and a dozen other examples of the stuffed-with-deliciousness kind.

“There is an interesting story behind that,” replied the proprietor in a cheerful voice. “A long time ago, a monk of one of the Flickering Gods’ more obscure orders and reputed Rimless Sea traveler asked the same question. Wherever he went, he found a variation on the theme you’re asking about. Whether steamed, fried, baked, lightly cooked or just eaten raw, every culture he visited had its own version of a small edible package full of something tasty.

“He had no one to ask for an explanation, and the more places he visited, the more his curiosity grew. Finally, he took up his question with the gods themselves. ‘O Lambent Ones, Makers of Life’s Moments and Revelatory Enablers, hear my plea and grant my boon,’ he prayed. ‘Why is there so much parceled provender?’

“At first, he had no answer. Undiscouraged, he tried again, this time invoking Toth-Ar, God of All Things Known. Still, there came no answer. But just as he was on the verge of despair, a still, small voice made itself known to him. ‘What you seek is not easily found,’ it said. ‘In fact, it is the purview and inspiration of the Hidden God – a difficult deity to discern, as It deeply resides within Its own profound inexplicability. But this much is known – there is a certain cave-temple deep within the Valley of Silence. Seek that, and perhaps It will grant your request.’

“And so, the monk packed a small bag of travelers’ necessaries and set off. The way was long, and not without its hazards – a shipwreck here, an aerial adventure there – but after some time he found himself standing before a cave, its open mouth reeking with stale and unbreathed-for-aeons air. He lit a torch and began his descent.

“Soon he came to a large chamber where the air was less foul, and perceived a short staircase atop which sat a robed and veiled figure which exuded a sense of calm competency. ‘I am Whom you seek,’ It said in a quiet voice. ‘What is your quest?’

“’I must know,’ said the monk. ‘Why are there so many varieties of crusty comestibles?’

“’There are three answers,’ said the robed figure. ‘First, they keep the hands relatively clean. Second, they provide a mysterious sense of appetizing anticipation. And finally, by concealing their contents, they occasionally inspire the curiosity of diligent seekers like yourself. Such secret things are My concern but, by definition, few know about Me. Gods are insignificant without worshipers, or even chance guests. Go – and spread My name and meaning to all who will listen.’

“And thus,” concluded the pastry vendor, “you know all about It. The monk’s task is now done and never done, at the same time. It is a paradox, but a savory one; I hope you will not keep it to yourself.”

(If you’re new to these tales, here are the preface and introduction. Enjoy.)

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