COOKING IS MORE THAN SIMPLY preparation: it is also a celebration of source, and hence a manifestation of living history.
“Where did you find this recipe?” m’Lady Phytan Gorrista asked between well-laden forkfuls. “I have never tasted its like.”
Prosatio Silban bowed deeply. “That is always gratifying to hear, m’Lady. As you may imagine, there is a story attached to its discovery. I was recently traveling in the uninhabited hills far to the northwest of epicurean Pormaris…”
* * *
The first thing Prosatio Silban noticed was that the sun had been replaced by a golden ribbon flickering slowly up and down the sky.
He rose, trembling. The day had been bright and blue just a moment ago, when the grass-scented warmth, drowse of distant bees, and gentle swaying of his galleywagon along the undulating ridgetop road proved too much for his heavying eyelids. His vehicle had just come abreast of a great limestone statue sculpted in the likeness of an androgynous and hairless head. Such things were not uncommon along the ancient and still-uncivilized borders of the Uulian Commonwell; the cook yawned mightily and reined in his buopoth. The quaint lumbering dray-beast was as grateful for the unanticipated rest as his human friend, who stepped down from the driver’s seat to sit back against the sculpture’s base. He idly fingered the mushrooms under its chin, crushing one in his hand and smelling its earthy aroma.
But now, the overhead vault had become a scintillating grey. The two familiar moons could not readily be seen; the third, a scarlet spark hanging low in its usual southwest spot, was his only fixed referent.
“Forgive me for professionally disappointing you, but I am not hungry for anything other than conversation.”
Prosatio Silban surveyed his surroundings. He was still perched on his galleywagon atop a verdant hill, with his buopoth now sitting motionless before him. A narrow river wound through the wide valley far below, bordered by small clusters of what looked like houses and fields. These grew like hasty mushrooms, with some winking out of a sudden, then growing back bit by bit among the slowly budding baobabs.
By the sustaining teats of the All-Mother! he thought. Perhaps his lunch of a cold meat-and-fig pasty had gone slightly off without his realizing it, although he felt otherwise fine. I must be hallucinating, or whatever one does if possessed by mild food-poisoning.
“Hello there, small one,” boomed a deep bass voice beside him. The beefy cook craned around and gasped. The great stone head had opened its eyes and was regarding him with a friendly expression.
“I am Riallen Otor,” it said. “To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?”
“Prosatio Silban, the Cook For Any Price.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Master Cook. Forgive me for professionally disappointing you, but I am not hungry for anything other than conversation.”
“No disappointment at all. I doubt I have enough provender to satisfy you, or even to whet your appetite.”
Riallen Otor laughed, the cook feeling it in his chest.
“As you seem to be a fixed native to these parts,” Prosatio Silban asked, “perhaps you can answer a question that is bothering me.”
“What happened, or is happening, to the sky?”
The head rolled its deep-set eyes skyward. “I am not certain what you mean.”
“Put another way: Why is there a glowing stripe where the sun should be?”
“Ah. You are witnessing, I surmise, the effects of living in my time scale.”
Prosatio Silban started. “Your time scale?”
“Yes. To one such as I, a minute lasts one of your lifetimes, and one hour spans almost half a thousand years. The settlements below us, populated by the quick, little things such as yourself, are built, destroyed by fire or flood or war, and built again. Our celestial candle treads the heavens so rapidly that it is only visible as a radiant line.”
The cook’s mouth dropped open, then closed. How can this be? he thought. How can one exist like this?
“There are many advantages to this sort of living,” said Riallen Otor. “It gives one quite the philosophical perspective; it is difficult to become attached to things which last but a second. Also, it is nice to have the long view – watching the baobabs advance (and occasionally retreat) is a particularly lovely side-benefit.”
“I can well imagine.” Prosatio Silban frowned. “But how do I know I’m not dreaming all this?”
“You don’t. I know, however, that I am not dreaming.”
Riallen Otor made throat-clearing sounds, took a deep breath, and commenced thusly…
“When I dream, I dream of flying. I suppose it is because life as a stone head can be so…limiting. Do you understand?”
“I believe I do. Do you ever hunger?”
“Only for colloquy. When I pass the time alone, it is generally by composing free-verse inspired by those who too-seldom stop to speak with me. You were thinking about mushrooms just now, for example. Shall I sing you a recipe?”
“Can you? I would be honored.”
Riallen Otor made throat-clearing sounds, took a deep breath, and commenced thusly:
“Take you stock
To which partridge and pale roots
Have given all their essence.
Add, quartered, half the stock-quantity
Of meaty mushrooms, their soily source detached.
Marry them over slow heat, with skillful eye and nose
To the best that plump stinkbulb can offer.
One flower of gold
Adorns the serving-bowl
And gives rise
To small sighs
“Will you remember this, Master Cook?”
“Of course,” said Prosatio Silban. “How could I not? It is as elegant as it is unforgettable.”
“Excellent. And the mushrooms under my chin may prove particularly luscious. Now, if you will excuse me…” With that, the great stone head puffed out its cheeks and rose through the air into a cloud – a towering cloud, boiling overhead – and Prosatio Silban realized he was awake.
He looked up at the great limestone head in confusion. Had it truly moved since before he slept? Or was that a mere trick of the light, a shadow of the gathering storm? He could not tell, but he wondered about it as he gathered the large and handsome mushrooms sprinkled at the enigmatic statue’s base, to stash inside his galleywagon’s well-stocked pantry. These will be useful someday, he thought. But it will have to be the right someday.
* * *
“And so they were, and it is,” Prosatio Silban said, finishing his tale. “You have been eating some of them tonight.”
“You speak in jest,” scoffed m’Lady Phytan Gorrista. “I know the ageless landmark of which you speak; I have ridden a zebra up there many times to forage and take a quiet afternoon nap. The great stone head never spoke with me.”
“Ah, but m’Lady,” the cook said with a secretive smile. “You have to gather the right mushrooms.”