It’s many years ago now, far too many years ago. I was young, single and fancy free. There are times when it all seems so long ago I feel that I might be recalling somebody else’s life.
And yet my life had come to a fork in the road. I knew I was a poet, I could write fine verse, or so at least I convinced myself. But there again I had worked for several years for old Miser Mumster and many folk were surprised that I had not taken up the clerk’s career.
So one evening I was walking through Port Naain, lost in thought. I was, I insist, sober. I had drunk comparatively little. I had drunk merely a couple of glasses of wine here, bottle there, and a tot of spirit for the road. But in spite of my sobriety (I insist on the sobriety) I was somewhat perplexed. You see I had been in the habit of eating at Falan Geer’s pie shop. The pies were cheap, nutritious and excellently flavoured. One can no longer buy pies like the pies of my youth; the great pie-masters have gone and the pygmies who followed them into the trade merely stir mott in with elderly horse and claim this produces an acceptable pie.
Not only that but Falan Geer had a daughter. Tintle was perhaps a year younger than me, pretty, intelligent and from comments she had made, would not be at all averse to me courting her. Indeed her parents seemed to look upon me with a degree of kindness. Old mother Falan commented that what a modern business needed was a bright young man who understood accountancy. Tintle’s father made no such pointed comments but always addressed me in a friendly manner. It was obvious to anybody that if I wanted I could marry the sweet Tintle and take my place in the family business. I was guaranteed a nice prosperity and I have no doubt that in the course of time we would do very nicely for ourselves.
But walking through that door would close the door on me ever becoming a poet. Yet, at that point what had poetry ever done for me?
So I walked along in such perplexity that I didn’t realise that a red-haired lady was walking next to me, matching her pace to mine. Even more surprisingly I didn’t notice her two dogs, each standing as high as my shoulder. But there again, nobody else seemed to notice her either.
At last I came out of my reverie and realised I had company.
“May I be so bold as to wish you a good evening madam?”
“You may indeed Tallis Steelyard.”
Now I was indeed perplexed. Obviously I had hopes that one day my name would be known throughout the city, but obviously I didn’t expect it to be bandied about by strange women at this stage in my career.
“You have the advantage on me madam. Forgive my ignorance, but I don’t think I know your name.”
“You might know me as the Lady Fortuna.”
This didn’t help me much. Was I in the presence of the personification of Luck, or merely a rather attractive young woman whose mother had had a penchant for unusual names? Still when her large dog walked through a passer-by without the man apparently noticing I felt that matters had taken a turn for the fey.
Still, I was at a loss. How to make conversation? Obviously if this happened today; confident in my art, experienced in the way of the world, I would doubtless carry it off without problems. But remember I was young, and perhaps even a little foolish.
She raised a hand to stop me. “I hate that.”
I looked around desperately. What had I done? But she walked over to an inn doorway drawing me along in her wake. She pointed at a table where half a dozen men were playing cards. One had just kissed a little pendant. You know the sort, displaying a rather plump Lady Fortune wearing virtually nothing. Then he started ostentatiously dealing the cards.
“Now watch him.”
As I concentrated on the man’s hands he seemed to move more slowly and I could see he was dealing off the bottom of the deck. The Lady made a gesture and suddenly the deck of cards almost exploded as the dealer lost control of them. The other players started gathering them up, then one said, “Hang on, I’ve found three maidens.”
The dealer said, “What of it?”
“They’re all yellow!”
The Lady turned her back on the scene with a gesture of dismissal. “One makes one’s own luck.”
Over her shoulder I could see men readying their weapons; the dealer was trying to cover all the other players with his drawn knife.
Conversationally the Lady observed, “You can trust in me or you can cheat, but you don’t try both.”
The dealer moved sideways to drive back the player to his right. This would open up a gap and allow him to run. Unfortunately he somehow jammed his foot in a spittoon and as he glanced down to see what the problem was, a thrown knife took him in the stomach.
The Lady was already walking away and I followed her. “They didn’t see you?”
She turned and stared at me intensely. “But you do?”
“You are a poet.”
I was silent and fell back into step with her as she walked along the road. “What difference does that make?”
“Today you will make a decision. If you go in one direction you will gain a pleasant prosperity, a happy life, a good wife and a large family who adore you.”
“And in the other direction?”
“You will be a poet, and hence immortal.
Again she stopped and looked at me. “You have a big decision to make little poet.”
“And can you advise me?”
“One makes one’s own luck.” Then she smiled. “But I can give you one glimpse. You know one girl you might marry, it is only fair that you see the other.” She waved her hand over a puddle and in it I could see a girl’s face. I am a poet, and if I claim I fell in love with the girl even as I stared at her image who can contradict me?
“What is her name?”
“Shena. If you are worthy of her, she will happily marry a poet and let him remain a poet.”
I stared at the face, fading in the puddle, trying to burn it into my mind. “Why are you telling me this?”
She laughed. “We all have our weakness little poet. Mine is verse. Perhaps two or three of your stanzas will last.”
She turned briskly. I realised that I was in danger of being abandoned in a dark street I didn’t recognise. Ahead of me I noticed a dark figure scurrying along the street, a bundle under one arm. The Lady made a gesture and her two dogs bounded forward. At the last possible moment the hunched figure saw them and screamed. The dogs fell on him and as I watched, nauseated, they tore him apart. Then one of the dogs picked up the bundle gently in its mouth and trotted back to us. The Lady took the bundle from him and carefully unwrapped it. As she removed the blanket I could see the bundle was a baby. The ears were pierced so I assumed a girl child.
The Lady tickled the child gently and it giggled contentedly. “Right, I cannot stay here chittering with poets. I know a couple who will give this child a home.”
Greatly daring I asked, “What about her mother?”
The Lady made another gesture and her two dogs faded. “She sold it to him.”
I realised she was fading from sight, so I hastily bowed in farewell. There are people it does not do to irritate. I heard her voice. “Remember little poet, one makes one’s own luck.”
I stood and watched as she disappeared entirely. Then carefully stepping over the remains of whoever her dogs had killed I made my way home.
Next morning when I dressed I realised my stockings had been flecked with blood, as if somebody had been torn near where I was standing. Put this is Port Naain. Finding blood on your clothes doesn’t need a supernatural explanation.
Oh and would you believe it. I’ve been pestered to mention a tale you might like.
Go on, treat yourself
There’s even a review!
Reading these Port Naain stories is like revisiting old friends. I’m very fond of the character Benor, the cartographer, who has been engaged to map a tomb-yard, measure the mausoleums and note down the inscriptions. He’s assisted by young Mutt who now demands higher pay as he’s an apprentice. While at the tomb-yard, they overhear evidence pointing to who is responsible for the death of young girls from a local large estate. As the title implies – things turn a tad spooky.
As always, the humour’s wry, the characters are believable and there are more stories promised.