As a mutual acquaintance commented, ‘Ranal O’Var seems to have shrugged off the distressing death of his mother with the nonchalant unconcern one would expect from one brought up in the gladiatorial arena that is Uttermost Partann.’
Still, perhaps because he no longer had to watch his back, nor second-guess his mother’s plotting; Ranal relaxed and started to expand his horizons within Port Naain. Lacking all sense of shame, he started calling himself a poet. He produced a couple of pieces that entered the standard anthologies, gave a few readings at some of the wealthier parvenu households and then acquired a teaching post in the University.
Admittedly the latter are easily come by, I’ve held them. Unfortunately you’re paid by your students, who as a class are seldom generous. Ranal overcame this obstacle to his prosperity. Rather than expecting to be paid per lecture, he just insisted that students signing up for his course had to buy a couple of text books on literary criticism. Of course these were books Ranal had written. I did mention his utter lack of shame? It is within the bounds of respectability for a poet to write criticism of another poet. These works can make excellent reading; at their best they can be sources of sublime invective and well worth quarrying for barbed compliments and graceful sneers. I’ve had many a chuckle over some of these works; the best remain entertaining for centuries after the protagonists died.
But to write books teaching literary criticism is the work of a moral degenerate, of somebody who has wandered so far from the paths of decency that they are unlikely to ever find their way back, even with map and compass.
But still, Ranal did this, and had quite a successful academic career. He was pleasant enough, didn’t patronise his students, nor challenge them to produce anything of real value, and ensured that all his lectures took place in the late afternoon, ensuring maximum attendance.
So there he was, with a comfortable income, excellent prospects, and a charming house. The latter stood on a bridge which spanned Three Mills Beck, but so far north along the beck it was effectively in Dilbrook. All in all a perfectly acceptable address, I have patrons who would stand and stare at the house, sighing gently and wishing they could live there. Admittedly much of this longing was because the size of the house didn’t allow for servants, children or even a spouse, but still, a desirable property.
Yet he remained single. The general consensus was that his mother’s machinations had put him off matrimony. She’d been hunting for an appropriate wife for him, but nobody with suitably deep pockets, or a large enough following of heavily armed retainers had come forward. Much to his horror, at one point he discovered she was even contemplating marrying him to some Urlan maiden.
Still he revelled in his single state. His charm, perfect manners and distinguished appearance produced a constant string of conquests amongst female students. His dark past and the mystery that is Uttermost Partann seemed to encourage them. Indeed he took to playing on it. His poetic output, always low, now dwindled to two or three compositions a year. There were now written in Partannese forms so archaic I for one assumed that he’d made them up.
Here lay his downfall. It is one thing to promise a young lady from Port Naain that you will make her a queen in Partann. She regards it as a nice compliment and is happy to let it turn her head. But a fair proportion of his students were Partannese. Tell one of these young ladies that you will make her a queen in Partann and she regards it as a business proposition. When you fail to make good she doesn’t merely sigh about the inconstancy of men and transfer her affections to a new suitor. No, she summons brothers and other kinsmen who turn up to remonstrate, bearing edged weapons.
Thus it was, for the second time in his life, Ranal O’Var was forced by an unkind fate to slip out of his house, dropping from his lounge into a passing boat. Being Port Naain and not Partann, Ranal transferred his assets by writing a letter to his bankers, not by overburdening his slender craft with bullion. Still he managed to slip away and this time settled in the coastal village of Muckleport, a few miles north of Port Naain.
It was here that he finally succumbed to the wiles of a lady who had absolutely no interest in Partannese politics or literary criticism, but instead bred hunting dogs for the gentry. In the course of time, as often happens, children arrived on the scene. The only comment that might be made is that the youngest, a girl, is apparently the very image of her late paternal grandmother. By the age of eight she was allegedly extracting more from the villagers of Muckleport in blackmail than the Municipality of Port Naain was getting from them in tax.
As an aside, we now have a front cover for my next work
Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter and other stories.
Available for discerning purchasers from the 1st of June!