I suppose poets are as guilty as anybody else. Yes we pander to our patrons, flaunting our verse like one of the Daughters of Joy flaunting her cleavage. In spite of our claims to be above such things, claiming we strive only to perfect our art; we crave recognition, respect and the financial security which goes with these things.
May Aea have mercy on some poet or writer who actually achieves financial success; the anger of their less well rewarded fellows is terrible to behold as they fall over each other in their eagerness to denounce the successful one as a ‘sell out’ and claim that their work is merely ‘formulaic’ or ‘derivative’ and denounce them as ‘hack writers.’ The hells can conjure up no fury as terrible as that of a mediocre writer who realises that a rival has achieved some element of success!
Now to be fair, we are not the only ones. All sorts strive for glory. Yet looking around it seems that it is vainglory that is the woven deep into our souls. Still, in Port Naain the warning against excessive pride in one’s achievements is written in stone. Across the estuary in the suburb of Roskadil is a great temple. I suppose that if you spent a lifetime in research you might finally discover who built it and why. Some claim that work was started by one of the Kings of Partann who wanted his name to live for ever. Others claim that the city built it to celebrate its liberation from Partannese control. All in all there could be a score of names linked with it. And yet, even after all these years, it has never been finished. It was started, and then work stopped. A generation or so would go by and then some other great leader would decide to immortalise themselves in stone. Work would suddenly restart, masons would be hired and stone would once more be set upon stone.
For a little while; then events would intervene and the great leader would fade from memory and the temple would once more stand empty. Until finally the priests stepped in and it was consecrated to Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Vainglory. Now there is one priest. Whoever he or she is, their main job is maintaining the structure. No services are held, and there are no worshippers.
But some do attend. Occasionally I make my way south across the Paraeba and just sit for an hour in the temple, watching the clouds pass by overhead. Rarely am I disturbed. Once the priest was making his coffee and brought me a mug. We sat in companionable silence for a while.
On another occasion I heard horsemen so went to investigate. One of the condottiere was leading his men south, and had stopped at the temple with his force. They were sitting on their horses, heads bared, staring at a wall. Then in silence they put their helmets back on and turned their horses’ heads to the south and rode into memory.
The priest showed me the wall. Carved into it, in small letters, there were thousands of names. The first carved were almost illegible, worn by the weather. No name was written in larger letters than any other. There was no order, no commentary. Each name was of a soldier fallen in the south. The names were carved in the order that the priest was given them. The coward, the paladin, the general and the horse boy take their places in no special order. Just as the men themselves lie together naked in the gravepits, stripped of anything of value. They lie huddled together for a semblance of warmth in a cold clay soil, forgotten.
Occasionally old men stand there in the late autumn sunshine, at the end of the campaigning season. Eyes glistening with tears stare unseeing at the wall, whilst memory takes them south once more in gallant company.
A gallant company
Their serried ranks glitter dully
Harness silently jingles
Those who breathe not catch their breath.
Looking back at hard riding newcomers
Spurring their horses to catch up.
Then mingle sheepishly
Not wishing to exalt
Unaware of the democracy of death.
It was seeing the picture on Sue Vincent’s blog that brought the story back to me.