Just to comment, with becoming modesty, that since publication this story has won an award. A not inconsiderable achievement for a story featuring a story featuring haemorrhoid cream
so now, back to our tale
I remember chatting to old Varsung Baldwig. Given he was, in some way, a mage; I asked why there were so few mages. He was puffing away at that old pipe of his at the time, mainly because it gave him time to gather his thoughts.
“Well Tallis my boy it’s like this. You raise an interesting philosophical point. Anybody planning to go into usury no doubt sees the risks, but for a young apprentice clerk what are the chances of ending as a man of wealth and station, and what happens if you don’t? Does one individual in a hundred make the grade? One in a thousand? But those who fail to achieve wealth will still live decent enough lives, achieve modest prosperity and die in old age surrounded by their grieving families.”
“For mages, I remember talking to an old friend of mine who studied at the Magistrorum in Meor. They reckon that pretty well everybody who enters the Magistorum in the hope of a good degree sees themselves as mage material. Take a thousand of these and perhaps nine-hundred and fifty will leave the Magistorum with a blue gown having gained a decent degree. No more than a hundred of these will be accepted as suitable for further study, and of those, fifty will live through the first year, twenty-five will survive the second and no more than ten will live through the third. Yet at this point they will still be young, few of them more than twenty-five years old. The ten will have the power to live a life of ease, yet very, very few chose to stop at that stage. They will experiment more and push their boundaries, testing their art. So that of the ten perhaps five will see their fiftieth year. Then comes the great test, having the strength to accept potentially eternal life and the skill to achieve it. Of the five, one will succeed, if that, which means that of a thousand would-be mages only one is likely to see his, or her, seventy-fifth year. I suggest that usurers take a safer path.”
Then with a smile he leaned back in the sun and told me his story.
He had been attracted to magic from his earliest youth and had some aptitude for it. Also he had a natural talent for sleight of hand and prestidigitation. So he studied at the University here in Port Naain, and even though a charity scholar he did well, got a good degree and was accepted as a student and an apprentice by a mage of good repute within the city.
Unfortunately Varsung was a friendly young man, companionable, charming and popular. His master, Seedan Spiel protested that he was taking too much time away from his studies. At the time Varsung merely thought his master a killjoy, but looking back and knowing now what he knows about the survival rates within the profession, his master was probably concerned for both their safety. The conjuration of demons, no matter how petty the demon might be, is no place for a young man with a hangover.
Also he had met a young lady. They suited each other well, were good friends and it blossomed into a deep affection. Varsung stood at a fork in the road. It was at this point that Seedan Spiel sat his apprentice down and had a long discussion with him. After all Seedan liked the lad, but realised young Varsung hadn’t the ability to shut out everything else and just focus on his studies. So he recommended that Varsung marry the girl, and as his wedding present to the two he presented Varsung with the recipe for Seedan’s special haemorrhoid cream.
The manufacture and sale of this cream was guaranteed to provide the young couple a decent basic income, and over the years Varsung kept up his studies enough to make a number of successful modifications to the original recipe.
Yet Varsung was not really content to be merely the reliable friend of the person with piles. He did want more. When their marriage was blessed with children he discovered another skill. He was a genuinely gifted children’s entertainer. He could not merely tell stories well, he could enliven them with minor magical side effects and his prestidigitational skills. Word leaked out and mothers sought him out. Indeed it was as he worked this circuit that I met him many years later.
It was at about this point that he met Zemia. Beautiful, charming, and a young wife with two children of her own, she hired Varsung to provide the entertainment at a party she was holding for her children and their friends. There was an instant chemistry between them. Not merely a casual affection but a deep and flourishing friendship which hinted that love was somehow involved. Yet both were married, and happily so.
It strikes me that this tale involves two people of uncommon wisdom and decency. In spite of everything they remained merely good friends. Indeed when Zemia’s husband acquired a small farm south of Roskadil (In Partann but still a civilised area) Varsung and Zemia remained in occasional touch by letter. They did not write every year, but just enough to pass on occasional news.
Years went past, life went on. Varsung’s wife died and he mourned her deeply. For a year or more he passed through Port Naain like a ghost, turning down offers of work and merely producing enough haemorrhoid cream to get by. It was purely by chance that he was walking down Ropewalk when he chanced to notice a lady wearing the veil of a widow walking in the opposite direction. The lady addressed him and he stopped, unsure of whom she actually was. It was when she lifted her veil that he realised it was Zemia.
Now what most ladies don’t appear to realise is that men have a strong memory of what a lady looks like. So strong in fact that they can ignore the current actuality and instead see the woman they married. So whilst you or I would say that Zemia was a handsome woman for her age, to Varsung she had barely changed since he’d last seen her thirty years before.
They talked a little about nothing in particular, and agreed that they must meet again at some time in the near future when both of them had time to just sit and talk. Varsung took Zemia’s hand to kiss it and somehow ended up kissing her on the lips. At the same time he noticed that inexplicably they had both become entwined and that neither would be able to let go until the other let go.
An hour and a half later they were married by a smiling priestess at the Temple of Aea in her aspect of Fecundity. After a few days it was decided that Varsung would move out to live with Zemia, reasoning that a man can make haemorrhoid cream pretty well anywhere.
It must be confessed that whilst he did do a little work, his main task seemed to be entertaining an assortment of grandchildren from both sides of the family. A task he undertook with great contentment.
Should you wish to spend a little more time rubbing shoulders with the inhabitants of Port Naain ;-
As the reviewer commented, “An assortment of Tallis Steelyard tales to make the reader chuckle, laugh, wipe away a sad tear, and all emotions in between.
Every story is a stand-alone gem.”