I suppose the reason this story came to mind was that I overhead somebody in a bar comment that ‘they’d got away with it.’ One thing increasing maturity has taught me is that ‘The Lady’ is not to be slighted. Whether you think of her as ‘fortune’ or ‘luck’ or even ‘fate’, to me she will always be ‘The Lady’ and I will not knowingly cross her. Claiming that ‘you have got away with it’ is merely asking her to take a personal interest in orchestrating your downfall and humiliation. My experience is that she might occasionally smile on our attempts to deceive, but there are some things she will not countenance.
As an aside I don’t want anybody to think I write this out of jealousy. I realise that too many in the artistic community revel in the downfall of their more successful peers. The thought would not cross my mind. I merely tell the tale because I feel I have a duty to present it as an awful warning to younger writers. They are less experienced and are more likely to be lured into the dark sordid underbelly of our art. Nobody deserves to fall as far as Kasas Phloom did.
Kasar obviously thought he was untouchable and taunted fate. Originally he was Kasas Flom, but increasing affluence and respectability brought with them pretensions. These manifested themselves in a number of ways, but mainly as the extra letters in his name. He claimed to be a poet and a writer, but he had no large body of work with which to support this claim. He had family investments, and he married well.
By married well I don’t mean he married for money. I mean he married an intelligent young woman who could make money. His wife, Bethan, owned two grocer’s shops when he married her, and she carefully and methodically expanded her business, setting up a third, and eventually a fourth. She was a shrew businesswoman, knew her trade and was good with people. When you analyse the marriage it is obvious that Bethan put food on the table and paid the bills. Kasar allowed the family to aspire to greater things. Their children would undoubtedly enter the professions or the merchant class.
Now when I describe Bethan as shrewd and intelligent, it has to be admitted that she had a blind spot with regard to her husband. She rather took him on his own valuation. Thus she was perfectly happy to believe his claims that he was a successful writer. Indeed when he had a small book of verses printed, she purchased a number of copies and distributed them as gifts amongst friends and family. What she may not have realised is that her generous gesture accounted for perhaps nine-tenths of the sales.
If I am strictly honest, it must be admitted that this is what one would expect from poetry. I survive as a poet because I have patrons whom I entertain, whose soirees I grace and whose grand affairs I help organise. Kasar did none of this. Yet when Bethan and my wife Shena discussed matters as the ladies do, it seems Kasar was fetching in twice the money I did.
Shena commented that she didn’t think Kasar was a patch on me when it came to flattering cooks and kitchen staff. After all it’s a poor do if I cannot finish the evening without a couple of bottles of wine and a capon secreted about my person. But still, it gave me pause. Where was he earning the money? Had he spotted an opening I ought to be exploiting?
It seems the conversation had had a similar effect on Bethan. She began to wonder just where her husband’s money came from. Now it seems she had no doubts about his marital fidelity. She had kept an eye on him, and his behaviour never gave cause for concern. He was never overly solicitous of her; he never spontaneously brought her flowers. He rarely remembered their wedding anniversary. He acted in all ways like a man with a clear conscience.
Also I feel that there might have been times when Bethan felt that her husband, loving and dutiful as he always was towards her and the children; lacked something. Whilst she would not have changed him, (except for certain cosmetic alterations she had been attempting since the day they were married) I think she hoped for hidden depths. Perhaps even a hint of something dangerous and romantic?
Still there were times when she thought she’d discovered his money making secret. On one occasion he dropped coin on the table with a laugh and explained he’d been paid to write spurious letters of introduction for adventurers contemplating pillaging some of the lesser keeps in Uttermost Partann. Yet that was never repeated.
On another occasion she caught him reading, ‘On the nature of Gods, Demons, and other such creatures and the correct rites for worshiping, propitiating and banishing them.’ This is a pandeist tract whose contents are admirably described in the name, thus sparing one the necessity of reading it. She did wonder if, perhaps, he was dabbling in necromancy. She was in two minds as to the morality of such a profession, but she had read that whilst necromancers had difficulty in keeping staff, they could normally create their own, with consequential savings in the household budget.
On yet another occasion she noticed blood on his shirt sleeve and when she asked what it was he merely commented, “Oh it’s bull’s blood.”
For one brief tremulous instant she wondered if her husband had joined those who fight the wild bulls in the arena. She was almost saddened when her more sensible nature restored order in her romantic soul and pointed out that bulls were only fought in the depths of Partann and it would have taken Kasar three days to get to the arena, and presumably the same length of time to return. As he had breakfasted with her that morning, she could probably eliminate bull fighting from the list of his potential activities. Also, as she was forced to admit, when fighting a bull it would seem remarkable if a man walked away from the fight as elegant and unruffled as Kasar, with only a splash of blood on his sleeve.
His explanation that he was purchasing meat from the butcher and was accidentally splashed did seem entirely more reasonable, but somewhere, deep in her heart, a small still voice whispered comfortingly, “Perhaps he’s an assassin?”
And then came the fateful day. She entered the breakfast room to find Kasar leaning on the mantelpiece, weeping. Without hesitation she ran to comfort him.
“Kasar, what is wrong?”
He merely waved a piece of paper feebly at her and struggled to compose himself. Finally he mastered his emotions and spoke.
“The letter is from my publisher. They have reprinted all my old work in one volume.”
“But surely Kasar, that is a good thing?”
This produced more paroxysms of weeping. Finally Kasar said, “But they’re publishing it under my real name.”
She looked into his face and saw the genuine horror in his eyes. “Kasar, what have you been writing?”
They clung together, their tears of shame, sorrow and loss mingling.
I ought to mention, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Pictures from an Exhibition,’ is still available for the discerning to purchase for the purely nominal sum of £0.99p