I first met Staffin Plume when he was a student at the University in Port Naain. He attended some of my lectures on poetry and came to my attention largely because he actually did the exercises I set for students to tackle in their own time. Not only that but his answers were thoughtful, well written and in his own handwriting. Even if he had hired somebody else to do the work for him, he had shown me the consideration of writing it out again in his own hand. Indeed I was so intrigued by this that I engaged him in discussion on his answers over a glass of wine. It was soon obvious that he had done the work himself and that he had continued to think about the topic even when the work had been handed in.
Hence when he left the university I rather expected to hear more about him. After all he had expressed the intention of becoming a writer. Given his general competence and mental acuity I had no doubt that I would soon see his name mentioned in the appropriate places. Indeed I was quite looking forward to reading whatever genre he had decided to grace with his talent.
Thus it was something of a surprise when nothing was forthcoming. So I asked what had become of him and somebody told me they had seen Staffin labouring down on the wharves. This came as a surprise, because his family, whilst not wealthy, was adequately well-to-do and they could have got him a well-paid clerk’s job with no trouble.
A fortnight later I saw Staffin in the distance, striding out along Ropewalk, carrying well wrapped bundles like some private courier, and a month after that I was present when he delivered a clay pot bearing dubious markings to Gass Tweel in the Sattir’s Drop. To get out of the bar he had to draw a blade on somebody who tried to block his path. By blade I’m talking of something which, if it wasn’t a sword, was a passably good approximation of one. It was obvious that he was now acting as a runner for some of Port Naain’s less reputable spice merchants.
Just as there is a wide array of spices, there is an equally wide array of spice enthusiasts. So we now have the spice merchants that will pander to the whims of well-heeled customers. There are spices which are claimed to be aphrodisiacs, there are spices which sooth digestion, and there are spices which claim to help you sleep. Indeed there are spices which the vendors claim with help you see the future. Frankly in some cases the future involves spending most of the next day in a stinking privy. The problem isn’t merely the spice, the problem can be whatever rubbish the vendor has stirred into the spice to increase the profit margin.
I lost track of Staffin for a while and then I saw him slip surreptitiously into a house where I was performing. The host was not a patron of mine, I was merely hired to give an element of graciousness to an event which otherwise degenerated into farce with a group of third rate musicians brawling with the mime artists. Still I had taken the precaution of taking my honorarium in kind the minute the situation started to degenerate. Thus it was, as I quietly wrapped bottles in sausages (which stops them clanking together,) before stuffing them into the inside pockets of my jacket; that I saw Staffin sneak in carrying a crate of spirits.
I greeted him in a friendly manner. After all I suspect that in retrospect we would both have preferred not to be there, and asked what was in the bottles. He passed me one for my inspection and I perused the label. “Stilmoon’s special reserved. Oak aged spirit infused with a dozen subtle herbs and spices. Guaranteed to protect the drinker from distempers caused by contact with diseased parents, night air, sedentary habits, anger, wet feet and abrupt changes of temperature. One small glass provides protection for the entire day.”
I handed him the bottle back. “Does it work?”
He shrugged. “Given by the amount they’re getting through in this house, one has to assume that the man of the house is a philanthropist providing protection for everybody in the street. And that includes staff living out as well as staff living in.”
With that he quietly departed and I returned to the task of using sausages as a packing material for the bottles. I confess I wasn’t tempted by the Special Reserve, instead restricting myself to the better wines available.
It was perhaps a couple of months later I was walking down Ropewalk and was stopped by Simony Belltether. She was another student of mine from the University and I remembered that Staffin had been assiduously courting her during that period. We chatted a little and then, somewhat tentatively, she broached the issue of Staffin. When their relationship started he was almost endlessly attentive. Marriage seemed to be an inevitability. Eventually when she took him home to meet her parents, her mother was impressed with him. Indeed she was so vocal singing his praises that Simony almost began to have doubts. After all what young lady wants a gentleman admirer her mother entirely approves of? Of late Staffin had been far less attentive, and when he was with her had about him a distracted air and seemed nervous. Simony’s mother had shifted her stance from unmitigated approval to dark suspicion. Her father on the other hand was no help whatsoever, merely muttering something about, “Perhaps he’s busy at work?”
Simony was genuinely torn. She wanted me to speak to Staffin and in a roundabout way point out to him that he had one last chance. Either he had to show some commitment or she would break off the engagement. I promised that if I saw him and got the chance, I’d try speaking to him.
It was three days later that I next saw him. He was walking across Stonecutter’s Wharf and I caught up with him and just fell into conversation. Eventually I started to bring the conversation around to more important topics.
“Whatever happened to your plans to become a writer?”
Staffin just shrugged. “I cannot be a writer until I’ve got some life experience. I’ve got to experience the full gamut of emotions. Then I’ll be able to write.”
I had to bite my tongue at that one. Given my rate of progress I could be in my late fifties before I managed to experience the full gamut of emotions.
“What about Simony?” I asked. “I heard she was thinking of breaking off the engagement because she never sees you.”
His face fell, but then he brightened up a little. “Well I suppose that if she does, the emotional turmoil I experience will be invaluable. Then I can write about such things.”
That was too much. I pushed him off the wharf into the estuary below. As he foundered through water and mud towards the rope somebody had thrown him I shouted, “Alternatively you could just make it up like the rest of us do.”
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