Monday, 12 August 2013

The Unicorn Trade

The Unicorn Trade by Poul and Karen Anderson (New York, 1984) has two pages of acknowledgments but no contents page. Since the contents are of different types (prose and verse; fiction and non-fiction), lengths (some of the verses are haikus) and authorships (Poul, Karen or Poul & Karen), it is necessary to leaf through the book to find out exactly what is in it. I have ascertained that there are eight pieces of prose fiction either written or co-written by Poul.

I have already discussed "A Feast for the Gods" by Poul and Karen as what I call "gods fiction." (Ghost stories treat ghosts as real; gods stories treat gods as real.) The Anderson's King of Ys Tetralogy is historical fiction with elements of fantasy, including some gods fiction: the Olympians and the Three of Ys withdraw before the new God that is to be in the Age of the Fish. Later, in Poul Anderson's The Merman's Children, Christian exorcism expels the last merfolk from Europe in the fourteenth century. In these cases, however, the gods, while influencing human affairs, remain off-stage so that these novels are not in your face gods fiction.

"Fairy Gold" by Poul Anderson was first published in The Unicorn Trade. Like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in Neil Gaiman's Sandman, this story ends when morning sunlight transforms fairy gold into dry leaves.

In a single night, when each of the human characters has a different reason for haste:

for killing a troll, Arvel Tarabine receives a large coin of fairy gold from the elf Irrendal who advises him to spend it that very night;

Zulio Pandric the banker, who recognizes fairy gold and knows its properties, gives Arvel not the 400 aureats that the coin is worth but 350 which is enough for what Arvel wants, to buy his passage on an expedition to the New Lands;

Natan Sandana the jeweler gives Zulio 400 aureats' worth of gems for the coin;

Natan buys pearls from a Norrener merchant with the coin;

the merchant gives the coin to a courtesan in return for her services in future;

the courtesan buys a large house from a scholar;

the scholar, who wants to marry, buys Lona Grancy's pottery business and cottage;

Lona had broken off her engagement to Arvel because of his unrealistic attitude but now takes the coin to him to buy their passage on the, previously unrealistic, expedition;

Arvel already has enough for their passage which is fortunate because the sun rises on the coin...

The story is set in an unspecified other world or realm with unfamiliar place names and temples instead of churches so I think that it counts as a parallel universe narrative. I also think that it connects with some other Poul Anderson short stories but I will confirm or disconfirm this by rereading further.

Natan reads the verses of Cappen Varra and a story, classed as "A-Historical," in another Anderson collection is called "The Valor of Cappen Varra" so there is a trail to follow here.

(In Sandman, the first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream is to Auberon's court. Asked for payment, Auberon replies, "You ask Auberon of the fay for gold? Very well, you shall have your gold." Despite what happens to the coins next morning, Shakespeare thinks that his company has been well paid by playing to such an audience.)

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