PC051: The Cambist and Lord Iron

by Daniel Abraham.
Read by Wilson Fowlie.

Born Edmund Scarasso, Lord Iron had taken his father’s title and lands and ridden them first to war, then to power, and finally to a notorious fame. His family estate outside the city was reputed to rival the king’s, but Lord Iron spent little time there. He had a house in the city with two hundred rooms arranged around a central courtyard garden in which trees bore fruits unfamiliar to the city and flowers bloomed with exotic and troubling scents. His servants were numberless as ants; his personal fortune greater than some smaller nations. And never, it was said, had such wealth, power, and influence been squandered on such a debased soul.

No night passed without some new tale of Lord Iron. Ten thousand larks had been killed, their tongues harvested, and their bodies thrown aside in order that Lord Iron might have a novel hors d’oeuvre. Lord Biethan had been forced to repay his family’s debt by sending his three daughters to perform as Lord Iron’s creatures for a week; they had returned to their father with disturbing, languorous smiles and a rosewood cask filled with silver as “recompense for his Lordship’s overuse.” A fruit seller had the bad fortune not to recognize Lord Iron one dim, fog-bound morning, and a flippant comment earned him a whipping that left him near dead.

There was no way for anyone besides Lord Iron himself to know which of the thousand stories and accusations that accreted around him were true. There was no doubt that Lord Iron was never seen wearing anything but the richest of velvets and silk. He was habitually in the company of beautiful women of negotiable virtue. He smoked the finest tobacco and other, more exotic weeds. Violence and sensuality and excess were the tissue of which his life was made. If his wealth and web of blackmail and extortion had not protected him, he would no doubt have been invited to the gallows dance years before. If he had been a hero in the war, so much the worse.

And so it was, perhaps, no surprise that when his lackey and drinking companion, Lord Caton, mentioned in passing an inconvenient curiosity of the code of exchange, Lord Iron’s mind seized upon it. Among his many vices was a fondness for cruel pranks. And so it came to pass that Lord Iron and the handful of gaudy revelers who followed in his wake descended late one Tuesday morning upon the Magdalen Gate postal authority.

Rated PG. Contains economic trickery that is fantastic, if not fantastical.

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29 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Divya said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    Loved this story. The finance part of it was quite interesting too, though the ending was a let down.

  2. 2

    Jeff Hite said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

    Wonderful story. It made me think about what I am doing with my life. I am sure that was the point. A life of service, to who and to what end. hmm more to think about.

  3. 3

    scatterbrain said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    There are no words besides genius to describe this story.

  4. 4

    Tim Pratt said,

    May 6, 2009 @ 6:51 pm

    Man, I love this story. One of the best things Daniel’s ever written.

  5. 5

    George said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 10:17 am

    An elegant exploration of the concept of value, and some accurate conclusions too. The reading was excellent, capturing the nuances of pacing so well that I get the feeling the author must have been involved in the production.

    That’s another thing about this story – it is so well constructed, flows smoothly from point to point, drawing the reader with a graceful subtlety that makes it feel like a novel rather than a short story. One gets the impression that there are more stories to be heard from this world …

    Great stuff!

  6. 6

    L33tminion said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 12:10 pm

    Pretty good. You mentioned that the story provoked a flame-war between economic luminaries. Do you have a link to that?

    I’m also surprised there aren’t more comments on the cambist’s solution to the king and prisoner riddle. At first, the answer struck me as somewhat arbitrary, but then I realized why that made sense in the context of the story.

    It seemed to me that the comparison wasn’t good because it was measuring the value of the king’s lifespan to the king and the value of the prisoner’s lifespan to his keepers, not to the prisoner himself.

    But then I realized that this paralleled the first scenario in the story, where it is pointed out that the value of things comes only from the contexts in which they can be traded. If you can only sell some obscure defunct currency as novelty wrapping paper, then that’s what determines it’s value, not the desires of those unwilling (or unable) to sell or buy it. Likewise, the prisoner’s desires don’t have any bearing on the value of the days of his life, since the prisoner doesn’t get to make any such decisions.

  7. 7

    mattitude said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 11:34 pm

    Good reading, good story.
    Blew my freakin’ mind.

    Thanks nerds.

  8. 8

    Daniel Abraham said,

    May 7, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

    Some other links about the story:

    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/15/economic-fairy-tales/
    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/05/a-new-kind-of-s.html
    http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2008/05/delong-smackdow.html

    Glad folks liked it. I’m awfully pleased with how it came out.

  9. 9

    GFJr. said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 1:28 pm

    Great story. I was expecting a reference to Christ regarding the value of Lord Iron’s soul. But nonetheless, a great ending.

    At the risk of expressing a personal belief, the value of my soul is measured in the Blood and Body of the Son of God.

  10. 10

    Travis said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 5:18 pm

    I love a story that shows me a different perspective from which to view things. The concepts of wealth and worth were portrayed in this story in ways I found truly fascinating!

    However, as amazing as this story was, the ending was simply not believable. It seemed as though there was a piece of the story that was left out. Some momentous event must have transpired to cause Lord Iron to become so concerned with the state of his soul that he would accept such a drastic change to his entire lifestyle. That significant catalyst was not explained to my satisfaction.

  11. 11

    Kendall said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

    I enjoyed the story a lot, including the ending, though also I agree with Travis re. the ending.

    This story wasn’t really fantasy, though. That’s not a criticism of the story, which–again–I enjoyed a lot. Just a comment.

  12. 12

    phignewton said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 3:10 am

    this story makes more sense if you replace ‘soul’ with ‘carbon footprint’ …tadah!

  13. 13

    Txistu said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    What a great story! Maybe my favorite Podcastle offering to date. It was thoughtful, engaging and very clever. The characters were full and believable. I was sorry when it ended.

    I absolutely hope Mr. Abraham appears again (and again) on Podcastle.

    Thanks so much for sharing this gem.

  14. 14

    Amaster said,

    May 13, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    Awesome story, an amazing application of knowledge that gives such a cool and deserving switching of lives.

  15. 15

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

    Well, that makes 2 home runs in a row for PodCastle. Good job!

  16. 16

    Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) said,

    May 22, 2009 @ 6:39 pm

    Oh, and to Travis – there probably WAS some catalyst for Lord Iron’s change of heart. But as a mere cambist, our hero was not privy to whatever catastrophe of faith transpired in the life of the erstwhile nobleman. So the ending worked just fine for me!

  17. 17

    RedEyedGhost said,

    June 1, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

    Finally a Daniel Abraham story on podcastle!

    I would love to hear his “The Curandero and the Swede: A Tale from the 1001 American Nights” here on podcastle. I heard him read it himself at Worldcon and it is fantastic. I also wouldn’ t mind hearing his story “Best Monkey” on escapepod.

    He’s one of my favorite authors, and everybody that liked this book should try “A Shadow in Summer”.

  18. 18

    Tomo said,

    June 5, 2009 @ 10:45 am

    A life of service and humility, sounds like Steve Eley.

  19. 19

    an attempt at slowness | Penguin Girl said,

    June 8, 2009 @ 1:08 am

    [...] past week I listened to a few really great podcasts including The Cambist and Lord Iron over at Podcastle. Craftlit is currently zooming through The Scarlet Letter and one day I’ll [...]

  20. 20

    David Barr Kirtley : Blog : The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics by Daniel Abraham said,

    June 14, 2009 @ 8:30 pm

    [...] There’s a podcast version as [...]

  21. 21

    A Fine Fairy Tale of Economics « Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness said,

    July 6, 2009 @ 6:17 pm

    [...] a person has with value. The story can be read at the link above or it can be listened to at PodCastle.org. It is not often that one finds a story about economics imbued with such affection for vocation, a [...]

  22. 22

    Choose your poison « Nick Discovers said,

    September 3, 2009 @ 11:58 am

    [...] in a fabulous short story I listened to on one of my favorite podcasts, Podcastle.  The story, The Cambist and Lord Iron, is a really great story, delightful and a little-bit mind-bending, and makes the same point that [...]

  23. 23

    Bonus Question: What’s your soul worth? « The View From LL2 said,

    September 19, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

    [...] found here in The Cambist and Lord Iron, by Daniel Abraham. (Or here if you don’t feel like [...]

  24. 24

    Free Readin’ | ‘The Cambist and Lord Iron’ by Daniel Abraham | A Dribble of Ink said,

    December 29, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

    [...] You can download a PDF of the story HERE (right/Option click, save as) or listen to an audio version HERE. [...]

  25. 25

    The Cambist and Lord Iron A Fairy Tale Of Economics – Daniel Abraham « Free SF Reader said,

    February 25, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

    [...] http://podcastle.org/2009/05/06/pc051-the-cambist-and-lord-iron/ [...]

  26. 26

    Never Judge a Book By Its… Title. | Epiphany 2.0 said,

    June 22, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

    [...] I care more about titles with respect to my short stories, because short stories are so short that titles can and often do act as part of the narrative. But for novels, titles are just marketing. So I was glad to read this Awl article, in which fellow [...]

  27. 27

    “The Cambist and Lord Iron”, by Daniel Abraham « moonlitworld said,

    July 28, 2011 @ 1:14 am

    [...] of “The Cambist and Lord Iron” Audio of “The Cambist and Lord Iron” GA_googleAddAttr(“AdOpt”, “1″); GA_googleAddAttr(“Origin”, “other”); GA_googleAddAttr(“theme_bg”, [...]

  28. 28

    Black Gate » Blog Archive » Is Fantasy Inherently Not Political? said,

    January 11, 2014 @ 8:30 pm

    [...] in political discussions. Perhaps the only example I can think of is Daniel Abraham’s “The Cambist and Lord Iron,” which is not so much a political text as a fable of economics, but beggars can’t be [...]

  29. 29

    Black Gate » Blog Archive » Voices in Fantasy Literature, Part III said,

    February 10, 2014 @ 11:48 am

    [...] in John Klima’s anthology Longorrhea, and now available for free at both Lightspeed online and Podcastle in [...]

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