The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics
by Daniel Abraham

For as many years as anyone in the city could remember, Olaf Neddelsohn had been the cambist of the Magdalen Gate postal authority. Every morning, he could be seen making the trek from his rooms in the boarding house on State Street, down past the street vendors with their apples and cheese, and into the bowels of the underground railway only to emerge at the station across the wide boulevard from Magdalen Gate. Some mornings he would pause at the tobacconist’s or the newsstand before entering the hallowed hall of the postal authority, but seven o’clock found him without fail at the ticker tape checking for the most recent exchange rates. At half past, he was invariably updating the slate board with a bit of chalk. And with the last chime of eight o’clock, he would nod his respect to his small portrait of His Majesty, King Walther IV, pull open the shutters, and greet whatever traveler had need of him.

From that moment until the lunch hour and again from one o’clock until six, Olaf lived and breathed the exchange of foreign currencies. Under his practiced hands, dollars became pounds sterling; rubles became marks; pesos, kroner; yen, francs. Whatever exotic combination was called for, Olaf arranged with a smile, a kind word, and a question about the countries which minted the currencies he passed under the barred window. Over years, he had built nations in his mind; continents. Every country that existed, he could name, along with its particular flavor of money, its great sights and monuments, its national cuisine.

At the deep brass call of the closing gong, he pulled the shutters closed again. From six until seven o’clock, he reconciled the books, filled out his reports, wiped his slate board clean with a wet rag, made certain he had chalk for the next day, paid his respects to the portrait of the King, and then went back to his boarding room. Some nights he made beans on the hotplate in his room. Others, he would join the other boarders for Mrs. Wells’ somewhat dubious roasts. Afterward, he would take a short constitutional walk, read to himself from the men’s adventure books that were his great vice, and put out the light. On Saturdays, he would visit the zoo or the fourth-rate gentleman’s club that he could afford. On Sundays, he attended church.

He had a reputation as a man of few needs, tepid passions, and great kindness. The romantic fire that the exotic coins and bills awakened in him was something he would have been hard pressed to share, even had he anyone with whom to share it.

Which is to say there could not be a man in the whole of the city less like Lord Iron.

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