It is my extreme pleasure, to welcome that rascal among men, Tallis Steelyard, to my blog. Please, give him your undivided attention. Cheers!
Questions happily unanswered
My sojourn in those parts of Port Naain’s hinterland less frequently visited served two purposes. Firstly, any ferment in Port Naain that might have adversely affected me had time to die down. Secondly it never hurts a poet to gaze upon new sights and see new things.
My route took me close to the mountains. I hugged their foothills, drinking in their majesty, intending to follow them until they met the sea. At that point I would travel south again, following the coast to Port Naiin and home. I’d left Woodpin and its inhabitants far behind me. I saw few people, although admittedly I stuck to minor trails and headed north rather than following the more heavily used roads running east-west. After travelling for some days, I came to the Bottomless Lake. There is a village on its shore which is known, somewhat prosaically, as the Village by the Bottomless Lake. The village itself was little more than a large hamlet, but it did boast a hostelry. This rejoiced, almost inevitably, in the name of ‘The Bottomless Lake Inn.’
As I entered the inn I noticed two young fellows I knew from the University. So, I greeted them and they waved me across to sit at their table.
Aluin and Oliander both lecture at the University of Port Naain, but frankly they spend as little time as they can in the city. They use the place as somewhere to rest after one expedition, and as somewhere to raise funds for the next. So, I asked them what they were here for.
Aluin poured wine into my glass. “The Port Naain Physiographical Society’ has funded us to explore the Bottomless Lake.”
Even as I listened to him I realised that there were sources of patronage in the city that I had barely tapped. Surely societies like this one should realise that having a poet commenting upon such an expedition, even from the comfort of home, can add much to the final report.
Oliander broke across my musings. “I just wondered Tallis. We were given a small sum in our budget to hire locals to help, but if you were to assist us, we could put the money towards your bills here.”
Even through seated, I bowed deeply. “I would be delighted to join your enterprise.”
The three of us went out onto the lake next day in the small boat they had hired. The lake boasts more than one mystery. The first thing you notice is the phenomena the locals refer to as ‘the veiled reflections.’ If you catch the lake on a still day, the reflection of the cliff in the water appears to show cave mouths or windows that cannot be seen on the cliff itself. The first day we spent examining the cliff face. Firstly, we examined the cliffs from the boat. Then we landed on the far bank, climbed up round the shoulder of the cliffs and lowered Oliander, who is the lightest, down the cliff face on a rope. He searched diligently but found nothing which matched the reflection in the water.
Next day was hot. After a cool start the sun came out and it was one of those glorious days you can get in early autumn. This time we rowed across the lake and Aluin went into the water. A fine swimmer he swam along the cliffs and dived repeatedly under water to check that what we assumed to be the reflection wasn’t actually the reality. As the afternoon got warmer, first Oliander and then I joined him. I can vouch for the fact that the rock face below the water is smooth and featureless.
That night as we ate in the Inn we had to admit that we had no answer to the mystery of the reflection. Still, next day we planned to find the depth of the lake, and this we all felt was a comparatively simple task.
Next morning, we loaded a hundred fathoms of rope into the boat. One end we tied to a thwart in the boat so we couldn’t lose the rope. The other end was tied round a heavy stone with a narrow waist. Thus equipped, we rowed out to the foot of the cliffs again and started lowering the rope into the water.
As we lowered away I asked, “How deep is it supposed to be.”
Aluin, who was paying out the rope hand over hand answered. “Galnwash and Wetherspeal claimed to have measured the depth; in their book, ‘Exploring the north on a budget’ they maintained it was ‘more than 50 fathoms’ deep.
I took over the unwinding of the coil as Oliander held the boat steady and Aluin paid the rope out. We’d got to the fifty fathoms knot when Aluin stopped.
“The rope’s gone slack; the stone must have fallen off.”
Oliander sighed, “I’ll tie it next time.”
Aluin hauled in the sodden rope and I coiled it carefully out of the way. Finally, he held up the end. “It’s been cut.”
Oliander and I studied the end of the rope. The end was sliced clean, and showed no sign of whipping and tying off.
Aluin took the rope end back. “I wonder if it’s somehow rubbed on a sharp edge. We’ve ten fathoms of light chain with our kit on the bank. I’ll tie that to it and see if it makes any difference.”
So an hour later, we were back in the same spot, this time lowering the weighted chain over the side. When Aluin said the chain was light, he meant that the metal that made up the links was not the thickness of a pencil. We still had to wrap it round a large stone because without the weight it’s possible a current would have caused the chain and rope to drift somewhat.
All the chain soon went in, and then the rope. As we got close to the forty fathoms knot we lowered more slowly, as if we were trying to feel our way down. I felt a quiver through the rope and Aluin cursed. “The blasted stone has come off again.”
Again, we hauled the rope back up, but when we got to the end of the chain, something had cut it. The chain was two fathoms shorter than it had been. The three of us stared at the end of the chain. I pointed to the bottom link. “Something tried to cut this one but gave up and tried lower down.”
On the chain, you could see where two cutting surfaces had been forced together, as if shears had been used.
Aluin studied the chain. “This stuff was almost too thick for it. So if we use something thicker…..”
At the bottom of the boat was the anchor chain. It was a good deal heavier than the other stuff. He knotted the lighter chain through the anchor chain. “Right, let’s try this.”
This time, perhaps because we had an anchor weighting everything down, or perhaps we were more practiced, everything went smoothly. We had reached the forty-fathom knot on the rope when suddenly Aluin fell out of the boat and into the water. The rope kept disappearing over the side without our help so I stretched out a hand to help Aluin back in the boat.
He climbed in and pointed at the rope which was still disappearing over the side at some speed. “I felt something tugging at the rope so I gripped it more tightly. Suddenly it just tugged me out of the boat.”
With one hand, I grabbed the rope. It stopped briefly but then something tugged. I let go hastily.
We watched the rest of the rope uncoil and go over the side. Finally, all that was left was the length tied to the thwart. Now the boat started to tilt.
Oliander asked thoughtfully, “Is something perhaps trying to climb up the rope, or is it trying to pull us down into the water?”
I didn’t hesitate; I drew my knife and sawed rapidly through the rope. It whipped over the side of the boat and disappeared.
Aluin looked at me, “Now we’ll never know what is doing it.”
Oliander unshipped the oars and started rowing for the shore. As he rowed he said, “I’m with Tallis on this one. I don’t want to share a rowing boat something that can snip through steel chain.”
I took up the other set of oars and started rowing as well. Aluin peered into the water and then took his seat and the third set of oars.
As we pulled for the shore he said, “Now we’ll never know how deep it is.”
I asked, “How deep did Galnwash and Wetherspeal say it was?”
Oliander answered me, “More than fifty fathoms.”
“Guess the height of whatever was cutting the chain, assume it was standing on the lake bed, and add fifty fathoms to the total.”
“How do you feel about fifty-two fathoms then?” Aluin asked.
I kept on rowing, but commented, “It’s not really my place to argue, but frankly if anybody isn’t happy with your figure, they can come and measure it themselves.”
At this point it seems pertinent to mention that the story of Tallis’s escapades continues on other blogs. They will be reblogged in what may one day be accepted by biographers as the chronologically correct order on his own blog. Thus, and so you can easily follow his gripping adventures.
Also, as an aside, the reason for this whole performance, (aside for being ‘Art’ with a capital ‘A’) is that another volume of his anecdotes has been published. Containing some work that has never appeared on the blog, this is ;-
Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories.