Benor was walking down Slip Pike Lane at a steady pace. Anybody watching him might have noted that his stride was precise, each step exactly the same length as the last. Somebody particularly observant might have noticed that every ten paces, Benor made a mark on a piece of paper with an indelible pencil. At this point they might have realised that they were witnessing a cartographer at work.
Slip Pike Lane is one of the streets that run parallel to Ropewalk. The
original houses were all quite large and now virtually all of them have been divided into apartments. Benor quite liked the area, the houses were solid, everything looked reasonably well maintained and the people put on a brave face and made the best of a very modest prosperity. One house had caught Benor’s eye. Perhaps alone of all the houses on the street it appeared to be derelict. There was no glass in the windows, there were slates missing off the roof and the door hung open. When he’d looked inside previously, it appeared utterly deserted, there wasn’t even any evidence of it being squatted in.
As he passed it this time he noticed two men come out. One could have been a clerk of some sort but the other Benor thought he recognised. It was Gumption Silvernant. Tallis had pointed the man out to him and described him as the meanest miser in Port Naain. He was currently engaged in conversation with the other man.
As Benor overheard the conversation he decided the other man was a clerk of works or similar. Benor heard him say, “You’ll need new roof timbers!” The miser glared at him. “A house nobody will live in and you want me to buy new timbers! So they can just rot unmourned like the ones my father put in?” “Well if you don’t do something soon, the whole lot will be down about your ears.”
Both men had stopped and were looking back at the neglected house. Benor also stopped and commented casually, “If you use decent second hand you could get the roof weather-proof. With a reasonable roof you’ve a chance of getting a tenant.” Silvernant turned to his builder and pointed to Benor. “If a passing stranger can spot something so obvious, how is it you cannot?”
The miser turned back to Benor, “And you are?” “Benor Dorfinngil, Cartographer, at your service.” Silvernant peered closely at him, “You a friend of that Tallis Steelyard individual?” “I am.”“A rogue and a wastrel!” Silvernant paused briefly, “But doubtless an honest
enough friend. Now you were saying about decent second hand timber?” “They’re stripping a lot of timber from the sheds by the Graving Dock. Some of it looked decent.” The miser looked at his clerk of works. The other man shrugged. “I can go and look; we will always have a job for it. But it’s still money wasted if nobody will live in the house.” With that he left.
Benor would have moved on, but Silvernant had rested a gaunt hand on the young cartographer’s shoulder. “Look around lad, how many houses to I own in this street?” Benor shrugged. Silvernant continued, “A nice round dozen. Aye and they’re every bit as well maintained as the others. He turned to glare at Benor. “I’ve got good tenants; they’re all up-to-date with their rent, so I want to keep them happy. A happy tenant is a profitable tenant.” He prodded the young man in the chest. “Never save brass and waste silver.”
Benor was too dumbstruck to reply. He wasn’t sure whether Tallis would entirely believe him if he were repeat this lecture to the poet.
The miser continued. “They say I’m mean, but I’m no fool.” He sighed. “So what am I going to do with this damned house!” Hesitantly Benor said, “Well if you get a roof on….” Heavily the older man said, “More damned expense. What I need is a tenant.” He paused, deep in thought, his hand still firmly clasping Benor’s shoulder in a claw-like grip. “I’ll do a deal with you lad. I suspect you like a wager?”
Benor ignored everything but the deal. “What’s the deal?” “It’s like this. I’ve bits and pieces of land and property all over the city. It wouldn’t hurt to have them surveyed. Probably take a smart lad a
couple of weeks. I suspect a decent plan would show where I’ve space to build. What’s your rate?”“Five alars a week, which covers me and an apprentice.” Silvernant sucked in sharply through clenched teeth. “Only a young chap and he still knows how to charge! Well this is the deal. I’ll book you to do the work. I’ll also book you to get me tenants in this house. If you get me the tenants who stay at least a month, I’ll pay you for three weeks’ work, even if it takes a week. If you don’t get me the tenants I’ll pay you for a week’s work, even if it takes three.”
Benor considered the wager. It wasn’t as if he had a lot of work on. “Tricky getting a tenant for a house with no roof.” Silvernant looked back at the house as if surprised by the revelation. “Tell you what; if this tenant of yours sleeps for a week in the house, I’ll get a roof on sharpish, even if I have to use new timber!” Benor tried to read the old man. There had to be a catch. But as far as he could tell, the catch was working for a poor rate. But there again, it was still better pay than the casual work he’d been picking up and he could work on his ‘Guide to Port Naain’ whilst he was working for the miser. He held out his hand. “You’re on!” The miser grasped his hand firmly. “I’ll get a week’s money to you by nightfall. I don’t carry a lot of cash on my person.”
Benor arrived back to the barge to find Tallis staring mesmerised at a pile of silver coins on the table. Benor looked enquiringly at Shena who just sighed. “Somebody came from Gumption Silvernant saying this was the money the old miser owed you.” Mutt rolled out from under the table. “Well you got all your limbs. Tallis reckoned you’d sold your soul; I reckoned it weren’t worth that much.” “I’m doing some work for him.” Tallis looked up, “Who do you have to kill?”
Speaking as if to a particularly stupid pet Benor said, “I’m doing some
surveying for him, and I’m to find him a tenant for a house of his.” “That ruin on Slip Pike Lane?” Mutt asked. “Yes.” “Forget it, it’s haunted.” “You don’t believe in ghosts surely?” “Don’t matter what I believe. Matters what a tenant would believe.” Tallis said, “Mutt’s right. I’ve heard that that house is haunted, nobody ever stays a full night.” “Well we can change that. I’ll sleep there tonight and for the next few nights and that’ll dispel any silly gossip.”Loyally, Mutt added, “I’ll come wi’ you, you owes me money.” Then he hastily added, “Not to sleep inside but just to be close enough to hear any screams.”
Benor had given some thought to his preparations. He took a lantern, some candles, the makings of a fire, and some bedding. He made no secret of what he was doing, brushing out the floor of the main downstairs room and generally getting things as comfortable as possible. One of two of the passers-by slowed down to watch him, one lady shook her head sadly, but nobody stopped to speak. Finally he went out and bought a meat pie for his evening meal. At this point Mutt materialised with two rather more superior meat pies, cheese, some almost fresh bread, and two bottles of beer. After eating, Benor made his bed up in front of the fire. He lay with his head nearest the door, which he proceeded to prop closed once Mutt had made his excuses and left. He read for a while and finally decided it was time to go to sleep. He stoked the fire up and after some thought left the candle burning. He lay there for a while and soon dozed off. After all, in his wanderings he’d slept in far less salubrious surroundings.
He woke up feeling cold. The candle had burned down; at least two hours had passed. He poked the fire and threw more wood on it in an attempt to get a decent blaze. If anything, the cold seemed to increase and even huddling close to the fire didn’t help. It was then he noticed a smell. It was as if some medium sized creature had crawled under the floorboards and had then died. There was a distinct smell of rotting flesh. Benor was puzzled, after all it hadn’t been here before, he couldn’t have faced his meal with that smell lingering. Then for no reason the candle went out and the fire died down. The smell grew worse. The scent of rotting meat had obviously attracted the attention
of an incontinent dog with flatulence. Poking the fire achieved othing.
Benor pulled the blankets round him and looked round the room. here was no sign of anything. He lost track of how long he’d sat huddled, close to the fire. The stench was now so bad he was afraid to doze off lest he was asphyxiated in his sleep. Then he heard something, the gentle scrape of something moving. He looked into the corner furthest from the door. In the darkness there seemed to be a deeper darkness. As he watched, petrified, a dark shape coalesced and seemed to reach out towards him. He felt something brush his ear lightly. It broke whatever dark enchantment was keeping him in place.
Benor was already running when he hit the door and burst out into the road. He tripped over something and sprawled across the street. A voice came from behind him. “Watch yer feet!” Benor rolled over; Mutt had been sleeping across the doorway. Cautiously Benor made his way back to the door and looked into the room. The fire was out and the room was in darkness. He darted in, grabbed his blankets and ran
out. Mutt pushed away the blanket that was dangling across his face, “Aea, they stink!”
Early morning found Benor arguing with the porter on the gate of the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity.
“Look, I just want to speak to the Hierophant.” At this point he was
struggling to stay polite. He was still shaken from the events of the
previous night. “You and a thousand others, you need an appointment just to have him ignore you!” Benor ground his teeth and tried a different tack. “Then can I see Shaleen, the chief virgin and temple dancer?” “Personal friend is she.” Benor leaned across the counter so his nose was an inch from the face of the porter, “And what exactly did you mean by that!” Mutt tugged at Benor’s trousers. Benor, surprised, looked down at him. Mutt mouthed, “Stick with me.” He then ducked past the porter and ran into the quadrangle behind.“ Oy, you…..” The porter turned and fell flat on his face. Benor ran after Mutt, somehow resisting the temptation to kick the porter as he passed. Mutt darted into a narrow doorway and busied himself with the lock. “What happened there?” Benor asked. ”Tied ‘is laces together.”
The door opened and Mutt beckoned Benor inside and closed it after him. “Stay ‘ere, don’t move. I’ll get Valerin.” “Why, where are we at?”
“It’s where the apprentice dancers sleep. You go in, they’ll scream fer fun. Mutt disappeared and Benor stood very still and tried to fade into the shadows. On the other side of the door he could hear shouting. Somebody even tried the door, but Mutt had obviously locked it again.
Perhaps five minutes later Mutt appeared with a girl who Benor recognised as Valerin. She nodded a greeting. “You want to meet Shaleen?” “Well actually I want to meet the Hierophant.”
She shrugged, “Shaleen I can do. Follow me and look like you belong here.” She led them down a dark corridor into a somewhat brighter hallway. From there they ascended a spiral staircase which rose through three landings before Valerin walked across and knocked on a door. She obviously heard a voice from inside because she opened the door and beckoned Benor and Mutt to follow her. Inside Benor saw Shaleen, the chief virgin and temple dancer. She winked at him when she recognised him. “Last time you visited you fell off the roof and escaped dressed as a temple dancer. Were you doing things the other way round this time?” Benor sagged against the door. “I need a priest.”
Still teasing Shaleen asked, “Matrimony at last, who’s the lucky girl?”
“Madam, I need a bluidy exorcist.” Shaleen stared at him. “Holy Aea, but you’re serious.” She looked at Valerin. “Go to the Hierophant’s office, take my ring. Tell him I’m on my way with an interesting problem for him. A probable exorcism.” Valerin grabbed the ring from the occasional table and fled. Shaleen rooted about in a small bedside cabinet. “I have some here somewhere. Ah, here it is.” She passed Benor a bottle. “Drink.” He looked at the label. “Dobbart’s Caramel hair tone to suit a medium skin.” “Urlan plum brandy; if I hide it in a bottle of hair dye the gossips will be so delighted that they won’t even think to check inside the bottle.” Benor opened the bottle, sniffed, and then drank carefully. He passed her back the bottle. “Thanks, I think I needed that.” “Good, let’s go and see Cuddles.”
They found the Hierophant in a large office that was obviously part of a suite. If he was surprised to see Benor, he didn’t show it. “An exorcism? So what’s the story?” Benor told the tale of the previous night. The Hierophant walked across to a large map cupboard and pulled out one of the drawers. “Slip Pike Lane you say.”He looked at the map carefully. “Believe it or not, it’s always been Slip Pike Lane. You wouldn’t believe how many streets have changed their name
over the years.” Benor stared at the map. “You’ve got a full map of the city!” His tone was almost accusing. “Of course we have, we’d struggle to manage without one.” “You knew I was trying to produce one and just let me get on with it?” Shaleen patted his arm. “Well you needed something to keep you amused.” More seriously the Hierophant explained, “Yes, but if you’d copied ours, you’d just have embedded our mistakes in your map. We intend to buy a copy of yours when it’s done and bring ours up-to-date.” He walked to the bookshelves and looked along the line of leather bound tomes. “Here we are Se to Tu.”
He took the book down and opened it on his desk. “Let us see what we have for Slip Pike Lane.” Benor whispered to Shaleen, “You record all the exorcisms?” She whispered back, “Yes. Apparently it helps if an exorcist knows what has happened there previously.” The Hierophant had obviously overheard them. “Given the number of mages and
demonologists this city has seen, an exorcist needs all the help they can get.” He flicked through the pages. “Here.” He paused to read. “Oh, you’ve got a good one. No less a person that an Arch Hierophant of Aea was accosted on Slip Pile Lane by a demon, in daylight, no less than five hundred years ago.” Shaleen explained to Benor, “That’s about as senior as you can get, the priests of Aea undivided are few and far between. Not every generation produces one.” The Hierophant was reading. “They don’t make them like this any more. Listen, it’s written by the man himself. ‘I met the demon with a stout heart and recited the six rituals of banishment. Then, strong in the faith, I abjured it, spurned it and rejected it. Finally I struck it repeatedly with my staff until it fled.” Benor said, “Was his staff a magical artefact or something?” Shaleen said, “No, heavy oak with a solid brass head; it isn’t what you’re wielding, it’s who does the wielding. Urlan can banish a demon with an ordinary steel blade.” The Hierophant stood contemplating the text. “I think I know the priest for this one. He’s the only priest of Aea undivided still living.” He turned to Valerin who was standing quietly next to Mutt near the door. “Girl, please ask Faldon if he would come to see me. Then take the young gentleman with you, yes the one who appears to be appraising the silverware on the occasional table, and go and get something to eat.
Faldon wasn’t quite what Benor had expected. Benor had assumed the priest would be somehow older, perhaps even venerable, and have about them a discernable aura of sanctity. Instead he found himself leaving the temple with somebody who wasn’t much more than ten years older than himself. Faldon wore the long off-white robe of a priest of Aea undivided. He had a staff, although it looked similar to the sort of stick Benor had for when he was walking any distance. It was a useful walking stick and sturdy enough to be a reasonable defensive weapon. He carried a carpet bag in his left hand. Benor pushed a chest on a handcart. The cart also carried an assortment of
bedding, brooms and similar household impedimenta.Finally arriving at the house Benor tried to lift the chest. It was longer than he was tall. He stopped. “This will take two of us. I thought priests were supposed to be sworn to poverty.” “That’s the temple we’re bringing with us. The bag contains my kit.” Faldon took the other end of the chest and tried to lift it. “Look we’ll open the chest on the cart and empty it that way. But first we’ll get the room clean.” With that he took the broom and set to work with a will on the floor. Benor cleaned out the grate and laid a new fire. The floor clean and the fire nicely alight, Faldon asked, “Where did you see whatever it was?” Benor pointed silently to the corner. Faldon walked to the handcart and opened the chest. “Grab this.” Benor took a rope handle and lifted. Together he and Faldon manoeuvred a small stone altar into the corner of the room. On it Faldon placed three candle sticks and lit them. He turned to Benor. “Can you cook?” “After a fashion, I’ve fended for myself in the wilderness.” “Seems appropriate; in the chest there’s a bowl containing a mess of meat and beans which needs warming through. I think you’ll find some fruit there. It’ll feed two.
Leaving Benor to prepare their meal, Faldon turned back to the altar. He knelt before it and stayed there, apparently lost in silent prayer. It was perhaps an hour later he turned back to Benor who was growing a little concerned. Benor said, “I kept it warm for us.” “I should have told you to eat yours. Still it’s always better to eat in company.” They lifted the much lighter chest off the cart and put it in front of the fire, then companionably they sat on it and ate their meal. Apropos of nothing, Faldon said, “I think your hair needs cutting.” Instinctively Benor ran his fingers through his hair, “Perhaps.” ”I’ll do it now.” Benor looked at him. “I thought you were a priest?” “I soon discovered people are happier to talk to their hairdresser than heir priest. So I learned to be a hairdresser. We’ll sit you outside on that stool and I’ll cut your hair. It normally draws people and with any luck I’ll have more work to do and more people to talk to. Also how much food is there in the chest?” “None.”
“And that’s the way it’ll stay until somebody gives us some.” So Benor sat in the afternoon sun and Faldon cut his hair. At the same time he chatted to passers-by, bantered with tradesmen, flirted outrageously with those ladies who encouraged him and performed magic tricks for the children by having coins appear out of Benor’s ears. By the end of the afternoon he’d earned a quantity of low denomination copper coinage, an assortment of provisions, and the golden opinions of his
neighbours. As they ate their supper, Benor asked, “Do you want me to stay tonight?” Thoughtfully, Faldon said, “No. I’ll be better on my own.” Benor was genuinely surprised. “You will?” “Yes, I know several of my clients have said they’ll drop round with something to pay me with. What they really mean is that they’re looking for an excuse to talk to me. For this, they’ll need privacy.” “What about the demon, or whatever?” Faldon gestured to the altar. “It’ll be weighing things up. It will attack but it’ll do it when it thinks it is ready, not when it thinks I’ll be expecting it. But the longer it waits, the harder it’ll find it.”
Next morning Benor arrived at the house about dawn. He wasn’t sure how the priest had slept, but he’d felt guilty for enthusiastically abandoning him and hadn’t slept well at all. Even before he pushed the broken door aside he could hear snoring. As the sunlight streamed in, Benor could see that Faldon had a bed made up on his chest and was still fast asleep. He built the fire up and started boiling some water. When the priest awoke Benor could offer him coffee. “Good night?” Benor asked. “Yes. If you don’t believe me, sniff.” Cautiously Benor sniffed. There was no hint of the stench that had accompanied his stay. Indeed when he thought about it there wasn’t even the dank smell of a musty old house. There seemed to be a hint of something fresher, more pleasant. Faldon looked at the expression on his face, “Get a good fire going, and a chimney that draws well and you’ll soon start to change the air and dry things out.” “Anyway, are you happy here?” Benor asked. “Oh yes.” “Are you sure about that? It’s just I’ve got to inform the landlord.” With this Benor turned and started to leave. Faldon continued speaking.“ Yes, tell him I’m very happy here and the temple is pleased with his generous gesture.” Benor froze, “Generous gesture?” Faldon gestured around the room, “Giving us this room for a shrine.” Cautiously Benor asked, “What about the rest of the house?”
“I don’t need the space; I assume he’ll have other tenants.”
Benor walked pensively to where Gumption Silvernant had his offices. The old man had the ground floor of a building. Benor knocked on the door and a voice shouted for him to enter. He found himself in a single large room with a stove in the centre of it. Half a dozen clerks were working at desks around the stove; the Miser himself had a larger desk by the window. He was talking to his clerk of works. When he saw Benor he leaned back in his chair. “Got me a tenant, lad?” With forced cheeriness Benor answered, “Yes.” Silvernant elbowed his clerk of works. “There’s a catch here. Come on lad, what’s the problem.”
“Well the house was haunted.” “Oh that, I’ve known that for fifty years.” “Well I couldn’t hope to get a tenant for a haunted house. So I decided to call in an exorcist.” The old man was nodding along to his words. “Hear that, the lad’s got initiative. So how much is this here exorcist costing you?” Hurriedly Benor said, “Nothing. It’s just that he’s set up a shrine to Aea the undivided in the most haunted downstairs room and of course doesn’t expect to pay rent. But of course you’ll be able to rent the rest of the house out to new tenants, and you never know, the shrine might count as a sinecure of some sort.” “Stop gabbling lad.” Silvernant glared at him. “I’m a miser, not a
philanthropic institution. Now let’s stop and think about this.” He turned to his clerk of works. “Did you see about that timber?” “Yes I got a lot of decent stuff, very reasonable. I was surprised really
because there was somebody from the Jorrocks Boat Yard, but they only wanted the rubbish.” “So we have enough timber to do the roof?”
“Yes, because the tiles are still sound and we can reuse them.”
Silvernant turned back to Benor. “So lad, between you and young Bradders here, I can fix the roof up for sensible money. So at least the tenant who isn’t paying me any money is going to sleep dry.” “I was thinking about our wager,” Benor said cautiously. “How gratifying; pondering new ways of tricking an old man out of his last few coins?”
“Well it struck me that whilst I have got you a tenant, it’s not perhaps the tenant you had in mind when we made the wager. How about I just do the work you want me to and you pay me a week at a time for as long as it takes.” The miser turned to his clerk of works. “Hear that Bradders, another young fly-by-night wanting to keep his hand in the till.” “Relying on your reputation for reckless generosity sir.”
Silvernant stared at him. “Damn me but you said that without the trace of a smile!
And now the hard sell
I’ve thought long and hard about blog tours. I often wonder how much
somebody reading a book wants to know about the author. After all, I as a writer have gone to a lot of trouble to produce an interesting world for my characters to frolic in. Hopefully the characters and their story pull the reader into the world with them. So does the reader really want me tampering with the fourth wall to tell them how wonderful I am? Indeed given the number of film stars and writers who have fallen from grace over the years, perhaps the less you know about me the better?
Still, ignoring me, you might want to know a bit about the world. Over the years I’ve written four novels and numerous novellas set in the Land of the Three Seas, and a lot of the action has happened in the city of Port Naain. They’re not a series, they’re written to be a collection, so you can read them in any order, a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories in that regard.
So I had a new novella I wanted to release. ‘Swimming for profit and
pleasure.’ It’s one of the ‘Port Naain Intelligencer’ collection and I
decided I’d like to put together a blog tour to promote it. But what sort of tour? Then I had a brainwave. I’d get bloggers who know Port Naain to send me suitable pictures and I’d do a short story about that picture. It would be an incident in the life of Benor as he gets to know Port Naain.Except that when the pictures came in it was obvious that they linked together to form a story in their own right, which is how I ended up writing one novella to promote another! In simple terms it’s a chapter with each picture. So you can read the novella by following the blogs in order. There is an afterword which does appear in the novella that isn’t on the blogs, but it’s more rounding things off and tying up the lose ends. Given that the largest number of pictures was provided by a lady of my acquaintance, I felt I had to credit her in some way.
So the second novella I’m releasing is ‘The plight of the Lady Gingerlily.’ It too is part of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
So we have ‘Swimming for profit and pleasure’
Benor learns a new craft, joins the second hand book trade, attempts to rescue a friend and awakens a terror from the deep. Meddling in the affairs of mages is unwise, even if they have been assumed to be dead for centuries.
And we have ‘
The Plight of the Lady Gingerlily
No good deed goes unpunished. To help make ends meet, Benor takes on a few
small jobs, to find a lost husband, to vet potential suitors for two young
ladies, and to find a tenant for an empty house. He began to feel that
things were getting out of hand when somebody attempted to drown him.