I realise I might occasionally have been disparaging about performance art and street theatre. It’s nothing personal. Admittedly I feel that some performance artists ought to realise that merely standing on one leg shouting your verses into a howling gale doesn’t make them better verses. Similarly, with street theatre; it still works better if you’ve learned the script. I don’t care if it is ‘improvised.’ You’ve still all got to have some vague idea what is going on. After all, if you cannot understand it, what hope has the audience got?
Admittedly I do succumb to the temptation to ridicule performance art more easily when I’m in the company of Lancet Foredecks, if only because he is one of the leading practitioners. Thus one morning he almost stormed out of the Misanthropes Hall, after I’d twitted him about the previous day’s offering. He’d intended to produce a deeply significant work about a man torn between food and drink. So he had a plate of sausages and a bottle of wine. He would place the sausages off to one side of the pavement and the bottle of wine off to the other side. Then he would recite his poem as he crawled backwards and forwards between them, ever dithering, never arriving at either. As it was a dog ate the sausages and as he tried to rescue them, a bystander drank his bottle of wine.
As he stormed off he shouted, “I bet you five alars that you could no more organise a piece of performance art than you could fly!”
Well to be fair I thought no more about it until an hour later somebody dashed into the Misanthropes and announced Lancet had been arrested outside Murgaton’s offices. Apparently Lancet had been performing one of his pieces on Money-mongers’ Square. It’s in the Merchant Quarter and is almost entirely surrounded by the offices of major usurers, collection agents and official consignees. If you know the square you’ll know that wherever you stand you’ll be outside somebody’s offices. It just happened that Lancet was outside Murgaton’s. I doubt this was deliberate. After all, if Lancet might have wanted to offend, wasn’t interested in merely offending old Murgaton.
Apparently Murgaton sent a clerk out to ask Lancet to move along, and Lancet point blank refused. To be fair to old Murgaton, rather than just send the heavies who loiter politely by the door to deal with Lancet; the old man went out himself. Lancet, puffed up with righteous indignation told the usurer that he wasn’t going to move for somebody who’d sell his grandmother if the price was right.
Old Murgaton took umbrage at this and at this point he did summon the heavies. But rather than administer a salutary beating, they hauled Lancet into the offices. It’s at this point the legal complexities become baffling. Apparently the entire square is considered to be one large financial house, so internal financial regulations have the authority of law. Murgaton decided that Lancet had inflicted upon him twenty alars’ worth of offence. So he demanded the money and Lancet was locked upstairs in one of the lesser offices until he saw sense and paid.
Given that Lancet rarely has twenty dregs, never mind twenty alars, this debt wasn’t going to be repaid with any rapidity. So Murgaton pointed out that Lancet was being charged rent and board for the room and this would be added to his account. At some point they would be forced to sell his indenture to pay off the debt.
Now Lancet is one of the most profoundly irritating people I know, but I’ve known him an awfully long time. He and I were small children sleeping in the same stable. So I felt that something had to be done. Firstly I did the obvious thing. I stepped outside and asked the nearest small child where Mutt was. Five minutes later he joined me.
“Mutt, we are going to earn money and do good.”
He raised a cynical eyebrow. “How?”
“We are going to rescue Lancet Foredecks and he is going to pay us.”
As he still seemed unconvinced I laid before him the bare outlines of the plan. He pondered it briefly. “It’ll get ‘im out, but won’t mean he’ll pay.”
“It will be a debt of honour, of course he’ll pay. Anyway I’ll let you collect the money.”
Mutt shrugged and went off to find Shena so he could do his bit.
I now contacted other people. First was Calina Salin. As a small child she shared the same stable as Lancet and I. Of course she would help, especially when I pointed out there was money to be made. Because I was passing I called in to see my cousin Thela. She is a temple dancer at the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. Whilst feeling no particular tie of loyalty to Lancet, she too could see how she could raise money for the order. Also I suspect she just felt it could be fun.
Finally I went in search of the Gorris Brothers. I don’t know whether they are brothers, but I do know they are one of the best distraction teams in Port Naain. Given them money and they will fight each other, going hammer and tongs, until you want them to stop.
Thus with my preparations completed I made my way to Money-mongers’ Square. There I waited. The first to arrive was Calina with a small troupe of dancers. They proceed to work through a series of routines in the square. A crowd gathered, because, strangely enough, attractive young women wearing very little do tend to attract attention. After a while Calina ensured that a neatly scrubbed small child passed through the crowd with a collecting tin. To be fair, those gathered all contributed. Barely had this happened than Thela arrived with a company of temple dancers. They proceeded to work through their routines with vigour and precision. Also, unlike Calina, they had brought music, or at least tambourines. They too seemed to be accompanied by a number of entirely charming and well-scrubbed children armed with collecting buckets. Having seen Thela’s team make a collection, Calina summoned her girls to take the field once more. This time they were dancing to the rhythm of the competition’s instruments. Thus Calina led them in a faster and more virtuoso performance. Thela was not going to let Calina have things all her own way, so she too pushed her dancers to perform to another level. By now the square was filling nicely and I decided I better go into Murgaton’s before the square was so packed I couldn’t move. The downstairs of the usurer’s office is actually a reception hall where you can state your business to a variety of clerks and receptionists. Only if you have business of more than usual significance will you be asked to go upstairs to the individual offices. It has to be said that the hall was full of people trying to see out of the windows into the square. But I noted immediately with the crowded hall my two hirelings. I made a signal and the Gorris Brothers hurled themselves at each other, punching, kicking and shouting imprecations. I watched them for a minute or two and was genuinely impressed. This wasn’t just two people fighting whilst everybody watched. They took their fight to the audience. The whirling and kicking mass that was the brothers seemed to ricochet around the large reception hall. Even those with no interest in the fight had to watch it to ensure they weren’t suddenly entangled in it. First one, and then a second heavy tried to break the fight up. They might as well have attempted to stop the tide sweeping up the estuary. The Gorris Brothers are truly professional. The heavies were caught up in the fight, carried along as part of the brawl and were then spat out again. Finally somebody blew a whistle and every heavy, from wherever they were in the building, converged upon the reception hall.
At this point I quietly ascended the stairs, stepping aside as Mutt and some of his coterie rushed up past me. I went along the first floor, trying all the doors until I found one that was locked. I opened it with a crowbar I had with me and released Lancet from durance vile.
Arm in arm we companionably made our way back down the staircase. In the reception hall the Gorris Brothers had finally been cornered and would soon be ejected. I made another sign as Lancet and I passed out of the main door and into the square. One brother threw the other through a window and dived out after him, taking care not to cut himself on the broken glass.
Outside Lancet and I made our way across the square. He looked around. “Did you organise this?”
With becoming modesty I merely gestured back towards Murgaton’s. “The best is yet to come.”
Almost on cue, the windows on the top floor opened and Mutt and his colleagues let down a banner which read, “Come to Murgaton’s. Bring your grandmother so we can value her in case of impulse buyers.”
Before Lancet could comment I held out my hand. “I believe you owe me five alars. I feel I’ve organised a rather impressive piece of performance art.”
And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.
So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.
So what have Tallis and I got for you?
Well first there’s, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’ The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p.
Then we have, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’ Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.
So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.