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Tag Archives: Jim Webster
Sandi the Broom is a sweeper. According to Mutt, who I suspect may be
considered definitive in these matters, she was the first. As far as I can
make out, she abandoned what had been her home and at the age of about six
or seven took to the streets to fend for herself. At some point, she acquired
a broom. Whether she brought it to the streets with her or picked it up
there, nobody has been able to tell me. Also, within a week or two of
arriving on the street, she found a bucket as well.
Her method of working is simple. She will start at one end of a street and
just sweep it clean until she arrives at the other end. Horse muck and
similar goes into the bucket. Small coins and other potentially valuable
items are tucked into pockets secreted about her clothing.
Obviously, you need to choose your streets. Ropewalk would be perfect were it
not for the fact that it’s too busy to even consider. (Although she does
occasionally contemplate sweeping it late at night. Only her well-developed
sense of self-preservation has prevented her.) Equally obvious was the fact
that there was no point just going back to the start and beginning again.
She developed a ’round’. Six streets which she would sweep, one a day. The
sixth and last street brought her back to the start again. This allowed
debris to accumulate, thus meaning it was worth sweeping again.
Another issue was the nature of the street. You didn’t want something too
busy or it gets dangerous. Similarly, quiet streets never accumulate much.
The perfect street is busy at times, has at least some houses with gardens,
and is a comparatively prosperous area. After all, you didn’t want a street
inhabited by dwellers who would happily crawl the length of it on their
hands and knees looking for a ten dreg piece they thought they’d dropped.
After a few weeks on the streets, she started to build up a network of
customers. Certain houses contained a keep gardener who was happy to buy her
bucket of horse muck and miscellaneous sweepings for the compost heap.
Similarly whilst coins are of universal utility, other things that she finds
can be cashed in if you know your markets. On one occasion it was obvious
that she was following an absconding troubadour, doubtless fleeing an
outraged husband. She found two guitar plectrums, three spare strings, one
gent’s shoe, and perhaps a vintenar in miscellaneous copper coins.
Knowing your customers is important in this trade. The perfect house to sell
your bucket of assorted sweepings is one where the gentleman of the house is
a keep gardener. As you knock confidently at the side door you can be sure
that the maid will sigh, roll her eyes in good-natured exasperation, and
summon her master. He will beam with pleasure, tell the cook to give you a
new loaf, split, and plastered with butter. He will personally cut a good
chunk from the cheese which sits on the table in the dining room. There’s
even the hope of an apple from the maid.
If your customer is just the gardener, then he’ll doubtless be pleased, but
he lacks authority with the cook. Thus when he comes out of the house to pay
you, he’ll rather shiftily hand you the loaf from the bottom of the bread
bin, no butter, and the last of the cheese before the mouse-traps claim it.
Then when it comes to selling what you’ve found, shoes are easy. Several of
the rag shops take them. They don’t pay a lot, twenty-five dregs at most.
But then, from their point of view, it’s a speculative investment. One-legged
purchasers aren’t common. There’s a chance that you’ll get a mate to the one
you’ve bought, at which point you’re in the money. It’s even possible for
the owner to appear and to buy it back. But in this latter case, they never
pay well, and only with considerably chuntering and moaning. As the owner of
one of these emporia commented to me, “There are times I do wonder why I
bother. The trade isn’t worth the candle.”
Otherwise, for Sandi the Broom it was a case to knowing your market. One
second-hand shop gave her a good blouse that almost fitted her in return for
the plectrums and guitar strings. In other cases, she has received a reward
for finding a glass eye whilst a gold tooth is a genuine treasure to be
secreted away as a reserve.
On top of all this, she is also a ‘watcher.’ That’s how I came across her.
She will keep an eye out for things and pass the news on to Mutt. Obviously,
the streets she cleans have their own watchers, small children innocently
playing, or sitting silently under the eaves. But from Mutt’s point of view,
these are a nuisance. They work of other, doubtless competing, aspiring
crime lords. Sandi covers more ground, but in less detail than these other
watchers, but still, any information she sells him enables him to keep an
eye on the area.
Mutt once asked me to pass on a message to her and to buy her a meat pie as
part of her wages. (Marvel at the confidence he reposes in me!) As she
devoured the pie we discussed work and life on the streets. She does have
ambitions. One possible way forward is to go into service with one of the
houses on ‘her’ streets. She has kept her eyes and ears open and there are
houses she would work in. She makes a point of treating housekeepers and
butlers like the aristocracy they are should she meet them in the street,
and even downstairs maids will get a polite little curtsy from her.
Her confident expectation is that in the next year or so she will be offered
a place as, ‘the girl as does’ in one of her chosen houses. This will
guarantee her a bed, a roof that doesn’t leak, and regular meals. Ensconced
in such unaccustomed luxury she pointed out that if she couldn’t progress to
be a housekeeper in her own right, it would be her fault.
On the other hand, I could detect signs that part of her would regret
abandoning her own business and the independent life. As she said, if she
found a few more gold teeth she might set up a stall of her own, and
perhaps, if Lady Luck smiled on her, open a second-hand emporium in an empty
shop. As she said, she knows Mutt, he owes her, and with his street children
behind her, she could soon stock it.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that
I’ve just published two more collections of stories.
The first, available on kindle, is ‘Tallis Steelyard, preparing the ground,
and other stories.’
More of the wit, wisdom, and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a
vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic
lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a
poet! Indeed after reading this book, you may never look at young boys and
their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing,
from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.
The second, available on Kindle or as a paperback, is ‘Maljie. Just one
thing after another.’
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his
acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel,
marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell
ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders,
literary criticism, horse theft, and a revolutionary mob. We also discover
what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears
on the scene.
I confess that morning, as I breakfasted on the steam packet, the
Unrivaled, I awaited the rising tide with growing trepidation. Nonetheless,
from my position aft of the funnel, I could see no suspiciously casual groups
of overly muscled men moving in our direction. Indeed all our party arrived
on time, boarded and we cast off at the hour appointed.
But we were barely fifty yards from the wharf when there was a commotion, a
lady with two men and a handcart was waving and shouting at us. It was
Nilinda. She is a very accomplished marimba player. In all candor, she was
the person to go to in Port Naain if you needed a marimba playing. Whilst
her professional life was settled, her private life was less stable. She had
been the mistress of Hulan Dorca for at least fifteen years. During this
period Hulan had courted and married two wives, and Nilinda had raised no
objections. But for some reason when Hulan married his third wife (He had
divorced the two previous incumbents prior to this. Hulan may have practiced
serial polygamy but was never actually bigamous.) Nilinda seems to have
objected strongly. Apparently, she didn’t object to the marriage, she
objected to Hulan and his new wife going away for a week’s honeymoon.
Now whether she had expected to be invited along I don’t know. Indeed I
didn’t dare ask. But she took this slight (as she saw it) very badly. So
badly that when the happy couple left, Nilinda summoned Master Bullifant to
the house. He was at the time an auctioneer but did house clearances as
well. Because she had a key, she let him into the house, he appraised the
contents, (everything but the marimba) and listed everything for sale. Three
days later, he’d cleared the building. Even the cracked chamber pots stored
in the servants’ attic had been taken and listed. The sale was a big
success. Nilinda watched it from a shadowy corner at the back. Bullifant
paid her cash, less the seller’s commission, before she left.
The next morning when she awoke, in a house empty save for the marimba, the warm
glow of satisfaction that she had felt the previous day had evaporated
somewhat. Nilinda decided that she might be better savouring her victory at
some distance from Port Naain. Then remembering our enterprise she decided,
not entirely unreasonably, that it would proceed better with a marimba
player. So she stepped outside into the street, pointed to two men at random
and said, “You and you, fetch that handcart from over there and accompany me
to the docks with my marimba.”
The two men obliged. I suppose you can see their point. There was a
possibility this woman might pay them. Certainly, there was a story here and
they could probably get free drinks on the strength of it. Also at the end
of the day, there was the opportunity to sell on the perfectly good handcart
that she had apparently gifted them with.
With a marimba and one carpetbag, Nilinda and her small party almost ran to
the docks. After all, Hulan and his third wife were expected back that day.
When she saw us leave she was a little put out and tried to attract our
attention from the wharf. She succeeded in this and hired a boatman to take
her, her carpetbag and the marimba out to the Unrivalled. She even paid off
the two men who had pushed her handcart. They stood on the wharf and watched
her leave. Then over a beer paid for by their earnings, they decided that
they would go into business together. After all, they got along well, worked
together amicably, and had acquired a handcart. Prosperity beckoned.
Nilinda came aboard the Unrivalled and announced she had succumbed to our
blandishments and would indeed join our party. I shrugged this off. She was
a musician, she was Old Jerky’s problem. He merely pointed out to her that
she got the same rate of pay as everybody else and if she didn’t like it,
she could swim ashore taking her marimba with her. Graciously she acquiesced
to his terms.
The voyage itself was trying. The Unrivalled tended to roll a bit and many
of our party were seasick. Unfortunately, Nilinda seemed immune to the
condition and whatever the state of the sea she would insist on practicing
her marimba, and demanding that other musicians practiced with her. Thus it
was with some relief that I stepped ashore after our voyage on the steam
packet. Yes, steam might be more reliable than the wind, and there is a
certain majesty in the thrashing of the paddlewheels. Unfortunately the
Unrivalled had carried hides into Port Naain and then immediately loaded our
company and set off south. The stench below decks was not to be described,
never mind experienced, whilst above decks we had a lot of sick people
hanging over the rail being ill to a music accompaniment. I will merely
point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambiance, it was an
ambiance that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of
As we steamed between Ragged Head and the Snaggles I thought there was some
mistake. On the south bank was Travitant Quay, a well-appointed little town
with quays and wharfs and all the panoply of thriving commerce. On the north
bank was Slipshade which appeared to lack all these things. Indeed Slipshade
had a disreputable air, the only thing in good repair seemed to be the
defenses. Still, when our captain blew the whistle, a bunch of sturdy rogues
lounging on the beach pushed out a floating jetty and we drew alongside
With almost indecent haste the crew got us and our impedimenta onto the
jetty and then backed away, apparently keen to collect another cargo of
hides from Travitant Quay. I advanced along the jetty, wearing my most
winning smile. “Greetings. I am Tallis Steelyard and we have come to perform
There was a general scratching of heads at this announcement. Finally, one of
ne’er-do-wells was pushed forward as a spokesman. “What you performing?”
“Wonders such as the fine metropolis of Slipshade has never seen before.
Dancers of breath-taking beauty, singers who can sing songs which will haunt
your dreams, musicians who can charm the birds down from the trees. Plus of
course a pie-eating contest and consummate prestidigitation fresh from the
theatres of Port Naain.”
Well, it was good to see we’d touched a chord there.
“You’ll have to go up to the Keep to get a license to perform. Just leave
your stuff here, we’ll look after it.”
I’m certain they would. The minute our backs were turned they’d diligently
search through our possessions, find anything of value and treasure it as if
it was their own. As it was I left the dancers to look after our luggage,
with Old Jerky and his band to protect the integrity of both luggage and
dancers. I took Flobbard and Malinflua with me to the Keep. Malinflua at
least was presentable, and she’d given evidence of considerable
intelligence. Not only that but frankly I didn’t really trust either of them
out of my sight. Flobbard’s larcenous instincts tended to override his
common sense at times.
It is a steep walk up to the keep, the road tends to wind backward and
forwards as if reluctant to be associated with so grim a destination. At the
gate we were nodded through, the dozing villain on guard barely bothering to
open his eyes long enough to look at us. He merely pointed to the main
tower, grunted and went back to sleep again.
As we entered the main hall of the tower we arrived to a shouting match. As
I stood at the door I could see Darstep Balstep, lord of the keep, seated on
his great chair obviously listening to some dispute. It might be he was
sitting in judgment. Certainly, he was wearing a scarlet cloak over his
battered leather armour and on his head he wore a heavy silver headband to
hold his hair in place. It was obviously a prestigious piece of jewelry,
it had three large stones in it, each perhaps the size of the end joint of a
man’s thumb. In a more well-regarded setting, you might even have described
it as a crown.
In front of him, there were two groups of men engaged in furious argument.
Nobody had pulled a knife but from the way the insults were flying it was
purely a matter of time. Then Balstep saw us, or rather I suspect he saw
“Oy, you by the door.”
I placed my hand on my chest as if to ask if it was me he was addressing.
“No, you streak of misery, the woman. Who is she?”
Malinflua stepped forward, “Do you mean me, Sire?”
“Well I don’t mean the beslubbering flap-mouthed moon calf you came in
I rather assumed it was Flobbard he was referring to at this point.
“Do you have a name woman? Or do I have to keep shouting ‘hey you!”
With this Balstep leapt to his feet and strode majestically through the
crowd towards us. Or at least that is what I assume his intention was. I am
reasonably positive he hadn’t intended to trip over something, whether his
cloak, his feet, or the feet of some other person, and measure his length on
the floor. His crown fell off his head and rolled across the floor towards
us. I ignored it and dashed forward to help him up, only to recoil from his
breath. He was impressively drunk.
“Where’s my bluidy crown?”
“Here your lordship.” Malinflua had pushed through the crowd next to me and
offered him the crown.
He stared owlishly at it and then took it off her. “The stones have gone.”
With this another argument started up. His followers split into rival groups
accusing other groups of stealing the stones. Then one, perhaps more sober
than the others shouted, “Search the woman, she picked the crown up.”
Everybody turned to Malinflua, who seemed to have acquired a wicked-looking
knife with a blade of obvious utility. “I’m not having you drunken sots
fumbling with me, but find a woman and I’ll let her search me.”
There was a long silence as those present contemplated the options open to
them. Finally one of the women who had been serving table stepped forward
and methodically searched Malinflua. The woman turned to Balstrep. “She
hasn’t got the stones on her.”
Malinflua stepped back next to me and ostentatiously sheathed the knife.
“Right, now you better search my two companions as well, before some drunken
fool makes more silly accusations. The serving woman, with a brief glance at
Balstrep, did as Malinflua suggested.
“Neither of these two has the stones either.”
“Well, who’s got the bluidy things then?” Balstrep asked, a little
“Sire, I am a poet
Not a watchman.
Still my advice,
Should I owe it?
Search the men of your clan.
In a thrice.”
I bowed. “I trust we have your permission to withdraw and prepare the
entertainment was have brought for your delight.”
“Entertainment?” Balstrep sounded suspicious.
“Pie eating contests, beautiful dancers and the usual sort of thing.”
Balstrep seemed to be contemplating my offer. “Aye, shut the door on your
way out. When I’ve got this lot searched I’ll be down to see what’s going
on. Will there be any poetry, I’ve always been fond of the rondel form?”
And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.
So here I am again with another blog tour. Not one book but three.
The first is another of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection. These
stories are a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can read them in any
On the Mud. The Port Naain Intelligencer
When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a
problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important
artifact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral
people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times
when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as
reassuring as you might hope.
Then we have a Tallis Steelyard novella.
Tallis Steelyard and the Rustic Idyll
When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten
Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have
finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of
Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too
much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail
and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful
countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.
And finally, for the first time in print we proudly present
Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady.
In his own well-chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of
Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her
bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the
difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We
enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation,
and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul-smelling birds. Oh
yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.
All a mere 99p each
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.