Tag Archives: Jim Webster

Mother Mine – Tallis Steelyard

It has to be said that as a gentleman who works with many ladies of mature

years, I have discovered more than I really want to know about the

relationship a woman has with her mother. Some of these relationships are

good. As daughter grows older she comes to recognise the mother for the wise

lady she is, and as the mother grows older she recognises the sensible woman

her daughter has become.

Some are not so good, but few have been as troublesome as the relationship

Madam Rosamie had with her mother, known universally as the Dowager. For

some reason it appears that the Dowager held her daughter in supreme

contempt and made no secret of the fact. What made things difficult for

Madam Rosamie was that the Dowager was always so nice to everybody else.

Now I’m not sure at what age a girl will start buying her own underclothes.

Such matters are not ones that I’ve ever thought to ask about. But even into

her fifties Madam Rosamie would receive from her mother a large parcel of

nether garments. These were always for a lady two or three sizes larger,

made of a cheap scratchy material, and were in the sort of colours one would

only wear under three layers of black. Rosamie was left in a quandary, she

was not somebody who would wish to casually ‘throw something out’, but these

were garments she wouldn’t have inflicted upon a scullery maid. (Even if she

had one of the appropriate size.) The drawers she finally sent to a local

stable where they used them as hay nets for their horses. The brassieres she

gave to a local greengrocer who used them when he wished to put on a novelty

display of melons.

Now Madam Rosamie was a respectable widow with children of her own who were

old enough to have left home. She maintained quite a large household because

she enjoyed entertaining. So she had more kitchen maids and downstairs maids

than you might normally expect to find.

Not only that but because there was no gentleman of the house who might be

tempted into philandering, Madam Rosamie could hire pretty maids without any

fear of the consequences. Indeed the situation worked to her advantage as

pretty girls, realising the nature of the house, would often apply for jobs

with her.

Obviously it was something soon noticed, and at her soirees one would find

bemused ladies who were accompanied by sons and nephews, all of whom had

suddenly developed a passionate interest in the poetic art. As an aside I

might mention that several girls did make good and happy marriages.

Yet the Dowager stalked into the house, glanced round, and came to the

conclusion her daughter was running a bordello! Now I suppose people are

entitled to their own opinions. This is fair enough. But I feel that they

are not entitled to vent their opinions to the Watch. (Running an unlicensed

bordello is an offence)

Obviously the Watch had to get involved, and whilst courteous, they were

firm and needed to be convinced. The question has to be asked, whilst it is

doubtless easy enough to prove an establishment is a bordello, how exactly

does one prove it isn’t? Providing evidence that something isn’t happening

can be tricky.

Eventually the Watch realised the difficulty they had put Madam Rosamie

under and so they agreed that one of their officers, posing as an odd job

man, would live in for a period. This seemed fair to Madam, and Watchman

Pilkin moved in to a small box room. He turned out to be a real treasure. He

was a man who could fix virtually anything, and at the end of the fortnight,

Madam Rosamie insisted on paying him for the work he’d done, even though he

was also drawing his Watch pay. The maids were so sad to see him go they had

Cook bake a cake and there was something of a small leaving party for him on

his last day.

A week later he had to move back in. The Dowager, realising her strumpet of

a daughter had cozened the Watch, proceeded to advertise her daughter’s

putative establishment with discreet advertisements in appropriate

newssheets. Eventually she even had somebody walking ‘round the city with a

sandwich board. He would give passers-by handbills with graphic

illustrations for the illiterate.

Pilkin, now in full uniform, dealt with the situation. Initially he

courteously clarified the situation for the potential client. But when that

failed, as appropriate he became stern, mocking, and in three cases resorted

to percussive castigation with his truncheon. Eventually the word got ‘round

and the steady flow of potential customers finally dried up.

Still everything comes to the one who waits. Madam Rosamie was holding a

garden party and of course the Dowager attended. Now it appears that she had

spotted two of the servants sneaking off, so she followed them. In this case

it was the youngest maid and the boot boy, both of who were aged about

fourteen. Madam Rosamie and the rest of the staff of course knew about their

infatuation, but wisely pretended not to. At the same time, they maintained a

gentle watch over the activities of these two young people. In reality, this

is something quite easily accomplished as each generation, in the face of

all the evidence to the contrary, assumes that it is the first generation to

discover love. It never seems to occur to them that the older generations

have in their time tried all the same ploys that they are now attempting.

But the Dowager decided she would covertly follow the young couple with the

aim of catching them ‘in flagrante delicto.’ In this she was aided by the

fact that this part of the garden was a maze of winding paths and bowers.

The Dowager noticed that if she took a higher path, she could make her way

between two rose bushes and be in a position above and behind her prey.

Alas for the Dowager, the bushes were thicker than she’d expected, but there

was still a path of sorts. Unfortunately for her it was both steep and

slippery due to the rain. She skidded, lost her footing and rolled down the

steep slope becoming more and more tightly entangled in what was in reality,

a bramble patch.

Her struggles were to no avail, merely getting her more tightly entangled.

Fortunately, her two young potential victims heard her cries and ran to the

rest of the party to get help. Thus, it was that Madam Rosamie and I were the

two bold souls who discovered exactly what the problem was. I borrowed an

old pair of trousers from the junior footman, who used them when it was his

turn to clean the guttering on the roof. I added to it a jacket borrowed

from the gardener and cautiously I penetrated the maze. After almost

stumbling I returned to the top of the bank, acquired a rope, and had a

group of the heavier servants bracing themselves to support me as I made my

way down again.

When contemplating the situation, it initially seemed that the obvious answer

was just to tie a rope to the Dowager and pull her through what was left of

the brambles. After brief discussion this was discounted.

With a pair of secateurs, I tried to cut the brambles away from the

discomforted lady, but eventually I realised that this was fruitless. The

only option was to cut the clothing off the lady and pull her out of it,

abandoning it to the thorns.

This, as you can imagine, is a ticklish operation, especially with a lady

with whom you are in no way familiar. Still I somehow managed it without

outraging probity too much. I tied another rope around her ankles, took the

end up the bank to the now growing collection of guests and staff, and

arranged for them to pull while I returned to help guide the lady past

obstacles.

They had only pulled her about a foot before it was obvious we would have to

think again. The Dowager had got her hair entangled as well. By this time it

was raining heavily. The number of potential pullers was diminishing by the

minute and I would have to act swiftly. I asked for the clippers that the

cook used to cut the hair of male staff and applied them. Now I am no brute.

I didn’t cut all her hair off. I merely used the clippers on those patches

where the thorns were entangled. Finally, soaked and muddy I gave those

enthusiastic souls who had remained the order to pull heartily.

If a few minutes we had dragged the Dowager up the slope, got her onto the

path at the top, untied her legs, and her daughter, radiating a sort of

manically cheerful concern, escorted her into the salon. Here she was met by

the assembled guests who applauded her vigorously on her escape. Old towels

were fetched and she was allowed to sit down whilst a sedan chair was

summoned. This took her to the Goldclaw Baths. There she could get herself

clean, a hair dresser could doubtless be prevailed upon to do something to

her hair, and her maid could meet her there with a complete change of

clothing.

I might comment at this point that since the moment when she reached the

path and I untied her ankles, the Dowager has never addressed a word to me.

On the other hand Madam Rosamie speaks most highly about me to all her

friends, claims she cannot run any form of party without me in attendance,

and even, if we meet in town, will address me in affectionate terms as ‘My

dear Tallis.’

 

 

And the hard sell!

 

So welcome back to Port Naain. This blog tour is to celebrate the genius of

Tallis Steelyard, and to promote two novella length collections of his

tales.

 

So meet Tallis Steelyard, the jobbing poet from the city of Port Naain. This

great city is situated on the fringes of the Land of the Three Seas. Tallis

makes his living as a poet, living with his wife, Shena, on a barge tied to

a wharf in the Paraeba estuary. Tallis scrapes a meagre living giving poetry

readings, acting as a master of ceremonies, and helping his patrons run

their soirees.

These are his stories, the anecdotes of somebody who knows Port Naain and

its denizens like nobody else. With Tallis as a guide you’ll meet petty

criminals and criminals so wealthy they’ve become respectable. You’ll meet

musicians, dark mages, condottieri and street children. All human life is

here, and perhaps even a little more.

 

Firstly;-

Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07PTS3FGS

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PTS3FGS

 

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover

the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan

Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady

writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks

the great question, who are the innocent anyway?

 

And then there is;-

Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07PV1N7XZ

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07PV1N7XZ

 

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at

the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt

of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red.

Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through

the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death,

by changing the rules?

 

If you want to see more of the stories from the Land of the Three Seas, some

of them featuring Tallis Steelyard, go to my Amazon page at

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

 

https://www.amazon.com/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

 

Tallis even has a blog of his own at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

Advertisements

The Miser and The Demon

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.

Only Themselves to Blame – Tallis Steelyard Six Men in a Boat

Charlon Drane is the eldest son of Garrat and Taffetia Drane. This often comes as a surprise to those writers and poets who consider that his arrival in this world was due to him being summoned, like a particularly necrose demon. Indeed I have heard some speculate, in all seriousness, as to whether he was born or spawned. Various unlikely and undoubtedly blasphemous unions have also been suggested.
Yes I have it on excellent authority that as a child he had a remarkably open and sunny disposition. Indeed those who knew him then always stress how he was such a joy to be with. A happy laughing little boy, utterly devoid of cynicism or malice who, even into his late teens, seemed determined to see the best in people.
Thanks to the excellent education given to him by his mother, he loved nothing better than reading and could always be found with his nose in a book. Indeed if he ever went missing, his mother always knew where to find him. He’d be sitting in a quiet corner of Alen Gaetz Books, his nose stuck in some dusty second hand volume.
Thus when they were looking for somebody to edit the Port Naain Literary Review he wasn’t an entirely remarkable choice. Yes, at the time he was a usurer’s clerk and only in his mid twenties but still when the editorial board interviewed him they were won over by his natural charm and his obvious love of books.
To be fair he was, and is, an excellent editor. His knowledge of the field
is encyclopaedic; his own prose is crisp, clear and lucid. He sets a very
high standard for his contributors. Unfortunately, to put it bluntly, when he entered upon his new profession, he was an innocent abroad. There he was, a commissioning editor with a budget out of which to pay contributors.
Writers clustered around him like rakes around the drunken chorus girl at the society wedding! Had they merely approached him soberly, he could have coped. A nicely written proposal would have elicited from him a sober letter of acceptance, or alternatively a polite refusal. Instead he had writers of all genres and genders offering him sexual favours! He had poets standing in the street outside his bedroom window bellowing out their verses in the middle of the night.
He dined at one restaurant, (which I will not name, the proprietor is
entirely guiltless in this matter) where the waiter, instead of a menu,
proffered Charlon a selection of his verses. He tried to relax in the
Goldclaw Baths, only to discover a poet was frantically scribbling lines
from his latest poem, on the tiled wall in wax crayon. On one occasion he took a sedan chair and discovered he’d been hijacked. The bearers locked the doors from outside and he was forced to listen to a novelist read large excerpts from his three volume novel.
Then there was the issue of unsolicited submissions. Initially he made  it his rule to actually ready them. He felt that if the Port Naain Literary Review was to live up to it’s name, it ought to review things.
So, on his first day in the office, he sat down next to the pile of manuscripts, picked up the first one and commenced to read. Forty minutes later, his head swimming, he put the manuscript down. The author seemed to have written it using a system of spelling and punctuation known only to herself. He wrote a brief note, suggesting that the author find some kind friend to help her in this area and had it sent back to the return address on the envelope.
The next manuscript was easier to read, but that was perhaps a disadvantage. The writer had presented their diary for publication. In some cases this is an excellent idea. More than one lady has discovered the truth of the old saying, ‘keep a diary and one day your diary will keep you.’ Yet this presupposes that the keeper of the diary has actually done something worth hronicling. In the case of this writer, the highlight of one week was a successful bowel movement. This was sent back with a brief note saying that the editor felt that Port Naain was not ready for such dissipated excitement.
He worked steadily through the day, sending perhaps a dozen manuscripts back to their proud authors. That night he retired to bed feeling that in some small way he might have done something to improve the standard of literature in Port Naain. Whilst not rendered smug by this observation, he did at least allow himself a warm glow of self-satisfaction.
Next morning he was besieged by the writers whose work he had critiqued the previous day. Each wanted to debate his comments in detail, in some cases with a stout cudgel in hand. Charlon was forced to leave his office by window that opened out into a little used alley way.
In retrospect this may have been the last straw. Next day he instructed one of his clerks to place all unsolicited manuscripts into the coal scuttle. These he would toss onto the fire whenever the room started feeling chill. By taking this simple step he felt he’d improved the standard of literature in Port Naain immensely.
Then there were the published works to be reviewed. To be fair, some work published in Port Naain is published by a publisher who spots a book that will sell and invests their money in it. On the other hand far too much work is published by the author, or by a moneyed friend over whom the writer has too much influence. This second category can include some excellent work. My own Lambent Dreams falls into this category. On the other hand it includes an awful lot of dross. Charlon picked up his pen and reviewed them all. He held nothing back. His reviews were the work of a man who had been seen the future and who knew it was likely to be far worse than the present, unless he took a stand.
I still treasure that issue of the Port Naain Literary Review. He reviewed over two hundred books in a single issue, a feat that was never attempted before and has never been attempted since. Many reviews are but a single line. Of Bossop’s ‘Poems inspired by toothache’ he wrote, ‘Too many words, few of them good.’ Muntal Vergwil’s ‘Collected musings’ produced the comment, ‘I lost the will to live.’
Then in response to the three volumes of Madame Glorwan’s ‘A life well lived,’ he wrote, “This book was recommended to me by somebody I thought I could trust.” Mind you, these got away lightly. Lancet Foredeck submitted a monograph on the meaning of literature in the modern word. Charlon merely commented, “A village somewhere appears to have misplaced its idiot.”
My own Lambent Dreams was described as, “A gratifyingly slim volume.” I confess that in the circumstances this seemed almost like praise. From that day onwards Charlon has remained sternly acerbic. Anybody attempting to enter his office without an appointment is summarily ejected by two of the largest and most muscular clerks I’ve ever met. It has to be said, whilst he is not loved, it is generally agreed that he has done wonders to his magazine’s circulation. Whatever the quality of the books reviewed, the standard of insult remains gratifyingly high.
And now the hard sell!
OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog
tour which is peering into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife
Taffetia Drane. Now we are meeting their various offspring, delightful
people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not.
But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard. Tallis has his own blog at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/
But actually the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’
Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain.  Questions are asked that may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!
Jim Webster

 

A licence to print money Episode 9

Here you are, I hope you’re enjoying the story, ‘A measured response.’ Have
you worked out whodunit yet?
So here we are at the end of the story, everything done and dusted.
Perhaps.

As I was saying, I’ve just published, ‘A licence to print money: The Port 
Naain Intelligencer.’ It’s available on Amazon at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07DNLCD9V/

In it, Benor, who just wants to get paid for some work he’s done, struggles
against corrupt officials, bent bookies, and all manner of other problems.
On the positive side he does get to meet a Magistrate who is also a
performance poet, and young Mutt finds somebody who might even be tougher
than he is.

As with all the stories in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection, you can
read them in any order. It’s a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them in a particular order, but you can dip in and
out of them, you don’t need to start with volume one and work through them
chronologically.

But it struck me that people have got used to me writing about Tallis
Steelyard and might need reintroducing to young Benor. So I decided that I’d
write another Port Naain Intelligencer tale, ‘A measured response,’ where
each chapter is a post on the blog tour. Follow the blog tour and you’ll
probably get to uncover the mystery, free and gratis. Cannot say better than
that can I?

For those of you who still love Tallis, his blog is still there at
https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

And some more collections of anecdotes from Tallis Steelyard are in the
publishing pipeline.

And you can find my books at
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

Oh and I’ve got another blog which I write which is mainly sheep, quad bikes
and stuff. Or perhaps not?
https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/

Episode 9
As he peered out of the door across the moonlit stable yard Benor Dorfinngil
could see a cloaked figure making its way to the kitchen door. Benor assumed
it was somebody intent upon an assignation, but rather than knocking at the
door, the person produced a key and opened it. Intrigued now, Benor waited
until the figure had slipped inside and then he stole silently and swiftly
across the yard. Unsure of what was going on he took the precaution of
checking that his long knife was in its sheath.
Once in the kitchen Benor surveyed the room by the light of the dying fire.
There was a cloak discarded carelessly over the table, and the other door
was still ajar. Benor crossed the kitchen and looked through the gap left by
the partially open door. A man was standing at the foot of the stairs and
was lighting a lantern. With the lantern trimmed to his satisfaction the man
transferred it to his left hand, bent down and picked up a stout cudgel with
his other hand. He then climbed slowly up the stairs.
Benor waited until the light in the hall had dimmed and then opened the
kitchen door just enough to squeeze through. He tiptoed warily to the foot
of the stairs. Whoever it was who had entered the house was already out of
sight above him. Concerned for the safety of the residents Benor walked as
quietly as possible up the stairs. At the top of the stairs he could see
that the lantern bearer had already started down one of the corridors and
was standing with his ear pressed to a door, listening intently. Benor
froze, desperate not to make a sound. Now he had his hand on the hilt of his
knife but didn’t want to draw it lest the blade catch the light.
Suddenly the figure burst into the room, lantern held high. Benor heard him
shout, “Is this how you repay my generosity, Dorfinngil?”
Somewhat perplexed by this Benor walked hastily down the corridor and looked
into the room. Grayer Thirsk, lantern raised, was stalking towards the bed.
His sister sat up abruptly, naked at least to the waist.
“What are you wittering about Grayer?”
“You! Cavorting with that Toelar scoundrel!”
She flicked aside the bedclothes to reveal Arad Branwit lying next to her.
“Grayer, go to bed, you’re obviously drunk.”
At this point Branwit rolled over and leaned on one elbow. “If you want that
Dorfinngil fellow, he’s at the door now!”
Grayer Thirsk spun round and saw Benor. “What in the forty-seven hells are
you playing at? Some Toelar man you. Why isn’t it you in that bed?”
Entirely reasonably Benor replied, “Because nobody invited me.”
Grayer took a step forward, raising his cudgel. Benor stepped back into the
passage and drew his knife.
Arad Branwit got out of bed and pulled on a pair of britches. “So your
little scheme was to have this chap debauch your sister was it?”
Madam Grasia also got out of bed, wrapping a sheet loosely around herself
for decency’s sake. “Was that your plan, to have me befuddled and bewitched
by a foreigner so I forfeited the estate?”
Grayer pointed his cudgel at Branwit, “I’m not going to be lectured on
morality by someone who’s been pimping Ella, his niece, at me.”
“Pimping!” Branwit picked up a heavy earthenware water jug from the bedside
table, “Pimping. You’ve been sniffing round her ever since she was sixteen.
How does she compare to your mistress in Port Naain.”
Grayer stepped forward and swung his cudgel at Branwit who sidestepped
nimbly before swinging the jug at Grayer’s head.
Benor sheathed his knife and walked back down the corridor. It was obvious
that he was not really needed here. Behind him he heard crashing and
cursing. At the top of the stairs he stopped. Standing there was Ella,
dressed in a grey riding habit. Benor gestured back apologetically. “Did you
hear that?”
“Yes, all of it.”
Benor gestured down the stairs. “I was thinking of leaving.”
Ella glanced along the corridor to the room; the cursing and crashing were,
if anything, louder. “That seems entirely wise; I don’t think my presence
will improve the situation.”
They walked down the stairs side by side in a companionable manner. In the
kitchen Ella lit a candle from the fire and held it up to the clock on the
mantelpiece.
“Would you agree that it is after midnight?”
Somewhat surprised by the change of tack Benor looked at the clock.
“Indubitably.”
“Then I have come of age and am mistress of my own destiny.”
“Congratulations.”
There was a loud crash from upstairs, as if a heavy piece of furniture had
been thrown.
Benor continued, “I’d offer you a drink to celebrate but frankly I’d be
happier to be away from here.”
They stepped out into the stable yard. Ella regarded him questioningly. “So
good sir, what are your plans?”
Above them a window smashed and a porcelain chamber-pot crashed to the
cobbles near them. “In the immediate future I hope to get more than a stone’s
throw from our hosts.”
Following him to the stable she asked, “And then?”
“Well my work here is done. I’ve inadvertently been generously over-paid. I
intended to leave after breakfast anyway. Given the reception I shall
undoubtedly get at the breakfast table, I think I might leave now.”
“Then you collect your things and I’ll go back into the kitchen and pack
some breakfast for us.”
“Us?”
“I have frankly had enough. I intend to visit Port Naain. When I’m there I
will have my late father’s lawyers instruct my uncle to move out and I shall
put a manager in.”
With that she turned and went back to the kitchen. Benor merely had to
collect his backpack which he had packed the previous evening. He descended
the ladder for the last time and scratched Gyp behind the ears. The old dog
was the only living soul he felt any affection for here.
Ella walked across to him carrying what appeared to be a bulging sack. “That’s
a lot for a two day walk?”
She looked at him in surprise. “Who said anything about walking? My horse is
tied next to my uncle’s. You can ride his.”
She led Benor out of the stable yard and down a path to a copse by the beck.
“It’s still a lot of food for one day’s ride.”
“Ah,” she said, “I thought we’d detour south a little in case of pursuit.”
Ahead of them, crossing the bridge from the road to the estate, Benor could
see a cluster of people, some carrying lanterns. He quietly took the young
woman’s hand. “Quiet, let’s just slip behind the trees and let them go
past?”
Wordlessly she went with him. As they watched the party pass them it was
perhaps a score strong and was clustered around a stretcher. In the
lamplight Benor could see that two or three of them were women, one at least
was sobbing. Ella asked, “Who are they?”
“People who want a word with your uncle; among them are Anna’s kin, it’ll be
her body on the stretcher. She was buried in secret a couple of years ago.”
“She never went to Port Naain did she?”
Ella was looking at Benor intently, trying to read his face in the gloom.
“Almost certainly not; she certainly never died there.”
“So the letters my uncle received? She never wrote them did she?”
“She was probably dead and buried long before he got them.”
In silence, Ella turned and watched the lanterns split up, some stayed at
the front door, and some went down both sides of the house. Benor watched
her carefully. He felt that she didn’t need to see either the body or her
uncle’s reaction.
She seemed to come to a decision, “Right, let’s go. Let’s just leave the
whole sodding lot of them. I was leaving because I felt used; my uncle
seemed to be dangling me in front of Grayer Thirsk as a bargaining chip. He
could marry me if Uncle could marry Grasia, and Grayer didn’t think I was
worth giving up a mistress in Port Naain for. Now it looks as if I’ve been
lied to as well.”
She turned abruptly. “We leave now.”
She led him to the two horses tucked away behind the copse. She mounted the
first. Benor put his foot into the stirrup and mounted the other horse. He
asked, “You never actually said just how far south we were going to detour?”
Casually she said, “Oh just to Prae Ducis and get a boat to Port Naain.”
“But that’ll be at least ten days travelling?”
“Well if you’re bored of my company already?”
Benor grinned at her. “All shall be as you command my lady, Prae Ducis it

is.”

The end?
Are you sure about that………

A Licence to Print Money Episode 1

Benor is back! After the first critically acclaimed collection of the ‘Port
Naain Intelligencer’ novellas, by popular demand a second collection is on
its way!
Does that sound good?
Not sure if it grabs me.
But anyway Benor is the hero of the first fantasy novel I ever wrote and I’ve
followed his career through another novel and a series of novellas which
have the collective title of the Port Naain Intelligencer. Tallis Steelyard
appeared as an incidental character in those stories and being Tallis he
just took over.
The thing about the stories in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection, you
can read them in any order. It’s a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them in a particular order, but you can dip in and
out of them, you don’t need to start with volume one and work through them
chronologically.

But anyway I’ve just published, ‘A licence to print money: The Port Naain Intelligencer.’ It’s available on Amazon at

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07DNLCD9V/

In it, Benor, who just wants to get paid for some work he’s done, struggles
against corrupt officials, bent bookies, and all manner of other problems.
On the positive side he does get to meet a Magistrate who is also a
performance poet, and young Mutt finds somebody who might even be tougher
than he is.

But it struck me that people have got used to me writing about Tallis
Steelyard and might need reintroducing to young Benor. So I decided that I’d
write another Port Naain Intelligencer tale, ‘A measured response,’ where
each chapter is a post on the blog tour. Follow the blog tour and you’ll
probably get to uncover the mystery, free and gratis. Cannot say better than
that can I?

For those of you who still love Tallis, his blog is still there at
https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

And some more collections of anecdotes from Tallis Steelyard are in the
publishing pipeline.

And you can find my books at
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/

Oh and I’ve got another blog which I write which is mainly sheep, quad bikes
and stuff. Or perhaps not?
https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/

————————————————————————————————–

A measured response
Episode 1

As a young cartographer, Benor Dorfinngil knew he would have to travel. On
the long road that had at length carried him from Toelar to Port Naain, he
had braved atrocious weather conditions, serious mining accidents,
anthropophagous beastmen, irate husbands and outraged fathers. All this he
had taken in his stride, asking for little in return.
It was when he arrived in Port Naain that he realised how bad things could
get. The beer rarely even aspired to be mediocre and was often undrinkable,
whilst the food in public dining places was rarely better than bland and
under-spiced, and at the worst, it was uneatable.
But as he got to know the city and made friends there, he finally realised
how one got a decent meal. Along with his friend and landlord, Tallis
Steelyard, he was attending the meeting of a gentlemen’s dining club.
Admittedly it was Tallis who had been invited as an after-dinner speaker;
Benor had merely ridden in on his friend’s coattails. But still he had dined
well. A thick vegetable soup rich with herbs and spices, piquant enough to
make the locals comment and to allow Benor to feel nostalgic. This was
followed by a slow cooked joint, so tender the meat fell off the bone.
Finally a selection of tarts, pasties and a well supplied cheeseboard. The
whole meal was accompanied by a selection of decent wines, poured with a
generous hand. All was well with the world and Benor was predisposed towards
goodwill and friendliness.
To be fair the other guests were welcoming. One, Grayer Thirsk, had stepped
down from a carriage at the door of the club as Benor and Tallis were
entering, and had greeted Tallis as a long lost brother. They briefly
ignored Benor, but he was too busy gazing with admiration at the attractive
and expensively dressed lady in the carriage. She winked at him and then
gave the coachman the order to move on. At this point Tallis remembered
himself enough to introduce Benor to Grayer and the three of them entered
the club as group.
So now the formal phase of the evening was drawing to a close. Tallis had
given his performance whilst the rest were engaged with the cheeseboard. His
collection of anecdotes, extemporised verses, (which Benor knew had been
produced with much toil the previous day) and banter with his fellow guests
had gone down well and now the group was giving its attention to the
important business of talking and drinking.
The guests drifted away from the debris littered table, leaving a few
devoted trenchermen to finish off the more interesting cheeses. The others
sat in deep comfortable chairs and talked in small groups. Benor was
wondering where to sit when Tallis approached him with Grayer Thirsk.
“Benor, I think you two need to talk, he claims he needs a cartographer.”
Benor gestured to a pair of armchairs near the wall that were currently
unoccupied. “Perhaps we could sit there?”
His companion agreed, took one of the chairs and Benor look the other. A
waiter appeared bearing a tray containing a number of empty glasses and a
selection of decanters filled with various spirits. His newfound
acquaintance took two glasses and poured a generous libation into them from
one of the decanters, apparently chosen at random.
“Master Dorfinngil, I believe you are not from around here?”
”Yes, I hail from Toelar and have arrived here by a long and somewhat
indirect route.” Benor had found the inhabitants of Port Naain to be
surprisingly parochial, seeming to assume that anybody born on the other
side of the mountains was a savage barely capable of conversing in grunts.
“Still, your friend Tallis assures me that you are a cartographer, and what
is more, you can be trusted to be discreet.”
“Pray call me Benor, everybody else does.” Benor was a little concerned
about the need for a circumspect cartographer. It was normally followed by
the revelation that the speaker had purchased, inherited or acquired by
dubious means, a treasure map of some sort and wished for aid in
understanding it.
“Thank you Benor; I have a pleasant enough farm, almost an estate, perhaps
thirty miles south of here in an agreeable and civilised part of Partann. It
just so happened that I was up on business and when Tallis mentioned your
skills I decided that I had to hire you. I need somebody to map my lands,
and incidentally make an estimate of their worth. Mind you it must be done
without anybody remarking on it.”
“The Cartographers’ Guild rates normally stipulate four alars a week, plus
an extra alar for each apprentice employed.”
“Oh we don’t need anybody else involved. I propose five alars a week and you
shall sleep in the house and dine with the family.”
This seemed an excellent offer. But before Benor could reply somebody in
another group rose, raised his glass and proposed a toast. “The gallant
condottieri of Port Naain.” He then drained his glass. Like everybody else
Benor stood, repeated the toast and drained his glass which was quickly
refilled.
Now seated again he turned to Grayer Thirsk. He reckoned that his
prospective client was a little older than him but probably no more than
thirty. Was he perhaps valuing an inheritance with a view to paying off
debts? Certainly if he was contributing to the maintenance of the attractive
lady in the coach, it would be easy to run up debts.
“Obviously I’m very interested in your offer. Could you give me a few more
details?”
At this point somebody else stood up, “Gentlemen, I give you the ladies of
Port Naain. Unmatched for their beauty and their virtue.”
Benor rose to drink the toast even though he might have personally had his
doubts as to its veracity.
His glass refilled he sat down. Then he heard the voice of Tallis. “Of
course he can do it. Here’s an alar to prove that he can.” Benor was
immediately nervous. How on earth had Tallis come upon an alar? One gold
alar was a week’s wages in itself for an ordinary working man and few of
them ever crossed the path of a poet.
“Benor, these fellows don’t think you can climb out of that window and in by
that one.”
Benor hissed to Grayer Thirsk, “Put your details on a piece of paper and I’ll
see you later this week.” He then looked at the windows. They were high up
the wall; at least twice the height of a man. Still they were large enough
to get through. He assessed the placing of the furniture.
“I can do it, but I assume I’ll be allowed to open them both from the
inside. I could probably open one from the outside but this spares
breakages.”
There was a general mutter of agreement. So Benor slipped off his jacket,
climbed onto his chair and from there onto the sideboard. From the sideboard
it was an easy climb via a well secured stand of arms to a shallow ledge
that ran round the room at window height. He unfastened the window and
opened it fully. Then pressing himself close to the wall he moved along the
ledge until he came to the next window. The catch here was stiff but he got
it undone, opened the window and looked outside. This was in reality the
difficult bit, he’d hoped for a matching ledge along the outside of the
building, but there wasn’t one. On the other hand both windows had elaborate
architraves which would give his fingers plenty of grip, and between them
was a downspout which appeared firmly fastened.
With confidence born of long experience, a bottle of wine and two large
glasses of spirit, he swung himself out of the window and hung from the
architrave. He carefully moved along it and then with his leading, left,
hand he reached out and tugged at the downspout. It appeared well attached.
He grasped the spout and transferred his weight to it. It creaked a little
but Benor treated the noise with polite disdain and reached out with his
left hand to grasp the architrave of the next window. He then launched
himself across and pushed himself feet first through the open window,
turning as he did so and dropping gracefully down onto the sideboard.
There was a ripple of applause and somebody thrust another glass into his
hand. Grayer Thirsk announced, “Gentlemen, I give you Master Benor
Dorfinngil.” Along with the others Benor drained his glass. When the waiters
had recharged them he lifted his, “Gentlemen, I give you the hospitable folk
of Port Naain.”
It had all the makings of a long night.

Tallis Steelyard The Old Castle

Between ourselves I assumed that everybody knew the tale of Ralmano and Jellet. Apparently not, but at least this painting of Jellet’s Tower gives me a chance to tell you the tale.

Jellet’s tower, as painted at its most bucolic by our host at this exhibition, Andeal Willnoton Quillabin, is situated deep within Partann. Indeed, many would claim that it’s so deep within Partann that it’s in Uttermost Partann. Geographers and historians bicker about this because the tower is north of the town of Chatterfield, and as these things are measured, Chatterfield is reasonably civilised and law-abiding. Still it is a town with a hinterland thronging with brigands, bandits, extortioners, pirates and general-purpose rogues. There again the same can be said about Port Naain and nobody thinks the worse of us.

But to cut to the chase, the families of Ralmano and Jellet lived in the area around Chatterfield. If my memory serves me right the story happened perhaps five hundred years ago. At that time, geographers and historians notwithstanding, Chatterfield was the capital of Uttermost Partann, and all the aristocratic families in the area would have a house within the town so that they could intrigue and stab each other in the back, surrounded by all the comforts of home.

Note that by ‘aristocratic’ we really mean that they had numbers of armed retainers and the land to support them. It has been said by some sceptics, (mainly dwelling safely in Port Naain) that in Uttermost Partann having a pedigree that extends back more than four generations without including a cousin or brother-sister marriage qualifies you as a member of the aristocracy.

Still by local standards the families of Ralmano and Jellet were aristocratic. Like many others of their ilk, they would foster out their children to other families, thus creating a web of alliances secured by hostages of varying worth. Thus, while the families of these two children had been feuding for at least four generations, the children themselves were placed with families who were not involved in the feuds. This meant that fostering served a useful social function in that young people got to meet and mingle with the scions of other families away from the constraints of the feud. It also meant that the children of these feuding families got to know each other as real people. Thus, when they grew old enough to take part in the feud, they knew exactly who they hated and why.
In a way, the Partannese are most enlightened. In other places feuds are passed down through the generations and people forget exactly why the feud started. In Partann each generation not only gets to learn the causes of the feud, they also get to know and dislike members of the other family as individuals rather than merely hating them as part of an amorphous group.

Yet, in spite of the best laid plans, occasionally things go wrong. So the thirteen year old Ralmano and the twelve year old Jellet fell in love. Who knows how it would have ended up but fortunately Jellet’s nurse saved the day. Seeing Ralmano moping about under Jellet’s balcony, she threw a bucket of cold water over him and as he fled shouted after him, “Sugar off you little brat, and don’t come back until you’ve started shaving.”

After this at the next social function, Jellet snubbed Ralmano, cutting him dead over the fruit punch, and danced all night with Kalwan Jiddle. Not to be outdone, Ralmano cut Kalwan Jiddle dead, literally, in a street brawl, and had to flee Chatterfield and seek sanctuary on the family estates.

Now that might have been that, but Jellet and Ralmano continued to exchange letters. These were a mixture of threat, gloating over family successes in the feud, concerned inquires after the other’s health and tender best wishes for the future.

Still life continued, both married; Ralmano twice. Yet they continued their correspondence and (on those occasions) when they met, at functions where well meaning outsiders attempted to settle the feud, Ralmano and Jellet would dance, talk and even dine privately together.

Finally, Jellet’s scandalised family had had enough of this; they felt that in her fifties she ought to know better. So, they banished her to the tower we now know as Jellet’s Tower. Ralmano was outraged!

He gathered together a score of good hard men and with them he manned a small raiding galley. One night with no moon he beached the galley on the shore below the tower. Then attacking with the advantage of surprise his men overpowered the guards and freed Jellet.

Jellet took Ralmano to her bedchamber at the top of the tower and as the sun rose, showed him the view. Out to sea stretched the Dog Stud Rocks. The whole coast was a playground for shallow draught vessels, and from the top of the tower you could see for miles. No boat could slip past without being seen.

Ralmano took in the scene. “Well I’ve got a handy light galley with a useful twenty-man crew.”

Jellet smiled at him, delighting in his perspicacity. “Give me a week and I’ll raise another score and we’ll soon acquire another galley.”

Ralmano tenderly kissed her. “Then we shall make this tower our own and defy our families to shift us.”

And so was born a pirate dynasty. Actually, one of Ralmano’s daughters married one of Jellet’s sons and for several generations they plied their trade along the coast. Finally, the inevitable happened, they grew so prosperous that respectability claimed them and Jellet’s great-grandson moved out of the tower and North to Prae Ducis. Now the tower stands empty, but legend insists that if you spend a night in the top room of the tower you will hear the giggling as Jellet and Ralmano run their fingers through chests of gold and gems.

Tallis Steelyard and Jim Webster proudly present

Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories.

Available from
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Festival-other-stories-ebook/dp/B07BT9LWRP

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In here
Tallis touches upon child rearing, politics as a performance art, the joy of
dance and the advantages that come with good manners. Discover why Madam
Dolbart was forced to constantly hire new cooks, marvel at the downfall of
Dash Blont, lecher, libertine, and philanderer . Whatever happens, do not
pass through life without knowing of the advantages to be gained by an early
morning pick-me-up of horse dung spread fine on toast. You too can be
charming and elegant once you know how.
For a mere 99p all this and more can be yours.

Jim

The Picture of Unter Judd – Tallis Steelyard Sedan Chair Caper Book Tour

The Picture of Unter Judd
Madam Jeen Snellflort’s gentlemen adventurers set themselves high standards. They understood that any wandering thug with a big stick could steal something. For them, the mark of a gentleman adventurer was that nobody could pin the crime on them. One of them, Bagwis, decided he would raise his game and would try to steal the picture of Unter Judd, the first chair of the Council of Sinecurists, without anybody realising the painting had gone.
The painting hang hung on the back wall of the Grand Sinecurists Dining Room. Indeed old Unter Judd had, metaphorically at least, stared down upon the acquisition of Lady Edan’s fan. Given that in his time Unter had been a pirate and condottieri it is even possible he approved of the whole episode.
Bagwis always posed as an artist. Although not really burly enough to be a sculptor, he was a prepossessing young man, tall with broad shoulders. At this time he had a neatly trimmed moustache; substantial enough to look like it was an intentional feature, but thankfully not so long that he was tempted to twirl the ends. He also sported a short cloak which barely covered the buttocks, and was given to flamboyant gestures with it. Hence nobody turned a hair when he attended the annual dinner of the ‘School of Althius,’ a painters’ dining club. The dinner was held in the Council of Sinecurists’ dining room. Whilst Bagwis was there he took the opportunity to study the picture. It had obviously been in place for several centuries, with age it had grown dark and really needed cleaning. He examined the frame
and took surreptitious measurements of the size of the whole thing.
For the next three weeks he haunted the junk shops of the city. He browsed the yards of those who do house clearances; he even examined the cheap prints they put up on the walls of a certain class of drinking establishment. Finally he found what he was after. He acquired, for dregs, a battered canvas in a very similar frame to that in the dining room. He also picked up one of the cheap colourised prints of the painting which had been strangely popular a generation or two before. He put the print into its ‘new’ frame and tenderly touched up the colours. His intent was to try and give the picture the freshness it might have had the day it was first painted.
Then with everything prepared he made his move. Walking with the casual assurance of a man who knows he has every right to be there, he returned to the Sinecurists’ dining room. Over his most workaday clothes he wore the long floppy tunic beloved of artists, sign-writers and those who sweep bird droppings from high ledges to sell to market gardeners.  He entered the dining room pushing a handcart and set up a screen around the painting.
To be fair, the staff reacted promptly. He had barely got the screen up
before guards appeared. When the guards asked what he was doing, he merely took a cloth, dipped it in an appropriate solution, and gently rubbed the edge of the frame. Ten centuries of accumulated grime slowly fell away.
He turned to them. “I’ve been hired to clean it. It’s a delicate job and I
put the screens up to stop people stopping and staring and bothering me.”
The guards nodded wisely. Before one of them thought to ask whether he’d got
any written authority to be there, he asked,
“Could one of you chaps sit outside the screen and keep people away? I’ve even got a bottle of beer somewhere here.”
That has to be the guards’ dream. Oh to be legitimately paid to spend your working hours sitting in comfort, glaring at people to keep them away, and occasionally taking a mouthful of decent ale. It beats pacing darkened hallways on your own in the dark. So one of the guards sat happily with his back to the screen and glared at people, whilst our Bagwis silently unscrewed the original picture off the wall. Equally silently he replaced it with his new version, making sure that he even used the same screw holes. He then slipped the suddenly surplus painting into the false bottom of his handcart. Finally, to pad the time out and make it look as if he was working, he took his cloth and solvent and with immense care, cleaned the wooden panel the painting was fastened to. Finally, because he didn’t want people to feel he was rushing the job, he read quietly for a while before packing everything away.
As he took down the screens the guard stood up looked carefully at the
painting. “It’s come up nice.”
“Yes, it’s not difficult if you’re careful.”
It was some months later than somebody raised the issue of the painting. One of the Sinecurists who had some paintings he wanted cleaning remembered the excellent job somebody had done on old Unter Judd. So he dropped into the office of the Council Treasurer and asked who had done the work. The Treasurer promised to get back to him with a name.
He investigated and couldn’t find a copy of the bill they’d paid. He went through the year’s accounts and realised that even if they had been sent a bill which they’d subsequently lost, they’d never paid it.
At this point he went to check the picture. The work had obviously been done. Indeed he was impressed with the way that whoever had done it had done the panel as well, rather than merely restricting their work to the picture.
The Treasurer was now in something of a quandary. Obviously the work had been done, but there was no evidence the Council had asked for it to be done, and what is more there was no evidence that the bill had been paid. He thought briefly and decided to do nothing. If somebody came forward asking where their money had got to, he could be vaguely apologetic, see their paperwork and pay them if convinced. Up until that point he’d do nothing because there wasn’t really anything useful he could think of doing. Over the coming months a couple of people did comment to him in passing that the
painting did seem bright. He merely nodded sagely and explained that
apparently this was appropriate for the period.
By this time Madam Jeen Snellflort had not merely disposed of the painting to the agreed buyer, she’d collected the money and had added one of the better boarding houses on Ropewalk to the sanatorium’s growing property portfolio.
Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility.
Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.