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Tag Archives: Port Naain
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.
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.