Port Naain has a long and convoluted history with the noble sport of sedan chair racing. Doubtless there are more tales to be told than are suitable in mixed company… but if anyone can tell them, it is Tallis Steelyard. One such tale is that of the Sedan Chair Caper …a heroic quest instigated by Madam Jeen Snellflort.
I am honoured to open the Tallis’ tour of the blogosphere to promote his new book with the first chapter of a gripping adventure. Further episodes with be published here:
Tuesday 13th, Lady Edan’s Fan – Anita Dawes and Jaye Marie
Wednesday 14th The Picture of Unter Judd – Annette Rochelle Aben
Thursday 15th The clockwork automaton of Thannial Jett – Bridges Burning
Friday 16th The commode of Falan Birling – Musings On Life & Experience
Finishing on Saturday 17th with The Luck of Bedag Keep – Chris the Story Reading Ape
Our heroine, Madam Jeen Snellflort had not had an easy life. She had been both a pupil and a teacher in a school that was unforgiving enough to give those in charge of some of the harsher penal institutions reason to admit that they’d perhaps grown soft in their old age. She’d been saved from this by a fortunate inheritance. Yet memories of her past wouldn’t let her sit and just enjoy her circumstances. I have recounted elsewhere how she started a school or ‘Conservatory for young ladies’ in an attempt to show how it could be done. Her past had left her with other scars, she was nervous of slipping back into the poverty that trapped her in the first place. So in spite of her current prosperity, she was always searching for other sources of income.
Now between ourselves, we live in a city where, to be honest, one can probably buy anything. You merely need to know the right people and have enough money.
We’ll sell you souls
Sweet and tender
Or if you want more,
Fine wine and coals
Fire irons and render
Culture and lore.
If some people want the best and are willing to pay for it, then other people step forward to supply even the most esoteric markets. Madam Jeen came to realise that there were wealthy collectors out there who could be enticed into paying for services that she could arrange to provide. As a market these collectors had major advantages, they were, by definition, wealthy, and they were also fanatical about whatever it was they collected. It seemed to her that this led to many of them being less than scrupulous about how they acquired items for their collections.
For some months she meticulously studied the various factions of collectors, noted their habits and their desires. In this she had an advantage, as an entirely personable and attractive young lady she soon discovered that if she so much as hinted at being interested in whatever it was the collector collected, she would be deluged with information. When the mixed flow of knowledge, dreams and aspirations finally faltered (or occasionally when it showed no signs of faltering but she could take no more) she could withdraw gracefully leaving the collector feeling grateful that she had taken an interest.
The other asset she had available to her was her ‘Gentleman Adventurers’. These were young men who had shown themselves deft and cunning enough to enter her Conservatory for young ladies unseen, but were also then charming enough to find three of her pupils who would sponsor them. Like the young ladies, they were people of high aspirations, but were lacking in the family finances that would enable them to easily achieve these aspirations.
When contemplating supplying collectors, even I know (thanks to the lessons drummed into me many years ago by old Miser Mumster) that when in business, the important thing is to both buy cheap and sell dear. The collectors would doubtless pay a high price for what she thought to provide them, but could she acquire the goods cheaply enough? With this in mind, Madam Jeen sounded out the adventurers carefully, seeking those who sought a challenge. She was a little surprised to discover that they all seemed to set devotion to her above mere trifles such as property rights.
Cautiously she tested her market. One of the collectors of brass toasting forks almost wept on her shoulder. Her collection had a wide variety of the later stamped metal toasting forks with the design pushed through from the back. What it lacked was any example of the older models that were engraved rather than stamped. Several of her rivals had recently acquired such pieces and she’d heard that one was to go for sale in Avitas. This was the last straw. Not only could she not get to Avitas, she probably couldn’t afford the price it would make at auction. Madam Jeen decided to experiment.
She handed the matter over to her gentlemen adventurers. A party made their way to Avitas, managed to view the item and later that night they broke in. They didn’t merely steal the item, they miss-catalogued a number of other items from the sale, putting them in almost the right place, so that it would just look as if the staff had been sloppy. Indeed it was a matter of some months before the auction house finally admitted that the toasting fork in question appeared to have disappeared. Nobody was quite sure if it was theft or carelessness.
The return of the adventurer party, triumphantly bearing their toasting fork, enabled Madam Jeen to quietly approach the collector and show her the fork. Although Jeen hinted that it had been acquired by means of dubious legality (she never went so far as to mention theft) the collector poured gold into her lap with wild liberality. Whilst less than the item might have fetched at auction, it was still adequate to cover all out-of-pocket expenses and produced an enthusiasm amongst the gentlemen adventurers for similar projects.
It was at this point Jeen started to experience moral qualms. After all what they had done was only moral if it were to be done to ordinary citizens by the all seeing organs of the state. Lacking any pretence to formal guardianship of the common weal, Jeen felt that there was a line here she ought not to cross. It was Rizal Qualan, one of her gentlemen adventurers, who gallantly handed her across that particular line.
Rizal cut a dashing figure. He was a distant kinsman of Cavalier Qualan, the condottieri captain, and Rizal’s past included some training in arms. At his mother’s insistence it also included training in accountancy and commercial law. These latter two irked Rizal but strangely enough his renowned kinsman, on hearing about it, had commended him for his studies, pointing out that these were skills every captain needed. Thus encouraged Rizal returned to his studies with renewed enthusiasm. Yet, as if to compensate him for the mental tedium he thus bravely bore, he was never seen without a sword at his side, like the martial gentleman he aspired to be.
Now here I must declare an interest. I rather like young Rizal. He is courteous, he is well read, he appreciates good verse, and what is more, in spite of his heritage, he does not swagger. Of all the gentleman adventurers, I always rated him as the best of the bunch. There is a touching honesty about him, he can cut away the froth and lay bare the truth underneath with a few polite words.
He had undertaken the task of checking the accounts of a small shop on the edge of the Sump. It sold a strange collection of goods; funeral ephemera, flavoured toothpicks and wigs for prematurely bald seat cushions. As he left the shop he turned deeper into the Sump, intending to cross it, that being the faster way home. He’d barely walked for five minutes when he heard shouts and the clash of steel in the distance. He loosened his blade in its sheath and pressed on, a little more cautiously. The noise ceased and it was obvious that whatever disturbed the peace had now ceased to disturb it. He adopted a slightly more jaunty air and arrived in Tooth-puller’s Square to discover there had obviously been a fight of some sort. Bodies were strewn about it in some profusion. Even in the Sump this was uncommon. A number of bystanders were already engaged in the happy pursuit of looting the bodies before the Watch arrived. (This I have to say is a more normal activity.) Rizal himself was intent of keeping to the edge of the square and avoiding trouble when the looter nearest him, heaving an already looted body to one side, exclaimed,
“Got a live one here,” followed shortly by, “It’s a girl.”
Two other looters moved in on their fellow, knives drawn. “She’ll be saleable, she’s ours.”
Rizal saw one of the pair haul a girl aged no more than ten to her feet. She sagged in his hands and looking at her face, Rizal could see no sign of expression, or even sentience. For reasons he could never adequately explain he found that his sword point was resting against the spine of the man holding the girl, and he heard himself say,
“Yes, that one is mine; I’ve been looking for her.”
He took the girl away from the man, keeping him at sword point and between him and his fellows. The girl was totally unresponsive, so he kicked his victim firmly in the rump, pushing him sprawling into the others, slung the girl hastily over his shoulder and fled, sword in hand.
Pursuit was limited, partly because he was fast on his feet, and partly because I suspect that the other looters seemed to assume that the first pick of the gold teeth available was a better bet than a girl of doubtful utility, already claimed by a swordsman of unknown excellence.
But having the girl, what was he to do with her? As he jogged along he weighed various options in his mind and decided at last that Madam Jeen was his best port in this storm. In this he was right, Jeen sprang into action, maids were summoned, and the girl was gently bathed, dressed in clean clothes and made comfortable in a spare bed. All without the child showing any sign of comprehension. Finally Rizal was summoned to look at his charge.
Madam Jeen stroked the girl’s hair tenderly. “So do you know anything of her?”
Rizal gestured to the girl’s old clothes. “A street child caught up in something too dangerous for her comprehension?”
They looked down at the child who lay neither asleep nor awake. Madam commented, perhaps unnecessarily, “She needs medical attention but she has no injuries, no bruises. We washed a lot of blood off her, but none of it was hers. It is as if her mind is broken. Should I send her to the asylum?”
Here as teller of this tale I ought to step in to explain to you, the reader, the facts that Rizal brought to Madam Jeen’s attention. The Insane Asylum in Port Naain is a fascinating building. A steep-sided pyramid, all eight floors are colonnaded. There are corridors around the outside in the colonnades, from which one gains access to the heart of the building. The colonnades themselves are festooned with flowers, which hang down in curtains whilst streams of water flow down and round the walkways, meeting to form a ceremonial moat around the building. Those in the upper levels with families to pay for their board do well enough. Those further down who have useful skills, be it the idiot savant who is hired for a day by the usurer, or the cheerful but simple chap who delights in walking all day on the treadmill, can manage to fund what little sustenance they need.
But underground in the cellars where the poor are stored, things are different. Growling creatures are chained to walls, others lie on the floor and perish in pools of their own tears. A child such as this would die in the asylum within a week.
Madam Jeen looked down at the child and in a small voice asked, “So who will look after the poor when their minds fail them?”
Rizal, with his simple honesty smiled at her, “If not you, then nobody.”
Jeen looked down at the girl, motionless and silent in the bed. She was aware that not all illness was physical. She knew there were respectable ladies who were ‘fragile’ and she’d seen both men and women wandering round the market as it closed, dressed in an outrageous assortment of rags and mumbling to themselves as they stuffed abandoned vegetables into a sack. She’d even noticed the silent child clinging to the hand of a sibling, being dragged through a world it could neither understand nor safely interact with. But these were people on the periphery; they were the inhabitants of other peoples’ stories. When they lie in your spare bed, they were harder to overlook.
Goaded by his words Madam Jeen still proceeded cautiously. She made careful inquires, summoned specialists to treat the girl, and as they evaluated the child, Jeen evaluated them. After a month she had made up her mind, it could be done. Indeed a number of the specialists had intimated that if she did it, they would be happy to send their pupils to work with her for reasonable sums, as it would allow them to gain experience.
She made her plans carefully, found a suitable building, hired reliable women as nurses and quietly started to gather patients. She then looked somewhat askance at the size of the bills that started flowing in.
It was Rizal again who pointed out that such a charity needed assets that would earn an income. He also pointed out, in a remarkably casual manner, that her experimental work in the field of supplying much sought after items to collectors could provide the necessary funding. Suddenly Madam Jeen felt she had crossed the threshold and was now in a position where she had the moral justification to recommence the lapsed project. She started picking up small jobs and organising them with careful competence. She made sure that she was never seen in the place where the desired item was to be ‘acquired’ from. She merely discovered the demand, arranged a price and then delivered the item. The business flourished and produced interest and excitement for Madam Jeen and her adventurers, whilst producing a very useful income for her sanatorium. Matters were going well, but with the growing success came growing competitiveness. The adventurers regarded their trade as a particularly fine sport and each strove to achieve something more spectacular than the others. Personally I suspected at the time they were competing to impress Jeen, but I’m not sure she saw it like that.
Finally she picked the five finest of her adventurers and gave each of them a task to achieve. Between ourselves, having heard the tales recounted, I’d say they were quests for heroes, so difficult were they. But her five champions set to work with a will. They set aside their current projects and each threw himself into his own project.
Announcing a brand new adventure from the inimitable Tallis Steelyard
(and Jim Webster) – Available on Amazon Kindle for a mere 0.99!
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.
About the author
Someone once wrote this about him:
“Jim Webster is probably still fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing fantasy and Sci-Fi novels.”
Now with eight much acclaimed fantasy works and two Sci-Fi to his credit it seems he may be getting into the swing of things.
Find and follow Tallis (and Jim)
Many tales of Port Naain can be found on Amazon. Click the images below to see these and other books by Tallis Steelyard (and Jim Webster).