I suspect that future amateur cultural historians (I cannot conceive of a society so wastrel that it would pay historians whilst honest poets go hungry) will ponder long over the various influences on Port Naain.
Now ask anybody in Port Naain whether the city is in Partann and they will merely laugh and say that the estuary is the boundary. This is disputed by the inhabitants of Roskadil and Saskerdil, our suburbs on the south bank, who claim that the real border is actually a minor stream running to their south. It is marked on the maps as Jakan’s Dunghill Drain. Obviously opinions in Partann may differ but they are merely barely civilised savages whose views are rarely sought by right thinking people.
Still just as Port Naain has influenced the culture of Partann, teaching them usury, the high arts, and sophisticated debauchery; Partann has also influenced us. Bizarrely this influence can be seen most notably when one considers dance. Many of the dances one now sees in the grand ballrooms of Port Naain originate in Partann. So when Andeal submitted his picture of Jontin Cheesepress dancing the Partannese Promenade to the Exhibition, I felt it was perhaps the perfect opportunity to tell his story.
It is obvious that Jontin Cheesepress was a dancer to his core. He not merely loved to dance, he taught dance and he was a historian of dance. He was enamoured with everything about dance, not merely the movements, but the music, the costumes, the romance, but also the glamour that dance seems to cast upon those who practice the art.
Along with his twin brother Bontan, Jontin ran a small dancing school which taught those with aspirations but little money how to dance. Jontin was the main teacher, Bontan also taught and Bontan’s wife kept the accounts of the enterprise. Matters proceeded well enough; they were personable young men and could always guarantee a steady trickle of new dancers wishing to learn.
But for Jontin this wasn’t enough. He ached to know more. He longed to dance dances he’d not yet learned the steps to. He wanted new challenges, new forms to conquer. Eventually it was agreed, Jontin would take a working holiday. He would travel into Partann for a season, and there he would scour the peasant villages, minor keeps and pirate sanctuaries for new dances. He would learn them, but also he would record them, both their music and their steps and flourishes. These records he would send north to Bontan as and when he found someone reliable to carry the messages.
Thus and so Jontin headed south. He stopped at every village, he talked to people about their dances, he attended their dances, and he even took part in their dances. Elderly fiddlers and ladies no longer young were quizzed about the dances of their youth. Whilst doing all this, he took copious notes. Every week or so Bontan received a thick packet of papers.
So fixated was Jontin in this quest that the papers never included anything as mundane as a letter saying something like, “I’m fine, send more socks.” Hence Bontan and his wife plotted his course by the villages he named dances after. Indeed when they looked at the map, their erring brother was perpetually zigzagging across it. The only constant in his motion was that each turn took him further south.
Not only did Jontin never mention when he would be coming back to Port Naain, there was never a return address where his family could send a message back to him. Indeed they began to fear he might be lost to them.
Then one day, more than a year after Jontin had left; a rather attractive young lady arrived at their door with a babe in arms. She introduced herself as Misti and the child she declared to be fathered by Jontin. Any doubt Bontan might have had about the parentage of the babe were dispelled when he studied the face. His wife Evi agreed with him. The child was obviously the son of one of the twins. Bontan did feel that there might have been an unspoken hint of disapproval in his lady wife’s comment. But fortunately he could account for his whereabouts over the period under discussion.
According to Misti it seems that Jontin made no secret about whom he was, and told anybody who asked about the family dancing school in Port Naain. So feeling abandoned, Misti had decided to take her child to meet its errant father.
Unfortunately Misti was not the only young lady to arrive either with her child, or at the very least in the final stages of pregnancy. It seems that Jontin had indeed been caught up in the romance of the dance, and the young ladies had fallen for the glamour. Now I don’t want to suggest that this was a weekly occurrence. It didn’t happen every month. But over the coming years it was rare that Bontan and Evi didn’t acquire another young woman to support every three or four months.
Initially they had just taken Misti in, because like Misti they rather assumed that Jontin would be returning soon and would be reunited with his beloved. After the fourth blooming young mother arrived it was obvious that Jontin had somehow failed to take cognisance of the issue (or his issue). Bontan realised that he was going to have to do something to help support his inadvertently burgeoning family.
Fortunately, almost by definition, these were young women who were enthusiastic dancers. So he would take them into the dancing school as instructors. Armed with Jontin’s notes and the knowledge of his new teachers, Bontan could offer a far wider curriculum than other dancing schools.
So matters progressed. The business flourished, his ‘sisters-in-law’ did well for themselves, many going on to marry decent local men with a liking for dance, and his assorted nephews and nieces got whatever education and training they could cope with.
But for more than twenty years, Jontin inadvertently supplied his brother with dancing instructors. These young women spread the knowledge of Partannese peasant dancing through a certain section of society. Indeed if you wished to see a Partannese Promenade danced properly, you merely needed to attend one of those dances which the shop girls and governesses of Port Naain took their beaus to. From there the dances, or variants of them, spread throughout society. What the shop girl danced in her best frock which had had only two careful owners prior to her, the society hostess would dance in a dress which could not be more expensive had it been woven from spun gold.
Hence thanks to Jontin Cheesepress, Partannese peasant dances stormed Port Naain. But what of Jontin himself? The last packet from him arrived twenty-three years after he had left home, the last lady six months after that. There are theories. Some romantics suggest that he fell in love and married and has settled down somewhere in Uttermost Partann. Cynics instead believe that Jontin’s last breaths were drawn in the oubliette of a robber baron. But some of us have looked at the map and have been struck by the fact that his course seemed in the end to be heading east. Perhaps Jontin had danced his way across the southern passes over the Apices and has continued his researches in the benighted lands of the uttermost east?
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.
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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 many much acclaimed fantasy works, a book of verse 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).
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