There are times when past events catch up with you in a potentially embarrassing manner, and it takes a certain quickness of wit to deal with them satisfactorily. Whilst looking back on my Slipshade expedition with modest satisfaction, I confess I rather consigned it to the past. It had happened, it was done, and whilst the tale of my exploits would doubtless surface, suitably scrubbed and burnished, at some point when I needed material for some future work; I had every confidence that that part of my life was over. Not only that but I was no longer being blamed for the politically embarrassing actions of cavorting imps and similar. I could walk the streets of my home city with my head held high. I had no more to fear that any other resident who walks the streets alone and after dark. True I still doubtless had creditors, but until you have those you cannot really call yourself a poet. Thus when Dobart Strun sent me a message suggesting I met with him at the Flensers to discuss the possibility of working together, I set out to enjoy my evening with a clear conscience. I was also accompanied by Shena who has a lot of time for Dobart. Yes he is an artist, but he’s also a sculptor and Shena has managed to sell him all manner of strangely shaped pieces of stone, bizarre lengths of driftwood, and miscellaneous lumps of non-ferrous metals. Not only that but Lancet was also going to be there so she felt that it could well be an interesting evening. We met at the bar and proceeded to the buffet. Here there was the usual jostling at the entry table where the termagant collecting the money had her lair. Normally we would be finding excuses to get somebody else to pay, but on this occasion we all seemed to genuinely wish to pay for everybody else. I was in funds thanks to Slipshade and felt that it was perhaps my turn to let others take advantage of me. After all I had eaten and drunk at their expense in the past. Dobart wished to pay because he felt he was in some way the host, trying to inveigle us into joining an enterprise, and Lancet wanted to pay mainly because he grows nervous if the rest of us show too much apparently spontaneous generosity. There are times when I feel he can be remarkably cynical. Perhaps that is part of what demarcates the performance artist from the true poet? Eventually we let Dobart pay, collected our plates and made an opening reconnaissance of the buffet table. As we sat down to devour the prizes taken in our first sally, Dobart put forward his scheme. As I have said, he is a sculptor. Not only that he’s a big man. Tall, broad, and it’s all muscle. He will casually manoeuvre foundry pouring ladles full of molten bronze across his workshop. But for all that, whatever his appearance, he is a genuine artist, and can produce the most delicate work. His plan was worthy of him. It had occurred to him that the market for bronze sculpture was limited, if only by the cost. So his plan was to produce something in pewter. But rather than just produce large pewter pieces the same size as his bronzes, he was pondering producing pieces where the human figure was not much larger than a man’s middle finger. We listened to him with interest, as to the best of my knowledge one sees only a trifling amount of work in that size. It was Shena who commented that she thought it was an interesting idea but why was he involving Lancet and me. “I have been thinking, Shena. Once I’ve made the master, I want to be able to leave it to apprentices to cast scores of them. But I need people to be interested in them. That’s where Tallis and Lancet come in. If there is a story behind the piece, perhaps a poem people have heard, then they are going to be more interested. So ideally the poem with sell the sculpture to those who hear the poem and like it. Then perhaps the sculpture will sell the poem to people who see the sculpture, buy it and want to know more.” Dobart then turned to Lancet. “Now then, pewter can start looking dull and uninteresting, and I remember you painting something to look as if it were made of bronze, it was a prop for a performance you gave. Could your paint work for my figurines?” Lancet sat and thought. “Not if they clean them. Start rubbing them with a cloth and the bronze will start to come away.” As he was obviously thinking, we sat in silence, waiting for his next pronouncement. “What you could do is rather than painting with bronze, ‘dry brush’ it.” Shena and I obviously looked bemused by this comment so Lancet explained. “You put a very little of the paint on the brush, and just brush rapidly over the surface, so the bronze paint would stick to the raised bits. The result can be very effective, and if you varnish it, then the house-proud owner can wash them or whatever they want.” “And nobody will accuse you of selling pewter figures as bronze,” Shena added. It has to be confessed that Lancet and I were both quite interested in the idea. One is always trying to reach out to those who are, sadly, unfamiliar with one’s work. One feels duty bound to allow the light of one’s wit to shine into their benighted lives. We had recharged our plates and were pondering potential figurines when I heard a shout, “There you are, Steelyard, you worm.” I looked up to see Darstep Balstep, previously lord of Slipshade Keep, striding across the room towards me. What really caught my attention was that he was drawing a long bladed knife. It appeared that he hadn’t forgiven me for my, admittedly inadvertent, part in his downfall. Dobart never turned a hair. When Balstep reached our table, Dobart caught the hand holding the knife and squeezed. There was a clatter as it dropped to the floor. Then Dobart caught the other man by the shoulder and propelled him into the empty chair next to Shena. Shena glared at the new arrival. It must be confessed she has a low threshold of tolerance for those who threaten me with any form of weapon. She then turned to me and asked, in a reasonable voice, “So who is he and why does he hate you.” I told everybody the full story of the expedition to Slipshade and how others had used us as cover to overthrow Balstep. Feeling that I ought to say something positive about him, I finished by tale by saying, “And actually he’s quite a good poet, he specialises in the rondel form.” Immediately Lancet said, “Nobody uses that anymore.” Somewhat hurt by this Balstep said sharply, “I do.” “Yes and look where it got you.” I raised my hand to silence the two of them. “I think I have an idea.” They stopped and both looked at me. I said to Balstep, “What are you, a poet or a Partannese warlord?” Before he could answer I continued, “Because you’re a fair poet, but frankly you drank too much to be a successful warlord.” Balstep came right back. “If you’d had to live with that collection of almost mindless thugs, you’d have drunk as well! I could go for days, weeks, without any decent conversation.” Dobart, who had been listening to this, said simply. “Balstep, you’re a poet.” I added, “Look, if you can afford to dine here, you’re not penniless.” Balstep almost looked embarrassed. “Well I did make an effort to stash some of my ill-gotten gains away in Port Naain whilst I was still Lord of Slipshade Keep.” I asked him, “And if you try to hire fighting men and retake the keep, how long will it last.” Glumly he replied, “Weeks.” “And if you live sensibly and become the poet you could be, then how long?” Balstep sat in silence for a while. “Depends how much I make as a poet, but quite a while I suppose.” I smiled at him. “So I repeat my question: what are you, a poet or a Partannese warlord?” He pulled himself up to his full height. “So now, I am a poet.” Then he slumped a bit, “But while I can write poetry a bit, be damned if I know how to be a poet.” Shena said quietly, “Aea help you, but these two versifying wastrels can teach you that.” I decided I better say something before Shena gave him the wrong idea about us. “Dobart, I have an idea for your first figurine. How about Balstep here, standing on the improvised stage, declaiming his poetry. Lancet and I can tell his story, you can do the figurine, and of course our patrons will all want to meet the warlord poet.” Immediately Dobart was all business. He pulled a pencil and a notepad from his pocket. “Balstep, on your feet. Now then, strike a pose.” Ten minutes later, the initial sketches done he condescended to allow Balstep to go to the buffet and get himself something to eat.
Actually it went rather well. Balstep still had the battered leather armour he performed in, and of course Dobart cast the figurine with him wearing it. Then when we got him an invitation to perform, he would wear the armour. Indeed he managed to cut an almost romantic figure, the warrior bard who had turned his back on the world of power and influence to follow his muse. The figure Dobart cast of him worked to his advantage as well. The figurine standing on the stage provided a good solid base, and it was cast with a candle holder set off to one side. If the model was on a table next to a wall, when you lit the candle, the shadow of the figurine, combined with a shadow cast by some of the miscellaneous decoration around the candle base, looked as if the figure was a condemned man standing on a scaffold with a noose descending towards him. It gave him a pathos that intrigued people and Balstep rode the wave of interest well. Within a year he was suggesting to his patrons that they invite me. Indeed such was his reputation, over the years there was a sporadic stream of Partannese villagers who would knock on the door of the house where he was currently performing and offer him an utterly inadequate sum to gather a small party of stalwart companions and travel south to overthrow the lordling who was currently oppressing them. The audience would witness the play of emotions across his face as he struggled with his desire to throw himself once more into the maelstrom of Partann. I was there when this happened. He would turn to the emissaries and say, “With half a dozen stalwart comrades of mine from the past, I shall do it. I shall summon Rostarin to my side.” One of the messengers would say, “But Rostarin is dead, he fell at the Dreg Bridge.” “Rostarin dead! A paladin nonpareil, slain! What of Naltarm?” Another of the envoys would say sadly, “He died in an ambush on Porta Beg.” Balstep would go through six names, and would discover that each was now dead. He would sigh deeply. “Then surely it must be my turn to ride south and perish, to join them once more.” At this point his patron would throw her arms around him and insist he gave up all mad thoughts of venturing south. So he’d empty his purse into the hands of the leading messenger and suggest they approached Lord Cartin. Other guests would also feel obliged to contribute, and the sturdy peasantry would touch their forelocks and leave. Later they’d drop round to his lodgings and give him half of what they’d raised.
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 order.
Let’s here some facts about Jim.
Jim Webster is probably 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 SF and fantasy novels. He lives in South Cumbria.He has even been cozened into writing a blog, available for perusal by the discerning (or indeed by the less than discerning) at http://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/
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 artefact 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 his generation.
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.
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