– by Jim Webster
Have you noticed how there are people who never get the attention they deserve? Obviously it can work both ways. I know one or two people who really ought to come to the attention of the hangman, or perhaps that of a philanthropic assassin wishing to square his account with society. But there are also perfectly decent people who get overlooked or even ignored, often from the paltriest of reasons.
Take Morn Willit. A young man, handsome enough, intelligent, courteous and kind. Not only that but he had prospects. There again, there were unfortunate disadvantages as well. Firstly he was painfully shy. So shy that his two sisters feared he’d never pluck up the courage to speak to an eligible young lady, never mind ask her out to dine with him. Secondly he walked with a pronounced limp, from the time when a Partannese mace had smashed his leg.
Morn signed on as a squire with Lord Cartin’s company and in due season rose to become a man-at-arms. It has to be admitted that his shyness wasn’t a problem. Wearing a helmet with a full-face visor it didn’t matter whether he blushed or not, and anyway it wasn’t as if he was ever formally introduced to any to the Partannese brigands he was hired to fight. Unfortunately during his second season in Partann a backhanded blow with a mace smashed his calf. The surgeon started the operation by cutting away the heavy riding boot, shook his head sadly and did his best to mend what some other fool had marred.
Say what you want about Lord Cartin but he looks after his people. With his weak leg, Morn might be able to ride but he would never be able to fight as a man-at-arms. But Lord Cartin found him another job. He was to assist the Grand Provost in Port Naain.
Every time a ship sails or a company marches, sundry provosts and similar scour the bars and bordellos of Port Naain looking for men who have overstayed their leave. The role of the Grand Provost was to ensure that is an up-to-date list of these establishments which were known to be frequented by people of this class. Thus the busy ship’s captain didn’t have to scour the entire city, he merely handed his boatswain a list of suitable establishments and told him to get on with it. To be fair these establishments tend to cluster in certain areas. Bordellos and other establishments outside those areas probably try to serve a more distinguished clientele.
Morn’s job was to deal with problems that inevitably arose, when a boatswain who didn’t know Port Naain tackled the wrong bordello, or fighting arose because crewmen had decided that they no longer fancied a seafaring career.
This now brings us to Lucila. A rather pretty young woman, intelligent and determined to make her way in the world. Her grandmother died leaving Lucila a reasonable legacy. She pondered and then purchased a large house just off the Ropewalk. She had spent wisely, she got a lot of house for her money. Indeed she still had enough money left to renovate it a little. Then she rented out individual rooms to respectable young women who were working in the shops and businesses round and about. She was very insistent on them being respectable because she didn’t want the house to get a bad reputation with people treating it as a bordello.
This is rather ironic as whilst it had stood empty for some time, previously it had been a bordello. Thus it was on the Grand Provost’s list of bordellos in the Ropewalk area. Now this needn’t have been a problem. Except that Lucila and her tenants had been ensconced in their new home for no more than a few months when trouble struck. There was a tremendous hammering on the door at about midnight. By the time Lucila had managed to get a dressing gown thrown over her nightdress and got to the top of the stairs the hammering had stopped. This was because whoever was hammering had lost patience and had smashed the door in. Standing in her hallway on the shattered remains of her front door was an ensign and three crossbowmen. They were searching for defaulters from a condottiere company that was to march south next morning.
To be honest, at this point I must confess I feel a degree of sympathy for the ensign. He is expecting a bordello. He looks round and peering over the banisters at the top of the stairs is a growing number of young women in their night attire. In his defence I insist he was never less than polite. Not only that but after very few minutes he realised that whilst these ladies were in night attire, it was not ‘that’ sort of night attire. Finally he accepted their assurance that this was not the bordello he was looking for and he retired to continue his quest. Being the gentleman that he was, he left a crossbowman on the door to ensure that they didn’t have any other unwanted visitors.
Obviously this is the sort of problem Morn was paid to deal with. He rode up to the house next morning and inspected the damage. His sense of duty ensured that he was brisk and business-like and managed to cope with the terrors of dealing with Lucila and her tenants. He listened to their story, apologised profusely and then he and Lucila went to purchase a suitable door. Obviously as a gentleman he couldn’t ride whilst she walked at his horse’s head. And because he was lame, Lucila wasn’t going to let him walk whilst she rode. And equally it would have been fatuous to both walk with the horse coming along as a chaperone. So Morn climbed up onto the horse and Lucila sat behind him with her arms around his waist to help her stay on. A door was purchased, and the carpenter promised to fit it that very morning. So Morn and Lucila rode back to await his arrival. Lucila felt pleased to offer Morn coffee, and he drank it and chatted happily. His shyness seemed to have abated somewhat, but perhaps it’s impossible to be shy with somebody who has spent half the morning with her arms around your waist? The door fitted to everybody’s satisfaction, Morn left, taking the crossbowman with him. For the record, Lucila stood in her doorway and waved him off.
That, I suppose, would have been that. Save for the fact that three weeks later, Lucila was once more awakened by her front door crashing onto the hall floor. There were the usual somewhat tense discussions and next morning Morn arrived. Over coffee, matters were resolved, a new door was purchased and fitted. Before he left, Morn promised that he would see what he could do to stop these assaults on her property. Alas Lucila lost four more doors before the visitations finally ceased. Mind you, Morn and Lucila had been married for over a year before Morn admitted to her that he could have corrected the Grand Provost’s list after the first occasion. It was just that he couldn’t think of any other way he might get to meet her.
Should you wish to learn more of the world of Tallis Steelyard, you could do worse than read, “Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold, and other stories.”
As a reviewer commented, “This is a great collection of quirky little tales which are a spin-off from a series featuring Benor Dorffingil. Tallis is his friend, landlord, drinking companion and a jobbing poet. There are some lovely phrases used in here, as you would expect from a wordsmith like Tallis, who presents us with his pragmatic take on life. It’s an example of what happens when a minor character takes the reins and gallops off on his own. A great little book.”