– by Jim Webster
I suppose that in one way, poets and painters have one specific thing in common. We sketch out the original work, then we work away at it until it is mostly finished. Finally comes the endless tweaking to get it just right. So if I mention that Julatine Sypent can be something of a perfectionist you can imagine that this latter part of the process takes some time.
This isn’t something that ordinarily matters. A twee cottage isn’t going to get bored if you sit painting it for a full week. On the other hand when he moved to portraits, some sitters grew restive. Still it wasn’t as if Julatine hid this aspect of his personality. Nobody who hired him to paint them could claim that it came as a surprise. Everybody in society knew that if you wanted your likeness painted by Julatine, you emptied your diary for a full week.
Yet outside the circle of well-heeled patrons of the arts Julatine’s foibles were not really known. Obviously this isn’t normally going to be a problem as those less well monetarily endowed aren’t the people who tend to commission him. Yet late one morning he was in the Silk Merchant’s Repose. This is one of the better taverns, the food is excellent and the company tends to be polite. Not only that, but the owner, Omartan, aspires to keep improving it.
Julatine was dining alone and sitting at the table across from him was Bolfinch and the two Millan sisters, Winny and Saleni. If I remember aright Bolfinch was courting Winny and Saleni had come along as a chaperone. Or perhaps it was the other way about? Or perhaps he was courting both with nobody quite sure who was chaperoning whom?
Still Julatine was immediately captivated by the scene and sketched it hastily on in a notepad. Then he summoned Omartan and offered to paint the scene for him, pointing out that such a vision of attractive young ladies, good food, and good fellowship would inevitably encourage people to come to his establishment. A price was agreed and then Julatine approached the three diners. With the prospect of a free lunch next day they agreed to return, and promised to wear the same outfits.
Next morning found Julatine with easel in place and all his impedimenta around him. The diners took their seats and began eating. Julatine blocked everything out and after a mere three hours pronounced himself well pleased with the result. He instructed everybody to be back in their places next day at the usual time.
It has to be admitted that Winny and Saleni abandoned Bolfinch and fled home. This was to ensure that they had time to wash and try their clothes so they would be at their best tomorrow when Julatine had promised he would start painting in the detail. Bolfinch went late to work, and moaned to his colleagues about the problems caused when an artist gets involved in your courtship.
Next day the trio were back in place. But unfortunately word had got round. Thus Silk Merchant’s Repose was crowded. Julatine was incensed, all those people standing in the way meant that the light was wrong. Indeed so crowded was it that when he reached out to put some more brown on his brush, he found himself painting with onion gravy he’d inadvertently acquired from the plate of a diner who had cleared himself a space by the simple expedient of pushing Julatine’s paints off the table. For Julatine this was the last straw.
Omartan, the owner, knew nothing of this. He was working upstairs in his office. Now even there he could keep his finger on the pulse of affairs below him. A raised voice, angry shouting, the crash of crockery, would all have him downstairs in an instant. But all was quiet. It was only after a while he realised it was too quiet. He stood up and opened the door of his office. Instead of the low hum of conversation and diners concentrated mainly on eating, interspersed with the occasional scraping of a chair or perhaps the slightly louder tones of somebody ordering their meal, there were no sounds at all.
Omartan made his way cautiously downstairs to discover his establishment empty save for Julatine and his three sitters. It appears that Julatine had noticed Chesit Quince amongst the spectators. So Julatine had paid him to empty the place and keep it empty. Given that Chesit can carry an anvil under one arm and has stopped runaway horse teams dead in their tracks, this he achieved with no difficulty at all.
Omartan could take no more. He demanded that Julatine let customers in so he could continue to run his business. Julatine at this point got on his high horse, accused Omartan of being a gore-bellied gut-gripping hedgemott with no artistic sensitivities. He told him to finish his own painting, grabbed his assorted equipment and stormed out.
That evening Ingenious Trool dropped in for a meal, heard the story, and offered to take the painting home and finish it. It was he who added the three diners in the background purely from his imagination. Thus one of them is Lancet and one of them is me. The third, a bearded gentleman apparently asking the clean shaven Lancet for a loan is Sinian Var, reputed to be the wealthiest usurer in Port Naain. Trool also painted the expression of the face of Bolfinch. (The latter admitted later that Trool had caught his emotions perfectly) He also added the cat, which folk felt was a stroke of genius. Omartan was overjoyed, paid Trool with a number of excellent free meals and everybody was happy.
Save of course for Julatine, who when he heard his painting had been finished, had his lawyers (the Beenchkin partnership) sue Trool for stealing his painting. Beenchkin sent Trool a bill for one hundred alars to compensate their client. Trool had never possessed a tenth of that sum, so merely offered them the picture back in compensation. The Beenchkin clerk replied frostily that the picture was barely worth a hundred vintenars, never mind a hundred alars. They wanted their money. Unfortunately for them, this letter came into the hands of Julatine who was mortified to see the low value placed on his work. Outraged, he hired a lawyer from the Zare family to sue the Beenchkins. Finding themselves sued by their own client the Beenchkins countersued.
At this point Julatine acted with real genius. He approached the court and pointed out that as he was suing lawyers he demanded a blind bench. This term needs some explaining. Because there is a fear amongst the laity that when lawyers are being sued by the laity, magistrates (also lawyers of a sort) might be intimidated into supporting their own kind rather than giving a fair hearing to the lay person who is paying for it all. Thus a ‘blind bench’ is empowered. Three magistrates sit, but they sit behind a screen so that nobody will ever know who gave judgement. Lawyers hate this. If you think magistrates can be capricious when the world is watching them, just imagine how they act when they have anonymity. Julatine was awarded his blind bench. Immediately Beenchkin and Zare both settled out of court, paying large sums to both Julatine and Trool on the understanding that nobody would ever talk about the incident ever again.
Should you wish to know more about Port Naain and Tallis Steelyard you might fancy reading Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.
As one reviewer commented, “Another great collection of short stories about Port Naain poet Tallis Steelyard. This is the second collection I’ve read, and I enjoyed it as much as the first one – if not more so. The individual stories are amusing, and a little quirky, and well suited for a quick read to disconnect from reality after a long day.