As you doubtless remember, I left the city because I was being blamed, (I feel unfairly) for the publication of a book of children’s tales. These tales were claimed by some to cast a harsh light on the antics of the rich and powerful, amongst them, Radsel Oeltang, chair of the Council of Sinecurists. The claim was that his latest manoeuvrings were described in forensic detail in the stories. To be fair, had this been true I can see why he might be legitimately angry. But the intrigues he was accused of actually happened after the book had been published, and between two and three decades after the stories had been written.
Now normally I am somewhat cavalier when contemplating what upsets those in high places. I tend to adopt a robust attitude to their problems, feeling that if they have both considerable wealth and great influence, they can cope with a little disappointment. On the other hand, when they make their unhappiness felt by hiring thugs to hand out beatings, I take their transient unhappiness rather more to heart. My difficulty was that I couldn’t keep sneaking around the city, attending upon my patrons and simultaneously trying not to be seen. After all some of my patrons are friends of Master Oeltang. He could well turn up at an event where I had been asked to perform. I felt I had to do something to spare him embarrassment and me bruises.
I decided to call upon Desli and Misli and discuss the stories with them. Perhaps they could throw some light upon their mother’s apparent political prescience. When I arrived, Desli was out selling pies and Misli was cooking, assisted by a rather shy young man who was taking cooked pies out of the oven. I vaguely recognised him, he was one of the wherry fishermen who take boats out on the falling tide and bring them back in as it rises.
Misli introduced him to me as Villen, and explained he was the crew-member sent to buy the pies they would take with them when the boat sailed. I merely said, “How wise.”
At the same time I was thinking to myself; when a young man walks an extra half a mile there and half a mile back, every day, to buy his pies from one sister, rather than purchase them from the other sister who is far more conveniently located; he is thinking of more than pastry. But still, I estimate at least three-quarters of all courtship happens before the couple realise that they’re courting. I made no comment.
So when Villen had paid for the pies, I explained my problem to Misli. In short, it was that people saw in antics of the imp Pugglewood the devious deeds of Radsel Oeltang.
Misli burst out, “But I loved Pugglewood when I was a child. He was the one who saved everybody.”
This came as a surprise to me. “But he’s always playing devious tricks on people.”
“Well he does that a bit, but when you get to the end of the story, you’ll see how those tricks make people better able to cope with the callousness of the world.”
“They do?” I obviously sounded bemused, because Misli added,
“When the bladdersnitch arrives, it’s only Pugglewood and his tricks that help them survive.”
It was at this point I realised I had better go home and re-read the stories. The problem was that when I first put the book together for Desli and Misli there was far more material than I needed. So I started reading through from the beginning, intending to discard that which was unsuitable, hoping I would have enough material for the book. As it was I got half way down the heap of stories, had discarded nothing and had enough. So being busy, I hadn’t read the rest.
Once home, I had read the rest, I could see what Misli meant. To be honest, in the first half of the material, Pugglewood is one of those somewhat vexing characters. One instinctively feels that they would be better for a swift kick. He intensely irritated me. But when I read the second half of the material it slowly dawned on me that Pugglewood was a far more complex and farsighted character than I had suspected. In the first half of the material Pugglewood is a childish and irritating nuisance who makes life difficult for a lot of ordinary folk who’re just trying to make the best of things. In the second half of the material you realise that Pugglewood has thought his actions through, lifted his fellow citizens out of their rut and has set them along the path to self-reliance. Hence when the bladdersnitch arrives, he leads them to defeat it. At the end of the book you realise that Pugglewood is the one truly sympathetic character and his neighbours are a bit lumpen and unenterprising and really do need shaking up.
It struck me that somebody had erred, and that somebody was probably me. The obvious thing to do would be to publish the second half of the material. I bundled it up and took it to Glicken’s Printers. They were perfectly happy to print it. Given the first volume was still selling well, they welcomed a sequel. I waited for a proof copy fresh from the press and, greatly daring, I called upon Radsel Oeltang in his office at the Council of Sinecurist’s building.
Now it has to be admitted that I have, on occasion, had dealings with him before. But as far as I knew, the Pugglewood business was the only occasion when I’d seriously offended him. I knew I had done things which would upset him but I was moderately confident he didn’t realise it was me who had done them. So armed with my copy of ‘More trite tales for little people,’ I attended upon him in his office.
It has to be admitted that when I entered his office the atmosphere was distinctly cool. He was formally polite in a way that tends to make a person nervous. It was the way he called me, ‘friend’ Steelyard, that told me I was not forgiven. So I confessed all. I explained what had happened and passed him the second volume to peruse.
He started reading it. After ten minutes he rang for coffee. The fact that he specified a cup for me as well struck me as a good sign. After an hour he closed the book.
“So Tallis, what do you intend to do now?”
I’d given a lot of consideration to that. “The two young women cannot afford a large print run. But if you were to invest, say, twenty alars, I’m sure that the printers would be delighted to print a few hundred extra copies.”
He looked at me over half-moon glasses. “Hmm. I will, but in return you can reprise your explanation to the entire council. That way we can put this matter to bed, once and for all.”
It struck me as a not unreasonable suggestion. “And I will sell copies in the foyer afterwards. This will ensure that people read the full story.”
I have addressed the Council of Sinecurists before. It’s not something I do lightly. After all I firstly have to convince them of whatever it is I’m addressing them on. But also, and this is of almost equal importance, I want to use the chance to prove that I’m the person whose work they love and who they want to hire. In this case it was even tougher, because I had to point out to them that they were in error. Not merely that but that it was I who had inadvertently deceived them. So most of my address was by way of apology. To be fair, when dealing with the pompous and the powerful, one can rarely apologise too often.
When I had finished my discourse, I made my way to the foyer and there I sat behind a table with the books on it. It had occurred to me that there might be some who hadn’t read either of the two volumes, so I’d fetched a stock of both. In the course of the afternoon I sold perhaps a hundred copies, which considerably exceeded my expectations. Still I felt that with a little bit of luck, I’d not merely turned away the wrath of the powerful, but I’d managed to help boost the earnings of the two sisters. I made my way back to the barge a happier and less nervous individual.
Two days later a note was delivered to the barge by a footman in the Oeltang livery. It merely read, “And now they’re calling me the bladdersnitch.”
Still he included a bottle of a perfectly drinkable wine with the note. I felt this gesture indicated I wasn’t being blamed. So we opened the bottle to go with our evening meal and Shena and I drank a toast to his continued good health and prosperity.
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.
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.
All a mere 99p each