Today we welcome Jim Webster and Tallis Steelyard.
Preparing the ground
The Ropewalk market is busy on market day. There are always too many stallholders, and the narrow passages between them swarm with people. It has been suggested that you need not worry about pickpockets; the crowds are too tightly packed for them to escape.
At one end of the market the entertainers congregated, the apprentice mages with their fire tricks, the coin and cup men, the tumblers and mime artists. There are no musicians or singers; it would be impossible to hear them over the hubbub.
Yet on Piccardil-cutters day, a sum of money had been left to pay a poet to declaim an ode celebrating the excellence of the market traders. When the poet stands to begin his delivery a bell rings, and the market traders all turn and bow in the poet’s direction. The poet bows back and as silence descends, the poet begins.
I was honoured to be asked to perform, and given that the fee would keep my lady wife and I for a week or more, as news of the occasion spread, sundry of my creditors took every chance to remember themselves to me.
Yet I confess to being a little worried. You see, for various reasons, all of them good, or seemed to be at the time, I found myself on the wrong side of Master Silvernant. Somebody told me he had decided to hire bullies to disrupt my reading. Given his miserly nature, I dismissed this as nonsense. But several people, all moderately sober and more or less reliable, repeated the tale. So I decided I had to take steps to deal with the problem before it arose.
I did the obvious thing, I took council with Mutt. Mutt is probably about ten, a street urchin who works for Shena, my lady wife, and whose own extensive business interests mean that if you don’t hire him early, he tends only to appear at meal times, eat heartily and disappear again.
Mutt listened to my concerns. “Cost you five vintenars.”
I merely raised an eyebrow. That was a day’s wages. Mutt merely shrugged. “You’re earning ten times that for the job.”
The child had a point.
“What do I get for that money; I wasn’t expecting to hire Condottieri?”
“You get the best.”
When negotiating with Mutt, sometimes it’s cheaper to give in at the start, before he becomes really inventive. I placed five silver vintenars in his grubby palm. He smiled sweetly at me and disappeared.
It was the following day, just after noon, that I stepped out onto the improvised stage. It was merely a dray with some of the barrels removed. The market reeve rang the bell, and all round the market the clamour slowly died as all the traders turned towards me and bowed. I bowed back, and as I straightened up I noted three burly louts standing within effortless rotten-vegetable throw of me. As I cleared my throat, one drew back his arm to hurl something in my direction. As he did so, I saw somebody strike him firmly in the paunch with a broom handle, and as he doubled up a small figure tipped a full chamber pot over the scoundrel’s head. With a shout the other two bullies tried to pounce on the assailant, only to discover their bootlaces had been tied together. Frantically they tried to untangle themselves as they were assailed by a hail of rotten vegetables. Finally, almost incandescent with rage they got to their feet and charged after their tormentors.
After the laughter died down, I cleared by throat once more and launched into my ode.
Half an hour later I was walking back through the market, the money jingling in my pocket. I noticed the three rogues sitting disconsolately drinking beer at one of the stalls. All were barefoot, proving it’s unwise to loosen even your bootlaces in the Ropewalk market.
Anyone desirous of learning more about Tallis could read one of the two collections of his tales
Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold and other stories.
Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter and other stories.
He has a blog at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/
Other books by Jim Webster are available at
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