Through the streets of Port Naain.
Yes, this week we are doing something a little different. I am posting an excerpt from the latest adventure penned by Jim Webster. This one is from Port Naain in the Land of the Three Seas and features Benor, apprentice cartographer and Tallis, poet, who meet and have numerous adventures in the Port Naain Intelligencer series. If you don’t know these guys, you should, they’re fun, some of my favourite indie characters. The series is well worth a read as are Jim’s longer books – which are about Benor when he is older. But what do I know? Read the excerpt and see for yourself!
Tallis, with a tight grip on the hand of Young Vortac, ran down the alley, frantically trying to think of a safe destination. He glanced over his shoulder, realised the pursuers were temporarily out of sight, and dived down a side alley and kept running. A cry from behind of,
“There they are,” showed him his subterfuge hadn’t worked.
He knew this neighbourhood; they were now approaching an area where he had patrons. Still he didn’t want his patrons faced with a horde of ruffians. He glanced behind him; their pursuers were more spread out than they had been but some were getting very close to them. Then he recognised a house. He’d performed there but as an anonymous participant in an affair organised by somebody else. Without hesitating he led the boy through the side gate off the lane and burst in through the servants’ entrance. Hastily he slammed the door and barred it behind him. He was just in time. Somebody shoulder-barged the door even as the bolts slammed home. Ignoring the outraged cries of cooks and miscellaneous downstairs staff he led the boy, still at a run, through the house, out of the front door and away down the road. He reckoned they’d gained over a hundred yards before somebody thought to go round the front of the house to check the other doors.
Now with a better lead he had chance to think. The boy, Aea be thanked, had got the hang of it now and they were running side by side. Not having to pull the child had made things easier. Tallis ran in silence, considering and rejecting options. A glance over his shoulder showed him that he wasn’t going to outrun the thugs behind him indefinitely. Then the brainwave struck him. To the boy he gasped,
“Another hundred yards, then into the Institute.”
They accelerated as they approached the tall red-brick building with the imposing façade. Tallis ran in through the open door and slammed it behind him, then at a brisk walk made his way up the grand staircase. They had reached the top of the staircase before the first thug hit the door. Tallis didn’t have much confidence in the lock, a feeble thing. He reached the first floor landing and opened the door to the art class. Below he heard the crash and the door gave way.
As quietly and as unobtrusively as possible he made his way past the various ladies painting. Then to his delight he realised their model was a boy. Gently he drew Young Vortac to him.
“Go through there to the side room. You’ll find tea and cake laid out. Help yourself; I’ll join you in a minute.” The boy nodded and disappeared.
Tallis made his way to the model who was looking at him nervously. Tallis leaned forward and said softly, “When a mob appear in the doorway, point at them and shout, “Tallis, they’ve found us.”
“A good question. Because I’ll give you money.”
Tallis reached into his pocket, but the boy suddenly looked up, pointed at the door and screamed, “Tallis, they’ve found us.”
“Good boy, now run and hide behind the most formidable ladies you can find.”
Tallis turned to look at the fracas that was developing. One ruffian found himself standing very still as a young lady held a palette knife to his throat. The man obviously wasn’t sure how sharp it was but didn’t feel the urge to experiment. Others had gone down in a cursing heap of thrashing bodies, paintings and easels. Tallis ducked down, and hidden behind a phalanx of indignant artists, made his way to the side room. There he found young Vortac tucking into the cakes. Tallis helped himself to a couple and then led the boy down a side stair to the kitchens and then out into the street. Tallis and the boy walked casually together through the suburb heading generally south. Tallis pointed out sights of interest; finally Vortac asked a question that had obviously been troubling him.
“Excuse me sir, but who are you?”
“Why me? I’m Tallis Steelyard, the poet.”
It was distressingly obvious that the name meant nothing to Vortac. “And the other man, the one who rescued me?”
“Benor? Oh he’s a cartographer.”
Vortac touched the ring hanging round his neck. “So you know my father?”
“Never had the honour, I’m afraid to say; but I’m sure Benor knows him.”
They walked along companionably in silence for a while, and then Vortac asked, “So where are we going?”
Tallis pointed towards the estuary, visible now. “We’re going to the barge where I live. Benor will doubtless get fed up of looking for us and come back to the barge. Then we can take you back to your father.” Tallis glanced down at the boy. “I think it will be better to take you back to your father than back to school.”
“But my father is assumed to be dead.” The boy sounded uncertain.
“I’ve been assumed to be dead occasionally,” Tallis replied. “So long as you don’t actually die, it’s a useful way of stopping people hunting for you.” With this they walked on again. Not far from the Old Esplanade, Benor caught up with them.
Back at the barge Benor found some bread that had been left too long, and some cheese that was harder than is normally considered pleasant. With the bread toasted and with the cheese heated and spread over it, it made them not a bad meal, enlivened with a splash of spicy fish sauce to give savour. They finished with coffee and Benor reached behind a pile of documents on the dresser and brought out the silver drinking cup made by Young Vortac’s father.
“Do you recognise this?” He handed it to the boy.
“Yes, it belongs to my mother, my father made it for her.”
“I’ve sent a message to your mother, telling her I’ve found it.”
“She’ll be glad of that, she loved it.” Then more eagerly, the boy said, “And I got a letter saying she was coming to Port Naain on business and she’d see me soon.”
“She should be in the city now; I was to meet her tomorrow.”
Benor glanced at Tallis. “We’d better get this boy back to his father now.”
They walked the boy back through the city. He carried the silver drinking cup wrapped in some rags.
At the door of the house on Togger’s Gyll, Benor knocked. Eventually it was opened by Vortac. Immediately his son rushed to him and threw his arms around him. Benor and Tallis stood back to give the father and son space, until finally Vortac set his son down on the ground again.
Briskly Benor said, “There was an attempt to murder him and we thought he’d be safer here than at school.”
Vortac nodded slowly. “Then you have my deepest thanks.”
Benor continued remorselessly, “But probably not for the next bit. According to your son here, his mother is in the city and expects to meet him tomorrow.”
Vortac looked shocked. “So what do we do?”
“I know what I’m going to do. There’s a plot to kill your wife and daughter as well, so I’m going to find them and try and prevent it.”
With that Benor turned on his heel and strode off down Togger’s Gyll. Tallis murmured to Old Vortac,
“Don’t take it personally, he’s had a difficult few days.”
Katin, the Chevaleresse of Windcutter Keep and her daughter Natisse sat in the office of Raswil Muldecker the usurer. They both sipped small glasses of wine as Raswil himself checked through various papers. He looked up,
“Excellent, excellent. Everything balances and the inventory agrees with the contents of the chests.”
Somewhat haughtily the Chevaleresse said, “Shouldn’t it?”
“It’s a rarer occurrence than you might expect madam.” Raswill allowed himself to smile. “But yes, your funds are now deposited in the accounts as agreed.” He passed across three papers, “The top one is yours, the second is in your daughter’s name and the third in the name of your son.”
She scrutinised the papers and passed the second to the daughter. The others she folded and tucked into a purse hanging from her belt.
“Thank you Master Muldecker. Everything seems to be in order.”
“Thank you madam.” There was a note of sincerity in the man’s voice. “We have a reputation for reliability to maintain, we value our customers from Partann. We aim to provide security and anonymity.” He raised his glass, “To the continued good health and prosperity of you and your family.”
The mother and daughter raised their glasses dutifully and sipped. There was a knock on the door. The miser looked displeased.
“Who is it?”
“Santon Gilfell, sir, a matter of some urgency sir, concerning the ladies.”
“Oh well, you’d better come in.”
The young clerk entered looking flustered. I’ve just had a letter from an ex-colleague, Sir. You remember Wast Divot who used to work here?”
“The young fool who left a good job with prospects to become the clerk to a mercenary company?”
“Yes sir, well here’s his letter.”
The miser took the letter and read it in silence. He looked at the young clerk.
“Can you vouch for it coming from Wast Divot?”
“Yes sir. Admittedly it’s scribbled in haste but it’s still in his handwriting. On top of that he and I had a code. If he needed to prove a letter was from him he’d call me Sant in the greeting. I call him Waston when I write to him.”
The miser turned his attention to the two ladies.
“Does the name Ulgar-Zare mean anything to you, and would he try to kill you?”
The two women looked at each other. Eventually the mother said,
“Yes, if he thought he could get away with it.”
“It appears that young master Divot and his companions met one Ulgar-Zare in a wayside tavern. He was riding north with a dozen men in his train. There seems to have been drink taken and he overheard a couple of the men talking about the problems of finding you and killing you in a big city.”
Hastily Santon Gilfell added, “With your permission, I think I have a solution. I handle the account for Jorrocks Boat Yard and they have a boat, the Flower of Partann, which is ready to sail. It’s just been in for a refit, and they would leave tonight without taking on cargo, on your assurance that they’ll be able to trade with Windcutter Keep without tariffs to get a return cargo.”
The two women looked at each other again. Natisse whispered in her mother’s ear.
“I don’t like running.”
Her mother whispered back,
“Neither do I, but this way we can be home before he knows and mount our own strike whilst he is still in Port Naain looking for us.”
She turned back to Raswill and his clerk. “Thank you, we will take you up on your kind offer.
Benor went first to the house in the Merchant Quarter which the Chevaleresse had previously rented. Alia the housekeeper was there. She remembered Benor and was friendly in a somewhat guarded manner. She couldn’t tell him where the lady or her daughter were, but did tell him they’d sent her a note to ask her to close the house up for a while because they had to travel back to Partann unexpectedly.
Benor ran to Rapscallion’s Wharf where ships to Partann normally sailed from. As he passed along Fellmonger’s wharf, Mutt, still wearing his borrowed school uniform, fell in step with him. The boy had obviously been waiting for him.
“Benor, I was meaning to ask you summat.”
“What?” To his own ears this sounded a bit curt, so Benor added, “If it’s something I can help you with I will.”
“Am I still an apprentice cartographer?”
This question was so unexpected that Benor nearly stopped in his tracks.
“Yes if you want to be.”
Together they made their way down the Ropewalk. Evening was falling as they dropped down to Rapscallion’s Wharf. From that point on Benor moved cautiously and tried to stay hidden. He finally saw the Flower of Partann. There were a handful of crew on deck and the gangplank was still out. He made his way closer. It was there he noticed two sedan chairs travelling down the wharf. They stopped opposite the end of the gangplank and two ladies, the Chevaleresse and her daughter, got out of their chairs and walked up onto the boat.
Benor glanced down at Mutt.
“Can you go and get Tallis and old Vortac please? If those two women sail in that boat they’ll be drowned. Somehow we’ve got to stop it.”
“Nail and another lad are supposed to be waiting for me on Ropewalk, I’ll send them, Nail’s quicker.”
“Fair enough, send them to Tallis first, Tallis will know them and listen to them.”
Mutt slipped away and Benor turned his attention back to the Flower of Partann. The ladies were being shown into a cabin set under the poop deck at the stern of the boat.
Then he noticed two other figures watching the Flower of Partann. One was a man he didn’t recognise, the other was a women he did known. It was Minny. He moved forward, keeping a pile of sacks between himself and them. At the end of the pile there was an open area, but once he crossed it, he’d be able to get close to them by walking round the other side of some barrels. He made his way silently across the open area and reached the barrels. Here he stopped and listened. He could hear the voices but not well. He moved closer and peered round the edge of the barrels. He was now almost within touching distance of the man. He heard the man say, “You got them to go on the boat. If I was a betting man I would have put money against it.”
Minny replied, “Easily done if you know her. A forged letter which told of a serious threat, then an opportunity to avoid the threat and strike a sharp blow at the person who was threatening them, she couldn’t resist it.”
The man nodded, “Cleverly done. Anyway we got the boat ready, Minny. We’ve done our bit, so we want the money.”
Minny replied, “Yes, Ardal, you’ve done your bit, so I’ll do mine. Here’s the money.” She passed across to him a heavy pouch. The man opened it, looked in and shook the coins up a little. “Ah gold, don’t you just love it.”
Benor heard a sound behind him and felt a tap on his shoulder. He spun round just as a fist struck him on the side of the head and everything went dark.
And now the hard sell
I’ve thought long and hard about blog tours. I often wonder how much somebody reading a book wants to know about the author. After all, I as a writer have gone to a lot of trouble to produce an interesting world for my characters to frolic in. Hopefully the characters and their story pull the reader into the world with them. So does the reader really want me tampering with the fourth wall to tell them how wonderful I am? Indeed given the number of film stars and writers who have fallen from grace over the years, perhaps the less you know about me the better?
Still, ignoring me, you might want to know a bit about the world. Over the years I’ve written four novels and numerous novellas set in the Land of the Three Seas, and a lot of the action has happened in the city of Port Naain.
They’re not a series, they’re written to be a collection, so you can read them in any order, a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories in that regard. So I had a new novella I wanted to release. ‘Swimming for profit and pleasure.’ It’s one of the ‘Port Naain Intelligencer’ collection and I decided I’d like to put together a blog tour to promote it. But what sort of tour? Then I had a brainwave. I’d get bloggers who know Port Naain to send me suitable pictures and I’d do a short story about that picture. It would be an incident in the life of Benor as he gets to know Port Naain.
Except that when the pictures came in it was obvious that they linked together to form a story in their own right, which is how I ended up writing one novella to promote another! In simple terms it’s a chapter with each picture. So you can read the novella by following the blogs in order. There is an afterword which does appear in the novella that isn’t on the blogs, but it’s more rounding things off and tying up the lose ends.
Given that the largest number of pictures was provided by a lady of my acquaintance, I felt I had to credit her in some way. So the second novella I’m releasing is ‘The plight of the Lady Gingerlily.’ It too is part of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
Benor learns a new craft, joins the second hand book trade, attempts to rescue a friend and awakens a terror from the deep. Meddling in the affairs of mages is unwise, even if they have been assumed to be dead for centuries.
No good deed goes unpunished. To help make ends meet, Benor takes on a few small jobs, to find a lost husband, to vet potential suitors for two young ladies, and to find a tenant for an empty house. He began to feel that things were getting out of hand when somebody attempted to drown him.
Lastly, if you’d like to read yesterday’s excerpt you can find it here on Ken Gierke’s blog: https://rivrvlogr.wordpress.com/
While, tomorrow the thirteenth and final episode will be posted on Sue Vincent’s blog, here: https://wp.me/p1wss8-hR3