This week another treat as we are once again visited by the inestimable Tallis Steelyard who will tell us a story. Oh yes. Enjoy.
Only the Truth
I hold up Bassat Larn as an example of the sort of problems that can befall an honest man. Now Bassat wasn’t merely honourable, he simply couldn’t lie. In any situation he would merely tell the truth as he saw it. There was nothing vindictive in this, it was just the way he was. Now in his ‘day job’ it didn’t matter. When you normally serve as a man-at-arms on horseback and are about to say something that might be better left unsaid, one of your colleagues will merely tap your helmet so that the visor closes, muffling your words. Not only that, but soldiers tend to be a robust group of individuals, unlikely to be hurt by your candid comments about the colour of their tunic or their current haircut.
The problem arose because Bassat was not merely a handsome young man, he had a beautiful singing voice and could play the guitar well. He was popular with his companions because he was always happy to entertain them around the camp fire if asked, and would regularly extemporise comic verse to describe their antics during the day. But one winter, as he returned to Port Naain, the campaigning season over, his mother pointed out that he ought to give up his military career and concentrate on his singing. She had already inveigled me into getting him work at various houses. Now he wasn’t entirely sold on this, but in all candour he was willing to give it a try. He promised that if things went well during the winter, he would stay in Port Naain for the rest of the year as well, just to give it a fair trial.
Because his mother had been so insistent I did my best for Bassat. I started him out carefully at events where I would be there and where I felt he would be safe. There are houses where I would hesitate to introduce a handsome and perhaps impressionable young man. But he seemed to flourish, he was obviously easy to like, and he could sing well. But he managed all this without airs and graces, he could walk past a mirror without stopping to check his hair, and he interspersed his more select work with short but amusing, self-deprecating little ditties. So eventually I got him work at events where I wouldn’t be present to keep an eye on things. Still he seemed to survive. Unfortunately he was then approached by Madam Galwin. Madam Galwin is at least seventy but admits to fifty. Her daughter, Madam Wuldecker is at least fifty, but admits to ‘early thirties.’ Her daughter, Mistress Zalia lays claim to being ‘twenty something’ but in all candour is unlikely to be a day over seventeen. As you can see, this is a family that needs tactful handling. Or ideally no handling whatsoever, I make a point of behaving with absolute propriety in their presence.
Still Bassat turned up to perform and Madam Galwin sang a duet with him. Shortly after this, the buffet was served and Bassat went to get something to eat. He was waylaid by Madam Bulfront. This was his second major misfortune. Madam Bulfront commiserated with him, having to sing with their hostess.
Bassat, honest to the core, replied, “Oh no, it was a pleasure. For a lady of her age, she still has an excellent voice.”
Scenting scandal, Madam Bulfront asked, “Why, is she more than fifty?”
“Well she came out with my grandmother so that will make her seventy-two.”
Now a true friend would have gagged Bassat at this point. After all, about a dozen ladies were standing round, notionally in conversation, but actually the room was utterly silent as they listened to the innocent get himself ever deeper into trouble. Perhaps Bassat realised he may have been too outspoken but he was rescued when there was an announcement that there would be dancing. Bassat was approached by Madam Wuldecker, the daughter of his hostess, and danced the first two dances with her. To be fair he dances well enough. But when some other partner had claimed Madam Wuldecker, Bassat sat out for a while. Who should appear but Madam Bulfront. “Why Bassat, you managed to make your partner shine.”
“Oh no, Madam Wuldecker is a very accomplished dancer, she covered up any number of my mistakes.”
“I would have thought a lady in her thirties might have adopted a more dashing style?”
“Ah there you are mistaken, Madam Wuldecker is a fit and active fifty-year old.”
At this point Bassat noticed the silent ladies, apparently engaged in deep conversation, standing around him and realised he might be best placed to change the subject. Claiming the need for a little air he slipped out into the garden. There he was approached by the young Mistress Zalia. Now Bassat was not yet thirty, but some of those years had included some hard campaigning. Hence Bassat probably felt older than he looked. Zalia dressed to be twenty-five and had rather set her cap at him. Bassat, ever honourable, chose safety and dropped into ‘older brother’ mode. This was most definitely not what Zalia had wanted and she felt distinctly insulted.
Now let us be fair to these three ladies. Madam Galwin is someone I do have some respect for. She has raised several children, is a tower of strength to her friends, nursed her dying husband herself, and is indeed remarkably fit and well for her age. If she admitted to her true age people would indeed be impressed by how well she carries herself. But in all candour claiming to be
fifty is beyond her. It’s the same with Madam Wuldecker. She has indeed made a conscious effort ‘not to let herself go.’ Whilst she no longer has the figure she had when she married, for a woman who has given borne two children she has remained remarkably trim. But in all candour, too many of her contemporaries are living among us. We all know how old she is.
Again for fifty she looks remarkably well and is to be commended. But she is not thirty. Finally we have Zalia. She is a pretty girl and when she forgets herself she is actually delightful company. Given her mother and grandmother I am sure she will be beautiful into middle age and handsome afterwards. Indeed had she had an older brother (who would have teased her into exasperated acceptance of reality) rather than a younger one, I believe Bassat would have never have experienced the problems that he did. Zalia, insulted, instructed her brother Zanvian, to chastise Bassat. Zanvian, with all the seriousness of a fifteen year old boy who discovers he is apparently the man of the house, called upon Bassat next morning and
challenged him to a duel to the death.
Bassat, on discovering the reason, reluctantly agreed and after parrying Zanvian’s flurry of attacks, disarmed him with casual ease. He commended him for his courage and sense of filial duty, made some cogent comments about the young man’s technique with the sword, suggested that he told his sister that if she wished to be treated as if she were in her twenties, she ought to stop acting like a spoiled twelve-year old, and sent him off home. Zalia, now furious at this second humiliation complained about this to her mother. This lady received her daughter’s news just after numerous of her acquaintances had told her what Bassat had said about her. Furious, she hired a group of thugs to give her tormentor the beating he obviously
Now Broken-Nose Dawkin was a perfectly competent thug for hire and his assorted ruffians decent enough specimens of their kind. So when they ambushed Bassat by leaping out of an alley as he walked past, they were confident they could administer the appropriate thrashing. Unfortunately Bassat’s reflexes were trained in Uttermost Partann. Even as the ambushers
closed on him, he had drawn his knife and was attacking into the ambush. Realising the sort of people he was dealing with, he didn’t actually kill anybody. Indeed he borrowed a bludgeon of one thug who realised he no longer needed it and laid about him with that. Now at this point there was no harm done. (Save perhaps to sundry louts) But Bassat would insist on knowing who had set them on him. Obviously Broken-Nose Dawkin felt no obligation to protect the person who had dumped him and his innocent followers into the situation. So Bassat helped the various bullies bandage what needed bandaging and escorted them to Madam Wuldecker’s house. There at the front door (with all the neighbours watching from behind the curtains) he rang the bell. When the maid answered, he ushered the injured men into the house and gave the maid the message, “Tell your mistress, ears fit best where they are grown.” With that he left.
When she heard the news from her daughter and granddaughter, Madam Galwin felt that this Bassat fellow was obviously waging war on the family good name. She did not hesitate. She hired an assassin. This individual stabbed Bassat in the back as he walked down the street. Unluckily for the assassin, Bassat had taken to wearing his riding mail under his jacket. The dagger didn’t penetrate. Even more unlucky for the assassin Bassat had also taken to wearing his sword. He drew this and cut the assassin down even as the man tried to stab him a second time.
Now exasperated, Bassat decided that he had had enough. He left the assassin’s head impaled on the ornamental railings that grace the front of Madam Galwin’s residence.
Bassat then pondered his future. He decided that, in all candour, he was not suited to the life of an entertainer in polite society. Indeed it did occur to him that whilst the slaying of assassins as they attempt to kill you is regarded as reasonable, displaying their severed heads publically could be regarded as a step to far. After all, with no sense of irony whatsoever the shadowy collective which oversees assassins within the city is prone to react badly to those who, ‘bring the profession into disrepute.’
Our hero made arrangements with friends, kissed his tearful mother farewell, and went down to Nightbell Point where he was collected from the beach and joined a ship sailing south to Prae Ducis. I got one note from him, apologising for any trouble he might have caused me. Apparently from Prae Ducis he’d drifted east and one night had stumbled upon an Urlan hunting party sitting eating round their campfire. He announced himself as a bard, they made room for him and asked him to play.
Apparently he sang them a comic song of his own antics which amused them greatly. One of them challenged him to a duel to the first blood. He acquitted himself well and they suggested to him that, if he had nothing better to do, he might want to ride with them. He agreed and they loaned him a horse. As far as I know he rode over the Aphices Mountains and disappeared
with his friends into the seething barbarian lands of the East.
And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published two more collections of stories.
The first, available on kindle, is:
‘Tallis Steelyard, preparing the ground, and other stories.’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0872GGLF9
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a poet! Indeed after reading this book you may never look at young boys and their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again. A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing, from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.
The second, available on Kindle or as a paperback, is:
‘Maljie. Just one thing after another.’
Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel, marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders, literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob. We also discover what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears on the scene.