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Yay! Guest blog from Tallis Steelyard

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
needed.

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.’
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Maljie-Just-thing-after-another/dp/B0875JSJVM/

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.

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It’s not who you know, it’s what you know …

It’s time to see if I can boost the visitor numbers to my blog a bit and for that purpose, once again, I have procured the services of a celebrity guest. Yes you have a special treat in store today. The ever popular Tallis has returned to my blog – along with a little help from Jim Webster, his publisher and agent. Enjoy.

____________________________________________

It’s not who you know, it’s what you know.

It’s not what you know …

I realise that it might not be a fashionable view. Indeed I know some people who would disagree vehemently with me on this. They will boast of their wide circle of acquaintance, and the fact that should they want a decision making in their favour in high places, they merely have to drop a hint into the ear of the right person. Yet I would suggest that if you don’t know what’s going on, you can drop all the hints you want, you’ll never achieve the result you desire.

It was the interesting affair of Doughty Voile which illustrates this best. Doughty comes from one of the small villages east of here, along the Paraeba river. Doughty’s parents came from the city of Oiphallarian, which is even further east. His parents abandoned city life, (for unexplained reasons) and settled to the life of peasant cultivators. The area was isolated, Doughty grew up speaking with a pronounced Oiphallarian accent, and occasionally people from the city did visit them. They would stay for some time and spend most of it inside. Often they spent it in bed being treated for various injuries. Doughty truly had a nice knack at sewing up knife wounds.  But apart from these occasional highlights, life was quiet. Doughty worked hard, but was a great reader. He seems to have read everything that crossed his path. Apparently he used to sail out in his skiff to meet the steamers. He’d trade fresh vegetables with the purser for books.

His big chance came when a visitor arrived from Oiphallarian. He’d taken a cottage in the village and Doughty got to know him. Apparently the visitor, one Montain Calm, was in the book trade. He worked for a publishing house in the city. Ostensibly he had been sent to reconnoitre Port Naain with a view to exploring the literary possibilities. Not only was he to search out for new writing talent, but there was also the possibility of forming partnerships with local publishers, or having books written in Oiphallarian printed locally by Port Naain printers. To be honest, Montain wasn’t particularly keen on heading further west. His real aim was to linger in the village with his mistress for a month or two. He would then return to Oiphallarian explaining that he’d explored the opportunities and there weren’t any.

Doughty pondered this and a day or so later, casually mentioned, as if in passing, that he had to go to Port Naain anyway, and would Montain like him to check things out for him whilst he was there. It would give his report to his superiors a degree of verisimilitude if he could mention a few contacts by name. Montain thought briefly and agreed it would be an excellent idea, and even gave Doughty a few vintenars to buy himself a drink or two with whilst he was in the city.

Doughty next had to work out how he was going to get to Port Naain. He had virtually no cash, and what he had, he felt he’d need when he got there. So he decided to just sail down river in his skiff and if the worst came to the worst he could always sleep in it as well. So with a change of clothing, and his father’s business suit which Doughty had recently grown into, he set off.

It was entirely fortuitous that he stumbled upon me. He drifted past the wharfs of the city, temporarily unmanned by the sheer size of the place. When he got to Fellmonger’s Wharf he contemplated tying up, but there was no wharf space available. To be fair that is normally the case. Boats and barges are tied up to seven deep on Fellmonger’s Wharf. It’s a residential wharf, and our wharf-rat, Marson, likes it well stacked. It ensures he’s got plenty of tenants and those nearest the wharf will struggle to skip without paying the rent.

Doughty passed onwards and arrived at the Old Esplanade. The tide was in and there were a few loafers waiting for it to turn. So he paddled close to the shore and after some thought he asked if anybody could direct him to, “A literary gentleman.”

It must be confessed that on the Old Esplanade I am well known, even if it is only as Shena’s husband. Hence, it was my name he was given. Not only that but they gave him directions as how to get to our barge.

Thus it was as I was meditating in the sunshine, contemplating my muse, I was rudely awakened as his skiff scraped alongside. I welcomed him aboard and he told me his story. Let us be honest, he was obviously not a senior agent for a major publishing house. He lacked the arrogance. He lacked the belief in his own divine right to succeed that one finds in such people. To be honest, if he was in publishing I would have placed him as a literary agent who made a poor living touting his finds to small independent publishing houses.

After an hour and a glass or two, I got the entire truth out of him and it was then I made my decision. I liked him. He was a decent enough young man and remarkably well read. Thus I spent the rest of the afternoon coaching him. By the time Shena arrived home, Doughty was almost convincing. So she joined me in my work and by the time we retired for the night, he could discuss business with businessmen and literature with writers. All that needed to be done was to arrange a few introductions.

Thus under the name of Montain Calm, Doughty was launched on Port Naain literary society. He was a considerable success. When introduced to writers he was measured. If he hadn’t read their work he’d read similar. He was happy to discuss their current projects and showed a genuine interest in work they had close to completion. If he had a failing, it was that he didn’t have a large budget for entertaining. In all candour that was one area where I couldn’t help him. But we discovered that people were so keen to speak to him that they insisted on paying for his drinks.

Having caused a stir amongst the writers, we moved on to the printers and publishers. They pleaded with him to dine with them. Had he been a person with fewer moral standards he could doubtless have walked away, his pockets jingling from the bribes they wanted to slip him. As it was he amassed crate after crate of samples. I honestly believe he had acquired a copy of every book published in Port Naain in the previous decade!

Once writers saw the publishers wining and dining Doughty they redoubled their own efforts. It was now obvious that he was the man who held their fortunes in the palm of his hand. The poor chap was virtually besieged. He made an unfortunate strategic error. In a desperate effort to calm people down, he let it be known that there was no point in negotiating details. This was because his employers were sending their legal representative out to join him in a couple of weeks and this person would draw up the contracts.

In one way this worked. The writing community could see that there was no point in worrying him with details. Unfortunately each writer also decided that they ought to use this period of grace to win Doughty over to their side, so that when the lawyer appeared, they would be the first in the queue and would be signed up on good terms before the money ran out.

In the next week, eight lady writers of some merit invited him to picnic with them and took the opportunity to propose what might be described as, ‘an informal marital arrangement.’ At the same time, other writers would invite him out, ‘for a convivial evening.’ On several occasions the convivial evening barely finished in time for him to join a lady for the lunchtime picnic.

Finally I had to step in. The social whirl had become manic. As he said to me, it wasn’t waking up and thinking, “Where am I,” that told him it was time to stop. It was when he turned over in bed, looked at the individuals who appeared to be sharing it with him, and asked, “And who the hell are they?”

Apparently on one occasion he was only spared embarrassment because the lady’s maid had the habit of sewing name tapes into her mistress’s clothes so that they were easily identified by the laundry.

At very short notice I got him a passage on a barge heading east. Given his personal effects included eleven crates of books and nearly as many of rather good wine, there was no way he could get them all in the skiff.

“And what,” I hear you mutter under your breath, “did Tallis get out of it?”

Well to be fair both Shena and I ate rather well that week. Also, as Doughty commented, he wasn’t somebody who normally drank wine with every meal. Thus whilst he took a number of crates of wine with him, it must be admitted that he left twice that number with Shena and I. But perhaps more importantly than that, it’s always good for a chap to discover what sort of folk he lives among.

And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster.

So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

So what have Tallis and I got for you?

Well first there’s:

‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’

The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p?

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-guide-writers-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRXJH8C/

Then we have

‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’

Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-Gentlemen-behaving-stories-ebook/dp/B07TRYZV6C/

So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

___________________________________________

Just a final note from me, MTM. This is the last story in this tour, but if you want to read the other stories, not to mention discover some cracking blogs, I can heartily recommend starting from the beginning. You can find the first one on our lovely friend, Chris Graham’s blog here:

A fine residence – Guest Post (and Book Promo) by Tallis Steelyard (Jim Webster)…

If, for some reason it doesn’t work, or you get lost on the way, the first part of each story appears on Tallis’ own blog, starting here:

A fine residence …

 

 

 

 

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