Yesterday was our turn to present Tallis Steelyard’s last story in this book tour, Getting to the bottom of it all, but due to unforeseen confusion on someone’s part, it was posted very late in the day. So, in an effort to finish this amazing blog tour in style, we are posting it again!
These wonderful stories are a lovely way to introduce three new novellas from Jim Webster, the man responsible for most of Tallis’ adventures…
Getting to the bottom of it all.
I now had a task to perform. I had to arrange a pie eating contest in which Flobbard Wangil could participate. My problem was that I hadn’t the funds just to buy the pies and organise one, so I needed a patron to support it.
Unfortunately my patrons are not the sort of people who normally run that sort of contest. Indeed to be fair, many would look askance if I introduced Flobbard into their house.
Then I had a stroke of luck, Flobbard’s sister, Malinflua, whom I’d not seen since we arrived back in Port Naain, got in touch with me. She had very recently purchased a rather large house, number eighteen, on Grettan Walk. This is a pleasant street in the Merchant quarter. She wanted a word with me about possibly working together.
I walked up to the house I glanced at the abandoned building site that was number sixteen. Out of curiosity I peered between the boards that screened the location from view. Somebody had obviously started work again. I could see large piles of fresh spoil. Perhaps they were already working on new foundations? Here in Port Naain, given the soil is largely the clay of the estuary, we take foundations very seriously. I continued on to Malinflua’s house and discovered that she had already had her ground floor converted into a restaurant. It was open for business and there were quite a few diners. She showed me round with genuine pride in what she had created, and then we went into her office and she poured us both coffee.
I had been doing some thinking. Malinflua had spent a lot of money.
Now nobody ever recovered the three gemstones that had disappeared from Slipshade keep, and I did wonder about them. Now I knew I hadn’t taken them. I was now pretty certain that Flobbard hadn’t taken them, so really that only left Malinflua, who had suddenly come into funds. So as I stirred my coffee I asked the obvious question. “So I assume you got the three stones out of Slipshade?”
“Oh yes, it was easy enough.”
I raised both hands in front of me, palms up, to show my bafflement.”
“So how did you do it?”
“As I joined you, I dropped them into your jacket pocket. Then after they searched me and before they searched you, I took them back again and kept them in a pocket in my skirt.”
All I can say is that I’m just glad I didn’t know at the time. Still I think she was pleased by my expression.
“Anyway the reason I called you here Tallis, is that I’ve an idea to do something new. If I just run a restaurant then I’ll do reasonably well. Yes, I’ll struggle to keep a good cook, and I’ll have to join in the game of stealing a cook off somebody to replace the cook somebody just stole off me. Well I want to break out of that.”
It seemed entirely reasonable to me.
She continued, “So what I am going to do is to put on shows as well. I will walk amongst the diners doing magic tricks, pulling coins out of their ears or whatever, but I don’t want to
have to do that all the time. So I’ll have musicians and singers, and various other performers.”
I shook my head. “Make damned sure they’re house musicians, paid on a regular basis and reliant upon you, or you’ll find yourself dealing with crisis after crisis as they get drunk, fight, seduce your customers, or whatever.”
“And that’s why I invited you here, Tallis. You’ve a lot of experience in the field and I wondered if you would organise things, at least until we get properly up and running.”
It was then I had my idea. “And of course you’ll need a pie eating contest.”
She looked at me as if I had suggested she open as a bordello serving the cheaper end of the market. “Are you serious?”
“What sort of establishment do you think this is.”
“Exactly. You’re aiming to be the best. So you’ve got to do things others don’t. So you put on the finest pie eating contest. The very best pies. A waiter on hand to top up your glass as you eat. Another waiter serving you pies, whilst a third ensures you have the appropriate condiments. The
contest would be on a long table down the centre of the dining room whilst your other guests could eat at tables spread around the periphery. They could then eat, watch, and bet; all at the same time. Not only that but it’ll keep both me and your brother out of jail.”
That did it.
Malinflua was genuinely fond of her brother. I believe that when they were both children, he used to regularly get beaten up protecting her. All he achieved was to give her a head start and time to find somewhere to hide, but I don’t think she’d ever forgotten his actions.
Now I had to set about organising the event. I needed a small group of performers, but they had to be carefully chosen. I contacted Old Jerky and asked him to fetch three reliable musicians and a competent singer. Unlike my usual patrons, Malinflua was not going to be daunted by Old Jerky’s battered appearance. She knew him and valued him. Similarly I could rely on his ability to pick players who could be relied upon to remain sober.
Then I needed somebody else. It chanced that as I sat in the Misanthropes, Illus Wheelburn was holding forth about his time in Prae Ducis. His tale was amusing, self-deprecating and he interspersed it with a few short verses that were both thought provoking and droll. I had a discussion with him after he’d finished and asked him if he could work his tale up into a fifteen minute performance. He was certain he could, and I booked him.
Then there was the pie eating competition. The pies I discussed with Malinflua’s cook. Out of a sense of duty towards Flobbard, I suggested the pies be large enough to be held easily in two hands thus allowing for perhaps four or five good bites, and not too heavily spiced. Also the meat would be well chopped up with no bits of bone. The cook could see no problem with this and ordered in plenty of well hung horrocks. This she intended to marinate in ale for at least a full day.
When it came to getting competitors, I allowed word to circulate amongst the gentlemen who attended upon my patrons. Whilst they would never admit to it in polite company, I suspected several of them fancied themselves to be redoubtable trenchermen. A number of them discreetly let me know that they would compete. Indeed I think they were glad of a chance, after all a well-bred individual rarely gets the opportunity to take part in such things. I also suggested to Flobbard that he find a couple of competitors as well. I stressed to him that I wanted people who were neat in their person and delicate in their eating habits. I stressed we didn’t want any of those competitors who claim to have eaten a pie but actually have left at least half of it spread in a thin layer over the table, their shirt front, and their neighbours.
Less than a week later, everything was prepared. I helped Malinflua’s kitchen staff rearrange the dining room. We had a long table for the competitors down the middle. The other tables around the edge and a small stage for performers at one end. As the guests (tickets only and sold out) arrived, we had the musicians play. Once people were gathered, I had Illus tell his tale and give his verses. It helped create an atmosphere and allowed people to order drinks to their tables and get comfortable. Then I announced the pie eating competition.
This is where I hit the first snag. Old Gaffer Alfen, one of the spectators, asked about rules. I confess this had never occurred to me. I rather assumed people just knew what to do. As it was, Gaffer admitted that he wasn’t taking part, even though in his youth he’d been an occasional competitor, but it struck him that the rules ought to be set out plain and simple for everyone. I turned to Flobbard who suggested that the entire pie must be eaten, that there must be no physical contact with other competitors, and anybody feeling nauseous must move at once from the table. This seemed entirely reasonable and they were agreed by all the competitors.
Old Gaffer, rather diffidently, then asked about the counting of the pies. He explained that when he had been in competition, everybody ate their first pie, then their second, but at the same time. So if you had finished your fourth, you waited for the others to finish their fourth before you started your fifth.
Thus because everybody had eaten the same number of pies, everybody knew the score. Finally if you could eat no more, you took off your napkin and folded it in front of you so the waiters knew. They would write your total on a piece of paper and give it to you. There was some discussion amongst the competitors about this as some felt that this might stop them getting into their routine. But others felt it meant that you did at least get time to belch before eating the next. So this too was agreed.
Finally Gaffer asked about the chant. We all looked a bit blank, so he explained that during the competition everybody would clap their hands to create a rhythm. It was slap, slap, slap, with the third slap being by far the loudest. So a lot of competitors would follow the beat with bite, bite, swallow. The competitors were intrigued by this idea and they agreed this as well. Gaffer was thanked for his wisdom and his contribution and I asked Old Jerky if he could do something with that sort of beat.
I gave the order to the waiters, Old Jerky picked up a drum, the first pies were served, (to diners as well as to competitors) and battle was commenced. To be fair to Gaffer, his system worked really well and I would recommend it to everybody running a pie eating contest. Those watching got caught up in it, clapping in time. The singer dredged something suitable from his repertoire and regaled us with what was probably a Partannese pirate shanty.
At the table, the competitors set to work with a will. One or two complimented the staff on the quality of the pies. Apparently, one normally tries not to taste them. After four or five, some of the competitors had to fold their napkins. They were largely the men who had last done this sort of thing two decades before or who had never done it. But they stayed at the table and joined in the clapping. Nobody had yet had to flee to the jakes. By the time we got to ten pies, there were only three competitors still in the game. Flobbard, the Partannese chap who won at Slipslade, and a sailor called Diggan. By now people were not merely clapping, they were standing up and stamping their feet. Even those who had folded their napkins were stamping in time, but from a seated position. The excitement was intense, and the three men reached for their twelfth pie. Even I was on my feet and was walking around the competitors’ table, encouraging them to greater efforts.
At this point I was certain I heard a creaking, but it was difficult to be sure over the hubbub. Then on the third great stamp, the floor started to fall away beneath me. I ran towards the side and jumped onto the main entrance where the stone doorstep showed no signs of moving. I clutched the door and looked behind me. The section of the floor under the competitors’ table had sagged about six feet, below me it had torn away completely and I was looking into a ragged hole. Four men, holding shovels and standing next to a wheelbarrow looked up at me. I hung over the lip of the hole to get a better look. Next to them was a battered table. On the table there was a lighted lantern illuminating what I recognised to be the map that Illus had drawn and that I had further annotated.
It was at this point that I became aware of the shouting and shrieking. Some of the diners were beginning to panic as they too started to slide down the hole. To be fair, it was unlikely they were going to come to much harm, if only because when they hit one of the well upholstered pie-eaters, they would come to a safe, if somewhat inappropriate, halt.
Others were moving now, Malinflua was at the kitchen door shouting for a rope so they could pull people out and evacuate them through the scullery. The four men with shovels had fled, probably back along the tunnel they had dug from next door. Illus had slid down the slope and was examining his map in great detail. I noticed one or two of the Partannese were exchanging comments and were glaring at me in what I felt was a significant manner. It was obvious that any number of people were going to come to what I felt were unwarranted conclusions. I quietly left, closing the door behind me.
On mature consideration I decided not to go back to the barge but wrote a note for one of the street children to deliver to Shena explaining the situation. I decided against a season in Avitas or elsewhere in Partann. There were doubtless too many people on the roads of Partann who had no reason to remember me fondly. I decided to make my way to Oiphallarian, and managed to board one of the smaller steamers, even as the gangplank was being pulled aboard.
A somewhat offensive petty officer asked, in what I felt was a menacing fashion, if I intended to pay for my passage. I put my hand in my britches pocket and at that point remembered that Malinflua had already paid me. I took this as a sign that matters were not as bad as they could have been. I paid him for deck passage, with meals and a chance to root through the slop chest. Thus dressed in a manner befitting an ordinary seaman, I could preserve my good clothes for when I arrived in Oiphallarian. There I could seek out new patrons, renew my acquaintance with old ones, perform my work and wait for time to pass. In due course, Port Naain would grow forgetful and I would return home. In the meantime, it was surely my duty to bring the joys of civilisation to Oiphallarian.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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
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
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