A sad blow to artistic freedom

You know what it’s like; we artists are condemned to eternally suffer for our art. Those without our gift, our drive, cannot comprehend what impels us forward and mutter darkly into their small beer.

But here is a sad example to let you know what I mean. I was with friends one night at Misanthropes Hall. Purely at table with friends and acquaintances. We’d dined in a small way but perhaps taken more wine that the occasion called for. Still it was a pleasant evening and one young chap was scribbling down our witty asides as they fell from our lips, which put us all on our mettle. How was I to know it was one of the lower forms of life? It was Tar Yurgon. No artist but a freelance journalist, the very dregs of literary endeavour.

And then Trane Forsgill started cavilling about whether it was his turn to buy the next bottle or not. He claimed it was my turn, which was nonsense as I’d entered the place with barely a dreg to my name and had no more chance of buying wine than buying a sinecure. But still one must keep up appearances. Then another chap, might even have been Lancet, suggested a challenge. The first to come up with a verse about Mistress Titalior Nentwing would have the wine bought for them.

Well quick as a flash I came up with a few pithy words,

To Titalior

a failure

a sailor

could nail her.

I despair

I was there

I regret

Nothing.

Well that got a round of applause and served its purpose, somebody fetched more wine. Two bottles if my memory serves.

But then that grubby scribbler went and put my immortal drollery in a news sheet. Apparently he was printing something called ‘The Wit of a Port Naain Evening,’ or some such thing and selling it round the town at two dregs a sheet. Not that any of the money came my way but I suppose that is the poet’s lot.

But I thought no more about it, why should I, it had been and gone? But a week later I was in the Flensers. Young Benor was with me, and Shena had insisted we take Mutt with us. As my beloved said, ‘He may be only ten, but he’s the best placed to act as the token adult.’ Anyway I believe Benor owed him money and Mutt dislikes letting his debtors out of his sight lest they inadvertently die before they can repay him.

So we were sitting down, sipping a glass and pondering whether to dine when in bursts this termagant of a woman with a crowd of bullies behind her. She strides across the room and bellows, “Do you know who I am?”
Well damn me but I hadn’t the faintest idea. Fortunately I was not called upon to admit my ignorance because she then roared, “I am Titalior’s aunt.”

With this she thrust a rotting cabbage at me. Well what poet could resist? I took it as gracefully as I could and replied, “And every time I smell it I shall think of you.”

In all candour it might have gone better unsaid, because she turned a shade of purple and was briefly speechless before shouting to her bullies, “Beat them.”

Things from then are something of a blur, I remember young Benor scattering tables and chairs and knocking one of the blighters over. I was watching him with interest when young Mutt grabbed me and started pulling me towards the back door. It appears Titalior’s aunt had taken our propensity for flight into account as we encountered another group of unpleasantly over-muscular gentlemen who were entering from that direction. At this point Benor overtook us, assessed the situation and led us up a back stair.

fight-in-the-bull-bagpipes-tavern

I barely had time to marvel at his familiarity with the building when he thrust me and Mutt through a door and locked it behind us. He then strode to the window, threw it open and looked out. Mutt scurried across to join him and as our pursuers were now pounding on the door with an improvised battering ram it seemed to me entirely wise to move to the window as well. Benor was now outside and climbing up the wall to the roof. He threw down a line which Mutt tied around my waist before scuttling up it in fine style. At this point the door crashed open and I threw myself out of the window and with the two above pulling I was able to almost walk up the wall. A most commendable performance I thought. At the top Benor laid a plank from Flensers’ roof to that of the building next to it. Before I can believe my eyes he’s dancing along it like some sort of circus performer and expecting me to do the same. Well I crossed by the simple expedient of going over on my hands and knees and keeping my eyes firmly shut. A process rendered less dignified still by Mutt sitting on my back, grasping my collar with one hand and shouting, ‘Giddy-up’. I’m not entirely happy with heights, but there again, I’m even less happy with threats of assault coming from the hirelings of disgruntled patrons. Once I was across Benor removed the plank. Just in time really as our pursuers had gained the roof, probably due to some internal stair.

We proceed at what I considered a mad pace along the roof of this terrace, before crossing yet another street on a plank Benor seemed to have conveniently to hand. Mutt seemed to find this all highly diverting but I was never so happy as when Benor announced it was probably safe to go down to the ground. He checked the rope around my waist and told me to brace myself. He shinned down the rope and when I peered over the edge I could see he had tied the other end of the rope to a balcony rail. Unfortunately perhaps I learned a little too far forward to see what was happening and felt myself unbalance. I grabbed for something to hold onto but all I caught was Mutt. Then I felt myself hurling into the abyss.

How long I fell who knows? It seemed an eternity. I saw scenes from my past life flash before my eyes. Or would undoubtedly have done so had they not been tightly closed. Finally I must have run out of rope because I came to a rather painful halt, suspended upside down by my waist with my legs entangled in the rope. Mutt had obviously managed to grab my coat as he fell and he was hanging from this. My only consolation is that with the coat tails hanging down in front of my face, nobody was going to recognise Tallis Steelyard, Port Naain’s finest living poet, as the individual dangling above their heads.

Mutt climbed up the coat and got a firm grip of my braces. As he passed I can distinctly remember him saying, “Next time, just keep yer bluidy gob shut.”

With this he climbed up the rope and doubtless joined Benor on the balcony.
At this point there seemed to be an interminable delay. I could hear voices above me. There was the voice of a gentleman who seemed outraged and a lady who was more restrained. Occasionally Benor managed to get a word in. Finally they bethought themselves and started to pull me up. After some particularly strenuous exertion I was hauled onto the balcony. I confess that it was my lithe figure that made things possible. Obviously I have good natural bones and the breeding of a gentleman, which mean I am not destined to be a heavily built individual. The fact that we had not perhaps eaten quite so often as one would like doubtless aided nature in preserving my elegant silhouette.

Once on the balcony I could see what the problem was. The gentleman, wearing stockings but no breeches and a thigh length silk peignoir, seemed most put out by our arrival. The lady, somewhat younger and wearing mainly sheet which was draped around her gave the impression of being more curious than upset. Benor seemed to have calmed things a little, Mutt had somehow disappeared. (I’ve noticed that, he just does, and blowed if I can see how.)

But anyway Benor made introductions and introduced me as ‘Tallis Steelyard, the great poet.’

I must admit the lady gave me a look of obvious admiration and I knew I had fallen in with the cream of literary society. Her companion was less overawed.

“So prove you’re this Steelyard poet chap, and not just some drunken roisterers.”

I suppose it would have been easy enough to prove I wasn’t drunk but it occurred to me that this wasn’t what was bothering him most.

“What is the lady’s name?”

She opened her mouth to tell me, but her companion made to stop her. “Don’t tell them Lian.”

With that I bowed.

“For Lian

what man

who can

string rhymes with animation

to dare

to share

without care

his unstinting admiration.”

Well that did it. The gentleman became most civil and the lady almost fawned on us. They guided us downstairs and saw us out safely into the street.

As we walked wearily home to the barge I pondered the escapades of the evening and remarked to young Benor, “You know we were lucky to fall in with a sympathetic married couple.”

Benor just gave me that quizzical look he deploys on occasion. “He introduced himself to me as Laurhisk.”

I wracked my brains, the name was familiar. “Ah yes, he’s the senior supervisor of the docks of Port Naain. He’s the one who actually does the work.”

“Whereas she I know to be the wife of Curt Gosprontin, who spends a lot of time up-river captaining one or another of his numerous riverboats.”

I pondered this information for some time. “Ah, I see it could have been embarrassing, is there anything we could do?”

Benor merely brushed the dirt off the collar of his jacket. “I left her my card.”

needless to say, Benor is at my shoulder pointing out that it is now possible to read more of his exploits (and to a lesser extent mine) simply by purchasing a copy of Flotsam or Jetsam

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Flotsam-Jetsam-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B011VHS21Y

I asked him about my own trifling work, and apparently Lambent Dreams is also available at

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lambent-Dreams-Jim-Webster-ebook/dp/B01278WPWI/

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