It’s funny to look back on the heady days of your youth and the various pranks that one got up to back then. We were reminiscing over a glass of wine, as you do, when Julatine Sypent mentioned the incident of the tower of the three maidens.
You can see from the picture that the tower has three statuettes set high up in the wall. Why they were called the three maidens rather than the three matrons or the three hags is beyond me as when I peered at through a glass you’d still struggle to tell whether they were even supposed to be human. A blacksmith, hammering the nails in a jail door nearby suggested that they were maidens because they had their legs firmly together.
But still the tower exists; it lies on the edge of the Sump in Port Naain, so is accessible without taking your life in your hands. And around the tower hangs a vague miasma of doom, dark tales abound and evil has somehow permeated the mortar that holds it together.
One tale often told is that the tower was once owned by a local lordling with three daughters. (Who might inadvertently have been the source of the name, the tower of the three maidens? Or perhaps the story is set in the tower because of the tower’s name? Who knows, certainly not I.)
Still, it seems that one of these girls had a suitor who wished to marry her. The girl was besotted, the father contemptuous, and in the end the girl hanged herself in the topmost room. Her suitor, climbing in through an upper window, was the one who found the body. Overcome with grief he cut her body down and then stabbed himself with the same knife and collapsed and died sprawled over her body.
And even now, the tale goes, on certain nights if you sit in the room below, you can hear the creaking of the rope in the room above you and see the blood dripping through the ceiling above your head.
But back to our story. There must have been ten or a dozen of us sitting in the Misanthropes Hall telling tall tales and lying casually about our romantic conquests. Somehow as the evening drew on the tenor of our tales shifted and one or two of the chaps were telling ghost stories. Julatine Sypent told the tale of the tower of three maidens. He didn’t tell it particularly well if I remember correctly, but he’s a painted not a poet. Doubtless if I were to paint, it would lack the unique sparkle I fetch to my verse.
But still, Tillop Willbeam had no reason to mock him over it. All that this achieved was to provoke Lancet Foredeck into an argumentative mood. Lancet has never keen on Tillop, so he challenged him to spend the night in the tower if he was bold enough.
Well that started it. Tempers grew hot and the stakes were inflated with them. Eventually it was agreed that Tillop, in front of witnesses, to include Julatine Sypent, would enter the tower at midnight on the following day and alone he would ascend to the topmost chamber and spend the night, until at dawn the witnesses would enter and relieve him.
He put down his stake, a whole alar with the bursar of the Misanthropes, and Julatine matched it. I confess to being surprised. The idea that either of them could be found carrying gold had never previously occurred to me. I resolved in future to have my drinks put on their accounts.
With this the party broke up and we were going our separate ways. But then Lancet quietly approached me and asked if I would like to take part in a performance art installation, at the tower of the three maidens, the following evening.
Well it seemed an interesting idea, and he did comment that he would require help carrying everything he required, so I decided to join him in his scheme.
I slept late next day, what with one thing and another and didn’t catch up with Lancet until well gone noon. By this time he’d already been to the tower once, carrying various items. By the time I found him he was pondering a large sheet of glass. Apparently he had come across it some time ago in his perambulations and spotting its potential had purloined it. Given it was taller than me and took two of us to carry it, I can only marvel at his persistence. Still he is far more the performance artist than true poet, and it is obviously an example of what such folk are willing to do for their art.
It seems fair. I am forced to spend time drinking and exchanging idle banter and repartee with potential patrons, he has to smuggle inordinately large pieces of glass around the city. So our muse drives us.
With some difficulty we got this glass to the tower and then manhandled it up a very rickety stairway. By the time we got to the top room I think we were both in need of a rest, but the air in the room was distinctly unpleasant. This is not due to any phantom aura but entirely due to the bucket of blood and urine he’d begged from an abattoir. It was the swillings of the slaughterhouse floor if I remember correctly; the bits unfit to be added to blood pudding.
So we set to work. The room was large. Three walls were the walls of the tower. The fourth was formed by the stairwell, and the door onto the stairwell was against the north wall. So anyone coming up the stair could see into the room, but only about a third of it. So Lancet put up the sheet of glass in the corner opposite the door. Then out of sight of the door he set to work with a dummy he’d begged from a clothes shop. The head was lifelike and by draping a few clothes on it, he managed to make it appear quite real in the gloom. Then standing on my shoulders he let a noose down from the ceiling and hanged the dummy from the noose. As it was now getting dark he lit an oil lamp and sent me out of the room. Well damn me but from outside the door, with the light behind Lancet’s hanging dummy, I could see a woman who had hanged herself dangling in the corner of the room opposite the door. Obviously it was the dummy reflected in the sheet of glass we’d struggled up the stairs with, but that wasn’t apparent from outside of the door.
Then he had me tell him where I thought the hanged woman was, and he then went and tipped his bucket of blood on the floor underneath her position. Then he turned the light down, the body disappeared but of course the blood remained and was doubtless soaking through to the room underneath.
And so we sat and waited. We heard the chimes as various clocks struck midnight, and from outside we could hear the laughter of our friends and they encouraged Tillop Willbeam to enter the tower.
We sat in utter silence and in the distance we could hear him making his way up the stairs. I heard his gasp from the room below as he saw the blood soaking through the ceiling. He then made a low voiced comment, and another person answered him, so obviously the judges had let him bring a friend. Lancet must have heard their discussion as well because he reached up and set the dummy swinging. Whether the creaking of the rope could be heard below us I frankly don’t know. But still Tillop pressed on. Obviously the chap is no coward, and we could see the faint glimmer of his candle as he turned the corner of the stairs. At this point Lancet turned up the lantern. There was a scream from the stairs and then a second scream, and the sound of at least two people in flight. We learned later that Tillop had been allowed a companion, Shadon, a poetaster of no real literary merit. They’d both seen the ghost hanging and the blood, and fled.
Well Lancet turned the lamp up a bit more and we set to work to remove what traces of our presence that we could. We took down the dummy and wrapped it in the rope, which would make it easier to carry. Then with that slung over Lancet’s shoulder, we turned to get the sheet of glass. There hanging by the neck from a length of rope was a girl of perhaps fourteen. She was obviously dead and her body was swinging slightly from side to side. I could hear the rope creak. It is traditional at this point to use a cliché about how the hair on the back of your neck stood on end. As far as I can remember, it did. Then I heard a scrabbling to my left.Nervously I glanced about and at the window I saw one skeletal hand grasp the window ledge. Then another joined it and it was obvious the climber was starting to pull himself into the room. I turned to run, Lancet had already bolted and I tripped over the blasted bundle he’d abandoned, scrambled to my feet and by the time I got to the ground floor I’d damn near overtaken him.
Since that day I’ve always had an aversion to performance art.
Note, those wishing to alleviate Tallis Steelyard’s chronic lack of funds could do worse than purchase that slim volume of his verse, Lambent Dreams.
or alternatively (why alternatively, why not buy both) a tale of some of his less sordid adventures