It rained. Now in Port Naain this is not unusual, the prevailing wind seems to bring us storms off the sea, and some think they are channelled by the estuary and thus fall on Port Naain whilst places fifty miles to the north or south seem to bask in sunny weather, cooled deliciously by playful zephyrs.
But this week it did not merely rain, it rained as if endeavouring to prove something to itself. This was rain that was compensating for something.
On the first day it rained with ruthless determination. The night was merely wet as if keeping its hand in but not willing to make too much effort. The second day rained unrelentingly, handing over to night, secure in a job well done. The third day, unwilling to play second fiddle to anybody, rained in great squalls that hurled the water about at speed, making up in viciousness for what they might have lacked in mere volume.
Port Naain was transformed. In the more salubrious areas up near the Council Chamber they spread sand on the stone sets that surface the streets. This is to ensure that the carriage wheels do not rattle and clatter and wake people early. The sand passed down hill and into the river on day two. By day three the water pouring down Lame Pauper’s Ginnel was cleaner than that sold by the water sellers along the river front.
But among those who man the reservoirs which provide Port Naain’s drinking water, eyebrows were raised. The levels rose. Sluices were opened, water was moved along the inner circuit to maintain the level, but still there was now too much water. At the morning’s formal consultation it was decided that the levels would have to be lowered and the great sluice should be opened.
The great sluice pours its water out into the Funnel and from there it runs into the Tunnel through the Hills. On the south side of the hills the water, still running underground, is split into several streams at the southern sluices and runs to fill the huge cisterns under the great buildings of the Warrens. These cisterns, no longer used as cisterns, form the dwelling place of innumerable people who suspend their dwellings from the pillars or ceiling of the cistern. But nobody lives on the floor of the cistern. Save for the bolder travellers, the only people who move on the floor of the cisterns are the fishers of the black canal. They cast their nets into the slowly moving muck that flows along the drain at the bottom of the cistern. Now the black canal was going to be swilled clean.
The chief engineer stood on the dam wall walk, watching as the two smallest apprentice boys carried a table and chair over the tilting steps that connect the sluice gate and the counter weight. Sure enough, as they set them up on the counter weight the steps started to tilt towards it and the sluice gate eased in its housing. When those two boys had withdrawn, two more brought his lunch, the first carrying a plate of chops with the usual assortment of vegetables and condiments. The second carried a jack of ale so large he had to use two hands to hold it. These were placed reverently on the table and the boys retired.
Then with ponderous dignity the chief engineer made his way across the tilting steps. He could feel the counter weight sinking slowly beneath him and, as the sluice gate rose in its well greased channels, the roar of water drowned out any thought of conversation.
He sat on his chair and took a mouthful of the ale. Brewed especially purely for this occasion, it was rich and heavy with enough sharpness to give an edge to appetite. He put the jack down and tucked with gusto into his meal.
The Tunnel through the Hills is empty of water for most of the year, but it is shunned by right thinking folk. One year, when the reservoir level was lowered and water poured through the Funnel into the Tunnel, nothing came out of the other end. With the sluice firmly fastened two engineers made their way along the Tunnel (which is large enough for a horse and cart, never mind a walking man). They discovered that there was a bend, and at that bend the force of the water over the years had smashed through the tunnel side and had poured into an underground cavern too large for their lanterns to illuminate.
Next day two men with a horse, cart, cement and bricks went down the tunnel to start work on repairing the wall. When they didn’t return at evening it was assumed they’d lost track of time so an apprentice was sent to collect them. When he didn’t return a larger party went to investigate. They found the cart, the bricks and tools unloaded and the apprentice boy sitting on the pile of bricks rocking backwards and forwards. No sign was ever seen of the two bricklayers or their horse and the apprentice boy never spoke a word until he died.
Next day they sent a large party, more bricks and built the wall up in one day. Two days later they went back to inspect. Already some of the bricks had been knocked out and were lying on the floor of the passage. With that the engineers arranged for tube of iron to be cast which fitted the bore of the tunnel and this was dragged in place and builder’s stone was poured and tamped into the gap between tube and passage wall. Since that day the water has run true again.
When the water hits the southern sluices it splits. Years ago there were timbers in the sluices but they have long since gone, the timber stolen by the denizens of the cisterns searching for workable metal and building materials. So with no semblance of control the water surges down the black canals of each building, scouring the canals, spreading out and flooding the floors of the cisterns before finally draining out of the building, down the canal and to the Undercroft, situated under the Sump. As it passes through the cisterns it is joined, often inadvertently, by people who ought to have known better than to stand too close to the edge of the platform. Nagging husbands, wayward wives, creditors who have started to demand repayment in full, unwanted business partners and failed blackmailers can all find themselves carried along in the flood.
Once the pressure in the Undercroft is high enough the water pushes open the outer door and pours into the river under Midreach Pier, depositing into the estuary everything it has picked up on its journey. The sordid inhabitants of the under-pier curse as the flood carries away the corpses they have staked out for fish bait or for other less savoury reasons.
Once word gets out that the cisterns have been purged, a crowd will gather along the river front, downstream of the Midreach Pier. Here observers will watch the excitement and comment on the state of corpses that the water carries with it.
But occasionally another corpse will be spotted. Or perhaps it’s not a corpse but merely a semblance of a man created by the chance action of the current on a piece of dark fabric. Certainly they only resemble men, being too long in the limb and too slight in the body. Gossip insists that the shore-combers find stranger things than usual, far out at the edge of the tide, the day after the Black Canals have been flushed; things with sharp angled faces and wide mouths holding too many teeth. The shore-combers say nothing. What you don’t know about doesn’t worry you, and what you push out into deeper water won’t come back to haunt you.