Have you noticed how some people might in themselves pose a problem, but are inadvertently the answer to a far larger problem? So you’re faced with the troubling realisation that you must somehow find a way to live with the lesser issue.
Galis Heeb was perhaps the definitive example of this phenomenon. In himself he was comparatively harmless. He made a reasonable living at the race course, mainly as a tout, paid by the bookmakers to ensure that the punters bet on horses which lost, or if they won, won at low odds. He’d been in the game for long enough to build up a stable of punters who he’d given winners to in the past and who were happy to pay him for further tips. He was not quite small enough to be a jockey but small enough to look as if he might have been one, so he was on his way to becoming a race course institution.
Now initially I had little to do with Galis, I’d known him for years, he was another street child who’d survived. No as our story starts I had other problems.
My problems were with two thugs, Hugga and Warn. Each had his own gang of unpleasantly muscular ruffians and they had started rival protection rackets which were spreading into Dilbrook. It all started out relatively innocently. Pay them so much a month and there were no unfortunate incidents; if you didn’t pay then footmen got into fights, maids were insulted and tradesmen were inconvenienced. But things started to get nasty when a second rate organiser of offensive orgies and dwarf throwing competitions, Morongo Rallon, paid them to ‘encourage’ my patrons to employ him rather than me. The situation was getting serious by the time I bumped into Galis. I’d been seeking to interest the landlady of the Black Grapes in the idea of letting me perform, in return for a meal and tips. Her clientele was somewhat martial, unemployed soldiery, lesser mercenary captains, the occasional Partannese brigand with affectations, and even an Urlan or two should there be any in the city. My thought was to deliver various martial poems, winning applause and tips. The landlady was not entirely convinced and I was told, “I’ll think about it.” This in anybody’s book means ‘No.’ So I was making my somewhat melancholy way out of the bar when Galis saw me and called me over. He asked me what my problem was and I explained about the depredations of Hugga and Warn. He dismissed them with a wave of his hand. “Consider the problem solved.” With that he bade me good night and he disappeared upstairs.
I wandered disconsolately out into the night but over the succeeding days I received news that cheered me. My patrons from Dilbrook who had been forced to use that swindler Morongo Rallon started contacting me. It appears that Hugga and Warn were now willing to let my keep my old patrons. Whatever Galis had done, it had worked.
A few days latter Galis arrived at the barge on a wet day when I had nothing to take me into the city. He had with him a quantity of decent quality paper and some envelopes, but most of all he had the expectant expression of a man who is about to cash in a favour.
“Tallis, I’d like you to write me some letters please.”
Now I am known to have a good hand and will write letters for a number of people. I also advise on style and content as well, and people seem happy with the service I provide. I knew Galis could read and write, but I don’t suppose he ever read much other than stud books and the bound volumes of race records.
“What would you like me to write?”
He passed me the following.
“Dear Respected One,
Permit me to inform you of my desire of going into business relationship with you. You were recommended to me by the gallant Galis Heeb.
I am Wumi Jatent; the only Daughter of the last Lord of Broken Rock Keep. My father was a very wealthy man, in a hidden cellar of the keep, in a place known only to him and me, he had secreted four thousand alars in gold and gems, the profits of many successful years of slave trading, banditry and extortion. My father was poisoned by his allies and they seized the keep but don’t know about the hidden cellar. I have allied myself with Galis Heeb who has promised to lead a force of men to assist me in regaining my inheritance. We would both be honoured if you would join your sword to ours and aid us in person, your valour and wisdom would assist us immeasurably. Should personal participation be impossible due to previous commitments, if you were to contribute a mere 100 alars in gold to the costs of the expedition, we will guarantee to pay you a minimum of 500 alars once we retake the keep. Not only that but we will regard you as a partner in the subsequent joint business ventures Sir Heeb and myself have planned, following the same financially advantageous schemes that paid so well for my father.
Miss Wumi Jatent.
Please, for reasons of secrecy and security, please don’t contact me directly but deal entirely with Sir Galis Heeb.
I read the document carefully, it seemed something of a change from touting horses at the race course.
“I didn’t know you were a Condottiere?”
“I’m not yet,” Galis admitted, but with a couple of hundred alars to my name I could be if I wanted.”
“So that’s why you were at the Black Grapes.”
He shuffled his paper, “Yes, I’m spending more time there, getting to know people before I start hiring.”
Somehow I couldn’t imagine Galis leaving Port Naain, and I had my doubts as to the reality of Miss Wumi.
“Galis, the woman doesn’t exist and it’s just another confidence trick on your part.”
“Oh yes, but it’s a good one and hopefully it’ll bring in more money in a few days than the other ones have brought me over years.”
“So how many letters do you want me to write?”
After all, I owed him a favour; he’d even brought the paper so I wasn’t going to be out of pocket.
“I have ten names.”
I sat down and took up my pen. “Ten it is then.”
& & &
He went off with his ten letters, all written in what I felt was a delicate and feminine hand and I didn’t think a lot about it. After all I wasn’t sure anybody would fall for it. I mean, who in Port Naain in their right mind would hire Galis as a Condottiere? But still, I’d honourably repaid my debt so Galis and I were all square.
It was a week later; I dropped in at the Black Grapes on my way home, just to see if the landlady was having second thoughts. After all if the Inn was willing to accept Galis Heeb as a Condottiere Captain, then they were obviously open to persuasion. When I got there Galis was good cheer personified. He immediately poured me a tankard of wine so I could drink his health. Quietly I asked, “Did you have some success with the letters?”
“Three of them have sent me money!”
At this point I kicked myself for not making a note of the addresses I put on the envelopes, “Which Three?”
He rubbed his nose with a fore finger, a somewhat squalid gesture I feel. “That’s for me to know Tallis my friend. Drink up.”
“Actually I was going to get something to eat, but I cannot afford here.”
“Don’t worry; I know where we’ll go.” With that he drained his glass and waited for me to empty mine. “Come on, with me.”
We made our way out of the Black Grapes, Galis was remarkably cheerful, mainly due to the combination of unexpected success and too much wine. It was as we crossed the threshold that two Urlan Maidens walked past us, going into the bar. Before I could do anything, Galis pinched one of them on the bottom.
Now this need not have been fatal. If he’d said something so brilliantly witty or ostentatiously over-romantic that the girl had burst out laughing he would have got away with it. Indeed she might even have taken a shine to him, because he was a handsome enough fellow in his way. Alternatively he could have just run really quickly, or at least more quickly than a thrown knife. What killed him was the fact that he followed up the pinch with the comment, “Buttocks on her like a Mott sow.”
In one smooth gesture the maiden had turned, drawing her blade as she did so, and with one stroke she took Galis’s head clean off his shoulders. I never saw it land because my entire attention was focused on the blood stained steel that rested inches from my eyes.
“You say something as well?”
“No madam, I said nothing.”
The blade stayed there, unwavering. Then she bent, wiped it on Galis’s britches and sheathed it. “Then you’d better dispose of your friend lest people fall over him.”
Personally my plan was to run away and let somebody else worry about details, but I wasn’t going to disagree with her. I grabbed Galis by the feet and looked round for the head. The maiden picked it up and tied it to her belt by the hair. “I’ll keep this; it’ll be a nice trophy.”
Again I wasn’t going to argue. I dragged Galis into a back alley and pondered my next move. Then it occurred to me that Mott Martil’s establishment was nearby. He fattened mott in a wharf-side building. He had men with carts who would collect waste food from all round the city and this swill would feed the mott. Galis had bleed out by this time so I gingerly picked his cadaver up and slung it over my shoulder. Then half staggering, half running, I made my way by back streets to Mott Martil’s.
When I arrived there was nobody about because it was late, but the doors were still open because his collectors came and went at the convenience of their customers rather than to a fixed schedule. I went into the stinking boiler room where swill was cooking in a big tank over a steady fire of mott dung briquettes. Hastily I stripped Galis’s body completely and dropped him into the tank, pushing the corpse down under the surface out of sight. Then gathering up his effects I left. I knew that the mott were fed by opening a tap at the bottom of the swill tank, so hopefully Galis’s body would just disappear into the swill.
I got back to the barge and in spite of the hour left the blood stained clothes, mine and those belonging to Galis, to soak. His other effects Shena and I examined, a cheap sword, an overly ornate dagger and a plump purse that looked well to restore the damage to our fortunes done by the contemptible Hugga and Warn.
& & &
But I couldn’t really leave it at that. There were at least three people of influence who had an interest in the plans Galis had made to travel south to make their fortunes. The last thing I wanted was people asking questions about his final movements.
Then Shena and I had a joint brainwave. Galis wasn’t in Port Naain any more because he had gone south. So I waited a week and then penned a letter in something that approximated to the late Galis’s handwriting.
I thank you all for your confidence and best wishes. As you might expect, with the money to hand I wasted no time and now I ride south at the head of a goodly company, eager to prosecute our cause.
This I posted outside the Council of Sinecurists. Next morning it attracted quite an audience and during the course of the next few days several people told me of the news about Galis. Intriguingly all of them had known about his plans to leave, and all of them told me somewhat different tales about what he intended to do.
Over the next few months, Galis sent more messages north to keep his backers informed of his progress. He told tales of sharp skirmishes, ambuscades and escalades. Indeed the story of his prowess spread though Port Naain. Without a doubt this was one of my easiest assignments. I would merely listen to the tales people told me, in confidence, of what they had been told privately about Galis’s actions. Thus informed I’d then put a version of those stories into the next missive Galis would send north. Indeed there were times when Galis seemed so alive to me I had to force myself to remember the night when I disposed of his corpse as mott feed.
Alas, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Perhaps because Galis was now so busy in the south, Hugga and Warn, doubtless stimulated by the sordid Morongo Rallon, started once more to threaten my patrons. This time they seemed to be working in tandem, running their operation as some squalid joint enterprise. Obviously I couldn’t go to Galis and ask him to deal with the matter.
It was at that point that I realised I could. I took up my pen once more and in the same hand that I had used for the letters Galis had been writing to the city, I penned a personal note to the two ruffians.
Hugga and Warn.
My success has exceeded even my own dreams, so much so that I now need good men I can rely upon. I need you two and your lads as soon as possible. Not to do the fighting, fighting men are cheap enough down here. What I need is skilled men who can run a couple of small towns that have fallen into my hands.
So come south with all speed, my keep is fifty miles south of Chatterfield and I’ll have patrols out looking for you. Fetch Morongo Rallon, I need a court poet.
Delivering this letter presented problems. Problems I solved by just giving it to Mutt. It cost me but Mutt just told me that if I wasn’t willing to pay for the best, I couldn’t expect the best.
Still it worked, three days later I saw the two racketeers leading a small band of hired muscle south onto the Roskadil Ferry. Even better they had Morongo Rallon with them.
Over the next few months Galis continued to send letters north, mentioning the arrival of his honoured friends, until contact was lost and there were just rumours hinting that Galis had died in a skirmish somewhere. Port Naain grieved briefly but some other transient fashion caught the city’s attention.
Morongo Rallon I never heard of again, but somebody swore to me that they saw him working chained to a machine as an indentured labourer in a jute mill somewhere near Prae Ducis. The Partannese have never had much time for second rate poets.