Grubbing around in the mud

wreck-1

People sometimes comment that I rarely seem to mention my good lady, Shena. This is not entirely true. It has to be said when working I often refer to her, repeatedly, in glowing and affectionate terms. Whilst my patrons are all persons of unchallenged personal integrity, one cannot always say the same thing about their guests. I have noticed over the years that these tend to include within their ranks any number of ladies who feel that nobody misses a slice from a cut loaf. Hence I might occasionally cower behind Shena’s name, using it as a shield to defend me from their attentions.

We rarely work together, after all she does have her own business to run, and by and large it can pay at least as well as mine. Indeed the advantage we have is that it is rare that both businesses go into decline simultaneously. A mud-jobber, buying items that the shore-combers find out on the mud of the estuary, her business is controlled by the weather and the tides. As a poet my income rises and falls with the tides of fashion, the whims and fancies of patrons.

But still I feel I ought to remedy any perceived reticence on my part and give over time to tell, in full, at least one story of Shena’s. Here I find myself in a quandary. Am I to discard entirely the niceties of style to produce a bald narrative, or should I retain my voice as narrator, even where I am merely reporting what I have been told by others? In truth there is no argument. Since I left Miser Mumster’s employ and pursued my muse in a professional capacity I have shunned the unadorned text as a tool of the clerk, a trade I abandoned with relief when I was barely fifteen.

 

&        &        &

 

Our tale starts with Shena standing on the Old Esplanade watching the shore-combers making their way ashore. One figure had attracted her attention. He had obviously left his return to the shore late and he was lagging behind the others. She glanced down at the battered handcart behind her stall. She’d had a middling day. Some clothes, various miscellaneous bits of metal that would probably repay cleaning, even some driftwood that she’d allow to dry for the stove. The last shore-combers made their way along the Esplanade. Some she had seen previously, they’d sold early finds and gone back onto the mud for another go. Some were men and women who dealt with other mud-jobbers. She turned her gaze back to the man still coming in. Already the water was splashing round his ankles. He’d cut it fine, at least this close to the shore there was no quicksand and the ground would stay firm underfoot. She watched him scramble up onto the Esplanade opposite her. He wasn’t carrying anything obvious but he seemed remarkably cheerful for a man who’d spent a day out on the mud for nothing.

She nodded a greeting and said, “You cut it close my friend.”

He walked across to her. “I was a long way out.”

It had been one of the higher spring tides, and therefore by definition it had also been one of the lowest. Some of the boldest shore-combers would have gone out further than they usually could.

“See anything interesting?”

He was standing next to her now, so quietly in a voice only she could hear he said, “I reached the fourth wreck.”

She looked at him. “My father told me about it, he’d seen it but never reached it.”

He smiled. “I reached it. The New Channel has moved slightly and the water has taken to swirling round it. Are you interested in a big find?”

“Always.”

“Interested enough to go halves?”

She studied him briefly trying to place him. Then she remembered. This was Algon. He’d been a student and had drifted into shore-combing when his life started spiralling out of control. He’d been accepted by the other shore-combers because it’s always useful to have somebody about who can read and write and you can trust.

Shena replied, “Yes. What you got?”

Algon looked over his shoulder. “A bronze statue, heavier than two men can lift.”

Shena thought quickly. “How long was it uncovered by the water?”

“It isn’t, but I could reach it, we have perhaps half an hour at the lowest of tides.”

“Then tomorrow might be too late. We’ll have to go tonight.”

Algon nodded. “Either tonight or wait for a few months.”

“With organisation we can do tonight.”

With that Shena put two fingers into her mouth and whistled. She counted to sixty under her breath and whistled again. She was about to whistle for a third time but before she could, Mutt appeared above her, looking down at the Esplanade. “Yeah?”

“Got work for you.”

Mutt’s expression changed from merely curious to calculating. He dropped down onto the canvas covering that sheltered her table and then somersaulted onto the ground. “What work?”

Shena regarded the ten year old boy in front of her gravely. “One simple errand, find Tallis and tell him to drop whatever he’s doing and go to my Uncle Jonkon. He’s to get Jonkon to come down here, as soon as maybe, with his bullock cart and two bullocks and with some ropes and planks.” [An editorial interjection may be called for here. Uncle Jonkon is a dairyman who keeps a handful of cows within the city which provide milk for those families who are willing to pay to get it really fresh. Not only does he keep a bull, whose services he hires out, but he rears male calves which he trains to pull a bullock cart. Thus and so he provides haulage services. Whatever one says about Shena’s family, their enthusiasm for work is beyond question.]

“Can do that.”

“Good, then when you’ve done that, get four of your team together; I want them here with four dark lanterns as soon as possible.” [A further editorial interjection here; Shena has as firm a grasp on reality as anybody I know, but somehow she cannot bring herself to give that group of juvenile petty criminals that Mutt leads its proper name. So she always calls it a team rather than a gang.]

“Four?”

“And you, that’s all I’m paying for. And you all have to have dark lanterns, so that you can lift the shutter and the light only goes out in one direction.”

“How much?”

Shena looked towards Algon. “I’m running up expenses here.”

Algon made a low bow, a gesture Shena would have expected from no other shore-comber. “Then let them stand to our joint account, to be paid before we divide the proceeds.”

Shena nodded, that seemed fair. Algon added, “I assume you want these dark lanterns as leading lights as we try and find our way out onto the mud in the darkness.”

“Yes, it’s the only safe way I can think of.”

Algon turned to Mutt. “Would one vintenar a head keep them awake and at their lanterns?”

“Two might.”

“For two vintenars I’d expect them to blow whistles as well, were we not trying to be reasonably discreet, how about one and a half?”

Mutt made a show of reluctance, “Alright.”

Shena looked at the boy. “So if the price is agreed, why are you still here?”

Mutt put on his most cherubic expression. “I’m just waiting for the money.”

Shena looked at him. Mutt eventually shuffled his feet and muttered, “Suppose I’d better be going then.”

 

&        &        &

 

[I include yet another editorial interjection, because for some at least of this section I was present. Yet do I switch viewpoint, or instead refer to myself in the third person? I tell you, this prose business is making my head ache. I never have this problem with verse.]

The tide was well out by the time Tallis arrived with Uncle Jonkon and the bullock cart. Shena and Algon had already deployed the juvenile lantern holders in place. Shena climbed up next to her uncle and Algon jumped onto the back. Shena pointed out across the estuary. “That’s where we’re going Uncle.”

Jonkon frowned, “Getting dark.”

“It’s alright; I’ve got lights to guide us home.”

He looked unconvinced. “What about getting out there?”

“Well if we sit here much longer it’ll be too dark to set off, so let’s get going.”

Jonkon poked one of the bullocks with a stick and the cart bumped down onto the sand. There were few shore-combers about, it was a dark tide. There were just a few looking for drift wood.

Shena and party were soon at the first wreck. This was down to the last few stumps; virtually everything else had gone, carried away by the sea or shore-combers looking for firewood. Shena let Algon guide them; he knew the mud far better than the rest of the party. He had Jonkon swing them right and then after perhaps ten minutes brought them left again. That area of quicksand avoided they headed out into the growing darkness, Algon guiding them by the lights of a village on the far side of the estuary. The bullocks were now splashing in ankle deep water, and Jonkon asked, somewhat irritably, “How far now, we’ve caught up with the tide.”

“We’ll hit the old channel soon, stick with it and it’ll take us to the third wreck. From there we follow the new channel to the fourth wreck.”

“How deep are these channels?” There was a distinct tremor of nervousness in Jonkon’s voice. The old man was obviously regretting coming.

“Give it half an hour and we’d be able to cross them without difficulty but we don’t need to.”

Not long after they arrived at a channel, the water swirling in it glinting in what little light there was. “Follow this right.”

Jonkon obediently turned the bullocks and they continued, now splashing in a somewhat more westerly direction. On the cart everybody remained quiet; there was a cool night breeze and little shelter.

It was Tallis who spoke first, perhaps unused to being silent for so long. “It’s getting cold.”

Shena glanced back at him, smiling into the darkness, “Don’t worry, you’ll get warmed up soon enough.”

With that they lapsed back into silence again, the only sound the splashing of the bullocks feet and the creaking of the cart.

“Third wreck coming up,” announced Algon. “You’ll see how this channel runs into the new channel; keep heading to the right when we meet it.”
Jonkon grunted. Tallis was peering north, trying to make out any sign of land. Then he announced, “There’s some lights, flashing.”

Shena asked, “How many.”

“Four.”

“They’re Mutt’s little friends. They should come in two pairs, one pair flashing every two seconds and one pair flashing every five seconds.”

Tallis was silent for a minute of two, “Yes there are.”

“Well when we head back to the beach, we leave the old channel when the two ‘five-second’ lights have one directly above the other. We head for them until the two ‘two-second’ lights have one above the other. We then head for them. They’ll guide us round the quicksands. Mutt will swing a lantern from the Esplanade to guide us over the final stretch.”

Tallis muttered, “Oh,” in a tone which suggested he wasn’t entirely convinced.

The oxen plodded stoically on, following the new channel. Algon jumped down from the cart carrying a spade and walked ahead, peering into the gloom. “It’s not far now, I’m glad we’ve got here as the tide is still just on the way out.”

He walked a little to one side. “Stop, I’ve found it.”
Shena and Tallis slipped off their shoes and jumped out of the cart. They splashed across to where Algon was standing. As they joined him he pointed downwards. “There it is.”

Shena opened a dark lantern and allowed the light to stream out of one side. By its light they could see the remains of a boat buried deep in the mud. At some point in the recent past the current had obviously changed a bit and the tide had swirled round the remains of the craft, scouring away some of the mud. Algon took the lantern and knelt in the shallow water. He prodded about in the deeper water next to the timbers until he felt something solid under his spade.

“Here it is.”

Tallis asked, “So what now?” Algon stepped into the deeper water that was over his knees. “I’m going to scrape away the rest of the mud. Then we’ll get a rope round it and hopefully we can pull it out.”

Tallis threw his jacket into the cart and climbed down into the deeper water with Algon. Algon pointed down. “Stand there.”
Tallis moved, and Algon asked, “Feel anything with your bare feet?”

Tallis shuffled about. “There’s something hard and smooth.”

“That’s it. You and me are going to have to go down in the water and get the mud off it.”

The pair of them knelt down in the water and by hand scraped the mud away. Around them the water level was slowly dropping until finally some of the statue appeared above the surface and glinted, wetly, in the lantern light.

“I’ll use the spade to get under it. Tallis can you get a rope ready.”
As Algon dug, Tallis collected a rope from the cart. He doubled it and kneeled next to Algon, “Through yet?”

“Think so.”

Tallis groped about under the statue, the doubled rope in his hand. “Think I’m getting through.”

Algon knelt at the other side of the statue and started digging away the mud with his bare hands. Suddenly he broke through and grasped the rope.

“Got it.”

They slid the two rope ends through the loop made by doubling it and stood up. Jonkon was already getting the bullocks to back the cart towards them.

“Where should I tie it?” Algon asked.

Jonkon answered, “Take it under the cart and tie it to the central shaft.”

Algon scrambled under the cart, there was only a little surface water left on the mud. Then he stood up and stepped backward. “Try it now.”

Jonkon got the bullocks to walk forward and the cart juddered to a halt.

Algon stepped back into the water next to Tallis. “Right Tallis, you and me have to get it properly uncovered.”

Frantically the two men dug round the statue, pulling away the mud with their bare hands. They stepped back and Jonkon started the oxen forward again. As before they went so far then came to an abrupt halt. No manner of straining achieved anything.

Shena looked down at the statue, now largely revealed in the lantern light. “Suction from the mud do you think?”

Algon nodded, forgetting nobody could see him in the gloom. “Probably, we’ll have to try and get underneath it.”

The two men were now sprawled in the water trying to reach right under the statue. They worked furiously; the water was slowly but inexorably rising.

Then Tallis said, “Algon, put your hand here.”

The other man crawled nearer and reached under the statue, “Bugger.”

“What’s up?” Shena asked.

Tallis replied, “There’s part of the statue that goes down into the mud. It’s not possible to tell how far. We’ll just have to try and dig round it because it’s anchoring it.”

They continued digging, then Algon asked, “Aren’t there a couple of planks on the cart.”

Cautiously Jonkon answered, “Yes.”

“Right, fetch one of them here. Then the three of us will pull up on the rope and Shena can try sliding the plank under the statue.”

Jonkon joined them in the water and the three men strained on the rope. Shena put the lantern down and took up the plank. “Where do I put it?”

Tallis answered, “Here, it’ll be in front of the bit that’s anchoring us.”

Shena pushed the plank, wiggling it backward and forward. Slowly it went under the statue.

Tallis said, “Stop. I’ll try and find the end of the plank.”

He reached down into the water. “It’s here. You two lift on the rope, I’ll try and lift the plank.”

Slowly the statue rose a little, Shena pushed harder. “That’s it,” Tallis said, relief in his voice. The plank’s resting on top of the mud here.”

Algon knelt in the water again and felt under the statue. “It’s free. It might be an arm bent at the elbow or something. But it’s out now.”

Jonkon went back to the cart and picked up a short length of rope. “Right loop this over whatever it is. So as I pull forward the rest of you pull on this one and it’ll roll the statue over so it isn’t digging in the mud.”

Algon fastened the rope and passed it over the statue. Tallis and Shena took hold of it. “Right we’re ready,” Algon said.

Jonkon walked the bullocks forward, this time the statue moved and Tallis and Shena tugged hard on the rope. The statue started forward, rolling sideways as it did so. The bullocks picked up speed and the statue came free.

Shena shouted, “Right Uncle, walk them back and we’ll try to lift the statue onto the cart.”

Eventually the three of them managed to lift the head end as Jonkon and the bullocks backed the cart under it. Then with the bullocks stopped, the four of them lifted the other end of the statue and slid it forward. By now water was above their ankles. Shena shuttered the lantern so they could regain their night sight. “Everybody back on the cart, let’s get to land.”

 

&        &        &

 

The trip to the shore interminable, by the time they reached the old channel it was no longer obvious and Algon had to dismount and find it the hard way, prodding the ground ahead of him with a plank. By the time he found it the water was half way up to his knees.

Once they left the channel and followed the ‘five-second’ lights, the level of water stopped rising quite so fast, but still, as they turned to follow the ‘two-second’ lights the bullocks were knee deep in water. Finally the bullocks halted and Algon and Tallis had to dismount and lead them. By the time they reached the Esplanade the water was almost waist deep and it was only the weight of the statue that stopped the cart floating.

Back on dry land, Jonkon asked, “Where now?”

“Dannal’s. It’s along the Esplanade then up Chandler’s Way. His yard is the one with the double gates at the end.”

Algon asked, “Will he pay well?”

Shena shrugged. “Doubt it. But I’ve arranged with him to store it. We can hardly keep it on the barge. We’ll take interested purchasers there.

 

&        &        &

 

Next morning Shena was awakened earlier than she would have hoped. There was a hammering on the side of the barge. She slipped out of bed and pulled on some clothes. Tallis stirred briefly, then turned over to go back to sleep. Shena quietly pulled the blankets out of the bottom of the bed and threw them over his head leaving most of him exposed. “Time to get up sleepy.”

She made her way out of their small cabin, through the galley and day cabin, and opened the door. A youth in his early teens was standing there, red faced from running. “Dannal says come now. His yard is full of bluidy priests.”

“Priests.”

“Yeah, some bastard talked. Dannal says he saw Ert the Mouth lurking in the background when you drove into the yard.”

“We’ll be along right away, tell Dannal not to do anything.”

She went back into the night cabin. Tallis was almost dressed. “Dannal has problems with priests.”

Tallis looked surprised. “I could find him a theologian if he needs one. Failing that an exorcist.”

“He wants us, it’s about the statue.”

Tallis finished fastening his boots and followed Shena off the barge and along to Dannal’s yard. Dannal was standing by the gates waiting for them.

“Bluidy nightmare it is, I haven’t got a word in. Hark at ‘em.”

Even from outside Shena could hear an argument coming from the big storage shed. Glancing at Tallis she could tell he had heard, he’d stopped, fascinated.

She turned back to Dannal, “Let’s go and see what the problem is then.”

Inside the shed there were a dozen assorted clergy. One party was wearing the robes of the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Chastity. Shena recognised Thela, cousin of Tallis and a temple dancer. Thela winked at her. The Hierophant of the order was standing nose to nose with the Presbyter of the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Fecundity. Standing nearby, shouting equally angrily at both was the Patriarch of the Temple of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Reason.

In a voice loud enough to be heard Shena asked, “Can I help you?”

The Hierophant turned to her. “You have our statue.”

The Presbyter and Patriarch both stepped forward, “No you’ve got our statue.” Realising what they’d both said they stopped and glared at each other.

Shena decided to be reasonable. “Well make me an offer and I’m happy to let you have it, then you can argue in your own time, not mine.”

The Presbyter drew himself up to his full height. Given he was taller than average and was wearing the tall hat of his order he towered above the others. “I don’t think you understand. It is ours, why should we pay you.”

“Because I found it and rescued it from the mud?” Shena said, reasonably.

“Nonsense,” the Patriarch said stepping forward and peering near-sightedly at Shena. It was never lost. We knew it was there.”

Tallis stepped forward. “Assume we haven’t any idea at all what you’re talking about. Would it be possible for you to leave an appropriate minion here to explain while the rest of you go off and finish your theological wrangling elsewhere?”

Thela stepped forward. “As I’m the only one present that Tallis and Shena will trust, it might as well be me.”

This was met by grumbling from all three church leaders. Finally Shena said, “Look. Thela can explain things to us today. This gives the other two orders time to brief their spokesman and they can explain things tomorrow.”

There was a muttering within the three groups and finally, with some semblance of dignity, Shena’s plan was agreed and everybody left, except for Thela.

Tallis said, “I’d prefer it if the explanation came with breakfast.”

Dannal returned from locking the gates after the departing delegations. “Most sensible thing I’ve heard him say.”

Shena felt in her pocket and produced two vintenars. “I’ll go and get Breakfast. Dannal can you have your lad fetch Algon. He’s a shareholder in this so it makes sense for him to hear the explanation.”

 

&        &        &

 

Thela put her coffee cup down. “It’s very simple. The Temple of Aea purchased the statue from a sculptor in Prae Ducis. The boat went down somewhere in the bay and the statue was lost.”

“When was this?” Shena asked.

Thela replied lightly, “Oh about two thousand years ago. It was written off as lost, but it was finally found about five hundred years ago.”

Tallis asked, “So everybody would be happy?”

“Not really.” Thela took another mouthful of coffee. “By then the order had split into three and all three felt it was theirs.”

“So what was decided?”

Thela turned to Algon. “Nothing, they spent five years arguing and the original finder lost patient and threw the damned thing back in the Estuary. Since then the temples have continued to wrangle over just who might own it, but without any real passion. It’s become an applied theology exercise for trainee celebrants. Your finding it has got them all excited and they’ll start arguing again.”

Tallis sighed. “So we’ve five years arguing to look forward to.”

“On no, far more than that.” Thela’s tone was emphatic. “After all they’re had five hundred years to think up new arguments.”

Shena tapped her fingers on the table. Eventually she asked, “Is there any chance of them paying something between them while they decide who it belongs to? It’s just that I already owe people money getting it here.”

Thela shook her head a little sadly. “None whatsoever, they know nobody else will buy it and if anybody shows any interest they’ll have it seized by the Council and held in storage by them.”

Shena stood up. “Oh well, it looks as if we’re not going to make money out of it anyway. I’d better get down to the Old Esplanade and try and earn something that way.”

Thela stood up. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s nothing I can do. The ironic thing is that the statue isn’t really suitable for any of the three orders, so even if one of them got it, they’d probably put it in a side chapel somewhere.”
With that she left and Shena looked at Tallis, Algon and Dannal. “I think I have a plan. Dannal, do you know anybody with a foundry and not many scruples?”

Dannal thought briefly. “There’s Momfret who owns Momfret’s Breaker’s Yard. He’s young, just building up his business and he’s worked his way up from the Warrens.”

“Will he cheat us?”

“Not unless we try to cheat him.”

“I’ll have to drop in and see him. Tallis, can you find Mutt for me please and tell him to find me at Momfret’s Breaker’s Yard.”

Tallis looked a little put out, “How am I going to find Mutt in this city?”

Dryly, Shena replied, “Just walk towards home and I’m willing to bet that in five minutes he’ll find you. He’ll be keen to know what’s going on here. Then can you get my uncle and his bullock cart again.”

She turned to Dannal, “I need some sacking and two planks, each about my height.”
Dannal stood up. “No problem there.”
Finally Shena turned to Algon. “Could you stay and help Dannal clean up his yard, it’s remarkably messy in here.”

 

&        &        &

 

Ert the Mouth was sitting in the back bar of the Drunken Beadle. Life had been modestly prosperous and he was enjoying his evening. He’d struck lucky with the statue. He’d mentioned it to a priest he knew, on the grounds that it looked a bit religious and suddenly he’d got three religious orders paying him for information and promising him more to keep them informed. He sipped his wine and contemplated a profitable future.

A small voice broke into his reverie. “You buying information?”

He looked down to see a child standing next to him. “What information.” He’d learned never to discount the children. It was amazing what they saw.

“I know who’s going to take that statue.”

“You do?”

“Cost you.” The child held out a hand. Ert dropped copper into it and the hand singularly failed to close. The child kept watching so Ert dropped some more copper into it.

The child said, “Well if you ain’t that bothered…”

Ert dropped more, the hand closed. “You’d better hurry, Mutt and ‘is mates is running off with it.”

Ert made his way to Dannal’s gates. As he waited in the shadows he saw the gates open a little and a small boy came out. The child looked round and apparently satisfied the coast was clear opened the gates wide. Then out through the gates came a handcart being pushed and pulled by about a score of children. Ert looked down at the child who’d brought him the information. “Could you carry a message for me?”
The child held out an open hand, “Who to?”

“The Three temples, tell them to send their guards and they can have the statue.”

“It’ll cost.”

Ert opened his purse and took out a coin.

“It’ll cost silver.”

“Silver? Ert was genuinely taken aback.”

“Yeah, otherwise you run and tell them and by the time you’ve told them, you’ll have lost Mutt and ‘is mates. If I tell them I can send them to the right place.”

“Silver,” muttered Ert.

“Yeah, two pieces.”

 

&        &        &

 

Almost as soon as Ert disappeared to follow Mutt, Jonkon appeared leading his bullock cart. He led it in through the open doors to find Tallis and Algon waiting for him. As he turned the cart round, with Dannal’s help they loaded a long bundle composed of muck from the yard packed around the two planks to give it some rigidity.

Without a word Jonkon led his bullocks out of the yard, Tallis and Algon walking next to him. Half way down the street Tallis said quietly, “Stone Cutter’s Wharf, Shena will be waiting.”

 

&        &        &

 

Mutt supervised the handcart. They had to make Bone Cutter’s Yard before they were caught, but he didn’t want to be too far ahead of the pursuit. He kept the party moving at a steady speed. The streets were quiet and he hung round behind the handcart listening for sounds of pursuit. As they entered Crickle Lane he heard shouts behind them and saw torches. Mutt smiled quietly to himself, his timing was good.

Ert, at the head of three mutually antagonistic parties of guards jogged along Crickle Lane. From ahead he could hear children’s voices shouting to each other to hurry up. He picked up the pace and the guards also accelerated. This meant he was in time to see the handcart disappear around the back of a parked dray and into Bone Cutter’s Yard.

He shouted, “They’re trapped, it’s a dead end.”

Behind him the guards broke into a run, each contingent wanting to get to the statue first. Younger and fitter than Ert most of them had overtaken him when somebody pushed the wagons off the dray. Immediately everybody scattered. Ert dived under a horse trough just in time, as a barrel broke against it, soaking him in beer.

Inside the square Momfret and six of his lads were waiting. Four of them whisked the statue off the handcart and carried it into a house. The other three piled stones onto the cart and wrapped them in canvas. At Mutt’s shout they too disappeared into the house. Mutt looked round; his own crew had made their escape, squirming through a gap in the wall at the far end of the yard. Quietly he made his way to the hole, squirmed through feet first, pulling an old crate behind him to disguise the gap.

 

&        &        &

 

Ert tore the canvas off the cart to reveal the stones. He cursed. Around him the guards, some suffering bruises from where barrels had caught them, were also less than impressed. Behind him Ert heard a child’s voice. He turned round to see a small girl standing there.

“You Ert.”
Cautiously he said, “Yes.”

“You was cozened my friend. Mutt conned you.” She held out a hand.

Ert held up a one vintenar silver coin. “I’ll pay this.”

“Unless it got two friends it ain’t going noplace.”

Ert looked round. The guards seem to have forgotten their mutual quarrel; it seemed to be him they disliked most at the moment. Hastily he dropped three coins into the girl’s hand”

“I heard ‘em say as how they were taking it to Stone Cutter wharf. Then they’ll chuck it in the sea.”

Ert set off, not too bothered whether the guards followed or not. “Come on, we can cut them off.”

 

&        &        &

 

At Stone Cutter wharf Ert fount Jonkon standing there quietly watering his two bullocks. Ert looked in the cart, it was empty. “Where’ve they gone?”

Silently Jonkon pointed out into the estuary. Not far from the wharf Ert could see a small boat with three people in it, two of them were rowing. In the gloom there appeared to be a long bundle lying across the boat. He looked round hurriedly. “Another boat, quick.”

One of the guards walked to the edge of the wharf. “There’s a couple down here.”

“Right, get out there and catch them.”

The guards started scrambling down the ladders. The first one into the boat stopped and shouted up, “They’ve taken the bung, it’s sinking.”

Helplessly Ert watched the small boat disappear into the darkness.

 

&        &        &

 

It was some days later, Tallis was working quietly on some verse. He’d spent the morning in the city but after a light lunch provided by the patron he was advising, he’d made his way back to the barge. There was a knock on the door and when he opened it, he saw Algon standing in the drizzle. “Come in.”

He went to the stove and put the kettle on. “What brings you here Algon?”

“Shena sent word that I was to come; she hopes she can pay me my share of the statue.”

Tallis poured hot water into a coffee pot. “You might as well have a drink whilst you’re waiting.”
They sat for an hour, chatting quietly. Finally Shena arrived, looking tired. She smiled a little when she saw Algon was present. “I’ve got the money.”

She sat down facing them and tipped a bag onto the table. An assortment of silver coins rolled out. She sorted them into two piles of equal value. “So there we have it.”

Algon pocketed his pile. “I must admit I thought it would have been more.”

Shena sighed. “Well it was only a third, not a half; I had to let Dannal in on a third. It guarantees his silence.

Algon nodded. Shena added, “And Momfret was a bit scathing about the bronze. It’s old, there’s less tin in it that you’d expect and far less than he’d want for bell casting.”

She fell silent and Tallis asked, with the delicate concern of a man who suspects that he is dancing on the edge of a precipice, “Is there any more bad news?”

Shena sighed again. “Well I had to pay my uncle obviously.”

Both men nodded, Algon said, “Obviously. I suspect he’d want a fair bit to compensate him for our trip out onto the mud.”

“He’s not stopped telling people about that,” Shena confirmed. “Anybody would think we had to swim ashore.”

“Damned near did,” Tallis muttered, sotto voce.

Shena glared at him. “Then there was paying Mutt.”

Tallis looked at the pile of coins on the table. “So actually we didn’t do too badly at all then.”

 

As an aside, should anybody be the slightest bit interested, there is now a collection of Tallis Steelyard stories available for purchase.

Tallis Steelyard, shower me with gold and other stories.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-shower-other-stories-ebook/dp/B01MRQFSGF/

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8 thoughts on “Grubbing around in the mud

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