It has to be admitted that there are streets where one has to watch every direction at once lest somebody pick that particular moment to cast out of an upstairs window the contents of a chamber pot, the results of an unsuccessful culinary experiment, or a faithless spouse.
There are other streets where you run the risk of being assailed by footpads, extortioners, those who insist with spurious sincerity that they are collecting for some worthy cause, or the weary retailers of spurious affection.
Ropewalk isn’t like that. It is busy, one of the arteries of a great city, and all life is there. If you wish to stand and watch the world go by, pick your spot with extreme care lest you be run down or built over. Whenever I walk down the street I feel a surge of energy, any verses that come to me have a faster rhythm that pulses with vigour.
Then there are the people. At the ferry end you have petty traders, dockworkers, carters and shopkeepers along with their customers. At the far end where it merges into the Merchant quarter you get businessmen, usurers, lawyers, advocates, dealers in exotic commodities, swords for hire, three dreg men, and petty mages seeking sponsors for ethically dubious experiments.
Then there are those who make their living on the street. It’s not good for poets; there are few works which are improved when you have to bellow them over the hubbub to be heard. But there are craftsmen who can make a living. ‘Harra the prop’ was a true master of her trade. She would make her way through the crowd, find a cart or wagon where the carter and his mates were really busy unloading. What was ideal for her was one where they had a bit of a walk to wherever they were delivering. She’d jam a prop under the front of the cart, unhitch the draught animals and be away before they noticed.
The elderly Besom Brothers also made their livelihood out of horses and other draught animals. You’d see them with their big wheelbarrow. One would wheel the barrow, the other would carry the shovel and they’d scrape a poor living gathering horse dung for sale to the gardeners in the big houses in Dilbrook. They made a considerably better living by quietly unloading small but choice items off carts when nobody was watching, and storing their loot for safe keeping under the false floor of the wheelbarrow.
Then there was One-eared Jani. Stripped to the waist in all weathers he’d offer to fight anybody for a silver vintenar. Constantly feinting, ducking and weaving, he’d shadowbox his way the full length of Ropewalk and back. I never saw him fight anybody, but he seemed to earn enough to live on from tips and from helping unload various carts and wagons.
At the Merchant Quarter end of the street is the office of Hackthorn and Hackthorn, Usurers and Pawn Brokers. Their building is rather grand, with a portico no less, and four steps leading up to the double doors. There is even a bruiser with a top hat to keep out the riffraff.
However even the portico is not without its denizens. Here a girl by the name of Jillet plies her trade. She sits there, her crutches leaning against the wall behind her and embroiders handkerchiefs; and anything else you fancy, for a fee.
I confess that I am partially responsible for her current position. She is a friend of Mutt and he felt responsible in that he’d lost her a previous position. So at his insistence I escorted Miss Jillet into the office and there I introduced her to Binko Hankthorn. I had got excellent references for her, but when I explained what was wanted, Binko merely asked to see an example of the embroidery. Impressed he ordered a dozen initialled handkerchiefs and from that day forth she held court in the portico.
I wasn’t present on the day of the robbery, but Lancet Foredeck happened to be inside depositing money, a practice I one day hope to experience myself. Apparently a pair of Partannese bandits from across the river entered, masquerading as virtually respectable denizens of the Sump. They drew knives, threatening Binko Hankthorn’s mother who was working behind the counter. A formidable lady, known to the staff as ‘the Dowager Hankthorn’ screamed and proceeded to belabour the two recidivists with a ledger. The bandits grabbed what money they could and ran for the door. The bully in the top hat attempted to stop them and indeed he managed to grapple one as a dozen clerks wielding pickaxe helves came running out of a back office in answer to the Dowager lady’s screams. The other bandit burst out of the door where Jillet took his legs out from under him with her crutch and then knocked him cold before he could get up.
Since then, at appropriate intervals the Dowager will bring Jillet a cup of coffee and stand gravely whilst she drinks it, discussing the weather, embroidery techniques and the ridiculous price of embroidery silks nowadays.
Occasionally one can see Mutt sitting there, respectfully silent, memorising the colours of various silks he is being sent out to acquire.
Lest you fear that Mutt’s business acumen has been swept away by the surging tides of some childish infatuation, remember please that Jillet is still ‘a watcher’ and nothing happens at that end of Ropewalk without her seeing it. Information as to who is doing business with who can be worth money to the right people
To explore more of Port Naain you might wish to read
As a reviewer commented, “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”