I bumped into Tark on Pettifogger’s Gill, he was sitting under a tree, eating a midday meal of bread and cheese, and so I joined him and added a meat pie to our common table. I had last seen him when a financial syndicate decided to open up the Aphices Vales to tourism. I’m not sure who was in charge but they lured the dregs out of the Warrens in Port Naain to play the role of quaint nomads. Then they hired a petty mage to cover the special effects and to give the picturesque nomad rituals a bit of an edge. The syndicate also built a guest lodge for the visitors so they could take in the old-world beauty in modern comfort.
I was hired as poet in residence, the idea being to create within the lodge a cultivated and civilised ambiance to contrast with the wildness of the Vales and the nomads who dwelt within them. Actually Tark and I worked together, he was the nomad ‘shaman’ and I went on to help him invent some ancestral chants.
It has to be admitted the whole project experienced difficulties, but they weren’t the ones I thought there’d be. Some of the lady visitors who thought they’d enjoy a ‘bit of rough’ were a little put out when they realised the ancient nomad dialect of their paramours was largely composed of Port Naain street argot.
Then there was the matter of the flocks that our nomads were supposed to be maintaining. To save money the syndicate had bought a lot of elderly, broken-mouthed breeding females out of the slaughter market. At one level it made sense; the tourists wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Unfortunately one part of the scheme was that the tribe would ceremonially slaughter one of their animals, roast it over the common fire, and share it with their tourist guests, all the while entertaining them with exotic native dances. The meat was so tough some of the guests were still chewing three days later.
On the positive side, Tark as shaman soon developed a profitable sideline. He would carve a larger than life phallus out of wood and decorate it with glyphs of his own devising along the shaft. This he would sell to a tourist as a guaranteed cure for impotence, hair loss, incontinence and gout.
Another success was the ‘cider.’ It was supposed to be the traditional drink of the nomad tribe. In reality the company bought fruit waste in Port Naain, boiled it up, strained off the liquid and added pure alcohol to give it a kick. They brought barrels of the damned stuff out to the ‘nomad encampment’ under cover of darkness, and then the tourists would buy it as a souvenir and take leather flasks full of it back with them.
I’d been working there for about three months when Tark woke me early one morning.
“Tallis, you got to get out of here.”
I looked about sleepily. “What appears to be the problem?”
“You can read?”
He thrust a letter in front of me. It was addressed to the manager of our little resort and came from his superiors back in Port Naain. To cut through the waffle the message boiled down to the stark fact that the business wasn’t as profitable as they’d hoped and so it had been decided to send no more tourists. The manager was to return with the current visitors and just abandon the ‘nomads’.
I looked at Tark and asked, “So what are you going to do.”
He took the letter off me. “We discussed it. We’ve decided to stay on and be nomads.”
“But there never have been nomads out here.”
“I know, means that there’s a niche available. We talked to folk in the next valley, we’ve got stuff to trade and they’ll teach us to handle livestock. It’ll be tough the first winter but we reckon we can get through it. After that it should be easier. But I thought you might want to slip away early.”
There was something in his tone that convinced me leaving early was a good idea. Hence I acquired one of the horses in lieu of back pay and left before the manager was awake.
Seeing Tark after all these years, I had to ask him what he was doing in Port Naain.
“Selling our Cider.”
“So you’re still producing it?”
“Yes, but we buy our fruit pulp out of Fluance now. It’s better quality, fewer rats’ droppings. The alcohol we still buy from Port Naain.”
“We’re aiming at the high priced markets, we’re not going to produce a lot so what we make might as well be expensive. The way I see it, if it takes off our tribe will achieve genuine prosperity.”
All in all it was good to see Tark after all those years. Talking to him it was obvious that his ‘tribe’ had successfully made it through that very difficult first winter and a generation later were almost thriving But there was one question that had niggled away at me. “So what happened to the last lot of tourists and the manager?”
“That’s how we got through that first winter. We ate them.”
I realise it is entirely possible that you are not aware that Tallis Steelyard has produced two collections of stores for readers of wit and discernment.
‘Tallis Steelyard, Shower me with God and other stories.’
whilst the other is
‘Tallis Steelyard, a harsh winter and other stories.’