Let us not beat about the bush. There are people whom you feel obliged to rescue from the results of their own ill-judged actions. In all candour they may be an idiot, but in some unquantifiable way, they are ‘your’ idiot. I know one should be firm with them and make them face up to the consequences of their ridiculous behaviour but if you did, they’d probably not live long enough to give you the satisfaction of saying ‘I told you so.’
In my case the individual is Lancet Foredeck. I have known him all my life, since we were snotty-nosed brats playing together in some of Port Naain’s grimier streets.
But on this occasion I felt he had excelled himself and had pushed back the barriers of suicidal stupidity further than any reasonable person might have thought they could be pushed.
He insulted Cruen Richpole. Now I’ve had dealings with Cruen Richpole, I’ve played cards with him when they needed somebody to make up the numbers. I’ve chatted to him occasionally; I’ve even produced work for him. To be honest I quite like him but I am forced to agree with Lancet, he is a criminal. Indeed whilst he might not personally break people’s legs, rob their homes or kill them, he employs competent people who do these things at his command. So technically, and I stress the ‘technically,’ Lancet is right in his accusations. Still I would ask whether these accusations need to be made. Firstly why accuse a man of being a murderer, extortioner and thief when everybody knows it’s true. After all it’s not as if he was setting himself up as the exemplar of moral rectitude. Indeed he rather revels in his professional reputation. This is largely because when reasonable people know he is apparently happy to use violence, they act accordingly and thus he needs to use far less. Secondly why make these accusations when he employs a lot of unpleasantly overly muscular people for the very purpose of beating people up or killing them?
But Lancet not merely made the accusation in a quiet but drunken conversation. He made it in writing, and not merely in a note jotted to a friend, he made it in print. Admittedly the Port Naain Literary Review might not be the first publication Cruen Richpole turns to when he takes his morning coffee, but still, people will doubtless send him cuttings if his name is mentioned. People are like that.
Anyway to cut a long story short, Calina Salin came hammering on the door of the barge where Shena and I live early one morning. She burst in without waiting for an invitation and announced that “Cruen Richpole has Lancet and intends to drown him.”
Now to be fair to Cruen Richpole, there are any number of times I would cheerfully have drowned Lancet. If you had known him for as many decades as I have, you too would be currently totting up on your fingers the number of occasions and wondering whether it got into double figures or not. But still, as a general principle I disapprove of people taking literary criticism so far as to drown the poet.
I was about to express my opinion to this effect when Calina added, “You’ll have to stop him.”
Before I could say anything, Shena nodded wisely and said, “Yes, you’ll have to sort it out.”
With this Calina disappeared and Shena kissed me on the cheek and went off to her office.
I was, to put it bluntly, somewhat perplexed. Was I expected to raise a militia to rescue Lancet? I suppose I could have put a word out amongst fellow poets and the like, but frankly there’d probably be a brawl between those who felt he needed rescuing and those who felt drowning was too good for him. I decided if I was going to intervene, force was not going to be my strong suit. So with that in mind I made my way along the wharves to the Graving Dock.
Obviously you don’t drown people in the Graving Dock. I mean, you could, but only if you wanted to do the deed in front of a crowd of witnesses. Given the nature of a Port Naain crowd they’d probably heckle and criticise your technique. No the recognised technique is to take the victim out into the mouth of the estuary where the water is deep and do the deed there. But the traditional point of departure is from the wharf by the Graving Dock.
I arrived before Cruen Richpole and took up my position. I stood in a comparatively narrow passageway between great stacks of barrels and crates. Before long the first of Cruen Richpole’s men arrived. As they approached I carefully adjusted my weight and adopted the stance one sees many of our more successful condottiere captains take up. One stands just so, with one hand resting casually on your sword hilt and the other poised as if to give a signal to the score of well-mounted men-at-arms waiting in ambush. Obviously I wasn’t wearing a sword, but if the pose is adopted correctly in an uncertain morning light, the viewer can convince themselves the sword is indeed there. Cruen’s men stopped. I’d like to think they were overwhelmed by my martial stance but between ourselves I suspect they were merely bemused. Either that or they appreciate street theatre as much as the next man and were happy to wait for the performance to conclude.
I waited, twirling my moustache with my other hand. The group watching me grew larger, until it was joined by the two principles. The first to come was Lancet, bound and gagged and carried by Chesit Quince. Looking back now, Chesit was probably the premier enforcer of his age. Given that he could carry a bound Lancet under one arm, and the anvil and rope necessary to secure him under the other you can see he was a man of some stature. Not only that but he was magnificently bearded. He was not without his quirks; he affected satin knee-britches in pastel shades and always wore an immaculate white shirt which he would change at least twice a day. May the gods have mercy on anybody uncouth enough to bleed on that shirt.
Yet he was not without his weaknesses. I am not one to speak ill of the dead, but he did have an irrational love of chain verse. A difficult form and one he rarely pulled off. I remember how he greeted me that day.
‘Steelyard stands to thwart us
Us, the masters of the City
City watchmen around us are not over bold
Bold Steelyard perchance will declaim some ditty?’
Obviously I had to answer him; if for no other reason than it put off the awful hour when I had to actually do something about Lancet.
‘Bold Sir Quince,
A symphony in Pantone and white.
A maiden seeing him should wince
Then feign delight.’
Then from the back of the line came Cruen Richpole’s roar.
“Steelyard, what the bluidy hell do you think you’re playing at?”
The enforcer didn’t have to push his way to the front; his muscular bravos seemed to fade out of his way. Mind you even he had to make an effort to get round Chesit Quince who could block an alley on his own.
“Ah Master Richpole, I heard you were passing this way and as I wanted a word with you. This struck me as the perfect opportunity to catch your ear.”
He looked at me with a slightly jaundiced expression. “Well you’ve got my entire attention, what was it that you wanted to say?”
“Actually, I was hoping you might do me a favour.”
“Indeed.” His answer was short to the point of being curt, but I thought to detect interest. After all I had never asked him for a favour before. “So what favour can I do you?”
“In all candour I wouldn’t have asked you Sir, were it not to do with my reputation as a poet?”
He almost laughed. “Heavens forefend that I do anything to undermine that. So what is it that you’d like me to do?”
I gestured to Lancet. “Well it’s simple. I’d like you to let Lancet live. After all while he lives, nobody can say that Tallis Steelyard is the worst poet in Port Naain.”
Master Richpole looked at me and it was obvious from his glance that he could see the opportunity I presented him. He could now release Lancet now without losing face. Indeed he might even gain respect from his peers. A man so powerful he could casually not kill somebody just to ensure a jest got a good punch line.
He laughed and I think the laugh was genuine. “Chesit, release our overly loquacious prisoner.”
With that Lancet was pushed in my direction and the assorted ruffians faded into the morning, leaving me and Lancet standing alone by the Graving dock.
It took a few minutes to untie the various bonds and to remove the gag. That done we parted hastily.
To this day I don’t think Lancet has entirely forgiven me.
It may be, gentle reader, that you wish to read a little more about the city of Port Naain?
I’d encourage you to avail yourself of the opportunity presented by modern technology. Merely click below for instant gratification; what poet could offer you more?