Long leisurely literary afternoons

Long leisurely literary afternoons

Between ourselves the life of the jobbing poet can be hectic. People ask how I retain my trim figure given they see me living a life of hedonistic excess, dining from the buffet tables of the rich. What they don’t see is me covering the ground between the establishment of one patron and the next, on foot, at speed, and often in the rain. They also don’t see Shena and I at home on those days when our main meal is Shena’s celebrated ‘Stale bread and discarded vegetable of the day soup.’

But occasionally I do have times when cultivated leisure is almost forced on me by circumstance. One such occasion was when I was planning an evening entertainment for a lady. She wished it to have a Partannese theme and after some thought I remembered Koyle Longjack’s celebrated work, ‘A Partannese Expedition.’ This work is an account of his trip through Partann two centuries ago, with tales of the people he met, the patrons he found, the poems he wrote and the circumstances in which they were delivered.

My idea was that I would blend Koyle’s poems and anecdotes of Partann with some of my own tales and poems from my travels in the area. Thus I would give my Patron and her audience something which would suit a wide range of guests. Those uncouth clods who were not particularly enamoured of poetry would still have something to entertain them, other than the delights of their hostess’s cold table.

Now whilst I don’t own a copy of Longjack’s work, the Great Library does. My plan was to visit the library, get the book, and take it to the Salon where I could probably afford a cup of coffee as I read it and took notes. I estimated it would take most of the day to get what I wanted and the day looked like being particularly wet. So it did occur to me that staying inside and just reading was a good way to spend my time. Mutt seemed to be of one mind with me in this, or it may be that he has a strong liking for the Salon’s iced buns.

I had barely entered the Great library than I was hailed by Eran Klun. He is a pleasant enough young man, one of Lord Cartin’s men-at-arms. Hence I was a little surprised to find him in the Library.

“Eran, what brings you here?”

He smiled a little self-consciously. “Lord Cartin wishes me to track down the true title of some land he has acquired. This will doubtless involve looking through various deed registers, and if I’m particularly unlucky, consulting the works of numerous local antiquaries. Also I’ve got appointments to speak to two people incarcerated in the Lunatic Asylum.”

Obviously Lord Cartin had spotted Eran’s potential. As an aside the Cartin family are like that, prone to promoting people even if the person in question is quite happy doing what he is doing.

I smiled sympathetically at him. “Well at least it’s an indoor job on a wet day.”

He nodded. “I was wondering if I could ask you a favour; what are your plans for today?”

“I intend to sit in the Salon, drinking coffee and working on Koyle Longjack’s ‘A Partannese Expedition.’”

“All day?”

I was taken by his tone, rather than being mocking, he seemed almost eager for me to answer his question positively.

“Almost certainly.”

“Excellent. It’s just I forgot that I’m not allowed to wear my sword in the Lunatic Asylum, and they rather frown on it in the library to be honest. Could you look after it for me?”

Well obviously I could hardly say no. So I collected Longjack’s tome and joined Mutt and Eran in the Salon. Eran summoned the waitress, ordered coffee and a number of iced buns. He then explained to her that it was her sacred duty to keep me supplied with food and drink until he, Eran, returned to settle the bill. With that he unbuckled his sword belt and laid his scabbarded sword on the table in front of me before leaving to be about his business.

I set down to work. Soon the supply of iced buns had been completely depleted and Mutt, looking surprisingly thoughtful, also bid me farewell.

&&&

To be honest, this was all to the good. It let me get on with my appointed task and I was soon absorbed in Longjack’s captivating prose. Indeed on reading it and planning what I was going to say, it also occurred to me that it would be a nice conceit to make my own expedition through the area. I could follow Longjack’s path, comment on what had changed and what had remained the same. I could also add my own verse in the places he had added his. Even as I sipped coffee I could see a route mapped out for me. So engrossed was I in this day dream that it came as something of a surprise to look up and see three burly youths standing at the other side of the table. Between ourselves they did not look like the sort of individuals you’d find in a library, save on those occasions where a librarian has a lot of heavy lifting planned. Instinctively I remembered my charge from Eran Klun and laid my hand on the sword hilt to stop anybody stealing it. I also laid ‘A Partannese Expedition’ down on the table.

“Yes gentlemen, can I help you?”

The oldest, who might have been sixteen or so, looked at me gravely. “Sir, we heard as how you was planning an expedition to Partann and wondered if you were looking for men.”

One of the others chipped in hurriedly, “Not as men-at-arms but just as squires or summat.”

I confess that I was somewhat nonplussed by their request. If my daydreams qualified as part of the planning stage for a trip to Partann, I confess I’d so far assumed I would travel alone. It can be difficulty enough earning food for one, without taking along supernumeraries. Still I felt it was not my place to discourage or indeed aggravate these individuals.

“Obviously my plans are at a very early stage, so I’m not yet in a position to offer employment. Still those who have shown initiative in approaching me early will not be disadvantaged by their enthusiasm.”

The oldest one looked at little blank at this but one of the others whispered something into his ear. A smile eventually crossed his features. “Thank you Sir. You’ll not regret it if you hire us.”

With that the three of them bowed and made their way out of the Salon. This was rather to the relief of the waitress, who celebrated their leaving by bringing me more coffee and a selection of savoury pastries, perhaps as a nod to the fact it was now almost lunchtime.

&&&

I pressed on with my work, and time passed agreeably. Yet at one point I chanced to look up. I noticed a richly dressed man in late middle age talking to Mutt just outside the Salon. Mutt gestured in my direction; the man dropped what might have been coins into his hand, and entered the Salon. He purchased a glass of one tincture or another and sat sipping it, covertly observing me as I worked. Finally he came across to my table.

“Sir, I believe you are contemplating Partann.” His accent was definitely Partannese, as was his habit of wearing prick spurs with low shoes.

I nodded gravely. “Yes.”

He drew a chair up to the table and sat down. “Then you might be able to assist me. I have an interest in Split Crag Keep.”

I knew the name, and from memory I think it is the deep south, close to one of the southern passes through the mountains. Again I nodded gravely but felt unwilling to commit myself to words.

He continued. “If you were willing to extend your operations into that area, I would certainly be happy to assist with funding.”

Now that was more like it. When Longjack had travelled into Partann he had made a point of ensuring that he had some patrons already organised. So his trip was made between establishments where he was guaranteed a welcome. If I did make this Partann trip then it struck me that the more assured patrons I had waiting for me the better. This gentleman deserved a positive reply.

“Clearly my plans are fluid, but Split Crag Keep is an obvious place to include in them.”

He leaned back in his seat and smiled, almost a smile of relief. “That is excellent news. I’ll be delighted to work with you when your plans get to the appropriate stage.” With this he pushed a business card across the table to me, stood up, bowed and left the Salon.

I glanced at the card. The name wasn’t one I recognised, but Port Naain is a large city and we get a lot of people from the south passing through. I placed the card in the holder I have for them, I could do more research on the person who presented it to me at a more convenient time.

&&&

I was making great strides with my work, in spite of the interruptions. It may have been the quantity of coffee I had imbibed, or perhaps the excellence of the pastries. Still as I returned to the Salon from a trip to the jakes I noticed three men with a somewhat scholarly air, talking to Mutt. Scholars are hardly an unusual sight in the library, but as I entered the Salon I noticed Mutt gesture towards me and I was not entirely surprised when they approached me at my table.

As they came closer I realised they were not your common run of scholar. These were no inky-fingered scribblers. Judging by the burns on their clothes, the smell of smoke that hung about them, and the roll of documents they had with them, I considered them more likely to be engineers. Port Naain is obviously a haven for them. We have any number of boats with steam engines and technology seems reasonably accepted at sea. On land it is a different matter. There is very little a steam engine can do that cannot be done more cheaply by indentured labourers trudging around a wheel; with the added advantage that the labourers are unlikely to explode and destroy the building they’re housed in. Even attempts to use these infernal mechanisms to power cranes or winches have proved uneconomic when they have to compete with brontotheres for haulage. Still I am not one to turn my nose up at something just because it is impracticable or overly expensive. As they stopped at my table I greeted them with a smile as they all stopped and bowed. As an aside I do like the way poets and men of letters are treated with respect within the confines of the Great Library; would that we were shown similar courtesy elsewhere.

One of them stepped forward as the spokesman. “Sir, could we trespass on your time?”

I gestured to the book. “I can take a few minutes from my labours.”

This they took to be some sort of invitation so they proceeded to collect chairs and sat round the table. One of them unrolled a rather elegantly produced plan and placed it on the table, using the sword as a paperweight to hold down one edge. I studied the plan, which frankly meant little to me. There was what looked like a conical funnel, upside down and supported on wheels.

I gestured to the plan. “Perhaps you’d like to explain in your own words rather than have me leap to conclusions?”

Their spokesman pointed. “It is a war-machine we have designed. Note the scatterguns placed around the perimeter. Powered by the wonder of steam it will advance against your enemies and scatter them to the four winds with well directed salvos.”

I studied it more carefully. Whilst there are some within the literary world of Port Naain I consider to be in need of stern correction, I’d never considered the possibility of administering it using this sort of contraption.

The spokesman continued, “We considered that it was perhaps an ideal adjunct for your Partannese venture.”

I tried to be tactful, “I’m not entirely sure whether it’s what I had in mind.”
Immediately one of the others joined the conversation. He spoke meaningfully and at length about ‘power to weight ratios’, ‘thermal efficiency’, ‘weight distribution’ and the advantages of the ‘reciprocating piston.’

I nodded wisely and pondered frantically what I was going to say to them. It was almost in desperation I said, “Surely Lord Cartin would be a better person to discuss such things with?”

Rather shamefaced one of them admitted, “Unfortunately we’ve not been able to get an introduction to Lord Cartin.”

This I could well understand, Lord Cartin is not given to having his time wasted by people attempting to sell him impractical contrivances for which he had no obvious use. Still, at this point I remembered Eran Klun.

“I might be able to have it brought to his Lordship’s attention. Obviously it won’t be easy but with a little lubrication I think it can be done. It’s just a matter of ensuring I can place it in front of the right person.”

With that they went into a huddle and hastily started peering into purses. Finally they turned to face me. “Would five gold alars, in mixed silver, be enough to get the right person?”

“Absolutely.”

The spokesman dropped a small purse on top of the plan. “Our details are on the bottom left of the plan; if Lord Cartin is interested he can easily contact us.” With this they bowed and left.

I stared at the plan. Looked at carefully it was a beautiful piece of work, the calligraphy was elegant, the lines neat, and the whole thing laid out just so. I summoned the waitress.

“Does the library still have the book-binding workshop?”

“Yes sir, would you like one of the staff to attend on you?”
”Yes please, if that could be arranged.”

She smiled at me, topped up my coffee and disappeared back into the kitchen. Ten minutes later an elderly man with pince nez approached my table. He was wearing a scuffed leather apron over trews and tunic of plain design.

I showed him the plan. “Your department used to frame pictures?”

He sized it up. “We still do sir, we still do.”
How much for a nice frame for this? Nothing elaborate.”

“Plain and in a nice dark wood?”

I attempted to visualise the plan so framed. “Yes I think that would work.”

“We can have it back within the hour sir; we have a suitable frame left over. Does half an alar sound reasonable?”

I opened the purse, rooted among the change and pushed the appropriate sum across the table to him. “It sounds entirely suitable.”

He pocketed the money and carefully rolled the plan up. “We’ll have it back with you within the hour.”

&&&

It was late afternoon by the time Eran Klun returned. It was with some relief I handed him his sword back. As he belted it on he asked quietly, “Was Cavalier Qualan here long?”

I shook my head, “I’m not sure I know the gentleman.”

Eran smiled at my ignorance. “He’s a leading condottiere captain, a man of about your age, middling height. I’ve only seen him wearing full harness; he’s a man who lives for war.”

“So what on earth would he be doing here?”

“The rumour is that he’s planning an expedition into Partann. Apparently he’s got to the stage of recruiting men and allies. When word of his schemes leaked out, this would be the obvious neutral venue where people could approach him. Apparently people have been here and have talked to him.”

I shook my head. “No, I’ve seen no such individual in here. But then I’m a poet, unless he clanked past me in full armour I’d probably not notice him.”

Then I remembered. I reached down by the side of my chair and brought up the framed plan of the steam-powered monstrosity.

“Lord Cartin has done me several good turns over the years and I wanted to reciprocate in some small way. I acquired this framed illustration and was quite taken by it.

Eran studied it and I continued. “It’s nicely drawn, and I’m sure the subject matter would intrigue and amuse his Lordship in equal measure. So I’d be most grateful if you could give him it as a gift from me.”

With that Eran left and within the hour I too had finished and made my way home. I arrived home to discover Shena preparing a meal for two. I dropped the purse in her hand.

“Not only have I prepared the entertainment, I even made some money as I did it.”
She looked into the purse and smiled. “I think we can open a bottle on the strength of it.”

I bent down and looked at the depleted wine rack. Certainly the money would go some way towards replenishing it. I asked, “Mutt not dining with us this evening?”

“No Tallis. He dropped round to say that he was taking a small party of his loyal assistants to dine at the Flensers.”

“But that’s a vintenar a head to eat at the buffet.”

Shena shrugged. “He just said he’d had a good day and wanted to take the chance to pay off his debts whilst he was flush with funds.”

 

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