The blood pounded in Jethan’s ears as he ran. The rope across his shoulders burned into him, like most Sedan chair bearers, he preferred to take the weight there and use his hands on the poles for fine adjustment. He could see the Falbarge chair just ahead, moving well. Yet in spite of everything they were catching up on it.
The smash had spoiled things, Nellia Falbarge had stuck a languid hand out of her chair window and had poured little glass beads into his path as they tried to overtake. He’d almost avoided them but his back man wasn’t so fortunate and the chair had ricocheted off the alley wall and back to block the path of the chair behind.
He’d recovered first and had broken one of the chair’s shafts across the shoulders of a bystander laughing at them, before helping Madam get out of her chair. In spite of what was obviously a broken collarbone and some blood from where her head had hit the door, Madam had been magnificent. She had looked at the young woman in the chair behind them.
“Bethin, stop shilly-shallying about and go and beat that Falbarge woman.”
Bethan, a younger woman, gestured to her front man who was lying on the floor clutching his leg. “I’m a man down I’m afraid.”
Imperiously Madam gestured to Jethan. “Take him.”
As Jethan took his place in the shafts and hastily got ready he heard Madam say, “Oh and take these my girl.”
So Jethan found himself at the front of an unfamiliar chair, working with a back man he didn’t know, and running faster than he’d ever done. Slowly they gained on the chair in front. The two chairs were barely a chair length apart as they turned into Snickle Way, and from somewhere Jethan found further reserves. He wiggled the shafts and the back man responded immediately by accelerating, Jethan lengthened his stride and he was overtaking the Falbarge back man. For the second time that day he saw Nellia Falbarge stick her hand out of the window and shake something. Even as the dust left her hand he shouted ‘Pepper’ and closed his eyes whilst running even faster. When he dared to open them again he was level with the other front man and both of them were giving their all. Then from just behind him he heard a women scream, he didn’t recognise who. The other front man obviously did because he checked his pace and Jethan was suddenly out in front. Barely fifty yards ahead he could see the finishing line, a silk cord stretched across the road outside the Flensers. He breasted the cord and slowed to a halt. Then as his back man gasped out, “Chair down,” Jethan gratefully lowered the chair and shrugged the rope off his shoulders. He stepped round and opened the door for the lady.
Bethin stepped out of the chair and smiled at both him and his back man before allowing the Master of Ceremonies to take her hand and lead her, victorious, into the Flensers. Jethan leaned against the chair and stuck out a hand. “Bluidy well run mate.”
The back man grinned at him and clasped his hand. “Yeah, good run.”
One of the Ostlers from the Flensers stepped forward to join them. “Fetch the chair round the back lads, there’s a beer or two and a spot of lunch in the kitchen.”
Jethan picked up the shafts, “Now that’s the way to talk.”
It was as he reached for his second well deserved tankard of beer that Jethan finally got round to asking a question that had niggled at him since the end of the race.
“What was it that stopped the Falbarge chair?”
His back man drained his tankard and put it down empty on the table before answering.
“It’s what your Lady give Mistress Bethin.”
“What were that?”
“Maggots. Our Bethin stuck her arm through the Falbarge chair window and dumped the whole jar full down the other bitch’s cleavage.”
Jethan raised his tankard in salute. “To Sedan chairs and the ladies as race ‘em; Gods love ‘em.”
Ever keen on expanding the boundaries of his art, (and even keener on eating regular meals), Tallis has put together a longer story,
Tallis Steelyard and the Sedan Chair Caper
This is currently undergoing proof reading and other such technical stuff (which worries Tallis because he’s a poet and reacts badly to editors.)
Still, whilst he sits and frets I’ve got him working away putting together some suitable anecdotes for the blog tour to accompany the launch.
And to further augment your appetite, here’s the front cover.