Just to comment that since publication this story has won an award!
So back on with our tale!
Port Naain is a city which has a secret craving for novelty. Whilst it will often strike outsiders as a distinctly priggish place, those of us who have lived here all our lives know better. Port Naain goes questing after new experiences like an elderly roué who has just discovered a new bordello.
Still it is not my place to moralise. Indeed I like to think my own patrons are not cut from any common cloth and thus rise above such cravings. Hence it can be a little disconcerting to discover that your patrons are flocking to see the new sensation.
The evil genius, pandering to their less noble cravings, was Qualan Bassat. It was he that introduced the city to snail wrestling. Now we’ve had squid wrestling for years, and it has a loyal following. But snail wrestling was new. Up until now the commercial exploitation of snails had been mainly culinary. They do form a vital ingredient in several dishes; and most hostesses will have a set of glass snail shells in which they can serve those dishes.
The only other person I remember making any money out of snails was Mutt who for a while ran a snail racing enterprise.
The procedure is simple. You have two concentric circles and the snails are placed in the inner circle. The winner is the snail that crosses the outer circle first. Mutt would set out his board and challenge all comers to defeat his prize snail. He had a score of contenders in a bucket and people could pick any snail they wanted, or even fetch their own.
When there were plenty of punters ready for a race, Mutt would take his prize snail out of a shirt pocket, introduce it as the ‘Speckled Champion’ and place it on the centre of the course. Other players would take one out of the bucket and place them around Mutt’s snail. Within a matter of moments Mutt’s snail would have left the centre circle and would inevitably cross the outer circle ahead of the others.
I’ve seen him entertain a crowd of adult loafers for an afternoon, taking their money, ten dregs at a time as they tried to work out how he did it. One or two had more success if they found their own snail and raced that. I put that down to the fact that like Mutt, they kept the snail about their person where it was warm but not too warm. Those in the bucket were cold; indeed I know that Mutt often secreted a piece of ice in amongst them to ensure they were a little sluggish.
Mutt had a further trick. Snails dislike mint, and Mutt added a little to the water in the bucket so that his ‘Speckled Champion’ made haste to escape the tainted company of his or her fellows. The other snails seemed habituated to the smell and so were unaffected by the minty odour.
But I was supposed to be talking about Qualan Bassat and his snail wrestling. His snail was a beast of considerable side, its shell large enough to hold a dozen men. This was fortuitous as that’s approximately how many men it took to animate the snail, a construction of wood and well oiled leather. This they propelled with remarkable agility across the polished wooden boards of the arena. His ‘creature’ he pitted against six handsome snail wrestlers who, as demanded by ancient tradition, (Or so aficionados explained) fought naked.
The bouts would last perhaps a quarter of an hour. At the end of which time either the wrestlers had managed to pin the snail so it couldn’t move, or the snail had cast the wrestlers out of the arena and was declared victor.
To be fair to the participants, both those propelling the snail and those ‘wrestling’ it gave their all. Each bout was a genuine combat, sternly fought. Indeed I have heard many ladies tell each other in censorious tones, that snail wrestling was a true sport, unlike so many other entertainments where people went to gawp at the scantily clad disporting themselves in a series of mock erotic postures.
Port Naain is a city of keen sportswomen, with both snail wrestling and sedan chair racing having their supporters.
I would recommend to discerning readers the latest Tallis Steelyard masterpiece!
Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.