Let me paint you a picture, a simple street scene with any number of decent folk just going about their business. What do we see? In the foreground a couple of rough men squaring up to each other, one of them is carrying a basket of bread and ought to be about his business, but we just know that at any moment we’ll see fisticuffs. Behind them we see a woman carrying a metal urn, obviously alarmed that her burden might be overturned. Then approaching from our left, a man who is clearly a tipstaff, his wand of office raised, he is evidently about to do his duty and break up the fight. Finally lurking like the cliché at the heart of a poor poem we have the child thief ready to strike. He will take advantage of the chaos caused by the fight to lift the tipstaff’s purse.
But let us look a little more deeply. Set aside the stock characters with which we so casually populate our world and see the real people behind them. Take the tipstaff for instance. He is better known on the Ropewalk as ‘Bannay Bent-Sword.’ Many of the great houses and businesses along the Ropewalk do have their own doormen who will act as tipstaffs should trouble arise in the street in front of their place of work. Bannay Bent-Sword seeks to pass himself off as one of that number. He works for no-one but himself. In reality he is the ring master for a small circus of pickpockets. The boy is one of his, a decoy. Suddenly Bannay will shout, “Beware pickpockets.”
He’ll make a grab for the boy. The boy of course will wriggle from his grasp and flee. Even if he’s caught he’ll have nothing incriminating on him and should he get his ears boxed anyway, Bannay always reckons that the lad will have done something to deserve it.
Yet when Bannay cries ‘beware pickpockets’ everybody within earshot will immediately put their hand to their valuables to make sure they’re still there. What they are really doing is signposting them for Bannay’s small team of four men and women who will gratefully collect what has been so thoughtfully pointed out.
Oh yes, and the bent sword? Bannay has never drawn it, and frankly is wise not to. I have it on good authority that it is cheap metal and it bent when Bannay’s lady wife was using it as a toasting folk.
Now then, I mentioned a lady carrying an urn. That is Ronda the dropper. She will arrange to be caught up on the fringes of some affray. Then when somebody prosperous steps back to avoid getting caught up in the brawl, she will allow them to bump into her and of course they cause her to spill her load.
So in this case she will claim she has twenty vintenars worth of fine ginger infusion in her urn which will be spilled into the dirt. In the past I’ve carried her urn, and when she’s working, she’ll have three or four tankards full of liquid in there. This ensures there’s enough liquid to spill convincingly. To make sure it smells right she’ll boil up some decaying ginger root you can pick up very reasonable from the warehouse. So whilst it’s heavy, it’s not unmanageable. Fill it and you’d need two people to carry it.
To be honest I’m not sure how long she’ll be able to keep up her trade. Not only is she getting a bit old to be lugging that sort of weight about but she’s got problems with her eyesight as well. Her eyes aren’t as sharp as they were. She spilled some of her ginger infusion over me last week and demanded twenty vintenars.
“Why not demand twenty alars Ronda? I’ve as much chance of paying it.”
“Oh damn, is it you Tallis Steelyard?”
“It is indeed, and now I smell of ginger.”
“Well there’s five dregs worth of ginger I’ll never see again. What do you want with wearing such a fancy jacket?”
Apparently because of her eyesight, she checks the material of her victim’s coat before deciding whether they’re worth spilling for. Unluckily for her, I was wearing a jacket bequeathed to me by the late Walnan Dreel, father of one of my patrons. He had excellent taste for cut and colour and the money to demand quality materials. Now he would have been a good man for her to target, he’d have paid the twenty vintenars without hesitation, apologised whilst doing so, and would even have carried her urn to the side of the road for her.
Then we have our two ruffians in the middle of the street squaring up to each other. The one with the basket is Rongo, a thug who works for Jingling Graan, extortionist, murderer, etc. Whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest Rongo has a heart of gold, apparently the women working in the Graan kitchen like Rongo because he’s not to proud to run errands for them. So when they asked if he’d nip down to the bakers for some bread, Rongo obliged. Between ourselves I’m with Rongo on this. Always oblige cooks and kitchen staff, they have long memories and are generous at returning favours.
The other ruffian, the one without the basket, is Loud Drog. (He has a brother known as Quiet Drog. The brother is a sneak thief.) Loud Drog makes a living by picking fights. Sometimes if things are a bit quiet, somebody like Bannay Bent-Sword will slip him some coins to liven things up. Sometimes he’ll pick on a person who he thinks will back off and pay him money to go away. Sometimes he picks on somebody burdened and unable to fight back. His problem here is that he hasn’t recognised Rongo.
If we paint our picture two minutes later the scene would be somewhat different. Loud Drog lies in a heap in the middle of our canvas, Rongo has already left, carrying his bread with him. Fortunately for Bannay Bent-Sword and Ronda the dropper, Drog is as useful to them lying there groaning. He still attracts a crowd and thus allows our other two heroes to get to work. For Drog himself things are only going to get worse. When he finally comes round he’ll discover somebody has stolen his purse. But then at least it wasn’t his clothes.
Did I mention that the tales of Tallis Steelyard are set down in any number of books?
As a reviewer commented, “An assortment of Tallis Steelyard tales to make the reader chuckle, laugh, wipe away a sad tear, and all emotions in between.
Every story is a stand-alone gem.”