This week, my Guest Writer is Jim Webster who is currently on a blog tour. As he says, “The theme for this one is ‘Pictures from an Exhibition’ where a friend of Tallis, who is an artist, has painted eleven pictures and to help out, Tallis is taking people round them and telling the story behind the picture“.
I have mentioned Harl Bronnen before, he is a man with many business interests and he is an occasional patron of mine. Admittedly I will be given more work by his wife, but in all candour, Harl’s tasks tend to be more interesting.
I was summoned to attend upon him at his chambers, and when I arrived I was greeted with coffee and idle chitchat until the pleasant young clerk who poured the coffee had left us. It was then that Harl came to the point.
“Tallis, you have been in the cellars under the Council of Sinecurists building.”
“I have. I had research work to do and was granted access to the old records held down there.”
Harl glanced round the room; even through it was empty bar for the two of us. “I have reason to believe that there is a deeper cellar, a secret repository.”
“You do?” I tried to sound interested rather than nervous.
“Yes, I know of documents that appear only occasionally but can never be found in the cellars. But I’ve heard a whisper that there are deeper cellars.”
“There are?” I know, it’s a facile thing to say but I was still wondering how I as a poet came into this discussion.
“Do you know of the catacombs?”
“Port Naain is built on mud! How can we have catacombs?”
Harl proceeded to tell me a long story. There was a religious order in Port Naain, the Confirmed Ablutionists, who shunned water. Apparently the order still exists but has only small presence in the city in our time. In Port Naain there are plenty, not all of them small boys, who seem to avoid water at all costs. But in the case of the Confirmed Ablutionists, they take it to extremes. One problem they had was that on death, due to the shortage of land and the high water table, the vast majority of us make a last trip on the corpse boat and get dropped into the sea a fair way out wearing a well weighted shroud. As you can imagine this was anathema to the order. They purchased a plot on the hill below the Council of Sinecurists building and proceeded to tunnel into the hill to produce their own catacombs.
As the order faded the last Grand Master sold the catacombs to a local entrepreneur for cash and a fast horse and disappeared. The entrepreneur intended to offer the catacombs to Port Naain people, so they could be buried on dry land, for a reasonable sum. Unfortunately for him his reasonable sum was considerably more than the one vintenar it costs to ride the corpse boat and his project failed. Finally the Council purchased the catacombs off him and he also faded from the story.
Now Harl wanted me and a colleague of my choice to enter these catacombs and work our way through them to see if we could find a hidden repository of records.
“Why me, Harl?”
“Simple, you’re competent and I can trust you.”
So it was agreed, I would find a colleague and Harl would show us the entrance to the catacombs.
When it came to choosing a colleague how could I go past Lancet Foredeck? Yes I know he’s self-opinionated, egotistical and vain. I also know he’s a performance poet, with all that entails. On the other hand I’ve known him quite literally all my life, and in spite of his failings he is loyal, courageous and a good man to have at your side when trouble threatens.
When he heard the amount of money Harl was offering he had no hesitation in joining me. So that very evening we made our way through the park on the slope below the Council of Sinecurists building and found Harl waiting for us in the shelter of a small fane. He produced a key and a lantern and led us to a metal door at the back of the fane. This he opened easily. I discovered later he’d been oiling the lock for over a month.
As Lancet stepped through the door I reached to take the lantern off Harl. He shook his head. “I’ve decided that I would think less of myself if I didn’t accompany you.”
It was his expedition and his money so we could hardly tell him he couldn’t come with us. So I nodded and followed Lancet through the door.
to read what happens next click on the link below