As you know a poet is a proud independent creature, freed from any possibility of subservience by his devotion to his art. Thus as I am at something of a loose end whilst my patron prepares to attend the races, it strikes me that it might be a useful exercise for me to give you some insight into the horse racing world in Port Naain.
The Racecourse at Port Naain lies to the east of the city, beyond the Three Mills Beck. You must remember that most men of wealth and influence in and around the city have horses. When you bear in mind that such individuals are prone to being competitive, it’s inevitable that they would wish to test their best horses against the horses of others. So long before there was a racecourse, that area was used on an informal basis. Indeed it still is, anybody can run their horse on the track, save on formal race days when matters are better policed.
Now you might wonder why matters needed policing. Indeed one would hope that sporting ladies and gentlemen could be trusted to be guided by the highest moral standards, setting an example to the rest of us. Indeed they do set a standard but it’s not a particularly high one. Perhaps I ought to recount here the tale of the horse Wind Dancer.
Wind Dancer, a chestnut mare of elegant appearance, won any number of races, both informal and formal. As horses go it was something of an exemplar, held up to breeders and trainers alike as what a good horse should be.
Yet there were those in Port Naain who felt that Wind Dancer ought to be toppled from her perch. Between ourselves this is inevitable. Even the finest horse grows old and slows down and eventually a younger steed surpasses it. But our tale is of skulduggery, not the gradual and inevitable passage of the seasons.
Willond Frump was a horse breeder, horse dealer, and horse trainer. He wasn’t a man who dabbled; he had several score of brood mares on land all across the hinterland of Port Naain. He supplied mounts to the condottieri, he supplied dray horses to farmers and wagoners, riding horses for ladies and sturdy ponies for plump children. He didn’t merely breed them; he bought them and sold them. Also when walking about Port Naain, should he see a work horse being sold because it was broken through ill-use, he’d buy it and put it with one of a score of small farmers who’d all have a couple of Willond’s horses quietly resting and recovering. After six months, twelve months, perhaps longer, Willond would decide that the horse was ready and he’d sell it back into Port Naain as a work horse.
Now one morning he was walking with his son Jaggond when they chanced to spot a horse struggling to pull an over-laden dray. Jaggond gestured to the creature. “So what can you do with that one, Father?”
Willond examined the animal, checked its teeth and feet and then purchased it for little money from the carter.
“I will win the Equinox Sweepstake with this one.”
Thus the horse, now known as Frump’s Folly, was taken to the home farm and Willond himself supervised the feeding and training of his new acquisition.
Now it so happened that as Frump’s Folly filled out and flourished thanks to the care she received, it started to look more and more like Wind Dancer. Indeed they could have been sisters got by the same stallion out of the same mare.
Now it didn’t take people long to notice this. Indeed news of Willond’s boast that his new acquisition could win the Equinox Sweepstake also spread. Port Naain being what it is, people leapt to a not unreasonable conclusion. Willond was going to enter Frump’s Folly, but actually was going to run Wind Dancer as a ringer. Immediately the bookies heard this rumour, the odds on Frump’s Folly fell, so you could barely get two to one odds.
Now Willond wasn’t entirely happy with the gossip. To be fair he had indeed contemplated something along these lines, but hadn’t put his plan into operation. So he gritted his teeth and kept on working with Frump’s Folly.
Then a week before the Equinox Sweepstake, Wind Dancer was stolen! There was uproar. Willond, as prime suspect, was interviewed, his various premises searched, and his entire operation was turned upside down by overly officious watchmen trying to find the stolen horse.
Willond approached matters more thoughtfully. Rather than charge about looking for a horse, he looked at the runners and riders entered for the Sweepstake. He perused the list with a cynical, nay jaundiced, eye. Finally his questing gaze alighted on the horse Sali’s Darling. He’d never heard of the horse, and the name of Brozt, owner and rider, was also unknown to him. So with his son and four burly but close-mouthed stable hands he tracked down Bronzt. Faced with the threat of immediate physical violence, Bronzt was remarkably talkative.
Yes, he had stolen the horse, he had got her hidden, and the chestnut Wind Dancer was now the bay, Sali’s Darling. In mitigation he claimed he had not done this entirely of his own volition but at the express urging of Cattan, a bookie. Willond listen stony faced to the confession and merely pointed out that if Bronzt wished to continue his career, or even his life, after the race, Sali’s Darling must not win.
On race day itself, Bronzt was faced with an awful dilemma. If Sali’s Darling won, then there was no doubt that Willond would visit his vengeance on Bronzt. Yet should Sali’s Darling lose, Bronzt had no doubt that Cattan would be violently displeased. His few remaining hours of life looked like being pain-filled and unpleasant.
At the same time, somebody obviously leaked the news to the bookies. Sali’s Darling, initially a hundred and fifty to one outsider, was now a favourite at two to one on. At the same time you could get a hundred to one on Frump’s Folly.
The race itself was interesting. The day promised rain but so far it had held off. Finally when the Sweepstake was called, there were a score of horses lined up with their noses to the tape at the start of the race. No sooner had they set off than the heavens opened and the horses raced though a deluge.
At the front competition was fierce, with Frump’s Folly neck and neck with three other horses. At the rear there was one horse, slowly changing from the bay Sali’s Darling to the chestnut Wind Dancer under the influence of the rain. She was kept well in hand by Bronzt the owner/rider. On the second lap of the course Frunp’s Folly was now in the lead and even overtook Wind Dancer. So it was that as Frump’s Folly crossed the finishing line, Bronzt gave Wind Dancer her head and rode out of the racecourse and disappeared into the east. However angry Cattan was at his scheme failing, he was faced with the unpalatable fact that Bronzt had left on one of the fastest horses in Port Naain. Indeed whereas all the others were exhausted, Wind Dancer had barely warmed up.
An even more unpalatable fact jabbed Cattan firmly in the solar plexus to guarantee his compete attention. He was now faced with paying out a number of people who’d backed Frump’s Folly at remarkably good odds. Not only that but Willond Frump and his stable boys managed to surround him as he was attempting to flit without paying. Of course there were enquiries and investigations but Port Naain gamblers are a pretty rugged lot and are unwilling to let tedious details like possible litigation stop them getting what is rightfully owed to them.
As for Bronzt, who knows? The assumption is that he’d found a market for Wind Dancer and for the next few years chestnut fillies of uncertain provenance were watched with considerable interest. Bronzt himself managed to disappear altogether, whether into Partann or even east over the mountains.
But it occurs to me that if you have any interest in the sport of kings, you will indeed be delighted to discover that a novella on the topic has just been published.
Obviously my activities get some coverage (although less than I feel I deserve) but in reality the tale follows young Benor as he gets involved in horse racing.
A licence to print money: The Port Naain Intelligencer
An honest cartographer attempts to steer his way though grasping bureaucrats, bent bookmakers, magistrates who practice performance poetry and a young lady who wishes to end an ‘arrangement.’
Can Benor see justice done? Will Mutt finally meet his match? What do they teach aspiring temple dancers nowadays?
Also in the coming days, there is going to be a blog tour to announce to a world hungry for quality literature that this book is now available to purchase.
As part of that tour, because Jim realises there are a few people out there who haven’t met Benor, he’s written another Benor tale. This is called,
A measured response
The various episodes of this tale will be published on the various blogs.
|A licence to print money tour, addresses|
|Wednesday 20th June||Annette Rochelle Aben||Episode 1||https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/
|Thursday 21st June||Suzanne Joshi||Episode 2||https://patriciaruthsusan.wordpress.com/
|Friday 22nd June||Chris Graham||Episode 3||http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/22/tales-from-the-port-naain-intelligencer-collection-blog-tour-episode-3/
|Saturday 23rd June||Robbie Cheadle||Episode 4||https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/
|Sunday 24th June||Craig Boyack||Episode 5||https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/a-license-to-print-money/
|Monday 25th June||Sue Vincent||Episode 6||https://scvincent.com/
|Tuesday 26th June||Chris Graham||Episode 7||http://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2018/06/26/reserved-for-jim-webster-2/
|Wednesday 27th June||Sue Vincent||Episode 8||https://wp.me/p1wss8-fyz|
|Thursday 28th June||Annette Rochelle Aben||Episode 9||https://annetterochelleaben.wordpress.com/