I have previously mentioned Gisset, clerk of works to Tildus Thallawell. I would rate him as perhaps the best organised man in Port Naain. But occasionally even he needs the help only a poet can give him.
His problem started with the Wibblethrone statues. These adorned the front of the Wibblethrone family’s rather grand villa. There were nine, representing the muses. Given that the Wibblethrone family had never invested a dreg in the arts in living memory and probably picked up the statuary cheap in a bankruptcy sale, I always felt they did not deserve to own them.
It seems that Tildus Thallawell shared my opinion. He had seen these statues when invited to attend upon the family in a professional capacity and had decided they were utterly unsuitable. He had instructed Gisset to have them removed and replaced by an array of hanging baskets and raised beds.
I enter the story the morning after this had been done. Gisset had put a team together, this time including gardeners. Whilst the family slept the team had moved in, removed the statues and replaced them with the assorted floral arrangements. As always, the task was completed smoothly and efficiently, Gisset paid off his team and then went to report the success to Tildus Thallawell. After doing this he called in at the Jiggle and Flinch, probably to get some lunch.
It was there he met Lancet Foredeck and me, sitting talking over a glass of white. As the place was busy he joined us at our table. We chatted briefly and then his meal arrived so we let him eat in peace. It was during this time I began to think that all was not well with Gisset, he looked more worried than usual. Now I realise that anybody working for Tildus Thallawell has cause for worry, but surely Gisset would have grown used to that by now?
So when he’d finished and pushed his empty plate away I decided to shun subterfuge and just asked him. “So what is worrying you, Gisset?”
He sighed, held up my empty glass to the waiter and gestured that he wanted another bottle of the same. The waiter returned with an extra glass and the bottle. The wine poured, Gisset sighed again. He explained about the Wibblethrone statues.
“Well they didn’t deserve them; those statues are really nice work and a beautiful set.” Lancet spoke with vehemence which surprised me.
Gisset sighed again. “Yes and Master Thallawell agrees entirely with you. So he wants me to arrange for their display.”
That even shut Lancet up. It’s one thing to steal nine nice statues; it’s another thing to then put them on display.”
The three of us sat in silence. Obviously it was impossible, but you try telling somebody like Tildus Thallawell that! Then I had an idea.
“What about if you displayed them, but hidden?
They both looked at me. “How do you mean hidden, Tallis?”
“Buried in something, so they only slowly become visible.”
“So it gives me time to flee the city you mean?” Gisset was determined not to be comforted.
“No, no, Tallis is right. It could work.” Lancet sat bolt upright, his eyes shining. You can always tell when he’s got an idea. “If we used a mix of poor cement, then it would gradually just erode away leaving the statues. Why it could be a performance art piece. We could call it, ‘The evolution of the city’ and it would show how a crude lump of a place will eventually be changed by time and the elements to a place where the arts are truly celebrated.”
Lancet was on fire now. He sketched out on a napkin, “Set the statues in a base, of decent concrete, then shutter round them, pour in poor cement, remove the shuttering and the job’s done.”
Gisset was already jotting down names and measurements. He and Lancet were deep in discussion about mortar mixes, and where he could get decent shuttering timber. I felt they were getting carried away, “But won’t the cement need time to dry, it’s not as if you can have the area outside the Council of Sinecurists building forcibly emptied for a couple of days.”
“No need, we’ll leave the shuttering on the job with a note saying don’t touch.”
To be honest I felt Lancet was being a bit trusting here. I’d have thought leaving a note saying ‘do not touch’ would guarantee somebody tampered with it. Still they continued with their plan.
Thus in a quiet corner of a builder’s yard we first positioned the statues as we wanted them in a group. Then we had somebody do a couple of quick sketches. Then we built some shuttering. There was a shallow set which would hold the really strong concrete, and there would be the second set which would be higher than the heads of the statues. This would hold the poor cement. We experimented with the positioning of the statues, until finally we were happy. I had the job of tidying up the statues and also of spreading them with lard. This was to stop the cement sticking to the statues. I ensured that each statue was covered with a thick layer that got into every cranny. I even had the assistance of a monumental mason who could fix any little blemishes.
Finally, one night the team which Gisset had put together met outside the Council of Sinecurists building. We put down the plinth and set the nine statues on it. Even as we were doing this the shallow shuttering was being erected. Before that was finished the high quality concrete arrived, a couple of cart loads of it, already mixed. This was shovelled in and tamped well down to ensure a good surface.
Then they put up the second level of shuttering so that the poor cement could be added. There were innumerable cartloads of this. Then on the outside of the shuttering was a note which said, “Do not remove. By order of Tildus Thallawell.”
As always, Gisset had everything cleaned up and his team away before people stirred. I walked past that afternoon and the shuttering had not been disturbed. Two nights later Gisset had it taken down. I was present to witness the event. It was then that I noticed what Lancet had done. He had carved a wooden tablet and stuck it to the inside of the shuttering. Now, impressed in the cement, there was this legend.
‘The city, a performance piece, created by Lancet Foredeck and donated to the city by Tildus Thallawell.’
So Lancet had managed to grab all the attention! He regularly appears in front of it, giving talks and accepting the praise of the masses. Mind you, in a few years time the notice will doubtless have gone. It is, after all, poor cement.
Yet by my reckoning, in perhaps fifty years time, it will be obvious that one of the muses is holding a book which she is reading from. Close examination will show that the book is ‘Lambent Dreams’ by none other than Tallis Steelyard. Engraved on the page is one of my poems. The monumental mason carved it for me one evening because he was bored.
I reckon that my name will be on the work for at least a thousand years if not longer.
It did occur to me that some of you wouldn’t like to wait the full thousand years before reading anything by Tallis. So I thought I’d mention that
is available for your delectation and delight, and still only £0.99