Like all old cities, much of Port Naain is built on older bits of Port Naain. It’s claimed that in the Sump there are houses falling down because they’re built on the foundations of houses that fell down previously.
Madam Cissie Rotherie is perhaps unique in my experience in that she managed to use what she found of the past. When she and her husband purchased the house, the cellar was full of rubble. As a young couple they thought nothing about it, until Thandar Rotherie felt that he could do with somewhere as a workshop. Whilst a clerk of sorts he was one of these people who just has the knack when it comes to wood, and he made most of the family’s furniture. A very nice job he made of it.
So he started clearing the cellar. He was lucky at the time because somebody wanted to rebuild in the Sump and they would come and take away rubble for free as they wanted it for the foundations. Thus after a week or so’s hard work he discovered he had not merely a cellar, but a dungeon.
His wife, Cissie, tried to look back into the history of the area and it’s possible that this part of Ropewalk had once had a watch house on it. Or perhaps not, it was difficult to tell. But however it came about; their house came complete with a dungeon consisting of four cells. Thandar immediately appropriated one as a workshop, and commented to his wife that if she had a job for the other three, he’d fit them out for her as whatever she liked.
Cissie pondered long and hard. She knew that Thandar was sick of clerking, and had his heart set on being a cabinet maker. It struck her that if she too had a small source of income, ideally one that allowed her to stay at home and keep an eye on their growing family, and then she could contribute to the family budget and allow her husband to follow his dream.
Inspiration struck when she sat listening to a group of her friends talking, and the name of one local ne’er-do-well cropped up. This individual had been tormenting the area for a number of years and as one of the ladies said, “He should be locked up.” Cissie volunteered her premises and thus, Madam Rotherie’s dungeon was born.
The ne’er-do-well in question was, to put it plainly, ‘jumped’ by the husbands of Cissie’s coterie, hooded, bundled in front of a group of ladies who pondered the sentence, and then unceremoniously dragged downstairs and locked up. The dungeon had its first prisoner in modern times.
Now keeping prisoners isn’t a cheap hobby. They have to be fed, and to be fair, in Madam Rotherie’s dungeon you just ate what the family ate. Then there’s the business of emptying chamber pots, occasional clean bed linen and suchlike. So Cissie obviously had to charge. Yet to her fascination she discovered there are people so unpopular that you can raise money by public subscription to pay for their incarceration.
Now then, at some point people were released. Some of them complained. Given the sort of individual who was placed in the dungeon it has to be said their complaints fell on largely deaf ears, until one complained to the city watch.
Well the watch had to investigate. A lieutenant dropped in to visit Cissie and her husband, looked around the dungeon, interviewed the three prisoners and admired Thandar’s workshop. Then after ordering a new linen chest he went away. But not before congratulating Cissie for her public-spiritedness; he also left her with a list of names of people he felt would benefit from a year or two of her hospitality, and promised that if any of them were incarcerated, the watch would certainly contribute to the collection.
The problem is that the business was becoming nicely profitable but obviously it wasn’t easy to expand. She couldn’t extend the dungeons to one side because it would mean breaking into somebody’s cellar. On the other side the dungeon did continue, but that bit was owned by Madam Flattan, a formidable lady who practiced the trade of wacker-nanny. As you can imagine the dungeon was one of the props of her trade. Indeed Madam Flattan had occasionally taken tea with Cissie and the two ladies had compared hours spent and the profits made. They agreed in the end that whilst Madam Flattan’s business model was more profitable, it involved a lot more work. Canes do not wield themselves. Still the ladies remained on excellent terms and from time to time Madam Flattan would take some of Cissie’s overflow. In return when Madam Flattan went to her daughter’s wedding, Cissie came in to look after her clients.
It was Thandar who pointed out that if he moved the workshop then they would have an extra cell. But where to put the workshop? Finally he converted their front room, taking out the window and thus giving access to the street. Here he could have his wares on view even as he was working. A most happy decision, it not only increased Cissie’s profits, it increased his sales as well.
I suppose that in the interests of balance somebody ought to have asked about the ethical nature of Cissie’s business. It has to be admitted that some people were rather in two minds about it. Still as she used to say, just like her neighbour Madam Flattan, she was providing a service that society may have had its doubts about but apparently respectable people still continued to make use of it.
As the holiday season draws slowly to a close, now is the time to purchase a book to carry you into that grey season lingers between now and spring. So put a little sunshine into your day 🙂
As the reviewer said, “Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.”