Every so often you meet somebody who is genuinely honest and courageous. Possibly too honest and courageous, but never mind. I’m not sure how many remember Bilart Warldome when he was young. He’s gone on to make a name in the law courts, and to be fair to him, he had a good reputation as an honest lawyer and now, as an honest magistrate.
When he was younger, he made something of a name for himself in the ring, fighting under the Sinecurists rules. These didn’t go into details about what blows you could or couldn’t use. They just said you shouldn’t inflict ‘life changing injuries’ on your opponent.
When you looked at him, you’d think him a proper milksop, a real mummy’s boy afraid to go out on the streets without nurse. But to see him in the ring was a revelation. He was light on his feet, nimble, cunning, and well worth watching. I even won money betting on him.
He trained with a bunch of other fighters, sparing together in an old warehouse not far from the Graving Dock. One day they were joined by Makan. Makan was big. There were rumours that somebody had shaved one of the greater apes. When he arrived at the Warehouse, people were wary of fighting him but Bilart shook the other man’s hand and offered to spar with him. People said it was an interesting contest. Bilart managed to get him down once by a crafty kick to the back of a leg followed by a shoulder barge. But being Bilart he didn’t follow up. He stepped back and let the big man get back to his feet. Two minutes later Makan sold Bilart a dummy and the smaller man tucked sideways only to run into a jab that lifted him off the floor and dumped him on his back. Makan courteously helped Bilart up; the pair of them shook hands and went out for a beer together.
After that the others accepted Makan, all sparred with him and to be fair some of them did give him a run for his money. But if anything Makan got better, he learned from his opponents. They learned from him, but a lot of his best techniques came from the fact he could pick up a horse. Still word got out and there was a lot of interest in seeing him fight for prize money.
Now at that point in time there were a number of bookies in Port Naain who’d put up prize money. But their lives were blighted by Madam Zinwal and her three daughters. Madam Zinwal was a fortune teller. Her daughters, who were three attractive young women, were her accomplices. They would pass her messages by covert signals, and also used to pick pockets and similar as they worked the crowds which often gathered around their ‘mother.’ There was some doubt as to whether the daughters were biologically related to the older woman, but they seemed to have inherited their ‘mother’s’ duplicity and criminal tendencies.
Thieving fortune tellers are common enough, but Madam Zinwal set up as a bookie as well. Acute observers noticed that horses on her book that were heavily backed tended not to win. Some claimed magic, some claimed doping, and some reckoned her daughters were using undue influence on the jockeys. The other bookies were not happy. Fixing races to cheat punters is one thing, but when other bookies get caught, that is not on. Interestingly enough, Bilart’s sister had married a bookie, and whenever he dined with them, which was often, he was asked what the law was going to do about it. As far as Bilart could tell, the honest answer was nothing. But he promised to give the matter some thought. Bilart and Makan put their heads together and came up with a plan.
Therefore when Makan and Bilart approached the bookies to put forward prize money for a fight between them, the bookies were interested. Part of the arrangement was that the two men would engage in light sparring in the warehouse every morning, so punters could assess the odds. This they did, and whilst neither man put full power into their blows, Makan was favourite.
Remember that at the time the various newssheets were describing Makan as the fighting ape and cast doubt on his ability to walk and think at the same time. When he was seen dining out with Bilart, the comment was made that obviously Bilart had taught this creature to use a knife and fork. Makan’s terse delivery and apparently limited vocabulary seemed to prove the point.
Bilart made his preparations. He and Makan drew up an agreement, Makan would throw the fight, Bilart would win, and they’d split the prize money equally. The agreement was written in very short words and Makan’s signature was a mark. This he folded carefully away and put in his purse.
Then he went to visit all the bookies, to look at the odds being offered on the fight. Obviously he had to see Madam Zinwal as well. As he expected, even as she discussed the odds with him, her daughters took both his purse and his watch.
Almost immediately Madam Zinwal started offering long odds on Makan winning. With every other bookie you’d struggle to get evens on him. Madam Zinwal had him as the ten to one outsider! Money flooded in as the punters spotted an opportunity.
One the day of the fight, in an open air ring set up on the Graving Dock where plenty of people could see it, Makan and Bilart bowed to each other and the fight commenced. It was an impressive bout. Bilart got Makan down twice. By down, I mean that one shoulder had touched the floor. Then, in the sixth round, Bilart had a momentary lapse of concentration and Makan knocked him out of the ring and he landed on top of the audience. Makan won the fight.
Madam Zinwal, who had been collecting bets right up to the start of the fight, came close to being swamped by the wave of punters wanting their winnings. Fortunately for her, the Watch intervened, took her and her daughters into protective custody and organised a search of their lodgings. There they found almost enough cash to pay off all the bets, plus an inordinate amount of stolen property. The four women were sentenced to be indentured to the Houses of Licentiousness where they stood in cold water, sorting young clams.
Bilart continued with his legal career. He doesn’t fight now, pointing out that he no longer has the youthful speed and agility that gave him any hope of winning.
Makan does still occasionally fight. He joined the Watch and rose to become a sergeant. I got to know him reasonably well because he has a genuine love of poetry and isn’t a bad hand when it comes to romantic verse.
It struck me that if you want to know more about betting in Port Naain, you might want to read
As a reviewer commented, “Someone has tried to cheat Benor and his young ‘apprentice’ Mutt. They set out, with a little help, to redress the balance. Another in this series of Port Naain novellas that had me smiling. They are not belly-laugh stories but full of wry, clever and thoughtful humour. Often, it’s the way he tells them. I’m always up for more of these stories.”