How much does the truth cost?

(c) Museums Sheffield; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Every so often the right thing eventually happens. Sometimes artists are even involved. Thus it was when Furan Toothwhite wrote his book. Now Furan is a novelist. By definition a practitioner of an intensely solitary occupation, Furan still managed to somehow acquire a wife, and between them they produced two children. Thus showing, I suppose, that novelists are, in some regards at least, much the same as other folk.

The problem was Furan’s book. He was determined to write the great novel, the defining work of our age. Not content with some tale of thwarted love and unlikely adventure, he wanted to dig deep into the bowels of our society and pull forth choice nuggets of malfeasance for our edification. Thus he set his novel in Port Naain, and in our present day. Not only that but the characters were not merely loosely based on real people, they were the real people. Their names so lightly disguised nobody could possibly mistake who they were meant to be.

The hero, villain, or merely the protagonist of his novel was a character known as Stalwart. Prominent in the politics of the city, he was a usurer married to a lady known as Moana. Given that in Port Naain there is a usurer, surnamed Galwart, married to a lady known as Mona, people leapt to not unreasonable conclusions.

Now it seems Furan had been listening to gossip, or perhaps had gone to the effort of investigating matters, but his novel showed how this Stalwart, and his wife Moana, had formed a criminal cartel with Shea Legit and Tilford Stank. The latter two gentlemen were veritable tribunes of the people. If there was ever a popular cause to be championed these two individuals would champion it. In theory they were ordinary decent working types who by their wit and industry had risen to modest prosperity. They had also managed to raise enough money, by soliciting donations, to purchase sinecures. This they did to ensure that ‘decent working folk were represented in the councils of the great.’ Indeed I remember men passing tankards around seedy bars so that drinkers could make a donation to the cause. Shea Legit boasted that he was the only person ever to pay for his sinecure entirely in copper coins.

Once seated on the Council of Sinecurists, Legit and Stank started to campaign for a fund for the relief of poverty within the city. Slowly they won over the rest of the Council so at last a special tax was raised on both licensed and unlicensed bordellos, gaming tables not in licensed gambling houses, those who empty dunnypits, and on street vendors not trading in a licensed market place. Money was raised and Galwart, Legit and Stank were appointed to oversee the proper spending of this money.

Now it seems that our investigative novelist, Furan, had somehow gained sight of how this money was spent. Apparently two thirds of it was paid out to Legit and Stank, who were engaged in ‘research projects’ to define poverty, to understand the mechanisms by which folk drifted into poverty, and to provide a searching look at the ethics of the poor. The remaining third was paid to Galwart for ‘administrative expenses’ and ‘facilitation fees.’

All this was laid out in lightly disguised detail in Furan’s novel. He was wise enough to have it printed in secret, but then handed out a dozen copies to reviewers. A number of these copies landed in the hands of the three protagonists. Within hours, Furan Toothwhite, his wife, daughter and young son were forced to flee for their lives. They fled north from the city and hid on a small croft Madam Toothwhite had inherited from her grandmother. The novel remained unpublished and was forgotten.

Obviously, because Furan was a novelist, nobody noticed he was missing. After all you never saw him from one month’s end to the next anyway. His wife on the other hand was soon missed. She helped out behind any number of bars, took in washing, cooked and cleaned for a number of elderly bachelors, and was effectively indispensable. People wondered what had happened to her. Eventually people started wondering about Furan as well, because eventually we worked out they had both disappeared.

Finally, in the dead of winter, I received a missive from Furan, begging me to come to the croft. This I did. Because it was cold I borrowed an extra cloak and an orid skin waistcoat. You know the sort; they have the hide on the outside and the fleece on the inside. Thus prepared I ventured forth to meet Furan in his rustic hideaway. A colder, more squalid hovel I have rarely seen. Here he poured out his story and asked me if I could do anything to help. I promised to try and with that comforting gesture, I left them. I felt that I had less chance of freezing to death, walking through the night, than I did if I risked sleeping there.

Back in Port Naain I recovered the copies of his novel from their hiding place. In reality he’d merely left them at his printers and his printer was glad to get rid of them as they took up a fair bit of room. To be fair, they took up a fair bit of room on the barge as well. I then proceeded to read the novel. That task complete it struck me that I needed allies. I summoned Lancet Foredeck, Dobart Strun, the sculptor, and Ingenious Trool, the painter of chamber pots. I could have picked finer artists, but these were men I could trust and between us, we knew pretty well every artist in Port Naain. The first thing to do was to have them read Furan’s book. A week later we gathered together again and decided upon a plan of action.

Each of us tackled things in our own way. Lancet, who as always was enamoured of performance art, kept putting on performances where an innocent maiden, labelled ‘The Port Naain Poor Fund’ was about to be ravished by three assailants who were obviously Galwart, Legit, and Stank. Trool decorated an extensive range of commemorative chamber-pots. Around the outside were the words, “The stealing of the Port Naain Poor Fund.” On the inside of the pot were the faces of the three thieves, helpfully named so that the purchaser knew who he or she was about to insult.

Because the winter was so cold, Dobart Strun produced an ice sculpture. He carved it in his workshop and then, late at night, it was carried up to the Council of Sinecurists’ building. Next morning the Sinecurists arrived to see statues of the three sneaking out of the building carrying sacks full of loot.
I merely resorted to verse.


Galwart, Legit, and Stank

The whole situation is rank.

They’ve stolen the money

It’s really not funny

The authorities have drawn a blank

Another verse was


A peerless stalwart is our Galwart

His achievements are lately made plain

He has taxed harlots

He has taxed turds,

He has taxed shallots,

He has taxed cards,

The wages of sin,

The money rolls in,

Into his pockets to drain.


This was all doggerel, to be dropped into any performance. If one of my patrons or one of their guests queried my comment, then I’d explain about the scandal of the Poor Fund and mention Furan’s book.

As you can imagine, other artists, seeing what they thought was a new craze, and unwilling to admit they didn’t know what was going on, hastened to join us in mocking the threesome.

Initially we had to avoid bullies sent to deal with us. But frankly they couldn’t reach me, performing in the homes of my patrons. They did attempt to deal with Dobart Strun but forgot that he was a sculptor. He merely hurled his assailants off the wharf into the estuary. Some tried breaking the chamber pots that Ingenious Trool had painted. They succeeded in smashing some and realised, to their dismay, they had just made them even more collectable. The price shot up and everybody who was anybody wanted one.

Lancet Foredeck was perhaps the most vulnerable. But whatever I say about Lancet, he is a man almost without fear. When threatened he counterattacked with such alacrity he ended up in front of the magistrates facing charges of affray. This merely meant that the sad tale of Furan and his book gained judicial exposure.
By now the whole city seemed to be demanding a copy of Furan’s book and there was not a copy to be purchased anyway. It was at that point, with booksellers stopping me in the street begging me to find them copies, that we started distributing them. Shena was happy; we got our sleeping cabin back. In less than a day we shifted all five hundred copies Furan had printed. Not only that but we sold them to the booksellers at twice the price Furan expected a reader to pay. The booksellers never blinked at our gouging, they merely charged the readers double and still sold out within hours.
We did a second printing, which also sold well, and then I was approached by the Secretary to the Council of Sinecurists. He told me, firmly, that he was going to buy a hundred copies, for those Sinecurists who hadn’t already purchased as copy, and he expected to pay an entirely sensible price for them. So we took a gamble, did a third printing, and gave him the hundred, free and gratis.

At this point sales had steadied, but the political ramifications were just beginning to become apparent. In Port Naain it is considered acceptable if a Sinecurist makes money out of their Sinecure. After all, once word gets round that a sinecure is potentially profitable, next year other Sinecurists will be prepared to bid more for it. Hence more money enters the public purse.

But actually embezzling funds is very severely frowned upon. At the very least the other Sinecurists have to make up the deficit from their own pockets. The Council gave orders for the arrest of our three villains.

They tried to go into hiding but the entire city was looking for them; Galwart, naked except for a false beard, as ejected from a bordello into the arms of the watch. Artistically that is true but the reality was less grand. Yes he was naked. Indeed at the start of his descent he wore a false beard. But the girls threw him out of a third storey window. Luckily the tide was well in and he landed in deep water from which the watch eventually rescued him.

Legit, and Stank were dragged by the mob to the great public cesspits. There they were forced to dance upon narrow planks laid across them. All the while, some threw rotting vegetables at them, and other people laid bets on how long they’d manage to keep from being knocked off.

Finally the inevitable happened and they fell in and the gamblers now started placing bets on how long it would take them to drown. Due to an administrative oversight (and budget constraints), the cesspit hadn’t been emptied for three years and was ridiculously full. I felt that things were getting a little out of hand. So I knocked open the emergency sluice and the two criminals were swept along Little Toffin Street in a tidal wave of sewage.

The judiciary took charge. The watch went through all the paperwork, took statements, and gathered evidence. On the day the three were sentenced, Furan Toothwhite, his wife, daughter and young son were welcomed back into the city as heroes. They had borrowed a donkey cart, and at the edge of the city, the donkey was unhitched and their grateful fellow citizens harnessed Galwart, Legit, and Stank in the donkey’s place. Furan was formally thanked by the assembled Council of Sinecurists and was awarded a small pension, ‘In recognition of his invaluable services to the city, performed in spite of the risk to his person.’ He returned home in modest prosperity. His book was still selling and numerous printers and publishers wished to discus his next work.

I wasn’t present in the city at the time. The householders of Little Toffin Street had complained to the magistrates about the sewage. The magistrates announced that they were minded to make an example of the felon who had perpetrated the act, “Because there has been altogether too much of this sort of thing recently.”
I slipped away quietly and joined old Tallan Wynfeather’s strolling players as they toured the villages of Partann. There I reprised my much acclaimed performance as Ruff Tumble in ‘Forfulum the Buffoon and the fancy waistcoat.’


For those wishing to spend more time in the world of Tallis Steelyard

Tallis Steelyard. Deep waters, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks the great question, who are the innocent anyway?



Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories.

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red. Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death by changing the rules?

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