I cannot be sure now when I first met Wilam Charmwater. He’s just one of the people I got to know over the years. I probably met him at some event I was to host. But he’s a pleasant enough chap. People would say ‘there’s to him,’ and he was generally liked. I know people asked why we got on so well and Wilam would say, “Tallis never asks me for a loan, and I never turn him down.”
I suppose I ought to mention at this point that he was a Usurer. Obviously a pretty good one, because his lady wife was always well dressed. She also used to entertain, and their house was beautifully done out.
Wilam’s success seems to have stemmed from the fact that he worked for a week in Port Naain and the next week he worked out of an office in Fluance. This is a bustling town upriver from Port Naain, where the river Dharant joins the Paraeba. Talking to people here, it’s interesting to note that they do not consider themselves Partannese. The town is on the east bank of the Dharant, and to them Partann is the west bank of the river. Hence Port Naain is seen not as the local capital but as a rival metropolis. Indeed the inhabitants claim that Fluance was a town of significance when Port Naain was a fishing village.
Wilam was one of the few who did work in both places and thus he probably picked up a fair bit of business from those who wished to transfer money from one place to another.
Whatever you accused Wilam of, it could never be idleness. One evening I was dining late at the Fatted Mott. This is a chop house popular with single men, lawyers, clerks, and the like. It has the great advantage that if you turn up late, they will often do you a meal at a very reasonable price, rather than throw stuff out. I’d just started to eat and Wilam came in. We shared a table and a bottle of wine, and then he bought another bottle. By the time we’d finished the fourth bottle it was gone midnight.
Wilam explained he’d come straight from his office, he’d been working late to try and get caught up before he went to his other office in Fluance. Indeed he wouldn’t go home that night, he’d sail at dawn.
I commented he had made a lot of work for himself and asked whether it might not be better just to let the Fluance office go, or put a manager in. It was then he told me his full story. Apparently the reason he had to go to Fluance was because he had a wife in Fluance, just as he had a wife in Port Naain. Not only that but his finances were complicated. As a young man he inherited the house in Port Naain, but he also inherited a very nice property in Fluance. So to start his usury business, and to raise his initial capital, he’d mortgaged both properties.
Now for a while this went well, and then he married. With one wife, things grew more difficult, but once he had a second wife, he found he was running to stand still. So whilst, for the last fifteen years, he’d maintained both households to a high standard and kept up with his interest payments, he’d not been able to repay a single dreg of the capital that he’d borrowed.
Not only that but when he was with his wives he was thrust into the social whirl and barely had time to just relax. His one real luxury was the small boat he’d purchased for sailing to Fluance and back as he ‘commuted’ to work.
In the years before he’d been such a frantically active businessman, he’d always liked fishing. Then for ten or more years he’d never had a chance to so much as drop a worm into the water. So when he got his own boat, he thought he might at least be able to fish from that as he travelled backwards and forwards. Indeed he did manage to get some fishing. Then one day, as he travelled he spotted a small pier, almost entirely screened by trees. Out of pure curiosity he tied up there and discovered that it belonged to a very scattered community of small farmers who would use it to send their produce to market. They had no objection to his tying up there for a night to do a spot of quiet fishing, and in return he’d transport their produce free to wherever he was going next. He got to know the small community, especially Betta Thrang, a young widow who had a small mott herd. They became friends and eventually she got to hear the full story of his life.
How long this would have continued is hard to tell. But eventually a jealous business rival told both wives about each other.
We’re on tour again, so to catch the end of the Story click on the link below
The Civilising Influence of Betta Thrang ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post