Cartographically challenged

1) Cartographically challenged

People will remember that I do sometimes lecture at the University here in Port Naain, and over the years I must have taught numerous young people. Perhaps I ought to merely say that they were exposed to my wit and erudition. I’m not sure whether many of them learned anything. Still, there were some whom I felt would go a long way in life. Indeed I always felt that Illus Wheelburn was one of my more promising students.

But he expressed some dissatisfaction with the life of a poet. Frankly he felt that he couldn’t cope with the slow, irrevocable slide into penury. But still he was a genuine creative artist and needed to express himself. He wrote a little, published less, and in point of fact survived because people asked him to write letters for them. Not so much because of his eloquence as because he has nice handwriting. He could also adapt his handwriting. Thus when commissioned, he would then ask his client to write a sentence or two. He would then write in the style they were attempting to achieve.

Still, whilst it kept him fed, it was hardly lucrative. Then one day he was helping a friend at a house clearance. As he was clearing out a drawer, Illus found an old map of the coast of Partann. It was obviously something somebody had once used and had filed away and forgotten. Looking at it you’d guess that the original owner had been a trader or sea captain, because there were two or three places where he’d annotated it.

Illus asked for the map as part of his pay, went home and spent an evening attempting to copy the hand used in the annotations. Next day, after careful thought he added some more comments. His comments were far more interesting than the originals. Whilst the originals merely commented on the price of orid hides or the depth of water, Illus mentioned good beaches suitable for running ashore small boats, and sea caves where one could hide cargoes. Indeed the name of Captain Malart, Port Naain’s most successful pirate, appeared next to a particularly secluded cove.

He picked up an old picture frame in a junk shop and used that to frame the map. He then entered it for sale in a small auction house. Much to his surprise it sold well and even allowing for commission, Illus pocketed thirty vintenars, a decent week’s wage, for a few hours work.

From that point on he kept his eyes open and would snap up any old maps he found. The problem was that they were few and far between. So eventually he took the next obvious step and started drawing his own. This venture into cartography was perhaps a step too far. After all I was friendly with Benor, a genuine cartographer, when he was here in Port Naain. I have some idea how cartographers work and their striving for accuracy.

Benor used to divide maps into two main categories. Those meant for use that had to be accurate, had to be clear, and if they were pretty as well, nobody was going to object.

Then there were those meant for decoration. They would spend their lives framed and hanging from a wall. They had to be pretty, and frankly it was best if they were clear, but accuracy was not something that the client demanded.

Obviously both sorts provided a home for those dregs of the better bestiaries; monstrous creatures that the cartographer could draw to fill in the embarrassingly empty bits. But on the first sort of map, it was generally agreed within the profession that even they should be in some way relevant to the area they were situated in.

Illus was faced with a quandary. He frankly hadn’t the time, the training or the skill to produce the accurate maps. But he did have everything he needed to produce the decorative ones. So he decided to play to his strengths.

But he then discovered another problem. The market for decorative maps is comparatively limited and whilst it pays nicely, it doesn’t pay regularly. In crude terms, to scrape a living, if the maps fetch twenty-five vintenars each, you need so sell one a week. But if you can only sell one a month, they have to fetch four or five times as much. Decorative maps didn’t achieve this.

He was pondering this when, thirsty, he passed the Termagant and dropped in for refreshment. This is an ale house deep in the Sump, run by Lithna and her husband Mylo. Lithna is a big powerful woman who can flatten a docker with a single punch; Mylo is if anything more powerfully built. As Illus drank his ale his eye fell upon the map on the wall. He was sure it was the first map he sold. He looked more closely, and yes, it was his map. So he asked Mylo about it.

“Cost a bit but worth the money. The number of folk who comes in, buys a drink an’ then sits pondering it, means I got me money back a dozen times.”

Illus was perplexed, “But why?”

“It gives them a dream. They can daydream about getting a boat and digging for the treasure in Captain Malart’s cove.”

Illus looked more closely at the map. There was no mention of treasure. No ‘x marks the spot.’ He’d merely mentioned names of folk who might well have treasure associated with them. Imagination and hope had done the rest.

By the time he’d finished his drink his imagination was running wild. He would not merely produce decorative maps, he would produce decorative maps which looked as if they had been used and which had intriguing annotations.

He set to work. He had access to enough genuine maps to be able to produce something that, if not actually accurate, did at least not offend. He would annotate it carefully and he would then ‘age’ it so that it looked as if it had had a long and interesting life. Then he would frame it. He would then sell it through a small auction house so his name was never mentioned. Indeed he even made sure he didn’t take too many maps to the same auction house lest the staff came to know him.

He didn’t become rich but frankly it paid better than being a poet. Thinking about that statement I really ought to find a different comparison. There are few types of endeavour that pay more poorly than poetry. Illus’s scheme paid him better than merely working for a living.

A year or so after he started upon this venture, he was approached by acquaintances. Apparently they had put together a scheme to travel south in a small boat and to collect a consignment of valuables that had had to be abandoned by a smuggler. Apparently time had been allowed to ensure that the hue and cry had abated, and now it was a simple matter of finding the islet and collecting the booty. Illus was quite intrigued by this, they didn’t want him to help fund the expedition, they really needed him because he had some experience sailing small boats. Given that the primary figure organising the venture claimed to have been an intimate of the smuggler, it looked like an offer too good to pass on.

They were south of Prae Ducis when their leader called them into the boat’s small cabin and placed before them the map he was working from. Illus recognised it immediately. It was one of his. On closer inspection it was obvious that the original purchaser had added further annotations and had sold it on for an increased price. Obviously this unknown individual had had a particularly gullible audience in mind.

Illus did the obvious thing. That night, when the rest of the crew were asleep, he put his clothing into a leather bag, tied it tightly to keep the water out, and slipped quietly over the side and swam to shore. Two days later, footsore, weary and penniless, he walked into Prae Ducis. His problem was how to earn money for his passage home. It was then that he had what seemed at the time to be a really good idea. He produced two maps of parts of Port Naain, suitably annotated and took them into a small local auction house. Both sold and Illus paid his passage and sailed north on the next available boat, before anybody tried to track him down to ask questions about his work.


And we’re on the road again, it’s another blog tour. To read on you need to click on this link

Cartographically challenged

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