It has to be said that I have always enjoyed immersing myself in the great bath at the Goldclaw baths. The water is heated by the next door Goldclaw Foundry and Metal Works so there’s plenty of it. Now one reason I specifically like this establishment is that they have a ‘washing baths’ that everybody goes through before they enter the great bath. Thus the water of the great bath is remarkably clean.
To explain the layout, gentlemen enter at one end of the baths, ladies at the other. (Actually there’s a central door as well but you then turn left or right to get to the appropriate changing rooms.)
From the changing rooms you go straight into a ‘washing bath.’ Here one washes away the grime of the day. Some venture no further, but if you wish, when you’re clean you can proceed through into the great bath. Whilst there are separate washing baths for ladies and gentlemen, the great bath is for everybody.
Things worked, the management was polite if casual and everybody tried to keep to the rules, written and unwritten. But then, as inevitably happens, the old manager of the baths finally retired and his replacement was determined to make her mark. To be fair to her, somebody may have commented that people were entering the great bath without washing properly in the washing bath. So she decided to stamp down hard on this behaviour. Again, I rather sympathise with her.
At the men’s washing baths a fellow called Ebbit was hired. He was quiet and tactful. He would merely approach the guilty party as they walked, stark naked, from one baths to the other, and comment quietly that, “I think you may have missed a bit sir.”
Unfortunately at the ladies’ washing baths a woman called Haggine was employed. She was a large muscular lady. Shena described her to me as a harridan. Others were less generous. Apparently as the ladies processed elegantly, dressed as nature intended, from their baths to the great baths, Haggine would make offensive comments about an individual’s figure, would stop a victim and check her in invasive detail, and would even flick them with a wet towel.
One day she was particularly bellicose, and Shena, who was present, was the target of her ‘wit’ and the wet towel. Finally Shena turned to face her and said, “You have now irritated me.”
This brought more mockery, but Shena had had enough. She went back to the changing rooms, dressed and came home. I was busy at the time, editing some work. As she came into the cabin I could tell by her expression she had passed through anger and was calmly encamped on that featureless icy plain beyond.
“Tallis, what’s the name of that big watchman, looks like somebody has shaved one of the greater apes?”
There could only be one who matched that description. “Makan?”
“That’s him. You know him?”
“Oh yes, he might look like some sort of man-beast but he’s a poetry lover and has quite a nice way with romantic verse.”
“Good, I want him here this evening if possible. I want a private word with him.”
What can a husband do? I found Makan, explained that Shena wanted a word with him, and left them to get on with whatever Shena was planning. After all I knew that if I had a part to play in whatever was going to happen, Shena would inform me. Admittedly she’d inform me at the last minute when it was too late to improvise, but still, I would be given my role.
As it was, I didn’t have a part in this drama. Next day Shena had a word with her fellow ladies. Now up until this point Shena had not really been part of any clique. She had a few friends who did attend, but as they were rarely there when she was. She had what one might call, ‘A large circle of vague acquaintanceship.’ The fact she had stood up to Haggine meant that quite a few ladies now recognised her, and they seem to have been happy to fall in with her suggested plan. So that evening, Makan finished his shift and went to the Ladies’ changing room. There Shena introduced him to all the other ladies, and he joined them in stripping and washing in the wash bath. Then he joined them in the walk to the great bath.
Now it should be mentioned that because he is large, muscular, and hirsute, people make the mistake of assuming that Makan is stupid. The fact he speaks slowly and carefully, weighing his words, encourages them in this fallacy. When Haggine saw him she was initially speechless. Finally she found her tongue.
“Hey you, what in the forty-seven hells are you doing!”
Makan said, reasonably, “Going to the great bath with the rest of the girls.”
“You’re a bluidy man!”
To be fair, this was blatantly obvious. But Makan looked down at himself and said, slowly, “Are you sure? My mother cannot have lied to me.”
This outraged Haggine, indeed she was so angry she slapped Makan with the wet towel. Makan said not a word. He merely picked her up, ignoring totally her wild punching and kicking, and carried her to the edge of the great bath. Here he did not merely drop her in, he hurled her. So when she finally did hit the water, it was some distance from the edge, where the water was deep enough for swimming. Immediately the women converged upon her, complaining that somebody wearing clothes shouldn’t be in the bath. Thus as she struggled to get to the edge, they stripped her. Finally they chased her out of the baths and into the street slapping her with wet towels.
As a result of her part in the overthrow of the tyrant, Shena became generally popular with the women bathers. (So was Makan but that is another story. Apparently there is a shortage of competent, quietly spoken men who can produce romantic verse at the drop of a hat.) Still as the ladies got to know Shena better, they came to regard her as universally competent. Again this is something I can sympathise with. But still it was quite common for them to come to her quietly and ask her advice on all sorts of issues.
One evening she brought one of her new acquaintances home with her. This lady, Madam Vear, explained her problem. She’d purchased one of the two maps Illus Wheelburn had drawn of Port Naain. Apparently she’d been in Prae Ducis at the time, dealing with family matters, had seen the map, had been amused by it and had bought it.
To be fair, she had, at the time, been in funds. Apparently she had followed her husband to Avitas because she’d heard rumours that he had another wife and family there. When she arrived, unexpectedly, he fled abandoning his second family. She followed him to Prae Ducis where she discovered he had a third family. He fled again and she got reports that he’d died in a bar room brawl in Chatterfield. She then acted swiftly. She forged his signature, sold everything he owned in Prae Ducis for cash, and then rode hard for Avitas where she repeated the process. All this before news of his death reached the city.
Since then her circumstances had changed, she had remarried. She had put her funds into a new family partnership with her new husband and matters were proceeding well. But suddenly she discovered that she urgently needed money. She didn’t want to bother her new husband with details, so she intended to sell the map.
But she’d had the foresight to pace around the areas marked on the map with annotated comments. There was one which hinted that a considerable treasure was to be found buried at number sixteen, Grettan Walk. This was pleasant enough street on the edge of the Merchant Quarter. Unfortunately number sixteen had been recently demolished. Not only that but according to Madam Vear the area was boarded off and the whole area had been dug out. She assumed that the purchaser of the site had dug out ready to put in new foundations and a cellar, and had then called a halt to the process. Why? She’d asked round and had heard rumours of a death in the family and a shortage of money. But as she admitted, from a purely selfish point of view, her discovery somewhat devalued her map. After all everybody could look and see nothing could be buried there. She wondered if I could re-annotate the map, adding a couple of extra details which would enable her to get a good price for it.
I confess that I was a little torn. Obviously there were the ethical implications, but frankly the more I looked at the map, the more I was taken by the challenge. Also it seemed that Shena was building for herself a wider circle of acquaintance who valued her omnicompetence. I felt I ought to help, not hinder. Also I sensed I had an obvious solution. Due to the style Illus had adopted with his numerals, one stroke of the pen would turn sixteen into eighteen. I sat and practiced the handwriting, mixed an ink that matched that used by Illus, and set to work. Not only did I change the sixteen to eighteen, I felt that I had to explain away the fact that the site of number sixteen was given more prominence on the map. So I added a brief note. “Start tunnel here, dig to next door.”
I sat back, surveyed what I had done, and felt it was an excellent piece of work. Shena was pleased with my efforts and Madam Vear was delighted. A week later Shena mentioned in passing that Madam Vear sent her thanks, she’d sold the map for rather more than she hoped. Another week went by and Madam confided to Shena that the reason she had needed money was that her first husband had reappeared in Port Naain. Reports of his death had obviously been exaggerated. Now it appears he was trying to get his money back and was attempting to do so by pointing out that she was a bigamist and threatening to bring this to the attention of the authorities. Fortunately the sale of the map had nicely covered the hire of a very competent professional person. This person quietly approached the first husband and pointed out that when he had been dead, there had been no problems with bigamy. Thus this dark clad and limber individual suggested that the surplus husband return once more to being dead. Indeed he more than hinted that the time for contemplation was limited, and that if he remained alive and bothersome, his return to his previous deceased state could indeed be organised for him.
It appears the first husband fled Port Naain that very evening and Madam Vear has heard no more from him.
Again we’re on the road with a blog tour. To see the rest of this post go to the Writers’ Coop by clicking the link below. It’s a blog well worth exploring.