It was perhaps a month after I’d arrived back from Slipshade and the whole
episode should have faded from mind. As it was, it seemed determined to
haunt me, like some over-spiced meal eaten too late in the evening. So, for
example, one evening I was at the Misanthropes. I hadn’t actually dined. In
fact I wasn’t entirely sure I would. The money I had earned from my
Partannese adventure had gone, frittered away paying creditors and suchlike.
Thus it was a little disturbing when I had noted a small group of men,
obviously displaced Partannese brigands, in the street. One of them I
recognised from Slipshade, he was the gentleman who won the pie eating
contest. Given I had been the person to hand him his prize and congratulate
him, I was sure he’d remember me. Thus I faded down a side street and hoped that they hadn’t seen me. As I pondered their presence, it struck me that Port Naain has the power to draw people to it. After all, had I not already met Darstep Balstep, previously lord of Slipshade Keep, and now a jobbing poet? It struck me that Balstep had merely arrived early than these others. He was doubtless more focused on his future and had probably stolen a horse as well. I could imagine the small collection of ruffians I had just seen would be initially indecisive with nobody to issue them with orders. It could well take time for them to make their minds up as to what they ought to do.
So I put aside my irritation that the ill-starred ramifications of the
Slipshade episode were still occurring, long after any financial recompense
for my sufferings had been spent. I feel that there is a lesson there for
the young. Given that the unfortunate consequences of your actions will
always be with you, wisdom demands that you think long and hard about your plans. Ensure always you are more than adequately compensated, ideally in advance.
But in all candour I was at peace with the world and was sipping a glass of
moderate wine. I was willing to let the evening pass as it would. I had no
patron to flatter that evening, no recitals that needed arranging, and any
impromptu verses that I might need over the next few days had already been written well in advance. I was there purely to relax, and was hoping to hear some tale or some drollery that I might tweak and work into my own
Then even as I sipped, I heard a voice cry, “Steelyard, you currish,
I was somewhat taken aback, had the Partannese ruffians I’d seen in the
street tracked me down already? I looked up, and saw Flobbard Wangil
striding across the room towards me. He looked furious and even as he
approached he snatched a plate from in front of one of the diners and hurled it at me. Fortunately I dodged and it hit Lancet who was sitting in the armchair next to me. He ended up covered in a hot pepper sauce. He leapt to his feet and hurled a pie plate at Flobbard. This latter individual, whilst angry, was not one of those rendered unobservant by his emotion so ducked and the pie plate struck Julatine Sypent full in the chest.
It must be said that Julatine and Lancet do not get on. Part of it is
professional jealousy. Julatine is a good painter, but his bread and butter
comes from painting twee cottages and similar. Lancet is not a bad painter,
(he’s a better painter than he is a poet) and occasionally he too will paint
some quaint rustic scene. His pictures always sell more quickly than do
Julatine’s and will command a higher price.
Even more galling for Julatine is that he is a perfectionist. He will take
days over a piece of work. Lancet will knock the same thing off in an
afternoon. What makes things worse is that Lancet has been known to dwell on this topic in conversation, at length, to Julatine’s obvious irritation.
Between ourselves a lot of the rancour is Lancet’s doing. Whether he
considers provoking his rival to be a piece of performance art I’ve never
thought to ask him, but he brings to it a dedication and a level of
preparation worthy of such an endeavour. As an example, he was walking south of the river and came upon Julatine who had just started to paint a
particularly pretty cottage. Lancet hid to avoid being seen, came back to
the city and demanded my assistance. That evening, armed with paint, we
approached the cottage. It was painted a primrose yellow. The paint Lancet
had acquired as a rather paler yellow shade. So that night, when the
occupier was asleep, Lancet and I painted the front of the house in this
shade. I would paint the plaster, and Lancet would then come along with some white paint which he cleverly used to ‘fade’ and ‘distress’ the yellow.
It was obvious that Julatine must have noticed because in the Misanthropes
early the next evening he was complaining about how the light had changed and given a whole new perspective on colour. Apparently he’d had to redo a considerable piece of his work.
So later that night Lancet and I returned to the cottage. The woodwork was
picked out in black and had obviously been repainted no more than a couple of years previously. We repainted the woodwork so that it was a more faded and washed-out grey. Early the next evening Lancet and I dropped into the Misanthropes but Julatine merely sat at a table glowering at the world and said nothing. After some supper we went back to the cottage with a saw.
There was a young tree standing in front of the cottage. As quietly as we
could, we cut it down. But we felled in very close to the ground, the idea
being that we would camouflage the stump by putting some stone or turf over it. Then it would be as if the tree had never been there.
Unfortunately just as we’d finished, the owner came out. He had obviously
grown suspicious over the past couple of days. We had just hidden the tree
in some scrub and had come back for the saw. He spotted us, shouted, and we fled. He didn’t try to pursue us but I suspect he’d mentioned the incident
to Julatine. My suspicions were aroused mainly because somebody poured a bucket of whitewash over us as Lancet and I stood chatting outside the door of the Misanthropes the following evening.
Still I digress. Flobbard Wangil was inadvertently prevented from
approaching me by the hail of projectiles and insults Lancet and Julatine
were hurling at each other. Others were dragged into the exchange as they
became caught up in things, but finally Flobbard got close enough to be to
attempt to belabour me with a chair. I managed to snatch up a stool from by
the bar and was successfully fending him off with that.
Finally Lancet inadvertently summoned the Watch. It seems that he had
managed to irritate a number of those present in the Misanthropes, and they ganged up on him and threw him out of the window, and he landed on two watchmen passing below. They burst in upon us. To be fair they were too wise to ask a silly question like, “What’s going on?” Instead they got down to the root of the matter by asking, “So who started it all.” Somewhat to my surprise everybody pointed at Flobbard and me.
Thus, protesting our innocence, we were arrested and given the day had been hectic, from a judicial point of view, we were led straight before
Malanthon. The clerk read out the charges, which were largely affray in
several of its forms. Then the clerk asked Flobbard what had happened.
Flobbard brought up the story of the Slipshade expedition and how I’d
abandoned him there. The clerk then asked me for my version. I recounted the story as well, but stressed that I had abandoned him because I had assumed he had stolen the stones and secreted them within his person. The clerk glanced at Malanthon and attempted to sum up. “So you, Flobbard Wangil, are angry because thanks to Steelyard here you spend three weeks in a cell with only a commode and a selection of laxatives for company?” Flobbard nodded.
“And you, Tallis Steelyard, handed Flobbard Wangil over to the authorities
because you believed he had the stolen gems?” I too nodded.
At this point, Flobbard burst out, “But I didn’t have the gems, I never had
the gems, I never touched the gems.”
This rather shook me. Flobbard’s tones were not the whining of a petty
criminal caught playing a game too rich for him. He spoke with the voice of
an honest man (in this matter at least) who was exasperated beyond measure at being accused of a crime he had not committed. To be fair to him, if a three week diet of laxatives had not produced the stones, then I had to face up to the fact that he had probably never had them.
Malanthon made some notes and then looked at us. Flobbard just shook his
head. I could see his point, he didn’t feel particularly guilty.
Malanthon looked at me. I cleared by throat. “I think I owe Flobbard an
That got a smile from Malathon so I turned to Flobbard. “I’m sorry Flobbard. I was obviously wrong.”
He was obviously in a state of shock, I don’t suppose anybody had ever
apologised to him before. He shook my hand, and we both turned back to
Malathon. The clerk read out from the piece of paper that he had been given.
“Tallis Steelyard is to apologise to Flobbard, and is to also organise a pie
eating contest in which Flobbard can participate.”
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