Now you might wonder why I lead this article with a painting of Maljie’s bedroom window. I suppose I could use the argument, “It had to be done.” I might even suggest that the artist who risked life and limb to get this picture deserves to have his work more widely publicised, even if the artist has to remain anonymous. But in reality it wasn’t as difficult to organise as you might think. All it takes is a little planning.
To understand the story, one has to understand two things. Firstly, Laxey makes excellent coffee. This is a given. He brews coffee that takes a crowbar to the early morning and beats it into submission.
The second is the history of the kimono. Obviously it is a garment that didn’t originate here in Port Naain. Occasionally our city, normally so insular and inward looking, imports a bizarre foreign idea and falls in love with it. The kimono was one of these.
In the interests of enlightenment I have researched the history of this garment. It originates as a lady’s gown in the distant Perfected Empire. Now the Perfected Empire is a huge, bureaucratic, state that is on the other side of the world from us. I have been assured that it’s actually quicker to get there if you travel west from here than if you travel east. But whilst it might be quicker, this doesn’t allow for the intransigent nature of the Imperial Bureaucracy. The Empire has departments which organise and control trade with the barbarians. Basically the barbarians are everybody who isn’t in point of fact within the Empire.
So in the distant past, some Emperor decreed (or had decreed for him by a junior sub-under-minister) that all trade with the barbarians was to pass through the city, Cascavai of the Silks. So the caravans leave that city loaded mainly with silk and make their way across the great desert of the Arach Parch. They then traverse the steppe, crossing the two great rivers, the Yntacg and the Urkursk. In the course of this, they pay tolls to the various nomad confederations which control the endless steppe. Finally the caravans end their journey at Koppart’s Terminus. From there, goods are dispersed throughout the west. As I mentioned, most of what is transported is silk, and rolls of this commodity will even make their way as far as Port Naain.
Now enterprising Port Naain merchants asked themselves why they couldn’t merely sail west, past various lands filled with nameless barbarian peoples, and arrive at the East Coast of the Perfected Empire. Then they could just buy the silk direct. They even attempted it; only to discover that the Bureaucracy of the Empire, backed up by the military might of the Empire, refused to countenance such irregular practices. The merchants of Port Naain are barbarians and as barbarians they are welcome to trade with the Empire at Cascavai of the Silks.
But ways can be found. The merchants could linger on the westernmost islands and negotiate with the traders of Ampeiter. These do have licence to trade with the Empire, visiting the other great export port of Gillow (because, apparently, they are not barbarians or at least not ‘that’ sort of barbarian). But even here, things are not simple. The merchants of Ampeiter have no interest in merely being middlemen carrying rolled silk and taking a small margin. They preferred to sell silk garments. These they had manufactured for them in their factories in Gillow.
This is fair enough, except for one minor matter. When you look at the garments, the ladies of the Perfected Empire seem to be smaller than the ladies of the west. Their clothes wouldn’t fit. This was explained to the merchants of Ampeiter who, terrified of losing lucrative trade, immediately altered their approach. They concentrated on the kimono. They obviously decided that they would produce it in three sizes, which in Imperial terms must have been large, very large, and downright ridiculous.
The merchants of Port Naain took up the challenge. The large and very large were saleable in our city. Admittedly they were labelled small and medium, but still it’s the thought that counts. The downright ridiculous was best regarded as so much raw material. I once saw a burly Urlan knight in full armour wearing one of these and it hung loose on him. Still as raw material they’re excellent. I was told how many pairs of silk drawers a decent cutter could get from one of these kimonos, but I confess I’ve forgotten.
But as a result of my digression I’m sure you now understand that a lady like Maljie could well be expected to own a kimono. Indeed she might even cherish her kimono. As a garment it has the advantage of giving plenty of coverage.
Now for reasons that don’t really need recounting here (this story is long enough already) I was tasked with getting an artist into position so that they could paint Maljie’s bedroom window. I asked Lancet Foredecks to be the artist. He is competent enough with a brush, but more importantly in these matters he is brisk. Seeing that he is the performance artist, I decided that for once I would arrange the performance and show him how it’s done. Early one morning I sent a message to Laxey from Maljie saying she was going to turn up at his house for an early morning cup of coffee. I also sent a message from Laxey to Maljie, inviting her to drop round for the first cup of coffee of the day.
So, wrapped in her kimono, like a great warship under full sail, Maljie set off to get her coffee. Before she was out of sight I had Lancet Foredecks in place, painting furiously.
At this point the performance departed from the script I had prepared. Lancet has pointed out to me that performance art does this more often than you might consider reasonable. Thus he always stresses the need to improvise. In this case the improvisation was provided for me by others. As she processed majestically along the street, a symphony in silk, Maljie heard a sob.
Being Maljie she turned to investigate, and down a snicket she discovered Flogger Noggan demanding money with menaces from a small street child. Now this highlights Flogger’s incompetence. In all candour, he would be lucky if the child had a stale crust. Also Flogger was carrying out his sorry trade within sobbing distance of the street. The minute Maljie saw what was going on she struck. Flogger Noggan was slammed backwards into the wall and was held in place by the handle of a dog whip, the end of which was thrust under his chin. As an aside, isn’t it amazing what a lady can carry in the sleeves of a kimono?
As the ruffian stood on tiptoe to stop the point of the whip handle doing him serious damage, Maljie comforted the child. Then she turned to Thrasher and with her face inches from his, she said something which made him turn pale. She then contemptuously released him and accompanied by her new companion made her way to drink coffee with Laxey.
I confess that the incident was useful, it won us a little more time. Thus Lancet had left before Maljie returned.
Now between ourselves, ladies who return home not long after at dawn, dressed in their night attire, are often the subject of both ribald comments and gossip.
In the case of Maljie, gloriously caparisoned in silk, twirling her dog whip in one hand, nobody was foolish enough to make a vulgar comment. As for gossip, what’s the point? When Maljie starts to reminisce, even the most hardened gossips shrug and wonder why they bother.
Of course you may wish to know more about Port Naain
In his own well chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation, and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.
As a reviewer commented, “This author has created a rich world, filled with interesting characters – of whom Maljie is one of the most colourful. Her life and adventures are presented though the gossip of the poet Tallis Steelyard who has a sharp eye and a sharper tongue. Reminiscent somewhat of Pepys’ diaries about the small and large events of London, Tallis is a better writer. And why is Mr Webster dangerous – too much of my money is being spent on his books.”