Now it’s not for me to disillusion anybody. After all, enduring as a poet is very much a life of encouraging misapprehensions and spreading enchantment. So people rather assume that as a poet I live a most cerebral existence. A life of witty repartee, deep and meaningful insights, and wise words, graciously dispensed. To be fair, there is some of that, but perhaps less than one might hope. As a poet I am at the disposal of my patrons and their whims will often drive my actions.
So Madam Doon mentioned to me that, having contemplated the actions of her husband and her daughter, she felt that there had to be Urlan blood in the family. She admitted that it was obviously a long way back, but still the presence of a ferocious, honour-driven warrior in her husband’s family seemed to explain much.
I have mentioned the family before,
I confessed to Madam Doon that I probably knew less than she did about the matter. It was then that Madam made her suggestion. She had discovered that her husband’s ancestors were buried in the Burtle Street tomb yard. Apparently it had been belonged to the family in the far distant past. Might I go and see if I could find any graves that might cast a light on the subject?
Of course I said yes. After all, if you cannot send your poet on a fruitless quest, who can you send? Especially on an overcast day that threatens rain.
The Burtle Street tomb yard took some finding. Burtle Street wiggles around the back of the Sump. Finally I found a ginnel which didn’t just lead into a backyard. Instead it led to the blank wall of the tomb yard. Now this is where I had my first surprise, the tomb yard wall stood proud. In Port Naain, the unerring rule, perhaps the only law never broken, is that if there is a blank wall on the boundary of your property, you incorporate it into your building. But in this case the tomb yard wall had been shunned and there was a very narrow lane, wide enough for a slim person to walk through.
Even more unusually, none of the houses on Burtle Street had windows at the back where they would look out over the tomb yard. Again this was rare. But I pressed on with my exploration, pushing through briars and weeds, and discovered that the tomb yard was roughly square. Yet having been all the way round it, I couldn’t find a gate. What I did find was a place where the wall had fallen a little. I scrambled over and found myself in a small plot overgrown with trees, a few tombs being visible among them. The fane in the centre was not merely small, the door had been bricked up centuries ago. There was one window, high up in the wall, but that had a heavy iron grill blocking it.
I looked around. There were a few, rarely used, paths winding amongst the tombs. It was obvious that whilst people visited, it was not very often. I might have been only the second or third visitor that year. Methodically I started to search. Even as I did so, I had a growing conviction that I was being watched.
The tomb yard was obviously old. Many of the tombs had been worn almost smooth by the passage of years. Most were leaning, having been undermined by time and the growth of vegetation. Still, the canopy of leaves above me had the advantage that it cut the light, meaning that there wasn’t much undergrowth to push through. Occasionally vague breezes tweaked tentatively at my hair as I searched.
At last I came across an armorial tomb, it still bore traces of the original heraldry. I brushed it gently with a handkerchief but candidly, the thing was worn beyond all reading.
Still, I sketched it. I felt that Madam Doon might take comfort in the fact that, if not genuinely Urlan, it did show that somebody in the family had been entitled to bear arms. Indeed judging by the age of the tombstone, it was some considerable time ago. At one time our aristocracy were little more than robber barons, a role they have since surrendered to the usurers and lawyers. Whilst I felt unable to supply names, I felt my discovery could be used to add weight to Madam Doon’s thesis that her husband and daughter had in some small way ‘thrown back’ to a more belligerent past.
It was as I stood to sketch that I realised just how chill the tomb yard was. As I looked round I could see nothing beyond the perimeter but the blank walls of the houses on all sides. All refusing pointedly to overlook the place. There was a stillness to the air, whereas previously I had noted strange breezes, now the air moved hardly at all. Similarly there was a dank feel to the place, the air heavy with scents of trees and decay. It was not unpleasant but still, I sensed I was being inspected.
I spent another ten minutes searching. I had no intention of ever returning, and I wanted to be able to honestly say that I had explored everywhere. I even checked the walls of the fane, but they lacked any inscriptions. This surprised me, I would have expected some reference to a god or demon. But there was nothing. As I worked my way round, for a moment I wondered if the door was now open. But it was a trick of the light on the bricks that still solidly blocked it.
I had somehow got myself turned round. Thus I followed the wrong barely visible path to the wall. Hence I made my way round the perimeter, searching with increasing desperation for the exit. At one point I convinced myself that the wall was now entire along its whole length. Indeed I even began to suspect that if I went back to the fane, I would discover the door at last unblocked. Out of the corner of my eye I caught flickers of movement, but didn’t stay to investigate them. Finally I found the fallen section and scrambled back over it. As I stood on top of the pile of stone I took one last look at the tomb yard. A shaft of sunlight came down from an overcast sky to briefly illuminate the fane. Then the cloud closed and the whole tomb yard seemed darker and gloomier than ever.
I turned to go and as I did, I thought I heard a sigh. The sort of sigh you hear when an older man, half woken from sleep, turns over in bed, pulling his bedding around him and sighs with contentment as he slips into a deeper and more contented repose.
Should you want to explore Port Naain and it’s environs further
Life for a jobbing poet is difficult. You have to be flexible with regard to your art. One day you’re organising an elegant soiree, the next a pie eating contest. Yet all the while you are striving to raise the tone and to ensure that decency, dignity, and an appreciation of the fine arts prevails.
And sadly it appears that the more honest your attempts, the more noble your endeavours, the more likely it is that you end up making enemies. Tallis helps out the family of an old friend, obliges a patron, and does his best to aid the authorities in the administration of justice. Each time he merely manages to upset the powerful, the petty, and the vindictive.
As a reviewer commented, “Any story that contains immortal sayings like “I will merely point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambience, it was an ambience that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of my shirts.” Is well worth reading.
Additionally, this tale refers to maps, missing gems, pie eating contests and even a marimba – what more could a reader want?”