A wretched hive of scum and villainy during the summer season

A wretched hive of scum and villainy during the summer season.

I don’t know how well you know the coast south of Port Naain? I don’t mean Saskadil and Roskadil which are in all but name large suburbs of the city. If it were not for the fact that they are separated from us by the estuary they would have been entirely swallowed up.

As you head south, the first village you come to is Rattlestone. It was once a fishing village with small fishing boats drawn up on the shingle foreshore. There used to be a score or more nets drying, but now you’d be lucky to find one or two. As an aside the nets are those of Bottos Varn, a cantankerous individual, born and bred in Rattlestone and maintains a state of feud with any neighbour who wasn’t born in the village. He makes sure his dirtiest and most offensive nets are strung out in the sun on the hottest days with the most visitors. Most of the houses in the village are now owned by people from Port Naain whilst there are a dozen or more large villas on the coast. The one ale house, the Rollers, remains. It used to have a squalid shed where people could sleep on sawdust paillasses. Now the shed has been replaced by an elegant guest house but the price of the ale has at least doubled. Let us move swiftly on.

The next village is Slipshade. I have written about this place exhaustively in, ’Tallis Steelyard, Enemies and how to make them.’  

It is a large village, becoming a little more gentrified of late. It is law-abiding, mainly because Lord Cartin maintains a small garrison in the keep in summer. Once the campaigning season is over, he will station there any of his infantry who wish to spend a winter under arms on half pay but full rations. The town can be lively, but to be fair in this, the garrison have replaced pirates and brigands and their behaviour is at least no worse. Also it has to be admitted that, unlike Rattlestone, Slipshade has retained its soul. A rather grubby and battered soul, but it remains Partannese.
Across the river is Travitant Quay. This is a well-appointed little town with quays and wharfs and all the panoply of thriving commerce. Quite a few from Port Naain have business interests here, some have villas. But the town bustles nicely with commerce. There is little work here for a poet, but for all that it is a solid enough little community. I rather like the folk, they have a brusque way with pirates, extortionists, tax collectors and similar undesirables. Their gallows is well maintained and is available for use at a moment’s notice. One man has acted as my patron there. Van Mystuff runs the Travitant Quay glue factory. Broken down horses from all over Partann end up with him. He exports hides, glue, and pie fillings. Whilst he would not claim to be a great lover of the arts, he has a liking for romantic verse. When he and his wife celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary he sent messengers to Port Naain asking if I would write a verse for them. As it suited me to travel at the time, rather to his surprise I arrived on his doorstep, with no more luggage than you could fit in your coat pockets. His wife is hospitality personified, and I was accommodated in their spare room, like an errant nephew. On the great day itself I gave my all, quoting three of the great love poems of Dannis Maud and then followed it with my own praise poem to the happy couple. I was awarded with a kiss on the cheek from Madam and a generous payment from her doting spouse.

Then we travel south once more and come to Candleman’s Cove. I attended a literary festival there once, and recounted my experiences in, ‘Tallis Steelyard, the Festival and other stories.’

At the time the village didn’t have a lot to recommend it. It’s situated on the mouth of a small river, had a range of picturesque ruins and a somewhat squalid fishing village. Along the coast there are some pleasant villas and scattered about the countryside some rather pleasant estates. Since then the village has grown considerably, with new and quaint cottages being erected. Similarly the number of villas has increased considerably. Even the picturesque ruins have been tidied up and planted with suitable flowering plants.

Rumour used to hint that the locals were pirates frantically trying to look like respectable clerks whilst Port Naain actuaries and usurers visiting for the summer swaggered about dressed as pirates. It seems to have passed through that stage, the locals are now mainly in domestic service, or are there to provide services for those summering in the town. So there are a multitude of bakers, butchers, makers of candlesticks, coffins, and digestive pastilles. The houses owned by those from Port Naain are occupied in season by families who have travelled south for refreshment. A lot of families also to take advantage of the opportunity to catch up with business interests in Partann. Admittedly these business interests revolve around smuggling, wrecking and piracy. But still, they’re important businesses and a wise investor cannot afford to leave the management of such enterprises to minions.

Out of season the same houses are inhabited by family members for whom residence in Port Naain would provoke a harsh reaction from the authorities. Even if the City Watch was not interested in them, no doubt some well-meaning citizen would form a ‘corrective committee’ or a ‘vigilante party’ for the sole purpose of making their time in Port Naain brief, and ideally terminal.

Just for completeness, Brownhead Catch is not far south of Candleman’s Cove. Yet this community remains ruggedly Partannese in population and outlook. I wonder if they have taken lessons from the good folk of Travitant Quay when it comes to avoiding gentrification. They have a tannery, a stinking enterprise which tans fishskin as well as ordinary animal skins. They also import night soil from Candleman’s Cove. This they spread liberally on the fields around the town. This they do to enhance the production of vegetables and fruit which are then sold in the market at Candleman’s Cove. There is a pleasing symmetry in the way the circle is closed. Brownhead Catch also boasts a maggot farm (fed from Tannery and abattoir waste) which supplies maggots to the fishermen of Port Naain. Finally, like Travitant Quay, Brownhead Catch boasts a well maintained gallows. But in keeping with older and well established Partannese traditions, this is accompanied by a gibbet.

******

A few years ago I was summoned to the side of a patron. The Widow Handwill had ventured into Partann, lured by the invitations of friends to spend a month in Candleman’s Cove. She took a small villa and spent a pleasant month being wined and dined by friends, but also being invited to all the society events of the season. So by the time she was preparing to leave it struck her that she ought to hold an event of her own. In this manner she could repay the hospitality of friends. So obviously she wanted her poet present to act as master of ceremonies.

The Widow and I have worked together for many years. Thus when I received the fare for the coach south I didn’t hesitate. I boarded the next conveyance. On my arrival I was shown to a room in the Candleman’s Grand Hotel, opposite the Assembly Rooms. The Widow’s footman and maid were travelling north next day with the cart loaded with her luggage. She had abandoned her villa and was staying in the hotel for the last two nights. Apparently the first of the two nights was just a summer ball. The following night was her farewell extravaganza. She suggested that I accompany her to the summer ball. It would give me a feel for society and also I could meet some of the musicians and other performers.

This seemed entirely reasonable, and that evening I accompanied her to the Ball. She confided in me that my presence ensured that she had a dancing partner without the complications that befall a lady who dances with ‘the wrong husband’ or makes similar errors of judgement.

The dancing started comparatively early and we were among the first on the dance floor. The Widow is a great dancer and I freely confess I was enjoying the freedom of just dancing without having to worry about the logistics. But the instincts of a master of ceremonies never leave you. At supper time I noted, with surprise, the fact that there were fewer men than there had been an hour earlier. Indeed when I started to keep my eyes open I noticed a constant stream of exhausted men who would appear at the door and would ask for a message to be taken to a particular gentleman. The gentleman in question would get a note, look angry and would stalk off the dance floor. Indeed I saw several of them in the cloakroom buckling their sword belts over their coats.

Eventually there were virtually no men left and the Widow and I, somewhat bemused, returned to the hotel. It was the barman there who explained what had happened.

It appears that the wreckers had been at work, and had lured onto some rocks the ship of a smuggler that had in turn been hotly pursued by a pirate. The pirate had also come to grief on the rocks.

Now wreckers have an unsavoury reputation of not merely robbing the ship, but they are prone to either murdering the passengers and crew. Or at least selling them south into Uttermost Partann so the identity of the villains isn’t noised abroad. They will swamp their opponents by weight of numbers.

Smugglers tend to run with small crews. They carry the minimum number of men needed, cherishing speed over the ability to fight their corner. Pirates on the other hand, assume they will have to fight. They carry large and belligerent crews, heavily armed and spoiling for a fight.

The crew of the smuggler clustered on their foredeck and prepared to defend themselves. But the Pirate Captain, his ship on the rocks, was incandescent with rage. He led his men past the smuggler and hurled them into the wreckers. The smugglers joined their new allies and a bitter battle raged in the falling tide. All three factions frantically sent messages to their senior partners in Candleman’s Cove. These worthies would get the message as they socialised in the Assembly Rooms. They would summon their household retainers and kinsmen, and make their way towards the fight. Brawls broke out in the town as well as on the beach. The Grand Hotel barred its doors and the barman and I, along with a dozen staff and guests, sat up with cudgels and loaded crossbows in case somebody decided to try a spot of looting.

Next day everything had been tided away and everybody was insistent that the Widow go on with her entertainment.

Somewhat nervously she agreed and together we decided that it was probably wise to keep things simple. We’d just have a dance.
The guests started to arrive, the ladies splendid in their gowns, the gentlemen martial in their bandages. It struck me that there wasn’t going to be much dancing done. At this point fate intervened. We had in influx of pirates and smugglers. By this I mean we were joined by those who could dress properly, wash behind their ears, and dance. Those married ladies whose husbands could barely hobble felt that it was important that these handsome young men be made to feel at home. The dancing began with great enthusiasm. I confess I started to relax, which is always dangerous. Then the widow whispered to me that she had noticed that a number of the ladies had been encouraging their dancing partners to take them for walks in the moonlight. I did venture out into the Rose Garden that is attached to the Assembly Rooms. In reality this was the site of what would one day become a rose garden. At the time it was a collection of hedges, walls, and various benches. As I walked it was only to find myself constantly coming upon couples in passionate embrace.

I returned, somewhat thoughtfully, to the dance floor. The Widow then informed me that several of the bandaged gentlemen had send messages home, asking for their butlers and others to attend upon them. I went out to reconnoitre and spotted several parties of burly men in the garb of domestic staff were converging upon the Assembly Rooms. I went to find the Widow. She had been doing her own research, it appears that several ladies, ‘shocked’ or perhaps just jealous of the liberties taken by other ladies, had taken it upon themselves to contact the absent husbands. There was no doubt that matters were about to get out of hand. Quietly the Widow and I slipped away. In all candour, one more couple disappearing into the darkness was hardly likely to cause comment. As she collected a small travelling bag from her room, I slipped out into the stables and saddled the two horses that looked freshest. I led them round to the back door and when the Widow joined me, we rode north for civilisation. I assume that the Widow arranged for the return of the horses. There again, the Partannese are great horse thieves. The owner would never have thought to blame anybody from Port Naain. Not only that, but I have no doubt that our title to the horses was every bit as good as his.

♥♥♥♥

Should you be interested in how Justice operates in Partann, you might find the following illuminating

 

Hired to do a comparatively simple piece of mapping work Benor should perhaps have been suspicious when the pay seemed generous.
Will he ever get to the bottom of what is going on?
How rough is the rough justice of rural Partann?
How to clean out a privy with a crossbow. Welcome to the pastoral idyll.

As a reviewer commented, “All Jim Webster’s expected miniaturists eye mix of detailed world and character building, whimsy, Keaton-like madcap action and philosophy. Excellent as ever.”


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