I have recounted before how I came to meet the celebrated Hermit of Beetfield. On my return to Port Naain I confess I didn’t give much more thought to him. I’d enjoyed his company and had been impressed with his wit and wisdom. What more can one ask of a hermit?
Still should you wish to know more of our meeting it is all recounted at;
You know how it is, life closes in on a chap. You get busy and before you’ve noticed a year or so has gone by. Obviously you have lived every day of it. It’s not as if you curled up in bed and next morning got up to discover a year had past. Still that period was a hectic time for me. I built up my practice, gathered more patrons, cemented my position as the leading poet of my generation, and got married.
Thus I wasn’t entirely surprised when I arrived home one evening to find a letter on the cabin table. People I had never importuned were starting to write asking me to perform.
Shena gestured at it, “It arrived just after I got back from the Old Esplanade. It was delivered by a deck hand from a night soil barge.”
To be fair I didn’t have to ask how she knew his trade. It rather announces itself. I must admit I rather expected some witticism about how I was starting to attract a higher class of patron. After all it’s the sort of remark I would have made had it been Lancet or one of the others getting such a missive. She merely said, “He said it was from Beetfield.”
I opened the letter with a clear conscience. After all it was some years since I had been in the hamlet of Beetfield. I cannot imagine them, after all this time, deciding that I was the obvious person to blame for the spoons going missing.
As an aside, this can be a problem. Certainly when I first started out following my muse, I was young and doubtless had a lean and hungry look. This was easily explained. I was normally hungry and that ensured I remained lean. But it meant that I was the obvious person to blame when something went missing in a house where I had recently performed.
The fact I had been constantly under the eye of a maid, and had only been in two rooms, made no difference. In one instance I was arrested in the street by the watch for stealing a four poster bed. It must be said that the two watchmen they seemed to consider it a somewhat unlikely feat, but they escorted me to the house where the accusation had been made.
The lady of the house was furious. Apparently the bed in the guest bedroom had disappeared. The staff had hunted throughout the house and could not find it and were sure that it was not there. This I can believe, a four poster bed isn’t something one can easily overlook.
Apparently they had decided it had to be me, because both the lady and all the staff had been present in the house for the entire day and I was the only stranger who had entered. The watchmen took notes and to be fair to them, asked what I would consider pertinent questions.
One I particularly liked was, “Did you see Mister Steelyard with the bed?”
“No, I assume he concealed it somehow.”
Things were getting vituperative, with the lady of the house pouring scorn on both me, and the watchmen for their scepticism, when her husband arrived. He was accompanied by a dray and six workmen. They had with him a four poster bed. His wife was triumphant.
“So you recovered it from wherever this villain had hidden it?”
“No dear, I collected from Massop’s. When you said your mother was coming to stay I thought I’d better check the bed. One of the posts was a little lose. So I contacted Massop and his men arrived three days ago and took it away to fix.”
Madam was mortified. As the watchmen and I tiptoed quietly out, she, with the support of the senior downstairs staff, were berating her husband for going out of his way to humiliate them. As one of the watchmen commented, “How in Aea’s name can six men carry a four poster bed out of the house without anybody noticing?”
But still, back to the letter. It was from the Landlady of the New Inn at Beetfield. Apparently her clientele remembered me fondly and would be delighted if I could drop in soon. Also, added to the bottom, as if it was something that she was mentioning in passing, was the comment that perhaps I could talk to the hermit for them.
Now Beetfield is not the easiest place to get to, even though it isn’t far from Port Naain. So eventually I did what I’d done on the previous occasion, I signed on as a deck hand on a night soil barge. It’s not a prestigious job, but given that my finances were in their usual parlous condition it seemed the sensible thing to do. So barely two days after getting the letter, I walked into the New Inn at Beetfield and was greeted by a smiling landlady who handed me a glass of ale without even asking me for money.
As I sipped her ale, I asked what exactly she wanted me to do.
“Well, Tallis, if you could just tell a couple of stories and perhaps give us a poem or two. Then when the time comes, if you could feed the hermit and listen to his new plans.”
“What’s wrong with his new plans?”
“Well we feel that it would make sense for somebody from outside the area to listen to them. We’d like an unbiased opinion.”
Well that seemed easy enough. As her guests came in I prepared myself and gave them what the landlady had asked for. I told them the tale of the four poster bed and a couple of other tales. Then I gave them some poems, one tragic, two comic. When my meal was brought to the table, I tucked in with enthusiasm. The rich spicy Toelar cooking was as good as I remembered it. Most of the others were eating at the same time, and we chatted backwards and forwards as we dined.
I’d just finished when there was an eldritch wailing from outside. I put down my empty glass. “I assume that is the hermit saying that he’s ready for his meal?”
The landlady appeared with a basket holding a pan of stew (hot in both senses of the word, Toelar cooking is known for the liberal use of hot spices) a bottle of beer and a good chunk of bread and butter. I took the basket and set off along the path through the woods, following the cacophonous wailing to the hermit’s abode.
I finally arrived at the well-built stone hut where the hermit lived and he put down his bagpipes and welcomed me warmly. As he ate he would ask me questions as to what I’d been doing. Then as he wiped the pan clean with the last of the bread I asked him what his plans were.
Here he became thoughtful. “Well you see Tallis, I’m wondering whether Beetfield needs something more than a hermit to draw people.”
I could see where he was coming from. I think the hermit drew people from a ten mile radius, but I’d never heard his name mentioned in Port Naain. Indeed I might well be the only person in the city who had heard of him.
“So what were you thinking of trying?”
“Well I thought I might become a mage.”
I confess that rather surprised me. He wasn’t an old man, but he was definitely in his middle years. As far as I knew, becoming a mage was something that took a lifetime of study.
“Have you any experience?”
“No, but I’d never had any experience of being a hermit before I became a hermit.”
Again from what I’d been told, this also was entirely true. Still I felt that becoming accepted as a mage was a somewhat more arduous process than becoming a hermit. Indeed in Port Naain, people studied for academic degrees and this was merely the start of their road. Admittedly there were other, often less savoury types, who replaced academia with sordid experimentation in a dingy boarding house bedroom, but the latter rarely ended well.
On the other hand, I could see a mage being a positive draw. “Have you any knowledge of herbs or minor cantrips?”
“None really, other than what is needed for cooking.”
“So what attracted you to being a mage?”
“Well,” and here he paused, “I thought I could have a wizard’s tower. It would be a landmark. If I make it tall enough, in this area it could be seen from miles around.”
Again I couldn’t fault his thinking. “What have you in mind? Something tall and dark with flames at the top?”
“I’d thought something more classical in a pleasant light-coloured stone would go with the area. Also I want to attract people, not scare them off.”
“But how would you build it?”
“That’s the clever thing. When I become a mage, I’ll build it using magic.”
It struck me that he’d got everything thought out.
“So how are you going to learn to do magic?”
“That’s the really clever bit, Tallis. When I became a hermit I sort of picked up hermitting as I went along. Also nobody really expects you to do anything, they just want you to be wise. So when I’m a mage, I’ll just be wise, but with my tower, I’ll be wise at altitude.”
“But what happens when somebody comes along and asks you to do something magical?”
“Oh I’ve thought of that. I can tell them to leave me for a day whilst I meditate and when they’re gone we’ve got two or three people in the area who are good with herbs. As for love philtres, soap and water often works as well as anything a witch can do.”
I persisted, “But what if they want serious magic?”
“I can talk them out of it. I’ll suggest other ways of doing the same thing, or if that fails, convince them that it’s unethical. If that fails I’ll have them bring me obscure ingredients found only in distant parts.”
Well he certainly seemed to have given the various issues proper consideration. I asked him, “So why does the landlady and others want my advice?”
“Well they suspect that I can smoothly talk them into things, but you, being a poet, are inoculated against it.”
I confess that this was a line of reasoning I hadn’t encountered before. “So what’s the first phase?”
“Making a start on the tower. I was thinking that we could add three more stories to my hut here, but in timber. I’d leave this roof on and have a stair up the outside. It’s more wizardly.” He paused briefly. “Apparently if you tell the landlady at the New Inn you think it’s a good plan, there is a boat that’s run aground on the shores of the estuary. They’ll rob the timber off that and make a start on the tower.”
I took the basket, pan and empty bottle back to the New Inn.
The landlady was waiting for me. “Well, is it a good plan?”
“Has he made a good hermit?”
Without pausing she replied, “Yes.”
“Then I would suggest you go with his plan then, it strikes me he’ll be a lot better mage that a lot of those we have in Port Naain.”
With this post we’re across with Pete at
I suggest you wander across and say hi. Pete’s got a fascinating blog with a lot of good stuff on it.
If you hang round here, I’ll probably just try to sell you a book!
As a reviewer commented, “This delightful story from Jim Webster about Tallis Steelyard’s latest escapade turned out to be an unusual diversion from his usual adventures.
I have always thought Tallis an honourable man, carefully evading, or managing to negate, any of the devious plans he comes across.
So, I was most surprised to learn of this subterfuge involving Maljie.
Although she has long been my favourite of all Tallis’s friends, Maljie is proving to be a bad influence, but despite my better judgement, I am rather impressed by the speed Tallis manages to keep up with her!
I have always fancied a trip in a hot air balloon, so I willingly climbed on board to share what turned out to be a thrilling journey with Tallis and Maljie.”