When I was a child on the streets of Port Naain, there was a phrase that struck with me, ‘You’ve been feeding the mimes again.’ This was a way of saying that you were in trouble and had brought it upon yourself. I confess that I never thought a lot about it. But then I remember a very old man, when asked his age, merely replied, “I saw the mimes leave.” Now I knew that they hadn’t left, or if they had, they’d come back. So, idly curious, I tried to find out the story of the mimes, how they came to leave, and why you mustn’t feed them. This is the story.
It starts with Tarran Driftwrack. He was a man of strong opinions. He was a prosperous broker, consignor, and even lent some money without formally being a usurer. It seems that he showed to the world an urbane persona, but in reality he was a man of strong passions. This strongest was his dislike of mimes.
I would say immediately that I would regard this as entirely irrational. I have worked with mimes and they are indeed good to work with. Firstly they are normally just overwhelmingly grateful that somebody is paying them. Secondly, and no less importantly, they can do whatever it is they do behind me as I declaim my work, which means neither distracts from the other.
Unfortunately Tarran Driftwrack was a man who was not afraid to turn thought to deed. But in keeping with his carefully cultivated refined, indeed, genteel image, he would do so by stealth. Rumours started circulating of the Great Mime Festival, to be held somewhere in Partann. The story leaked out slowly over a period of months. It seems that Farad the Wise had always had a love of mime as an art form. Now things were peaceful in his realm, he had decided to celebrate by holding a mime festival which would be talked about for generations to come.
It appeared that Farad the Wise was wealthy as well as powerful. There would be generous prizes for those whose performances were most esteemed. This caused interest but obviously Partann is large and Farad was a long way south. Then it was announced that Farad had arranged passage to transport mimes south from Port Naain to his domain.
Given that mimes would be paid an alar a week from the moment they got on the boat until the moment they returned to Port Naain, there was considerable enthusiasm for the festival. When the boat finally sailed there probably wasn’t a mime left in the city.
The journey was interrupted at Prae Ducis where the mimes were transferred to a smaller boat that would continue south. The coastal waters of Uttermost Partann are not suited to vessels of shallow draft. There again, they’re not suited to captains of nervous disposition either. Still the journey proceeded safely and finally the boat anchored in a pretty bay and the mimes were taken ashore in small boats.
Here they met with considerable disappointment. Farad the Wise was not some benevolent lordling, keen to pour largesse on the practitioners of his favoured art. He was a mage who disliked noise in his keep. Tarran Driftwrack had sold the mimes to him to work as indentured domestic staff. They were immediately put to work in the kitchens and throughout the tower generally.
It is one thing to know that you have been betrayed and cheated, but it is another to have the means to remedy your situation. Trapped deep in Uttermost Partann, the mimes were forced to labour. Faran the Wise’s hard-eyed guards were not to be trifled with. In utter silence the mimes prepared and served the food, performed all the domestic duties from laundry to light dusting, and fulminated impotently at their plight.
As the months past, everything settled into a routine. The mimes, true to their calling, spoke not a word and passed through the keep as silent as ghosts. The guards, whilst not going so far as to unbend, were not unfriendly. By the time a year had gone by, the only staff in the keep were mimes, and the Guards entered only for their meals. They lived in barracks arrayed around the inside of the curtain wall.
Farad spent most of his time in his workrooms, venturing forth only for meals. Indeed there were times when he would closet himself for a week or more at a time. Caught up in walking the outer reaches of the empyrean barrier, he would sit motionless. Finally he would stir. Then he would slowly and stiffly rise to his feet and go and look for something to eat.
On this occasion, as Faran made his way into his inner sanctum he came across Pulades, one of the senior mimes. Pulades was on his hands and knees trying to get a stain out of the rug. Faran said something and Pulades, who was lost in thought, jumped to his feet in surprise. Faran started back, stepped off the dais, lost his balance and hit his head on a chair. Pulades took the other man’s pulse. He was dead.
The first thought was to conceal the body, but how? Bodies have a way of attracting attention if not dealt with after a few days. Then he had his idea. He carried the body down to the kitchen. There he explained his plan (in mime) and the mimes set to work. To a team used to butchering a mott or a horrocks, a man was no real problem. It was decided that they would concentrate on stew, but obviously there was black pudding, sausage, and brawn. The bones were crushed and ground fine. They were then mixed with the rendered fat and made into balls which were fed to the mott.
When the guards arrived in the keep that evening for their evening meal, Pulades explained (again in mime) that Faran had announced that he was going into a trance that would last a fortnight, so he wanted absolute silence. But for tonight, for one night, he wanted them to feast, drink deeply of his wine cellar, and make merry. Then for a fortnight they could be quiet, until he came back to join them.
It was apparently an excellent evening. The stew was pronounced first-rate by the guards. They made fair inroads into the wine cellar and long before dawn, most were asleep. At this point the mimes faded from the scene and just walked inland to make their escape.
Hardened by their experiences the mimes had no intention of slinking back to Port Naain. Instead they went feral. From that point on, none of them spoke gain. Ever. They would walk from village to village, hamlet to hamlet. They would perform and the locals would feed them. Not a word would be spoken, the featureless white faces of the mimes killing all hope of conversation.
Indeed they are still there. I saw a troupe perform in Cold Dregdale when I was there. Their act was a mixture of classic mime, peasant buffoonery, and political satire.
There is just one loose end that doesn’t quite tie into the story. The fate of Tarran Driftwrack. Apparently he was found dead in his office. He gave every appearance of having asphyxiated yet there was not a mark on him. But he was surrounded by shattered glass as if he had been trapped in a glass box.
Should you wish to know more of Port Naain.
As the reviewers commented, “Thanks to the inimitable generosity of Tallis Steelyard, in this selection of tales, we are given further insight to the denizens – sorry, I meant ‘Citizens’ – of Port Naain, who are an education in the diversity of humankind, from physical through spiritual, from adroitness through haplessness, from … but I think you get my drift.”
“More of Steelyard’s vignettes on the life of a jobbing poet in cut-throat literary world of Port Naain. Wittily written, a fascinating background and and an ever-varying cast of colourful characters. An excellent way to spend a rainy afternoon.”