Charity Mealwrath was described to me as a lady of uncertain temperament. I rather ‘pricked my ears up’ at this. I’ve met such ladies. One minute they are presenting a demure facade to the world, the next they are drinking wine out of tankards and singing songs they learned when their mother left them in the care of the maid (who had previously been assistant cook on a merchant schooner of uncertain reputation and legality). So it behoves a poet to be wary.
But in the case of Charity, frankly she is difficult to describe. When she encountered something new she would be briefly interested. But then her interest would pall and she would slip back into quiet boredom. Some people would rather harshly whisper that she was too stupid to understand things. Having met her and performed for her, I think the truth may have lain in the opposite direction, she was too intelligent to be fobbed off with second best.
Some of her problem was a gap in her education. Nobody had ever taught her how to feign interest. So she didn’t. She was an occasional patron of mine. In her case, the fact I performed rarely for her was a positive thing. Whilst one likes patrons who summon you on a regular basis, with Charity I do not think I could have coped. I would arrive after not seeing her for six or eight months and she would be delighted to see me. I would be asked to perform ‘something new.’
Now you see the quandary. Over a six month period any poet worth his or her salt will have created some new work. Some of it will be a little pedestrian because it was needed ‘tonight’, some of it will be good, because you had the time and inspiration. If you are lucky, some of it will verge on greatness. So if I hadn’t seen Charity for half a year, I could give her something she hadn’t heard before and which she enjoyed and admired.
But frankly if I’d had to go back the following week, I would have struggled. Yes, in that week inspiration might have struck, but anything I produced wouldn’t have had time for polishing and reflection. Yes in a week I could turn out some charming comic doggerel for her, and it might have been ‘just good enough’ but can you imagine the straits I would be reduced to if I had to perform for a third successive week!
Some of her problem was also lack of incentive. To put it at its most brutal, she didn’t in point of fact have anything to get her out of bed in a morning, other than the pressures imposed by her bladder. She had a secure fortune and a loyal staff who understood her and were generally fond of her. Even the lapdog somebody purchased for her provided no inducement to get out of bed to walk it. It was adequately exercised merely chasing its tail winsomely as she watched, languidly, from the bed.
Those of us who rather liked her did give some thought to the quandary. I tried to get her interested in writing poetry. Others tried to get her to write novels. Either would have sufficed to change her mood. Rather than ennui, she would have instead had to cope with a growing sense of inadequacy and the unspoken fear that at some point people will realise you are an imposter rather than a genuine artist. Between ourselves there is nothing better to goad even the most lackadaisical writer to produce better work, if only to prove to their stern internal critic that they are indeed a writer.
But to be fair to Charity, she knew she wasn’t a writer and had no gifting in that direction. I wish more people had that level of discernment. Far too many people seem to think that just because some kind dame taught them their letters in their youth, this means they can write a book. It doesn’t, it merely means that some kind dame taught them their letters, no more, no less.
Charity was lucky in her friends. They would invite her to visit, to accompany them shopping, or riding, or whatever. Provided they didn’t offer the same entertainment twice in too short a period, Charity would happily come along and seemed to enjoy herself. But as one gentleman of martial disposition commented, “Tallis, I could invite her to join me in the sack of a keep in Uttermost Partann. She would come, and she would find it interesting. But if I invited her to join me in the sacking of a second keep, she would comment afterwards that the whole thing seemed to lack novelty and everything seemed remarkably formulaic. She would probably note sadly that the cries of the vanquished lacked imagination and verve.”
She was not without gentlemen admirers. Wealthy and attractive single women rarely are. She was always courteous with them, but if a poet struggles to be constantly on his best form, what chance has some poor sap engaged in courtship? A gentleman might discover, through chance, that she enjoyed him sitting in silence staring at her beauty in an awestruck manner. Delighted at his discovery he was then utterly downcast when he tried it a second time only to be told how tedious he was.
There was a brief dalliance with a martial gentleman (mentioned previously) but that also faded. But some weeks after that I was summoned, not by the lady herself but by her maid. I arrived one morning to discover Charity looking distinctly pale. I took advantage of her gentle apathy to inform her I was summoning a doctor for her. I sent a footman to find Doctor Mord Filch. Given the number of people I send to him who he treats despite knowing he will never be paid, it seems only fair that I send him a wealthy client from time to time. Mord arrived and hustled us all out of the room.
Finally he emerged, wearing a most serious expression. He addressed me and Charity’s assembled staff. “I have diagnosed the problem, and at the same time I think I have found a cure for her ennui.”
Well this was good news and no mistake.
He continued. “Madam is pregnant. I confidently predict she is not going to have time to be bored for some years.”
Should you wish to wander longer in Port Naain the opportunities are there
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As a reviewer commented, “
Tallis Steelyard journeys are set in an epic fantasy world not quite like our own yet the people there have a familiarity that is almost like looking at modern society through a time machine.
This particular story shares glimpses into the lives of many people including an artist’s assistant and a squid-wrestling romantic.
I really enjoyed reading about all the people who cross Tallis Steelyard’s path. The much-beloved poet has a way of helping others that makes me wish there were more people just like him on our world.”