Maljie was obviously not pleased. In fact I would go so far as to assert she was beyond furious. She wore the expression one would expect to find on the face of a tyrant who was about to shout to their myrmidons. “Slay them all, I’ll kill the first man to show mercy with my own sword.”
Around her, in a crowded shrine, there was suddenly an awful lot of empty space as everybody but Laxey and I found reason to leave. I had handed her the letter, so was in effect trapped. Laxey was there because he likes explosions of incandescent wrath as much as the next man.
Maljie turned her face to the heavens and raised both clenched fists. I assumed she was going to call down divine wrath, or at least mighty curses, upon the head of the letter writer.
Laxey said, calmly, “So now, we do nothing.”
Short of throwing a bucket of cold water over her I could think of few more rapid methods of attracting her attention.
“But the self-opinionated worm….”
Laxey smiled gently. “By not responding, you’ll pour burning coals on his head. After all he’s only doing it because he assumes he is important. Ignore him for a while and prove to him that he isn’t.” He paused briefly and added, “Remember Tossig and his bubbles.”
Maljie now stared at him as if he had taken leave of his senses. “Who in the forty-seven canonical hells was Tossig?”
Here I could help. “Tossig was the junior precedence clerk.”
Now I realise that here I might have lost a number of my readers. In Port Naain precedence is not much talked about it. But there is a definite order within society. At the highest level the nobility, old and new, know their place. Then one comes to the Sinecurists, who again have a ranking system that is known to all of them. But below them things get distinctly vague and it is the duty of the precedence clerks to order the lesser folk. So if you went to a formal dinner and felt you were insulted by being seated too far down the table, you appeal to the precedence clerks. In reality you write to the junior clerk who will read your letter and either deal with the matter or forward it to the appropriate senior.
In the case Laxey was referring to, Blogwitter Suetmonger had attended a minor municipal function. It was hardly a great occasion, indeed it was so minor that Tossig had dealt with matters of precedence personally without bothering his superiors. Unfortunately Suetmonger felt badly done to. Apparently he thought that his services to the city justified him being seated at least two places closer to the top table, if not three. So he complained. Tossig replied with a brief note, suggesting Suetmonger examined the attached guidance which had been agreed some time previously by the various precedence clerks.
Suetmonger refused to be ‘fobbed off with insolence’ and appeared in person to berate Tossig. Twelve minutes into his rant, Suetmonger was shocked to see Tossig produce a pipe and a bowl of soapy water and commenced blowing bubbles. At that point Suetmonger, claiming he had never been so insulted (which if true showed he’d lived a remarkably sheltered life) stormed out threatening to write a formal letter of complaint.
Now obviously the formal letter of complaint achieved nothing. The various precedence clerks passed it back and forth among themselves trying to determine who was to take responsibility. Finally Suetmonger lost patience, stormed into Tossig’s office and threatened him with the courts. Tossig blew a soap bubble of truly impressive proportions in response.
Of course when the case arrived in court, I made a point of attending, determined to watch what happened from the viewer’s gallery.
The judge for the day was old Malstang. He is neither better nor worse than any of the others, but is generally felt to be fair. Suetmonger’s lawyer stood up to start his speech when Malstang interrupted him.
“This Suetmonger of yours, I knew a Suetmonger once, he was a fartist, used to play a flute by farting down it. Is this the same one?”
The lawyer looked somewhat put out. “No my lord.”
“Pity.” Old Malstang went off into reverie. “If he had been, I would have to recuse myself. Before I was accepted as a partner, a group of young blades from the chamber went out for a night on the town and the highlight of the evening was Suetmonger and his amazing flute.” He smiled, almost gently, “I turned up next morning with a thick head and my pupil master pointedly commented that I might make more as a fartist than at the bar.” He turned to the lawyer, “I do wonder what happened to old Suetmonger?”
Here I stood up in the gallery. “My Lord, if I may, I think I can help you here.”
He turned to face me. “Ah, young Steelyard. Normally you join us from the dock, but your contributions are always entertaining, from wherever you deliver them.”
Taking this as permission to continue, I said, “Balthass Suetmonger retired, due to age and ‘digestive problems’. But we took him in as an honorary member of the Society of Minor Poets. He serves as a greeter at our porridge kitchen, which keeps him busy and ensures he eats at least one full meal a day.”
“Thank you Master Steelyard.” Malstang turned to his clerk. “Have we decided on today’s charity?”
The clerk checked his book. “No, my lord. You can award one tenth of the fines taken to any charity you wish.”
“I think today we will have the tenth paid to the Society of Minor Poets, for their porridge kitchen.”
The clerk made a note. “That seems entirely reasonable my lord. Given that society members contribute so much to the city in fines and imposts I feel that giving something back is a nice gesture.”
Malstang turned back to Suetmonger’s lawyer. “I asked my lady wife before I left home. She said there was a Suetmonger who was something notable in soft furnishings. Is this the Suetmonger we are talking about?”
“No my lord, my client is a gentleman of impeccable reputation who owns a number of spiced dumpling stalls around the city.”
Malstang picked up his case notes. “So this purveyor of spiced dumplings feels he was snubbed because he was seated below a perfectly respectable costermonger, and a maker of glass eyes for dolls.”
“The accused blew bubbles at him, my lord.”
Malstang turned to Tossig. “Did you blow bubbles?”
“Yes my lord, I was advised that it was an excellent way of dealing with stress brought on by extreme tedium.”
“Do you find it so?” Malstang was obviously interested.
“Most soothing, my lord.”
Malstang turned to his clerk. “I believe we have the Zengan Fraud Case tomorrow.”
The clerk checked his schedule. “Yes sir, tomorrow and doubtless several interminable days afterwards.”
“Do you think there is any chance that you could acquire a suitable pipe and a bowl of soapy water?”
The clerk paused, “My granddaughter has such a pipe, I have no doubt I could borrow it for the occasion. Indeed she may have several in which case I may well avail myself of one as well.”
“Capital, capital.” Malstang turned to Tossig. “We are indebted to you, sir.” He then turned to Suetmonger. “It is obvious to this court that you are an insufferable tick with an inflated sense of your own importance. You are fined twenty alars for wasting the court’s time. Case dismissed.”
I explained all this to Maljie who looked thoughtful. She waved the letter, “So?”
Laxey merely smiled. “Blow bubbles.”
Should you wish to know more about the various coming and goings in Port Naain, try
As a reviewer commented, “Every time Benor is at a loose end, wondering where his next Alar, or even Dreg, is coming from, a messenger arrives for him…
Mutt gets to help, in his own unique way. Tallis feels decidedly unnerved and Shena gets to buy some new dresses.
This tale contains several mysteries to be solved by our Toelar Roof Runner Cartographer, but not before some interesting events and experiences.”