Just a note

I defy anybody to say anything unkind about Mistress Jasmi. I remember one man frantically cramming small valuable possessions into a saddlebag as he prepared to flee south into Partann and all he said was, “It’s that damned notebook.”
Mistress Jasmi is what is sometimes known as ‘an army brat.’ Her father was a man-at-arms in the service of Lord Cartin, and she was born in Partann, in the back of a wagon. For the next fourteen years, she spent every campaigning season in the field with her mother (a sutler or victualler) and some of the winters in distant garrisons. Unfortunately what is merely excitement and carefree fun when you’re eight can be terrifying when you are old enough to grasp the full implications of what is happening around you. So it was in her fourteenth year that Jasmi and her mother returned to Port Naain at the end of the season and purchased a pleasant enough house in Dilbrook. Her father arranged to winter in Port Naain and her mother controlled her victualling business through the use of agents in the field.
Jasmi continued her education and widened her circle of acquaintance. But, ever thoughtful, she did ponder how she was going to earn a living. She knew enough about the business to know she was not cut out to be a man-at-arms. She rode well, was good with a lance, and accomplished with a sword, but she lacked the sheer bulk of muscle even a lady needs if she is going to fight all day from horseback. Victualling didn’t excite her as a career, although she knew the business well, having assisted her mother. Then one young gentleman suggested she become a writer. Now, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man will say pretty much anything to win the golden opinions of an attractive young lady. But in this case Jasmi pondered his words and felt that there was merit in his plan.

So she took to carrying a notebook, ‘just to jot down a few ideas for my novel.’ Everybody agreed that this was an excellent idea. But too few seem to have considered the implications. Let us look at her first novel, the very well received, ‘Ladies who Guide and Inspire.’

If you are of a certain age and social class you will be well aware of these ladies. They seem to make a living out of being young and attractive. But they do this not by stringing on a number of gentlemen who are enticed into supporting them financially. No, these ladies make a living by stringing on any number of young women and extract money from them. In simple terms, if you are a confident of one of these ladies, follow their advice (and incidentally contribute financially to their coffers) you will become radiantly beautiful, elegantly dressed, and will need to hire extra footmen to beat your surplus gentlemen admirers off with a stick.

To be fair it is rare that money changes hands directly, but the Lady will suggest that you need to have your hair cut by this salon, or that only that boutique can sell you the dress perfectly cut for your figure. The suspicion is that both boutique and salon pay good money for this sort of recommendation.

Jasmi moved for a year in this world. To be fair, it was a world she might be expected to join, so her participation aroused only smug self-congratulation on the part of those Ladies who Guide and Inspire that she followed. Also, and here my inherent sense of fair play insists I add that not all the advice is bad. Sometimes these ladies can provide support for the uncertain and tentative.

I must confess I am not a habitué of this world, but I have patrons who, when they were much younger, fell briefly under its spell. Not only that, some of their daughters are currently passing through this phase. So when I heard that Jasmi had published her book, ‘Ladies who Guide and Inspire’ I was naturally interested. I was even more interested when one of my patrons, tears of mirth still glistening on her cheeks, passed me her copy to read.

I confess that that evening my guffaws so disturbed Shena (who was struggling to balance her accounts) that I was exiled to the deck to continue reading. Jasmi had captured perfectly the vapid self-regard and petty backbiting that so characterised some of these individuals. She merciless lampooned the advice which meant that an attractive young woman with money to spend managed to be outshone by an artless shop girl with a pleasant smile. But in spite of this she managed to do it affectionately, portraying as well the desperate but doomed attempts to remain perpetually young that these ladies exhibit. If anything, from the point of the ladies who saw themselves depicted in the novel, this only made things worse.

Sales were impressive, as were the threats of retribution. But Jasmi remained untouched by planned reprisals. Attempts to undermine her self-confidence by denigrating her appearance were doomed to abject failure. Attempts to prevent her attending social events by threatening a more physical vengeance also failed. Jasmi was an army brat. Not only could she defend herself, she had grown up in the camps and had a wide array of surrogate siblings of both sexes who had been bathed together in streams as children. Jasmi merely had to have her maid drop a note to one of these young men,

“Dart, you’re back in Port Naain and haven’t been to see me. You are to take me to Madam Tivili’s dance tonight so I can catch up with what you’ve been doing.”

Without fail, Dart (or another of her surrogate brothers) would appear promptly at her door. His fiancé or even wife would merely be told, “But it’s Jasmi.” Thus accompanied by her own man-at-arms, Jasmi could venture anywhere.
Then a second notebook appeared. Jasmi was apparently preparing her second novel. But this one involved Partann. She spent quite a lot of time in Prae Ducis and some of the smaller towns, and yes, a novel did appear. Here she told a tale of the little small-town jealousies, the minor feuds, the adulteries and affairs. Again it was never less than amusing. But here again, you could sense her affection for her characters. She returned to Partann in subsequent years and each winter a novel appeared.

But there was another literary work as well. When she arrived back to Port Naain she produced a slimmer work. Copies were sent to Lord Cartin and a handful of others. These gentlemen showered her with gold for the information she had uncovered. She built up a network of people throughout Partann and Uttermost Partann who would quietly pass on information to her. Indeed one morning, as I was slipping across the estuary on the ferry, hoping to disappear into Partann until the fuss had died down, she met me as I disembarked and gave me a number of questions she wanted answers to. When I finally came back to Port Naain, I discovered that she had several times sent sums of money to Shena. As my lady wife pointed out, I earned more money when I wasn’t in Port Naain than when I was.


Should you wish to know more of the world of Tallis Steelyard


As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”

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