I cannot be sure now when I first met Wilam Charmwater. He’s just one of the people I got to know over the years. I probably met him at some event I was to host. But he’s a pleasant enough chap. People would say ‘there’s to him,’ and he was generally liked. I know people asked why we got on so well and Wilam would say, “Tallis never asks me for a loan, and I never turn him down.”
I suppose I ought to mention at this point that he was a Usurer. Obviously a pretty good one, because his lady wife was always well dressed. She also used to entertain, and their house was beautifully done out.
Wilam’s success seems to have stemmed from the fact that he worked for a week in Port Naain and the next week he worked out of an office in Fluance. This is a bustling town upriver from Port Naain, where the river Dharant joins the Paraeba. Talking to people here, it’s interesting to note that they do not consider themselves Partannese. The town is on the east bank of the Dharant, and to them Partann is the west bank of the river. Hence Port Naain is seen not as the local capital but as a rival metropolis. Indeed the inhabitants claim that Fluance was a town of significance when Port Naain was a fishing village.
Wilam was one of the few who did work in both places and thus he probably picked up a fair bit of business from those who wished to transfer money from one place to another.
Whatever you accused Wilam of, it could never be idleness. One evening I was dining late at the Fatted Mott. This is a chop house popular with single men, lawyers, clerks, and the like. It has the great advantage that if you turn up late, they will often do you a meal at a very reasonable price, rather than throw stuff out. I’d just started to eat and Wilam came in. We shared a table and a bottle of wine, and then he bought another bottle. By the time we’d finished the fourth bottle it was gone midnight.
Wilam explained he’d come straight from his office, he’d been working late to try and get caught up before he went to his other office in Fluance. Indeed he wouldn’t go home that night, he’d sail at dawn.
I commented he had made a lot of work for himself and asked whether it might not be better just to let the Fluance office go, or put a manager in. It was then he told me his full story. Apparently the reason he had to go to Fluance was because he had a wife in Fluance, just as he had a wife in Port Naain. Not only that but his finances were complicated. As a young man he inherited the house in Port Naain, but he also inherited a very nice property in Fluance. So to start his usury business, and to raise his initial capital, he’d mortgaged both properties.
Now for a while this went well, and then he married. With one wife, things grew more difficult, but once he had a second wife, he found he was running to stand still. So whilst, for the last fifteen years, he’d maintained both households to a high standard and kept up with his interest payments, he’d not been able to repay a single dreg of the capital that he’d borrowed.
Not only that but when he was with his wives he was thrust into the social whirl and barely had time to just relax. His one real luxury was the small boat he’d purchased for sailing to Fluance and back as he ‘commuted’ to work.
In the years before he’d been such a frantically active businessman, he’d always liked fishing. Then for ten or more years he’d never had a chance to so much as drop a worm into the water. So when he got his own boat, he thought he might at least be able to fish from that as he travelled backwards and forwards. Indeed he did manage to get some fishing. Then one day, as he travelled he spotted a small pier, almost entirely screened by trees. Out of pure curiosity he tied up there and discovered that it belonged to a very scattered community of small farmers who would use it to send their produce to market. They had no objection to his tying up there for a night to do a spot of quiet fishing, and in return he’d transport their produce free to wherever he was going next. He got to know the small community, especially Betta Thrang, a young widow who had a small mott herd. They became friends and eventually she got to hear the full story of his life.
How long this would have continued is hard to tell. But eventually a jealous business rival told both wives about each other. Wilam discovered what had happened when he was in Fluance late one evening. He made it to his boat, cast off and disappeared down river into the darkness. Eventually, out of habit, he tied up at the small pier and tried to work out what on earth to do. He was still sitting there when Betta Thrang found him next morning as she searched for a lost mott. Wilam helped her find the mott, and told her of his dilemma. Betta thought about it briefly and then asked whether he’d like to live with her. Obviously she couldn’t offer the luxury he was used to. She’d be grateful for some occasional help with the mott, but she could guarantee that he’d have plenty of time for fishing. Later that day, in a simple service, Wilam was married for the third time.
Meanwhile back in Port Naain, the Fluance wife had arrived and had sought out the Port Naain wife. Both had already spent some fruitless days hunting for their errant husband. Hence when they met, it was a very heated exchange, largely because the two ladies had had time to come to terms with the situation, and with Wilam’s disappearance. Indeed they had both made their own plans. They had each decided that they were the genuine wife, so were entitled to Wilam’s entire estate. Their plan was to keep their own house and sell off the other house to provide them with an investment income to live on. Unfortunately it wasn’t really a plan they could compromise on.
When I innocently walked into the parlour, having been booked to help run an entertainment, I found both ladies, stripped to the waist, attacking each other with rapiers. Now it takes a very brave or a very foolish poet to step forward and tell them to stop. But in all candour I didn’t want them killing each other without them knowing the full financial situation.
Eventually they stopped attacking each other and I had a chance to explain about the mortgages and the debts. For a brief period I did wonder whether both were going to attack me. But I managed to convince them I was merely the bearer of bad news, not the cause of it. I also pointed out that the only way they could maintain their standard of living was to take over the usury business.
Once I’d got them calmed down, somewhat less distractingly garbed, and with the rapiers safely removed out of easy reach, they discussed the matter sensibly. In the end they kept the business going, but with the two of them in partnership. One ran the Fluance end, one the Port Naain end, and kept things going between them. In all candour the business did better. Firstly each could give all her time to her own city, and because they were more in tune with the situation, their expenses were perhaps less excessive than they had been. I have no doubt that over the years they’d get their mortgages paid off.
As for Wilam, he used to appear reasonably often in Port Naain. Nobody seemed to connect the somewhat dishevelled mott farmer and fisherman who would arrive with a small boat loaded with produce to sell, to a usurer who’d disappeared in unusual circumstances some years previously. Occasionally when I needed time out of the city, I’d go and stay with him and Betta and their growing family.
And now the hard sell!
So welcome back to Port Naain. This blog tour is to celebrate the genius of Tallis Steelyard, and to promote two novella length collections of his tales.
So meet Tallis Steelyard, the jobbing poet from the city of Port Naain. This great city is situated on the fringes of the Land of the Three Seas. Tallis makes his living as a poet, living with his wife, Shena, on a barge tied to a wharf in the Paraeba estuary. Tallis scrapes a meagre living giving poetry readings, acting as a master of ceremonies, and helping his patrons run their soirees. These are his stories, the anecdotes of somebody who knows Port Naain and its denizens like nobody else. With Tallis as a guide you’ll meet petty
criminals and criminals so wealthy they’ve become respectable. You’ll meet musicians, dark mages, condottieri and street children. All human life is here, and perhaps even a little more.
Tallis Steelyard, Deep waters, and other stories
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Discover the damage done by the Bucolic poets, wonder at the commode of Falan Birling, and read the tales better not told. We have squid wrestling, lady writers, and occasions when it probably wasn’t Tallis’s fault. He even asks the great question, who are the innocent anyway?
And then there is;-
Tallis Steelyard. Playing the game, and other stories
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Marvel at the delicate sensitivities of an assassin, wonder at the unexpected revolt of Callin Dorg. Beware of the dangers of fine dining, and of a Lady in red. Travel with Tallis as his poetical wanderings have him meandering through the pretty villages of the north. Who but Tallis Steelyard could cheat death by changing the rules?
If you want to see more of the stories from the Land of the Three Seas, some of them featuring Tallis Steelyard, go to my Amazon page at
Tallis even has a blog of his own at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/
There are fourteen installments in Tallis Steelyards current blog tour, each
guest blog as entertaining as the next, and they can be read in any order.
A significant gesture
An eye to the future
Getting rich moderately rapidly
In tune with the Zeitgeist
Learning a role
No strutting or fretting
Something of the night?
The civilising influence of Betta Thrang (this installment)