Benor felt that his first task was to find Garrent Woolmin and his academy. This was comparatively easily done. Tallis asked round his various patrons and a number of them had had family pass through its hallowed halls. Apparently the Woolmin Academy was a large house in Dilbrook, standing in its own, securely fenced, grounds. Most boys lived in, with only a few travelling each day from home.
At the same time Shena had been asking friends and business acquaintances about Salat Wheelstrain. All she had managed to discover was that, according to a couple of people involved in shipping, he was a good man if you wanted an embarrassing but over insured cargo to be destroyed in transit. There were hints that he might have arranged what were nicely described as ‘useful’ fires. But none of her informants claimed to know any more than that.
This rather disturbed Benor. Given that Minny seemed to be expected to arrange for the accidental death of Young Vortac, Wheelstrain seemed like the person to arrange it. As he remembered, there was a respectable amount of gold in the bag with Wheelstrain’s name on it.
Finding Young Vortac was a little more complicated. Benor took Mutt with him to reconnoitre. They walked past the front of the building and boys could be seen playing in the grounds. As Benor commented glumly, other than shouting a name and seeing who looked up, there didn’t seem to be a lot more they could do. Mutt excused himself and disappeared. Ten minutes later he arrived back with a smaller boy.
Mutt introduced his new companion. “This is Wain. If any of the boys wants anything, they get a message to him with the money and his commission and he gets it for them.”
Benor looked at the urchin in front of him. He was comparatively clean and was dressed in what were recognisably clothes, rather than the rags he’d often seen on children deeper into Port Naain. Bits of his costume might even be cast-off school uniform.
“I just wondered if you could help me Wain.”
Immediately a hand shot out, palm up. With the casual excess one finds in the newly prosperous, Benor dropped a full silver vintenar into the outstretched palm. “What you wanna know.”
“Is there a boy called Vortac in the school.”
Wain was briefly silent. “There’s Vortac Lilywhite.”
“Could you point him out to us?”
Wain shrugged. “He’s not near the fence but if he comes closer I can.”
Benor had been thinking about the attempt on Young Vortac’s life. It was supposed to look like an accident. “Do any strangers go into the school?”
“No, only the ‘eadmaster’s family.”
“Do the boys ever come out of the school?”
“Yes, once a week they go to the indoor riding school.”
Wain gestured, “Down that side street past the mews.”
As Benor surveyed the scene, Wain said helpfully. “And next time is in three days.”
Benor turned to Mutt. “We’ll better be here.”
“Funny that,” Wain said. “It’s exactly what the other chap said.”
“What other chap?”
Wain held his hand out, palm open again. “He paid me ten vintenars not to tell anybody.”
Mutt stepped forward and grabbed the other boy. “Bad lying is painful to watch. How much?”
Benor gently put ten vintenars into the boy’s hand. Mutt said quietly, “’An my people will be about to make sure you don’t tell no one.”
“Somebody called him Wheelstrain”
Benor asked, “Could they have called him Salat Wheelstrain?”
“Dunno, it were just Wheelstrain.”
Benor and Mutt withdrew out of earshot. Mutt whispered, “I’ll have some people down here soon. We’ll watch the place.”
“And on the day I’ll be here as well. I’ll see if I can get Tallis to come.”
Mutt muttered, “Yeah, coz you always needs a poet.”
On the fateful day Benor made a point of being early. There was a pavement café between the Academy and the Mews, affording a reasonable view of both. There was also a small bookshop opposite, Mittins. Tallis, inevitably, knew the proprietor and he was somewhere inside, in theory watching what was going on from there.
Mutt was with Benor. Benor had contemplated the situation and decided that he needed Mutt close by, but a man with a scruffy urchin sitting in a café was likely to be viewed with a degree of suspicion. On the other hand a young man treating his school-aged brother to coffee and cakes was surely the most normal thing in the world?
Wain had provided the outfit for a nominal sum and Mutt had agreed to wearing the garments with purely nominal reluctance. He now sat opposite Benor dressed in the scarlet breeches, white shirt and blue jacket of a pupil of the Woolmin Academy.
As the morning passed, the café filled with a collection of ladies of various ages who appeared to be regulars. Benor and Mutt drew little attention, but more than one of the ladies commented about the sheer number of workmen on the street that morning.
Benor had also noted this. Whereas during his reconnaissance visits there had merely been domestic servants about their errands, or the home owners going about their business, today the street was busy. There were dog turd collectors, two men pushing a barrow collecting horse dung, a small gang of workmen who were digging up the cobbles and relaying them, various people going from door to door touting for night soil, and a solitary gentleman wearing breeches and jacket in the same shade of lilac. He had arrived at the café to discover the last table had been taken and was reduced to sitting on a garden wall to drink his glass of rose petal infusion.
Eventually a small boy ran past the café being pursued by another. Mutt sat up, “They’re coming.”
As Benor looked towards the Academy he could see the gates open and a column of thirty boys aged between seven and eleven marched out in column of twos, led by Headmaster Woolmin, a wiry man wearing a black gown over his clothes. He wore pince nez and walked with a heavy walking stick with a polished brass head.
As the column approached, Benor saw a brewer’s dray come down the road behind them. It was obviously moving more rapidly than one would expect and as the column reached the café the dray seemed to accelerate. There were shouts and screams from the two men on the dray and suddenly the street was galvanised into action. The boys, uncertain what to do, halted, and then as the dray started to mount the pavement, they scattered. The solitary
gentleman in lilac rose to his feet and grabbed one of the boys.
Mutt said, “He’s grabbed Young Vortac.”
Benor leapt to his feet and ran towards the man and boy. The dray was accelerating now, and Benor suddenly realised that the man had picked the boy up and was about to throw him under the approaching dray. In the chaos workmen were running through the boys as if to stop the dray and one of them seemed to accidentally shoulder-barge Woolmin the headmaster, knocking him sprawling. Even as he ran Benor knew he’d be too late, the man in lilac, largely screened by workmen, had got the boy ready to throw. Then slick as an eel, Mutt overtook him and ran behind the man in lilac.
The man screamed, his right leg collapsed and he fell backwards with the boy on top of him. Benor grabbed the boy and dived over the low wall into a garden. As he lay there he saw the top of the loaded dray as it thundered past and heard one set of screams somehow more terrible than the shouts and cries that had preceded them. He picked the boy up, jumped back over the wall and ran across the road. Tallis was coming out of the bookshop. Benor took the ring from around his neck, hung the cord round the neck of the child and said, “Go with Tallis, trust him.” Then to Tallis he said, “Get out of here.”
As Tallis and the boy disappeared down an ally behind the bookshop Benor was joined by Mutt. The street was a scene of chaos. It was obvious that the only person hit by the dray was the man in lilac. Two of the labourers were trying to carry him away; others were running through the boys towards Benor and Mutt. Somebody pointed in his direction and shouted, “They went that way.”
Benor decided to try and draw the chase away from Tallis. He and Mutt ran towards Woolmin who had given up the search for his pince nez and was standing erect, shouting for the boys to congregate on him. The various pursuers split, some continued in pursuit of Tallis, others headed for Benor and Mutt. It was obvious that they weren’t sure which was the correct boy.
Two dog turd collectors stood between Benor and Woolmin. One reached out to grab Mutt. Without hesitating the boy dived between the man’s legs and as he passed through stabbed sideways with the short blade he held clenched in his left hand. The other swung a shovel at Benor who ducked under it and head butted the man in the solar plexus. The dog turd collector collapsed and Benor scrambled over him and came to his feet next to Woolmin. The rest of the boys were now behind Woolmin. The headmaster braced himself as the ruffians who were pursuing Benor and Mutt arrived. The first one ducked as the ferrule of the walking stick whistled past his head, but then collapsed as the brass head struck him firmly in the face, his colleague took a sharp jab from the stick which hit him in the stomach and doubled him over. Still the other thugs were spreading out and Benor unwillingly drew his knife. This didn’t look like it was going to end well.
It was then that the wave of café patrons stuck the ruffians from the rear. A sturdy parasol, wielded with determination, is not a weapon to be sneered at. Similarly, the man struck on the back of the head with a milk jug is unlikely to turn round to discuss the ethics of such a strike from behind with the jug’s wielder.
Suddenly there were no ruffians and Benor was left standing next to the headmaster. The latter peered short-sightedly at him. “Thank you for your assistance good sir. I am forever in your debt.”
He then turned round, “Boys, column of twos, we return to the academy.”
Obediently his boys formed up, and set off. Woolmin tapped Mutt on the shoulder. “Come on young man, back in the ranks.”
Mutt glanced despairingly at Benor who just nodded. Explaining the presence of Mutt in school uniform was not something he had time for just now. He watched as Mutt marched away with the others. Now, where were Tallis and Young Vortac?
And now the hard sell!
I’ve thought long and hard about blog tours. I often wonder how much somebody reading a book wants to know about the author. After all, I as a writer have gone to a lot of trouble to produce an interesting world for my characters to frolic in. Hopefully the characters and their story pull the reader into the world with them. So does the reader really want me tampering
with the fourth wall to tell them how wonderful I am? Indeed given the number of film stars and writers who have fallen from grace over the years, perhaps the less you know about me the better?
Still, ignoring me, you might want to know a bit about the world. Over the years I’ve written four novels and numerous novellas set in the Land of the Three Seas, and a lot of the action has happened in the city of Port Naain. They’re not a series, they’re written to be a collection, so you can read them in any order, a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories in that regard.
So I had a new novella I wanted to release. ‘Swimming for profit and pleasure.’ It’s one of the ‘Port Naain Intelligencer’ collection and I decided I’d like to put together a blog tour to promote it. But what sort of tour? Then I had a brainwave. I’d get bloggers who know Port Naain to send me suitable pictures and I’d do a short story about that picture. It would be an incident in the life of Benor as he gets to know Port Naain.
Except that when the pictures came in it was obvious that they linked together to form a story in their own right, which is how I ended up writing one novella to promote another! In simple terms it’s a chapter with each picture. So you can read the novella by following the blogs in order. There is an afterword which does appear in the novella that isn’t on the blogs, but it’s more rounding things off and tying up the lose ends.
Given that the largest number of pictures was provided by a lady of my acquaintance, I felt I had to credit her in some way.
So the second novella I’m releasing is ‘The plight of the Lady Gingerlily.’ It too is part of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
So we have ‘Swimming for profit and pleasure’
Benor learns a new craft, joins the second hand book trade, attempts to rescue a friend and awakens a terror from the deep. Meddling in the affairs of mages is unwise, even if they have been assumed to be dead for centuries.
And we have ‘The Plight of the Lady Gingerlily’
No good deed goes unpunished. To help make ends meet, Benor takes on a few small jobs, to find a lost husband, to vet potential suitors for two young ladies, and to find a tenant for an empty house. He began to feel that things were getting out of hand when somebody attempted to drown him.
And to follow the blog tour from the start, follow these links: