Three sisters ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

It was Estini Clogwain who got me involved in this mad quest. She was a charming young woman, she made gloves, bespoke, for private clients. I would occasionally see her when in the presence of a common patron. By unspoken agreement I always made a point of commenting favourable about her gloves to anybody who asked, and I know for a fact she recommended me as a safe pair of hands for anybody wishing to organise an entertainment.

But I was a little surprised when I got home to the barge one evening to find her sobbing on Shena’s shoulder. I did the sensible thing and made coffee and waited for the ladies to involve me in the conversation. Eventually the reason for her presence was vouchsafed to me. She had a
brother, somewhat older, who had been courting the younger Mistress Yarbattle. He had disappeared. She had had no word from him save a letter some time ago saying that he had signed on a ship to the west and would never return.

She had been shocked by that, after all, few glovers make that sort of career change. She had been even more shocked when she got another message from him merely a week ago saying that he was dying from some illness he’d succumbed to out there. Enclosed in the packet was their father’s pocket watch.

Now they weren’t wealthy people, their father had been a whittawer, but was known for the quality of his saddles. He encouraged his children to aim for quality and was proud of what they were doing. Both brother and sister had a considerable following amongst those with money who appreciated quality. Now I barely knew the Yarbattle family, but when a young lady with eyes glistening with tears pleads for your help, what fool of a poet can resist?

The Yarbattle house is high about Nightbell, looking out over the Ocean. It was an early summer’s evening by the time I arrived. When I knocked, a maid admitted me and showed me through to a very pleasant parlour with a balcony looking out over the sea. Sitting in a chair, reading, was a lady who was perhaps not as young as she had been. On the balcony was a younger lady who was staring out over the sea and who never deigned to acknowledge my

I was greeted courteously by the older of the two ladies and when the maid had left, the lady asked my business. I explained about Estini Clogwain and her missing brother.

“Ah, Erasmas Clogwain.”
As she said the words I would have sworn I saw the young woman on the balcony stiffen slightly.

“A sad story but for the sister’s sake I think you deserve to hear it. You must know that there were once three of us. The oldest sister, Olina, the middle sister, Marta, which is me, and the youngest of us, little Irianna. We lived together after our parents died, and frankly it was a mistake. We were not happy. Olina was a lady who wished to control everybody. She couldn’t have driven off suitors more rapidly if she’d hired bullies to track them down and beat them up.” Marta paused, “Although I’m certain she did actually do that in one case. Finally Irianna met Erasmas when she ordered a pair of gloves. They met in great secrecy, I’ve never known a pair of gloves need so many fittings. Indeed without going into too many details, they became lovers.”

She sighed. “Then Olina found out and she was furious. She discovered the two lovers as they lay together in a folly in our garden overlooking the sea. There was apparently a flaming row, Irianna claimed she was pregnant. Olian responded by swearing she would drown the child at birth. She banned Erasmas from our house and promised to have him killed. Irianna,  distraught, threw herself from the cliff into the sea and drowned.
Olina stormed into the kitchen where I was making our evening meal.” Here she smiled in a somewhat embarrassed manner. “We can afford a maid but not a cook.”

She glanced at the figure on the balcony, but elicited no response. “Olina told me what had happened, and was working out what to sell to pay the fee for an assassin to kill Erasmas. I told her she was a fool and we argued, furiously. Then she had a fit and died. I didn’t know what to do but the maid went and found Erasmas and we wrapped the body in a shroud, set it in cement and next day we hired a boat and dropped my sister’s body overboard.”

I sat stunned by what I’d heard. Then the figure on the balcony turned to face us. “And she rolls backwards and forwards on the sea bed in her stony shroud. The kitchen knife in her vitals traps her there. And I go down and mock her. Then soon, my Erasmas will come and we will leave here and be together again.” With that she turned back and continued looking out over
the sea. Even as I stared at her, she faded slowly from my view.

Marta nodded slowly as if in agreement with her younger sister’s pronouncement. “It is not an edifying story you have to tell young Estini. Still I will do what I can. When my sister leaves I will sell the house and leave the city. I have no future here, nor any desire to remain.”

She didn’t dismiss me, she merely picked up her book and recommenced reading. I rose quietly, bowed and made my own way out of the house. It was a year later that the maid from the Yarbattle household appeared at the barge. She handed me a small purse. “The house is sold. Give this to Estini Clogwain.”

With that she turned and made her way back into the city. I opened the purse gingerly. Inside there was a piece of paper. When I opened that, perhaps a score of small gold coins nestled securely in it. On the piece of the paper were written the words, “Love who you want, and for what it’s worth, you have my blessing.”


And now a brief note from Jim Webster. It’s really just to inform you that I’ve just published two more collections of stories.

The first, available on kindle, is
‘Tallis Steelyard, preparing the ground, and other stories.’

More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. Meet a
vengeful Lady Bountiful, an artist who smokes only the finest hallucinogenic
lichens, and wonder at the audacity of the rogue who attempts to drown a
poet! Indeed after reading this book you may never look at young boys and
their dogs, onions, lumberjacks or usurers in quite the same way again.
A book that plumbs the depths of degradation, from murder to folk dancing,
from the theft of pastry cooks to the playing of a bladder pipe in public.

Available at:
Amazon UK

The second, available on Kindle or as a paperback, is
‘Maljie. Just one thing after another.’

Once more Tallis Steelyard chronicles the life of Maljie, a lady of his
acquaintance. Discover the wonders of the Hermeneutic Catherine Wheel,
marvel at the use of eye-watering quantities of hot spices. We have bell
ringers, pop-up book shops, exploding sedan chairs, jobbing builders,
literary criticism, horse theft and a revolutionary mob. We also discover
what happens when a maiden, riding a white palfrey led by a dwarf, appears
on the scene.

Available at:
Amazon UK

Jim Webster


There are fourteen installments in Tallis Steelyards current blog tour, each
guest blog linked below is as entertaining as the next.
A free lunch
A gaol break
No accounting for taste
A poetic inheritance
All perfectly respectable
Bearing all before them
Cleaning up
Culturally appropriate
Not really a living
Only the truth?

Remarkably sharp
The bait digger
Three sisters (this installment)
We could just elope

Not particularly well liked ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Now I was safely home in Port Naain, I was wary about just picking up where I left off. After all, I’d left the city under something of a cloud with unpleasantly inclined people hunting for me. There again, I’d merely assumed they were unpleasantly inclined, I hadn’t waited long enough for them to prove their intentions one way or another. I had decamped from the city because I was being blamed, I feel unfairly, for the publication of a book of children’s tales. These tales were claimed by some to cast a harsh light on the antics of the rich and powerful. Now I’ve upset the rich and powerful before and so far my unfailing solution to the problem is to just leave the city for a few months. Thus I when I arrive back, these people have been upset by somebody else and I have been forgotten. In this case I suspected that I hadn’t been away for long enough.

What to do about it? Well what I did was to quietly go about my business, visiting patrons and suchlike, but all the while trying to pick up any gossip that might be relevant to my situation.
You might be surprised to discover what you can overhear if you’re careful.
I once overheard two ladies expressing their surprise that a third lady seemed to have forgiven me for some unintended slight or the other. Fortified by that knowledge I acted immediately, wrote the lady what I felt was a charming poem, and called upon her to both apologise if I had offended her, and to present her with the poem. As it was, the two ladies I’d overheard were correct and the lady had realised that it was a lot of fuss over nothing. Hence when I arrived to apologise I was made most welcome and the rupture between us was securely healed.

Yet on another occasion I had just finished giving the company a selection of verses. As I moved quietly through the throng I heard one lady ask another where a third lady had disappeared to. The answer rather perturbed me. “Oh she’s just realised that Tallis is here so she had gone to get her sedan chair bearers to give him a sound thrashing. So I sought out my hostess, and explained that it was probably for the best if I disappeared quietly without attracting attention. She was most understanding and recommended that I leave via the kitchen. To be fair, when I arrived in the kitchen, the cook asked why I was leaving through the back door. I explained. Because I’d always made a point in dropping into the kitchen with a few tales for those working there, Cook was dismayed at this news and insisted I take a shoulder of orid, “For you and that lovely wife of yours.”

But I seem to have drifted off the point. I was forced to walk as if on eggshells, as I didn’t know whether I was still in bad odour or not. There are times I wish that there was somebody definitive I could just ask. They would come up with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and I could act accordingly.
Yet even this sort of service would not be without its problems. Dorbert Wengul had once attempted to provide something similar. Dorbert was one of those people who would often express his opinion first and contemplate the consequences later. After several hard lessons, he learned discretion. But his experiences had given him an idea. He would keep abreast of events generally. Thus if, for example, a poet had inadvertently offended somebody and felt it wise to leave the city, the poet could just drop Dorbert a line and Dorbert would write back stating whether it was or was not safe to return.

Initially his scheme worked well and he looked to be on the road to building up a flourishing little business. Because his first clients tended to be people he knew, and they tended to have offended people he knew, (if only distantly) it was comparatively easy for him to know whether the offence had been forgotten.
But as word spread about the service he provided, with glowing reports about its convenience and accuracy, he had even more takers. His new clients tended to be people who were not from his social circle, and they had offended people who were just names to him. This presented him with a quandary, but he rose to the occasion. He decided to just ask the offended person whether they were still offended. You can see his reasoning, he’s asking the one person who does genuinely know the answer to the question.
Perhaps a year after he implemented this policy, one quiet afternoon he was browsing his records. In the cold light of day it became obvious that in those cases where he didn’t approach the offended person, they forgot about the offence far more quickly than when he did approach the offended person. Indeed it occurred to him that, in reality, he was reminding them of the offence and was thus ensuring that it wasn’t forgotten and thus inadvertently forgiven.

Initially he was somewhat downcast by this discovery. After all it meant that his business model was flawed. But as he thought about it, another scheme suggested itself. So he offered his ‘Reminder’ service. Hence if you were offended by somebody, you would pay Dorbert a retainer and every month of so he would remind you, in exquisite detail, about how you had been offended. This was an invaluable service for those who like the luxury of nursing their wrath, but have busy diaries and might otherwise allow some imagined slight to slip, unavenged, into an unintended oblivion.
But once Dorbert started offering this service (alongside his other, rather than in lieu of it) he found he had another group of customers. These were the rivals, professional or personal, of people who have been forced to flee. They were happy to pay Dorbert’s retainer. To them it was a cheap and efficient way of ensuring that their rival didn’t return. I know a number of ladies who have been left wondering why their admirer never did return, leaving them to seek solace in the arms of their second choice. The second choice was the one who’d wisely invested with Dorbert and had thus ensured their rival couldn’t make an inconvenient homecoming.

I think that Dorbert felt that he had now reached a position where he could hope to achieve financial security. To be fair to him, he wasn’t looking for wealth, he just wanted a liberal prosperity. Indeed he felt obliged to congratulate himself on his perspicacity in creating this business. You can perceive where he was coming from, he calculated that not only were the rich and powerful inclined to think positively of him, but those who might object to his business practices were excluded from the city. Indeed if they tried to enter Port Naain to remonstrate with him, the rich and powerful would doubtless have their hirelings administer a salutary lesson. Unfortunately Dorbert had forgotten one group of people. He had overlooked the families of those who were effectively exiled. This group came to his attention by the simple expedient of beating him up in a back alley. An assortment of wives and children explained to him as they administered the beating that what they were administering was a medicine, designed to remedy a number of moral and ethical deficiencies they had noted in his character. Dorbert took the hint, left the city that evening under the cover of darkness and has never returned.


And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster…

So here I am again with another blog tour. Not one book but three.

The first is another of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection. These stories are a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories. You can read them in any order.

On the Mud.           The Port Naain Intelligencer
When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a
problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important
artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral
people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times
when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as
reassuring as you might hope.


Available at:
Amazon UK

Then we have a Tallis Steelyard novella.

Tallis Steelyard and the Rustic Idyll
When he is asked to oversee the performance of the celebrated ‘Ten
Speeches’, Tallis Steelyard realises that his unique gifts as a poet have
finally been recognised. He may now truly call himself the leading poet of
his generation.
Then the past comes back to haunt him, and his immediate future involves too
much time in the saddle, being asked to die in a blue silk dress, blackmail
and the abuse of unregulated intoxicants. All this is set in delightful
countryside as he is invited to be poet in residence at a lichen festival.

Available at:
Amazon UK

And finally, for the first time in print we proudly present…

Maljie, the episodic memoirs of a lady.
In his own well-chosen words, Tallis Steelyard reveals to us the life of
Maljie, a lady of his acquaintance. In no particular order we hear about her
bathing with clog dancers, her time as a usurer, pirate, and the
difficulties encountered when one tries to sell on a kidnapped orchestra. We
enter a world of fish, pet pigs, steam launches, theological disputation,
and the use of water under pressure to dispose of foul smelling birds. Oh
yes, and we learn how the donkey ended up on the roof.

Available at:
Amazon UK

All a mere 99p each.

Jim Webster


There are fourteen installments in Tallis Steelyards current blog tour, each
guest blog as entertaining as the next.
Cartographically challenged
Silent Justice
Knowing your profiteroles
Coming Clean
Bringing the joys of civilisation
Trite tales for little people
A lisence to perform
Working the Crowd
And home again
Not particularly well liked (this installment)

More trite tales for little people
A poet is always a gentleman
Justice of a sort
Getting to the bottom of it all

Water Under the Bridge ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

I discovered the Bridge Tower on one of my perambulations around Partann. Some people say it isn’t in Partann, in that it’s on the right bank of the Dharant, some way south of Fluance but north of the road from Avitas over the mountains to the East.
Still, whilst geographers, cartographers and the inhabitants of Fluance might quibble, the inhabitants of the area do think of it as Partann.

I approached it from the north, following the River Quibble, which is one of the tributaries of the Dharant. Some miles away I saw the tower high on the bridge and hoping for shelter for the night I followed the track which led towards it. I soon found that the track climbed and ran along the edge of an escarpment above the river. The escarpment itself was thick with brush, briars and similar, and once you had left the river it appeared impossible to return.

Indeed in several places where the impenetrable scrub to my left seemed potentially more penetrable, there were even signs marking the track as I was following as being the correct route to the Bridge Tower. At these places the road had been cleared of overhanging foliage and seemed more obvious. I confess this made me a little curious and at the next signpost I squatted down and peered carefully at the ground where the scrub was thin. I soon realised that for a man on his hands and knees there was a perfectly adequate path that seemed to lead down the escarpment. My interest well whetted I made my way down the path and soon reached an area where I could stand upright. Soon I was following a perfectly acceptable path down to the river.

I continued along the river. The river itself ran between deep banks and although the water was shallow I could see crossing it would be difficult. I have no doubt that in wet seasons it could well be a torrent, especially when the snows melted on the mountains upstream. Across the river one could look towards the fells and moors which faded gradually into the foothills of the Apices.

Finally, not far from the bridge, I came across an older man, tending his beillie. He seemed surprised to see me but greeted me in a friendly enough fashion, introducing himself as Cordin the Beillie herd, and asked my business. I explained I’d been contemplating reaching the tower, looking for somewhere to spend the night. He glanced up at the broken bridge above us and explained that because of the difficulties of the terrain it could take me several hours to get there, especially if I had been on horseback.

Still we chatted, and in return for some help with his small flock he was perfectly happy to provide me with accommodation and a meal and set me on my way to the tower the next morning.

That evening as I sat with my host and his wife in their pleasant enough cottage, I asked about the tower and who lived there. I had been told that it belonged to a savant called Chekwind. The old man smiled nostalgically and launched into his tale. It appears that Chekwind had indeed acquired the tower. This was when my host was young and had just married and set up home in the cottage. The ownership of the tower was of little moment to those living below it. The tower looks to the west, whilst those living below by the side of the Quibble look to the east. The escarpment blocks easy traffic in either direction. Still it seems that Chekwind had seen my host and had shouted to him from one of the lower windows. Apparently Chekwind had been checking his deeds and discovered he was the owner of the land below the tower and was entitled to rent from it. Cordin said that he was the tenant and promised to deliver the rent the next day. So at noon he arrived with the annual rent, a young goat kid. As the tenancy agreement said nothing about the gender of the kid or whether it had to be alive, or prepared, ready for the table, Cordin had brought a young billy.

As fate would have it, it was Chekwind’s concubine who met him at the door and immediately pronounced the kid as adorable. She took the kid inside and Cordin, his duty done, went back to his flock. A few months later, Chekwind managed to attract Cordin’s attention and offered him ready cash to remove the beillie. What his lady hadn’t realised is that as they grow older, billy beillies stink. Not long after Chekwind and his concubine moved out. Apparently the tower depends for its water on rainwater collected in cisterns. There wasn’t enough water to wash away the smell of the beillie. Between ourselves, even if you could have diverted the river through the tower, there’d still not be enough water to get rid of the smell.
The tower stood empty for the rest of the summer, and then it was occupied by a band of brigands who were looking for a base from which to plunder the countryside. They were dislodged by an Urlan maiden aged sixteen who rode up to the door and pointed out to them that they didn’t have the water to withstand a siege. The brigands checked the cisterns and were forced to agree with her. There was then a semantic argument amongst the brigands over whether having a sixteen year old girl standing outside your only door properly constitutes a siege.
Eventually they looked over the parapet to discover she was still waiting. Tentatively they broached the issue of raising the siege. She pointed out that if they were respectable travellers who were jut sheltering from the rain, there obviously would be no talk of a siege. Hastily the small band of heavily armed but respectable travellers departed for pastures new.

The tower stood empty for the winter. Then the following spring Chekwind managed to rent the property to the celebrated poet Rargan Grosset. He moved in, seeking a bucolic idyll. He enjoyed the summer, endured the winter and raved about the following spring. The second summer was blighted by the knowledge that winter was coming and on a golden day in autumn he packed his bags and headed for Port Naain.

For the next few years a succession of poets, playwrights, lyricists, and poseurs spent varying amounts of time in the tower. Given that Chekwind demanded a year’s rent in advance, in some years he managed to collect three year’s rent. Cordin remembered some of them as individuals. There was a poet called Floban. He survived a winter, but his nerve was broken by the cold and the silence. As soon as the roads cleared he made his way back to Port Naain. He was finally committed to the Lunatic Asylum by his wife. Apparently he could only get to sleep if there was noise and he paid musicians to play under their bedroom window all through the night.

The sequence of persons of an artistic temperament was interrupted by more brigands. (Here I realise I might be doing them an injustice. After all if lyricists claim to be artists, why cannot brigands claim the same?) Still these brigands were an altogether tougher and more violent collection of thugs than the previous incumbents. They had already made parts of Partann too hot for them. When the Urlan arrived this time it wasn’t in the form of a maiden. There was a score of them.

The brigands boasted that they had adequate supplies of food and water for a long siege. The Urlan merely commenced the assault and under the covering fire of their archers, they smashed down the door and stormed the tower. It fell in less than an hour. Those who didn’t die in the assault dangled from the gallows an hour later.
This time the Urlan didn’t leave. A handful stayed on and the tower became a hunting lodge. In all candour they may not have known that Chekwind had a claim to it, and to the best of my knowledge he has never informed them. Still the Urlan left their mark. Cordin met a young Urlan sergeant out on a hunting expedition. The sergeant asked the best way back to the tower and as always Cordin directed him the long way round to ensure that people never learned the short cuts that would drag his valley into the real world.

Next day the sergeant was back with a hunch of venison for Cordin and his wife. He’d discovered the short cut and assumed that Cordin directing him miles out of his way was an amusing practical joke. When Cordin explained why he adopted this policy, the sergeant apologised with fitting formality. During the next six months while he formally courted Cordin’s daughter, the sergeant always used the long way round.

The Urlan moved on, priorities had changed and Cordin’s daughter went east over the mountains with her new husband. Chekwind had obviously got wind of the change because he immediately rented the tower out to some other unfortunates. By now the tower’s reputation had spread amongst the artistic community, but there are plenty of aspiring, budding, or embryonic artists out there who have more money than sense. Cordin watched them with interest, and he shared their stories with a degree of wry amusement. There was the poet who saw Cordin working below so had himself lowered out of one of the lower windows. Apparently he hoped Cordin would know the nearest wine merchant. (Fluance, three days walk in good conditions and assuming you know the short cuts.) There was the artistic collective who rented the tower, intent on returning to nature. Their plan was to live only by what they could glean, the wild fruits and berries. Thus they ceremoniously burnt their clothing and went about naked. When they arrived in early autumn things didn’t go too badly. It was a mild autumn, and there were good crops of various wild berries. Problems arose two months later, when there was an early cold snap and the tower froze solid. It was only the hasty intervention of Cordin and his wife that prevented the artists freezing likewise.

The following spring Cordin and his wife had a surprise when their grandson and his wife walked into the valley. Lord Eklin had sent them to settle in the tower and make sure the Bridge Tower didn’t fall into the wrong hands. He had decided that it made sense to have an Urlan hunting lodge in the area. By this time Chekwind had died, and his only heir was his concubine who still bathed daily in the hope of removing the lingering scent of goat.

Next day I made my way to the tower, the long way round. I was made welcome, on the strength of my claim to know at least three Urlan sagas well enough to tell them in company. There was a merry company there, a hunting party half a dozen strong, knights, sergeants, matrons and maidens. I gave them the The Saga of Barc Glai which they listened to with the air of connoisseurs assessing an unknown vintage. At the end of it they applauded and I was formally commended for my grasp of the language. Then I told them the tale of Three Shorecombers and the Lost Dinket. This got them laughing and they proclaimed me a capital fellow at the end of it. Then we dined, well hung dart marinated in the strongest of red wines, herbs and vegetables and mushrooms taken from fields thereabouts. Washed down with ale so dark you could hold it up to the light and yet see nothing through it.

Next morning, my host, Garron, the sergeant grandson of old Cordin asked for a quiet word. He and his wife had been wondering about what to do after old Cordin’s day. Cordin and his wife were both a fair age and at some point, if they lived, they’d probably have to move into the tower where they could be looked after. But that would leave the cottage.

It appeared that Garron had also been spending time listening to the old man’s tales and asked, “Do you think there would be artist types in Port Naain who’d want to hire it for cash?”

I confess I was tempted to supply the names of people whom I felt deserved to spend winter in an isolated cottage in the wilds of Partann. Still I felt I had a duty to my host. “There are people who will be interested. But frankly I’d suggest you just rented it for the summer and included in the cost their meals and suchlike. Garron nodded sagely, it was obvious that he had been listening to Cordin’s tales. “I thought I could have one of the maiden’s cook and clean for them as well. At least that way we’ll know the cottage is kept in good order.”

I could see his point, but knowing my fellow artists, I could already spot the pitfalls. “It depends how many fatalities you want. I would suggest you pick one of the fiercer matrons, somebody who can set up a forge down there and do some metalwork as well. If the poets see her hammering steel on an anvil they’ll be less likely to make immodest suggestions that might be taken amiss.”

He smiled. “My mother said something similar.”


And now we’d better hear from Jim Webster…

So here I am again with another blog tour. I’ve released two collections of short stories from Tallis and if you’ve enjoyed the one you just read, you’ll almost certainly enjoy these.

So what have Tallis and I got for you?

Well first there’s, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A guide for writers, and other stories.’ The book that all writers who want to know how to promote and sell their books will have to read. Sit at the feet of the master as Tallis passes on the techniques which he has tried and perfected over the years. As well as this you’ll have music and decorum, lessons in the importance of getting home under your own steam, and brass knuckles for a lady. How can you resist, all this for a mere 99p.

Available at:
Amazon UK

Then we have, ‘Tallis Steelyard. Gentlemen behaving badly, and other stories.’ Now is your chance to see Port Naain by starlight and meet ladies of wit and discernment. There are Philosophical societies, amateur dramatics, the modern woman, revenge, and the advantages of a good education.

Available at:
Amazon UK

So come on, treat yourself, because you’re worth it.

Jim Webster


There are fifteen installments in Tallis Steelyards current blog tour, each
guest blog as entertaining as the next.
A fine residence
A man who doesn’t pay his bills never lacks for correspondence
Be careful what you pretend to be
Call yourself a writer?
Every last penny
It all comes out in the wash
Performance Art
The alternative career of Dilkerton Thallawell
The automated caricordi of Darset Dweel
The dark machinations of Flontwell Direfountain
Thoroughly married
Water under the bridge (this installment)
Who you know, not what you know

The Civilising Influence of Betta Thrang ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

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

Available at:
Amazon UK

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

Available at:
Amazon UK

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

Jim Webster


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
Butterfly net
Getting rich moderately rapidly
In tune with the Zeitgeist
Learning a role
Love letters
Mother mine
No strutting or fretting
Something of the night?
The civilising influence of Betta Thrang (this installment)
Unfashionably tired

An Appropriate Boy ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

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.”
”Where’s that?”
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?”
“You sure?”
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

Available at:
Amazon UK

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

Available at:
Amazon UK

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.

Jim Webster

And to follow the blog tour from the start, follow these links:

An Appropriate Boy (this episode)


Equine Entanglements ~ Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Equine Entanglements.jpg

Equine Entanglements_title

Adrasa Drane was remarkable, even amongst her siblings, for her fascination with horses and her total lack of fear. Even as a toddler she would walk under the great dray horses and stroke their legs. Thus it was inevitable that as she grew older she started to frequent stables and similar places.
At the age of fourteen she was present when Cavalier Qualan, the condottieri captain, rode down Ropewalk at the head of his men. Admittedly back then it was a lot less spectacular procession than it was to become, he was young and would struggle to field a score of lances. He stopped to talk to a passer-by who had hailed him, and Adrasa stepped forward and retied the throat lash on his bridle properly.
Cavalier Qualan looked down at the gamin, all legs and long hair and asked whether she could ride. She admitted that she couldn’t, so he told her that if she wanted to learn she should present herself to his house at the edge of town next day.
Adrasa may have contemplated discussing this matter with her parents but decided against it on the not unreasonable grounds that, firstly, they might forbid it, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, as a dutiful daughter she didn’t want to cause them any distress by going against their specifically stated wishes.
So next morning Adrasa arose early and left a note on the kitchen table informing her parents that she had the chance of an apprenticeship. In brackets after it she wrote, “Something to do with horses.”
The Cavalier lived on what had once been a farm, but had been swallowed up by the advancing city. So whilst the house was not large, there were barns and stables around quite a large courtyard. There was even a field of sorts which various previous owners had neglected to sell off. Adrasa presented herself at the house and was immediately sent round to the stables where the Cavalier himself watched her tack up an elderly horse. Then he assisted her into the saddle. She sat there holding the reins until eventually the horse turned its head to look at her as if to enquire as to whether his services would be needed that day.
Still, by the end of the first week she could mount and ride a sensible horse with reasonable confidence. She was also able to clean both tack and horse and could be trusted to feed and water it. At this point Cavalier Qualan had a serious talk with her. He pointed out that her path had come to a crossroads. She could return home, learn a proper trade and have very little to do with horses. Or she could join his staff as a stable girl where she’d get a reasonable wage and enjoy considerable security. Indeed he went so far as to grin when he told her that he kept losing his stable girls to matrimony. They tended to find ardent suitors amongst carters, the owners of livery stables, and even his own horsemen. The third option he held out to her was that she became a squire with the aim of eventually bearing arms and riding for him as one of his lances.
He sent her home to her parents, accompanied by his Mistress of the Stables.
This formidable lady explained the situation to both Taffetia and Garrat. Next day Adrasa came back, her articles of apprenticeship signed by both parents.
Her chosen career path was unusual but wasn’t unheard of. Perhaps one in twenty of the condottieri horsemen in the city are women. Talking to men who’ve served, they see no problem with this. Women are generally lighter, and whilst they might be less powerful, they can wear the same armour because the horse takes most of the weight. When it comes to the shock of combat, the woman’s horse tends to be fresher and hits faster and harder. Amongst the infantry one rarely sees a woman. Some claim that it’s due to their lack of stamina and physical power, but frankly I’d suggest it’s purely that the infantry don’t get horses.
Still whatever the reason, Adrasa flourished in her chosen career. At the age of seventeen she rode south. In the following two decades she had typhus, dysentery (three times), ringworm every year until she became immune to it, and gave birth to three children and lost one of them. She had her left arm broken, (twice) and suffered from innumerable cuts and contusions. On one notable occasion she received a blow which tore through the armour on her right thigh, left her needing seventeen stitches and she couldn’t walk for three weeks. She fought to defend three towns and was at the sieges of four others. She commanded the garrison of an isolated tower for three months and fought in innumerable ambuscades, skirmishes and routs. On her thirty-seventh birthday she led the successful attack on a merchant convoy.
Six months later she followed Cavalier Qualan north to Port Naain for the last time; financially secure due to the looted convoy, she had decided to retire. After two decades in the saddle, Adrasa had changed but Uttermost Partann remained much as it had always been.
After talking to the Cavalier she started a stable of her own, but with ponies suitable for children and young people rather than horses. She taught all and sundry to ride. The children of the wealthy would arrive on their own pony; the daughters of the middle classes (sometimes the sons but mainly the daughters) would ride one of her ponies. Rather than calling it a riding school, she called it a club. They played games such as polo and tent-pegging as well as performing more formal exercises on the field she borrowed from the Cavalier.
Indeed just to make sure that her pupils and their mounts were competent she would have them ride in column of twos through the city. She would ride at the back, watching her charges carefully. Occasionally she’d say firmly, in her parade ground voice, “Stop slouching girl.”
When Adrasa did that I’ve seen married women with a toddler in one hand and their shopping in the other, guiltily snap to attention two streets away.


And now the hard sell!

OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog tour which is peering into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife Taffetia Drane. Now we are meeting their various offspring, delightful people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not.  But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard. Tallis has his own blog at

But actually the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact
that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’

Six men in a boat

Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. Questions are asked that may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.

Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!

Jim Webster 

And to follow the Blog Tour from the start – follow these links:

Garret Dane and the case of the petty cash

Money doesn’t earn itself!

Amazing what you learn as you grow older

Only themselves to blame

Do you want honey roasted grub with that?

A constant struggle for funding

The Tenant

Equine entanglements (this episode)

A touch more colour

Moving to the music

What are the chances of that? Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

Tallis Steelyard Guest Post

What are the chances of that

What are the chances of that_title

Shalan Kettlewell was a bookmaker. He always insisted on ‘full title’ and refused to be called a ‘bookie.’ This term he felt to be objectionable and he held that it denigrated a proud profession. Still whether you thought of him as a ‘bookie’ or a ‘book maker’ he made his money by taking bets. He maintained not especially prestigious premises two streets back from the less fashionable end of Ropewalk. Here you could go in and place your bet. On race days he had a stall on the course itself.
His permanent establishment had the name, ‘House of Kettlewell’ emblazoned across the front in gold letters. In some circles this might have been considered a little immoderate, but compared to the man himself it was distinctly understated. There is a black and white print of Shalan Kettlewell in his prime hanging in the gent’s privy in the Misanthropes Hall. One or two people have suggested having it coloured but frankly if it was true to life it would be so bright as to force those using the room to squint. This was felt by the management to be inappropriate.
So other than a taste for garish clothing, tasteless accessories, and a certain precision in speech, what else marked Kettlewell out? Well, between ourselves, he did have a tendency to gloat. Other bookies take your money and will offer worthless congratulations (often through clenched teeth) if you win, and equally worthless commiserations when, as happens far more often, you lose.
But Kettlewell seemed to regard each bet as a personal challenge to him. If he won, you would think that he had overcome the odds and defeated you by the exercise of his personal virtue. If he lost, then he was prone to sulking and depression.
This probably wouldn’t have mattered, but he was also proud of his ability to calculate the odds. Indeed his catch phrase when he won was, “What are the chances of that? In my experience, the successful bookie has no real grasp of numbers. What he does have is an instinctive grasp of the punter and the world in general. He will look at the punter, contemplate the bet and somewhere deep in his shrivelled and possibly mortgaged soul a small voice tells him, “Three to two, on.”
Kettlewell was an exponent of the subtle calculus of computation. Not for him the mere adding up of a column of numbers, he went far far deeper than that. Deeper perhaps than it is safe for a mere mortal to go. At last he gazed upon forbidden things and drew upon himself the attention of those far more powerful in the art than he was.
So it happened that one day a cloaked and hooded figure appeared at the ‘House of Kettlewell’. He announced himself at Valair the Numerator, thaumaturgist, sage and student of the mathematical arts. He proceeded to look down the odds offered on various horses and made a complicated bet.
On the chosen day there were seven races and Valair had picked out seven winners. But the winnings from the first bet would become the stake for the second bet; the winnings of the second bet would become the stake for the third bet, and so on.
Kettlewell dropped the stake money into his chest with a superior smile and thought no more about it. Yet on the chosen day, from his stall at the racecourse, Kettlewell experienced the first vague sense of unease. The horse backed by Valair won the first race so as instructed, Kettlewell placed the winnings as stake money on the horse picked for the second race. Somewhat to his surprise Valair’s horse won the second race. The amount of money placed on the horse chosen for the third race was considerable. Kettlewell could only remember two other bets as large.

Valair’s horse won the third race. When Kettlewell placed the winnings as a stake for the horse in the fourth race it was a purely paper exercise, he didn’t have enough money with him to use cash. He was beginning to get desperate. He summoned a loyal and trusted servant, surreptitiously handed him a small bottle and whispered in his ear the name of the horse Valair had backed for the seventh race. The minion went on his way and Kettlewell continued to pace nervously up and down behind his stall. He attempted to calm his nerves by taking sips of brandy from his hip flask.
When the fourth horse won, it won more money that Kettlewell could afford. Even if he sold everything he had, he couldn’t have paid off the bet. Almost mechanically he pushed all the money onto the fifth horse. This won by an embarrassingly large margin. By now the stake money on the sixth horse was beyond Kettlewell’s comprehension. He proceeded to do a hasty calculation on the back of an old betting slip. He checked it twice and the numbers kept adding up. If the sixth and seventh horses won, even if Kettlewell sold the entire city of Port Naain, lock, stock and barrel, it still wouldn’t raise enough money to pay off the final bet.
It was a pale and nervous Kettlewell who watched Valair’s chosen horse win the sixth race. Indeed his hands shook as he paid out those punters who had bet merely on that race. He had discarded the hipflask and was now drinking openly from the bottle.
As the seventh race started, Kettlewell noticed Valair walking towards the stand. The bookie was too tense to even pretend to smile at him. The savant leaned against one of the poles that held up the canopy over the stall and he and Kettlewell watched the race together.
Valair’s choice got a good start; as the tape dropped it leapt clear. With a quarter of the race run it was two lengths clear. At the turn it was four lengths clear. Kettlewell felt a cramping in his bowels.
Then at the three quarter point the horse slowly slumped to the ground and lay there, snoring as its jockey danced round it cursing. It was at this point that Kettlewell had realised he was holding his breath. He let it out with a gasp as the rest of the race thundered past the sleeping horse and the race was over.
Finally he turned to face Valair. The face of the savant was contorted with fury. Before the other man could say anything, Kettlewell smiled insincerely at him and said, “What are the chances of that?”
Strangely nobody ever saw Shalan Kettlewell after that day. His staff, assuming he was on some errand, paid out punters as usual after the last race, then closed the stall down and made their way back into town. They reopened the shop next morning but when he still failed to appear, finally the business was handed to his sister who sold it.
As an aside, the area around the shop is now known for the gaudy and exotic butterflies that you can see in the area. What are the chances of that?


At this point Tallis drifts off and leaves me, Jim Webster to let you know what is going on.
I’m promoting a book, that’s what is going on. You see, for a number of years I’ve been writing about the adventures of Benor, a cartographer living in a fantasy setting. First I published a couple of novels and then tried something different. I wrote a number of novellas about him, under the title of ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer.’
The thing about the stories in the Port Naain Intelligencer collection, you can read them in any order. It’s a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them in a particular order, but you can dip in and out of them, you don’t need to start with volume one and work through them chronologically.
So I’ve just published, ‘A licence to print money: The Port Naain Intelligencer.’ It’s available on Amazon at

In it, Benor, who just wants to get paid for some work he’s done, struggles against corrupt officials, bent bookies, and all manner of other problems. On the positive side he does get to meet a Magistrate who is also a performance poet, and young Mutt finds somebody who might even be tougher than he is.

Tallis, the leading poet of his generation, first appeared in one of the Port Naain Intelligencer stories, so for those of you who still love Tallis, his blog is still there at

And some more collections of anecdotes from Tallis Steelyard are in the publishing pipeline.
And you can find my books at

Oh and I’ve got another blog which I write which is mainly sheep, quad bikes and stuff. Or perhaps not?

Also, in case you’re interested, I’m trying an experiment. I’ve split a Port Naain Intelligencer novel into episodes (or chapters) and these can be followed on the web as part of a blog tour. If you fancy following them then here’s the timetable:

A licence to print money tour, addresses
Wednesday 20thJune Annette Rochelle Aben Episode 1
Thursday 21stJune Suzanne Joshi Episode 2
Friday 22nd June Chris Graham Episode 3
Saturday 23rdJune Robbie Cheadle Episode 4
Sunday 24th June Craig Boyack Episode 5 
Monday 25thJune Sue Vincent Episode 6
Tuesday 26thJune Chris Graham Episode 7
Wednesday 27thJune Sue Vincent Episode 8
Thursday 28thJune Annette Rochelle Aben Episode 9

A license to print money