Jim Webster is visiting Michael and I today with Episode 4 of the Tales from the Port Naain Intelligencer collection Blog Tour. These tales feature Benor the
Cartographer, the hero of Jim’s new book A licence to print money, and they are very entertaining.
Heiron leaned back in his seat and pushed his empty plate away. Benor was still mopping up the remains of his gravy with a slice of bread.
“That was good.” Benor ate the bread.
“You’re right; I will happily recommend ‘The Bridge Inn’ at Tarrant to all my friends.”
With that he drained the rest of the beer in his tankard. It was good enough to tempt him into ordering another one, but he felt turning up for work smelling of ale, however good, lacked gravitas.
Heiron toyed with his tankard. “I’ve travelled a bit young Benor but I’ve not travelled enough to place your accent.”
“That’s easily explained. I’m from Toelar; you probably never travelled that far.”
“No farther east than Tarsteps,” Heiron admitted, “but in Tarsteps, Toelar men had a certain reputation. Are you one of those ‘roof-runners’?”
Benor smiled a rather tired smile.
“Most men in Toelar are. It’s a game we play. If a lady wishes to arrange an assignation with a gentleman, she will merely hint that her bedroom window is open. It’s up to the gentleman to get to the window.”
“And I assume that just climbing up to it on a ladder isn’t considered playing fair?” Heiron hazarded.
“No, he’d get the window slammed in his face. But remember it’s a game. If a lady doesn’t want to play she can sleep with her window open all night and nothing will enter her room other than the breeze. On the other hand I’ve know married men arrive at their bedroom door to discover it’s locked and there is a note from their wife to say the window is open.”
Heiron chuckled, “Your neighbours in Tarsteps paint a more colourful picture.” He pushed the chair back and stood up. “Anyway I’d better be back on the road. Selanade’s Elixir doesn’t sell itself.”
Benor stood and clasped the older man’s hand. “It’s been good travelling with you Heiron, even if only for a little while.”
He accompanied Heiron to the stable yard and watched as the wagon made its way out over the bridge and along the road, heading west. Then he also crossed the bridge but turned down a little lane heading south. The innkeeper had assured him that this would lead him to Tarrant Beck House.
The lane seemed to drift slowly to the west and then it ran alongside what Benor assumed to be the Tarrant Beck. It was a broad stream, tree-lined and too wide to jump over and with any number of deep pools. It struck him as the ideal place to sit and doze in the shade whilst pretending to fish. Perhaps half a mile further along the stream he came to a bridge made of heavy timbers. The lane continued but a track turned off, crossed the bridge and made its way across a lawn to a very pleasant house. It had been built of a honey-coloured stone, carefully dressed. There were large windows, evenly spaced, and one approached the door through an arch which supported flowering honeysuckle.
Sitting on the bridge, preparing vegetables for the pot, was a lady in her sixties. Next to her was a large gong.
Benor stopped and addressed her. “Excuse me, is this Tarrant Beck House?”
“It is, and if I may make so bold, what is it to you?”
Remembering Grayer’s request for discretion, Benor merely said, “I’m Benor Dorfinngil. I’m a friend of Grayer and he asked me to drop in and see him. Apparently there’s something I can do for him.”
The woman stood up. “I’m Winnith, the lady’s maid. I’d better take you to the house.” With that she picked up a metal hammer and struck the gong. Benor was surprised at just how loud it was.
“That’ll let them know we’re coming.” She picked up her vegetables. “I’ll have to accompany you. Master Grayer is not at home and Madam is on her own. It would be improper for her to entertain a male guest unchaperoned.”
“Madam? I thought Grayer was unmarried.”
“Madam Grasia is Master Grayer’s elder sister.”
Thoughtfully Benor followed Winnith along the track. She continued to talk cheerfully about Grayer and Grasia and how their family was related to others in the area but Benor wasn’t listening to that. Over her chattering he could hear the hooves of a galloping horse. Somebody had just left the rear of Tarrant Beck House in such a way that they couldn’t be seen from the front.
Winnith left him standing under the honeysuckle in front of the main door; explaining that she’d let herself in through the kitchen and tell Madam who had arrived. Benor waited. Whatever Winnith was doing was taking an inordinate length of time.
Finally the door opened. Winnith looked at his feet. “Wipe your boots and come in. Follow me.”
Barely giving him time to comply with her instructions she set off. She led him across a hall, up a grand flight of stairs which opened out onto another hallway on the first floor. She crossed the hall and tapped on the door. She obviously heard the reply because she opened the door and gestured for Benor to enter. Somewhat intrigued by the whole business Benor did so.
Madam Grasia was seated on a curule seat. She had the same broad forehead and high cheekbones as her brother. Her long skirts were carefully arranged around her. Benor guessed she might be forty. Her hair was up, held in place by long pins. There was an abandoned hairbrush poking out from under the skirts. This perhaps was the explanation for why Winnith had taken so long. He bowed slightly deeper than courtesy demanded. Madam Grasia stared at him in silence. Her eyes were grey, her complexion
fresh. If she smiled, she’d probably be attractive. Benor grew uncomfortable. Had he spilled gravy down his shirt? Had he forgotten to shave half his face? Finally she spoke.
“Ah, my brother’s Toelar friend.” Her tones were icy. She held up a piece of paper that had been lying in her lap. “My brother wrote. I am instructed to provide you with the map of the estate. You will then do whatever it is he has asked you to do.” She glared at him as if defying him to say anything. When he stayed wisely silent she added, “My brother states you are to dine with the family. Whilst my brother is away, I dine alone in my room. I see no reason to change my habits. As for accommodation, the boy’s room in the stables is empty. Winnith will see that a bed is made up in there for you.”
“Oh yes, he mentioned money. You are to have five alars.” She threw a small purse towards him. It fell short. Ignoring it she rose and without another word she left. Winnith followed her. Benor bent over to pick up the purse and noticed a piece of towelling under the chair. He stuffed the purse into his belt and picked up the towelling. It was damp and had obviously been used to remove cosmetics. Benor kicked it under the chair and walked back to the front door.
He followed the path around the side of the house. Here was the stable yard. There was a barn and stable block facing the house. The stable door was open and the stable was clearly empty. Obviously if Grayer had horses they weren’t here. The kitchen garden formed the third side of the square. Benor arrived in time to see a gardener scoop up some fresh horse dung from by the kitchen door and take it to the garden. Benor shook his head slightly; he just wished he knew what was going on.
A licence to print money
An honest cartographer attempts to steer his way though grasping bureaucrats, bent bookmakers, magistrates who practice performance poetry and a young lady who wishes to end an ‘arrangement.’
Can Benor see justice done? Will Mutt finally meet his match? What do they teach aspiring temple dancers nowadays?
Purchase A licence to print money
About Jim Webster
Someone once wrote this about me
“Jim Webster is probably still fifty something, his tastes in music are eclectic, and his dress sense is rarely discussed in polite society. In spite of this he has a wife and three daughters.
He has managed to make a living from a mixture of agriculture, consultancy, and freelance writing. Previously he has restricted himself to writing about agricultural and rural issues but including enough Ancient Military history to maintain his own sanity. But seemingly he has felt it necessary to branch out into writing fantasy and Sci-Fi novels.”
Now with eight much acclaimed fantasy works and two Sci-Fi to my credit it seems I might be getting into the swing of things.
Some other books by Jim Webster
There are more!