If you have been to Port Naain (as of course you have), you will thoroughly enjoy the tale about to unfold before you. If you are one of those rare folk who have not, then you are in for a treat, and, I dare say, you will be making travel arrangements even before finishing your read.
The reader who has not been to Port Naain is likely someone who does not travel at all, as it is known far and wide as a destination of character. All are welcome there, whether highborn or low. Many have stayed, and they sometimes find themselves included in the tales of Tallis Steelyard, a poet with the highest of standards, sometimes exercised in the lowest of places. Continue reading, and you’ll find yourself immersed in the lore of Port Naain.
As we continue our perambulations through the paintings exhibited here by Andeal Willnoton Quillabin we come to one which I feel is somewhat unusual. This picture is his interpretation of something he was told about but never saw. Indeed he couldn’t have seen it as it happened before either he or I were born.
Andreal, like all artists, is happy to take commissions. Normally these involve people putting coin into his hand in payment. The only discussion is over the amount of coin. Yet in this case the situation was somewhat different. A group of us were sitting, minding our own business, having a quiet drink in the Lubbergate Tavern. It was a somewhat sombre occasion as we were ‘celebrating’ the passing of Jettin Sal. We’d delivered her body to the corpse boat with proper ceremony and now were gathered to drink a toast to her memory.
The chief mourner was Jeia, her daughter and our contemporary. She told some tales of her mother and father who had been shore-combers. Jeia herself had gone up in the world and was in domestic service as a maid. So the group round the table consisted of shore-combers, other folk who’d known Jettin, and people who were friends of Jeia and wished to support her. Andeal, like me, had known Jettin but mainly we were there because we knew her daughter.
Jeia turned to one of the older men sitting with us. “Uncle Quanard, could you tell us some of the old tales about my parents please.”
The old man so addressed put down his glass. “Did you hear about the day your parents were married?”
“Only a little, Uncle.”
“Well it was a proper shore-comber wedding. You don’t see them much now. Everything was worked around the tide. The Priestess of Aea in her Aspect as the Personification of Fecundity turned up with the high tide to sanctify the marriage. Then we borrowed tables from all the mud-jobbers and served the wedding breakfast. By the time we’d finished eating the tide was well out so we all trooped onto the mud for dancing.”
Jeia looked surprised, “I don’t remember my mum being much of a lady for dancing.”
Old Quanard just patted her arm. “After four children, and the accident that lamed your dad, she didn’t dance. But as a young woman she was a fine dancer.” He stared off into memory. “It’s how she and your dad met really, they were both fine dancers.”
We sat in silence as the old shore-comber pulled together the threads of memory. “The day had worsened, but I well remember the last dance. It was for the bride and groom to dance alone, but the rain was already blowing in. So they danced it with a couple of us just trying to keep the rain off them with some old umbrellas we’d got. I’ve never seen such dancing, him tall and handsome, her slim and beautiful, and both so much in love.”
Jeia dabbed a tear away from her cheek. “Oh I’d have loved to have seen it.”
With that Andreal kicked me under the table and mouthed, “You and I have to talk.”
As we walked back from the Lubbergate Tavern Andreal told me his idea.
“I’m going to paint a picture for Jeia. It’s going to be her parents dancing at their wedding.”
“But you haven’t got a clue what they looked like.”
Andreal waved a hand airily. “You and I will interview people and I will capture the spirit of the occasion.”
“It still happened forty or more years ago. How many people do you think will remember the details?”
With perfect logic Andreal replied, “Tallis, if they don’t remember the details, they cannot quibble about what I put in the painting.”
“I realise I’m just a poet but I don’t think it works quite like that.”
“Don’t worry; I’ll meet you tomorrow at high tide on the Old Esplanade.”
I had hoped that if Andreal was going to persist with his cavalier attitude to reality, then we wouldn’t spend much time interviewing. In fact, Andreal, with me tagging along behind him trying not to look put-upon, interviewed everyone. And I mean everybody. He talked to all and sundry, he talked to the people we could find who had been at the wedding. He talked to the children of people who’d been at the wedding in case the parents had mentioned it. He even talked to people who thought they remembered it because they happened to walk along the Old Esplanade that day.
By the end of the process we had copious notes and from these I tried to produce something that might approach a consensus. There were facts everybody agreed on. There were the two dancers and two people with umbrellas trying to protect them from the rain.
Our witnesses were agreed that Iappan, the groom, had worn a suit. Details were sketchy, but generally it was agreed that it was dark, almost black, and he’d borrowed it from his brother. Because his brother was a clerk he had some black shoes to wear with the suit and Iappan had worn them. This we know because apparently there had been a flaming row when the brother got his shoes back and had to spend most of a day rubbing vinegar into them to get rid of the salt.
For Jettin we had a stroke of luck. One woman produced a piece of material that was all that was left of the dress. Jettin had been the fourth woman married in that dress. She was also the tallest, and it looked a little short on her. So she’d cut the back low and used the material salvaged to lengthen the dress a little. Our informant was the next bride to be married in the dress so she merely removed the material Jettin had added to the length. She’d been at Jettin’s wedding and had liked the low back, so kept that style. The spare material had remained in her scraps box ever since because one day it might come in useful.
So now Andreal started work on his painting. What intrigued me was that the bride and groom were comparatively straight forward. His big problems came with the figures holding the umbrellas. His idea was to contrast the dancers, oblivious to everything but each other, with the umbrella holders who would be used to show how bad the weather was.
Because we were cheap and available, he used Jeia and me as models. I could see that he was struggling with it, and finally, one day, in exasperation, he took us down to the Old Esplanade, and as he sat under the shelter of Shena’s awning, Jeia and I were left out in the wind and rain for a good hour as he strived to capture our postures. Finally satisfied he dashed back to his studio to finish the work. He’d been gone ten minutes before anybody thought to tell the two of us that our services were no longer required. We were so cold and wet that we had to be half carried to the Goldclaw Baths where we were stripped and thrown into the warm waters.
Obviously when the picture was finished, all those who’d contributed to our researches wanted to see it. So Andreal brought it down to the Old Esplanade and exhibited it in Shena’s office. I arrived early; I wanted to be there, not merely to hear the comments but to see the expressions on their faces. Those who had heard the tale were modestly flattering. The interesting ones were those who’d been at the wedding. They stared at the painting for a long time in silence. Andreal was a little worried as a lot of them just shuffled off in silence. Finally he grabbed old Quanard as he turned to go.
“Please, what is it like, is it any good?”
Quanard seemed to be struggling for words. Finally he just rested a hand on Andreal’s shoulder. “Well lad it’s like this. It were nothing like the picture, yet the picture sums it up perfect.”
So this is the tale of how I, Tallis Steelyard, suffered for somebody else’s art. Were my sufferings worth it? Look at the picture and decide for yourself. But I must warn you that this picture is one of the few that isn’t for sale. Jeia has merely loaned to the exhibition.
Other stops on the Pictures from an Exhibition
blog tour can be read here:
The Old Castle
The Bogat Street Gates
Tallis Steelyard and Jim Webster proudly present
The Festival, and other stories
More of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. In here Tallis touches upon child rearing, politics as a performance art, the joy of dance and the advantages that come with good manners. Discover why Madam Dolbart was forced to constantly hire new cooks, marvel at the downfall of Dash Blont, lecher, libertine, and philanderer . Whatever happens, do not pass through life without knowing of the advantages to be gained by an early morning pick-me-up of horse dung spread fine on toast. You too can be charming and elegant once you know how.
For a mere 99p all this and more can be yours.