Jim Webster is back, gang. His Lisa Burton Radio post was super popular, so today he’d like to tell you about another story of his. Take it away, Jim:
The first fantasy novel I ever wrote was about the adventures of Benor, a cartographer. I followed him through another novel, 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.
Anyway Tallis Steelyard appeared as a character in the collection, and somehow took over. Tallis is like that, but now, Benor is back!
After the first critically acclaimed collection of the ‘Port Naain Intelligencer’ novellas, by popular demand a second collection is on its way!
But anyway 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.
But it struck me that people have got used to me writing about Tallis Steelyard and might need reintroducing to young Benor. So I decided that I’d write another Port Naain Intelligencer tale, ‘A measured response,’ where each chapter is a post on the blog tour. Follow the blog tour and you’ll probably get to uncover the mystery, free and gratis. Cannot say better than that can I?
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?
That evening Benor opened his backpack, assembled his plane table and his groma. Next morning he appeared at the kitchen door to enquire about breakfast. The cook, a thin, grim woman, seemed to share her mistress’s disapproval of him. Still she set before him a plate of oatcakes, butter and cheese. To drink there was small beer from a barrel in the corner of the kitchen.
For his midday meal she presented him with some bread and cheese wrapped in a square of old flour sack. As he crossed the yard back to the stable Benor checked his lunch. The bread was stale and the cheese hard. He merely shrugged; it was now obvious what his place was in this household. He gave his lunch to Gyp the guard dog who shared the stable with him. She seemed to appreciate his generosity and when he came down from his room having collected his equipment she was still gnawing happily on the cheese.
For the next few days Benor found his life fell into a pattern. After breakfast he would give his lunch to Gyp and then went out to continue his work in mapping the estate. The map he’d been given was a great help, but it wasn’t particularly accurate. As well as measuring the fields he quietly borrowed a spade he’d seen leaning against the stable wall and with that he would examine the soil. The whole area seemed fertile and well farmed. Indeed he remembered being told that it was the very fertility of the land that allowed the peasantry of Partann to support so many petty lordlings and other hangers-on without falling into destitution. As he worked he’d rarely see anybody. Most of the land on the estate was let out to a tenant and Benor had made a point of explaining to him what he was up to. After this the various farm workers merely nodded to him when they saw him and left him alone. Other than that, occasionally somebody would pass along the road, and once or twice he saw a young lady riding on the neighbouring estate.
Each day he’d walk to the Bridge Inn where he’d dine, have a couple of glasses of beer and engage in small-talk with the locals. Finally he’d make his way back to work, do a few more hours, and arrive at the house for his evening meal. This would be eaten in the company of silent servants who largely ignored him. The meal over he’d take some boiling water back to his room, make coffee for himself and continue to work on drawing a new map of the estate.
It was on the third day that he noticed the ditch. The previous winter the tenant and his workers had dug a drainage ditch the full length of one boundary hedge. That side of the field had obviously been wet in the past and the idea had been to get the water away and into the beck. Immediately he climbed down into the ditch. For somebody tasked with estimating the value of the land this ditch was a godsend. For the farmer it was a drainage ditch, for him it was a transect across the land allowing him with very little difficulty to see the soil profile.
He made his way down the ditch, scraping the face clean with the spade, and making notes about the soil profile. At one point the ditch ran along the bottom of a dell. Here he was invisible from the road that ran on the other side of the beck, or from the surrounding fields. The topsoil at the bottom of the dell was still damp, but the ditch had been dug down into the clay subsoil. Where exposed the clay was starting to crack and as he scraped with his spade a large chunk fell away and into the ditch. Benor scooped it out of the ditch and threw it onto the hedge bottom. He glanced into the hole that was left. He was certain he could see cloth. Carefully with his spade he widened the hole. More clay came away, revealing a mass of black hair surrounding a barely decayed face. Hastily Benor slammed clay back into the hole to reseal it and then climbed out of the ditch.
Where had the body come from? It wasn’t a bad place to dispose of a body. The digging would be easy with the ground being so soft, and whoever was doing the digging wouldn’t be seen by casual passers-by. As he thought about it, it occurred to him that the body would have been buried before the ditch was dug. If the body had been buried second you’d have buried it further from the trench to stop the grave being discovered by it falling into the ditch.
He pondered his next action. This was rural Partann. Law and order were imposed by the same petty lordlings who were putting tolls on the roads. Here he was almost certainly in the jurisdiction of Lord Addlestrune of Tarrant. Would a short fat man worming orids wish to be bothered with a possible murder?
At this point Benor was forced to contemplate who the killer might be. The body was found on the land of his host and employer, Grayer Thirsk. This put Grayer firmly amongst the suspects. Still in this instance he could do some investigation. The tenant and his son were working in an adjacent field. He left his equipment and wandered across to them. They watched him approach with wry interest.
“Just meant to ask you about the ditch; was it dug last year?”
The tenant took off his hat and wiped his brow with it, leaving a dirty smear. “Yes, we dug it last autumn, just before the frosts came. We’d been talking to Master Thirsk about doing it for a year or so, to dry up the wet spots along that hedge. Anyway he finally agreed to contribute. He gave us ten alars and we hired some men from round and about and with our own men working as well we got it done in a fortnight.”
Benor nodded, “Looks a nice job. I’ll just put a note on the map about it.”
“Make sure you mark down he paid towards it,” the younger man said. “That way it’s on record as being a landlord’s responsibility when we need to clean it out.”
Benor scribbled a note on a piece of paper. “Consider it done.”
As he walked back towards where he had put his various instruments he considered what he’d learned. Certainly it looked as if Grayer Thirsk was no longer a suspect. If the body had been buried before the ditch was planned, he could have vetoed the ditch digging. If the body was buried after the ditch was planned and dug, he could have buried the body a lot further away.
He decided that he wasn’t going to tell anybody about finding the body, at least not yet. After all, at the moment he could end up telling the person who buried her that the body had been found and they might decide to shut him up as well.
You can read tomorrow’s section at Sue’s blog by using this link https://scvincent.com/