The 25th of March, the day of the New Year! The first day of the year of the Triumph of Despair
, so I'll tell you a little new year's tale.
The other man sitting at the bar had heard the story a thousand times. He was a shortish fellow, clean shaven head covered only by a simple round flat cap; of
indeterminate age and no apparent occupation as he had been sitting on the stool at the bar for two years. He smiled inwardly: the new year, revealed a
fortnight ago to be called Triumph of Despair, was by now only a couple hours old. And he had only been sitting in this tavern since supper time yesterday,
when the year was still Mended Peacock.
He glanced over at the first man. Now that fellow seemed old. Old and haggard. But it could have been the drink. That will age a young man quicker than an
unhappy wife! He had fallen silent for a short while, but the second man was used to this, so he patiently bided his time. He had no more pressing
engagements and nowhere else to be than right here, now in this tavern.
The first man had been regaling his crater of cyder with random tales of woe until this other man turned towards him, taking an interest.
“Go on,” said the second man. “What happened after you and your mates tipped over the old waggon?”
“Heh! Well, weren’t we in for a shocker! ‘Honestly, constables!’ we said. ‘We was just out for a bit of fun. You know, cart tipping. We didn’t know you honorables
was inside having a bit of play at cards!’
“Well sir, the constable didn’t look at all amused. Bastard. Made us tip the waggon back up on its wheels and it was heavy, I can tell you that! Then he had the
nerve to make us get in and they put us in straps! And then Josham said...
“What a liberty!” said the other man, doodling on a bit of thick paper, interrupting the first. “Do, tell me about the waggon.”
“The waggon? Well, nothing much to tell. An ordinary waggon of the City Watch. Mind you, I’ve seen the inside of em a few times, I can tell you! They’re pretty
cramped, actually. Room enough for four lads in straps sitting on the wood benches along the walls. In the back, space for two constables and their gear. A
kind of heavy bamboo gate separates the first and second class compartments. Heh!” He laughed at his own little joke. “The two other constables ride up on
the driver’s bench. The walls are thick wood and there ain’t no windows up front. Back where the constables sit, they’ve got shuttered windows. Another kind of
gate and thick doors close off the back.”
“Where did they take you?”
“Well, we got to spend the new year's eve in New Bricks, up in Pinkerton Court. Ain’t cozy like Old Bricks. Now that was a classy jail. Cushions on the benches
and the leather of the straps wasn’t all hard and stiff. But justice is justice, as they say. The guard at the high desk there just took our testimony and wrote it
up in a big ledger and then we was sat down on the bench to wait. And, sure we had to wait quite a long time! We was pretty sobered up by the time the man
“He had a big ledger in his arms and a guard with him, and a whole row of us was led off down a long hall towards the court rooms. Even at night, the place is
pretty busy. Who’d have thought so many thugs and lowlifes would be out and about getting caught so late at night!
“Anyway, they brought us into a court room and we was all sat down on a bench again. Probably about the size of the common room it was.” He indicated the
diminutive expanse of the tavern’s common room. “Three judges sat up on a high bench and we had to look up to see em. The man said his bit and took the
ledger up the stairs to the judges.”
“What did he say, the man?” asked the other.
“What did he say? Well, I don’t rightly recall all the other fellows’ names. But he read off our names and what the constables said we done. ‘Roram
Wredemanson, charged with rambling drunk and tipping the constables’ waggon and hinterfering with the hadministration of justice!’ he says.
“Well, I nudged Ned, me mate, and he looked sidewiselike towards Ted — that’s his brother, is Ted — and none of us remember anything about ‘hadministration
“Anyway, the judge in the middle read our our testimonies and asked us if that were right. I stood up for us three and said ‘well, your graces, we reckon that’s
about right as far it goes. But begging your pardons, if you’ll excuse the pun, we don’t recollect nothing about ‘hinterfering with the hadministration of justice’!
“Why, Ned, wasn’t it me that ‘pologized to the constables for overturning their little game of quist? And weren’t it you and Ted as helped the good constables
gather up their cards and the coins that had spilled of their little table when the waggon tipped over?
“Aye, said Ted and Ned, that’s so!
“Well sir,” said the first man; “didn’t those judges raise their eyebrows when they heard our story! Long and short it was, the judges not only didn’t throw us in
the donjon, but they sent us on our way with their compliments, saying we’d done a good civic duty by alerting them to a waggon load of lazy constables. And
that’s how I ended up here, able to take a nice quiet new year sip before the old year is too long past!”
The other man, continued doodling and jotting on his bit of paper. Then, with a satisfied grin, he stood up from the stool, bowed to the first man and thanked
him for the story and left his copper shilling on the counter for the barman. The first man turned to watch him go; he retrieved his old cloak from the hook on
the wall and a broom and dustpan from nearby. With a slight tip of his round cap, the little man out the door and into the early morning of a new year.
He’d heard the story a thousand times. The story of drunken shennanigans and mix ups with the Watch over the course of many, many years. Yet he never
seemed to tire of gathering such stories.
“Heh. I should write a book!” he said half to himself as he slung broom and dustpan over one shoulder. “Hah! Of course, I am writing a book! The dead-end
narratives of people no one else will pay attention to but Us. I’m sure no one will want to read stories with no heroes. Stories of nameless men going about
their glamorless lives?”
He ambled along the moonlit length of Long Street, cataloguing in his mind where tonight’s narratives will be filed when once he got back. The little man turned
down a narrow alley that to most people met with a dead-end at an old brick wall. Most people never notice when little old men carrying brooms and dustpans
turn into narrow alleys. And that’s just as well, perhaps. The fame goes to the well known bards; but still, someone has to record these lesser stories in the
Books, even if no one will ever read them. The lesser stories of everyman.
No one saw a faint bluish glow flicker along the surface of the bricks lining the alley. No one noticed that the little old man who had ambled in, never ambled