And now, the sixth post in the special Boosting the Signal series for the 2015 NIWA anthology Asylum! Making her Boosting the Signal debut is today’s author, Connie J. Jasperson. Her story in the anthology revolves around Billy Ninefingers, the Rowdies, and the fundamental idea of asylum—the concept around which the town of Limpwater has grown. The Fat Friar, Robert De Bolt, pushes Billy to widen his horizons and take on a bad job in this wandering tale of snark and strange majik. Here now as a prelude to that story, Connie offers this bit of flash fiction: “The Fat Friar”.
“The Fat Friar”
Billy Ninefingers, captain of the mercenary band known as the Rowdies, stood behind the bar at Billy’s Revenge. His inn had only been open for three days, but already he was doing good business. Several merchants he’d never met who were traveling the trade road stopped there, promising even more business for his Rowdies.
A rather portly looking man entered, wearing the robes of a Brother of St. Aelfrid.
“I’m looking for Billy Ninefingers.” His voice was deep and clear, the sort that would resonate at a naming ceremony or a funeral, bringing comfort even to those in the back of the chapel.
“Who shall I say is looking for him?” asked Billy.
“Oh, sorry. Robert De Bolt. I was told the church could buy some lots from him. I’ve been sent here to—what is this town’s name, anyway?”
“Limpwater. I’m putting the signs on the trade road today. I’m Billy Ninefingers,” replied Billy, holding up his maimed hand to forestall the friar’s onslaught of words. “I’d be happy to sell you what you need. Have you some idea which lots are you interested in?”
“I suppose we should look at them.” The friar looked longingly at the mugs on the shelf behind the bar. “But perhaps we might quench our thirst first?”
“It’ll cost you a copper,” Billy poured a mug and handed it to the friar. “So you’re building a chapel here in Limpwater.”
“And also an infirmary,” replied Robert, savoring his ale. “I’ve the plans with me. Mother Agnes will send sisters for healing from Hyola once I get the chapel open for business.”
“You’ll want at least two adjoining lots,” said Billy.
“Eight. This will be a larger infirmary as it has to serve Dervy and Somber Flats too,” Robert said, smiling broadly. “But I’ll need to build a double-cottage, one side for me, and one for the sisters. Separate entrances and all. I’ll make the sisters’ side of the cottage spacious, as several healers and their apprentices will be sent here. The Patriarch and Mother Agnes expect this town to grow quite rapidly.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” replied Billy. “The nearest Sisters of Anan were in Somber Flats, but they were run off.”
“I know about Somber Flats. The church is taking a dim view of that, which is I why I’m here.” Robert held his mug out again. “I’ll need a room here until I get the chapel built.”
“The lots cost five golds each, because I have to figure out how to get the streets paved and sewer catches installed. I don’t have enough gold for that right now. Selling the lots covers those costs. We’ll have water piped to pumps at the street corners so everyone has good clean water. That means the water system will need to be cleaned every year and repaired, and so we’ll have to have an annual subscription for that. Folks need access to a sewer-catch on each street to dump their chamberpots. James Holloway, the king’s architect, designed the sewers, but maintaining them costs money. I’ll have to levy a small fee for that.”
“That’s fair. I spoke to James before I left, because you’ll need to expand them soon. You’re smart to plan ahead for maintenance.”
Billy looked ill. “How soon? My pockets are empty these days.”
“Next year, by the look of things.” Robert set his mug down. “Don’t worry. I’ll help you find the golds. But I’ll have to wait until later for another mug.” Sighing, he said, “My stipend is small, and my appetite for ale is over-large.”
Billy chuckled. “Well, let’s get you set up in a room for now and talk with the carpenters. Builders and thatchers have come from all over to work.”
Robert said, “I noticed you’ve a lot of refugees from Lanqueshire and Somber Flats here and they can’t feed themselves, much less pay for the lots.”
“I know, but I can’t turn them away. Once they get settled they’ll be able to pay their way.” Billy grinned. “I’d have nothing if not for the men and women from all over this sad, bad world who have come here looking for refuge.” He looked away. “I’m hard-pressed to feed us all, but the river is full of fish, and it was a good year for turnips.”
“I’ve some ideas you might be interested in, to bring more coins to town. We’ve a lot of raw material to work with here that will provide income for your citizens and pay the fees for your projects. And I’ve a large shipment of beans and dried peas on the way from Harlynde, courtesy of the church.”
Billy smiled, feeling one burden lifted away. “Everyone has pitched in, and we’ve a stockpile of root vegetables for now, but our beans didn’t do well this year. That will help get us through the winter.” He drew the friar a mug of ale. “You just earned yourself a mug on me!”
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