What's it about?
A diver after wrecks and the diver's mother, a linguist and the linguist's greatest foe, a footpad and a time-traveller, a burglar and a courtesan,
a man who flies through the air and a female mechanic armed with a very sharp knife. Not to forget – as many do – an expert in the causes and cures of the Mnemonic Plague, at that time ravaging the land. All converge on Knaresborough, in The True Commonwealth of South Britain. Some are invited; others, less so.
But the people in Knaresborough are not all that they seem. Who is misleading whom? Why has The Last Thulean Pike been built? Why is the lady from the Office of Hazards and Misadventures summoned to the scene of a tragedy? Why did the Prophetess and Witch not foresee domestic upheaval?
And, since we are asking impertinent questions, what will happen to Nimrod (no: not the mighty hunter – rather, the pig)?
This is a tale of deceit and idiocy, certainly; but mostly it is a tale of human creativity and ingenuity, and the uses to which inventions - of all sorts - might be put to enhance life for the benefit of all. Do such things still happen?
Of difficulties in language
Five passengers clambered aboard The Boston Charger. Of these, by far the most lively was The Urinator.
'This is my first voyage to The Capital,' he announced to the traveller who sat beside him on the short bench. This traveller was a man of perhaps fifty or sixty winters, with a large and hollowed face greased and creased with weather and threaded with blood-vessels. He was huddled up inside a thin and much-patched cloak. His only reply to The Urinator's unwanted revelation was to permit a long slow drip to emerge from his left nostril.
'Journey, not voyage,' stated one of the other passengers loudly.
'What's that, Neighbour?' asked The Urinator, puzzled.
'At sea, you may call it a voyage; but on land we call it a journey.' The woman smiled condescendingly at The Urinator. 'Don't you understand?'
The Urinator flushed red with embarrassment, and settled down in his seat, determined, through everything, to enjoy this experience. He had said to his mother just the night before, that he would die a happy man once he had seen The Capital. Had he but recognised it, his mother had been a little too encouraging in her reply.
'Off you go, my son,' she had said in a most business-like manner, 'yes, off you go and see all the wonders that fools claim to have seen.' She packed him a small bag with a clean shirt, a pouch of tobacco and his best pipe, all that a young man on a journey - or voyage - might require. She looked dubiously at the large hat which her son normally wore when attending church, and then decided that what would do for God would do as well for The Capital of the Commonwealth. She doused the hat briefly in the rainwater barrel by the door, wiped some fish-scales from it, then shook it energetically to dry in the breeze. 'And when you come back, you can die a happy man, just as you say.'
With these kind words, she had embraced him, then sent him on his way. He thanked a Judicious God for leaving him a mother when one day his father had unfortunately not arisen from the sea. She was a woman whom he could trust to keep him right. Other young men of his age, friends of boyhood, left home and got themselves married at a prodigious rate. But he had never seen the point. Sea-divers from up and down the coast, fellow-members of the Civil League of Urinators whom he met once a year in some east coast town or harbour for the purpose of debating the laws of diving after wrecks - these men boasted of their conquests of local girls, mermaids even, though some were married men, and with children. It was not right, somehow. He had never yet encountered a mermaid, but was now deeply suspicious of their wiles and ways. Best to avoid them, he thought. He had said so to his mother. Mother had agreed with him, carefully concealing a look of fathomless pity.
Now, when he took his seat on The Boston Charger, The Urinator was as wound up as he could possibly be. Mother had told him to conceal his excitement: 'You don't want the people of The Capital seeing you as some country cousin, do you now? They might take advantage of you. A righteous man had best look unconcerned.' For some time last night, he had practised with his mother looking unconcerned. It was not a happy hour they spent thus, but at last he had worked himself up into a face which she thought would pass muster. On his way to catch The Boston Charger, he had reminded himself every minute of her wise counsel.
And as soon as he clambered aboard the carriage, he forgot every sensible word, and made his unsound comment about the voyage. Now that he had been corrected, he remembered his mother: so, best to start now, even when already on the journey - who knew what kind of people might be travelling up to town? He worked up a blithe look as best he could. He believed to emanate the appearance of a man untroubled.
'You have an ailment?' demanded the woman who taken him to task a few moments earlier.
The Urinator paused, wildly wondering what could be wrong now. He gripped his hat and shook his head, a smile fixed firmly to his lips, as untroubled as he could possibly be.
'That is hard to believe, Neighbour,' sniffed the woman. 'You have the look of a man concealing something. If something ails you, Neighbour, you have a duty to tell us. You know it is an offence to make concealment from Authority?'
The Urinator nodded desperately, still trying to appear unconcerned, his insides churning with anxiety. What had he done wrong? The woman was fastening another grim stare upon him. At last, to his great relief, she turned away and busied herself with some other offender. The Urinator shot a glance sideways at the traveller beside him; he, happily, was entirely buried in his own reflections on the great misery of life.