Politics, as practiced in Uttermost Partann, is something of an extreme sport. It is possible for practitioners to die in their own beds, but normally this is the result of an acute digestive upset. Death by misadventure is aspirational, dying of old age almost unknown.
Still there are rules, or at least firm guidelines. The killing of family members by poison, or at the blade of an expensively hired assassin is considered acceptable. Having them torn apart by wild horses is a breach of good manners.
Disposing of female relatives is an area where a degree of awkwardness can creep in. There are any number of religious institutions which have grown up purely to provide housing for ladies of uncertain political temperament. They can be housed in secure accommodation in conditions that vary from genteel good taste to unspeakable squalor. If the lady in question has managed to transgress against a number of social norms, (perhaps by personally murdering close family members,) then it is considered permissible to have her walled up and forgotten.
On the other hand disposing of captured males for whom you do not wish to claim a ransom is far less fettered by convention. Methods of horrid inventiveness appear to be positively encouraged.
As can be imagined, Port Naain has come to be regarded as a sanctuary for many who have suddenly found themselves playing the political game with poorer cards than they thought. Refugees arrive carrying varying amounts of baggage, both emotional and fiduciary, as well as all the coin and bullion they could get their hands on.
Some convert their cash into condottiere and plunge back into the maelstrom. Some play a longer game, slowly building up a position through machination, manoeuvring, treachery and spending their money wisely. Yet others take a short while to acclimatise to life in Port Naain, and gradually realise that all the challenges available to them in Uttermost Partann are still available to them, but with a far greater chance of a longevity.
In the case of Ranal O’Var, we can see all three options in one family. Ranal arrived in Port Naain as a small boy, accompanied by his mother, father, younger sister and a number of stalwart retainers. Ranal’s father, known widely as Ranal the Hard Riding, got his family settled and invested some money in ensuring that they could live comfortably. With the rest he hired mercenaries and rode south to plunge once more into the carnage. This he did with considerable aplomb, surviving and even thriving for another decade. Indeed he did well enough to send more money to his wife, but not well enough to invite her to return to his side. (The fact that as a way of ensuring the loyalty of his supporters he had to marry, at different times, the daughter of a prominent banker, the young widow of one of his victims, and the sister of his condottiere captain may have had some bearing on this.)
On his sudden but not unexpected death his wife, the older Madam O’Var took over. She preferred to work from a distance, and the family house in Port Naain was regularly the site of clandestine meetings as other exiles, assassins and a miscellany of violent rogues arrived to be given their orders. In the course of this Ranal’s sister, (the younger Madam O’Var,) was betrothed five times, married three times (by proxy) and widowed twice, all by the age of ten and never having met any of the men in her life.
At the age of fifteen she took matters into her own hands and married a cooper just out of his apprenticeship. They disappeared over the Aphices Mountains with a dray loaded with barrels of fortified wine and disappear entirely from our story.
The older Madam O’Var attempted to get Ranal involved. Now in his early twenties he refused. His memories of Partann were of flames, blood, and overloaded small boats moving through the darkness. Since the family had arrived in Port Naain he had never so much as taken the ferry south across the estuary to Roskadil. His mother cajoled, pleaded and even threatened. Ranal responded by purchasing his own small house. Here he supported himself as a librettist. Actually I flatter him, he wrote the lyrics for those banal ballads one hears sung by a certain sort of maudlin warbler popular with the younger and less educated.
Thwarted in this his mother rode south to once more take part in the great game. She played a poor hand with considerable skill until finally she was stabbed in a brawl by her late husband’s third wife.
Oh and I almost forgot. I am, as I write, preparing the launch of my next collection of anecdotes. ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Harsh Winter, and other stories.’ Getting everything ready for the 1st June