Knowing your onions



I’m not sure how many people remember Lossina Hanchkillian-Rochal- Oeltang. From her name alone you could see she was a young woman of good family and well connected. Unfortunately her mother was a lady of strange ideas. One of these was that her daughter was a delicate flower, a perpetual innocent who must be protected from the vices of the world.

It has to be confessed that this is a stance most fathers seem willing to accept   in moderation about their daughters, but for Lossina’s mother, moderation was an abomination. To her it was merely a symptom of the decline in modern morals and she classed it alongside fraternising with the servants, wearing fewer than four petticoats and dancing naked in the moonlight.

Thus it was that Lossina was banished from the family’s town house in Port Naain to their rural estate which was located just outside the southern walls of Saskerdil. Now Saskerdil may be just across the estuary from Port Naain but there are times it seems like another world. Thus nobody seemed to find it remarkable that this young girl grew up confined to the grounds of the house. Indeed it was considered barely worthy of comment when news leaked out that the child was not allowed to look directly out of the windows but instead had to study the world outside using a mirror. Apparently her mother felt that by thus holding the world at one remove, her daughter’s innocence could be saved.

Hence Lossina grew to adulthood. She wasn’t entirely isolated, her family visited regularly, and her mother would occasionally visit accompanied by elderly kinsmen to lecture her on appropriate behaviour. For entertainment she had her loom and her embroidery but perhaps more importantly she had her garden. She spent many happy hours amongst the plants, planting, sowing and weeding. Indeed she seems to have had a knack for it and under her management the garden was apparently a place of almost dreamlike beauty.

All in all, it might be said she enjoyed her life. She lacked for nothing, meals appeared on time, the washing was always done, clean clothes were there whenever she needed them and she drifted elegantly through the day, working in the garden if that is how the spirit moved her.

Matters might have continued like this almost indefinitely, Lossina surveying the world outside her walls through the mirror and happily oblivious of life slipping away from her. But into our tale now steps Darp Cockerdil. The Cockerdil family were landowners in the Saskerdil area. Yet because their holdings were not extensive, they were obliged to work the land themselves to ensure a modest livelihood. The land was fertile and they flourished. But not only was the land fertile, the arrival of another bawling Cockerdil baby was common enough not to cause comment. Indeed whereas more genteel families would have children who were fashionably sickly, Cockerdil children were remarkable for their sturdy resilience. Rumours abounded that one of the early matriarchs had fallen under the blessing of the archmage Boalides. Nobody ever produced any evidence, but there again; pretty peasant girls who with the minimum of fuss produce numerous robust offspring have always been sneered at by their social superiors. Still, whatever the cause of the family success, the number of Cockerdil mouths that needed filling grew and frankly there wasn’t enough fieldwork to keep them all busy. So rather than merely sell to wholesalers, the Cockerdil family would set up one of their number with a market stall. When their crops suffered because the seed had been poor quality, one of the Cockerdil clan took it upon herself to diversify the family business into seed production. Somehow the Cockerdil family seemed to combine the peasant toughness of Partann with the financial acumen of Port Naain. The family grew and in a modest way, thrived.

Darp Cockerdil now enters our story. As a child he’d done his share of work in various parts of the family enterprise. In his early teens he decided to stick with the seed production side, and indeed he helped breed a new variety of onion. Again there were people who claimed that in some way magic was involved. In this case I suspect this was just the bitter gossip of those who were made morose by the success of others. Magic is a strange tool. I’m willing to admit that if you wanted an onion which frolicked at your heels then magic would be the best way to achieve it. Even there, you would doubtless end up with unfortunate side effects, the damned thing would probably drink blood or have to be grown planted in the breast of corpses. But when trying to achieve subtle flavours and good texture, magic is probably best shunned. The Cockerdril onions seemed refreshingly free of concomitant thaumaturgical effects.

Now at this point I realise that for some of you, onions are not something you crave. I confess that I can sympathise with this attitude. But out there are people whose love for onions amounts almost to a passion. Darp decided that now the family had a new variety of onion available, somebody had to go out there and sell it. Never one to shirk his responsibilities, he draped himself with strings of onions and set off to sell them.

His technique was simple enough; he would knock on the kitchen door of a house, and sell his onions. If this simple gambit didn’t work, he would then explain that he was so confident in the quality of his onions he would present some as a gift, secure in the knowledge that the next time he passed, a sale would be guaranteed.

Given that he was a personable young man with natural good looks and a cheerful disposition, his sales technique was generally successful. Add to this the fact that his onions were every bit as good as he claimed and he got a lot of repeat business. So successful was he that he had been selling onions for months before he ever knocked on the kitchen door of the Hanchkillian-Rochal- Oeltang mansion. Almost inevitably the cook took some to try. That evening at dinner, cook specifically asked Lossina what she thought of the onions. She admitted to having been impressed by them. The cook then explained about them being a new strain purchased off a passing onion seller. Lossina, in all innocence, gave her considered opinion that this onion seller was to be patronised in future.

As chance would have it, next time Darp arrived with his onions, Lossina was working in the garden. So whilst she overheard the discussion, she couldn’t see who was talking. Even so she was intrigued by the onion seller, especially when he mentioned the onions were of a variety the family had developed.

Thus the third time Darp arrived; Lossina had positioned herself to catch a glimpse of him in one of the mirrors. Tragically she looked away at just the wrong moment and missed him. So greatly daring, she silently made her way to one of the rooms that looked out over the back of the house and peered out of the window. So it was she saw him and not just his reflection. How easily do these things happen? But still she could only see the back of him as he spoke to the cook.
Suddenly the spirit of rebellion bubbled up within her. She determined to meet him face to face. Now I’ve known young ladies lured away from the straight and narrow by many things, but Lossina is probably the only case I know where a love of plants and plant breeding was the cause. Indeed so taken was she by the idea of a new variety of onions that the risks inherent in the situation never occurred to her.

So as Darp walked down the path to the road he was surprised to be addressed by an attractive young lady with long dark hair, dressed in a manner a previous generation had rejected as too old-fashioned. Still he answered her courteously and then plunged into a detailed description of onion varieties and the best ways to breed them. Obviously she had to take him on a tour of the kitchen garden. Then, because he commented at what he’d noticed through the gate, she would take him on a tour of the rest of the garden.

Thus and so, the inevitable happened. Surrounded by so much beauty, Darp fell hopelessly in love with Lossina. Fortunately for him, enchanted by his talk and strangely moved by his natural charm and unforced good looks, Lossina fell deeply and passionately in love with him. So much so that a year later, by which time they had managed to convince their families that they should be allowed to marry, Lossina had already given birth to their first child.

It has to be said that Lossina did occasionally lament the fact that she never seemed to get time for tapestry any more. Mind you she said a number of things, one of which was that, “Darp only has to take his boots off for me to fall pregnant.”

When I heard her make that remark I did ask Shena to have a quiet word with her, just to make sure that Lossina was aware that there was more to it than that. Apparently she was.

Still the Hanchkillian-Rochal-Oeltang-Cockerdil family grew. Lossina was sharp enough to realise that keeping the family connections inherent in her name would do no harm. Indeed when her sons and daughters came of age they married well. Gossip suggested that they kept the peasant sturdiness of the Cockerdil and added to it the cunning of the Oeltang and Hanchkillian families. A veil was drawn over the Rochal contribution.

Indeed I remember Suzaine Hanchkillian commenting that, “Lossina has single-handedly rejuvenated some of the best families in Port Naain.”
With that she paused as if considering what she had just said and added, “Obviously ‘single-handedly’ is perhaps not an appropriate term to use.”



At this point it might be an idea to mention the publishing of another collection of stories from Tallis Steelyard. Some have been on the blog, but some are completely new. Now you can acquire more of the wit, wisdom and jumbled musings of Tallis Steelyard. This work includes the unexpurgated account of the Mudfold and Cockeren feud, the dangers inherent in light music, and how Tallis first met and wooed Shena.


It is available from


A Harsh winter

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