The Dancing Master

16th century

People do make a habit of surprising you. They cheerfully climb out of the neat little boxes you put them in and persist in doing things you’d never expect.

Take, for example, the great mercenary captain, Pardo Fuen. His name was used in Partaan by mothers to silence querulous children. His sacking of Maladan Keep will live long in the annals of martial endeavour. From the arrival of his advance guard outside the walls, to his men commencing to loot the keep as the body of its previous owner and notorious accumulator of bad debts swung from his own gallows, was a mere three hours.

Yet the great love of Pardo’s life was dancing. Not merely the dances in arms that many of our warriors do to maintain their fitness and skills, but every sort of dance. The man who could vault onto the back of his warhorse in full armour was also the most graceful man I ever saw in a ballroom.

Somehow like attracts like, and his officers and many of his men-at-arms shared his passion. So whilst his arrival in Partaan was greeted with joy by his employers, this was as nothing to the joy experienced by the hostesses of Port Naain when his condotta arrived back in town. After all the biggest blight on many an entertainment is the sad fact that the hostess would have innumerable ladies wishing to dance, and a sad deficiency of men either willing or capable of dancing with them. The arrival of the Fuen Condotta was an invaluable reinforcement to the social life of the city.
But just as Pardo excelled in the manoeuvres and evolutions that gave him and his men mastery of the battlefield; when left to his own devices, the way he could marshal a dance-floor was a sight to be seen. Imagine if you will, two score of gentlemen, all wearing sober black, whilst their lady partners were a riot of colour. At a word from Pardo the lines would form, pass through each other, and revolve around each other like the spokes of a turning wheel. Yet all this would be without the music changing or the dancers straying even the slightest from the steps of the dance.

And then there was the incident of the Tanoura. I believe that this traditional spinning dance was originally part of the soldiers’ dance in arms. It seems that Pardo had made it, or a version of it, popular on the dance floor. Ladies with their swirling skirts and gentlemen with their capes billowing around them would make brilliant spectacle. But Pardo took it one step further. I was privileged to be standing on the balcony looking down on the ballroom when he and his men showed how it should be done. At a word of command servants fetched out large circular wicker collars for each of the men. Each collar was as broad across as a man’s shoulders and was decorated with cut flowers. The men put on the collars (not great sacrifice for a man who has to wear a heavy steel warhelm for a day’s fighting.) and the dance commenced. To see Pardo and his partner spinning in the centre and with his men and their partners spinning in concentric circles around them was a sight I do not expect to see matched on any dance floor.

♠♣♥♦

The lives of our Condottieri are often gallant and short. They flash across the firmament of our city like shooting stars, transient and brilliant they grab our attention and then disappear to be forgotten.

I suppose Pardo realised that might be his fate and struggled to come to terms with it. On his final campaign his showed signs of eccentricity. When he captured the village of Hartzburn everyone assumed that he would just hang the entire male population. To be fair this would have been entirely reasonable, given the fact the village was a den of criminal depravity of the sort you rarely find in rural areas.

Instead he forced the entire male population to dress in women’s clothing. Then with the women dressed in the now surplus men’s clothing he announced that there was going to be a dancing competition where those who showed proper grace would avoid the gallows. The brisk lynching of the first bandit to mock the arrangement provided adequate motivation for the rest of the population.

After giving them an hour or two to practice, the fateful dance-off was held, the music being provided by the bugles, fifes and drums of the condotta. Announcing himself satisfied by their efforts, he took the twenty best couples with him as he marched back to Port Naain. At every town they stopped in he had them perform for the locals, which culminated in a final display in Port Naain.

At this point he announced that he was going to retire. He claimed that he could achieve no more than he already had done. He laid down his baton and retired to a small farm to the north of the city. Here he supported himself in his old age by selling cut flowers, a little top fruit, and some of the largest and wildest bulls ever to terrorise the staff in a Port Naain shambles.

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