If you walk out from the Old Esplanade and cross the sands of the Paraeba Estuary, you’ll come across what the shore combers call ‘the first hulk.’ Actually this is all that remains of that fine ship, the Dancing Queen. Or rather it’s the remains of the ship’s strong room.
Now you might wonder how a ship came to have a strong room of this size. This is due to the last owner, Sturwright Oeltang. He was a usurer with ‘considerable business interests’ in Partann. Now this sounds eminently respectable, but in reality he was a receiver of stolen goods on a massive scale. Indeed at this point the Oeltang family were not, alas, considered respectable and society shunned them, save when money had to be borrowed or investment opportunities presented themselves. Sturwright would send the Dancing Queen south to the fjords of Uttermost Partann. There, this lightly built boat would slip in to some well guarded creek and the hard-faced hirelings of one warlord or another would silently carry chests aboard and store them in the strong room. Sturwright would open each chest, value the contents and make out a receipt. He would then sail north and set up an account in the name of the warlord. Over the following years he would invest the money and build up a well diversified holding, should the warlord decide to retire to Port Naain.
Sometimes when the Dancing Queen slipped out of the fjord, heading north she carried on board a ‘retiring’ warlord and such of his family as managed to accompany him. Sometimes there were bodies lying sprawled upon the beach as she headed for the open sea.
Now it has to be admitted that Sturwright Oeltang was not known for his charitable disposition. He charged a rate for his services commensurate with the risk. Still, when looked at in the bright light of day, his charges were not excessive. Indeed his valuations were scrupulously fair! What people forgot is that for every warlord who managed to retire to Port Naain for a comfortable retirement, perhaps two died in harness in Partann. Occasionally they had kin who would try to regain the family wealth and even more occasionally one of them had the requisite paperwork necessary to convince, in the first case, Sturwright, and at a last resort, a Port Naain court. Perhaps half of the wealth Sturwright transported north for a perfectly reasonable sum ended up being quietly added to his portfolio on grounds of lack of other heirs.
It must be confessed that there are times when I have to frankly admit I do not understand exactly why people take the steps they take. Sturwright was doing very well. Perhaps the only fly in his soup was the sad fact that his wife and his mistress didn’t get on. This is hardly an uncommon situation and yet it rarely drives men to ambitious schemes of foreign conquest. Still whatever the reason, he took more interest than normal in the situation which developed around the new heir to Upper Pronghorn Keep.
The heir, a daughter, was briskly disinherited by a neighbour and fled north to Port Naain, carrying with her all the papers necessary to take over her late father’s estate. This would have allowed her to live in Port Naain in considerable comfort if not actual luxury. Yet instead she convinced Sturwright, or perhaps Sturwright convinced her, that she wanted to raise funds and lead a mercenary expedition south to recapture her ancestral home.
For some reason nobody fully understands Sturwright decided to join the expedition. Indeed he paid for the mercenary horsemen who were to make up the main striking force of the expedition.
It was a gallant company that sailed, in half a dozen ships. Indeed so gallant a company that Sturwright managed to include his mistress and his wife on different ships. Militarily the expedition was a success, Upper Pronghorn Keep was retaken. More men were hired and Sturwright laid siege to Lower Pronghorn Keep. Eventually this also fell but not before the whole campaign was threatened with disaster.
It seems that both wife and mistress were somewhat ‘put out’ at the attention Sturwright was paying to the new lady of Upper Pronghorn Keep. So cunningly they sank their differences and with their own loyal followers stole the Dancing Queen and sailed north for Port Naain.
Now this was a greater threat to Sturwright than you might think. The strong room of the Dancing Queen was where his campaign pay chest was held. The two ladies seem to have thought that if they stole that, his unpaid soldiery would turn on their laggard paymaster. This would mean the two ladies could divide now tragically deceased Sturwright’s considerable estate, between themselves.
It seems things didn’t play out as expected. The day after the Dancing Queen sailed north; Sturwright held a pay parade for his entire force and ostentatiously paid everybody up-to-date. Not only that but he paid them in high denomination gold coins that had been struck by reputable mints. His men, initially worried about his financial probity, were entirely mollified by this action.
The Dancing Queen sailed into the Paraeba estuary late one night and anchored. The captain seems to have intended to dock next day when the tide as with him and he had daylight to steer by. Unfortunately during the night the boat was struck by an errant stone-barge which had slipped its tow. Such was the force and suddenness of the collision that the Dancing Queen, built for speed rather than solidity, sank within seconds. Indeed so hard did the stone-barge strike that it shattered not merely the hull but the strong room as well! It was a tragic accident; apart from four crew keeping watch on deck, there were no other survivors.
Next morning at low tide the shore combers descended upon the wreck. Many fetched bags, buckets and shovels which they hoped to use, shovelling silver specie out of the strong room. In this they were disappointed. The locked chests, when broken open, contained a mixture of low denomination brass and copper, ‘silver’ coins which were largely minted from lead from which the naturally occurring silver had already been removed, or sand. There is more than a suspicion that Sturwright hid his gold in the chests containing his small clothes and business papers, with the chests in the strong room acting as a decoy.
Back in Partann, Sturwright Oeltang was forced, in his sorrow, to seek consolation in the arms of the Lady of Upper Pronghorn Keep. Together they ruled a fluctuating fiefdom in Upper Partann until, with sad inevitability, Sturwright was forced, like many warlords before him, to return to Port Naain for a quiet retirement.
Still he was more farsighted than most and managed to get out with his wife, children and a fair proportion of the treasure hoarded away in the keep. Obviously with the wealth he had accumulated before his southern sojourn, plus the wealth he brought with him on his return, he could afford to live in some state. He purchased sinecures and Port Naain society clasped both him and his wife to society’s collective bosom.
Since that day the Oeltang family have thrived within the city. Given that they combine the acuity of a Port Naain usurer with the brutal cunning of a Partannese warlord’s daughter, how could it be otherwise?
It strikes me that you might possibly want to know more of Tallis Steelyard and his adventures. Some of which involve visits to Partann. For those of nervous disposition we shall draw a veil over the fact that there are times when Partann visits you.