I discovered the Bridge Tower on one of my perambulations around Partann. Some people say it isn’t in Partann, in that it’s on the right bank of the Dharant, some way south of Fluance but north of the road from Avitas over the mountains to the East.
Still, whilst geographers, cartographers and the inhabitants of Fluance might quibble, the inhabitants of the area do think of it as Partann.
I approached it from the north, following the River Quibble, which is one of the tributaries of the Dharant. Some miles away I saw the tower high on the bridge and hoping for shelter for the night I followed the track which led towards it. I soon found that the track climbed and ran along the edge of an escarpment above the river. The escarpment itself was thick with brush, briars and similar, and once you had left the river it appeared impossible to return.
Indeed in several places where the impenetrable scrub to my left seemed potentially more penetrable, there were even signs marking the track as I was following as being the correct route to the Bridge Tower. At these places the road had been cleared of overhanging foliage and seemed more obvious. I confess this made me a little curious and at the next signpost I squatted down and peered carefully at the ground where the scrub was thin. I soon realised that for a man on his hands and knees there was a perfectly adequate path that seemed to lead down the escarpment. My interest well whetted I made my way down the path and soon reached an area where I could stand upright. Soon I was following a perfectly acceptable path down to the river.
I continued along the river. The river itself ran between deep banks and although the water was shallow I could see crossing it would be difficult. I have no doubt that in wet seasons it could well be a torrent, especially when the snows melted on the mountains upstream. Across the river one could look towards the fells and moors which faded gradually into the foothills of the Apices.
Finally, not far from the bridge, I came across an older man, tending his beillie. He seemed surprised to see me but greeted me in a friendly enough fashion, introducing himself as Cordin the Beillie herd, and asked my business. I explained I’d been contemplating reaching the tower, looking for somewhere to spend the night. He glanced up at the broken bridge above us and explained that because of the difficulties of the terrain it could take me several hours to get there, especially if I had been on horseback.
Still we chatted, and in return for some help with his small flock he was perfectly happy to provide me with accommodation and a meal and set me on my way to the tower the next morning.
That evening as I sat with my host and his wife in their pleasant enough cottage, I asked about the tower and who lived there. I had been told that it belonged to a savant called Chekwind. The old man smiled nostalgically and launched into his tale. It appears that Chekwind had indeed acquired the tower. This was when my host was young and had just married and set up home in the cottage. The ownership of the tower was of little moment to those living below it. The tower looks to the west, whilst those living below by the side of the Quibble look to the east. The escarpment blocks easy traffic in either direction. Still it seems that Chekwind had seen my host and had shouted to him from one of the lower windows. Apparently Chekwind had been checking his deeds and discovered he was the owner of the land below the tower and was entitled to rent from it. Cordin said that he was the tenant and promised to deliver the rent the next day. So at noon he arrived with the annual rent, a young goat kid. As the tenancy agreement said nothing about the gender of the kid or whether it had to be alive, or prepared, ready for the table, Cordin had brought a young billy.
As fate would have it, it was Chekwind’s concubine who met him at the door and immediately pronounced the kid as adorable. She took the kid inside and Cordin, his duty done, went back to his flock. A few months later, Chekwind managed to attract Cordin’s attention and offered him ready cash to remove the beillie. What his lady hadn’t realised is that as they grow older, billy beillies stink. Not long after Chekwind and his concubine moved out. Apparently the tower depends for its water on rainwater collected in cisterns. There wasn’t enough water to wash away the smell of the beillie. Between ourselves, even if you could have diverted the river through the tower, there’d still not be enough water to get rid of the smell.
The tower stood empty for the rest of the summer, and then it was occupied by a band of brigands who were looking for a base from which to plunder the countryside. They were dislodged by an Urlan maiden aged sixteen who rode up to the door and pointed out to them that they didn’t have the water to withstand a siege. The brigands checked the cisterns and were forced to agree with her. There was then a semantic argument amongst the brigands over whether having a sixteen year old girl standing outside your only door properly constitutes a siege.
Eventually they looked over the parapet to discover she was still waiting. Tentatively they broached the issue of raising the siege. She pointed out that if they were respectable travellers who were jut sheltering from the rain, there obviously would be no talk of a siege. Hastily the small band of heavily armed but respectable travellers departed for pastures new.
The tower stood empty for the winter. Then the following spring Chekwind managed to rent the property to the celebrated poet Rargan Grosset. He moved in, seeking a bucolic idyll. He enjoyed the summer, endured the winter and raved about the following spring. The second summer was blighted by the knowledge that winter was coming and on a golden day in autumn he packed his bags and headed for Port Naain.
For the next few years a succession of poets, playwrights, lyricists, and poseurs spent varying amounts of time in the tower. Given that Chekwind demanded a year’s rent in advance, in some years he managed to collect three year’s rent. Cordin remembered some of them as individuals. There was a poet called Floban. He survived a winter, but his nerve was broken by the cold and the silence. As soon as the roads cleared he made his way back to Port Naain. He was finally committed to the Lunatic Asylum by his wife. Apparently he could only get to sleep if there was noise and he paid musicians to play under their bedroom window all through the night.
The sequence of persons of an artistic temperament was interrupted by more brigands. (Here I realise I might be doing them an injustice. After all if lyricists claim to be artists, why cannot brigands claim the same?) Still these brigands were an altogether tougher and more violent collection of thugs than the previous incumbents. They had already made parts of Partann too hot for them. When the Urlan arrived this time it wasn’t in the form of a maiden. There was a score of them. The brigands boasted that they had adequate supplies of food and water for a long siege. The Urlan merely commenced the assault and under the covering fire of their archers, they smashed down the door and stormed the tower. It fell in less than an hour. Those who didn’t die in the assault dangled from the gallows an hour later.
This time the Urlan didn’t leave. A handful stayed on and the tower became a hunting lodge. In all candour they may not have known that Chekwind had a claim to it, and to the best of my knowledge he has never informed them. Still the Urlan left their mark. Cordin met a young Urlan sergeant out on a hunting expedition. The sergeant asked the best way back to the tower and as always Cordin directed him the long way round to ensure that people never learned the short cuts that would drag his valley into the real world.
Next day the sergeant was back with a hunch of venison for Cordin and his wife. He’d discovered the short cut and assumed that Cordin directing him miles out of his way was an amusing practical joke. When Cordin explained why he adopted this policy, the sergeant apologised with fitting formality. During the next six months while he formally courted Cordin’s daughter, the sergeant always used the long way round.
The Urlan moved on, priorities had changed and Cordin’s daughter went east over the mountains with her new husband. Chekwind had obviously got wind of the change because he immediately rented the tower out to some other unfortunates. By now the tower’s reputation had spread amongst the artistic community, but there are plenty of aspiring, budding, or embryonic artists out there who have more money than sense. Cordin watched them with interest, and he shared their stories with a degree of wry amusement. There was the poet who saw Cordin working below so had himself lowered out of one of the lower windows. Apparently he hoped Cordin would know the nearest wine merchant. (Fluance, three days walk in good conditions and assuming you know the short cuts.) There was the artistic collective who rented the tower, intent on returning to nature. Their plan was to live only by what they could glean, the wild fruits and berries. Thus they ceremoniously burnt their clothing and went about naked. When they arrived in early autumn things didn’t go too badly. It was a mild autumn, and there were good crops of various wild berries. Problems arose two months later, when there was an early cold snap and the tower froze solid. It was only the hasty intervention of Cordin and his wife that prevented the artists freezing likewise.
The following spring Cordin and his wife had surprise when their grandson and his wife walked into the valley. Lord Eklin had sent them to settle in the tower and make sure the Bridge Tower didn’t fall into the wrong hands. He had decided that it made sense to have an Urlan hunting lodge in the area. By this time Chekwind had died, and his only heir was his concubine who still bathed daily in the hope of removing the lingering scent of goat.
Next day I made my way to the tower, the long way round. I was made welcome, on the strength of my claim to know at least three Urlan sagas well enough to tell them in company. There was a merry company there, a hunting party half a dozen strong, knights, sergeants, matrons and maidens. I gave them the The Saga of Barc Glai which they listened to with the air of connoisseurs assessing an unknown vintage. At the end of it they applauded and I was formally commended for my grasp of the language. Then I told them the tale of Three Shorecombers and the Lost Dinket. This got them laughing and they proclaimed me a capital fellow at the end of it. Then we dined, well hung dart marinated in the strongest of red wines, herbs and vegetables and mushrooms taken from fields thereabouts. Washed down with ale so dark you could hold it up to the light and yet see nothing through it.
Next morning, my host, Garron, the sergeant grandson of old Cordin asked for a quiet word. He and his wife had been wondering about what to do after old Cordin’s day. Cordin and his wife were both a fair age and at some point, if they lived, they’d probably have to move into the tower where they could be looked after. But that would leave the cottage.
It appeared that Garron had also been spending time listening to the old man’s tales and asked, “Do you think there would be artist types in Port Naain who’d want to hire it for cash?”
I confess I was tempted to supply the names of people whom I felt deserved to spend winter in an isolated cottage in the wilds of Partann. Still I felt I had a duty to my host. “There are people who will be interested. But frankly I’d suggest you just rented it for the summer and included in the cost their meals and suchlike. Garron nodded sagely, it was obvious that he had been listening to Cordin’s tales.
“I thought I could have one of the maiden’s cook and clean for them as well. At least that way we’ll know the cottage is kept in good order.”
I could see his point, but knowing my fellow artists, I could already spot the pitfalls………
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