On the back road which winds, somewhat uncertainly, between Avitas on one side of Partann, and Prae Ducis on the other, lies the village of Oridwick. It is barely a village, more a hamlet, but it’s a pleasant enough place, and the Inn there, the Dreamers of Oridwick, is known for both the quality of its ale and its generosity towards poets. Thus and so, with that one line I have repaid a little of my debt to the landlord.
But the glory of Oridwick is the water fountain of Ortal Dreen. Ortal Dreen was the third king of the Dreen dynasty which ruled over all Partann perhaps two thousand years ago, perhaps a little less. It ruled from the Cape of Sighs in the south, all the way north to where the mountains meet the coast. For the Dreen dynasty, Port Naain was just another of the cities of their kingdom, perhaps the largest, but in their eyes not the most important.
The Dreen were not a dynasty of city lovers. The founder of the dynasty, old Batar Dreen was a bandit and horse thief who managed to steal both a Keep and the heart of the Chatelaine. He proceeded to put together a sprawling dominion which included perhaps half of the land of Partann. All this thanks to his cunning and reckless courage. He died on the field of battle hacked down by his enemies. His son, Ortar, rallied the remains of his father’s forces and fought on, crushing his enemies in a series of campaigns. In one of them, Ortal won his spurs as he led the left wing of his father’s army. Thus when Ortal became king at the age of thirty, he was accepted as Lord over all of Partann.
From what we know now, they were hard men but they were countrymen. Their poets speak to us still, telling of prize oxen, of the young foal’s first unsteady footsteps, and of the ripe wheat rippling like the sea in the breeze. Where his father and grandfather had built a kingdom, Ortal beautified it. He rebuilt towns, he gifted them with new gateways of impressive grandeur so the folk could enter into their home town and know they were a people of worth. He built hospitals and lazar houses, colonnaded markets and streets of new houses with two tiers of shops underneath.
He kept the peace, three hundred horsemen formed his guard, and even Urlan were honoured to be invited by name to serve in it. The guard roamed the country, maintaining order and providing immediate restitution for those lesser folk who were being oppressed by the rich and powerful. Some say the Urlan villaging expeditions of our day are but a memory of the time they served as legitimate officers of the King.
To celebrate his sixtieth birthday the people of Oridwick petitioned him for a new well. Instead he gave orders that they would have a water fountain that people would travel for miles to see.
The language of the poets of his day is almost forgotten now, it remains as a peasant dialect in parts of Partann and if you spend time with these folk you can tune your ear to it. They still sing the old songs. One is about the building of the water fountain. The task was started barely two years before Ortal died, by which time they’d dug out the footings and put in a temporary pool.
On his death his two sons fought for the throne. Their armies met at Oridwick and there the soldiers of the armies set aside their weapons and slaughtered a score of oxen on the site of the fountain and feasted together. They forced the brothers to sit next to each other, and gave them space to decide who was to be king. During the meal the younger poisoned the elder and claimed the throne. The soldiers took him and butchered him where they’d slaughtered the oxen and gave the throne to his sister. Three years later she, newly a widow, died in childbirth and her daughter barely outlived her mother. The kingdom fell and warlords fought over the ruins.
But at Oridwick, Narl Queldom, master builder, continued to build the water fountain. His daughter, Nissi, leading a convoy of wagons loaded with cut stone, was stopped by the forces of one of the warlords who demanded the horses for his horsemen. She merely said, “We carry stone for the water fountain of Ortal Dreen. The warlord and his men stepped back out of the way to let the convoy past.
I visited Oridwick, and on the fountain there is a bronze plaque which states it was built at the orders of the Municipality of Avitas.
I had come south mainly out of boredom I think. Port Naain stank that summer, and there was no work for a poet. I made my way south and it was at Oridwick that the innkeeper offered me bed and board if I would sit with his grandfather and write down the old songs which the venerable old gentleman remembered. I sat with him all through the first day and by the time evening fell, I could just about understand him when he spoke slowly. On the second day, I could understand him when he sang. For the next six days I sat with him, writing furiously and then I’d spend the evening copying my notes out in a good clean hand.
On the last day he had run out of the traditional songs but instead told me the scatological ballads that he and other young men had sung in his youth as they drank too deeply at the end of harvest.
By now I was almost part of the family. The innkeeper showed me the inn’s collection of a score of bronze plaques put up by various self-important tyrants or municipal busybodies claiming that they were the builders of the water fountain. One even bore the name of Erno the Younger, he who tried to make himself king of Port Naain and who was tried and executed.
And now? The Dreen dynasty is forgotten. In two thousand years their traces have been eradicated from the cities. In Port Naain they have been written out of the history books, and other, later, lesser dynasties stole their deeds for themselves and cast own their statues.
As the landlord of the Dreamers of Oridwick said, “If Partann is to be reunited, it will be done by the man or woman humble enough to put up a bronze plaque stating that this is the water fountain of Ortal Dreen.
And thanks to his grandfather, I may be the last person living who can sing the song about how the waters of Oridwick invigorated the flagging vitality of Ortal Dreen, thus ensuring that he could continue to father children. And the last verse of the song comments that King Ortal blessed the waters. So now, any who drink from the fountain inherit the blessing of Ortal Dreen. So all the maidens are beautiful and modest, and all the men, handsome and loyal. As Grandfather said with a sly grin. “You’ve only got to look around you to see that it’s true.”
It strikes me that you may wish to know more about travelling in Partann. If so you could do worse than read
As one reviewer commented, “Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.”