Tiddal, Lord of Muchness Tower, was one of the old Partannese nobility. He was born, luckily for himself, in the more civilised part of Partann where it is not merely possible, but expected, for a son to follow his father into the Lordship of a territory. Not only that but whilst his lands were far enough north to avoid the taint of being part of Uttermost Partann, they were far enough south to avoid too much influence from Port Naain.
Hence it was that many of the old customs prevailed. This, I feel, is neither a good not a bad thing. Still my opinion was never sought in the matter so I shall not judge. Still one custom that survived in the area was that of Levirate marriage. This is where the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow. Note that this is no formality, one of the intentions is that the widow will produce children who will be the heirs of her deceased husband.
Tiddal, already married, found himself in this situation when his brother, Naddal, sadly died young and Tiddal ‘inherited’ his widow Sadini. Given that both Tiddal and his wife, the Lady Balwi, knew and liked Sadini, they didn’t attempt to avoid their responsibilities. Fortunately custom helped ease any tensions, in that Balwi knew that her children could not be displaced by any children Tiddal and Sadini had.
Tiddal, faced with a possible delicate situation, left the organising of matters to the two ladies, giving as his excuse, ‘he had enough to worry about with maintaining order within his lordship.’
Matters proceeded well, both ladies produced children and everybody congratulated Tiddal on his fair-mindedness. He gained the reputation of a quietly spoken man whose words were carefully chosen, and who honoured his obligations.
It was then that he was approached by a neighbour, Trudan Valiant, who was suffering from endemic banditry. (After all, this is still Partann we are talking about.) Tiddal was sympathetic, and realised that if this sort of thing was allowed to proceed unchecked, his lands could be next. So he agreed that they ought to form an alliance. But then it was suggested that they seal the alliance with Tiddal marrying Trudan’s daughter. This is a common enough expedient, but Tiddal raised, as an objection, the fact that he already had two wives, and in all candour, this was one more than most people found necessary. Trudan, whilst not obdurate, was insistent. So Tiddal temporised and suggested that, for the sake of the peace of his household, his wives should discuss the matter with Trudan’s wife.
Trudan agreed to this and the two men then fell to discussing where they were going to acquire the fighting men they needed. Obviously condottieri are there to be hired; one merely has to send a messenger with cash (or even appropriate letters of credit) to Port Naain and one can pick and choose. Whilst this is not the cheap option, it is reliable, at least until the money runs out. Actually, thinking about it, it is still reliable after the money runs out, because once the money stops, the condottieri leave.
Tiddal pointed out that campaigning to deter bandits was a very different type of warfare to that where one wanted merely to annex the territory of a neighbour. On the positive side, you would need fewer men, but you would need them for a lot longer. He was envisaging a war of skirmish and patrol, where a dozen men in the right place would be far more effective than four score in the wrong one. Trudan could see this and suggested they approach another neighbour, the Count of Dree. He had a small territory but made ends meet by renting out a force of horsemen. Given that the Count of Dree might also feel the effects of uncontrolled banditry, Tiddal was sure that he could be shown the advantages of joining the partnership. Given that the Count was married to a cousin of Trudan’s wife, it was agreed to let the ladies discuss matters with her first, before making a formal approach. I approve of this technique, it is always sensible to have somebody prepare the ground for you.
Over the next week Tiddal was never sure what was going on. At one point his wives abandoned him for other parts, then they were back, but were joined by a selection of other wives, daughters, and similar. Tiddal, as always, was courteous, correct, and spent as much time as he could dealing with estate matters, or at least those best done from horseback.
A fortnight later his first wife, Lady Balwi and his second wife, Sadini, formally summoned him to a meeting in the Ladies’ salon. There he was introduced to two pleasant young women, Ellina, daughter of Trudan, and Kalli, daughter of the Count of Dree. The Lady Balwi explained that they had organised the alliance that he wanted, and the Count’s horsemen would join them to start patrolling within a matter of days. But as security for the new alliance, it had been decided that Tiddal would marry these two young women as well.
Tiddal demurred. He pointed out that he already had two wives, four was almost unheard of, at least simultaneously. Sadini reassured him that these would not be full wives, but concubines. Thus they would enjoy joint third-place amongst the ladies of his household. Seeing that everybody seemed so set on the idea, Tiddal shrugged and gave in.
At this point I might note that Tiddal’s habit of shrugging and giving in when dealing with his wife (wives) might not be an entirely wise move on his part. But to be fair, he is the one who had to live in the household, not I.
As a wise husband, he, like his father before him, was in the habit of leaving the management of everything within the walls of his home, to his wife. He decided that at his time of life it was probably unwise to change this policy which had worked so well over the years.
Thus the Lady Balwi continued to marshall the household. When Tiddal retired to bed at night, he was never entirely sure who would join him. There appeared to be a rota of sorts but it was of Balwi’s organising and he felt it wasn’t necessarily his place to interfere.
Here matters proceeded harmoniously enough. Given the bandit campaign was underway, Tiddal felt obliged to be away from home quite a bit, leading his own fighting men to help with the patrolling. Things went well on that front and success brought the three allies closer. They took turns to lead the joint force of horsemen and thus each gave the other two a chance to get caught up on the work that needed doing in their lordships.
It was a couple of years later that that Tiddal managed to get the entire winter at home. He explained to me that he’d got to the age where the idea of spending winter under arms and on horseback no longer appealed. I confess I can understand that, winter is for cosy firesides and good fellowship around well laden tables. It was one evening as he walked into his great dining room that he saw a rather attractive young lady sitting at her needlework. Ever the gentleman he greeted her politely as he passed and asked her name.
“If it pleases you sir, I’ve Virtunia, your seventh concubine.”
Tiddal was still at the ‘exchanging meaningless pleasantries’ stage of the conversation when his brain actually registered what his ears had heard. He had seven concubines?” Now to the best of his knowledge he had two wives and two concubines. He was willing to swear to this, after all he’d met them.
It was with some haste that he repaired to the Ladies’ Salon and hammered on the door demanding admittance. When the Lady Balwi opened it; without any circumlocution or beating about the bush, Tiddal asked, “How many bluidy concubines have I got.”
“Seven dear and there’s no need to take that tone.”
“What in the forty-seven hells do I want with seven concubines.”
“They’re so convenient.”
Tiddal sat down heavily on the nearest chair. “I do feel I’m owed an explanation.”
“Well dear, it’s your reputation.”
Tiddal looked up at this. “With two wives and seven concubines my reputation must be along the lines of a stallion put out to stud.”
“Nonsense dear. You’re known as a very honourable and reasonable man, as well as being a fine captain. So when we approach a lady wishing to make some sort of agreement with her, to attach her to our household to ensure the use of her skills, they have all preferred to be your concubines than to be salaried. It’s saved us a fortune.”
“So what are my concubines doing?”
Well your third concubine is a lady in late middle age whose prowess is unmatched in the dairy.”
Tiddal felt that it was not the sort of prowess one normally expected from a concubine, but concluded that this might not be the place to say so. Also, a fair man, he was forced to admit that over the last year or so the quality of cheese and butter their farms produced had improved considerably.
“And the fourth concubine?”
“Ah, she’s in Prae Ducis and is a usurer in a local avarice of usurers. She doesn’t come here much, but she has done great things with the family investments.”
“A young pastry cook, a girl with immense promise.”
Again Tiddal would have been forced to admit that the food had improved as well. The meat pies sent out to him and his men, when he was in the field, had been excellent.
“She is a doctor and midwife.”
This Tiddal could understand. In Partann, having a doctor one could trust was important.
“And the seventh?”
“Ah, a real find, her needlework is exquisite and she has a wonderful eye for fabrics. She’ll save us a fortune on clothes. All your new concubines probably bring in more money to the household than they cost.”
Tiddal was thinking this over. “Right, so there are only three extra concubines actually close to hand?”
“Yes dear, the third, fifth, and seventh.”
“Right, then at the very least I would be failing in my duties if I did not introduce myself to them. Book a table for four in the inn and I will dine with them tomorrow.”
Lady Balwi is nothing if she’s not efficient. Next lunchtime Tiddal joined the three ladies in the inn. It was a pleasant meal and the conversation was excellent. Indeed when I was talking to Tiddal about it, he admitted that his wife had chosen well.
When I met Tiddal, it was in Port Naain. He explained to his wife that he felt duty bound to compensate his concubines for ignoring them for so long. Apparently the third concubine just wanted a week or two with her husband and family, but the fifth and seventh concubines he took with him for a month to Port Naain, seeing the city and enjoying the theatre and concert halls.
I remember his words over a final glass, as he told me the tale. “You see, Tallis. I had to do something. Unless I took some sort of stand, my damned wives would have me with more concubines than Lord Cartin has horsemen. God alone knows what that would do for my reputation.”
Should you wish to know more about the life of the Partannese nobility, you could always read
As a reviewer commented, “Benor tackles various mysteries in this collection of stories. From a lady who wants to search for her missing husband (who doesn’t want to be found!) to vetting suitors for young ladies, he is ever helpful to the fairer sex. He also takes on sleeping in a haunted house. And, as they say, much more. Those of us who loves these tales of life in Port Naain feel we are putting on comfy slippers and a cardy to relax in the presence of favourite people. I loved it!”