Tread carefully

When I mentioned Thaddan previously I hadn’t thought to follow his career further. For those who have never met him, he is a handsome young man-at-arms in the service of Lord Cartin. He was also blessed by having a much younger sister, Sofina. Now thanks to Sofina’s careful work, Thaddan stood higher in the estimation of Lord Cartin than he had done. The following year, when Lord Cartin reconstituted his company to ride south into Partann, Thaddan was hired on as a sergeant-at-arms. This meant he was promoted to Lord Cartin’s immediate retinue.  This in turn meant he was one of that small group from whom Lord Cartin would pick men to do the tougher or more demanding martial tasks.

Also, thanks to the carefully planning of his sister, Sofina, Thaddan was ‘romantically entangled’ with a charming and entirely delightful young lady, Nadeen. During the previous winter, with the Lord Cartin’s mercenary company dispersed to winter quarters, Thaddan had indeed ‘walked out’ with Nadeen. They had attended various functions together, and Sofina, as the sponsor of the relationship, relaxed. She felt that she had done her bit.

She may have relaxed rather too soon. A comrade of Thaddan’s who had remained in garrison in the south, sent a message to Thaddan asking him to keep an eye on his cousin, Heria. It appears that Heria was new to Port Naain and was effectively alone in the world. Thaddan, to oblige his colleague, made contact with Heria.

This presented difficulties. Heria might be alone in the world but she was both financially secure and beautiful. Now when I say ‘beautiful’ it has to be admitted that this is a term that is banded about rather more than it should be. I have heard young women described as beautiful who were in reality ‘pretty’ or even ‘handsome.’ (Both, in my opinion, desirable states should one be so blessed. Also, in all honestly, both happily common.)
But Heria was a beauty. She could quite literally ‘turn heads.’ Even in Port Naain, I doubt you would find ten genuine beauties under the age of fifty at any one time. In spite of this, she was also a pleasant and unassuming young lady. She was wise enough to know that beauty is transient, and a career built on it is doomed to a sad and early close. Also she quite took to Thaddan. Part of this was due to the fact that her cousin, when recommending her to Thaddan, had recommended Thaddan to her. Whilst he might have given emphasis to the virtues that appealed to a fellow soldier, (loyalty, resilience, generosity, a dab hand with horses, and a good man to have watching your back in times of trouble,) these easily translate into the sort of terms a young woman might consider worthwhile.

So Nadeen had competition. Indeed, whilst Thaddan did not attempt to play off one lady against the other, (thus convincing each of them that he was worthy of her) he didn’t appear to notice that there was even rivalry. Initially Sofina was inclined to neutrality in this struggle, but even as she kept matters at arm’s length, she did her research.

Sofina knew that having a considerably older brother gave her an opportunity. She could be the glamourous aunt to his children. Working out the numbers on her figures, given she was now eight, if Thaddan stopped wasting everybody’s time, by the time she was twenty, she would have nephews and nieces who might even be as old as ten or eleven. Nadeen had won Sofina’s support because she was the youngest of seven and all her siblings have married and had large families. Sofina delved into Heria’s background and was horrified by what she found. Not only was Heria an only child, her mother had had one sibling and her grandmother had also been an only child. Sofina made ready to throw her weight behind Nadeen’s cause.

Unfortunately the campaigning season intervened. Thaddan, having made no promises to anybody, rode south with Lord Cartin. Unlike the ordinary men-at-arms he wore no plume, no nodding horsehair above his hollow-eyed visor. But he wore the scarlet sash of a sergeant-at-arms and a plain scarlet pennant hung from his lance.
It was on this campaign that Thaddan discovered that Lord Cartin expected his sergeants-at-arms to earn their extra pay. He was sent with ten lances, each consisting of a man-at-arms, squire who would also fight as a medium horseman, and a crossbowman. The latter rode a pony or nag suitable for his station in life. He was sent to deal with problems in Lowpottle, a village on the upper River Sourr. He arrived to discover the area was being terrorised by an Urlan Renegade called Bat Ferocekin and a band of desperadoes he’d led out of the winter camps on the other side of the Aphices. Originally hired to fight for one of the feuding lordlings of Uttermost Partann, they had arrived to discover their paymaster already dead and his forces shattered. Ferocekin decided to recoup his investment by emptying the pockets of the villages along the Sourr.

For Thaddan it was a bitter summer. A summer of ambuscades, running skirmishes and nights spent watching the horizon for the flames that would show another farm had been burned. But by midsummer’s day the head of Bat Ferocekin had been sent by messenger to Lord Cartin, whilst Thaddan and his men erected a gallows on the Sourr bridge. There dangled the bodies of those who were trying to cut and run and make their way back to the winter camps.

On the day of the autumn equinox another of Lord Cartin’s sergeants-at-arms rode in to Lowpottle with five lances. His task was to hold the area over winter. That night, Thaddan slept uninterrupted for the first time since he’d arrived at the village. Next day he and his men rode out to join Lord Cartin and those of the company retiring to winter quarters.

Now all through that summer, Thaddan had had his spirits lifted by regular letters from his sister, and if they mentioned Nadeen in favourable terms, why shouldn’t a child speak warmly of the young lady teaching her to play the flute? Thaddan’s letters back were shorter and given the nature of the campaign, lacked details. You might mention to an old comrade that you made the three bandits you captured bury the bodies of their victims, before hanging them from the still smoking roof timbers of the farmhouse they’d pillaged. It’s not a story you share with your little sister.

Still when Thaddan and his following joined the main force, Lord Cartin studied the young man as he shared his commander’s table with the rest of the retinue. He felt the young man had done well, showed promise, but was tired. So he sent him home ahead of the main force. Thaddan would escort a force of ten mounted crossbowmen to Slipshade. They’d volunteered to serve under arms over the winter. Once he’d got them there he was to make his own way home, his time his own until Lord Cartin summoned him next spring.

Thaddan, buoyed up as much by this sign of favour as by the fact he would be home early, sent his little sister a note telling her when to expect him. Sofina sprang into action. She showed the note to Nadeen. Now to be fair she didn’t pointedly ask what the young woman was going to do about it. Still it was probably an unspoken subtext. Nadeen planned with the sort of precision Lord Cartin applauds in his captains. She sent a note to Thaddan which would reach him at Slipshade. She invited him to join her for a picnic at her family’s small country estate south of the river. She knew Thaddan would know the picnic site, once or twice they’d ridden out there on fine days during the previous winter.

Now at this point in a campaign, even the greatest captain is in the hands of the fates. But for Nadeen she had laid her plans, she had cast her dice and now had to take what the fates would give her. The dice rolled high, it was one of those glorious golden autumns. Nadeen greeted her knight in a flowing dress in autumnal reds and purples with her long hair hanging down.

Much to Sofina’s satisfaction, the young couple were married before Thaddan rode south the following spring. The wedding was more splendid that she’d expected, but when one of Lord Cartin’s retinue marries, Lord Cartin steps in to foot the bill. Sofina was summoned in person to meet with the needlewomen of Lord Cartin’s household and she was dressed in a yellow samite embroidered with flowers and singing birds.

But what gave her even greater satisfaction was when, towards the end of the wedding, she overheard two older women talking. As one said, “Nadeen’s thickening about the waist.”

“Yes, she’ll not wear that dress again for some months.”

Every so often, a plan comes together.

♥♥♥♥

Should you wish to learn more of life in Port Naain you might read with advantage

In this volume we stand shoulder to shoulder with Maljie as she explores the intricacies of philosophy, marvel at her mastery of pre-paid indemnification plans, and assist her in the design of foundation garments. When you read this, not only will you discover just who wears the trousers, but you can indulge in a spot of fishing and enjoy the quaint fertility rites of our great city. This book contains fashion, honey, orphans and the importance of dipping your money in vinegar to ensure it is safe. Indeed you may even learn how to teach a cat to dance.

As a reviewer commented, “

This is the sort of book that wraps you in a warm hug and tickles your ribs until you scream with laughter.
Maljie is the kind of a woman you don’t know if you’d be frightened spitless of or want to go for a beer with. Whatever, she is a creation of true comic genius.
The circumnavigation of ‘authority’ is written in such a way as to pull you into the conspiracy – always on the side of Maljie and her band of colourful underdogs.
I can’t recommend Jim Webster’s Port Nain books highly enough.

Five resounding stars. But. Don’t read the book with a drink in hand…”


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