The Foundations of Our Prosperity

You can sometimes see them at the very lowest tides. You’ve got to walk a long way out into the Estuary and frankly I’d rather take a boat down the main channel and view them from there.

To the shore combers who’re the only people to ever see them now, they’re known as, ‘The Old King’s Shackles.’ Actually they’re more correct than they know, but then ‘simple’ people have an embarrassing habit of remembering things their betters have made a point of forgetting. Nobody talks of the Dreen Dynasty of Partann anymore. The three kings, Batar, Ortar, and Ortal are long forgotten. The poets who told of their glory have fallen silent, the high speech of their Partann survives only as a peasant dialect in a few insignificant villages.

One wet week in summer when my patrons had abandoned the city, or at least had given up on any thought of socialising, I set myself the quest of discovering more of the Dreen Dynasty and their poets. I scoured the Great Library, then I went to look in every second hand bookshop in the city. I found nothing. It could be that I am the sole repository of their work, committed to memory on one of my forays into Partann. The problem is that I can recite the works, but few in Port Naain could understand the dialect. I know, I’ve tried. Even in Avitas barely one person in fifty could grasp the import of my words. They were elderly country cousins embarrassing their sophisticated relatives by trespassing for too long on their hospitality.

But this has taken me away from my main point, ‘The Old King’s Shackles.’ What are they? Well there is only really one that survives now, the others have been quarried for their metal. They remain as slowly spreading mounds of large stones.
It was in one of his earlier campaigns that Ortar Dreen campaigned in the north and included Port Naain within the Kingdom of Partann. As late as five centuries ago, historians and antiquarians argued over which campaign it was and whether he intended to make the city his capital. Since then the argument has been lost in time, ‘like tears in rain.’ Indeed the old poems, written to be sung as the threshing songs of the peasantry, don’t go into historical detail.

Still one thing we can say. Ortar Dreen, determined to ensure the loyalty of the north of his kingdom, decided to build a fortress to command the city of Port Naain. Whilst the city was smaller then, perhaps little more than a town, it was still focussed on trade. So Ortar Dreen sent four ships, each carrying a box formed from iron hammered into shape. They lowered the boxes into the water as the tide turned and filled them with stones. Then when the boxes had settled to their natural level, the engineers connected them with great timbers taken from the mountain forests of Partann. On this foundation they built a keep to both guard and police Port Naain. Ortar Dreen had grasped the strategic situation perfectly and had taken Port Naain firmly by the throat. No ship could enter or leave the estuary without passing within a short bowshot of the keep.

But this was no mere fortress, grim and forbidding. In the tenth year of his reign, the third and last king of the dynasty, Ortal Dreen visited Port Naain and stayed in the Keep.

Gardal Goldenmouth, perhaps the greatest of the poets of this age, performed his great praise poem as Ortal sat at table. He was surrounded by his captains as the assorted burghers of Port Naain paid court to him. Outside a score of war galleys lay at rest against the floating jetty; sleek hunting dogs sleeping between hunts, the figureheads on their painted prows doubtless dreaming of fresh conquests. Their crews were in the barracks, preparing for war as men always have; drinking to dull memory, lying about past exploits, and speculating about wars to come. The lantern light glittered on the steel mail and weaponry hanging on the walls. At table men moved mugs or cutlery as they replayed ancient battles. In the hall itself, Gardal performed by the light of a myriad candles flickering in their sconces. The candles illuminated velvet and sable, steel and gold. Princes and earls of ancient lineage rubbed shoulders with rough looking women whose wealth was measured in livestock. The sons of nomad chieftains, drawn by the repute of the Dreens, sat next to Maidens of the Sea who commanded their own war galleys and traded from Gorodas to Talan, boarding axe in hand. The burgherdom of Port Naain huddled at the bottom of the great table and marvelled at the wealth and power of their betters.

I could weep. I hear the words of Gardal in my head but I find myself putting them down on paper using a language incomprehensible to him. It is like resurrecting the glory of an autumn woodland resplendent as the sun strikes the golds and the reds; from sodden leaves being trodden into the mud of the path.

And then Ortal died and three years later his dynasty fell. Warlords rose and fell, the Castellan sailed south to join in the wars and the small garrison he left behind faded away. Others took over the keep, intent on founding their own small principality, until finally the burghers of Port Naain screwed up their courage and bribed the last one to go away.

In various sources, the House of Cartin was mentioned, so I trespassed on Lord Cartin’s good nature and asked to look through the family records. Lord Cartin himself showed me the oldest document in their archive. One Ortal Cartin had invoiced the Municipality of Port Naain for the hire of a force of fifteen men whom he led to clear wreckers from Nightbell Point. As I read the document Lord Cartin pointed to one line, his ancestor had had to purchase weapons for his followers from the city, the sum to be deducted from the final payment.

The keep itself, abandoned and unloved was soon salvaged to destruction. The furniture had long ago been sold by one of the petty warlords, struggling to pay wages. Once the keep was empty, somebody stole the roof timbers and after that, once the weather got in, the keep rapidly deteriorated, finally being salvaged for firewood.

It is at this point, as a poet I feel I should be able to say that if you stand out on the sands during dark winter nights you can still hear the sound of carousing coming from the direction of the Old King’s Shackles. But in all candour, all you hear out there is the distant sound of the tide and the cry of sea birds. Even the ghosts have been forgotten and have been swept away by the unheeding centuries.


In case you might wish to learn more of life in Port Naain


When mages and their suppliers fall out, people tend to die. This becomes a problem when somebody dies before they manage to pass on the important artefact they had stolen. Now a lot of dangerous, violent or merely amoral people are searching, and Benor has got caught up in it all. There are times when you discover that being forced to rely upon a poet for back-up isn’t as reassuring as you might hope.

As a reviewer commented, “What starts off looking like a theft at sea, followed by a several findings in the mud when the tide is out, soon morphs into an intriguing tale where Benor, Tallis, Shena, Mutt, and a plethora of other folks, get involved in dealing with dark deeds in Port Naain.”

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