There are few arguments that can rumble on longer than arguments within family. The Clannalds are perhaps a good example of this. Old Topper Clannald was a gentleman. He had a large estate on the south side of the Paraeba Estuary across from Port Naain. He was well to the west of the Port Naain suburbs of Saskadil and Roskadil. His house was large, set among parkland with views over the estuary and out to sea. It was also fortified enough for utility, but not so much that it was a keep rather than a charming gentleman’s residence. He was lucky in that his sister, Tilia, went to be a priestess in the Order of Aea Undivided. Thus the inheritance was not shared.
He had a number of sons. The eldest, also called Topper (initially young Topper, but eventually Middle Topper) was a country gentleman to his fingertips. He rarely ventured into Port Naain, but busied himself with his hunting dogs and managing the estate. It was he who lifted the estate from something that barely washed its face and made it one of the best run and most profitable estates in Partann.
The second son, Garant, was of martial bent. He became a man-at-arms for one or another of the great condottieri captains. Whilst he never rose to becoming an independent captain in his own right, he became one of the most valued lieutenants. Various captains would even lend him to each other should one of them win a commission of particular difficulty.
The third son became a Hierophant in the Order of Aea in Her Aspect as the Personification of Bucolic Virtues. As for the three daughters, one was a usurer in her own right before marrying one of her more successful clients. Another, also named Tilia, followed her aunt into the Order of Aea Undivided. The third married the heir of a neighbouring estate.
It was the youngest son, Melass, who was the black sheep of the family. He was drawn to the study of thaumaturgy and became a mage. Whilst Old Topper wasn’t entirely happy with the choice, he was wise enough not to try and stand between his son and his son’s chosen career. Indeed he did what he could to be supportive and when he finally died, he left Melass a plot of land on the estate and a generous sum of money to build his own home.
Melass built a wizard’s tower that was also a gentleman’s residence. His father had left him a nice plot. It was secluded, separated from the ‘great house’ by wooded hills, yet was near enough to feel still part of family.
While Melass and Middle Topper were alive they managed to rub along. Yes there were difficulties, and both made decisions that the other didn’t necessarily approve of. But they were brothers and their assorted sisters and brothers were on hand to smooth over difficulties and keep the peace.
It was the next generation where things started to grow rancorous. By this time ‘Young Topper’ had the great house and Versinth inherited both tower and the interest in wizardry from his father. It didn’t help that the cousins didn’t particularly like each other. They had never got on and had little in common. Young Topper was dedicated enough to his estate to keep up his father’s improvements. He was a hardworking, diligent young man who was determined not to allow things to slip. On the other hand he had inherited his grandfather’s love of hunting. Thus parts of the estate were managed with this in mind.
Versinth had been educated in Port Naain, and had absorbed the attitudes, prejudices, and bigotries of the city.
Then there were the little difficulties which crop up between neighbours. So Versinth had spent a week spreading dream nets between the trees on the edge of his land. These were fragile, scintillant, and unless you stood in just the right place you might not see them. Versinth hoped that he would be able to harvest dreams which became trapped in them, (purely for research purposes obviously) and perhaps even use them to flavour dream powders.
Barely a week later Young Topper and his guests, hallooing after a dart buck, rode through the nets without really being aware there was anything in the way. They inadvertently destroyed a large section of them.
What made matters more complicated was that when Old Topper had given his son the land, he fixed the boundary as two becks linked by a line marked between three large trees. Middle Topper’s forester had taken one of the trees (itself the source of friction at the time) but had replanted. Unfortunately this mean that instead of one large tree, there was a copse of far smaller ones. Obviously in years to come these too had grown. So it was now impossible to tell where this section of the boundary ran and whose side of the boundary which trees were. Versinth had spread his nets through the grove and may well have transgressed onto his neighbour’s lad.
Similarly it was a dry summer and the two becks were virtually dry. Thus anybody travelling on horseback at some speed could easily miss them. So it was entirely possible that the hunting party had crossed out of their own land without realising it.
There was also the issue of Versinth’s dart. These small Cervidae were not merely hand tame, but they were the result of a long term experimental programme of great importance to Versinth and Melass before him. They had noticed that the dart could survive in terrain where orids and horrocks struggled. So they had decided to breed a dart which would provide enough milk for a peasant family. This is all well and good but occasionally one of Versinth’s dart bucks would get out among Young Topper’s dart does and the offspring pleased neither of them. They were small, belligerent and produced an inferior carcass to the normal dart. Given that an important part of Topper’s income came from selling superior venison into Port Naain, this went down badly.
These niggles produced a lot of bad feeling, so much so that if the two men’s servants and employees met, harsh words were exchanged and it even escalated to fisticuffs.
Yet whilst these were stresses that might cause the Clannald family to split into feuding factions, opposing this was great aunt Tilia. She had become the family matriarch and every winter she demanded the attendance of all her kin at a family gathering at the great house. Indeed on these occasions, she, not Middle Topper nor Young Topper was the host. There the seething and almost feuding kinsmen were forced to make up their quarrels under the stern eye of their great aunt.
Her technique was simple. She heard the complaints of both sides, (normally repeatedly and throughout the year) and then would sit them down like a pair of naughty six year olds and give them a stern talking to. Fortunately for both Young Topper and Versinth she dealt with the rest of the family in much the same brusque manner. So whilst the week could be uncomfortable, people trod carefully, and so far nobody had stormed out, swearing never to return.
Still, Tilia senior was not sanguine about her chances of holding the family together. Indeed she had long discussions with her various nieces who were, at least in her eyes, the ones most likely to succeed to her role.
In this regard, the next generation of Clannald ladies formed a huddle behind the younger Tilia, metaphorically supporting her but willing to allow her to take the full force of any trouble that might strike. Tilia junior looked forward to a future rich in endless niggles, petty bickering, and weeks spent walking lightly and constantly trying to defuse situations.
Fortunately for her, it never came to that. There was a most unforeseen reconciliation between Young Topper and Versinth. This was brought about by the gentrification of the area. The villages down the coast to the south of the Estuary had originally been small fishing villages. Places further south such as Candleman’s Cove tended to be purchased by people of greater wealth who could afford their own carriages and would tend to spend ‘the season’ there. On the other hand, Rattlestone, the northernmost village, attracted those who had to take a place on a carrier’s cart or even walk to get there. Also these were people who might stay a week or two and would often lend or rent their cottage to others.
These were people who had a strong sense of their own ‘rights’ and no real idea of how the rural world operated. So Young Topper and his household spend three days fighting a fire caused by one inconsiderate family who had been picnicking. Versinth had re-arranged his dream nets, setting them high in the trees. He was somewhat put out to discover a respectable lady from the Ropewalk giving instructions to her young grandsons who were climbing through the trees. They were cutting down his nets because their grandmother decided they would be a perfect curtaining material for her front parlour. When Versinth remonstrated she accused him of littering the countryside and claimed that he ought to pay her grandsons for tidying up.
Then there was the incident of the Ladies’ Choral Society. This august society held a drunken choir practice and barbecue on the beach next to Versinth’s tower. It spilled over onto his lawns. Indeed his gardener was harangued by intoxicated choristers who claimed he was spying on them bathing because he stopped them dragging a trellis off the wall to cast into the insatiable maw of the conflagration on which they were promiscuously charring sausages. At the same time, Young Topper was growing increasing angry because it was impossible to grow vegetables in the fields nearest to the road. They were stripped bare by holiday makers taking advantage of the crop to keep the cost of catering down.
Young Topper had put up some fences but the posts had been taken for firewood, and he came to the conclusion the only way to keep people out was to have strong mounted patrols. These in all candour he couldn’t afford. Eventually he and Versinth were sitting next to each other by chance at one of their great aunt’s family gatherings. Great Aunt asked Versinth about problems that had come to her attention. As he started to regale her with his woes, Young Topper listened and then told of his difficulties. He mentioned the problem of fencing and at this point Versinth started scribbling notes on a piece of paper.
A week later, Versinth rode up the main drive of the great house (the first of his family to do so since Melass had left home) and Young Topper welcomed him in a manner that was only slightly reserved. Versinth then explained that he had come up with a plan. He had worked on a number of spells, and could now generate a semblance of a feroce. He had created a pride of them, which now potentially existed. His plan was that he would enchant some places where they might potentially be found.
As people approached these places, the feroce would emerge into existence and their presence should deter people. Indeed the more people there were and the nearer the people got to the feroce, the more feroce would appear and the more ‘real’ they would become. Indeed because of some subtle work with sub-thaumaturical amplifiers, the feroce would draw their reality from the people approaching, so that by the time the person was within touching distance of a feroce, the feroce was utterly real and the person had faded into nothingness.
After discussing a few minor legal points, Young Topper agreed the plan wholeheartedly and put his people at Versinth’s disposal to install the small standing stones which would operate as amplifiers.
All in all the scheme was an outstanding success. Very few would approach near the feroce, and the notional pack kept problems at bay most successfully. Obviously there were some people of limited common sense who did get too close to the feroce, thus disappearing but rendering the feroce ‘real.’
This meant that perhaps once or twice a year, Young Topper and his people had to hunt a feroce. But as he once commented, ‘It’s interesting hunting, and a lot less trouble than having to deal with the denizens of Port Naain.’
Should you wish to read more from Tallis Steelyard, you should seek out, ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’
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And we have another review
“This delightful story from Jim Webster about Tallis Steelyard’s latest escapade turned out to be an unusual diversion from his usual adventures.
I have always thought Tallis an honourable man, carefully evading, or managing to negate, any of the devious plans he comes across.
So, I was most surprised to learn of this subterfuge involving Maljie.
Although she has long been my favourite of all Tallis’s friends, Maljie is proving to be a bad influence, but despite my better judgement, I am rather impressed by the speed Tallis manages to keep up with her!
I have always fancied a trip in a hot air balloon, so I willingly climbed on board to share what turned out to be a thrilling journey with Tallis and Maljie.
A Fear of Heights is a refreshingly different and exciting story, one I am sure I will be reading again!