How does a city end up being the city it is? To paraphrase the wisdom of old, did the founders of Port Naain intend it to a city where, “To a key of gold, most doors swing open?”
I suppose many cities have legends surrounding their founding. These always paint their founder in glowing colours, telling tales of trials bravely borne; courage and persistence in the face of adversity. The subtext is that ‘we, the descendants, share those virtues more abundantly than the inhabitants of other, lesser, settlements.’
I know of no city where the legend explains that the city was founded because the wheel came off the founder’s cart and he was too fat and idle to fix it.
Still, whilst Port Naain may lack a coherent founding legend, there are tales which come from the distant past which cast a light on our development. Indeed it has been pointed out that whilst they may not be true, our readiness to remember and repeat them say much about us. My favourite is of the Three Daughters of the Sea.
Legend is suitably coy at explaining the parentage of these three young women. To be honest I approve of that. Far too many authors will delve deeply to produce extraneous detail which in all candour neither adds to the tale nor to the delight of the reader. Personally I am entirely in favour of drawing a veil of mystery over those details that are not entirely essential; if only to allow an element of wonder to creep, unattended, into the account.
Now whilst legend is vague as to their antecedents, it is gratifyingly detailed with regard to how the three maidens made a living. They lived in a sea cave on the edge of a most precipitous coast, and sang songs and seduced sailors into coming too close to the rocks. The ship would be wrecked, the sailors would generally drown and the three maidens would gather up the treasure and suchlike from the ship.
Legend is suitably vague as to what the maidens actually ate. Personally I suspect it was provender rescued from the ship. After all a barrel of salt meat and another of ship’s biscuit will last a fair while when there are only three of you sitting down to dinner.
But it seems at last that the three young women tired of their destructive lifestyle. For reasons insufficiently explored (personally I put it down to the tedium of the diet) they decided to abandon the wholesale (but partially accidental) murder of random strangers and seek new fields of endeavour. In this they had the advantage of beauty, youth, and considerable wealth. Thus, somewhat more decently attired than normally portrayed by the usual libidinous artist, they travelled to Port Naain.
As you can well imagine, it does not take young women, who are both beautiful and wealthy, long to make friends. They soon gravitated to a social circle appropriate to their status and made many friends of their own age amongst those who float to the top of society.
As one might expect, they all eventually married. One to a usurer, one to a lawyer, and one to somebody who mainly invested in property but was not above buying and selling horses on the side. Children appear to have followed, with happy domesticity and a somewhat less slender figure coming soon after.
Now one might have thought that this domestic bliss should have brought happiness. But somehow, at the core of their being, the three sisters felt they had taken a wrong turn. Something was niggling at them, something they couldn’t quite put a finger on.
When their busy diaries allowed, they would occasionally sit together over a nice glass of one of the more delicate infusions, genteelly tasting a sugar fancy that cook had made.
Finally one of them, tradition demands that it was the youngest, sat bolt upright in her chair and exclaimed, “I’ve got it, it’s the hypocrisy.”
Her two sisters looked at her, hoping she would elucidate. Encouraged by their silence, this she did.
“Think how well our husbands work together.”
The other two nodded wisely. Whilst not in formal partnership, it was known throughout the city that the three brothers-in-law were very close.
“When my husband does up a property and sells it, he gets your husband to write out the deed (here she turned to the sister who had married the lawyer) and your husband loans the wherewithal to fund the purchase. Here she turned to the sister who married a usurer.
“That’s true”, commented the usurer’s wife.
“Then suddenly,” continued the first sister, “there is a fire, a riot, an invasion of barbarians or a plague of worms. The new owner loses his job, the value of the house falls, the owner, who cannot keep up with the payments, is bankrupted and sold as an indentured labourer into Partann, and my husband buys the property back at a pittance.”
“Which is how it should be according to the deeds my husband draws up,” said the sister who married the lawyer.
“Then there are those who instead of buying become tenants, living in properties my husband owns.”
“And on inspection, the tenants are shown to be liable for a considerable sum to fund repairs,” said the sister whose husband had written the tenancy agreement.
“Luckily my husband will lend them the money they need to pay for the repairs, using a recommended builder.” Said the wife of the usurer.
“Who just happens to be the business that our three husbands own,” finished the first.
“I see what you mean,” said the second sister, contemplatively.
“It makes drowning and eating sailors seem almost virtuous, commented the third sister.
“We never ate many,” insisted the first sister, “and when we did, it was because there is only so much salt meat and ship’s biscuit you can ask anybody to eat.”
“Very true.” The eldest sister had a faraway look in her eyes. “Lightly braised buttock on a bed of sautéed kelp.”
Legend, or perhaps her somewhat less respectable sister, Rumour, insists that at this point the three sisters spend a lot of time in deep thought. Finally, unable to cope any longer with the duplicity, the double standards, and general insincerity of Port Naain society, they quietly left and returned once more to their sea cave and their old life.
Admittedly older, perhaps wiser, they still had fine contralto voices and whilst they may not have had the slim figures of their youth, the buoyancy of the waves tended to flatter the lady with the fuller figure.
Should you want to know more about Port Naain
As a reviewer commented, “Any story that contains immortal sayings like “I will merely point out that whilst the little ship did not lack ambience, it was an ambience that clung, and it took three washings before I could get it out of my shirts.” Is well worth reading.
Additionally, this tale refers to maps, missing gems, pie eating contests and even a marimba – what more could a reader want?”