Our current picture shows Elanar, a nursery nurse, with her charge, the young Avia Hassenbut. I’m not sure whether our artist knew the significance of the principals in his painting, or whether he merely saw a charming scene but there is a story which is well worth hearing.
Really this is Elanar’s story; when young Avia grows up she will doubtless spark stories of her own, but on this occasion she must take second place to somebody older.
As a child Elanar was raised by a series of aunts. Born in Port Naain, her mother died when she was very young, and she got passed around the family, collecting cousins as she went as various temporary guardians died or remarried or otherwise became unavailable for childcare. Eventually she, and her two boy cousins, Karad and Brance ended up in Avitas with their final aunt, and the fourth cousin, a girl named Bethom.
In Avitas the three children seemed to overcome the trauma caused by their itinerant youth and settled down. The older three were inseparable. Bethom was always slightly detached from them; she was still living with her family and was always constrained to act as the hostess, rather than being an equal co-conspirator in their games.
So when at the age of eighteen, Karad inherited a small estate not far from Mostrain, deep within Partann, it was inevitable that Brance and Elanar went with him. It was equally inevitable that Bethom, who at this point was apprenticed to a ladies hairdresser in Avitas, remained behind.
Once settled near Mostrain, it was to be expected that the three cousins (closer than cousins, I’ve known siblings who were less close) decided to become involved in local society and attempted to provide suitable careers for Brance and Elanar.
Their opportunity came when at a social event in Mostrain, they were introduced to the young Robber Baron who had taken over the Keep on Muster Head. Within a week Elanar had made herself his mistress and within a month Brance and Karad were his trusted lieutenants.
Things would doubtless have proceeded well enough were it not for an Urlan ‘villaging’ expedition.
Villaging is a popular pastime among Urlan, both for sport, experience and to burnish their escutcheons. As you no doubt surmise, the basis is to ride from village to village, offering to slay any particularly irksome fell beasts, even minor demons, although parties have ridden through Partann offering to remove tyrannical local lordlings as well. Indeed if some petty baron has a bad enough reputation the Urlan might merely remove them without being asked. Thus it was that the gaze of a party of Urlan fell upon the Lord of the Muster Head Keep.
To be fair to the young lord, he did not lack courage. He rode out with the best of his horsemen, intending to ambush the Urlan. He felt, not unreasonably, that merely waiting for them to attack him was tantamount to suicide. Because Brance and Karad were his trusted lieutenants, he discussed his strategy with them and with Elanar. Because he was a Partannese robber baron and no fool, he took Brance with him as lieutenant and hostage and left Karad in charge of the Keep.
Both Karad and Elanar waited his return, watching anxiously from the top of the tower which guarded the landward gate of the keep. So when the Urlan ambushed the young Lord, the two cousins could see the shattered remnants of the Muster Head force fleeing towards the keep with the Urlan in close pursuit. Elanar took charge. She gave orders for the gates to be shut, the portcullis to be dropped and the drawbridge to be raised.
Karad protested, pointing out that Brance might be alive and out there. Elanar told him to remain on the walls with a rope and if Brance arrived, to pull him up using the rope. Telling him she was going to rally the garrison she left him.
She picked two dozen men whom she felt she could trust, and with them, emptied the keep’s treasury. This she had loaded onto a twenty oared galley that was kept by the water gate. As the last of the treasure was loaded, she heard the sound of a petard exploding on the main gate, followed by the cheers and war cries of the Urlan as they rode in.
She didn’t hesitate; she gave her men orders to take up their oars, and herself pushed off from the wharf. As she did so, Karad rode out of the water gate and threw himself into the water to swim after them. Judging the galley was already low enough in the water to give cause for nervousness, she held out an oar for him to grasp. As he reached for it, she raised it and brought it down firmly on his head. She then ordered her men to pick up the stroke and the galley headed for the open sea.
To an extent she was lucky. The first Urlan through the gate rescued Karad rather than drawing his bow. Thus by the time he could concentrate on archery, the galley was out of range. On the other hand, she was also unlucky. The Urlan had commenced hanging those of their prisoners who had an unsavoury reputation, but decided it was unfair to hang Karad before he was capable of understanding what was happening, and as Brance volunteered to nurse his cousin, they didn’t hang Brance either.
Next morning, with Karad recovered, both young men were led to the gallows and asked if they’d anything to say. Karad merely commented that he regretted being hanged before he had the chance to avenge himself on the woman who had betrayed them both. The Urlan saw the funny side of this, and not merely released the two men but also released enough of their prisoners to allow them to crew the other, forty oared galley, which was still tied to the wharf.
Late next day, Elanar and her galley were at the mouth of the Dreg estuary, and in the distance behind them they could see a larger and faster galley slowly closing upon them. Elanar rapidly made up her mind and brought her galley into the fishing village of Quaydreg. She had her men stack the treasure in the common room of the local inn, the Boatman. Then she had her men prepare to defend the quayside to repel their pursuers.
As her men were arraying themselves she went back into the Boatman, and with the four warriors who had been left to guard the treasure, she loaded it onto a horse drawn cart which she’d had brought up to the back door. The cart was barely loaded when the sounds of battle could be heard from the quay. Telling her men to follow her, she charged through the inn towards the fray. They followed and overtook her, thus allowing her to return to the inn, bolt the front door and run to the back where she climbed onto the cart and whipped it up.
The problem with horse drawn carts is that whilst they are faster than men on foot, they are rarely faster than angry men on borrowed horses. She arrived in the village of Tithequay just ahead of the horsemen. As she drove through the village she started scattering coin on the road and soon the street was in chaos with people blocking the road trying to recover it. Even so the horsemen were closing, so as she crossed the bridge over the river Dreg she slewed the cart across the road to block it. Then she grabbed a chest from the cart, cut both horses free and rode off at speed on one of them.
Two days later she arrived in Prae Ducis before dawn. She bribed the gate keeper to let her in early. She then took passage to Port Naain, and arrived in the city with little more that the clothes she stood up in and respectable amount of silver. By respectable, I mean that I, as a poet, consider it a lot of money. A usurer on the other hand would doubtless dismiss it as barely worth the effort of investing.
So she needed work. She noticed that the Hassenbut family were advertising for a Nursery Nurse. She spent most of her silver on a suitable wardrobe and at the interview convinced them she was the perfect person to look after their daughter. Thanks to a reference forged in the name of her cousin in Avitas she was taken on. Thus when Brance and Karad arrived in Port Naain to look for her, she was invisible, safe within the bosom of a wealthy family.
In fact, were it not for the fact that she was now nurse to Avia Hassenbut, one might say she had, in some manner of speaking, ‘got away with it.’
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Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories.
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Tallis touches upon child rearing, politics as a performance art, the joy of
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