The Matter of Merrimount Orde, Part I
“The Mysterious Matter of Merrimount Orde,” first saw print in IV.E.988, running in two large installments in the popular Shera weekly, The Coronet, as reproduced below.
One of Windsheer’s first “travelogues,” this story paved the way for his later “The View from Above” column. Now over ten years old, “The Mysterious Matter of Merrimount Orde” has remained wildly popular, even amongst Windsheer’s detractors, for reasons that will be explained shortly. Those scholars of Windsheer’s works – few though they may be – are especially fond of the piece, citing it as a prime example of the author’s evolving style, which switches from his now-familiar first-person reportage to a near-omniscient third-person point of view when recounting Merrimount Orde’s story. The story has been reprinted multiple times, in multiple translations, and is considered one of the finest examples of “Tanitin Adventure” writing thus far published.
Curiously, Windsheer excluded the piece from Adrift Amongst the Lands, and its more-recently published companion collection Facing the Storm (published IV.E.996), despite the story’s popularity. He has, in fact, sought to distance himself from the piece. His reasons for this are typically vague, but the best insight perhaps can be found in the following quote, attributed to him during one of his brief returns to Shera, apparently said while visiting the court of the Monarch Constant.
“When I spin a yarn, rough as ship-rope or smooth as silk, whichever the need, I endeavor always to know where the truth of the matter lies,” he is supposed to have said. “I do this not out of fealty to the treacherous beast, but rather that I may chart my own course, drawing nearer or further as I deem necessary. Where I am asked to relate fiction as fact, I must there draw a line. I am a liar, to be sure. But I am, at least, my own liar.”
Windsheer’s detractors often turn to this quote as definitive proof of the correspondent’s untrustworthiness.
Verification of the tale, as one might expect, is difficult, yet certain facts are known. Tanitin Regional Deputy Marshal Miles Drake is, in fact, a lawman of the territory, a position he has held since IV.E.987. His mother was a second generation Tanitin native of Fueille extraction, his father a blacksmith from one of the pre-unification Hollern Citystates, Riadur. Records indicate he was born IV.E.962 in the nominally Fueille town of Espere, situated in the Easterly’s southern region, somewhere between Cochrane and New Bastion. He was granted full Marshal’s status in IV.E.990, perhaps as a result of the events related in Windsheer’s – and thus Orde’s – tale. His name appears often in reports and dispatches from Mainetoille, Cochrane, Nurchem, as well as cities in the Rest. He is responsible for the apprehension of “Glue-Eye” McManaman and his gang, who terrorized the southern Easterly from the gang’s hideout in the swamplands south of Cochrane, in IV.E.993; the notorious shoot-out at the Zentan Mines, later the same year; and the Showdown at Breach, where, in order to free some dozen hostages held in a kerosene-soaked brothel, the Marshal agreed to face Palomar “Pretty” Penerre alone (IV.E.995).
Witnesses to the showdown report that Penerre never cleared her holster.
Information regarding Deputy Tracker Keyton Drum is understandably harder to come by, let alone confirm. Earthwalker naming convention varies amongst the different clans and traditions of The People, and the matter is further complicated by the fact that the Keyton tribe is a small one, and believed to be nomadic. The name “Drum” could just as easily be Odom-influenced as it is a straight translation of the Keyton word for the same, or similar, instrument. It is just as likely that in the Keyton tongue “drum” has its own, separate meaning, one that the Deputy has not yet seen fit to share. Thus, what follows regarding the man is entirely speculation.
Records of contact with the Keyton tribe exist all across Tanitin, with the earliest encounters occurring in the northern Rest (circa IV.E.743), and the southern Easterly (circa IV.E.744). These dates themselves are curious, as it remains a mystery how the People could have negotiated the Great Divide in so short a span, as an overland track (demanding a long journey southward before turning to the east) seems near-impossible to accomplish in so short a time. Unlike other tribes – the Maäc, Kerge, and Ligir, being the obvious examples – the Keyton have resolutely eschewed prolonged contact with Tanitin’s colonists. They are known to trade and barter with the communities they encounter, but in the main, they continue to pursue the nomadic lifestyle they presumably followed before Volker’s discovery of the Land.
Much of the same documentation that mentions Marshal Miles Drake contains similar references to Drum, and the Keyton is several times referred to by the title “Deputy Marshal” or, more frequently, “Deputy Tracker,” the latter being a semi-official designation granted by the Tanitin Regional Authority. Most of these references, as one might expect, marginalize his presence and actions in favor of Drake’s, but it is clear that Drake has undertaken little without Drum as his partner. Drum is cited as an extraordinarily gifted horseman and tracker, and a manhunter to be reckoned with. The earliest mention of Drum in legal correspondence comes in IV.E.984, describing his successful tracking and elimination of the Burgeon Brothers, following their kidnapping of Eliza Vilanetta, the thirteen year-old daughter of Nasta and Pere, heir to the Vilanetta fortune. The girl was returned to the family unharmed, and Drum refused to speak of the disposition of the Burgeon Brothers. It was only following her recovery of the ordeal that Eliza related how Drum had, unseen, turned one brother against the other, so that they each took the others’ life.
If Miles Drake or Keyton Drum have ever heard Merrimount Orde’s story, or have read Windsheer’s account, it is unknown.
Certainly, if one takes Windsheer’s own apparent doubts regarding the truth of the tale to heart, they are the only two men who can set the record straight. Given both men’s penchant for silence, such a clarification of the matter seems unlikely.
So it was we ended our wretched stay in Tar Kurmont. Captain Dundark, fearing for Sapphire’s safety, refused to bring the ship across the Divide itself, nor even to sail her overland the Colonial Rest. This he owed to the treachery of Aether shock in those parts. My need to see more of the interior would not be diminished, however, and M – ever eager for adventure – demanded she accompany if I would go. Count K, in turn, offered to accompany us, his reasons being his own, and thus we contrived to meet Sapphire in Cité Rafael in one month’s time.
Eschewing skyboat for a closer inspection of the Land, we went by carriage the better part of a week, along the Folker River at first, before turning westward and across the plains. At a small town that could not seem to decide upon its name (those we met there referred to the place as either “Drycrust” or “Queen’s Drop”, neither a flattering one, you will agree) we encountered an Earthwalker calling herself Keyton Nene. Her name, she explained, would best translate to us as “the color of the leaves after rainfall, when the sun strikes from above.” An evening in her company proved pleasant, and by her stories enough, I desired more of her company; that she could walk the paths and lead us to Cité Rafael was only honey in the tea, so to speak. We engaged in a prolonged negotiation before settling on her fees, requirements, and clarity in our expectations, but before the sunrise, a deal was struck, and she agreed to travel with us.
About the remainder of the journey there is, in truth, very much to tell, but it shall, alas, wait for another time. Nene herself was as good as her word, if not better, in truth, and my already high-esteem of the People rose to touch the skies. She lead us with alacrity through one unpleasant encounter with bandits; saved us from a dire end at the claws of a creature I should care to describe as a bear, though its scales prohibit such an appellation; rebuffed Count K’s advances with poise and humor, managing not to dent his manliness the least in the process. We were waylaid two days by a thunderstorm of such fury that even Count K was reduced to silence and wonder in its face, and the flash-flood it birthed and our escape from a watery grave could devour the best pages of a novel itself.
But these are stories for later, as I say.
We achieved Cité Rafael with the best part of four days before Sapphire was due to take us aboard once more, and in need of comfort and respite, asked Nene to lead us to the finest establishment the Fueille city could offer. Thus, M, Count K, Nene, and myself found rooms at the Swaying Bough, and here, again, Nene did not disappoint. As opulent an establishment as one could hope to find in Tanitin, and one to rival the finest decadence of Coeur, where every whim could be attended to, provided the coin could warrant it. M, feeling perhaps a nationalist pride in the luxury surrounding us, insisted on paying all our way, including Nene’s, of whom she had grown quite fond.
Thus, our second night, we were enjoying a meal in the dining room, and Count K was loudly calling for another bottle of wine. The room was all-but deserted, for the hour had turned quite late, and aside from our most-solicitous waiter, there was but one other taking his meal, and a most incongruous figure was he. A half-hand taller than Count K, this I could see even with him seated, his clothes as fine as any I have encountered outside a royal court, silk, brocade, velvet, and the shine on his shoes was enough to blind. His hat, neatly brushed, tipped on the back of his chair. His grooming, too, so recently applied that I could smell his lavender water even at distance. Yet never have I seen a man so obviously new to his wealth, nor so wildly uncomfortable with it. His utensils were as much comfort to him as they would be to a hare, and he drank his wine with a thirst that assured me he barely allowed for its flavour. At length I discerned that, when he thought none of us had eyes upon him, his own gaze would fix upon Nene.
My curiosity turned to concern when he abruptly rose from his table and, clearly fighting a losing action against the wine he had imbibed, advance upon our table with a purpose easily mistaken for malice. Reaching us, he set his palms upon the linen with such force the crystal jumped as we did, and threatened to upset the remnants of our meal. His eye had remained upon Nene the whole of his approach, and while she had proven deftly capable in her own defense, I found myself taking firmer hold upon my knife than perhaps was need to be. Yet we had encountered all manner of men, and all shades of hatred, in our travels, and the abominable treatment of the People in the far north was still fresh in all our minds, no doubt.
“I say,” Count K growled, delivering the odd figure a glare that, we knew, had made his own soldiers quail. “Have you business, sir, or do you intend to diminish our pleasure with your presence alone?”
Yet the man said nothing to that, and seemed not to notice the Count, nor M, nor even myself. His eye was for Nene alone, and after a pause of several breaths, he raised a finger, pointing to the braid of color and bead our guide kept along the left side of her head.
“Keyton, hey?” He spoke in a voice befitting his frame, deep. Yet in it there was a strain, as if the words were difficult enough without the need for them to be heard.
“Keyton,” replied Nene. “Yes, sir, I am proud to say.”
“And know you a Keyton by the name of Drum?”
“It is my pleasure to know that name, and call him friend and family.”
At which the man’s manner changed most abruptly, and he bowed his head to her and offered praises upon her, her people, Keyton Drum, and a man named Miles Drake. Count K continued to condemn him with baleful gaze, but M, ever courteous, asked if he might care to join us, and tell us of who he was, and how he came to be in Cité Rafael. The man took a moment’s hesitation, then gratefully accepted, fitting his bulk to a seat placed between M and the Count.
“Most generous,” he said. “Most generous, and my thanks and apologies, too, for I am learning manners the way I learn the fit of these clothes, and both are new to me.”
“You are amongst friends,” I assured him, and filled a glass to prove the truth of my words. He took it and raised it, too, for all of us to see, but to Nene especially.
“To you and yours,” the man said. “My name is Merrimount Orde, and I owe the Keyton called Drum my life, my health, and my wealth.”
Whereupon he drained his glass, set it upon the table, and told us his tale.