Adrasa Drane was remarkable, even amongst her siblings, for her fascination with horses and her total lack of fear. Even as a toddler she would walk under the great dray horses and stroke their legs. Thus it was inevitable that as she grew older she started to frequent stables and similar places.
At the age of fourteen she was present when Cavalier Qualan, the condottieri captain, rode down Ropewalk at the head of his men. Admittedly back then it was a lot less spectacular procession than it was to become, he was young and would struggle to field a score of lances. He stopped to talk to a passer-by who had hailed him, and Adrasa stepped forward and retied the throat lash on his bridle properly.
Cavalier Qualan looked down at the gamin, all legs and long hair and asked whether she could ride. She admitted that she couldn’t, so he told her that if she wanted to learn she should present herself to his house at the edge of town next day.
Adrasa may have contemplated discussing this matter with her parents but decided against it on the not unreasonable grounds that, firstly, they might forbid it, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, as a dutiful daughter she didn’t want to cause them any distress by going against their specifically stated wishes.
So next morning Adrasa arose early and left a note on the kitchen table informing her parents that she had the chance of an apprenticeship. In brackets after it she wrote, “Something to do with horses.”
The Cavalier lived on what had once been a farm, but had been swallowed up by the advancing city. So whilst the house was not large, there were barns and stables around quite a large courtyard. There was even a field of sorts which various previous owners had neglected to sell off. Adrasa presented herself at the house and was immediately sent round to the stables where the Cavalier himself watched her tack up an elderly horse. Then he assisted her into the saddle. She sat there holding the reins until eventually the horse turned its head to look at her as if to enquire as to whether his services would be needed that day.
Still, by the end of the first week she could mount and ride a sensible horse with reasonable confidence. She was also able to clean both tack and horse and could be trusted to feed and water it. At this point Cavalier Qualan had a serious talk with her. He pointed out that her path had come to a crossroads. She could return home, learn a proper trade and have very little to do with horses. Or she could join his staff as a stable girl where she’d get a reasonable wage and enjoy considerable security. Indeed he went so far as to grin when he told her that he kept losing his stable girls to matrimony. They tended to find ardent suitors amongst carters, the owners of livery stables, and even his own horsemen. The third option he held out to her was that she became a squire with the aim of eventually bearing arms and riding for him as one of his lances.
He sent her home to her parents, accompanied by his Mistress of the Stables.
This formidable lady explained the situation to both Taffetia and Garrat. Next day Adrasa came back, her articles of apprenticeship signed by both parents.
Her chosen career path was unusual but wasn’t unheard of. Perhaps one in twenty of the condottieri horsemen in the city are women. Talking to men who’ve served, they see no problem with this. Women are generally lighter, and whilst they might be less powerful, they can wear the same armour because the horse takes most of the weight. When it comes to the shock of combat, the woman’s horse tends to be fresher and hits faster and harder. Amongst the infantry one rarely sees a woman. Some claim that it’s due to their lack of stamina and physical power, but frankly I’d suggest it’s purely that the infantry don’t get horses.
Still whatever the reason, Adrasa flourished in her chosen career. At the age of seventeen she rode south. In the following two decades she had typhus, dysentery (three times), ringworm every year until she became immune to it, and gave birth to three children and lost one of them. She had her left arm broken, (twice) and suffered from innumerable cuts and contusions. On one notable occasion she received a blow which tore through the armour on her right thigh, left her needing seventeen stitches and she couldn’t walk for three weeks. She fought to defend three towns and was at the sieges of four others. She commanded the garrison of an isolated tower for three months and fought in innumerable ambuscades, skirmishes and routs. On her thirty-seventh birthday she led the successful attack on a merchant convoy.
Six months later she followed Cavalier Qualan north to Port Naain for the last time; financially secure due to the looted convoy, she had decided to retire. After two decades in the saddle, Adrasa had changed but Uttermost Partann remained much as it had always been.
After talking to the Cavalier she started a stable of her own, but with ponies suitable for children and young people rather than horses. She taught all and sundry to ride. The children of the wealthy would arrive on their own pony; the daughters of the middle classes (sometimes the sons but mainly the daughters) would ride one of her ponies. Rather than calling it a riding school, she called it a club. They played games such as polo and tent-pegging as well as performing more formal exercises on the field she borrowed from the Cavalier.
Indeed just to make sure that her pupils and their mounts were competent she would have them ride in column of twos through the city. She would ride at the back, watching her charges carefully. Occasionally she’d say firmly, in her parade ground voice, “Stop slouching girl.”
When Adrasa did that I’ve seen married women with a toddler in one hand and their shopping in the other, guiltily snap to attention two streets away.
And now the hard sell!
OK so perhaps the not so hard sell. It’s just that this is part of a blog tour which is peering into the lives of Garrat Drane, and his lady wife Taffetia Drane. Now we are meeting their various offspring, delightful people and pillars of the community. Or perhaps not. But still now is your chance to meet them and inadvertently you may discover their importance to our hero, Tallis Steelyard. Tallis has his own blog at https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/
But actually the purpose of this blog is to draw your attention to the fact
that a new book has been published. ‘Tallis Steelyard: Six men in a boat.’
Rather than a collection of his anecdotes, this is indeed an ‘adventure’ as Tallis ventures forth from the city of Port Naain. Questions are asked that may even be answered, why is Tallis ‘run out of town’ by hired ruffians? Why does a very sensible young woman want his company when plunging into unknown danger? Who or what was buried in the catacombs? And why has there been so much interest in making sure they stay dead? Also featuring flower arranging, life on the river, and a mule of notable erudition.
Treat yourself; you know you’re worth it!
And to follow the Blog Tour from the start – follow these links:
Equine entanglements (this episode)