Often a picture shows the end of a story but in this case, the picture is the start of a story. Andreal, the artist who is the mainspring of this exhibition, was travelling in the villages north and east of Port Naain and came upon a goose girl working in the fields. He painted her and as he committed her likeness to canvas, they talked. Something he said sparked a determination in her to better her lot and to travel to Port Naain.
Yet, ironically, I would not have known the story had it not been for Mutt. One afternoon Mutt arrived in the barge with a fine goose, plucked and dressed and ready for the oven. Valerin and Nail, Mutt’s equally juvenile followers arrived with him. Nail was carrying a bag of vegetables, whilst Valerin produced two bottles of wine from under her somewhat tattered coat. Shena looked firmly at Mutt who wilted a little before rallying. “I were given it.”
Shena shifted her stare to Nail who seemed to visibly sag and tried to hide behind Valerin. Given that the girl is at least a head shorter than he is, it was a tactic that was never going to work. Finally Valerin spoke up. “It was given us because we worked with the goose girl.” It has to be admitted that her diction has improved immensely since she started training as a temple dancer.
“Yeah, she were proper pleased wi’ us.” Mutt added.
Even Nail produced an uncertain, “Yeah,” to show his solidarity with the rest of the team.
At this point I decided to step in. I’ve always held that Mutt is, by his own lights, honest.
A gentleman of business
Cannot afford prissiness
So to gather his laurels
He must pawn his morals
When beyond the pale
He cannot quail
The case is clear cut
He’s less honest than Mutt
Hence I addressed our young hero. “I suggest that as we prepare an excellent meal for the five of us, you take the opportunity to tell the tale of the goose girl and how you came to work for her.”
Obviously since then I have checked out sundry details and have even met and talked to some of the protagonists, but still, this tale is largely the same one that Mutt told us. Admittedly I’ve taken liberties with the language and have perhaps looked more deeply into the motivations of some of the protagonists, but still, I feel that Mutt would not disagree too much with my interpretation.
With her ambitions inadvertently fanned by Andreal’s conversation, Falia the goose girl made her plans to move to Port Naain. She reasoned that she might as well be a goose girl in the big city as in some forgotten village. So with her geese she set off.
She was lucky in that one of the first people she met was Mutt. Now I have noticed over the years that young women rarely take much notice of small boys. Given that should they ever have children there is a good chance that they will be small boys, this attitude strikes me as short sighted.
Still, Falia was wiser than her contemporaries and sat and talked with Mutt at the side of the road as her geese grazed what grass they could find on the verge.
Falia had heard of folk using geese instead of guard dogs and her business model was to offer this service as well as merely raising geese for the table. Mutt suggested some modifications to her programme, Falia considered them and eventually she spat on her hand and offered it to Mutt. Mutt spat on his hand and they shook hands on the deal.
Soon the business expanded as Falia had hoped. With a little local knowledge she soon found clients who wanted security, had a bit of garden and weren’t bothered about goose droppings. Indeed her service appealed to the thrifty souls who were happy to have their gardener sweep them up and spread them on the vegetable patch.
As part of the plan, the clients were expected to feed the geese left over vegetables as part payment for the security service. Some of them were prone to neglect this. Without hesitation she would remove the geese rather than have them neglected. Strangely the house that no longer had geese providing security was then bothered with children who would light fires in the garden, pillage the vegetable plot and generally be a nuisance. Indeed most of Falia’s ex-clients would hastily contact her asking for the geese back.
Once she had her clients trained, the system worked well. Falia would manage the geese, and every year each customer would receive a plump goose ready for the table.
Now you might well ask yourself, how does this differ from a score of other petty protection rackets? Save in that Falia seems far more reasonable that the average extortioner.
Simple, Falia actually did provide security. Geese cackle and hiss at strangers and generally give warning. Yet some of Falia’s clients were people who were not best placed to react vigorously to the warning when given. As one somewhat elderly lady said, “It’s one thing knowing there’s an intruder in the garden. But what I really want is somebody to chase the intruder out!”
This service Falia also provided. For years she had taken the occasional egg from under one of her laying geese. These she hatched and she raised the goslings herself. Indeed when they were very young they’d nestle snugly in pockets she’d sewed to her dress. As they grew older they would scurry behind her trying to keep up. Indeed if they grew tired she’d let them perch on her shoulders. These geese adored her as their mother and showed total devotion to her. As they grew older, each gander would be kept for more training, whilst each goose would join the security programme and raise broods of her own.
Indeed Falia plaited collars for the ganders so that people knew who they were. They accompanied her everywhere and woe betide anybody who dared threaten their beloved mistress.
Still, whilst a few geese might worry the petty thief, the professional criminal classes of Port Naain number in their ranks persons so deeply dyed in evil that their very souls are tainted. At some point Falia would have to defend her clients against one of these dangerous individuals.
The occasion eventually came. Seel Twill attempted to break into a house she was responsible for guarding. Twill is not the most dangerous man in Port Naain, far from it. He was a sell-sword who tried to pass himself off as an assassin. In reality he supported himself by theft but was happy enough to branch out into robbery.
Luck was on Falia’s side. Twill boasted to a lover that he would be able to shower her with gifts because Widow Mattansty lived on her own with a chest of silver. The lover told one of her fellow dancers within earshot of Valerin. Young Valerin quietly faded from scriptorium where she was being taught to read and write and dashed off to find Mutt. Mutt and Nail then looked frantically for Falia to give her the warning. Because of the nature of her business, most of Falia’s clients are in Dilbrook, so they’re not all that far apart. Falia was found, warned and sprang into action.
Even in normal circumstances it is possible for Falia, should she hear her geese in the distance, to get to the home of her client very rapidly. In this case she was at the house of the Widow Mattansty before Twill had gained entry to the premises. She waited in the shadow of a tree in the garden, and heard him climbing up the outer wall even as her geese gave the alarm. From the wall top Twill dropped onto the roof of the outhouse built as a lean-to against it. Falia stepped out of the shadow and shouted at him to go away. Twill heard her, looked round and saw her. He obviously realised he would have to deal with her before he broke into the house. He ran along the roof, drawing his sword. In response Falia whistled and raised the sturdy stick she always carried.
An adult gander can weigh twenty pounds and can fly at forty miles an hour. The one that struck Twill on the side of the head was swooping so could well have been moving faster. The bird broke Twill’s neck as cleanly as any hangman.