The White Banshee

The Infamous Pirate of Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky

Istriona Catalain Bairr

161019_by_exellero-damh5pi.jpg
161019 G by Exellero

One of the most famous pirates in the world, little is actually known about Istriona Bairr- often called The White Banshee among sailors operating near the eastern coast of Tolara.

Known as one of the most feared Pirates in History, her reputation is well deserved according to those seafaring individuals who have been unlucky enough to encounter her throughout the course of her career. She is also known to be the current Captain of a ship called the Banshee's Wail- and the self professed "Pirate Queen" of the seafaring nation of Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky... A title won through the brutal razing of the Ar'lasang port city Nunila.

What little additional information exists about her comes almost exclusively from The Almanac of Piracy: A collection of biographies focusing on Pirates, compiled by Archivist Roridan Norclair... However, it's well known that while the first edition is largely accurate, the second edition (claimed to have been updated after he spent time with some of the Pirates whose biographies were recorded) may be far more embellished.

Birth & Early Life

Insofar as records can tell, Istriona Bairr was born in 6574; her mother Marasilia Naseed (a housemaid) had married an unknown sailor from Bán Ródh. They lived together for two years and had one child together- a son named Tomac- before the sea would eventually call him back to it; he would die at sea just prior to Marasilia discovering that she'd become pregnant from an affair.

Attempting to hide her pregnancy (and her affair), Marasilia went on to live with her sister Eithrin in the small town of Coryn- a rural community on the border of Catrìona and Finola, in Castrillis. After moving to Coryn, however, Tomac contracted Black Lung and died. Marasilia went into labor only a handful of days later, giving birth to Istriona... The illegitimate daughter of Marasilia and Emer Bairr- grandson to Niall Lùlachláin, the Càer Rótàrlach of Finola.

Under significant pressure from her sister Marasilia went on to disguise Istriona as her dead son- even going so far as to call her by her brother's name. She would then use the lack of knowledge of his death to receive the support of her late husband's family; never having met the child, and being unaware of the affair, her late husband's family provided her with enough of an allowance to support herself and Istriona with a functional lifestyle.

Their life in Coryn was relatively normal and, overall, they integrated into the community well enough. Istriona, however, was well known for her short temper and was constantly getting into brawls with the other children- something only made worse by bullying; disguised as a male, the children of Coryn found her appearance to be too feminine, and teased her about it mercilessly... Eventually the 16 year old Istriona would attack one of the local kids- beating him to a bloody pulp and stabbing him twice. Afterwards she would flee town and make her way to Bán Ródh.

First Marriage & Introduction to Piracy

New to Bán Ródh and out of the clutches of her hovering mother, Istriona would finally shed the disguise of her brother and live freely as her own sex (and name) for the first time since her birth. Living on the streets for a bit, she eventually took up work as a serving girl in a tavern near the docks. It was here that she met Captain Luthias Pàirda, who would take her on as a housemaid.

After 2 years of service, Istriona and Cpt. Pàirda would formally announced their betrothal, and marry on 2 Amir 6593...The union would last no longer than a handful of months, however; angry that Cpt. Pàirda had married one of his servants, his parents would cut him off from his inheritance and petition the Càer Rótàrlach for an annulment. Their petition was successful, and the Càer Rótàrlach annulled the marriage on 15 Alarius the same year.

Newly divorced, outcast from her household, and angry, Istriona would take up with a local street gang. Thanks to her brutal efficiency in a fight, she would then go on to make quite a name for herself among Bán Ródh's underground.

Istriona eventually offered her assistance to a rival gang attempting to take a ship from port. Initially they would decline, thinking it a ruse by the gang she ran with. But after unsuccessfully trying to take the ship again two weeks later, they sought her out to make good on her offer. Later she'd lead a raid that would successfully take another ship anchored in port- this one a Galleon called The Harrow.

Once taken, because of her part in forming and executing the plan that had lead to its capture, Istriona was unanimously voted Captain of the ship by its new crew... Due to her lack of knowledge concerning ships and sailing, however, she was quickly replaced by the crew with someone more experienced; having ousted Istriona from her position and fearing her retaliation, the new Captain would abandon her at port in Rusatar the next time The Harrow docked. By this time, however, Istriona had already had her first taste of piracy- and she'd liked it.

Second Marriage & Desertion

Istriona Bairr's life in Rusatar is even more vague than other points in her history. What is known, however, is that at some point she met and married one Syong "Sami" Tsu- a small time Pirate operating in the north of Rusatar. They sailed together in Rusatar for a bit before eventually settling in Eris'ka in 6596.

Shortly after settling in Eris'ka their ship, The Disgraced, was captured and boarded by an Eris'kan Galleon in 6597. The crew was executed and Sami and Istriona were forced into the service of the Eris'kan Monarchy- something Sami openly embraced, but Istriona vehemently opposed. They went on to settle in Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky afterwards, as it was known for being a refuge for Pirates (especially their port city of Nunila).

What followed was a year long raid that saw 5 of the most prominent ships responsible for the disruption to Eris'kan trade captured, and their crews put to death.

Istriona remained unhappy with the deal, however, and continuously voiced her opposition to her husband's actions. Still, for the most part she played her role in these raids well enough- becoming a fierce Pirate and sailor in her own right... All the way up until her Husband betrayed his own crew; Sami had chosen to cut a deal and turn The Disgraced over to Eris'kan authorities in exchange for his own Captaincy in the Eris'kan Navy. Before The Disgraced could be boarded, however, Istriona confronted her husband about the deal- having suspected it for a while. When he confirmed, she slit his throat in full view of the crew and dumped his body overboard.

Assuming command of the ship, Istriona ordered the crew to open fire on the Eris'kan Galleon, and turn tail towards Nunila. When the Eris'kan Galleon finally caught up, they found the ship sunken off the coast; presuming her and her crew dead, they returned to Eris'ka to report on her death... It's now known, however, that Istriona and the remaining crew of The Disgraced had intentionally scuttled the ship and, with the help of another ship, made it safely to the city.

Revenge, Third Marriage, & Child

Safely in Nunila and free of the clutches of the Eris'kan Monarchy, Istriona set her sights on revenge- frequenting the Taverns and mingling with the more well known crews and Captains in the region. It was during this period she's believed to have met Captain Quintis Odelram and Adelia Corbin, his wife and First Mate; their ship, The Sorrow, had been one of the many victims of Istriona's late husband Sami.

When she finally revealed her part in the sinking of their ship the three parted ways for a short period of time. Eventually, however, they reunited- raising a new crew, and taking a Galleon from port. Renaming the ship The Vindication, they set out to sea- going on to terrorize Eris'kan trade routes for several years between 6598 and 6599, and causing widescale disruption.

Surviving information suggests the three (Bairr, Odelram, and Corbin) were married in a ceremony at Sea later in 6599- and in 6601 Istriona became pregnant. Accounts of later events vary, but the most common story is that the The Vindication eventually went to port in Martova, where they overwintered until Istriona gave birth. Records of the child have never been found, however... What is known is that the three continued on afterwards in their mission to attack the Eris'kan fleets. But no more than a year after the birth of their child, things would finally go wrong for the crew of The Vindication.

Accounts are vague, but from what can be gathered, the Eris'kan Navy utilized similar tacticts to those originally employed against Istriona and her second husband Sami. As a result, instead of attempting to take what The Vindication had thought was an incapacitated Merchant Vessel, the crew was met with a fully outfitted Galleon- and 8 additional Pirate vessels waiting in ambush.

During the ensuing battle Odelram is believed to have taken a shot from one of the enemy ships' Heavyweight Ballistas. It's unknown from which ship it was fired, but the shot was a direct hit- killing him instantly. Later during boarding, Corbin (who was pregnant with Odelram's second child at the time) was swiftly gutted by an enemy blade. Istriona was the only one of the three who escaped with her life.

Using the cover of battle as a distraction, she and several other crew members snuck aboard one of the smaller enemy vessels. There they slaughtered what small amount of crew remained, and sailed away. In retaliation, their attackers executed the remaining crew and set fire to The vindication.

Life & History

Year of Birth
6574 (51 years)

Birthplace
Coryn in Catrìona / Finola; Castrillis

Mother
Marasilia Naseed

Father
Unknown Sailor

Marriages
Captain Luthias Pàirda (m. 6593)
Captain Syong "Sami" Tsu (m. 6595)
Captain Quintis Odelram (m. 6599)
Captain Adelia Corbin (m. 6599)

Children
1 Unknown (b. 6601)

Current Residence
Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky

Current Titles
Pirate Queen of Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky
Captain of the Banshee's Wail

Current Ship
Banshee's Wail

Past Ships
The Vindication (c. 6598 - 6602 sank)
The Disgraced (c. 6595 - 6597 sank)
The Harrow (c. 6594)

   

Attack on Port So'Lae

Devastated by the loss of her spouses and infuriated at the Pirate Captains who aided in the raid that sank her ship, Istriona and her remaining crew returned to Nunila once more. According to various sources, she spent her time in and out of Taverns- often too drunk to even remember her name. Eventually the original crew abandoned her, taking on a new Captain and claiming the smaller vessel they'd made away with as their prize.

At some point, however, Istriona started to gather a group of sympathetic followers who'd heard of the exploits of The Vindication (by then a legend among Pirates). Eventually a plan started to come together among them to track down and get retribution on the ships that aided in the attack- many of whom had forsaken Nunila entirely after having thrown in their hats with the Eris'kan Monarchy.

My love... Just one more night before my campaign ends and I am home to you. My heart aches the longer we’re apart; 3 years- has it really been that long? How is our daughter? Is she safe? With this letter, I have a present for her. It isn’t much, but I hope she'll like it.   I’m sorry for not being there for you two. I know you always forgive me, but I still have this guilt- like my heart is made out of lead; I yearn to be with you again. To hold you again. To smell your lovely scent... You say it's just your perfume, but I know that it’s your natural aura of beauty.   It's not long now, though, and I’ll ...  
- Letter found on an unidentified officer of The Si'Kera

Whether someone convinced her of the idea, or she convinced them remains unknown. But what is known is that Istriona took the plan to heart, leaving for the Eris'kan city of Port So'Lae only days later... Once in Port So'Lae, she's believed to have utilized an old trick from her childhood to hide her identity.

Doing as her mother had when she was younger, Istriona disguised herself as her deceased brother. It was under that guise that she then enlisted herself in the Eris'kan Navy... And as if fortune was smiling upon her, Istriona's first posting was on The Gal'Dea- the very Galleon that had sunk The Vindication and killed her spouses.

She worked aboard The Gal'Dea for several years, slowly gaining the trust of her fellow crew mates and Captain- all while plotting the ship's demise. Eventually, in 6607, the perfect opportunity finally presented itself.

 

The Gal'Dea would be returning to Port So'Lae in a few months time. At the same time they were expected to dock, the The Golden Queen and The Golden King (as well as their three children) were set to embark on a cruise to Olienn for a diplomatic summit... It presented her with not only the perfect opportunity to destroy The Gal'Dea itself, but also a chance to significantly cripple the entire Eris'kan Navy.

On the night of 27 Moras 6607, two days after The Gal'Dea returned to dock again in Port So'Lae, Istriona set fire to the ship. As The Gal'Dea burned, it ignited the mass of powder barrels that had just been loaded and stored in the lower decks earlier that day- causing a chain of explosions that decimated the dock district of Port So'Lae.

Unfortunately the Eris'kan Monarchs hadn't yet boarded their ship when the explosions occurred... Regardless, by morning all that remained of Port So'Lae's docks- and nearly half its Naval fleet- was nothing but smoldering ash and rubble.

Barely a glimpse of that mad idiot was had before everything just went tits up! There wasn't even the light from our candles to show us what happened... Just a flash- then suddenly the entire dock's up in flames... The rest of the crew, the cargo, the passengers... I was lucky to get out of there. No one else was left alive!
— Harrison "Stumbleduck" Acton, Crewman aboard The Gal'Dea

The Razing of Nunila

Returning to Nunila, Istriona set about enacting the second half of her plan: Luring the remaining 8 ships who'd participated in the attack on The Vindication, back into to port. To accomplish this, she spread rumors about a Galleon that would be transporting a large share of the Eris'kan treasury to safer harbors in the wake of the attack on Port So'lae; she was meticulous about the plan, releasing just enough information to make it seem as if returning to Nunila was the only way to learn more about this mysterious ship.

All that was left to do, then, was wait for the crews to finally show themselves. She was hardly idle during this period, however. Instead, she set about gathering as many allies as she could; her circle expanded significantly at this time as several Captains were brought into the fold at this time- some of whom where longstanding allies, while others newly gathered... And all of whom had a bone (or ten) to pick with the very crews she sought to destroy.

 

As expected, the rumors drew in crews from around the world. Among them were counted each of the 8 who had played a role in The Vindication's demise, and on 10 Alarius 6610, Istriona Catalain Bairr (by then known as The White Banshee) rounded up every member they could find. They were transported to a warehouse at the docks, and locked away under heavy guard as she stood upon the largest dock in Nunila... It was there, with her allies' ships blocking the harbor, that she challenged the city- giving them until sundown to make their decision:

Join her, or die

15 Dariven 6613
The city was filled with screams... They were so loud... But no one could really tell if it was the sound of the ships burning, or the people dying, whose anguished cries filled the air alongside the ash and flame that night... And Lords help me, I do not want to know; it still haunts my dreams to this day.  
- Survivor of the Razing of Nunila, in a letter

Without access to their ships, many fled Nunila by foot or wagon- escaping into the interior of Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky to avoid the coming confrontation. Those who remained made a valiant attempt to retake the ships and city... While they were successful at driving back Istriona's forces from some parts of Nunila, however, their efforts ultimately failed; her forces were easily larger than any remaining group of ragtag stragglers- and Istriona herself was, by then, a force to be reckoned with in her own right. As a result, the small rebellion was easily quelled, and those who weren't killed outright were driven back outside Nunila's gates.

Come sundown, with one flick of her porcelain wrist, Nunila was razed in a storm of magic and fire as promised; anyone left within the city walls perished alongside it.

Further Exploits

It's often said that the city burned for months after the razing. But when it was over, Istriona didn't simply return to a life of Piracy... Instead, she set about rebuilding Nunila- raising it from the ash and rubble that she herself had created; streets were cleared of debris and fires were quenched. Homes and businesses were rebuilt. Fields were re-tilled. Public works such as sewers were installed, and Marketplaces were reopened. And law and order were enforced by her trusted allies.

Within just a year's time, the once razed city of Nunila was nearly rebuilt in its entirety- with Istriona and her allies sitting at its head.

It was only after Istriona created a Council to govern the city, and appointed several of her most loyal Captains to its positions, that she'd finally return to the sea- this time sailing as Captain of The Banshee's Wail (one of the only ships in port at the time that had survived the razing of Nunila unscathed). She sailed around the world for several years afterwards- from Martova to Eris'ka, and even Olienn- taking a number of additional prizes and amassing a large amount of treasure. How much treasure she amassed during this time is unknown, but it is known that she periodically returned to New Nunila (now renamed Krána) in order to offload and check on the city's progress.

Eventually, after rebuilding Nunila and amassing a significant treasury of her own, she set her sights on the country's interior; dubbing herself The Pirate Queen, she commanded the whole of Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky to bow before her... And after the razing of Nunila, no one dared to question her decision; they'd seen what she'd done to those who crossed her- and those who'd simply been caught in the crossfire.

Potential Motivations

10 Alarius 6610
The scourge is finally gone... I've eradicated every last one of the gobshites- and all of that damned sewer, Nunila, with them; the fires still burn even as I write this, devouring everything in their path... And I am glad for it...   But it won't bring my loves back to me- nor will it temper this hate in my heart... I'm not sure I ever really expected it to.   I still see Quintis with that Heavy Balista bolt in his head... And Adelia... My poor, beloved Adelia... Gutted like a fucking fish on the deck thanks to that bloody hoor; I never got to say goodbye to either of my loves. But I swore I'd kill the lot of them- and I have... I only hope their spirits can find peace now, knowing their murderers are at the bottom of the harbor where they belong.   All that's left now is to find my Róisa.   I find myself wondering if she looks like him... She should be 9 now- if the Martovan Wolves haven't gotten to her by this point. But the Sarians move around so much, I don't know if I'll ever find her- and I worry.   Oh, how I worry...  
- From the Diary of Istriona Bairr

No one knows exactly why Istriona chose to raze the city of Nunila... Likewise, her reasoning for naming herself "The Pirate Queen of Ar'lasang Vaerda'ky" remains a mystery... The lack of specifics, however, has not stopped many an Archivist from speculating about her reasoning.

Some believe that the loss of her spouses had driven her mad, and that's why she would commit such an atrocious action... Others, that she'd eventually become consumed by the same greed that had led to the fall of so many other Pirates of her time- including her second husband... More believe that it was her destruction of Port So'Lae that had given her the idea for the razing, and that becoming Queen was simply an afterthought... Fringe theories, on the other hand, claim that becoming Queen was always the point- a way of ensuring a safe and secure future for her child with Cpt. Odelram (who many proponents of this theory believe she has every intention on reclaiming).

But by all accounts, however, both actions are widely accepted by the Archival community as having been unnecessary... She'd won, after all- successfully rounding up those she'd deemed her mortal enemies. She could have simply executed them and been done with the ordeal that had caused her so much pain.

Regardless of her motivation behind razing the city and naming herself Queen, though, she still did. But while these motivations are unknown even to this day, one thing is undeniable: While she came to her throne through cinder and blood, the country has prospered greatly under her rule- and Piracy itself, right alongside it.



Cover image: Cathedral Cove by Johanna Rupprecht

Comments

Author's Notes

  • The White Banshee is based off real life Lady Pirates- including Mary Read, Anne Bonny, and Jeanne de Clisson, among others;
  • Flavor text from the Letter found on an unidentified officer of the The Si'Kera lovingly provided by World Anvil user Heffé;
  • Flavor text from Gal'Dea crewman Harrison "Stumbleduck" Action lovingly provided by World Anvil user Andrew;
  • Special thanks to World Anvil user Andrew- who was a massive help in writing the White Banshee Legend blurb for the sidebar;
  • And an extra special thanks to my Husband, loose88cannon, for plenty of tea- and for helping me get myself out of all the corners I'd written myself into.


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18 Dec, 2018 11:47

Now, that's what I call a role model!

18 Dec, 2018 12:06

I'm so glad you love her!

12 Jan, 2019 07:07

I’ve never had this much fun reading an article of yours. The usage of quotes and prose parts, as well as reading Istriona’s Own words made for probably your best article for me. I simply love her story, how she was betrayed so many times and had to suffer so much and yet she finally managed to get vengeance on those who had invoked her ire. I also loved the fact that you managed to make me feel sad and sympathetic for her at some points and while her actions aren’t entirely justified, I still support her to some extent myself. She struck me as a woman who is scary yet beautiful at the same time. I can also see why she is seen as a legend amongst pirates due to her destroying half of an entire nations navy and even managing to capture a city for herself. She also looks quite young and beautiful for a woman in her 50s as well. All being said , I loved reading this article and would like to read more about her. Keep up the good work !

12 Jan, 2019 10:08

Thank you, love! It's nice to know my intent in writing her story how I did had the desired effects!

30 Jan, 2019 07:52

This is a terrific character with great potential. Her story is good, but it clunks between episodes and the flow isn't quite right. The quotes are nicely done and add richness to what otherwise would be something of a dry recital of facts and dates.

 
Three Questions

1) Istriona went from being tossed out of her presumably comfortable life to being a big name in the Bán Ródh underground in the course of a sentence. Just being nasty in a fight doesn't usually make you a player in dockside gangs. What are some examples of her developing the skills that would eventually make her a leader that others would follow to the death?

2) It seems curious that pirates would go searching for a captain who had lost two ships, several spouses, and was now a drunken wreck in order to wreak vengeance upon eight other pirate captains who had committed precisely the same treachery that she had (albeit under protest). What factor was driving these sea dogs to find someone who had never commanded her own ship, except in escape, to lead them on what could be reasonably considered a fool's errand?

3) The events of the razing of Nunila raise (sorry) a number of questions. Why would the captains of the eight ships all decide that it was a good idea to set off to join a vast pirate fleet about to capture treasure ships, knowing that they had used the same ruse in small scale to pick off individual ships and that at least a portion of the aforementioned pirate fleet would potentially bear them ill-will as a result of the previous transgressions? Further, if the ships arrived together, why would the captains allow the majority of their crews to disembark into the city immediately upon arrival? If they did not arrive together or some period passed before the crews came ashore, how is it possible to have kept the planned assault a secret, given that pirates have a certain mercenary streak and that it's likely that at least one might consider the information valuable enough to sell?

 
Sideways Observation

At the end of the biography, you explain that her motivations are unknown and that her actions were irrational and extreme, even by the standards of the company she kept. While this may be accurate, it's not particularly satisfying for the reader, who looks for some measure of closure, if not a full explanation. The diary entry makes it clear that she was bitter and seeking revenge, but the outcome was still disproportionate to the incitement.   You planted the seeds for a more satisfactory climax and wrap up along the way, even if it is slightly less apocalyptic. At several times in her life, she was forced into unfortunate circumstances that were painful and degrading. Every time she thought that she had achieved something resembling a happy life, external forces would intrude and destroy it all. Each time she had to escape with nothing more than her life.   What if you made that cycle more clear by showing her happiness right before the inevitable crushing defeat? (You could add an escape after Captain Pàirda's parents decide that annulment wasn't sufficient as long as she was still around to embarrass the family.) Let the reader gain sympathy for her by making her happiness and despair more tangible.   Then, rather than massacring the entire crews of the eight pirate ships, many of whom may have been just as unhappy about the whole affair as she had been in the same circumstances, let her take it out on those captains. Far fewer individuals would need to be in on the plot. Just a handful of captains and mates.   When the villains arrive, looking for the information, have one of her captains whisper to the targets that Istriona has the information, but that her ballast has broken more than a bit loose. Rather than let her lead them, several others are conspiring against her. When the eight have been taken the bait and arrived at the meeting with the conspirators, she springs the trap. "My loves died on the burning deck of the Vindication! Now you'll burn in your own hell!" And she sets fire to the building.   Sadly, the winds were a bit higher than expected and the town rather more flammable and soon the whole place is blazing. From the top of a nearby hill, she watches the city burn, while the inhabitants flee. Confusion rages on board the ships, but her captains and mates are soon out there putting down things in order.   As she stands there, she begins to sob and shake before looking up and shouting, "Damn you! This time I'm not running! This time I am not losing everything!" When she recovers, she turns to her trusted henchmen and says, "In the morning we start rebuilding."

30 Jan, 2019 08:26

This is an absolutely amazing critique, thank you so much! There's really a lot to unpack here. I'll have to do it when I'm a bit more awake, but for now I want to address a few points, at least:

The journal entry was supposed to show that her motivation for razing Nunila wasn't just about revenge in general- but also about her daughter (confirming one of the motivations that Archivists have proposed for her actions). But she's also a little batshit crazy in general; she's not sane in the slightest, especially after so much loss (I like your suggestions for really illustrating the depths of it), and that effects her behavior quite a bit. Mix that with a naturally charismatic personality, and you wind up with a near cult-figure I perhaps didn't do a good enough job of conveying that aspect of.

The article's also written based on the perspective of outsiders, which means a lot of details simply "aren't known" and therefore aren't included in the article. The reader also has no way of knowing what information is true, and what isn't... So the jumbledness of it is sort of intentional; it was meant to be confusing and incomplete, and deeply unsatisfying- though I definitely didn't intend for it to be quite as jumbled as it came across.

I did truncate the article QUITE a bit because it was getting way too long- and I think that wound up cutting out a lot of the very explanations you're looking for (which were actually in there are first! Serves me right, huh?). Overall, though, I should probably add an author's note somewhere that makes that a bit more clear, lol.