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The Last Yule in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Day 01 - The Spice Merchant

THE LAST YULE IN HALABOR
by Soledad


Disclaimer: The main characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun. All the original characters below belong to me, though.

Rating: General to Teens, varies from chapter to chapter. This particular chapter is suitable for all.

Series: “Sons of Gondor”, a series of individual stories. A side product to “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”.

Author’s notes:
This is a series of loosely connected vignettes, featuring various peoples of the imaginary Gondorian town Halabor. Some of these original characters will have an appearance in my novel “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, others will not. There will not be any particular story, just independent little scenes, introducing some of the inhabitants of the town.

This was written as a present to my dear friends from the Edhellond group, in the style of a German “Adventskalender” – a calendar with 24 little windows, behind each of which a small present is hidden. People open a window on each of the 24 days before Christmas Eve and enjoy the presents. I hope you will enjoy them, too.

Beta read by the ever-helpful Lady Masterblott whom I owe my eternal gratitude. All remaining mistakes are mine.


~~~

DAY ONE – THE SPICE MERCHANT

[Halabor, a small fishing town near Cair Andros, in the year 3007 of the Third Age]


Iathan, the son of Muadhan and Goneril, was one of the three richest merchants of Halabor, seconded only by Selevan, the mercer, whose wealth came from the South. Iathan’s family, however, had lived in this town since the Dúnedain first came here. He was of Dúnadan descent himself, and that showed, even though his ancestors had repeatedly mingled the blood of Westernesse with that of the Old Folk. He was tall, dark-haired and grey-eyed, with all the self-confidence that good looks, a good lineage and good money could give a man.

Nay, he was not a noble, nor did he wish he was one. Why would he? He lived very nobly already, and wore clothes even princes would envy him for. Whenever the noble squires went to the East, to fight the dark forces of Mordor, he could stay in his bed. And when said noble squires got themselves slain in battle, he sat in the safety of his house and counted his coin.

And a fine house it was indeed, in the very heart of the town, in the Street of the Jewellers, near the Marketplace. Four stories it had, and Iathan’s extended family occupied all of them, with the spice store and the counting room in the ground floor, living quarters on the second and third, servant’s quarters in the attic, and stables and storehouses in the rear.

True, the stables were mostly occupied by pack mules, but like all wealthy merchant, Iathan, too, owned a fine horse for himself and a lovely palfrey for his wife. He had recently acquired a pony for his eleven-year-old son, for he was planning to take Iollen with him to the next fair in Minas Tirith. The boy had worked as an apprentice clerk for three years, ‘twas high time he learned more about the business he would take over one day. T’was enough if their little daughter remained with her mother at home.

Ainmire was against the idea, of course, for travelling had become perilous in the recent years, but Iathan had made up his mind already and did not care much for his wife’s worries. Ainmire tended to worry a lot – which was understandable, considering how her father had been waylaid and killed on his way to Linhir – but she had to understand that the life of a merchant required a great deal of travelling. Even more so if said merchant traded in rare spices, most of which had to be sought out in the far South, bought for gold and taken back under guard, for they were very costly.

And, truth be told, Iathan enjoyed those travels to the South immensely. He was a young man in his thirties and an adventurous spirit who liked to see new places and meet new people. He shared a good ship with Selevan and with his wife’s brother, the oil merchant Thaneu, and thus he always travelled in good company. There was safety in numbers, and Selevan’s family had the best connections, not only in Pelargir but also in Harad itself. Unfortunately, the roads had become more and more dangerous recently, and no ship was truly safe from the corsairs of Umbar anymore. But perhaps in the new year they could risk it again.

Iathan hoped so. As well as his storerooms were still stocked up (for he was a shrewd man and had taken such a turn of events into consideration in good time) he did not want to touch his last reserves if he could help it. Still, he was more fortunate than Ainmire’s brother. At least spices could keep their quality for a long time if packed and stored properly. One could not say the same about oil. Oil curdled easily, if kept too long, causing the oil merchant considerable losses. Which was the reason why Iathan had become the second-richest merchant in town in Thaneu’s stead. If only the roads were a bit safer, he could do even better.

He sighed and shook his head in regret. This constant warfare was not good for business, unless one traded in weapons or armour. Or horses. Or whatever the soldiers needed. War kept the wealthy customers from coming to the fairs, and one could only make so much coin from selling spices to the well-to-do local burghers.

“I believe we can close the store for today, Cenau,” he said to his young apprentice… scribe… clerk… whatever. Who also happened to be a penniless cousin of his wife, and thus more or less family. “’Tis barely an hour before curfew; we should be finished with counting our daily incomes ‘til supper.”

The young man – more a lad still, actually – obediently closed the horizontal shutters before the shop window and bolted them from within. Then he began to carry back the precious wares, displayed on broad counters well inside the room, to the storerooms. The various spices were divided into groups, according to their origins and values, and stored in different rooms that were built to serve the safekeeping of each group best.

Seasonings from the far South, like ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon, were dear and kept in nicely painted, round tin boxes that allowed no air to get in. Clove, cannell, mace, pepper and cumin were less expensive but still not very cheap, and kept in plain, square tin boxes, with only their names painted on. The local herbs offered in Iathan’s store were dried and packed in linen bags, hanging from the storeroom beams. The most common ones were basil, sage, marjoram, savory, rosemary and thyme. Mustard was kept in small pottery jars and sealed with wax to keep its aroma.

But the most expensive of all Iathan’s wares, that even he could only afford to keep a limited amount of, was saffron. It was a good deal more worth than its weight in gold, and aside from Lord Orchald himself only Selevan’s family and Rustam, the Haradric rug-maker asked for it regularly. Iathan had a separate strongbox made for this most precious of wares, and kept it in his own bedchamber for safety.

Stepping into the counting room in the rear, Iathan found his father bent over the calculating board, moving the bone counters with a slight frown. The old Muadhan, although nominally retired from business after hitting the seventieth mark, still kept financial matters firmly in hand. Iathan did not mind. He preferred dealing with customers and travelling anyway.

Ainmire, on the other hand, took delight in doing the office work. She had learned doing it from her father as a young girl and that proved very useful with keeping the records.

She was sitting at the writing desk, the wide sleeves of her blue surcoat pinned back onto her shoulders, revealing the tightly buttoned sleeves of her dark blue, almost black tunic underneath. Her hair was braided and also pinned up under her white lace wimple, leaving the gentle curve of her neck free. Iathan thought of the necklace with the blue glass beads he had ordered for her from Wennap the silversmith as a Yule gift, and how lovely it would look on her neck, and smiled.

The times might be dark, and the roads perilous, but they were together, the business ran well enough, and at least the time being, they were safe. And perhaps, when the longest night of the year was over and the light returned, things, too, would take a turn to the better.

There were only twenty-four days ‘til Yule, after all.

~The End – for now~

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

~~~

Note: Iathan and his entire family died when, only a few months later, Halabor was completely destroyed by an Orc-raid.


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