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The Last Yule in Halabor
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Day 04 - The Rugmaker

For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.
Rating: General, for this part.

Author’s note: The Haradric realm Bakshir is my invention and is established in several of my stories. It is very similar to medieval Iran, with a religion of fire-worshipping. The kha-kan is the greatest warlord of Bakshir, the second most powerful man of the realm after the padisákh (the equivalent of a king or sultan). Iskhandar, the current kha-kan of Bakshir is the half-brother of Isabeau’s original character Andrahar, Prince Imrahil’s sworn brother and Armsmaster. We share this particular character background. The parda is the equivalent of a harem. Bülbül is a Turkish word for a bird dwelling in Paradise.


Day Four – The Rugmaker

The house of Rustam, the rugmaker, was like an oasis of Southern warmth here in the cold North. Well, as much as Gondor could be considered a northern realm anyway. For Rustam, who hailed from Bakshir, one of the most powerful Haradric realms, it certainly was North.

His parents had fled Bakshir when his oldest sister, who was serving in the noblehouse of the kha-kan caught her master’s eye, who decided to take her into his parda. But Zaira did not want to become one of Iskhandar’s co-wives, and thus the family had had no other choice than to flee to the only realm that would not hand them back to the kha-kan on a silver plate: Gondor, the land of their enemies.

For a while, they had lived in Pelargir, where the knotted rugs made by Rustam’s falter were much sought after. But as the enmity between the two realms began to grow again, Zahal had decided that Pelargir was still much too close to the Haradric border for his comfort, and that they should move further up northwards. He chose Halabor; a small town built on the western bank of the Great River, where he had visited the fairs a few times. He acquired a large house in the Street of the Gardens, where the best craftspeople lived, and they found a new home here. Even so, he often went back to Pelargir by boat, to visit Zaira, who had married a rug merchant down there. Alas, both he and his wife were waylaid and killed on the way back from such a trip, together with their friends, the hatmaker and his wife.

Those unfortunate events had left Rustam behind as the head of his family, having to care not for himself and his two younger siblings alone, but also for Sovena, an orphaned girl of unknown (though obviously Haradric) origins, whom his parents had taken into the family, back in Pelargir. Their act of generosity had made Sovena one of their children, by all but blood, and thus Rustam’s ward, including the obligation of marrying her off with an acceptable dowry. Unlike in Harad, where t’was the groom who had to pay for his bride, in Gondor it was the bride who had to bring wealth into the marriage. Rustam found the custom odd, but as they were now living in Gondor, they had to follow the local traditions.

Which also included the compensation he now owned the hatmaker’s family for the loss of their parents. T’was a serious obligation, and a costly one. Fortunately, young Gwinear, who was now the head of that family, having taken over his father’s business, was a reasonable man. They had arranged themselves without bringing either side to financial ruin, and thus Rustam had even managed to marry off Sovena to Nivet, the tailor, according to her stand as a respected craftsman’s sister.

That had been almost ten years ago. Who would gave thought that the shared loss would make him and the hatmaker’s son such close friends? So close friends indeed that when Rustam and the hatmaker’s daughter had fallen in love, Gwinear had not objected their marriage. He had hesitated at first, for marrying his sister off to one of the Haradrim was a scandalous event in the eyes of his fellow townspeople, and had their parents been still alive, they would never have allowed it. But Steren had very obviously been in love, and she had begged her brother so intensely and desperately that Gwinear finally had given in.

T'was a decision neither of them had ever regretted, mused Rustam, while his skilled fingers knotted the short threads of fine, coloured wool with practiced ease, while his eyes were searching for the next piece already. He had done this for nearly thirty years by now, he needed not to watch his fingers any longer.

The vivid, floral pattern had been carefully drawn on a piece of parchment by his sister Zirri and hung on the wall of the workroom, but Rustam did not need to look at it, either. He was the one who had created the pattern in the first place; he had it all in his head. The drawing was there for the benefit of Zirri and their brother Assam, who were working on the other end of the rug.

This was an extraordinary piece, both in size and the detail of the pattern, one that was rarely made in Bakshir, too, and only for the noblest of houses. But this year Lord Orchald wanted to give his kinsman, Lord Forlong of Lossarnach, a special Yule gift, and he had promised a princely price if the rug was finished in time. This order alone would cover the costs of their household for the next three moons. Perhaps even more. Thus the three rugmakers spared no effort to fulfil their obligation.

Rustam glanced up from his work, over to the other side of the workroom, where the loom of his wife stood. Steren had learned the now rare art of thread twisting, also called sprang, from her grandmother, and was currently the only one working in this craft not in Halabor alone but in the whole of Anórien. She made caps, hairnets and stockings, but also woollen scarves and sashes for the festive clothing of the wealthy. Most of her customers came from the farmsteads, though, and from the Old Port, where the need for warm clothing was greater, and her work was very popular among people who had to work outside in the harsh weather.

For a moment, Rustam watched the small, skilled hands of his young wife working deftly with the warp threads, without the help of a weft. In sprang, the structure consisted entirely of an interlinking of said warp threads, worked from either end towards the centre, where a central locking thread held them in place. This produced a fabric that could be stretched across its width quite far, once the tension of the threads was released – if done correctly.

T'was not an easy craft to learn, and Rustam was very proud of his wife’s skills. She was not called “star” for nothing. Truly, she was a gem among the daughters of this foreign country, as rare as diamonds.

Steren felt her husband’s eyes watching her and grinned at him over her shoulder. After eight years, they were still as much in love as on the first day, and if she had lost a few of so-called friends for marrying a Southern man, she could not care less. Those who would not grant her this happiness were no friends at all. She considered herself very fortunate, having such a gentle, sweet-speaking and hard-working husband, who treated her like a princess.

She exchanged a contented smile with her sister, Delgnat, who was sitting at the window, with a basket full of plied yarn at her feet, working on a mitten with a coarse needle. As they were close of age and even looked a lot alike, people often thought them twins. For Rustam, however, Steren would always be the truly beautiful one. He found her face gentler, her eyes brighter, and her hair lusher – no doubt because he saw her through the eyes of love. Gudwal (Delgnat’s husband) would possibly see them differently.

Whichever of the two sisters an outsider would find lovelier, they were both pretty, in the simple way of the Old Folk. And they were good-natured and hard-working, too, a true blessing for any household. As they liked to work together, Delgnat often came over from her home. Their crafts were similar, and as Sovena, too, joined them frequently to do her embroidery in merry company, work actually was fun.

The craft Delgnat used was called naal-binding and was basically a darning method, where the thread of each new stitch was passed through at least two unfinished thread loops. To put it simply, one used small loops for thick materials, for socks or stockings, while for more loose materials bigger loops were needed.

Mittens were an easy task to do, but Delgnat, a true master of her craft, often made ankle-height shoes as well, with intricate patterns, and those shoes were even waterproof, due to the thickly knitted fabric. Many goodwives in town wore such shoes in winter, against the cold floor of their homes.

Naal-binding was a craft foreign in Gondor. It had come to Anórien through the Rohirrim, who had brought it form their old home in the far North, at the sources of Anduin. Few women ever bothered to learn it, as it was a product of a land that was usually much colder than theirs. But Delgnat had found it a more interesting challenge than the usual weaving – besides, there were other weavers in town, yet she was the only naal-woman, as the Rohirrim called it. And with the winters turning harsher in recent years, she made good money with her skills. Even the soldiers from Cair Andros had learned to appreciate a good, knee-length wooden stocking when lying on watch during the cold season.

She could have worked in the shop of her brother, of course. Gwinear would have welcomed the company. But in Rustam’s house, the workroom was large and airy; the light aplenty, due to several tall windows with glass planes (he could afford them easily), and it was heated by several brass braziers, one in each corner, standing on three legs. Thus it was a great deal warmer than similar rooms in other craftsmen’s houses, as Rustam and his siblings found Halabor generally too cold for their taste. And Delgnat, though a Halabor native, appreciated the comfort of a nicely warm room.

She was not the only one. Sovena, too, preferred the workroom of her foster brother to the tailor shop of her husband. Today, she was again sitting at the window, opposite to Delgnat, with a piece of Haradric-style embroidery in her hands, and was stitching on the picture of a blue bird with golden thread.
Compared to the two sisters, she was like some exotic bird from her own embroidery: oval-faced, almond-eyed and olive-skinned, with thick, wavy ink-black hair that was wrapped around her head in a thick braid and hidden under the customary wimple of a married woman. It had taken her some time to get used to go around unveiled, but she had adjusted to the customs of the Old Folk by now. Even if she stood out from the lovely but plain local women, whether she wanted or not.

Many were envious of her exotic looks, and she had met some hostility as well. But at least her husband was most understanding, thank the Fire God, and allowed her to spend a great deal of her working time with Rustam’s family and be with her own kind. She loved him for that even more. Nivet was such a good man. She found that she was very fortunate with both her families.

“You truly think that such a hanging would match your brother’s taste?” she asked the two sisters doubtfully. “Is this not a little too… exotic for such a grave young man? A little too… Haradric perhaps?”

“Did you not tell me that the blue bird with the golden feather frown is a symbol for happiness in Harad?” asked Steren back, her hands flying back and forth between the warp threads. Sovena nodded.

“It is. The bülbül dwells in the garden of pleasures; blessed is the man who finds it and is allowed to listen to its song, for never will he be without happiness for the rest of his life.”

“Then we have chosen the right wedding gift for our brother,” said Delgnat, sliding the needle through the loops of the half-finished mitten. “For if anyone, he deserves happiness. Almost three years has he already waited for sweet little Cuillen to come of age. Now that she will turn sixteen next spring, they can finally marry, and we wanted to give them a gift that would capture their moment of happiness for the rest of their lives.”

“I just hope your brother will like it,” murmured Sovena.

“Worry not,” Steren grinned. “Gwinear can appreciate beauty when he sees it. Otherwise, he would hardly have waited for Cuillen this long.”

Knotting the coloured pieces of yarn without even looking, Rustam smiled. Cold and far from his home of old Halabor might be, but he had found a home here. A home, good, honest work, a lovely wife, a sweet little son, an extended family that accepted him despite his origins. He was a fortunate man indeed. The Fire God was smiling down at him, even in this foreign country.

And if he sat down to the table with his foreign kindred in the night of Yule to greet the return of the light after the longest night of the year, what could be possibly wrong with that? The Hallowed Fire was present in every clean flame. Even in the heat of the candle lighted during the Yule ceremony.

~The End – for now~


Note: The only surviving member of Rustam’s extended family was Mistress Delgnat’s seven-year-old son, Erth, who was brought to Lossarnach and lived out his life there. Gwinear, the hatmaker, and his young wife, Cuillen, were only married for two months when slain by the Orcs during Halabor’s destruction.

Next update: Dec 5


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