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The Last Yule in Halabor
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Day 06 - The Old Fisherman

For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.

Rating: General, for this part.

Author’s notes:
A “cold kitchen” did not mean that the room in question was not heated. It was the room where dishes that did not need to be cooked – or already were cooked – were prepared for the table. Called so to distinguish it from the “warm kitchen” where the actual cooking was done. I assumed that the smaller children ate there when the adults were occupied with work.

“The fish need to swim” is an actually existing proverb in Hungary, meaning that one had to drink a lot (preferably wine) after eating fish.

And yes, this is the obligatory Santa vignette. ;)


Day Six – The Old Fisherman

The wooden docking pylons of the jetty in the Old Port of the Fishermen were covered with a layer of ice, almost an inch thick, and the entire quayside was gleaming as if strewn with diamond dust (as old tales told from the legendary Elven cities in the Farthest West) when Old Craban returned with his boat from the Great River. He had been fishing alone today, as Súrion was on Warden duty, and thus had decided for the use of a fishing spear instead of his nets.

Not that he could not pull in his nets, mind you. For a fragile old man of seventy-eight, he was surprisingly robust and as tough as nails, if he had to. But he still liked to test his skills in various tasks, and this morning he had chosen to fish for eel. Mistress Vicana in the Riverside Inn had an excellent recipe for eel stew, and the innkeeper always paid good coin for a rich catch of eel, as he could demand a higher price for serving this pretty popular dish afterwards.

Once again, the Great River had been generous to the solitary old man. So generous, indeed, that Old Craban was making thoughts about how to get his catch to the inn alone. Súrion, of course, would lift the full barrel onto his shoulder and simply carry it to the inn, but Old Craban did feel a bit too aged and weary for that. Thus he was very glad to see Tallan, the lad of his fellow fisherman Peran, lurking along the quayside as was his wont.

He called out to the lad, and Tallan came eagerly enough, his already big, round brown eyes widening to the size of saucers at the sight of the generous catch.

“We were out with Brannoc’s people, but our nets were barely half full by return,” he said, a little enviously. “All we caught were carp, and rather small ones, too. Mother and Mistress Liban are packing the dry casks already, but those will not bring in more than a few copper pieces. Without Melan, Father cannot row out to the deeper waters where the more costly fish dwell.”

Old Craban nodded in sympathy. Melan, the grown son of Peran, had suffered a bad accident last moon, resulting in a broken arm and several bruised ribs, thus he would not be able to work for some time yet. Peran himself was not good enough with the fishing spear – his hand was not steady enough, and he had been struggling with inflamed eyes for some time by now – and Tallan, with his barely fourteen summers, had not the strength required for spear-fishing yet.

Unfortunately, during winter one could only earn good coin with eel. Most of the other fish available in this season were too common and therefore rather cheap. Peran’s family felt the loss of Melan’s help keenly, as fishermen rarely made enough money to help them through such hard times.

“Can you find someone to help me getting this barrel to the inn?” the old man asked the lad.

“I can do it,” offered Tallan. “I shall run to Brannoc’s house and ask for the small cart, and if Treon is willing, the two of us can wheel it to the inn for you.”

“Very good,” said Old Craban. “And I shall make it worth your effort, my lad. Just make haste, for these fish need to get into Mistress Vicana’s cauldron, ere they begin to stink.”

There was little chance for that to happen, of course – if anything, the precious fish would be frozen hard by the time they arrived in the inn. But Old Craban was eager to see this deal sealed, so that he could return to his cottage for a quiet evening.

Tallan hurried off, slithering on the ice-covered quay a few times, and soon he returned with both of Brannoc’s sons and the small, two-wheeled cart that was generally used to move full barrels. Together, they dragged Old Craban’s catch onto the cart and wheeled the fish to the Riverside Inn, laughing and shrieking whenever the wheels slipped and the small vehicle skittered away on the ice.

Mistress Vicana came running from the kitchens, overjoyed by the chance to cook her famous eel stew again. For her this meant that the common room would be full on the next evening, and the praise of her skills would be loud and aplenty – not to mention the coin earned.

“My, but you are good lads to help Old Craban with this heavy burden,” she beamed at the younglings, her cheeks bright red with delight and from the heat of the kitchens. “Are you hungry, my dears?”

The trio exchanged excited looks. Everyone knew that – after the late Mistress Pharin, of course – Mistress Vicana was the bestest cook in the entire town.

“Aye, Mistress,” they sang in unison, elbowing each other into the ribs with wide grins. Whether at the age of nine, twelve or fourteen, in one thing all three were very much alike: in the ability to eat a lot in any given hour of the day. Considering that even nine-year-old Treon went out onto the River with his father every day, they certainly deserved to be properly fed.

“Well then, come with me to the cold kitchen,” said Mistress Vicana heartily. “The children are just about to have an early supper; surely, we shall find room for you at the table.”

The lads followed her with the eagerness of ducklings wading after the mother duck, and Old Craban smiled, knowing that at least these three would go to bed with a full stomach tonight. ‘Twas not something that would occur in their homes frequently in these days – and not by the fault of their parents. Winter was not an easy season for the fishermen, and even less so for those who had many hungry mouths to feed.

The old man went over to the common room to be paid for his catch. Sydnius, the innkeeper – a solidly built, bearded man with a shrewd mind and pleasant manners – took him into the office behind the counter and paid the demanded price without even haggling. He knew he would earn back his coin twofold on the next day… or more.

He offered a generous shot of excellent juniper liquor to seal their deal, and Old Craban sipped it slowly, enjoying its fire and taste. This was a good, strong cordial, but fishermen could hold their liquor better than anyone else, save perhaps sailors. “The fish need to swim” – the old proverb said, and a good fisherman always gave his fish what they needed.

After the fine drink, Old Craban took two silver pieces from his purse and gave them back to the innkeeper.

“I need a favour from you,” he said. “Tomorrow, when your wife has cooked the stew, send for Brannoc and Peran’s families. They have not had a good, full meal for some time; the catch has been spare lately. I want them to eat their fill, just once. I hope this will be enough for their supper.”

“’Tis more than enough,” answered Sydnius. “You are a generous man, Old Craban.”

“The Great River has been generous to me,” said the old man with a shrug. “How could I be any less so?”

Then he took three bronze pieces and laid them onto the desk next to the silver pieces.

“And give these to the lads,” he said. “They came to help an old man without asking anything in exchange; they deserve it.”

With that, he rose from his seat, and, thanking again for the drink, he left the inn to return to his cottage, with a light heart and careful steps. This had been a good day indeed. Days like this should be more frequent in the Foreyule.

~The End – for now~


Note: Old Craban made it out of Halabor and lived out the rest of his life in Lossarnach. From the innkeeper’s family, only his fifteen-year-old daughter, Ailne, survived. None of the other fishermen or their families escaped.


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