For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.
Rating: General, for this part.
Rating: General, for this part.
Day Ten – The Fishmonger’s Widow
While many people in and around Halabor tended to think that old Mistress Crodergh, the herb-woman of the Infirmary, was a witch, they usually agreed that she was, at least, a benevolent one who meant it well with her fellow townspeople. There was no disagreement whatsoever, though, that if anyone in town was absolutely evil, that was the widow Rhybwrast, the wife of the late fishmonger Maddan.
Everyone had been properly impressed at first when Maddan returned from a boat trip to Minas Tirith, some fifty-five years ago, and brought with him his newly wed wife. Rhybwrast, then young and quite comely, was of Dúnadan blood – at least partially – even if only the daughter of a simple boatman: tall and dark-haired, with eyes as grey and as cold as ice.
All the people in the Old Port were wondering what had made her marry the fishmonger, who was wealthy enough compared with other townsfolk, but surely not part of the so-called “better people”, to whom she so obviously wanted to belong. Although a respected member of the Merchants’ Guild, Maddan had still belonged to the Old Port, with the boat-makers, ropers, barrel-makers, net-makers and fishermen, not to the circle of wealthy merchants who lived in the streets around the Marketplace and led a refined life Rhybwrast could only dream of.
It took her a long time to understand that, and even longer to accept it… as much as she could accept it at all. The disappointment made her a bitter and haughty woman, who was trying to appear more refined and nobler that she actually was, all her life… and failing.
She hammered the same unpleasant manners into her son, Madron, who took over the fish-selling business after his father’s untimely death, at a quite young age. Rhybwrast had hoped to achieve through her son what she had been unable to achieve through her husband, and so she negotiated Madron’s first marriage with Veldicca, the daughter of a rich merchant from Belfalas, and when they wed, Rhybwrast felt that now mayhap they would rise in wealth and respect, after all the throwbacks of the previous years.
She still felt an almost proprietary pride when she thought of the lovely Veldicca who had ruled Madron’s house like a true lady. Oh, those had been good years! The house looked like that of the well-to-do merchants in town, and with her dowry, Madron could have a strong and fast little cargo ship made, with which one could travel as far down as Pelargir in record time. Trade used to be lively in those days, not the least thanks to the contacts of Veldicca’s father, and Madron was considered the most influential man in the Port.
Alas that Veldicca had to die so young, catching a bad cold in that miserable Warehouse while overseeing the incoming goods she had ordered! And the more pity that she had to die childless, so that Rhybwrast had to put up with the get of her second daughter-in-law, that unworthy wretch.
Rhybwrast would have loved to choose a second wife for her only son very carefully, just as she had done with the first one. But Madron was anxious to have heirs and not willing to wait. Thus he practically bought the then fourteen-year-old Ogarmach, one of nine children of a poor farmer, to be his unpaid housemaid and the mother of his children. Rhybwrast fought his son’s intention bitterly, considering the lowly-born child bride a shame for her family, but when Madron made up his mind, there was no use arguing with him – a trait that he very obviously inherited from his mother.
The fact that Ogarmach worked from sunrise to sunset and gave birth to seven children during the seventeen years of their marriage never made Rhybwrast soften towards her sister-in-law. She hated and despised the young woman, blaming her for the deaths of the three youngest children, none of which lived longer than a few days. No matter how often the healers pointed out that Ogarmach was not the cause of those deaths – in no other way than by being overworked and malnourished and mistreated all the time – Rhybwrast would not listen.
To think that Mistress Dorlas dared to say that Rhybwrast should be more understanding, as she had lost four of her children as well, right after birth! That disrespectful wench of a midwife actually had the cheek to compare her situation with that useless wife of her son’s! And even her own daughter fuelled those infamous accusations that she, the daughter of a Dúnadan from Minas Tirith, would mistreat that lowborn serving woman! Had she not always been more than generous to that… that peasant?
What a bitter disappointment Moriath had been! Her own daughter, marrying Madron’s only rival, just to make her family miserable. And taking the side of Ogarmach against Madron and her own mother every time! Rhybwrast often asked herself why the Valar had punished her with such a daughter. One that would turn against her own flesh and blood.
For even though Madron had managed to remain the wealthier of the two, Nechtan’s business had grown steadily in the last ten years, and he was now doing almost as well as Madron himself. Not doubt due to Moriath’s treachery, who had lured quite a few fishermen over to work for Nechtan. She had even persuaded some of her father’s old trading partners in other towns to make their business with Nechtan, instead of Madron. That faithless person!
Rhybwrast was deeply disappointed with her daughter’s choices indeed. As much as she was disappointed with her son, who had taken a lowly farm girl into his – into their – house. Just to have a kennel of unworthy children with her. Children that turned on their father to protect that useless mother of theirs, whenever they could.
Well, at least Madron understood that his disrespectful sons needed a firm hand. He had the brats work hard for the food he wasted on them, allowing only that weak and sickly daughter of his to stay at home with her mother. Rhybwrast was annoyed to have another mouth to feed in the house, when the owner of said mouth promised little to no use for the family, but she knew it was only a temporary problem.
She will die in a year or two anyway, she thought with dark satisfaction, for she considered her six-year-old granddaughter a personal affront. She has the wasting sickness, even if that useless healer cannot recognize it. She will die, and so fate will, mayhap her mother will not survive giving birth next time, either. Then Madron can finally take a wife who would be his true match; someone strong and wealthy and respected.
With those dark hopes, she gathered her needlework and retired to her chamber on the second floor of her house. For it was hers, first and foremost, no matter what sort of woman was warming Madron’s bed. She was old, beyond the seventieth mark, but she was of Dúnadan blood. She would survive all those wenches. In this house, she was the ruling power.
In the solar, the almost painfully thin Ogarmach was gently rocking her ailing daughter in her arms. She felt almost bodily relief as her mother-in-law left the room, relieving them from her malevolent presence. The thought of another feast spent in soundless hostility made her feel sick. At least her sons would be at home for Yule, once again. Madron would never risk his precious ship in such harsh weather. Not while the days were so short.
She sighed and kissed little Miorog on the brow. Her husband might be heartless and her mother-in-law hateful, but at least her children loved her and would never abandon her. And in the night of Yule, they would be a family again. Even if part of that family was evil.
Note: The entire family of the fishmonger Madron – and that of his rival Nechtan as well – was killed during the Orc-raid in 3008.