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The Last Yule in Halabor
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Day 16 - The Honey-Maker

For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.

Rating: General, for this part.

Author’s note: At least this is what various sorts of honey look like in Hungary. Selling nuts and fruits preserved in honey is also a custom over here. I know nothing of other countries in this context.


Day Sixteen – The Honey-maker

The store of Keir, the honey-maker, in the Street of the Infirmary, was a joy for eyes and noses. The open shelves were densely packed with glass jars of all sizes, sorted by the variation – and thus colour – of honey they contained. One could know by first sight what one was seeing, without reading the carefully penned labels on the jars.

Pure acacia honey – rare and accordingly costly – was of a pale yellow, almost greenish colour. Linden honey was like molten gold. Mixed blossom honey was a deep, almost reddish gold. There were many sort made from the one or other plant’s nectar only, as Keir’s brother, the bee-keeper Kyndylan, had his hives in the Infirmary’s herb gardens, placed and shielded cleverly, so that some of them would only work on a selected number of secluded flower beds. Thus certain sort of honey already had healing qualities, thanks the herbs where the nectar came from.

But pure honey was not the only thing Keir (or Kyndylan, as they changed functions regularly) sold in his store. There were fruits and nuts preserved in small jars of honey. Wild berries they had, mint leaves, walnut and hazelnut and even almond kernels, rose hips and raisins, pieces of ginger root, dried plums, and many more.

The entire family had worked through summer and autumn to gather, peel, scrub, cut or otherwise prepare the ingredients, and the results truly could be seen. The store looked like a jeweller’s shop, with the light of the oil lamps, hanging from the beams on long, bronze chains, glittered on those numerous versions of sweet, liquid gold filling the jars.

Even though sometimes the sweet scent became too much for him, so that he would crave things like onions or garlic with an urgency that would put a pregnant woman to shame, Keir was very happy with his trade. Their family had done the bee-keeping and homey-making for generations, and their wares – the pure honey as well as the preserved treats – were well known from Cair Andros to Minas Tirith and beyond. So popular they had to become, indeed, that Keir had to hire a local farmer to grow clover and hawthorn and other plants just for their use, and placed a few hives on the fields of the farmstead.

Aye, life was good, and as people had to eat, no matter what, and since they had reasonable prices, he could hope that business would keep running smoothly. However, he could not suppress a delighted grin when he saw Mistress Eseld, the uncrowned queen of all bakers and pastry-cooks approach his store, with her twelve-years-old grandson, Hydoc, pulling a two-wheeled cart after her. He knew what her visit meant: a rather big sell, which alone would make worth opening his store today.

In fact, he had been waiting for that sell all week. This was the time to make honey-cakes. Special honey-cakes, shaped and adorned in a form that would remind of people, to represent the ancestors of the family. T’was a Dúnadan custom, one that the rules had taken over from the Elven folk a long time ago. One that the Old Folk had embraced with open arms.

As not everybody had the skills – or the right ingredients – to make the proper “honeymen” (not to mention that the original recipe was a secret each baker’s family guarded like a dragon its hoard), most people ordered the required member by the Bakers’ Guild, to which the pastry-cooks also belonged. The “honeymen” had to be made at least a week before Yule, otherwise they remained hard and could not unfold their full taste and aroma.

Keir smiled at one of his best customers in the friendliest manner possible. With her nearly sixty years, Mistress Eseld was considered a matron already and could scare the breeches off a grown man, although she barely reached to Keir’s shoulder. She had a round, surprisingly smooth face, equally round, button-like dark eyes, an upturned nose and ears that seemed too large, even though only the earlobes peeked out from under her wimple. All in all, she looked a lot like her own bread-loaves that were made in a rotund shape, as it was customary among the Old Folk.

“Mistress Eseld,” said Keir respectfully. “I have expected you earlier, to tell the truth. You seem to begin late this year.”

“We have already begun,” replied the baker. Her voice was surprisingly deep, coming from such a small, round body. “Or do you believe we have eaten all the honey we had bought from you in summer for breakfast. The first shipment of honeymen is on Cair Andros already, and we have sent the second one down to Minas Tirith yesterday. We are only making them for the townspeople from now on.“ She winked conspiratorially. “Your order will be delivered first.”

Keir laughed. “Why thank you, Mistress Eseld. At this time of the year Findabar cannot as much as look at honey anymore.”

“As if you were any different,” said his wife, the chandler’s sister, smiling and hurried forth from the adjoining storeroom. “Good day, Mistress Eseld. We have received your order yestereve. The honey pots have been readied for you. Do the two of you need help with uploading them onto the cart?”

“Nay,” the old woman gestured to her grandson to place the cart before the storeroom’s door, “but I thank you nonetheless. Hold that cart tightly, Hydoc, my lad. I do not want it to be knocked over.”

With that, she grabbed the heavy honeypots, one after another, lifted them with surprising strength and placed them on the cart. T’was an uncanny sight, this small, grey-haired woman moving pots that were almost half her size. But again, kneading dough all day did make a person strong.

Mistress Eseld helped her grandson to push the cart through the front door and ordered him to wait ‘til she paid for her purchase. She fished her purse from under her heavy cloak and counted the agreed amount of money into Findabar’s palm. They had haggled over the price delightfully in the previous week already. After that, she rolled out of the door to get the honey to her bakery.

“She is incredible,” commented Findabar. “I heard that she still knees the dough for the honeymen with her own hands.”

“She must,” pointed out Keir, “if she wants to keep her recipe secret. Though I am certain that Howell helps her. He is not only her son, he is a master baker himself.”

Findabar grinned. “I would not put it beyond Mistress Eseld to keep the secret, even from her son. She can be as stubborn as a mule.” She laughed and added, “Fortunately, that is not our concern. Do you think we can close the store for today? Supper is ready, and Finnan should be back from the Town House, soon.”

“You go,” Keir kissed his wife soundly; even after near twenty years of marriage, he was amazed by his good luck. Findabar could run the household and help him in the store without any visible effort. He had no idea how she was doing it, while raising four children at the same time. “I shall be with you shortly; as soon as Finched has brought in the wares. We will close the store and have a leisurely supper, all together. We have done well today; we have earned an early break.”

Findabar smiled in agreement and went upstairs to see how supper was going along under the skilled hand of their only maidservant. Bedwyn was such a jewel indeed! Not only was she invaluable in the household (she could cook like few others, to begin with), she had also helped Findabar to raise the children and knew a lot about curing small illnesses. She had no family of her own, and Keir’s children considered her more like a somewhat strange aunt – for she could be very stern to them, even more so than their own mother – than as a servant.

She was standing in the kitchen now, her round face ruddy from the heat, and gave today’s evening dishes the last expert touch, while seven-year-old Fola, Keir and Findabar’s only daughter, was laying the table in the solar. The girl was working with great eagerness, in the way young children entrusted with an important task usually were. Findabar was still glad to have her young niece, Aherne, with them tonight. Fola could be a bit too eager sometimes, and the watching eye of her thirteen-year-old cousin could prove helpful.

“Are you done with the table, girls?” asked Findabar.

Aherne gave her a nod and a shy smile. She was such a quiet and withdrawn girl, she talked not much. But Fola forgot all about her task at once, as soon as she heard her mother’s voice.

“Mother, Mother,” she squealed excitedly, “Kinan has come home!”

“Has she?” Findabar sighed in relief. Her firstborn had been away in business matters for more than a week, and she had already begun to worry. “When did he arrive?”

“Just moments ago,” replied Bedwyn in the child’s stead. “I sent him to wash and to warm up a little before supper. Finnan, too, should arrive any time now. Is Master Keir coming?”

“As soon as Finched is back,” said Findabar. “He had to bring some nuts and raisins from the Warehouse. But it should not be long now.”

“It better would not,” commented Bedwyn sternly. “’Tis time for the family to gather around the supper table.”

Findabar nodded. She knew Bedwyn was not speaking of eating alone. Since the dawn of time, Foreyule had been the time of the year when families spent the evenings together, turning in early, as days were short and nights were long. They gathered around the table or before the fireplace to keep themselves warm and safe; from the cold as well as from the shadows outside.

“Aye,” she agreed softly, “’tis indeed time for that. Yule is almost within reach. Come on, girls,” she added with a smile, “let us make the supper table ready. We are going to eat, soon.”

~The End – by now ~


Note: no-one from the extended clan of bee-keepers and honey-makers survived the destruction of Halabor.


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