For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.
Rating: General, for this part.
Rating: General, for this part.
Day Twenty-Three – The Scoop and the Trickster
The great festivals of the year were always good for wandering mummers, jugglers and minstrels. At these times, they got easily hired to entertain the guests of a lesser nobleman (the truly powerful and rich lords had their own jesters and singers) or wealthy burgher. That meant a roof above their heads at lest for one night, a warm meal and even a few pieces of coin, the latter often earned by a whole night of hard work.
The most important feast of all was Yule, though. For if such a minstrel managed to worm himself into the good graces of a generous patron, that could mean lodging for the entire winter. Mostly in the stables or the hay barns, and they had to work for their food, but it was still better than freezing to the death on the road.
Rhisiart, the scoop, was more fortunate than his fellow jesters. To begin with, he had family in Halabor – he was the brother of Cadwallon, the bow-maker – and though neither his brother, nor his widowed mother approved of his choice of profession, he could always return home for the winter. They kept a small room for him in the loft, and he could go out and get hired in town or in the Castle, or even in Emerië Manor, easily.
This year, he truly got lucky. He had performed before Lord Orchald during the Autumn Fair, and the Lord had taken a liking to his ward, Oswin. The boy, barely fifteen and looking at least four years younger, was a juggler and a trickster. He could spin half a dozen or more painted wooden balls or rings – or even burning torches – so quickly that the onlookers got dizzy from the mere sight of it, could play the rebec with some skill, had a sweet voice, and could twist himself into a knot that would make a serpent proud. Lord Orchald had been impressed by the boy’s skills and told Rhisiart that he wanted them both in his feasting hall for Yule, to give a good performance.
That pleased Rhisiart to no end, for Lord Orchald was known as a very generous patron, and it also meant that he would be with his family in Yule. He praised his good fortune that had brought him the nimble, good-natured boy, some nine years earlier.
He had been travelling along the borders of Rohan in that summer, for the Horselords, not being mighty in books and letters, liked minstrels and could appreciate a good song a lot more than anyone from the Old Folk. Wandering from manor to manor and from homestead to homestead, Rhisiart happened to run into a troupe of tricksters. Truth be told, they were rather a bund of thieves of cutthroats, by the sight of them, formed by the worst Rohan, Gondor or the Dunland could offer.
They had a small, fair-haired boy with them – a small waif of about six, whom they assured to have found as a newly born baby, somewhere in a ditch, with no sign of his mother. They had taken the boy in, taught him their arts, but he was a dull and unpleasant one, they said, not worth the food they were wasting on him.
Rhisiart had felt pity for the child who could hope for no better life than become a thief himself, and offered the leader of the troupe to flick his broken rebec in exchange fort the boy. He could do it easily, as he had learned the art of making or repairing music instruments as a very young man. After some haggling, the other man gave in, and thus Oswin came into Rhisiart’s care. He had not even had a name back then, being only called “boy” or “brat” by everyone.
The scoop, as Rhisiart modestly called himself in Rohirric fashion – after having heard Elven singing during a visit of Gildor Inglorion’s company in Halabor, he did not dare to call himself a minstrel any longer – often pondered over his ward. How old was Oswin truly? What could have been his origins? He was blond and blue-eyed, thus he must have had some Rohirric blood, but he was also too frail and short to be one of the tall and heavily built horsemen. A half-bred, evidently, conceived by accident and discarded as useless garbage.
Whoever the boy’s parents had been, their loss was certainly Rhisiart’s gain, as he had no son of his own. His wife had died in childbirth, and his only daughter, Rannilt, did not wish to wander around with her father, thus she lived in her uncle Cadwallon’s house. Rhisiart did not blame her. Living on the road was a hard thing, and for a girl even more dangerous. ‘Twas better for Rannilt to grow up in the care of her grandmother, together with her cousins, to have a quiet, regular life and to learn what a girl needed to know. She had got betrothed to the carpenter’s journeyman a few moons ago, and Rhisiart was glad for her. Usnach was a good lad with a good, honest trade – he would give Rannilt the life her own father could not.
For Rhisiart, although he had learned the craft of carpenters himself, and beyond that the art of making music instruments by a master in Linhir (whose daughter he had married eventually) could not stay on the same spot for too long. He had a wanderlust in his blood, irresistible and previously unknown in their family. ‘Twas said that sometimes vagabonds were born from very ordinary families, and Rhisiart was the living proof for that: a trickster and gambler, who never avoided a brawl and never refused a drink offered to him.
In truth, without Oswin he might have ended badly. But when he had taken the boy out of the tricksters’ hands, he finally understood what it meant to be responsible for someone. The excellent tricks the troupe had taught the boy were now the main source of their earnings, and he had to see that Oswin was always properly fed and clad and safe. That had taken some getting used to, but in the end, it worked out nicely, and now they actually enjoyed travelling together.
Nonetheless, they just as much enjoyed their annual winter break, when they could have a warm room to sleep in each night and at least one warm meal a day. Oswin performed in the Riverside Inn, the Old Sailor, the Drunken Boat, or in one of the other taverns, The Barn or The Cellar on the evenings, and Rhisiart accompanied him, partly to protect him, partly as people usually demanded the one or other song after the performance. Between the two of them, they earned some honest coin that way (albeit not overly much), and the tavern owners welcomed them, as their performance was good for business. The longer the patrons stayed, the more they drank, after all.
Tomorrow, however, would be a very different engagement.
“You must do your best, and so must I,” explained Rhisiart to the boy, who listened to him with cornflower-blue eyes wide with excitement. “All the noblemen from the neighbourhood will be there, and if we make a good performance, we might get hired for the entire spring. Besides, Lord Orchald is a generous patron. If we are good, he will pay us a lordly price, and then we finally might be able to have that jester’s costume made for you.”
The boy’s eyes widened even more, and his grin grew from ear to ear. He had longed for a proper jester’s costume for years by now, but they had never earned enough to afford it, as Rhisiart had to save some of their earnings for Rannilt’s dowry. Oswin never begrudged the girl her due, she was Rhisiart’s daughter, after all, but it hurt him a bit to always have to take the second place behind her. Now, his time finally seemed to have come.
“Oh, I shall do well,” he promised happily. “I have worked out how to spin eight ball instead of six, and I can now do the trick with six daggers, too.”
“Daggers?” Rhisiart frowned. “Is that not too dangerous? If you fail to catch just one of them…”
“I shall not,” said the boy confidently. “You will see. My hands are steady, and I am fast. It will look great – just like the fire-breathing.”
“Which also makes me a bit uneasy,” admitted the scoop. The boy flashed him a radiant smile.
“No need for that. But if everything plays out as planned, I want little bells on my cap, too. They would look great when I work with torches or fire, and they would catch attention whatever I am doing.”
“And they are pretty,” said Rhisiart mildly. Oswin grinned.
“That, too. I have wanted them all my life.”
“Very well,” said the scoop. “I shall talk to Ludan, the bronzesmith, and see if he can make us a reasonable price.
“Oh, good!” the boy beamed with happiness, and Rhisiart felt a little guilty for having denied him his wish for so long.
True, a costume like that was not cheap. The little bells even less so, as they had to be made of silver, otherwise they would have been too heavy on a jester’s cap. But the truth was that Oswin earned more than half of all their incomes. Incomes, part of which Rhisiart set aside for his daughter who did not want to share their life on the road. It might be necessary, but it was not entirely fair to Oswin.
The scoop patted the boy’s thin shoulder affectionately. Oswin had been most understanding indeed. Now it was time to have his own turn in using their profits. Although Rhisiart suspected that the boy had realized how much better off he was with his current partner than he would have been with the mummers, and that was the reason why he never complained.
“We shall see,” he said. “I promise, if the price is one we can afford, you will get your wish. Now go, exercise your tricks a little, and then get something to eat. You must be well-rested and in good form tomorrow.”
That was very true, and Oswin hurried off obediently. He spinned his balls, rings and torches (without fire, this time) for about an hour or so, and tried the delicate trick with the daggers in the barn where he could be undisturbed. Content with the results, he then returned to the house to get himself a decent bowl of porridge, talked a little with the bowman’s friendly and gentle-hearted wife, and then he went to bed. As Rhisiart had said, he needed to be well-rested for the next, most important day.
~The End – for now~
Note: Rhisiart and Oswin escaped the destruction of Halabor, as they were in Lossarnach at that time. The bow-maker and his entire family died.