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The Last Yule in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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25
Day 24.2 - The Feast

For disclaimer and further details see Part 1.

Rating: General, for this part.

Author’s notes: Young Lord Herumor is “played” by Stuart Townsend. The menu is borrowed from “The Goode Cookery” website; the genuine medieval courses were served on the Bhakil Yule Revel in 2004. Rhisiart’s song is a somewhat changed version of the song Quant je voi yver retorner by the 13th century poet Colin Muset. The mettarë ceremony is the creation of Altariel and was used with her generous consent.


~~~

Day Twenty-Four – The Feast

Lord Orchald might have cut back the usual excesses indeed, but the Yule feast was still a marvel to behold, more so for those of the common folk who were used to have a simple broth for dinner.

Traditionally, the meal had four courses, with a “little course” between the second and the third one, and the limitations were that of the amount of food, not that of its variety. In fact, a good portion of everything had been simply sent over the Infirmary, and should there be leftovers after the feast, they would be sent to the New Port, where the poorest families of the town lived. Those had been the lord’s orders.

The first course already could have fed such a family. It began with bread and cheese: cottage cheese blended with a touch of honey, so that it could be spread over generous slices of white bread, fresh from Mistress Eseld’s bakery. Then they had a meat brevet: thin slices of cold beef, baked in butter and covered with a sauce of vinegar and cinnamon, seasoned with ginger, cloves, mace, pepper and salt.

With this dish came sallet: a salad of lettuce, grown in the Castle’s own greenhouse, and spinach leaves, with green onions, red cabbage, cucumbers, raisins, chopped walnuts and red wine. The oranges and lemons added to this particular dish had been brought from Harad by a merchant of Pelargir, specifically for the lord’s table.

A chicken and pork soup called broth of Rohan closed the first course, made with almond milk, white wine, sour grape juice and assorted spices, among them cardamom, nutmeg and even saffron. Of course, hardly anyone in Rohan but Théoden-King himself would have been able to enjoy such a dish – it was the refined version of an original recipe beloved among the Rohirrim.

After this, the guests were fairly stuffed, thus Lord Orchald ordered a break, saying that he had hired a young trickster to entertain them ‘til their stomachs recovered a little. At his sign, in came Oswin, his blue eyes bright with excitement, his straw-blond curls framing his thin face like a halo, and – standing in the middle of the hall – he presented his skills to the possible future patrons.

He began with his balls, eight of them now instead of six, spinning them from hand to hand, so that the ones in the air almost touched the ceiling, so high they flew. Then he exchanged the balls for the painted wooden rings, performing the same dazzling task with them. The next step was whirling the burning torches, these only six by the number, but they made a great impression nevertheless.

Finally, he asked Rhisiart for the daggers. He carried them around, so that the noble guest could check out that they were indeed razor sharp, and then he retreated to the main entrance for t his particular number, so that no-one would get hurt, should he fail in his task.

No-one but himself, thought Lord Orchald, a bit worried, for he did not want bloodshed in his feasting hall, not even by accident. But the boy seemed sure enough of his own skills, and everyone watched with bated breath as the sharp, shining daggers spun in a great, glittering circle between his small hands. The performance loosened the drawstring of the one or other purse, and pieces of copper and even the odd silver piece flew to the feet of the trickster after he had finished, and he picked them up, happily and proudly, bowing his thanks to the generous spectators again and again.

“Have a seat, boy, and something to eat; you certainly deserve it,” said Lord Orchald, but Oswin shook his head apologetically.

“By your leave, my Lord, I would rather wait ‘til I have shown the rest of my tricks. They are more easily done on an empty stomach.”

Lord Orchald nodded. “As you wish. I shall give orders that a sample of aught that you missed from the first two courses would be saved for you. No-one leaves my halls hungry, even less so in the night of Yule.”

Oswin thanked him humbly and got out of the way, as the servants had already begun to carry in the second course. This one contained of carrots, cooked in sugar, benes yfryed (fried beans with onions, garlic and generous seasoning), egg noodles cooked in meat broth and mixed with grated cheese, and Harad’s Joy – roasted capon simmered in white wine, orange and grape juice, with dates, almonds, raisins and pears.

Once again, the guests could barely move when the course was over, and while they sat there, sipping wine to calm their stomachs, Oswin was called back to present the second half of his performance. This time, he made a show of the suppleness of his thin, limber body, twisting himself into the most grotesque knots one could imagine. There were moments when the spectators became unsure whether they were seeing his arms or his legs, and if his face was truly looking up at them from between his ankles. He finished the performance by turning cartwheels all along the aisle between the long tables, and then getting back from the dais to the front door in a series of somersaults.

When he uncoiled himself, flushed and content, all the guests were clapping their hand, and again, the one or other copper piece flew to his feet, but way less than the first time. Endangering himself to entertain the noble guests paid off a lot better, it seemed.

Still, he saw no reason to complain. His tricks worked out nicely, and the servants were already bringing in the “little course between courses”: venison, roasted with bacon. Oswin washed his hands in the basin behind the door and sat down to the table of the Castle servants eagerly. Now that he was done, he could eat as much as he liked – or could stuff into his belly.

The third course followed immediately, and it was greeted with delighted little cries. For it turned out to be little mutton and chicken pies, seasoned with salt, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, pine nuts and currants, and they were glazed with moistened saffron and decorated with gold leaf and miniature banners of the respective Houses of the noble guests.

Of course, such expensive food was for the lords and ladies only. The common folk got amplummus instead, a variation of the much beloved fried cinnamon apples, only that these were served with cream and saffron.

Rhisiart was asked to play his harp and sing while the fourth course was served. This was a very simple one, containing spiced biscuits and spiced nuts only, and thus the guests could listen to him while nibbling on the one or other piece. He chose a well-known song first, much beloved among wandering minstrels, for it sung about the joys of finding a good place to sit out the cold of the winter.

When I see winter return
good lodging would be found
if a host could I join
who charges me but a coin
who would have beef and pork
ducks and pheasants and mutton
venison, fat hens and capons
and good cheeses in baskets to enjoy.


The guests laughed and clapped their hands, demanding that he repeated the song, and he sung it again, and other songs afterwards as well. In the meantime, it had become completely dark, and the youngest member of the lord’s household announced the appearance of the evening star.

At this sign, the fire on the hearth was quenched and all the oil lamps in the hall veiled, and servants hurried around to give everyone present a candle. The time for the annual Yule ceremony, called mettarë by the Dúnedain, had come. One of the famous golden Yule candles was brought to Lord Orchald, together with a lighted taper. He lit the candle and announced the time-honoured words in his deep, sonorous voice.

“This was the day which was shortest, and this is the night which is longest. But the stars shine upon us, and the year turns now. The darkness passes, and the light shall return.”

He passed the candle first to his heir, so that Herumor might start spreading the light about the hall, then to Mistress Gilmith on the other side, who sat next to the still empty seat of the Lady of Halabor. The simpler candles of the others were now all lit, while the servants hurried to rekindle the fire in the hearth.

Other servants came in at the same time to deliver the Yule gifts: those given Lord Orchald by his subjects and those that he was giving his guests and his household. The gifts were shown around and admired by all present, and everyone had a good time. Only young Lord Herumor seemed uncustomary rave. He drank very little all the evening and exchanged but a few words with their visitors – only as much as could be expected from a courteous host.

“My son, try to show a bit more excitement about the coming of the new year,” said Lord Orchald quietly. “Whatever bothers you – and believe me, I know all too well what it is – our subjects look at us for hope and guidance. On a night like this we must not show doubt nor grief.”

“Forgive me, father,” said the young knight, “but I do not feel like celebrating tonight.”

“Nonetheless, celebrate you will, for that is what our people expect, and they need to believe that there is still hope,” replied his father. “And when the night is over and the morning star appears shining in the skies, we shall announce the new Lady of Halabor, for that is what you owe those who faithfully serve us. Choose wisely, my son; you will have but this one choice for a very long time. I hope you will be as happy with your wife as I was with your mother.”

“’Tis not quite the same,” said Herumor dryly. “You did love mother.”

“You will learn to love your wife as well,” answered Lord Orchald. “There are different kinds of love, and the one between husband and wife, less passionate though it might be, is a honourable kind of love. Be comforted. ‘Tis not a horrible thing that you are going to do. ‘Tis a time-honoured custom… the fulfilment of which is expected from people of our rank.”

“That is little comfort,” said Herumor, and his father nodded.

“That it is. But consider yourself fortunate compared with the young ladies who are condemned to wait for someone who might finally wed them. You, at least, can make your own choice.”

“I know,” Herumor sighed. “And I do not want to keep them waiting beyond reason. I shall announce my choice after the dance.”

His father gave him a sharp look.

It seems to me that your choice has already been made,” the lord said.

“Nearly so,” Herumor admitted. “ Yet I want to speak to her face to face ere I made that choice a final one.”

~TBC~

~~~

Sorry for the delay. This last day seems to take shape a lot more slowly than I have expected.


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