Halabor is based on the really existing medieval French fishing town Yvoire. The layout follows the map of that town’s centre. The Haradric rug designs are based on actually existing Persian rug patterns. King Bahram Gór was a Persian ruler – I borrowed him to give Andrahar’s folk a legendary monarch.
Imrahil looked around with interest as they walked towards the town centre, with a goal known to him only. Halabor had a simple building style: the ground floor of the houses was built of stone, while the upper levels (usually only one and an attic) of heavy oak beams, with a tinder roof. The houses looked old but firm and stable, and as many of them belonged to various merchants of craftsmen, each of them was essentially a stall, with a pair of horizontal shutters that opened upward and downward.
The upper shutters were converted into an awning, supported by two ports, to protect the wares spread all over the display counter from the moody changes of weather. Said display counter was naught else but the lower shutters, dropped to rest on two short legs. Inside the shops the master and his or her apprentices and relatives were working at the craft.
Halabor might have been a small town, but – based on the offers displayed – its craftsmen were excellent. Just along the Street of the Jewellers, Imrahil counted a stall with beautifully carved bone and antler items, a spice shop that had the rarest spices imaginable (even ones from the farthest Haradric realms, much to Andrahar’s delight), an incense shop, selling the most wonderful scented oils for baths and massages, the workshops of the silver- and bronzesmiths and the mercer’s shop. The latter one offered the finest wool, assorted silks as samite, sendal and damask, and even two sorts of camlet: the more ordinary kind woven from goat’s hair but also the true item made of camel’s hair and more likely brought a long way from Khand or Harad.
To find such fineries in the shop of a small town’s merchant was something of a surprise. But Selevan, the mercer – a tall, spare, vigorous young man with bluish black hair that framed his thin face like the wings of a raven – explained that his family had moved from Pelargir to this town and still had excellent contacts in that great harbour. He talked Imrahil into buying a fine wool mantle for the hunting season in the autumn and haggled with Andrahar in excellent Haradric over a camlet surcoat, which the Armsmaster could not resist buying in the end.
“At least I shall be warm enough when your castle becomes all cold and damp in the winter,” he told Imrahil.
The Prince rolled his eyes, as Dol Amroth counted as the province with the mildest climate in the whole of Gondor, but the mercer nodded in understanding.
“My mother used to complain about the weather all the time, too,” he said.
Andrahar gave him a closer look. That shiny black hair, the olive skin, the hawkish features… the mercer’s looks awakened memories of his homeland.
“You have some Haradric blood in you, have you not?” he asked.
“I do,” replied the mercer with a smile. “My mother hailed from Bakshir like you,” seeing Andrahar’s surprise, his smile widened. “I would recognize the accent among a thousand. No-one but the people of Bakshir speak like that. Not even I can do it – I was born in Pelargir already.”
“How long have you been living here?” asked Andrahar in his native tongue again. I t was so good to use it for other reasons than questioning prisoners. It felt almost like home.
“Since the age of five,” answered the mercer in Haradric, too. “Alas, my mother died shortly after our arrival – she could never get used to the cold weather here. Thus I had but a very short time to learn her language properly.”
“You speak it well enough,” said Andrahar with a shrug.
“For one who has become a foreigner, mayhap,” replied the mercer with some regret.
“Have you never visited Bakshir?” asked Andrahar.
The mercer shook his head. “Nay, we do not go there any longer. We get our wares in Pelargir or in Umbar. I wish I could see the desert, just once in my life, though,” he added softly, “but the way things are between Gondor and the Realms, I have little hope for that to happen.”
“Nay, I do not imagine it would, either,” agreed Andrahar, suppressing the unexpected wave of homesickness ruthlessly. Bakshir was not his home – had not been his home for a very long time. He had found a new home in Dol Amroth and a brother he had never hoped for in Imrahil. That was enough. It had to be enough. After all, did he not have a better life among these strangers than he could have ever had among his own kind?
Why, then, had he lain awake so often lately? With an almost unbearable longing for the scorching heat of the desert, the loud haggling, the sharp scents and bright colours of the bazaars? He refused to think about the possible reasons – that would only play havoc with his loyalties that must not become divided – and followed his lord and shield brother out of the mercer’s shop. The pain would pass as it always had.
They went on towards the town centre, and at the next corner, Imrahil turned to the right onto the Street of the Gardens, as it was called, according to the bronze plaque on the wall of the first house. Andrahar was surprised by the certainty with wich his lord moved in this completely unknown town – could it be that Imrahil had asked for directions while he had been distracted? That was not good. He needed to focus, or else he would be of no use for his lord.
Just like the previous one, this street, too, seemed to be inhibited by merchants and craftsmen, only that here the leather-workers seemed to be in majority. Imrahil counted four shoemaker’s shops, a furrier and one where two lovely young women sold their finely stitched purses and gloves. Especially the gloves were of excellent craftsmanship – Imrahil could not resist buying a pair for his daughter. Not that Lothíriel needed them, of course, she had more than enough clothes, but because the pattern was so delicate that it pleased his eye greatly. But the true reason for his coming there was the rug-maker’s shop on the end of the street.
Andrahar’s eyes widened in surprise upon seeing the large workroom behind the wide display window. It was like stepping into another world – like coming home. The rug-maker and his siblings, working at their looms and frames, were unmistakably of Haradric origins – to be more accurate, they had to be of Andrahar’s own people, if looks were any indication. He found it strange to find so many of his kind in such a small town.
“They all came from Pelargir, with the household of the old mercer, I assume,” said Imrahil, as if reading his thoughts. Perhaps he did; they had known each other most of their lives, and Imrahil had shown uncanny abilities at times.
“I heard that Master Suanach had been a wealthy and much respected man there, ere he chose to move to Halabor where he had little to no competition,” he continued; of course, being a client of the greatest merchant houses of Pelargir would provide such knowledge. “He took his entire household with him: craftspeople, servants, boatmen… even his bather. Which reminds me: we must visit the public baths during our stay here. Even Gildor says they are a marvel, and you know he does not speak the praise of Mannish inventions lightly.”
Andrahar pulled a pace at the mentioning of the beautiful, arrogant Elf-Lord – the only person who had been Imrahil’s friend longer than he had.
“I would not take the praise of Gildor Inglorion as a sign of good taste,” he said. Imrahil grinned.
“Well, he and I have similar tastes. Which is the reason why he asked me to choose a rug for him.”
“A Haradric rug,” said Andrahar doubtfully. “For an Elf. Was that truly his idea?”
“Why, of course,” declared Imrahil. “Elves have a keen eye for beauty in all its forms, and are you trying to tell me there is no beauty to be found in Haradric handiwork?”
Andrahar snorted. “Of course not. So, I assume you dragged me here to find a piece of true value for you?”
They entered the shop through the front door, and the rug-maker rose from his loom hurriedly to greet such wealthy-looking customers with all due formality. He was a man of Andrahar’s height, but a generation younger; olive-skinned and raven-haired like the mercer, but his clear, intelligent eyes were golden like that of a falcon or a hawk.
“Welcome to my humble business, oh most worthy ones,” he said with a deep bow. “Allow me to offer some refreshments while you take a look at my wares…”
Without waiting for an answer, he led them into the workroom that occupied the entire ground floor. On one side the looms, frames and other working utensils were standing, with family members of various ages working on them. The other side was apparently kept free for the customers. A long, wide divan stood there, strewn with colourful pillows – not silk ones like they had been in the noblehouses of Andrahar’s youth, but nice ones nevertheless – and before it a low table, where tea, halvah, stuffed figs and a waterpipe were waiting to be tried.
Imrahil and Andrahar knew and respected the Haradric customs of business making that were apparently the rule in the rug-maker’s house. They accepted the refreshments and tried the waterpipe – Andrahar with considerably more delight than his lord. After the obligatory hour or so of talking about the affairs of the two realms and the state of local business, the young artisan led them around his workshop to show them the sample wares he had to offer. The beautifully made rugs were fastened on wooden frames and hung on the walls of the shop, so that potential customers could have an unhindered view of the colourful patterns.
“As you are well aware of it, my lords,” began the rug-maker, more to the Prince than to Andrahar, in whom he had immediately recognized a fellow Haradric expatriate, “Haradric rugs have three basic designs, with unnumbered local patterns each – patterns that have time-honoured tradition in the various towns and villages of Bakshir. The simplest ones have an overall pattern of stars, crossed sticks and the simplified forms of flowers or leaves. These are mostly woven by nomadic tribes and in small villages, on private looms. They use a few basic colours, mainly bold ones, as you can see on this patterns that hails from the villages Bidjar, Kanakkhal and Oushak.”
Imrahil took his time to examine each rug of that particular design. They were generally a bit too dark for his personal taste, with small white or pale yellow patterns on a blue or brown or deep red background. There was no implied movement in the design, yet the patterns themselves were striking in their artistic value. The young man doubtlessly had a unique talent for his trade.
“What about the thread?” asked the Prince. “It seems to be made of wool; I thought the rug-makers of Bakshir used cotton or silk.”
Andrahar nodded. “They usually do, but not in the small villages. Using wool is quite customary among the less wealthy; besides, woollen rugs can resist the wear much longer and bring out this particular pattern better than nobler fabrics.”
Imrahil nodded his understanding.
“I shall not gift such a one upon an Elf-lord, though,” he said. “Less so upon Gildor, who is known for his… exquisite taste.”
“Your Valar preserve us from giving such a plain gift to such a noble creature,” Andrahar snorted. “I am certain, though, that Master Rustam here could show us something more… refined.”
The amber eyes of the rug-maker took on a certain speculative look. He sketched a bow towards the Armsmaster, not entirely seriously, while his agile mind was already on the possible profit he would be able to make.
“Why, certainly, my lords! Mayhap you would prefer a rug with a floral pattern, then? Those are usually woven in large cities, by professional artisans like my humble self. These have a much finer wave, too, with very tiny knots, so that they can awake the impression of movement. This design usually includes flowers, blossoms, lattices of vine and flower-swirls. If you would have a glance at this pattern here, traditionally from the city of Jahagan, you can see that the silk thread here is combined with brocaded threads of silver. It makes a very nice contrast with the burgundy red background, and while the rug does not have a central medallion, it makes one think of a meadow in full bloom.”
Imrahil stared at the exquisite handiwork in open admiration. The stark colours of dark burgundy red, white and steel blue, the meandering floral pattern – it all fitted together to an exotic harmony.
“What do you think, Andra?” he asked.
Andrahar examined the rug closely. His face showed naught, as usual, but his dark eyes glittered in genuine interest.
“Excellent work,” he judged. “You would not find any better in the bazaars of Umbar or Pelargir; mayhap not even in Bakshir itself. You should take this one into consideration.”
The rug-maker listened to them in obvious delight. He was now certain that he would sell one of his more expensive rugs to the wealthy customer, who had even made the effort to bring someone with him who knew a great deal about rugs. Making business with such customers, who could truly value the beauty of his work, was always a pleasure.
“If I may offer some advice, my lord,” he began tentatively. “I know very little about the customs of the pairiki, as we call the undying ones in our own tongue, but ‘tis said that they love the forest and the hunt. Mayhap your noble friend would delight in a rug with a more… elaborate pattern. Those are of great value and thus not cheap, ‘tis true, as both the warp and the weft is of silk, but they are worth their price, I swear. If you would take a look at these two… The patterns hail from the ancient city of Tavriz that used to be the very centre of art in old times. One of them is a picture of the padisákh’s summer residence; the other one shows a hunting scene: the legendary padisákh Bahram Gór, hunting for panthers with his hounds and his royal court.”
Imrahil let himself be talked into taking a closer look – and was stunned by the beauty of the young man’s handiwork. The rugs looked more like woven paintings than aught else. The pictures went into detail that was near unimaginable, considering that they had been created by thousands of small knots. As soon as he saw them, he knew he would buy them. Both of them.
“Name your price,” he said simply.
The rug-maker named a price that was much higher than anyone in Halabor – including Lord Orchaldor himself – could have paid. Imrahil shot a quick glance at Andrahar, who gave him a tiny nod, signalling that the rugs were, indeed, worth the price. Had it been up to Andrahar, he would have spent half the afternoon haggling with the rug-maker, but he knew there was no use trying to do that right now. Imrahil was obviously captured by the beauty of the rugs and would pay any price to have them – and the rug-maker knew that, too, and would not yield one copper piece.
Besides, the Prince could afford it, and why should a young artisan not be paid princely for the long hours he had spent bending over his loom to create this extraordinary piece of artwork?
“I shall take both,” declared Imrahil, “and the one with the brocaded floral pattern, too. Have them wrapped safely and sent to Lord Orchaldor’s castle. I need to take them with me to Dol Amroth, and I would not want them to get wet and ruined on the way.”
For a moment, the rug-maker was utterly speechless from surprise. He had only hoped to sell one of these very valuable pieces, not three at once. Yet after a short while, he gathered his wits around him again, and had various members of his family bring forth clean, densely woven linen sheets, roll up the precious rugs with extreme care and wrap them into several protective layers. All the time, he was bowing and saying his thanks profoundly, chatting in excitement with his young wife, a lovely girl from the local folk, about finally being able to have the roof flicked and mayhap even buying a mule for short journeys to nearby fairs…
In short, the young man could not be happier. And while Andrahar was glad for him – it was always good to see an honest, hard-working landsman getting his fair share – he was silently wondering what on earth Imrahil planned to do with three Haradric rugs. Other than give one of them Gildor Inglorion as a generous gift.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Can you tell me something about this Bahram Gór, whose hunt I have just bought on a rug?” Imrahil asked, after they had left the rug-maker’s shop and were slowly walking towards the Old Port, where the common baths were to be found.
Andrahar shrugged. “According to legend, he was one of the great padisákhs of ancient times. His favourite pastime is said to have been hunting for wild asses that roamed the savannahs in great herds at that time. That is where he got his byname from: gór means wild ass in the old dialect. No-one knows whether he truly existed or in legend only, though.”
“He exists in legends and inspires artisans to create great works of beauty,” said Imrahil thoughtfully. “What could a man – even a king – wish more?”
“That might be so,” replied Andrahar after a long while. “My people believe that living forth in legend and art is a great honour; the only way of immortality our kind can be granted. And yet most of our nobles would wish to have power and riches in this life instead of fame and honour in the memory of those who shall come after us.”
“What do you believe?” asked the Prince, giving his sworn brother a searching look.
“The circumstances of my birth would have never allowed me to rule, not even if I could have stayed among my own kind,” said Andrahar slowly. “Thus my goals must be different from yours, my lord. I believe in faithful service, in honour that such service could bring, and in loyalty. As long as I have those, I shall lack nothing.”
“I do not doubt that,” said Imrahil. “But even men who live to serve as you do must have dreams. What do you wish for, Andra?”
“To be allowed to serve and protect you ‘til my last breath,” replied Andrahar without thought or hesitation.
The Prince shook his head in mild disapproval. “I know that. But surely, even you must dream sometimes… of things you would wish for yourself, had your life taken a different turn all those years ago. I would know what those dreams are.”
For a long time, Andrahar gave no answer. He was a very practical man and had buried the longing for his homeland deep in a corner of his heart that not even he visited, unless he had to. How came that Imrahil had felt his hidden homesickness? Mayhap they had known each other for too long to hide anything.
“Sometimes I still dream of home,” he admitted, almost reluctantly; it was a touchy subject that they usually avoided. “Of the blood-red sunsets over the desert. Of the loud noises and scents and flavours of the bazaars. Of the heavily laden camels, walking through the city gates. Of great hunts on the savannahs, with the men shouting and laughing. Of the Hallowed Fire, wheeled on its sacred cart into battle with our warriors… and the Silent Towers where the dead are laid to final rest, so that their rotting flesh would not spoil the earth or the Fire. Mayhap I am growing old, but images of home do haunt my dreams nowadays.”
“Strange as it might sound, I am glad to hear this,” said the Prince. “For it seems that I have chosen a most fitting gift for you, after all.”
“A gift?” asked Andrahar, slightly bewildered. “Why would you want to give me a gift at all?”
Imrahil smiled. “Have you forgotten what day is coming up tomorrow?”
Andrahar’s blank face clearly showed that he did not have the slightest inkling. He said so, asking for an explanation.
“Tomorrow, it will be thirty-five years that I found you on the streets of Umbar(1),” reminded him Imrahil. “I do believe that is an anniversary worth celebrating.”
Andrahar could hardly argue with that. The circumstances under which the then-sixteen-year-old Prince had found him had been far from ordinary. In truth, Imrahil had saved him from being killed, slowly and painfully, by the “thousand cuts” – a time-honoured and much-preferred form of execution when a fugitive slave was caught. From that day on, their paths had never parted but for very short periods of time.
“And you brought me here to celebrate?” he asked. “Would a southern city like Pelargir not be more fitting?”
“I believe not,” replied the Prince. “All people know me in Pelargir, and a great many of them know you – we would never have the peace of each other’s company in a place like that. Nay, I have had this little town on my mind for quite some time, and I feel fortunate that I have found here the very best gift to give you.”
“You have?” asked Andrahar, in a tone that was asking for more. But all Imrahil gave him was an unrepentant grin.
“You shall have to wait ‘til tomorrow to find out,” he answered, and Andrahar had to accept that answer for the time being.
(1) The exact circumstances of Andrahar’s rescue by Imrahil are described in Isabeau’s story “Kin-Strife”.