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6
Summer Fair With Hidden Treasures

Madenn is “played” by Miranda Otto, who played Éowyn in the movies. I did not find her particularly convincing in that role, but she would make a lovely Madenn.


~~~

CHAPTER 06 – SUMMER FAIR WITH HIDDEN TREASURES

As she had promised on the previous eve, Madenn indeed came for the children in the next morn, to take them out to the horse-fair. This was a place, rather than an event, although many a Rohirric horse-breeder came to the annual summer fair of Carvossonn, to offer their wondrous beasts for potential buyers.

After an early breakfast, Madenn took off with Faramir, Morwen, Liahan and Elphir, accompanied by two sturdy members of Lord Forlong’s House Guard. Not that she would have to fear aught in her father’s town. In the eyes of the Old Folk a daughter was a daughter, no matter if she was born in or out of wedlock, and Madenn enjoyed the same love and respect from her father’s subjects as her sister Achren. Mayhap even more, as her mother had been a woman of common birth, one of their own. The guards only came to protect the children from being trampled down in the merry crowd – and to show the Prince in what high esteem he and his entire family was being hold in Lossarnach.

Faramir had loved fairs all his life and was now excited to see a foreign one, not always just the one held in Minas Tirith at springtime. He had tried to talk Boromir into coming with them, but his brother had only laughed and replied that the places he was going to visit on the fair were not meant for young boys. Or for young girls, for that matter.

Thus the children went with Madenn and the guards, down to the great, open space of the horse-fair; a flat, green triangle covered with grass, outside the walls, along the River Erui from the bridge to the enclosure where the tournament was to take place within the next days. Although the fair had not been officially opened yet, there were booths already seaming the place, and where the South Road veered towards Pelargir. There was also a newly-erected wooden jetty downstream from the bridge, to offer the merchant ships an easy mooring place – for by river, by road, afoot or on horses, carts or mules, traders of all kinds were already making their way to Carvossonn. This was one of the most important annual fairs of Gondor, save from those held in Ethring, and no merchant in his right mind would miss it.

And not only merchants were drawn to the fair like moths to the flame. Noblemen- and women, lordlings, knights and commons from the entire province flocked to the city, to take up residence in the inns or the townhouse of their family for the weeks of the fair Most goods they needed for their daily lives they had grown, bred, brewed or woven or spun in their homes or bought on the homely markets, all around the year. But a couple of times in every year they came to Minas Tirith or to Carvossonn, Ethring or even Halabor, to buy the silk and damask cloths, the fine wines, the rare spices or preserved fruits, the gold and silver works, gemstones, crystals and all the other treasures that one could only find on the greatest fairs, for a mere few day in each year.

To the great fairs came merchants from as far as Linhir or Pelargir in the South and Esgaroth, the legendary town of the Northmen at the Long Lake. Wines from Dorwininon were shipped down the Great River and then up the Erui to Carvossonn; shearers came with the wool-clip from the far corners of Lebennin and Lossarnach itself, and clothiers from as far as Linhir with the most fashionable gowns, jerkins, mantles and suchlike. Among the foreign merchants even some olive-skinned, hawk-faced Haradrim could be seen; or mercers from Khambaluk, who looked like polished statues of bronze; or spice merchants from Khand, whose faces were dark like burned ash and who were colourful stripes of cloth wrapped around their heads.

Most of the horse-fair was marked out in lots for stalls and booths, and as the vendors came flooding in, by whatever means of travel, the clerks of the city provost were standing by to guide pedlars and traders to their places… and to collect the tolls, according to the amount of wares they had brought. A copper piece for a modest load, carried on the vendor’s own back; a silver piece for a horse-load; two to four silver pieces for a cart-load, depending on the size of the cart; and higher fees, starting with one gold piece, for the goods unloaded from the river barges that were tied up to the wooden jetty. The place was full of life, noise, scent and colour, and Faramir, who rarely saw aught else than the sombre serenity of the Steward’s House, watched the spectacle with growing excitement.

Madenn seemed excited, too – which woman would not be excited when there was a fair in town and many fine things to buy – and people who recognized her at once from her heavy sheaf of golden hair, greeted her in a friendly manner and offered treats to the children; the honey-makers and the fruit-sellers, who had their stalls around the edge of the horse-fair, before everyone else.

Soon, they all had sticky fingers from the honeyed seed cakes, and Elphir even had honey smeared all over his face, despite Liahan’s efforts to remove it with the help of a fine cloth he always carried with him for that very same purpose. As a rule, Prince Adrahil was a patient man who easily overlooked the failings of small children, but he could become very… vocal if his pages showed up in a dishevelled state. Liahan had learned right after his arrival to Dol Amroth to always have a cloth and a comb in his belt, just in case.

Unfortunately for him, he had no sufficient authority over Prince Elphir who seemed to find his delight in getting as dirty as it was possible for a nine-year-old. On a fair, those possibilities were disturbingly numerous, and Liahan was getting more anxious by the minute, fearing how he was going to explain his Lord the little Prince’s admittedly foul state.

“Fear not,” encouraged him Faramir, seeing his anxiety and understanding him all too well; he had to satisfy a father with very high demands, after all. “We shall dump him in a fountain ere going back. That will take care of the filth he seems so very fond of.”

Elphir squealed in righteous outrage, but Morwen and Faramir just laughed at him, and in the end, Madenn had to intervene ere the Prince would begin to bawl in earnest. She reminded them that they all had received a handful of coin from the old Prince to spend it on whatever they wanted – and verily, even Liahan had – so if they wanted to be back in time for midday meal, they needed to begin to look for something to buy.

That reminder distracted Elphir nicely, as he had wanted to buy presents for his parents and siblings, for Master Andrahar whom he considered as some sort of gruff uncle, and Master Melpomaen, the head librarian of Dol Amroth, whom he considered a fatherly friend. Thus the peril of a loud and unsettling scene was successfully banned, and Madenn herded them towards the middle of the horse-fair, where the richest merchants had their booths, and where they could hope to find small trinkets, worthy for a princely household.

They left the riverside, where the barges were unloading and unbaling on both sides of the jetty; the Erui ran deep and still enough for the season so that even boats of deeper draught than usual could make the passage without mishap. Strolling deeper into the great, open triangle of the fair, they came into the very middle of haggling and jesting and quarrel… and merriment. There stood the more elaborate booths that could be closed and locked, supplying shelter for their holders – unless they chose to sleep on their barges, leaving a servant or two to guard their goods. These always arrived first, to find the best place for themselves, and one could hope to find valuable little things before the fair had begun in its full.

The traders from Lebennin had brought their own trestles and light roofs, while the small country vendors from Lossarnach itself simply spread their wares on blankets, right on the ground between the booths, collecting everything they could not sell during daytime ere retreating for the night. As it was still relatively early in the morning, there was barely enough place left for the buyers to make their way between the stalls.

‘Twas the booth of a glove-maker that caught Madenn’s eye first. Even though the season was too hot to wear gloves at the moment, she apparently had the cold of winter on her mind already, for she spent a fair amount of time choosing the right pair: a perfumed blue set embroidered with small white and golden flowers. She also wished to buy some fine spun wools to weave the new gowns for her two-year-old brother, whom the guest had not got to see yet.

The younger children got bored and sneaked over to the toy-maker’s booth, with the two guards keeping a sharp eye on them. Wondrous things there were displayed on the counter: various animals, carved of wood and painted in bright colours; dolls in tiny gowns that would make a princess proud; board games of many kind, from chess to the more confusing ones the Rohirrim liked to play so much. Morwen was mesmerised by the beautiful dolls at once, while Elphir was trying to decide which carved animal would be the most suitable gift for his loved ones, and Liahan was eyeing one of the wooden soldiers with longing: a Fountain Guard of Minas Tirith in full regalia, including the winged helmet.

Faramir got separated from them somehow, and he had lost sight of Madenn as well. Yet he had no mind for worrying about that at the moment; one of the other booths drew him on magically, plain as simple though as it seemed from afar. ‘Twas the booth of a silversmith, who not only offered pretty jewellery – which was of no interest for Faramir – but also some books: small ones, meant to be carried in belt pouches, bound in leather and adorned with intricate silverwork and little gems.

They were apparently meant to be sold for the value of their covers, but it was the books within that piqued Faramir’s interest. He just had to take a look at that which was hidden inside! At first the silversmith shot him an alarmed look – who could blame him for being worried about a lanky thirteen-year-old fingering his precious wares with hands that might or might not be clean? – but a second look at the White Tree upon the breast of Faramir’s tunic calmed him down. Even if the boy damaged the books, he could expect to be compensated princely.

Faramir had no intention to harm the books in any way, of course. He wiped his hands clean in a fine handkerchief ere touching them at all, and even after that, he barely touched the gilded edge of each leaf when turning it over. His feelings had not mislead him, it seemed. These were rare treasures indeed.

One was an illustrated pocket copy of The Lay of Leithian, written on red parchment with silver ink, in the fashion of Elves, and in Quenya, no less – a language Faramir had been taught but was still struggling with. The handwriting was breath-takingly beautiful, each letter a piece of artwork in itself – he had never seen anything like that. He leafed to the last page curiously, and there stood in the same elegant Tengwar: “This copy has been penned for the Lady Hareth, by Lindir of Rhosgobel, in the year 2159 of the Third Age.”

Faramir was completely awestruck, not only by the beauty of the little book but also by its apparent age. Considering that the leaves were in a near-perfect shape, the colours still bright and vivid, it just had to be Elven work, whoever that Lindir of Rhosgobel might be. And Faramir knew he had to have that book, no matter its price – which would undoubtedly be high. But he was the Steward’s son; he could afford it. And as he shared this particular passion with his father, this time the Lord Denethor would doubtlessly approve.

The other books, if less luxurious in detail, were rare gems as well nonetheless. One of them contained ancient Elven legends, with nice little ink drawings. Another one was plain, but just as beautifully written, and it had poems in Adűnaic – the version that had been spoken in the court of Númenórean Kings, no less, albeit a late copy of the original, while the last one was an illustrated copy of herbal lore in Sindarin.

The silversmith seemed not as if he would realize the true value of his wares. He probably knew that books – especially old, illustrated ones – were valuable as a rule, but there was no way he would know what these, in fact, were. He was but a craftsman – and a good one, it seemed – but no lore-master or scholar to be able to read Quenya or Adűnaic.

“I wish to buy these books,” Faramir told the silversmith; “they would make a worthy gift for my father, the Lord Denethor. Alas, I have not enough coin on me to pay you right here, good master. Would you be so kind as to bring them up to Lord Forlong’s Castle? I doubt not that my grandsire, Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth will help me out.”

He rarely used his parentage for any favours, but he had learned at an early age that the names of the Steward or the Prince would open him doors that would otherwise remain closed. And he wanted these books very much. Perchance his grandsire would see them as fitting Yule gifts as well.

Sometimes it was maddening to be an underage youth indeed.

“You need not to make any overdue effort, good smith,” a deep, amused voice said from behind Faramir’s back. “I can help my little brother out – and shall do so gladly, if your price is a reasonable one.”

One glance at the tall, broad-shouldered young nobleman wearing the black clothes and the White Tree of the Steward’s House was enough for the silversmith to know that he should name a reasonable price indeed. The youth would have paid any price he asked for; and his royal grandfather mayhap too, out of love for him. But young Lord Boromir was very obviously a different matter. Alone the fey glint in his grey eyes showed that he was not a man one should trifle with… and he had, despite his relative youth, quite the reputation already.

Thus the silversmith opted for safety and named a price that was well worth the silverwork and the gems that adorned the covers but not so high as to raise the ire of the Steward’s son. Boromir counted the gold pieces into the smith’s palm without haggling. ‘Twas a rare chance for him to give his brother such a gift that Faramir would cherish above anything else. Besides, even though he was not particularly bookish himself, even he had realized that the books were much more worth than just their covers. He could read Quenya and Sindarin and even Adűnaic – he just had more pressing issues in his life.

During all this time, Faramir was cradling his precious books to his chest, with an expression of sheer rapture upon his face. He would offer them to his father, of course – all of them, save the one with the luminous pictures – and the Lord Denethor would probably accept the Elven legends, as they often proved to be a useful source for half-forgotten historic facts. But he would most likely allow Faramir to keep the Adűnaic poems and perhaps even the herbal lore. Faramir was already plotting in his mind about getting a chest for them, in which they would be safe. Mayhap Prince Adrahil would be willing to find a good woodworker and have it made…

“Now you have done it,” a gentle, amused voice said from behind Boromir’s back. “He is gone for the rest of the world. Has he always been such a bookworm?”

And the deep, affectionate voice of Boromir answered with a laughter full of love.

“Ever since he learned his letters.”

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