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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Prologue

Disclaimer: The main characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun. All the original characters below belong to me, though.

Genre: General (advent calendar)
Rating: varies from chapter to chapter. This particular chapter is rated G.
Series: “Sons of Gondor”, a series of individual stories. A side product to “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”.
Timeframe: September 8-15 2998, Third Age. Takes place during Chapter 7 of “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”.
Summary: The Wandering Elves, led by Gildor Inglorion, visit the annual autumn fair in Halabor.

Author’s note: In the beliefs of the Old Folk, Nurria is the local equivalent of Yavanna. The Old Folk is the people who lived in Gondor before the arrival of the Númenóreans – and that most likely made up the major part of the local population. I made them related to the people of Bree (from afar), which is why they use the Bree-calendar and the same names for the months or the days of the week.

Beta read by Nerwen Calaelen, thanks!


~~~

PROLOGUE

[Halabor, the days 8-15 of Halimath(1), in the year 2998, Third Age]

The second one of the great annual fairs in Halabor – a small, ancient fishing town at the Great River, opposite of the island of Cair Andros – came after several days of clear skies and sunshine, leading in another week of bright, warm autumn weather, to everyone’s great relief. So far, the harvest had been good. The early apples had already been plucked in the orchards, the newly-milled floor had been carted to the cellars (or attics, or barns, or whatever people kept it), and a great deal of autumn herbs had been cut and were drying in bouquets, hanging from the horizontal beams of the kitchens.

The Autumn Fair traditionally began on the eight of Halimath, for this was the day on which the Old Folk celebrated the birth of Nurria, the Lady of the fields and pastures – a feast that had once lasted seven days. Some of the ancient customs had been banned after the arrival of the Dúnadan overlords (although they might still exist secretly), but the celebration had gone on, unbroken, thorough the centuries. After all, Halabor had been there long before the Númenóreans had crossed the Sea, and what would be more worthy to celebrate the autumn harvest than a fair?

What was more, the town had extraordinary visitors that year. After more than a generation of absence, the Wandering Elves had chosen to visit the Autumn Fair once again. Not even the oldest men or women in town could remember to have seen an Elf before, although it was a known fact that the Wandering Companies had used to come to Halabor in the past on their mysterious journeys from the North to the South or back. Thus everyone was properly excited by the possibility of meeting them.

Granted, their arrival had been under a dark omen. They had found Telent, the wandering cutler and his wife, Ingern, murdered by Easterlings, just beyond the fertile lands mended by the local farmers. Only the cutler’s fourteen-year-old daughter had survived the raid… barely. The Elves had brought her to the Infirmary, violated and severely injured, and Mistress Angharad, the healer of the town, was still unsure whether the girl would live yet or not.

But the Elves had done more than that. Their Lord had taken selected warriors with him and followed the raiding band through the Wetwang, slaying the murderers to the last man. Not a single one of those heavy-set, bearded brutes would return to Rhûn, where their people dwelt in caves like wild animals – or so tales told – to stuff the mouths of their young with the meagre earnings of a poor, hard-working man.

Telent, the cutler, had been well-known and well-liked, not in town alone, but also in the farmsteads scattered all around Halabor. His terrible fate had made people sad and angry. The news that he had been avenged and his murderers slain spread deep satisfaction among the people.

However, not even these horrible events could dampen the excitement about the beginning of the Autumn Fair and the presence of Elves, after such a long time. Preparations were being made upon the grassy field that stretched from Nurria’s Gate, where the highroad to Rohan ended, to Rollo’s Gate, from which the road to Minas Tirith led to south-east. The two annual fairs were not only the greatest events in the townspeople’s lives; they also meant good business and good coin, both of which the craftspeople needed desperately in these hard times.

Vuron, the master-carpenter, was busy working on the booths for the foreign merchants – or for some of the local ones brave enough to bring their wares outside the town walls – with the help of his son Thei, who was also his only journeyman. The Trade Hall, a long, low-roofed timber building opposite Rollo’s Gate, had to be repaired on some places, after the damage of the last winter, but Madren, the roofer, was certain he would be done ere the first wool-traders from Dunland arrived.

For that was the sole purpose of the Trade Hall: to offer a place, well-protected from the moods of the weather, where the Dunlendings could store their fleeces and offer them for sale. The fairs were the only times of the year when Dunlendings were welcome in Halabor. The only time of the year when they came in peace, on a long and arduous journey that led them north the Fangorn Forest and along the Limklar and the Great River and the west slopes of Emyn Arnen. For as little as their lands were suited for growing crop or fruit or vegetables, that well the rocky, often stony hills were suited for pasture. No-where else in Middle-earth did the sheep grow such thick, rich, excellent fleece. No-where else could goats be held in such numbers, providing not only excellent hides and fine hair for vellum and clothes, but also milk, of which various sorts of spicy cheese were made.

So aye, the tradesmen of Dunland were as welcome to the Autumn Fair as their cheese-makers (usually women) were to the Spring Fair, and the Trade Hall was exclusively theirs. No other merchant was allowed to use it.

“Well, they do pay a reasonable fee to keep it for themselves,” mentioned Wella, Lord Orchald’s tax collector. He was a short, wiry and balding man, who, albeit he belonged to the Old Folk, behaved and clad himself like some minor noble, but given his important position, people granted him that small delight. ‘Twas bad enough for him to have a weak chest that threatened to kill him every winter, just like it had killed his father.

“Besides, keeping them apart makes it possible to keep up some semblance of order during the fair,” replied Odhrain, the head clerk of the Merchants’ Guild and thus the one responsible for the smooth running of the trade business during the week of the fair. “Here we can assign places to them and be sure where they are all the time.”

He was a tall man, clearly of Dúnadan origins, with a hawkish face and dark locks shorn just over his shoulders, with a neatly trimmed, short beard and sharp, sea-grey eyes. He, too, tended to clad himself above his true status, in black velvet and a fine, woollen surcoat, and even wore fine leather boots. Unlike in Wella’s case, though, people tended to mock him behind his back for it, as his haughtiness made him less than well-liked in town.

“Making our work a lot easier at the same time,” added Henderch, the Chief Warden of the town – a former soldier of Gondor’s army, who still made an imposing sight in the dark blue gambeson worn by all Wardens, and the steel gorget covering his neck and the top of his chest. He was armed with a longsword and a short dagger knew all too well how to use them. “Keeping them and the horse-traders from Rohan apart will be hard enough. More so after both sides have consumed enough ale.”

“I am certain that Master Folcwalda and his kin would be helpful, whenever you have to deal with their people,” said the tax-collector, shrugging his thin shoulders. “And you have your very own Dunlending among the Wardens.”

“For which I thank Rollo every time I have dealing with his kind,” said Henderch with a grim smile. “Yet he is but one man; and who knows what his people – or the Rohirrim, for that matter – have had to suffer during the recent spring and summer from each other’s hands? If the Khimmerian raiders have grown bold enough to cross the Wetwang and come within earshot of a walled town…” he shook his head in distress. “I just hope the bailiff will manage to keep the roads safe, or else we can forget our fair in the near future.”

“Well-to-do merchants are used to travelling under the guard of their own men-at-arms in these days,” said Odhrain with a shrug. “And the Guild has decided to employ watchmen for the duration of the fair. I am also sure that Lord Orchald will send men-at-arms to guard the fairground. This has been custom for many years by now.”

“Of course he will; the taxes and fees from the fair make up a good part of his income,” said the tax-collector.

“He would do it anyway, even if he had no interest in the outcome of the fair,” said Henderch mildly. “Has he not always been like a father to his subjects?”

“He has,” admitted the tax collector, “yet ‘tis also true that foreign merchants are more willing to come to the fair if they know that the Lord of the fair-place can guarantee their safety – and that of their wares.”

“Do we expect many foreigners to come this year?” asked the Chief Warden. “Aside from the Rohirrim and the Dunlendings, that is.”

Odhrain studied his lists for a moment.

“Well, wine-sellers from as far as Esgaroth have sent word that they would come,” he said, “and we can expect wool-merchants from the cloth-country of Lebennin, like each year. Master Suanach has also requested booths for his business partners from Pelargir – that means exotic fruits and spices from the South or even from Harad. This is going to be a good fair, or so the Guild hopes.”

“So we all hope,” said the tax collector. “For we all truly need the incomes the fair could bring. Even if it means a week’s hard work for you and your men, Master Warden.”

“We shall manage,” replied Henderch with a shrug and a smile. “With the help of Lord Orchald’s men-at-arms and the Guild’s watchmen, it should be possible. And not many of them would come within the town walls in any case. Not any further than the Riverside Inn, that is.”

“Are the Elves staying in the Inn as well?” asked the tax collector.

Henderch shook his head.

“Nay, they are sleeping in the gardens of the Infirmary,” he said. “They prefer keeping their own company… and the gardens are quiet and peaceful.”

“Do you think they will come to the fair indeed?” asked Wella.

“Mistress Dorlas says that is why they have come in the first place,” replied the Chief Warden. “This will be a fair we shall not easily forget.”

~~~

1) Halimath is the equivalent of our September


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