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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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3
The Clothiers

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Parda is the Haradric equivalent of a harem. Balg is a German word, meaning a bastard child.


~~~

PART 02 – THE CLOTHIERS

Leaving the potter’s booth, the Elf-healer sought out his wife in the crowd; a woodland Elf just like himself, and she happened to share his trade, too.

“I have got the clay dishes we need,” he told her in their own tongue, “but we well need to go to the glass-blowers for the flasks.”

“You go,” replied his wife laughing. “I am going to the clothiers’ with Eilinel here. She wants to buy some of the good woollen cloth made here, for it is much sought after among the Eredrim. Besides, we need a great deal of linen cloth for new bandages. Our reserves are nearly depleted again.”

Eilinel was Erinti’s best friend, had been for an Age or so. She was a tall, willowy Noldo with raven hair and grey eyes; and also the best weaver among the women of the Wandering Elves, always eager to see new things and learn new techniques. Unlike many other Elves, she saw no shame in learning from mortals, either.

Tinthellon accepted the fact that he would not see his wife for the rest of the afternoon, but that did not bother him too much. They would meet in the Infirmary later, as they needed to check on the injured girl anyway.

“Have fun, the two of you,” he said to the women. “I will look for the flasks, after I have brought these back to the Infirmary. We shall meet after evening meal, then.”

Erinti nodded in agreement, and while her husband turned back to the Infirmary to store his newly acquired clay pots safely, she an Eilinel headed to the clothier’s business. They needed no-one to show them the way. Most craftsmen of Halabor had not changed their dwellings for generations, and the Elves had been there before.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The house of the clothier family occupied a prominent place at the head of the street that came up from the New Port to the Castle. ‘Twas a right-angled house, built in the traditional Halabor style: the ground floor of stone, the upper one of timber. It had a wide shop-front on the street, and the long stem of the hall and chambers running well back behind, with a spacious yard and the stables for the mules and pack horses. Master Erwan sometimes whined about the lack of riding horses – he had tended to live beyond his resources in his youth – but Mistress Betha, the true head of family and business, was not willing to waste coin upon things that were not truly needed. And since both house and business came with her into the marriage, she could afford to run things to her own liking.

There was room enough in the elongated back building, not only for the chambers of the family, but also to house ample stores in a good, dry undercroft, and provide space for all the girls – hired mostly from the New Port – who carded and combed the newly dyed wool. Not to mention the horizontal looms that were set up in an outbuilding of their own; and there was also plenty of room in the long hall for half a dozen spinsters at once. Others worked in their own homes, and so did several other weavers about the town. Mistress Betha’s was the biggest and best-known clothier business not in Halabor only but in the whole country this side of Minas Tirith.

‘Twas still early afternoon on the first day of the Autumn Fair when Mistress Betha left the shop front, which also served as the tailor workshop of her husband, and went back to the spinning room to give the hired girls a watchful eye. As the eldest surviving daughter of her father, she had become heiress of the clothier business for want of a brother at a fairly young age. By that time, though, she had already learned all the skills involved, from teasing and carding to the loom and the final cutting of garments, albeit she could mostly ignore the latter, as she had married a tailor. Erwan might have his faults (delusions of grandeur being one of them) but he knew his trade well enough.

That was the only responsibility she had stepped back from, though. All other things she still kept in her own hand tightly, an from the foreman of the weavers to the lowest carding girl everyone quieted at once and turned to their work dutifully when her short, erect figure appeared in any of the workrooms.

For short she was, even for a woman of the Old Folk, and though still a year short of forty, she looked older than her age and worn with worries and weariness. She had been carrying the burden of this business for too long already, besides bearing and rising six children, only two of which had lived beyond the age of four moons. The thought to leave it to anyone else never occurred to her; but it had taken its toll on her, and it showed.

In her simple, homespun brown dress – she was not fond of flashy clothes, unlike her husband – her thinning brown hair hidden under a spotless, crisp white wimple, she entered the long hall briskly. Her deep-set, dark eyes swept over the row of distaffs, and, reaching over a spinstress’ shoulder, she rubbed a strand of wool from it between chapped forefinger and thumb with approval. The fleeces were unexpectedly good this year; this would make fine cloth, finer than a year before.

The sheaf of carded wool on which the thin, slightly bent woman – another hireling from the New Port – was working, was of a pleasant shade of blue. The dye-stuffs came seasonally, and as they were still well-stacked with last summer’s crop of woad, they could do more of the blue cloth that was prized in the provinces south from the Ered Nimrais. The Prince of Dol Amroth in particular, always ordered great amounts of it for the uniforms of his Swan Knights; a fact that, Betha suspected, had more to do with the Ages-old friendship of the Princes to the Lords of Halabor than with the otherwise excellent quality of her wares. In any case, ‘twas always good for the business to have regular and large orders from some great lord.

The dyeing of fleeces and fulling of the cloth had been in the experienced hands of Wynwoluy, the fuller, who had his dye-house and fulling-works and tenterground just down-river, under the walls of the Castle, for longer than Betha herself had been alive. He knew his craft, which had made him one of the wealthiest craftsmen in town, and he and Mistress Betha could work together very well.

So well, indeed, that Betha sometimes asked herself whether she would have done better marrying Wynwoluy instead of Erwan. The two were just a few years apart of age, and the fuller had been interested. ‘Twould have been a good move to unite the two closely related business branches, too, and unlike Erwan, Wynwoluy had a good, solid sense for business and was a hard worker. But she had let herself be blinded by Erwan’s comely face and breezy attitude and left the chance slip through her fingers. Mayhap that had been a mistake; but now, with both of them married to others, it was too late to ponder over that.

She turned her attention back to the already dyed wool on the distaff. It had a clear, bight colour, and would become even more so when the length of cloth made of it would go back to Wynwoluy for fulling. Once again, this would fetch a good price. Once they had finished the Prince of Dol Amroth’s order, mayhap she should think about selling some of it to the merchants of Lebennin. Even though Lebennin was the true cloth-country of Gondor, people did not know the secret of this particular hue of blue down there. There might still be an opportunity to carefully sneak into that market. She would have to speak to the cloth merchant of the town.

Mistress Betha mostly worked with wool. Linen demanded more work than she could have got done within her own business, thus she only kept a limited amount of linen cloth in store, mostly for the bath-house and the Infirmary. And weaving silk would have been beyond her skills anyway, not to mention the special looms she would need for it.

Wool, however, she can get easily here, so near Dunland; with the help of Eudo, the wool-merchant, as the Dunlendings would never accept a woman as the head of her own business, as the Old Folk did. But Eudo was an honest man, and he could get her any fleece she wanted, from silky-fine to thick and coarse. And there had never been a shortage in penniless girls – or even older women – from the New Port, who would gladly do the washing and carding of the fleeces for a few copper pieces.

Carding was particularly hard on the worker's back work. One had to comb the freshly washed fleeces with a large, comb-like iron tool, to free the hairs and give them direction, so that they could be rolled into sausage-like length. Some of the women got a rash from handling the new fleeces, breaking out in small pustules that then had to be treated with a vile salve, made of hog’s fat. ‘Twas still better than selling themselves to the boatmen of the Port or the soldiers coming over from Cair Andros, though, so the poor, hard-working wretches never complained. Besides, Mistress Betha often laid hand on the distaff herself, when the work became too much. Her hands were just as rough as everyone else’s.

Today was not one of the days, though, when Mistress Betha would help out her workers. Today was the beginning of the Autumn Fair, and she needed to oversee every phase of the work, so that important customers would find the whole business in impressive order and busy like a beehive, should they want to take a look. Cloth-merchants from Lebennin often did, and Mistress Betha wanted to make a good impression.

Thus she walked over to the weavers’ room to see how they were doing. There she had less to worry, as one of said weavers was her own seventeen-year-old daughter, Morweth, who – even though she could not handle the two-beam loom right now, being with child and expecting to give birth in a moon or two – kept a steady eye on the other weavers. Most of all on Edred, the new foreman: a comely young man a little over twenty, who apparently thought to be Nurria’s gift to the womenfolk. He was a good, hard worker and no mistake – he just needed someone to keep his mind on his work. The other weavers were older, skilled and experienced women who tolerated Edred’s outbursts of gallantry with a patience born of frequent dealings with the brash youth.

Though not a woman to dwell upon her feelings overlong (few women of the Old Folk ever were), Betha could not quite suppress a genuinely fond smile at the sight of her daughter. In her looks (though, thankfully, not in personality) Morweth came after her father, displaying faint Dúnadan traits as dark hair, a slender frame and grey eyes. She was pretty, too, with a pearly white skin – small wonder that Selevan, the young mercer, had taken a liking to her.

Betha could have laughed, remembering the outcry within the Craftsmen’s Guild when it had become known that she would marry off her daughter to Master Suanach’s son. Part of it had been simple jealousy, of course. After all, getting related to the head of the Merchants’ Guild, who also happened to be wealthier than Lord Orchald himself, was no small treat.

Others, however, had been – in fact, still were – genuinely concerned about what kind of life would await Morweth in Selevan’s home.

“After all, does he not have Haradric blood in his veins?” the asked. “We all know how those treat their women: keeping the poor wretches shut away in those parda things and having a new one at every whim? Does he not have a balg with the bather’s sister already?”

For it was widely known – even though no-one had ever found any proof for it – that Selevan was the sire of little Zhori, the bastard child of the quiet and lovely Hunalami, the bather’s sister, whom no-one had ever seen unveiled. But Morweth would not reconsider, and after a while, Mistress Betha gave her consent. The existence of little Zhori bothered her not. The Old Folk might see a bastard child as an equal to the legitimate ones – Dúnadan law did not. And in the end, that was the only thing that truly counted. Zhori was a by-blow. Morweth’s children would be heirs.

Morweth looked up and greeted her mother with a smile. As she could not handle the large looms in her current state, a smaller, warp weighted loom had been leant against the wall for her use. The warp threads hung down, and were pulled tight by rows of clay loom weights. The two layers of warp threads were held apart by means a of so-called heddle – a shaft, which could be easily moved to and fro, thus creating a shed through which the weft cold be passed. In fact, she used several such heddles, which method made it possible the creation of truly complicated patterns. In this particular case, she was working on a wall-hanging, which depicted a hunting scene, with a waterfall in the background.

Such fanciful weaving was not usually done in Mistress Betha’s business, which was specialized on the producing of basic cloth. But being a wealthy merchant’s wife now, Morweth could afford to try out new, more time-consuming things. And since she had the necessary skills, the resulting products were nothing that she should have been ashamed of – on the contrary.

Mistress Betha gave the weavers a sharp look, seeking for mistakes in their work. Finding none (for the time being anyway), she then examined the work of her daughter.

“You are getting better and better at this,” she said contently. “We are fortunate that such things are not widely known here – people will be fighting over your hangings.”

“I hope they will bring in good coin,” answered Morweth with a slight frown. “Some of this silk thread is truly hard to work with; and it is not cheap, either. I am lucky that it is my own husband who trades with it, or else I could not afford it. But Lord Orchald seemed to be content enough with my work the other day.”

“Lord Orchald has already got the future wife of his son in mind,” said the small, wrinkled old woman who was working on a sprang frame on Morweth’s side. “I heard he is about to have the women’s wing renewed in the Castle.”

Betha shot the old woman a curious look. Gytha, the daughter of some local farmer, was older than the Great East Road; she had already been Betha’s nursemaid, and after her that of her children – a small, tough little body, used to hard work, and a never-ebbing source of gossip.

“I did not know that young Lord Herumor was thinking of getting himself a wife,” said Betha, The old crone gave her a toothless grin.

“Oh, not him,” she replied. “He gets all red-eared and uncomfortable by the mere idea of it, at least according to Mistress Gilmith. But the old lord wants to see his bloodline continued, and he will not leave his son alone ere he is wedded and bedded and had produced an heir.”

Which was understandable, of course. Lord Orchald’s family was older than Gondor itself; small wonder that he was concerned about its continuation. But it was no wonder, either, that young Lord Herumor, still barely twenty, did not want to be steered into the safe harbour of matrimony just yet. It had been less than a year that he had finished his training in Dol Amroth, got knighted and returned home. He wanted to live a little first, and who could blame him for that?

In any case, there was no doubt about the truth of Gytha’s news. I the rumours came from Mistress Gilmith herself, the chatelaine of the Castle, they had to be true. Mistress Gilmith knew the lord’s family better than any-one else.

“He will not put his neck into the yoke easily, that one,” judged Morweth. “He is young and wilful, used to get his wish in everything. Lord Orchald may have a long fight before him ere he can hold his grandchildren upon his knees.”

“Fortunately, ‘tis his concern, not our own,” answered her mother, with a last, sweeping glance around. “I see everything is in order here. I shall go back to the shop front, then. Mayhap we will get some foreign customers today.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The shop front was a wide, well-lit room, with a large window to the street. The greatest part of it housed the tailor workshop of Erwan, Mistress Betha’s husband, who was working there busily with Cadan, the husband of his sister; the two, being from the same trade, wisely shared the tailor business, rather than fight for customers. They had only one apprentice currently, Erwan and Betha’s fourteen-year-old son, who had been learning the craft for years by now.

The other side of the shop was occupied by the seamstresses and embroiderers: Erwan’s sister Ethil and her daughter, Breyan. Conuall, Cadan and Ethil’s nine-year-old son, was sweeping together the fallen pieces of thread and cloth from under their feet.

All this was not a new sight for Mistress Betha. In truth, this was what she had expected to see: everyone going after their business meticulously. That there were customers in the shop did not surprise her, either. ‘Twas the time of the autumn fair, after all; she had hoped to find customers here.

But these customers were not cloth-merchants from Lebennin whom she had expected. The two people standing before her counter and examining the various bolts of cloth were Elves. There could be absolutely no doubt about that. They were tall, slender, they seemed to glow from within somehow, and they had elegantly pointed, leaf-shaped ears, only the tips of which peeked out from behind their silky tresses. One of them had rich auburn hair and was clad in forest green, with a healer’s apron bound before her gown, the other one, taller and more regal-looking, was raven-haired and wore a gown of fine grey linen, girdled with gold.

Mistress Betha never paid her own looks much attention. Yet facing these two otherworldly beauties, for the first time in her life, she felt woefully plain and inadequate. Needless to say that the slack-jawed looks her husband and brother-in-law were giving the clearly oblivious Elves were not helping the way she suddenly felt about herself.

But business was business, and if these Elves had coin and were willing to spend it, Mistress Betha was determined to get her hands on said coin.

“How can I be of service, ladies?” she asked politely.

The Elves turned to her, not questioning her right to discuss business with them, unlike some Men would have done.

“Greetings, Mistress Clothier,” said the auburn-haired one. “I am a healer and in need of some fresh linen strips for bandages. Do you have them in store?”

“Why, certainly,” replied Mistress Betha, opening a chest and beginning to pile the neatly rolled strips onto the counter. “How many of them do you require?”

“Four dozens will suffice,” said the Elf, and Betha’s heart made a little jump of excitement. Fine linen strips were not cheap items, which was the reason why the healers re-used them ‘til the constant boiling would make them threadbare. The price of four dozen linen strips would enable her to buy the linen thread required for the next four moon’s linen work.

The Elven healer paid the price without haggling – which was perhaps the Elvish way of trading but foolish when making business with the Old Folk who expected their customers to haggle. Wisely keeping her opinion to herself, Betha ordered her clerk to make an entry into the books, and then she turned to the other Elf.

“And what would be your pleasure, lady?” she asked.

“I want a bolt of your famous blue cloth,” replied the raven-haired Elf, “and one of those.”

Those were Morweth’s wall hangings, depicting hunting scenes. There were two of them for sale, and one particularly lovely, made of silk and hair-thin silver thread. She had laboured over that one for moons.

“I think I shall take this one,” the Elf decided. “’Tis very fine work, and I know someone in whose home in Edhellond it will look lovely. Name the price, Mistress Clothier.”

Betha withstood the sudden surge of greed and named a price that was only slightly higher than the one she would have asked from a mortal customer. After a moment of hesitation, the Elf paid it. Betha packed the linen strips into a wicker basket, rolled the hanging into a protective sheet of fine wool and pushed it all into Conuall’s hands to carry it after the customers. ‘Twas the least she could do, after having earned such a handsome amount of coin off them.

The Elves thanked her and left, with Conuall in trail. Mistress Betha looked after them, supremely content. The fair had just begun, and she had already earned back half her recent expenses.

“This is going to be a very good fair,” she said to her sister-in-law, who nodded, grinning in satisfaction. “Mayhap the coming of Eves means a new flourishing for our crafts.”

“It would be mightily welcome,” replied Ethil, “and perchance, it will be so. They are said to bring a blessing to the places they visit – it seems this would be our chance now.”

~The End – for now~

~~~

The Eredrim are the indigenous people of Dor-en-Ernil, and thus Imrahil’s subjects, in the Dol Amroth roleplaying game.


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