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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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6
The Mercer

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: The Hanse of Lebennin is a league of merchant cities in that particular province that has been trying to bring various branches of trade under its control in the whole Gondor. As the name shows, it was inspired by the historical Hanseatic League. There will be an essay later on this imaginary league.


~~~

PART 05 – THE MERCER

Master Suanach, the head of the Merchants’ Guild in Halabor, read the Guild Book entries from the first day of the fair with mixed feelings. While the fair promised to be a good one as a whole, the presence of the two important cloth merchants from Lebennin worried him. He knew those old and powerful merchant houses; he had done business with them, long ago, when he had still resided in Pelargir. He had moved northwards partly so that he could operate from a town where the opponents were not so strong. That these opponents now seemed to follow him did not bode well with him at all.

While he dealt in silk (and silk thread) first and foremost, Master Suanach had considerable interest in the production and distribution of fine wool and linen cloth as well, and even in that of nettle hemp rope. He covered a good part of Anórien, and even parts of the Eastfold in Rohan. He was not willing to give up on those interests because of the greed of the Hanse of cloth towns in Lebennin.

Not without a fight, that is.

On the other hand, he was old and experienced enough to know that this was not an easy fight to win. He might have had his strong ties in Pelargir – and even in Khand and Harad, to a certain extent – but the Hanse of Lebennin was a powerful opponent. At least ten towns (that he knew of) were part of this old and still growing trade alliance that had been trying to dominate the trade in wool, cloth, wax, amber, timber and hides in the entire Gondor for quite some time. Small merchants either gave up their business or became mere clerks of the Hanse (and at least survived financially) or refused and lost everything as a result, often even the very house their family had lived in for generations.

Mere wealth was not enough to keep the Hanse out of Anórien and away from the Merchant’s Guild’s interests. For that, they needed a definite advantage… and a fairly big one. They could not measure themselves to Pelargir, or Ethring in Lamedon, and even those big merchant towns only managed resist the Hanse with the help of special taxes the lords of the town or province had raised in their protection. Lord Orchald did not have the means to do the same, as only the members of Gondor’s Council had that privilege.

When a messenger boy came running from the Town Hall and told him breathlessly that he was needed there, by head scribe Odhrain’s request, Master Suanach had no inkling that he was about to find the answer to his most recent prayers. In fact, he was rather annoyed. As a rule, Odhrain was competent enough not to bother him unnecessarily. So why would the head clerk as for him now, when he should know that the time was not good?

“I shall go and see what he wants,” said the old mercer to his son and successor – a tall, spare, vigorous young man with bluish black hair that framed his thin face like the wings of a raven. “See to the shop in the meantime. With all those Elves in town, we can hopefully make a good sell this year. They are fond of silk, or so I am told.”

Selevan nodded in agreement and took his father’s place behind the long, low table where the bales of priceless silk were unfolded to the customer’s delight. They offered in their little shop the finest wools and linens, 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 brought a long way from Khand or Harad. Those were very expensive wares that Master Suanach would never entrust to any hired help. But his son had practically grown up among them, knowing well what they were worth and how to handle them.

Thus the old mercer reluctantly left his shop to follow the messenger boy. At least it was a short way from the Street of the Jewellers to the Marketplace where the Town Hall stood.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He had not known what to expect, but he most certainly had not expected to find young Eudo, the wool-merchant, waiting for him in the company of two Dunlendings. He knew Mogh, the Warden, of course – every-one in Halabor knew Mogh – and only needed a moment or two to recognize Chief Trader Nogga, the very man who kept the whole wool trade of the swarthy barbarians in his hands.

Master Suanach had once been counted among the wealthiest and most respected merchants of Pelargir. Through his late wife, he was also related to one of the richest merchant houses in Bakshir, the most important of the Haradric realms. He was, without doubt, the wealthiest and most powerful burgher in Halabor. As a rule, he did not mingle with people below his own status. As a rule, he considered Dunlendings with deep suspicion and almost aristocratic dismay.

On the other hand, Master Suanach had always had a keen sense for opportunity. That sense was tingling strongly right now, seeing Eudo and the Dunlendings together. He knew that Eudo’s own business area had been invaded by the Hanse; he also knew that the young wool-merchant could never keep his business against such a powerful opponent.

Unless he met someone with a similar problem.

Someone who was, nonetheless, in the right position to secure him a mutual advantage. An advantage from which Master Suanach could hope to cut out his own winning.

Seeing the head of the Guild enter, Eudo rose from his seat.

“Master Suanach,” he said respectfully, “thank you for seeing us at such a short notice. I understand that you know Chief Trader Nogga from Lyswyn?”

Master Suanach had learned from his father-in-law that a good merchant always showed respect to a potential customer. Even if he did not feel the slightest respect for that customer as a person.

“We have met,” he sad with a polite nod. “What can I do for you?”

“We’ve come to an agreement, the young one and me,” replied the Chief Trader. “A good agreement that could save us both from falling into the trap o’ those wolves from Lebennin.”

“I see,” Master Suanach showed naught but polite interest, but he was cheering in the inside. “Have you come to have a contract set up properly? Odhrain,” he said with a sidelong glance at the black-clad head scribe who looked more like a Dúnadan nobleman than he could ever hope himself, “can do that. You would not need me for it ‘til it has to be signed.”

“There’s a problem, though,” told him the Dunlending trader. “The young one doesn’t have the coin to pay us a proper price. Those wolves’ve depleted his purse. He’s willing to pay us right, though, and we are willing to sell to no-one but him if he does.”

“I need a loan from the Guild,” added Eudo, clearly ashamed and desperate. He pulled a folded leaf of vellum from his belt pouch and handed it to Master Suanach. “My clerk has already calculated the sum I would need and the rate of interest I could pay without ruining my business completely.”

Master Suanach did not like it when his business partners tried to set the rules. Even less so when said business partner was a truly small fry compared with him. But Eudo was offering an opportunity here that might make it possible to keep the Hanse out of their area of business, thus Master Suanach was willing to make allowances… within reasonable limits.

He carefully studied the calculations of Eudo’s clerk. ‘Twas a surprisingly good job from someone barely literate, but Acco had always been better with his numbers than with his letters. If the Guild indeed granted Eudo the loan, it would take them years to get their money back – and even longer to make any decent winnings. But in the long run, it meant that they would have the monopoly of Dunlending wool, which was the best quality in all the adjacent lands, not to mention the greatest amount anyone could produce. In the end, it would also mean that they would be able to sell the clips to the Hanse, with considerable profit, as the cloth manufactories of Lebennin were dependent on Dunlending wool. Their own province could produce but a fragment of what was needed in the cloth houses.

So aye, this was a clever and mutually beneficial agreement. Which did not mean, however, that Master Suanach would give in easily. Eudo had to realize what great favour he would be given by the loan from the Guild.

“It does sound reasonable,” admitted the old mercer, “but it will not yield any winnings in the first couple of years. I need to discuss this with the treasure master of the Guild.”

“Oh, please,” Eudo snorted. “As if old Muathlan would say nay, once you have given the nod to anything!”

“That may be true,” replied the old mercer, for it was only very true that the spice merchant would never cross him; they had too many shared interests. “Still, the rules must be followed.”

“Then I’d suggest that you talk to him quickly,” interrupted the Dunlending, “for our offer only stands for two day from now. After that, we’ll be forced to sell our wares to the merchants of Lebennin. We’d have no other choice.”

Master Suanach did not take it kindly when some barbarian gave him an ultimatum. Unfortunately, this time he had to humour the barbarian. There was too much at stake. Not that he would ever admit it, of course.

“I shall see what I can do,” he replied loftily; then, turning to Eudo, he added. “Have your contract set up by Odhrain. He an also write a preliminary agreement about the loan you have asked for. I shall speak with Master Muathlan, and if he agrees, you can sign the documents tomorrow. Would that suffice?”

Eudo nodded, relief clearly written in his open, youthful face. The visage of the Dunlending remained unreadable. The spoke their thanks and left, leaving a cautiously optimistic Master Suanach behind.

This single agreement would not solve all their problems with the Hanse, of course. But it was a definite advantage, one that they sorely needed. It would save Eudo, as the local husbandmen would return to selling him their clips, once he could afford to pay them a little more; and having the monopoly for Dunlending wool would enable the Guild to keep the wool trade in Anórien firmly in hand and hold back the intrusion of the Hanse, at least for the moment. It also gave Master Suanach the breathing time he needed to look for allies in Pelargir, Ethring and Minas Tirith itself. Those were financially strong cities, the interests of which had been threatened by the Hanse as well.

All in all, this was a promising start. And if Master Suanach had to swallow his pride to achieve it, it was not such a high price, after all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
He gave Odhrain the necessary instructions – not that the head scribe would need them, the man was well-educated in his trade but needed to be reminded who was the one giving the orders from time to time – and returned to his shop in the Street of the Jewellers.

He found his son in deep discussion with a customer – and not just any customer; not one of the local noblewomen who usually kept the mercer business flourishing, but an Elf. Master Suanach had never seen an Elf before. They did not visit Pelargir or Minas Tirith in these days, and though they were known to appear in Dol Amroth sometimes, their Lord being an old friend of the Prince, even that was a rare occasion.

The lady standing before the presentation table, eyeing a bolt of fine yet very light camlet cloth, the kind that was made from camel hair and dyed in a vibrant blue only in the desert realms of Harad knew the secret of, was tall and slender like a young tree, with skin as pale as mother-of-pearl and hair like molten gold, arranged in numerous, complicated braids that must have taken days to do to this perfection. She wore a simple, sea-grey gown and a cloak of royal blue, fastened with a silver broche on her throat. Her delicate face was beyond mortal beauty, with a pair of wide eyes, grey like a clear winter morning. There could be no doubt that she had to be a noble person, even as Elves go.

“The cloth is as thin as the finest silk,” was Selevan saying when his father re-entered the shop, “and I assure you, my lady, that it will be delightfully cool to wear, even in the height of the summer.”

“Then it might be just the thing I was looking for,” the Elf-lady replied in a low, musical voice. “Indeed, this would look gorgeous with both gold or silver and white embroidery… or with pearls and small gems.”

Master Suanach felt his heartbeat quickening. The cloth in question was the purest, finest camlet from the desert of Harad, rare and more precious than even Khandian silk. He had almost given up hope to sell it, for it was simply too expensive for the purse of the local nobility.

“’Tis an excellent choice, my lady,” he agreed, trying not to look too eager to sell, for that would have been a mistake. “The hue matches your own colouring most complementarily, I would say.”

The Elf-lady laughed. ‘Twas a light, pealing laughter, like a summer rain… or like pearls falling into a silver bowl.

“Flattery will not take you anywhere, good mercer,” she said. “But I shall buy the entire bolt off you, if your price is a reasonable one.”

Master Suanach hesitated for a moment, natural greed battling with the caution of a skilled trader – who wanted to sell first and foremost – in his heart. In the end, caution won out. He named a price that was high enough to compensate him for his expenses and even get him a decent winning, but was not unreasonable. A decent profit was still better then letting the priceless cloth lie on the shelf, gathering dust… or being ruined by moths.

The Elf-lady nodded.

“That is acceptable,” she said, opening her pearl-embroidered purse and counting the demanded gold pieces onto the table. “Can you have it brought to our temporary dwellings? We have taken up residence in the Infirmary gardens for the time of the fair.”

“Why, certainly, my lady,” the old mercer replied. “We have errand boys for that sort of thing. To whom shall I send it?”

“To the Lady Aquiel,” answered the Elf. “Should I not be there, the aide of my uncle Gildor will take it from your boy. Have a good day, good master.”

With that, she left, leaving a thunderstruck Master Suanach behind. The old mercer might never have seen an Elf before, but every-one who had lived in the south of Gondor had heard of Gildor Inglorion, of course. The Lord of Edhellond, close friend of the Princes of Dol Amroth since the founding of the realm, was a legend. But none of the tales had ever mentioned that he would have a family.

While shutting his newly-earned gold pieces safely away in his strongbox, Master Suanach wondered briefly whether that knowledge would ever prove useful.


~The End – for now~

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