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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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10
The Saddler

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: The particulars about Clan Éowain are from the – now sadly gone – Rohan RPG.

The details about the saddle-making are absolutely authentic. Hungarian saddle-makers had done their work this way from the 9th century up to the 1930s. That was the last time someone interviewed a traditionally working saddler, and all the details are from that interview.

Master Folcwalda first appeared in “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”. The mistrust of the Rohirrim towards Elves is established in LOTR.


~~~

PART 09 – THE SADDLER

For a town of such a modest size, Halabor certainly had a surprising number of strangers within its walls… a reminder of better times, when it was still an important waystation at the crossing of preferred trade routes. And even though the town had long lost its former importance, it was still a so-called charter town: tenants and small craftsmen, if mistreated by their overlords (which could happen, even in Gondor) could flee there, and if they had lived a year and a day within the town walls, they would become free of their former obligations. Assumed that they had found a craftsman who would accept them as a help. Otherwise, they ended up in the New Port, leading a life even less pleasant than it previously had been.

‘Twas, however, a rare occasion in these days. Most strangers came to town on their own volition: looking for a trade they could learn, for a market for their wares, or simply wanting to live in a place different from their homes. Some of them were lonely wolves, like Mogh the Dunlending, the only one of his kind in town. Others had come together, in a large group, like all the Haradric expatriates that had moved northwards with Master Suanach’s household, their families having served that of the old mercer faithfully in Pelargir for generations.

The most numerous group was that of the Rohirrim, who came from time to time across the border of the Riddermark, one family at a time, to trade in horses or to work with horses or in any other craft related to horses. Everything the Rohirrim did was related to horses, and for them, coming down the old North Road to Anórien, especially for those dwelling in the Eastfold and the East Emnet, was but a short journey. Many of them had taken a liking to the little town and the surrounding lands during the long years of shared history between Rohan and Gondor, and their progeny could be found in great numbers along the border.

Master Folcwalda, the saddler, was one of the relatively new arrivals. He was a man of common birth and belonged to Clan Éowain, the members of which kept many of the nomadic traditions that went back to the days of the Éothéod in the North. The Éowain usually travelled with their herds that consisted mostly of horses but also other livestock in search of good grazing lands from the edge of East Emnet east to the swampy area around the Entwash and north from the Great West Road and Ered Nimrais to the Wold and the southern fringes of Fangorn Forest.

Folcwalda’s father, Feoca (after whom he had named his firstborn son) hailed from Stjernholm, a small settlement near the Great West Road – not that it counted much, as the Éowain only returned to these villages in the depths of winter. They valued their freedom as much as they valued their horses, coming and going throughout the Eastfold controlled only by the availability of suitable grazing sites.

Of common stock Feoca the Older might be, yet he was a well-respected person within the Clan: one of the Éomaegisters (which, in the tongue of the Mark, meant horse-master). He had gained the title through his excellent skills as a horse healer. His three older sons had followed his path, each one becoming an Éoscealc (which meant horse servant) of his own, breeding and healing and training the fast and agile steeds bred in the East-Mark, and his daughters had married men of similar rank and trades within the Clan. But Folcwalda, fourth son and sixth child of the respected Éomaegister, was more interested in trade and leather-working, and thus his father had allowed him to learn the craft of saddle- and harness-making, in which he had already exceeded as a young apprentice.

He had achieved his master’s title when he could barely count twenty summers, and came to Halabor the year after, for there his work had been needed, for the garrison of Cair Andros as well as for all the local merchants. A fellow clansman of his, by the name of Hrotgar, who had already been working with Lord Orchald’s horses, had laid in a good word for him and ever since, Folcwalda had been working for the Castle Guard and the men-at-arms in the Lord’s service as well as for the mounted troops of the Lord’s bailiff, too.

‘Twas a good life. More settled than he had been used to from home, but a good one. He had married Ceithlenn, the shoemaker Anta’s daughter, with a nice enough dowry to bring into the family business, and the had three strong, handsome children, who stood out from the darker, stockier locals like signal beacons, all coming after him, with their flaxen hair, white skin and piercing blue eyes.

His firstborn, Feoca the Younger, was already a skilled harness-maker, albeit still three years short of twenty. Erney, barely fifteen, was learning the making of scabbards from young Erchin, and showed considerable skill at it. And little Crewyn, his pride and joy, who had learned the art of purse-making in Minas Tirith, could have made up her own workshop if she wanted, so skilled she was. Another year or two, and she would be ready to wed.

Erchin had asked for her hand already, and Master Folcwalda was willing to give his blessing. He knew that Crewyn had her eyes every bit as much on Erchin as Erchin had his eyes on her. But Crewyn also wanted to return to Minas Tirith, for at least another year or so, for she had met an old purse-maker there, a bent and battered widow, who could still teach her a great many things, and she wanted to learn everything she could about her chosen craft.

Nevertheless, the two would make a good match, and Crewyn was still young. Master Folcwalda hoped that Erchin would be willing to wait, for it would have been of mutual advantage to run the leather-working business as one. But if Erchin grew too impatient, there were enough other suitable candidates among the Rohirrim living in Halabor – or even back in the Mark. During their last visit at home, they had got several very good offers. Would Crewyn wish to move back with her father’s clan, she would not lack acceptable suitors.

There was still time enough for that, though, Folcwalda decided. Crewyn was fourteen, hardly more than a child. There was no need to hurry; the daughters of the Mark did not wed at such a young age as those of the Old Folk anyway.

Emptying his tankard, the saddler gave it back to the pot boy, together with the brass pieces he ought to pay for his drink, and set off for the booth he shared with Erchin for the duration of the Fair. ‘Twas time to return to business. Erchin was a good, honest young man, but he had little to no understanding about saddles and their value. With the saddler’s wife and sons at home in the workshop to finish some specially embroidered horse gear for a local nobleman, Folcwalda could not afford to leave his booth to Erchin for too long.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
At first he was delighted to see a potential customer standing before the booth. But his broad grin turned into a displeased frown, seeing that the person he had mistaken for one of his own kind was, in fact, an Elf. Like most Rohirrim, Master Folcwalda had a deep-rooted mistrust for the Elder Race. The fear of the sorceress of Dwimordene had followed the otherwise brave horse-lords ever since they had set foot in the Mark for the first time.

But a customer was a customer, and the saddler had already heard ample gossip about how loose the Elven purse could be. He saw no reason not to take advantage of the aloof Elves, should the chance offer itself.

He entered his booth, ready to face the fears of his ancestors – and was greatly surprised. He had expected some fragile, sprite-like creature, but this Elf – and a female one at that! – was as tall as he was (and him being a large, powerful man, even by the measure of the Mark) and perchance every bit as strong. For a moment, he was too stunned to speak, but the Elf seemed not to notice… or she did not care.

“Mae govannen,” she said in her own tongue, in voice that was surprisingly deep for a woman, yet melodious. “I am Isfin, horse-master of the Wandering Company. Are you Master Folcwalda, the saddle-maker?”

“That I am indeed,” the saddler finally found his voice. With a fellow horse-master, even an immortal one, he could deal. “How can I be of service?”

The way the Elf looked at him somehow told him without words what a foolish question that had been.

“I wish to buy a saddle,” she said simply, using a tone one would use with a particularly slow-witted child.

Folcwalda knocked a flaxen eyebrow. “I thought Elves had no need for a saddle,” he said, for indeed, that was what all the old tales told.

The Elf actually snorted! ‘Twas a fairly undignified sound, coming from such an elated being.

“Only the Silvan folk feels the urge to show off their skills by riding bareback,” she replied. “We, more practical folk, prefer the good leverage and the comfort a well-made saddle can offer. Now, I wish one that would be worthy the Lady Aquiel, our Lord Gildor’s niece, and I have heard that the saddlers of Rohan make saddles entirely of wood and leather. I would like to see one of those.”

“Why, certainly,” replied the saddler in delight. Whatever he might think of the Elves, the thought that rumours of the skills of Rohirric saddlers had reached even them made him very proud.

He showed the Elf two of his best pieces, made specifically for the Fair as display objects. They were made of two sorts of wood: the saddle board that would actually connect with the back of the horse, was carved of poplar, as it was a softer kind of wood, while the saddle-bow of harder, more resistant ash-wood. The individual parts had been fastened together with wet leather straps (hidden in shallow-cut conduits in the wood, so that they would not rub the horse’s back) and gluey wooden nails. The leather-covering, too, had been nailed to the wooden parts while still wet, and sown with wet leather thread. During the drying process, both leather covering and thread shrunk and pressed the wooden parts together, harder than aught else could have done. A saddle prepared this way could break anywhere but in the places where it had been strapped and sewn.

The leather Folcwalda had used for his saddles was tough ox hide, ensuring that the saddle would keep a long time. The saddle-bows were adorned with applied bone-carvings and small silver or bronze applications, depicting flowers of the Mark and running horses. Making a good saddle required a great deal of knowledge and several artistic skills, not to mention a lot of time. Alone the forked tree parts used for the saddle-bow needed to dry at least two years ere one could begin to work on them.

The Elf inspected the saddles carefully. Folcwalda could see that she had much experience with such things, but he did not worry. He knew that his work was good. Finally, the Elf chose the one with the silver applications.

“This one will suit the Lady Aquiel well,” she declared. “I will take it. What will it cost me?”

The price Folcwalda named was high, but so had been the expenses gone into the saddle, not to mention the long hours of patient and loving work. True, it was somewhat higher than he would demand from a mortal customer – well, considerably higher – but all things considered, still not unreasonably so. It was one of his best pieces, after all, and he had to sell it to an Elf!

Said Elf must have agreed with him, for she paid the price without any objections. Master Folcwalda wrapped the saddle into a protective piece of cotton cloth and called one of the errand boys lazing around among the booths to carry it after the Elf.

When they were gone, Erchin looked up from the trefoil-shaped green buckle he was busily knotting.

“You have taken some risk by demanding such a high price, you know that,” he said. “Unlike some of her fellow Elves, this one was no fool.”

Folcwalda nodded. “I know. But she seemed to know that my saddle was worth the price… even if not exactly cheap. She would have spotted, had I tried to cheat her.”

“Mayhap,” said Erchin thoughtfully. “Yet I also think that she might know that no mortal customer would have paid the same price… and still, she did not haggle. I wonder why.”

The saddler shrugged. “They are Elves. Who can tell why they do or do not whatever they do? In any case, I made a good bargain. Even if I do not sell aught else – which I doubt, given the presence of several local noblemen – the Fair had already been a good one for me. What about you?”

“I cannot complain,” replied Erchin with a smirk. “I have just cut into the purses of two Elven minstrels nicely, too. They paid twelve copper pieces for a single buckle! Do they have any idea what things are truly worth?”

“Some of them surely have,” said the saddler. “And if they allow the others to learn from their own mistakes, all the better for us.”

~The End – for now~

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