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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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12
The Water-Carrier

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: In the Middle Ages, water was provided to individual households by carriers, whose business it was to deliver water from the river or conduits to customers. Some water-carriers went about the streets carrying a large tankard on their shoulders, others would carry two 3-gallon wooden tubs hanging from a shoulder yoke. Professional water-carriers also often used carts or packhorses to deliver the water to their customers.

Halabor’s water conduit system was based on that of 13th -century London.


~~~

PART 11 – THE WATER-CARRIER

‘Twas barely an hour left ‘til sunset when Cinni, the water-carrier, turned into The Barn, the wine-crier’s modest little tavern in the New Port, placing his yoke with the still half full barrels into an empty corner. He felt tired beyond measure. Every single bone in his body hurt separately. But again, the time of the fairs was always a demanding one.

On regular days, he would pull his barrels (four or five of them at once) on a small, two-wheeled cart, putting the harness on his own body, as he could never allow a pony or even a scrawny little ass(1). But during the Fair, there were so many people abroad everywhere in town, the booths so close to each other on the fairground, that even his little cart would not pass through between them, Thus he had to return to the methods of his youth, and – as so often in the recent years – he had to admit that he could no longer bear the same burdens as he used to.

If only he had sons who could help him! But Nurria, the Lady of the fields of pastures, in her unfathomable wisdom, had chosen to give him daughters only: four daughters, small-boned, bird-like girls, who could never lift a yoke with two barrels. Sure, they helped him pumping the barrels full, but they had not the strength to do the work of boys of their age. And Cinni’s wife had been ailing for a long time, unable to help him in anything.

A little man of slender bones and lean but wiry flesh the water-carrier was, just this side of fifty, with a thin, deeply lined, beardless face. He had grown up in the New Port, having lost his parents to the plague at the age of ten and being raised by the late Arbell, the father of his wife, from the age of twelve. He had known a great deal of hunger and pain in the two years in-between, and even in the following years, food had always been sparse, and it still showed on him. But small and simple though he might be, he had a quiet dignity about him and was as durable as a tree.

His customers came from the circle of the moderately well-to-do craftsmen and the not entirely poor workers and small traders. For the Castle had its own well and cistern, deep and clear of water, thanks to the spring under the very rock upon which it had been built; and the bath-house, too was well-provided by its hot spring. Some wealthier families either had a well, too, or had obtained permission to bring a quill from the main conduit pipe to their homes. The more modest households, though, were dependant on Cinni’s services – save from the very poor who simply drank the water of the River. Which was a perilous practice, as the water was soiled from the accumulation of dung on the river bank, and from the discharges of the fullery and the tannery that went directly into the River. Even if boiled, it could cause severe illnesses.

‘Twas safer to use the water provided by the Great Conduit House, which stood in the middle of the Marketplace, at the end of a conduit, the head of which had been placed near a natural spring, just outside the town. The water of said spring was used to fill an underground cistern. From that cistern, the water flowed through wooden pipes – made of the hollowed trunks of great elm trees – to the middle of the town, where it was stored in another, even larger cistern, right under the Conduit House. From there, it had to be pumped up into a copper tank equipped with a tap for dispersing the water.

The system was not perfect, for the wooden pipes rot easily, or broke, despite the applied iron collars to strengthen the joints, and thus had to be replaced often. But it worked well enough. To protect the clean water (and such the water-carrier’s meagre livelihood), the Town Council appointed water wardens to the Conduit House, and water theft was severely punished. Thus Cinni could be reasonably sure that he would not run out of work for the conceivable future.

‘Twas the possibility that he would run out of strength to do his work, sooner or later, what concerned him more.

He had reached the end of that strength for one day. But he felt not like returning to his little cottage in the New Port yet. Home had lost its attraction, had become affiliated with feelings of loss and sorrow for years. Whenever he closed his eyes, all he could see in his mind was the frighteningly thin frame of his wife, sitting at her distaff and twisting the wool with a hand that was frail like a withered leaf.

The debiliating illness that had befallen her more than five years ago had aged Avota into a greyness well beyond her less than forty years, making her look like a wraith. Her eyes, dark blue and still shrewdly observant, had grown huge and hollow in her shrunken face, with half-lowered lids that were marble-white and veined like harebells. No-one could tell what truly ailed her, and none of Mistress Crodergh’s medicines could help her. She had endured the constant pain with admirable patience – ‘twas Cinni who often fled their home, unable to watch her moving around slowly and with infinite care.

She had no longer the strength to run the household, and Cinaed, their eldest chick had stepped into the vacated spot of her mother at the age of eight already, doing everything that needed to be done, with the help of her sisters; even though the youngest, who had just turned three, was more a burden than any help. Cinni sometimes worried that little Briocca, being born after her mother had already been hit by the illness, might have inherited it; yet there was no way to tell.

Aye, there were many reasons for Cinni to be worried, but for just a little while, he wanted to forget about it all. True, the wine Clemow offered was often a bit muddy and more than just a little sour, but after a long, hard day of work, a man wanted something stronger than weak, home-made ale… and the company coming with it was more than welcome.

He lowered himself to the table of the old clothes merchant, who also often took his evening cup of wine in The Barn. Seeing him, Clemow came forth from behind he counter himself to bring the wine flask.

“This one is a little better than my usual fare,” he said, pouring the water-carrier a cup, “and will cost you just a brass piece more. I got it from a small trader of Rohan who did not want to bring his remaining wares back home and sold it to me for a price that I could afford. Try it; it tastes fairly good.”

Indeed, the wine was not half bad, and it had quite a kick, warming Cinni’s stiff limbs nicely. Mullion was of the same opinion.

“Pour us another cup, Clemow,” he said. “I have made some modest coin in the last few days; I can afford to buy a friend a drink.”

Cinni nodded his thanks and enjoyed his second cup of wine. It tasted even better than the first one. He felt his strength return… as much as it was possible, for someone as overworked as he was.

Clemow sat down to their table and poured a cup of wine for himself, too.

“Had a hard day?” he asked the water-carrier.

Cinni shrugged. “Fair days always are. I am not twenty any longer, and the yoke seems to get heavier every time I lift it to my shoulders. But what other choice do I have? Avota can barely do any more spinning, and my poor chicks already work hard enough to keep the household running.”

“I heard you wanted to apprentice Cyneswith to Master Folcwalda,” said the old clothes merchant. “Is it true?”

Cinni nodded. “Not for the saddle-making, though; just to learn how to work with leather. She is ten; if she wants to learn a craft of her own, she must begin now.”

“And you can come up with the apprentice fee?” asked Clemow doubtfully. I possible, Cinni was even shorter of coin than he was.

“Not likely,” replied Cinni with a sad smile. “But we have made an agreement, the saddler and I. For being taught leather-working, my little chick will help out in the household as a maid and a laundress.”

Clemow winced. “That will be a lot of hard labour; and all that on top of learning the craft itself!”

“I know,” said Cinni, “but what else can we do? At least one of our chicks needs to learn a trade that will feed her later. That way, she can hope to find a suitable husband one day. A trade of her own is as good as a dowry… which I cannot give her. Or any of them.”

The other two nodded in understanding. They had both daughters of their own. They knew all about the difficulties of getting a dowryless daughter wedded.

“At least the two of you have sons who might marry a lass with a suitable dowry one day,” added Cinni gloomily. Then he turned to the old clothes merchant. “Have you come to an agreement with Eudo, after all?”

Mullion nodded. “He was in a bit of a tight spot, because of all those Hanse merchants from Lebennin,” he answered, “but he managed to make a profitable deal with the Dunlendings in the end and seems to be on his way back up.”

“With the Dunlendings?” repeated Clemow in disgust. When still an independent wine merchant, his grandfather had often told horrid tales about the swarthy barbarians. How they attacked and robbed travelling merchants. How they raided small villages, slaughtering men and old people and dragging away younger women and children, burning everything to the ground. How they were bothering farmsteads along the border of both Gondor and Rohan.

Mullion shrugged. “If a bargain with them saves Eudo’s business and my son’s marriage, who am I to wrinkle my nose about them? This might help me to finally get my family within the town walls, and for that, I can only be grateful.”

“There is some truth in that,” admitted Clemow. “I wish I could make a bargain like that with some foreign traders. That might save my business, too.”

The old clothes merchant nodded. As the only representative of his trade in town, he always got word about the things that happened in the meetings of the Guild leaders.

“I heard about the Old Sailor,” he said. “I wish no ill for Gennys, he is a good, honest lad, but this will be hard on you, I fear.”

“That,” said the wine-seller sourly, “is the understatement of the Age. It could ruin me… it might, too.” He gave Cinni a wry grin. “Mayhap I will carry a shoulder yoke alongside you, and soon.”

“I hope not,” replied Cinni gravely. “Nothing against you, but with work like mine you would never be able to keep your house and feed your family. Besides, I know not how long I will be able to carry those heavy barrels myself.”

“It seems that we in the New Port are the only ones who will not benefit from the visit of those Elves,” commented Mullion. “Alas, they have no need for used clothes.”

“Neither have they any interest in sour wine,” countered Clemow with a mirthless grin.

“That may be so,” said Cinni, the only one who was sitting with his face to the front door, his small, dark, bird-like eyes widening in awe. “Yet there must be something of interest for them, or else they would not be here.”

“What?” Clemow knotted his brows in confusion. “Who? Where?”

“See for yourself,” replied the water-carrier, amused, and nodded towards the front door.

The other two turned around, their mouths literally hanging open. For in the open door, two tall, willowy, raven-haired fellows were standing, clad in the usual green and brown garb of the woodland folk.

They were Elves, without any doubt. Their fair faces, shimmering pale skin, elegantly curved, leaf-shaped ears revealed them as such at first sight. One of them carried a small, hand-held harp, the other one wore a new belt, inlaid with gold leaf, that was, without a question, young Erchin’s handiwork.

They were also very, very drunk.

That surprised Clemow, for all the old tales said that only very strong wine could make Elves tipsy. But who knew what these two might have ingested ere coming there?

The one with the harp looked around with very bright, sea grey eyes and grinned like a loon.

“It seems to me, Melthinorn my friend, that we have found the place we have been looking for,” he declared. “Now the fun can begin.”

He stepped away from the door, and before Clemow’s widening eyes, a whole crowd of different sorts of people filled the little room. There were Rohirrim among them, lots of townsfolk, including Rhisiart, the wandering minstrel, and even two or three other Elves, one of them obviously a female one.

“Master Clemow,” said the other Elf, the one with the new belt, “we require your help. See, we have made a bet with these good people here that the song of an Elven minstrel would sweeten even the sourest of wines. And as they all stated as one that your tavern offers the best test objects to that theory, we want your worse for everyone. They will pay for it the same price they would have to pay in The Cellar – and we will sing, ‘til these people admit that our singing makes your wine taste sweet like nectar.”

~The End – for now~

~~~

1) Meaning a donkey – before anyone gets the false idea!


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