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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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14
The Glass Workers

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: Old Dungarth’s accident was mentioned in “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”.


~~~

PART 16 – THE GLASS-WORKERS

The glass ad amber workers of Halabor not only belonged to the same extended family, every single one of them, they also shared the same workshop. One in the Street of the Gardens, which, together with the Street of the Infirmary and the Marketplace, was considered one of the best, most sought-after places in town, where only the wealthiest, most respected merchants and craftsmen could afford to have a house. For though glass beads were jestingly called the poor man’s gemstones, they were by no means cheap, and the making of them required great skill and a lot of hard work – more so, in fact, than the cutting of specious stones or crystal, both of which had been done in Halabor for a very long time.

The long, low-ceiling front shop housed both workshops… well, part of them, actually, as the glass-melting furnace was sited further back, in the yard behind the house. The front shop had a long, low table right below the large shop window, where the more delicate work was done. The masters of the family shared that table the same way they shared the workshop and the house.

At one end of the table sat Master Cutter Massen: a grave, comely young man just past thirty, but already a father of four. He worked mostly with amber, taking a block of this precious material, cutting it roughly the right shape for beads and drilling a hole through them. To perfect the final shape of beads, he turned them on a bow lathe before polishing them with coarse sand first and then with fine powder. He also made wedge shaped beads, combining them with round ones on a necklace, often with a wedge shaped pendant as the centrepiece.

Amber was a rare and expensive raw material, something that could not be found anywhere near Halabor. It had to be imported from the far North, where it could be gathered along the coasts of the western Sea, and was brought south by Dwarven traders or by merchants from Dale and Esgaroth. A smaller amount was washed loose onto the beaches of Belfalas by sea currents, causing it to float to the surface, especially during the violent storms that tended to hit the Bay out of the blue from time to time. But these southern pieces were of a pale colour like translucent straw, and most rich customers preferred the northern ones that were a dark, reddish brown, like dying fire caught in a glass bottle. Pieces with a frozen insect or an encapsulated leaf or flower within counted as particularly precious and valuable. A good gem-cutter could make a small fortune out of a single one of them, if properly polished and cut into the right shape for a pendant or a broche, cast in gold or silver.

Master Cutter Massen had only one of those rare pieces in his possession. ‘Twas a tear-shaped one, about the size of a dove egg, and had a fully open flower enclosed within. It looked a little like the iaros flowers the leatherers used for dyeing, but this one was smaller, and pure white, and had a more fragile blossom. It had been sheer luck that he had found it, in the middle of a rather unremarkable lump of southern amber, and he had finished the polishing of the pendant but a moon ago. On a delicate silver chain, made by the local silversmith, it would be worthy to adorn the slender throat of an Elven princess. Massen had high hopes to sell it during the stay of the Wandering Elves – after all, they had come to see the Fair in the first place.

The Master Cutter had no journeyman, for amber-working was a craft with high expanses, and only someone of an already wealthy family could afford to learn it. But he was not entirely without help. His two oldest sons, twelve-year-old Allun and nine-year-old Cleder, were already learning the noble craft at his knees, and his father, Maylwen, although past seventy and of weakening eyes, also worked with him still.

At the other end of the table, Massen’s uncle, old Dungarth was working on his glass beads. The old glass-worker was nearing eighty already, but he would not cease working as long as his hands and eyes served him. Not even his latest accident, in which he had burned his hands and forearms badly, could keep him out of the workshop, no matter how much his sons, Morag and Feoch, both fully accepted glass-makers of their own, begged him to save his strength. He was an artisan at heart, and his wrinkled old hands could not lie still on his lap.

‘Twas fortunate for him that both his sons had chosen to follow his lead, for glass-making was hard work, and some of the tasks required strength and a steady hand. There were two ways to do it: either from raw materials or by melting down broken glass (that was called cullet) and re-using it. Although re-using glass would have been much easier, chances to get enough of it at the right time were slim, thus Dungarth and his sons usually made their glass themselves.

For that, they had taken clean, stone-free sand from the riverbed and sieved it several times, with increasingly finer sieves. When they were certain that no unwanted particles remained in the sand, they mixed it with natron (a costly item, imported from Pelargir or Harad) or potash (which they also made themselves, by passing water through burnt wood). This mixture was then heated in an oven for several days, while constantly raked and stirred, to allow waste gasses to escape – a procedure that could be perilous for the eyebrows if one leaned in too close, and harmful for the lungs. When it was ready, the glass workers broke it up and put it into a crucible, often with cullet added, and melted it in the furnace that stood in the back yard.

If all went well, glass was formed. However, ‘twas a difficult task that required great skill and knowledge. A small mistake was enough to result in large lumps of partly formed waste glass that was not good for aught but being melted again. At first, most glass workers produced a lot of this useless substance, as one only could learn the finer tricks by much experience.

The results also depended on the furnace, of course. Dungarth and his sons had been fortunate that they could employ the services of Uthno, the town’s oven-builder, who was renown for his skills well beyond the borders of Halabor. Their kiln was made of the usual mix of sticks and twigs encased in well grogged clay, with a lot of straw bound into it. It might look like a crude chimney, but it could easily provide the great amount of heat needed for the process, and it had been serving them well for years.

When made of raw materials entirely, glass was clear or had a slight green tingle. To colour it, various minerals had to be added. ‘Twas widely known that copper was needed for red, blue or green, iron for black and tin for yellow, yet the right amount and mixture of the minerals was a jealously kept secret, handed down from father to son in each generation. Old Dungarth cold make glass in a surprisingly wide spread of colours: from pale blue to dark blue, from blue-green through emerald green to olive green, from amber to yellow-brown, red and black. Even among skilled glass-workers, this was an impressive variety, which had made his name well-known, especially in Rohan, as the Rohirrim were very fond of glass beads. They used them as clasps or ornaments on their own clothing and braided them into the mane of their horses.

Dungarth had already sold everything but his display pieces in the first couple of days – in this year, many traders had come from the Mark, more than usual – and was now about to make a new collection. He had a crucible of molten glass on the table before him, to which he had already added some lead to give the beads extra sparkle. Today, he was making blue beads, using a so-called pontil rod to pick a blob of molten glass from the crucible and then form it to a slightly elongated oval bead. That he did by rolling it on a smooth marble plate while it was still soft, and decorated it with trails of yellow and darker blue glass, leaving the yellow trails raised and pressing the dark blue ones in.

To obtain the individual patterns for his beds, he fused coloured glass rods in varying combinations. The rods themselves were the work of his younger son, Feoch, who formed them by bunching and folding them over each other, and then drawing out the hot glass into narrow rods. This work was done in the background of the workshop, where the finished pieces were left to cool slowly on warmed marble plates, so that they would not split.

At the moment, however, Feoch was doing enamel work, placing coloured glass, ground up into fine powder, on a bronze cloak clasp and heating up the piece, so that the glass would melt and fill the selected area, colouring it and fusing it to the background. Dungarth, needing a break to stretch his back, walked over to him and took a look at the finished pieces. There were already half a dozen of them, every single one decorated with a different pattern, on the cooling plate.

“They look good,” he judged. “Master Ludan will be content with your work.” They were doing these enamelled clasps for the Master Bronzesmith, who had first wrought the basic parts.

“I hope so,” replied Feoch, sliding the finished clasp carefully onto the cooling plate. “How is Morag doing with those drinking glasses the Elf-lord ordered on the first day of the Fair?”

Glass blowing was a skill in which the older brother exceeded, but rarely did they get such a tall order. The leader of the Wandering Elves, whose name was apparently Gildor Inglorion (which, as he had readily explained, meant simply ‘son of Inglor’), had given order for a dozen tall drinking glasses and a dozen beakers, both from blue-green glass, decorated with molten golden trails on the outside. ‘Twas a difficult task, even more so given the short time Morag had to his disposal, but Dungarth was certain that his firstborn would finish the work in time.

“He is doing well enough,” said the old master. “Just the final polishing has yet to be done.”

“I wonder, though, how do those Elves intend to carry all that glass down the long way to the Bay of Belfalas,” commented his son thoughtfully. “’Tis a very long journey, and glass is a delicate thing to transport.”

Dungarth shook his had. “They are not taking it with them. ‘Tis a gift for young Lord Herumor, I heard. The Elf-lord apparently said he might not return to Halabor ere the young lord finds a suitable wife, so he wanted to give him his wedding gift in advance. Elves see time differently than we do.”

“I sense a conspiration,” grinned Feoch. “Lord Orchald must be truly desperate for grandchildren if he employs the help of Elves to get his son wedded.”

“He is not the only one,” replied his father pointedly. For it was true that Feoch had married but a year ago himself, just before turning thirty, and his marriage with the bone-carver’s daughter had yet to be blessed with children.

The young man rolled his eyes. “Ai, Father, I beg you! Morag has already given you grandchildren, and in proper time Inganiad and myself will no doubt manage to do the same.”

“I might not have the time,” his father reminded him. “I am old, my son. I cannot wait forever to see your children. And I wish to leave house and business behind in the certainty that there will be heirs from my line to continue my work after I have gone.

Feoch truly disliked what his brother and himself called their father’s graveyard talk, but there was not much that he could have answered. ‘Twas truly frustrating sometimes. As if he and his wife would have chosen to remain childless. As if Inganiad had not tried every single thing Mistress Angharad, Mistress Dorlas and old Mistress Crodergh had come up with between the three of them. ‘Twas not fair that his father kept blaming him for the lack of results.

The opening of the shop door saved him from the necessity to give an answer. He had expected to see one of the Elves; they had been coming and going in and out of the shop, ever since their healer had bought two dozen small flasks for medicine on the first day of the Fair. But he was mistaken. The tall, slender young man entering the shop was no Elf but young Lord Herumor in person.

Which was even better, for as much as the glass workers liked to make business with Elves (as it was very profitable), they dearly loved their lord’s only son, just like everyone in town. Young Lord Herumor was a very personable man, despite his noble birth, ancient line and the fact that he was a Swan Knight – the noblest status any young man in Gondor could ever hope to achieve.

At home he was not wearing the blue of his Dol Amroth overlord, however, but the silver and sable of his own ancient House, with the rampant dragon and the three white gladden flowers embroidered upon his chest. And everyone’s hearts swelled with pride and joy and love upon the seeing of him, for he was the symbol of survival and future. For his old father, for his ancient line… and for the ancient little town itself that he was never ashamed to call his home.

Right now, though, he seemed just a little skittish… almost embarrassed, which was a rare thing to see on him.

“Master Massen,” he said to the amber cutter, after a nervous clearing of his throat, “I understand that you have a very precious amber pendant to sell? With an iaros flower or something like that in the middle of it?”

The Master Cutter rose from his stool eagerly. “Aye, my Lord, that I do indeed. Would you care to take a look at it?”

And while Massen hurried off to fetch the rarity in question, Dungarth and his son exchanged a long look, full of curiosity. One would not make such a gift casually. Could young Lord Herumor have already given his heart to someone, without the knowledge – and the blessing – of his father?

~The End – for now~

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