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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
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The Bone-Carvers

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: Carved bone planes set into bronze frameworks were used to make reliquary caskets. As Middle-earth did not have that sort of religious custom, I simply used the idea for a book casket.

Sennen, the wandering bone-carver being treated in the Infirmary has been mentioned in “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”.



The house of Enoder, the Master Carver of Halabor, stood right next to that of the glass and amber workers’ in the Street of the Gardens. ‘Twas a somewhat smaller house, built in the customary style, half of stone and half of oak beams, and it had the usual front shop on its ground floor, looking directly to the street. He worked there with his wife, Trevenna, and his wife’s brother, Ingonger, both of whom had learned the same craft, and with their children.

Enoder had no siblings of his own, thus he had taken in his wife’s kin gladly. He had taught his craft both his grown daughters, as Nurria had denied him a son so far, including the birth of little Tuiren five years ago, and having help in the workshop was a welcome thing, as work was always aplenty. Even after marrying the glass-worker’s sons, his daughters came over to work with him and their cousins whenever they could. They loved their craft as much as they loved their family, and Enoder could always use another pair of hands.

As many people liked to carve little things from wood or bone as a pastime, they also often thought that Enoder’s work would be a cheap and easy one. Thus it happened sometimes that a customer would show up with a heap of randomly collected bones and ask for an item to be made from them, hoping that he would get it for nigh to nothing, as he had brought the material himself. Such people were then unpleasantly surprised when Enoder turned them down, explaining that bone is not like bone, that different items needed different source material, and that he would not use anything that had not been prepared by his very own hands – or by someone’s from his family.

Not every bone was suited for the carving of items. The most useful ones were the lower jaw, the shoulder blades, the ribs, the leg- and hipbones. This was true from pig to ox and all other animals of roughly the same size. To clean the bones, one could cook them, or bury them in a shallow pit for a while, or place them into a nest of wood ants. Enoder used all those methods, reserving the ant nests for the finer bones – like those from goose or swan wings, which were used for making into whistles.

Horn was another material Enoder worked with. It was usually collected after an animal had been slaughtered. It was not so hard or so enduring as bone or antler, but artfully carved drinking horns always brought in good coin from the Rohirrim who preferred them to any other drinking vessel. Horn was also made into vessels containing oil or fat (which was used for the bows or leather armours), or even salt, with both ends properly sealed.

Antler, a harder and more endurable substance, came from the red deer that lived in the woods between the White Mountains and the Great River. People of common stock were not allowed to hunt, of course, but Lord Orchald, just as his forefathers before him, had granted the bone-workers the privilege to collect the antlers after the deer had shed them naturally in Solmath(1) and Rethe(2).

The bone-carvers made a wide variety of household items from bone and antlers. Combs, sword mounts, bracelets, pottery stamps, pins and needles belonged to their repertoire as much as dice, gaming pieces, spoons, weaving battens, boxes, pendants, weaving tablets, beads, needle cases, spindle whorls, seals, whistles, musical pipes, knife handles, buckles, strap ends, turning pegs – or even moulds for pewter castings or hammers and clamps for the jewellers. But not all bone work was done for simple everyday use. Enoder’s masterpiece, for example, had been a book casket, made of exquisitely carved bone panels set into a bronze framework. This was the first and so far only time that he had worked with műmak ivory. He had spent long, joyful hours carving the surfaces with strange beasts, known only from old legends.

He had sold that casket to Lord Orchald himself, barely two years after having finished it. Servants of the Castle told that it was still in the chambers of young Lord Herumor, who collected little girdle books of poetry in it. They also said, the young lord had discovered his fondness for music and poetry in Dol Amroth, for Lord Orchald himself had more… dour tastes that reached from ancient lore to hunting. He was a grave person, despite his almost fatherly love for his subjects – grave enough to have even the Steward’s ear on occasion, albeit his lands were now too modest to allow him a seat in the Council.

Like the rest of the townsfolk, Enoder understood very little about the affairs of the Realm or the internal politics of their Dúnadan overlords, but even a small craftsman could recognise greatness if he saw it. Everyone in town loved and respected Lord Orchald, and they generally agreed that no-one could wish for a better, wiser lord. Or a more generous one, despite the fact that his wealth was nothing compared to that of other great lords of Gondor.

Enoder hummed under his breath and stroked lovingly the large, flat surface carved from the bone of a great sturgeon, which had been caught by the fishermen a few weeks earlier. Such large, hard pieces of bone were hard to get hold of, for the great sturgeons had become rare in the River in the recent years. But if one found its way into the fishermen’s nets, they could be certain to make a good bargain out of it. For the plaques made of the bone of these huge fish, if well prepared, could be used with glass smoothers to smooth, crease or even polish linen, and thus were much sought after by the clothiers and tailors. Mistress Betha had long ago given order for such a plaque, but the work had to wait ‘til the fishermen could find a large enough fish.

Now, however, the work was nearly finished. Enoder had adorned the plaque with meandering leaves carved onto the rim and polished the surface repeatedly, ‘til it was smooth as marble. He had been fortunate to have enough help in the last weeks, including his wife’s youngest brother, who followed his father’s path as a wandering bone-carver and had come to town shortly before the Fair, in a rather bad shape. Mistress Angharad had patched him up nicely, and Sennen had actually taken on the offer of hospitality of Enoder’s house, working for his keeping without being asked to do so.

Enoder would not mind to keep him in the house for good. Sennen was not a bad sort of man, just cursed with a strange inner unrest like his father had been before him. But wandering around looking for work had become more and more dangerous in the recent years, as poor Telent’s fate had shown, and turning forty next spring, Sennen truly needed to slow down and be with the only people who cared for him. He had no family of his own, after all. Not that Enoder – or anyone else from his family – knew of it in any case. And if no-one else, Trevenna would know. She and her youngest brother had always been close.

Enoder examined the bone plaque for one final time. Then he wrapped it in a cloth and gave it his nephew to bring it to Mistress Betha’s house. Little Jowan was already an apprentice, but also served as the workshop’s errand boy; and a very reliable one he was. As much as he loved his daughters, Enoder sometimes wished he had a son like him.

As the boy went out of the door, in came, at the same time, Enoder’s daughters, to do some work in the few hours left to sunset. The Master Carver liked these hours, when his wife and he brothers were off to the Fair, haggling with customers in their booth, allowing him a little shared time with his daughters. They had always gone along splendidly, he and his ‘girls’, as he kept calling them, despite the fact that they were both married women now, and Onuava a twice-over mother already. They could work together in amiable silence, except when the girls had some gossip to share, or chose to hum some old tune under their breath. They both had fair enough voices and liked to sing – ‘twas very peaceful, when there were only the three of them.

Today, it seemed, was gossip day, though, if the sparkling of their eyes could be a hint. Small wonder; fair time always provided the town with gossip for the next season, at the very least. But before the gossip, there was work to do. Enoder wanted to make the antler combs, ordered by Cinni, the water-carrier, for his daughters as a Yule gift. ‘Twas a little early for that, true, but Cinni was not a wealthy man, and Enoder had agreed to accept the payment in rates, as long as he got the whole (rather modest) sum of copper pieces ‘til Yuletide. This agreement had the side benefit that they could do the work well in advance, when his girls could help him, instead right before Yule when they would be busy with household tasks.

Cinni had scavenged the antler from the forest floor himself, thus it was clean and ready to be cut. Had the deer been hunted, the tissue inside the antler would bleed and get very sticky. For this reason, Enoder only ever used the ones the deer had shed naturally. He had already cut off the tines and the burr(3), leaving just the beam from which the combs could be formed, and he had sewn it in the middle along its length, removing the soft and spongy inner parts that could not be used for this particular purpose.

As these combs were meant for young girls with small hands, they did not need to be any longer than five inches, each. Thus the pair of antlers Cinni had brought would be enough for all four to be made, reducing so the costs for the poor man. He earned his coin hard enough as it was.

Enoder now cut some short, wide, rectangular plates from the remaining outside of the antler, to form the teeth plates, and four pairs of long, narrow pieces to join the teeth plates together. His girls sanded the plates to shape and smooth them, for the tooth plates and the side plates needed to shape into half-moon formed sections. To all pieces to come together as they were intended to, the work needed to be very precise.

They decorated the side plates cutting little stars into the surface, matching for a Yule gift. The tooth plates then got riveted between the side plates, and Enoder finished the combs by cutting their teeth with a saw. As it was his wont, he made wide-set teeth on one end of the comb and much closer set, fine teeth at the other. Young girls had much finer hair than men and needed to get the tangles out of it without breaking a fine-toothed comb. The final task, the sanding of the teeth, was assigned to Inganiad, who had the nimblest fingers.

“I would like to make a case to protect these teeth,” she said, polishing the finished combs with a deerskin rug. “Can we do it, without people thinking that we would do unpaid work for everyone from now on?”

Her older sister finished four copper pieces from the soft doeskin purse hanging on her belt.

I shall pay for your work,” she answered. “Cinni’s wife had helped me so much ere she fell ill, when we were both with child. Those poor girls would not get any more gifts for a while; let us make sure that at least these would last.”

“Is Cinni doing worse?” asked Enoder with a frown, while Inganiad already began with the sanding of more narrow side plates for the case. He barely knew the water-carrier – providing the household with water was the women’s task – but even he knew that Cinni’s services were needed.

Onuava shrugged. “He is not getting any younger… or the barrels any lighter. Soon, he will have to turn twice for each delivery, and that would not make him earn more. Unless he manages to get hold of a pack pony or a little ass… which is rather unlikely, poor as he is. Mayhap you should say a word about a loan in the Guild, Father. The merchants would not move a finger to help him, but we need Cinni to be able to do his work. We have no wells of our own in the back yard.”

“You should talk to your husband’s father,” replied Enoder. “His word has considerable more weight in the Guild than mine.”

“I will,” said Onuava, “and to Master Massen as well. All I need of you is to support the idea.”

“That I can do,” agreed her father. “’Tis still generous of you to pay for a gift for Cinni’s daughters, though.”

“Those poor girls deserve a little joy,” said Onuava, “and I can afford it. Morag has all but finished the Elf-lord’s orders. We will do well on that Elven gold for a while.”

“You are not the only ones,” added Inganiad. “Young Lord Herumor has just brought that amber pendant from Master Massen. The one with the iaros flower in it. Feoch was there and had seen it all.”

“What?” cried Enoder in surprise. “I never knew the young lord to carry so much coin on his person – or to spend any of it on aught else but on books or weapons. He is a real modest one as young noblemen go.”

“He is a young man,” replied Onuava, barely older than the young lord herself, in the maternal manner of someone who already had two chicks of her own, “and young men can be foolish when the fancy for a girl hits them sometimes.”

“’Tis strange, though,” continued Inganiad, every bit as well-versed in local gossip as her sister. “He has shown little interest for the noble maidens so far, no matter how persistently Lord Orchald has been trying to make him interested in matrimony.”

“Not even Lord Orchald can know everything,” said Onuava wisely. “If the young lord has bought such a gift, there must be someone that gift was meant for. Not necessarily someone Lord Orchald would find a suitable match, though.”

The two sisters exchanged looks full of excitement and understanding. Nay, they would not discuss the possibilities within the earshot of their father – men could be so unreasonable sometimes. But this piece of news would entertain the whole town for a long time. ‘Til another exciting piece of gossip came along.

~The End – for now~


(1) Solmath is the rough equivalent of our February. It’s not an exact match, as the Shire calendar (and the Bree calendar which I use for the Old Folk) has months that have generally 30 days, but this is the closest thing I could find to count time for Halabor.
(2) Rethe is about the same as our March. See above.
(3) The burr is the swelling where the antler joined the skull of the deer.


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