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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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17
The Bow-Maker

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: Rhisiart, the minstrel first appeared in “The Last Yule of Halabor”. The Lord’s huntsman had an appearance in “A Brotherly Gift”.

Being born under a lucky star is a Hungarian expression. I do not know if it has an equivalent in English or not.


~~~

PART 14 – THE BOW-MAKER

Cadwallon, the bow-maker, was content with the modest earnings the Fair had brought him so far. He had not counted on more than doing a few small repairs for the visiting men-at-arms or selling a few dozen arrows. Any bigger work had to be ordered in advance, for making a bow required time and patience. Thus he actually welcomed the low traffic in his workshop, as it left him free to finish the longbow he had been working on for a while. The one ordered by Alston, Lord Orchald’s huntsman, who, as it was proper for a lordly household, also happened to be a knight, and as such he went to battle with his lord whenever the need arose.

To make a bow, finding the right sort of wood was the first task to master. Gondorian longbows were, as a rule, as long as their wielders were tall, or a fraction longer, for their range depended on the length of the archer’s arm. The Lord’s huntsman was of Dúnadan blood: a tall, vigorous man of six feet two, thus Cadwallon had to find a yew-tree of suitable size, for yew had been used to build bows in Gondor since the foundation of the kingdom – or before – as its sapwood possessed a high degree of elasticity and its heartwood could be compressed without too much trouble.

Longbows were made of one piece of wood, as a rule, thus he needed a bough that was at least twice as long as the bow would be, and at least three inches ticks. Fortunately for him, he had Lord Orchald’s leave to search the lord’s woods, and thus he had managed to find one. After sawing it off, he brought it home, removed the bark and sealed both ends with tar, so that it would not get wet in the inside.

Due to a warm, dry summer in that year, the future bow needed but a few weeks to dry properly. Barely a week before the beginning of the Fair, Cadwallon could already begin with the actual work. Gondorian longbows traditionally had a thicker section in the middle, in order to give the archer a more secure grip; Cadwallon marked this five-inch-section first, ere he would cut back the ends with an axe and then with the large working knife, and reduced the thickness of the bow, so that it would bend everywhere but in the midsection where the archer would hold it.

During work, one had to keep testing the bow, of course, as it was crucial that it had no ‘blind spots’ – places where it would be too stiff to bend properly. Blind spots ‘broke’ the tension of a bow and lessened the range of the weapon, which could prove fatal for the archer. Cadwallon himself had little interest in – and even less skill at – actually using a bow. Making them satisfied him completely. Luckily for him, though, his wife, Endelliont, felt differently. As the eldest of three children of a woodworker, she had been raised as a boy… well, almost… and learned to shoot while barely old enough to lift a bow. She was good with the axe and the carving knife as well, and even walked around in men’s clothes whenever on a journey: in breeches and a tunic and a leather jerkin, cloaked and hooded, and a leather cap hiding her tightly braided hair.

Many of the townsfolk took offence at a woman behaving thusly, but Cadwallon was not one of those. To begin with, Endelliont had no great beauty that could have been ruined by the lack of proper female clothing. She was a strong, plain-faced woman of middle height and middle brown colouring, who could easily masquerade as a man if she wanted. And besides, her knowledge and skills as an archer and woodworker provided great help for Cadwallon; which had been part of the reason why he had married her in the first place some twelve years earlier.

Beyond that, she was a good housekeeper and a good mother to their two children, a son of ten and a daughter who had just turned seven. She had even willingly taken in little Rannilt, the daughter of Cadwallon’s brother, when the girl’s mother had died in childbirth. Rannilt was of the same age as their son Ruith, and the three children grew up as siblings rather than cousins, under the surveillance of Cadwallon’s widowed mother.

Cadwallon himself was a rather personable young man just beyond thirty: tall and well-shaped and well aware of his good looks, with curling corn-yellow hair as an inheritance of some Rohirric ancestor somewhere up his family tree and dancing pebble-brown eyes that always glinted with good humour. He was generally content with his life, his work and his family, and looked into the future with a sunny disposition that would put many of the wealthier people in town to shame. He was born under a lucky star, as people said, meaning that whatever he would begin, it usually turned out good.

Right now, all he wanted was to finish Alston’s bow, and he hoped that it would turn out good as well. For no matter how skilled an archer his wife was, the bow had been made with a tall, strong man in mind, and it had a drow weight of ninety pounds. Despite all her skills, Endelliont simply had not the strength to bend it properly, and Cadwallon did not like to deliver a weapon that had not been tested to its limits.

“You seem to be in a rare brooding mood today, little brother,” said a deep, rich voice in an amused tone, and looking up in surprise, he saw his brother, Rhisiart the minstrel, entering the workshop. And he came not alone. The Elf accompanying him was tall, had the leaf-shaped ears of his kind, smooth ash-blond hair, keen blue eyes and the heavy-set shoulders of an archer who, perchance, had already had millennia to perfect his skills.

Rhisiart was six years his brother’s elder; a comely man with a full head of russet hair that barely covered his ears and a short-clipped beard of the same colouring. He had originally learned the craft of the carpenters, and beyond that, the art of making and repairing musical instruments, by an old master in Linhir, whose daughter he eventually married.

His marriage had been a short one, though, and after his wife’s untimely death, he gave in to the wanderlust that had been burning in his blood for years by then. Leaving his newborn daughter in the care of Endelliont, he took his harp and rebec, both made by his own hands, and began his wanderings from manor to manor, from town to town, from farmstead to farmstead.

He had a good voice and a skilled hand with his instruments, albeit little talent for the making of songs. Yet even with those that he had learned elsewhere, he was a welcome guest in the manors of lesser noblemen in Anórien or on the fairs of every town, including the one in which he had been born. Coming back to Halabor from time to time had the additional benefit that here he had no need to look for a lodging, as Cadwallon and Endelliont kept a small room for him in the loft. ‘Twas a bleak little chamber, where they stored firewood to dry over the summer, but it still left room enough for him to have there a bed and a table where he could keep his instruments and other belongings.

Cadwallon begrudged him the chance to follow his heart’s true calling not; and they were happy to keep little Rannilt with them as she was a sweet, shy child and brought much joy to their lives. Besides, Rhisiart paid or the girl’s keeping; not much, that was true, but he did pay, saying that it was his responsibility as a father – even if he shied away from any other paternal duties. He loved his little girl but he knew not what to do with her.

The Elf who had come with him looked from one brother at the other with interest. Cadwallon did not blame him. Between the two of them was very little family resemblance, though they both had their mother’s eyes.

“You have brought guests?” asked the bow-maker, ignoring his brother’s jest about his ‘brooding”. He did not brood, and they both knew that.

“Oh, aye,” answered Rhisiart. “I have been amiss with the introductions indeed. Brother, this is Durithel, the chief tracker of the Wandering Elves.”

“And an archer if I have ever seen one,” added Cadwallon, grinning. “’Tis my pleasure, Master Elf. I am called Cadwallon, and I am the bow-maker here.”

“I can see that,” the Elf reached out for the finished bow but stopped his hand in the last moment. “Would you terribly mind if I…?”

Cadwallon waved generously. “Not at all. Be my guest.”

In fact, having his handiwork examined by an Elven archer was most exciting. Elves, especially those of the woodland folk, counted as the best archers in the whole Middle-earth, and they knew more about bows than any Man could ever hope to learn in a lifetime.

The Elf named Durithel lifted the bow and stroked along its arch with a loving hand, as one would pet a beloved steed.

“The wood is excellent,” he judged, “and so seems the workmanship. Have you worked in your trade for long, Master Cadwallon?”

The bow-maker shrugged. “I have begun to learn it as a small boy already, at my father’s knees,” he replied.

“And it shows,” said the Elf. “A classic Gondorian longbow, if there ever was one – though fairly large for a Man, I would say.”

“It has been made for a fairly tall man, too,” answered Cadwallon. “I just wish we could test it properly. But I have no such skills, and my wife, who has them, lacks the proper strength to bend it.”

“I would be glad to be of assistance,” offered the Elf. “I am tall enough and strong enough to bend it… and I know enough about bows to give you an honest opinion.”

Cadwallon accepted the offer gleefully. Having his bow tested by an Elven archer was the dream of every bow-maker between the Mountains and the Sea.

“I have a shooting range behind the house,” he said. “You can give it a try there.”

The Elf found that a good idea, and so out they went to the back yard, where several targets had been placed for Mistress Endelliont’s practice. The newly-made bow should have had a range of three hundred yards, assumed the archer had the strength to bend it to its full capacity and to pull the bow-string behind his ear. Cadwallon was sure that the Elf would be able to do just that, and even a mere Man should manage to reach a useful range of two hundred and fifty yards.

‘”Tis very good work indeed,” judged the Elf, hitting the centre of each target several times unerringly with the three-feet-long arrows, “and the bow-string is supremely strong. What do you use for strings, Master Cadwallon?”

“Horse-hair, in Rohirric fashion,” replied the bow-maker. “’Tis hard on the fingers, true, but most archers wear gloves anyway, and horse-hair is very endurable. What kind of hair do Elves use to make bow-strings?”

“Our own,” said Durithel with a faint smile.

That made sense, Cadwallon thought, eyeing the long, ash-blond locks that cascaded down to the archer’s waist, even tied back as they were at the moment, so that they would not get caught in the bow-string. He wondered what it would be like to work with that. But ere he could have found a way to ask for a lock of Elven hair, gurgling laughter could be heard, and the children of the house came running and tumbling over each other.

Two of them were his own chicks, Ruith and Richild, the third one was sweet little Rannilt, who had missed her father for too long this year, and the fourth one was Oswin, Rhisiart’s… well, fosterling, for the lack of a better word.

The minstrel had found the now seven or eight year old, fair-haired boy somewhere along the border of Rohan, two years earlier. He had practically bought the little waif with no name to call his own and with huge, trusting cornflower-blue eyes from a band of tricksters and mummers… although thieves and cut-throats might have been a better name for them. He had named the boy Oswin and taken him along on his journeys, for Oswin had already been taught for his former… owners how to spin painted wooden balls and rings in the air, had a sweet little voice, and could twist his small, way too thin body into knots that would make a snake envious.

Oswin liked to travel with the minstrel, who, at least, treated him well and gave him enough to eat. But his happiest times were when they came back to Halabor and visited Cadwallon’s family. For the children were friendly to him and treated him as if he had been one of their cousins, and Mistress Endelliont was kind and a very good cook.

And if they came during one of the annual fairs, it was even more fun, of course. While he had to work with Rhisiart to earn them some coin, he also got to go with the other children to visit the booths, and sometimes even came back with a little treat.

“Father,” begged little Rannilt, tugging her father’s hand persistently. “Can we go to the booth of the pastry cooks? And to that of the honey-makers, for sweetmeats? And they say that Master Breach has made new toys for the Fair… can we go and see them?”

The minstrel looked at his brother helplessly. The bow-maker grinned at him with just a touch of schadenfreude. “To become a father is easy, brother mine,” he quoted the old saying. “To be a father, though, can be a heavy burden sometimes(1). Go, be a father… and took Oswin with you as well. The boy deserves to have a little fun.”

Still a bit reluctantly, the minstrel left with all four children, hearing with one ear as his brother turned to the Elven archer with an eager question.

“Master Elf, I have heard that the bows of Númenor of old were made of hollowed metal. Can you tell me whether that rumour is true or not?”

“I fear I cannot be of any help in this matter,” laughed the Elf. “My tribe has never had much business with the Men of Westernesse. We have always minded our own affairs and stayed out of those of the mortals. But I can introduce you to some of my Noldor friends, if you wish. They are a meddlesome lot… and some of them are even old enough to give you an answer.”

~The End – for now~

~~~

(1) German saying. The original text is: “Vater werden ist nicht schwer, Vater sein dagegen sehr.“ I am afraid it loses a lot in the translation.


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