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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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18
The Butcher

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: According to my sources, butchers and chicken-butchers were really two different branch of the same business. Go figure. The romance between the Chief Warden and the midwife started in “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”.


~~~

PART 17 – THE BUTCHER

The shop and slaughterhouse of Goran Flesher, the only butcher of Halabor, stood in the Street of the Bakers and hailed from the better days of the town, when butchers had their own guild. The shop had a wild boar’s head above its front door, so it would have been hard to miss it – not that the mouth-watering scent of a pig being roast on a spit would not have revealed its location to anyone with a nose.

‘Twas a rare event that Goran would offer his customers roast pork, as pigs were common household livestock and thus not in great demand. The rules of the Merchants’ Guild required butchers to supply beef, before any other type of meat, although Goran also sold mutton and veal. He bought the animals from his wife’s family, who were all tenants on the one or other farmstead, and thus supplied him well all the time.

It did help his business, of course, that there were no other butchers in town; had not been for a very long time. Roughly a thousand people lived within the town walls, and nearly as many again it the scattered farmsteads, cottages and manors in the immediate neighbourhood; too few to feed more than one butcher. Which was the very reason why Goran’s own son, Goron, had to work as a chicken-butcher, ‘til his father felt the time come to retire and hand him over the flesher business.

That, however, was a long time to come yet. Goran was still some years short of sixty, with a heavy-set, powerful body, a grizzled head, and arms like great tree-boughs. Despite being a four times over grandfather already, he showed no sign of weakness and no indication to give up his work just yet.

His wife, Aith, was eleven years his junior, used to working hard from sunrise to sunset like any proper farmer’s daughter, and she was a great maker of bacon and sausages and various sorts of pickled and smoked and salt meat. And her spit-roast pigs were so tender that their meat fell from the bone on its own to the mere touch. Whenever there was a fair or some other festival in town, Goran got the Guild’s leave to sell those spit-roast pigs.

This, if one took the letter of the law seriously, was a slighting of the tavern owner’s privileges. But Mistress Pharin, practical woman as she was, simply ordered two or three whole pigs from Goran every time, ready to be carved and sold, thus saving herself the effort and even making some solid winnings over the price.

During a fair, the strict regulations always got loosened a little, but it also made the victuallers(1) work even more closely together. For example, to make the traditional pasties that were much sought after on the fairground, Wethinoc, the pastry-cook, needed minced beef and pork from the butcher, and a great amount of chopped onions, taters(2) and turnip that was prepared for him in the Drunken Boat. Only the pastry itself and the sauce, made after an old family recipe that he guided jealously, came from his own kitchen. He put everything together in Mistress Eseld’s bakery, baked them in the oven and sent the still hot pastries in great wicker baskets to the Drunken Boat and to his own tent on the fairground, where they were sold to the last piece, within the hour.

Goran always made good business on the Fair, too. While he sold roast meat of pig, beef or mutton in his shop, his wife had a tent on the fairground, to sell fresh and smoked or dried sausages, bacon, filled pig’s stomachs, liver pastetes and other such delicacies. Sure, they did not offer food for the refined tongue of lords, but the simple townsfolk loved his treats and could not get enough of them. The bakers provided him with the right sort of bread – usually brown or black, as his regular customers could not afford the fine white cocket or domain bread; and the horse, as the extremely coarse bread, made from the lowest quality flour and usually bought by the near-penniless folk of the New Port, was called, would be below his level to keep in the shop.

Calculating that day’s potential winnings in his head – they had been good enough already, as visiting the Fair usually made people hungry as well as thirsty – the Master Flesher went to the hearth with his slow, rolling gait, to check on the mutton hunches roasting in a huge iron pan there. The small-purse visitors of the Fair, who could not – or would not – spend their hard-earned coin in one of the taverns, always found their way to the butcher’s shop, and they preferred mutton, as it was much cheaper than beef or veal. Goran sold it with bastard wastel, as brown bread was called in these lands, and a tasty pepper sauce, made by his wife from red wine, spices and egg yolks. He usually took a thick slice of brown bread, laid a thick slice of roast mutton on it and covered the meat with a large spoonful of sauce. People were content with it and readily paid the demanded brass pieces for such a meal.

He turned back to the counter – and grinned broadly, seeing Chief Warden Henderch enter his shop. He liked Henderch, just like about everyone in town. The presence of the Wardens gave the townsfolk a sense of safety they had not known before. And, unlike many of his fellow Wardens, Henderch was a son of Halabor, born and grown up in the Old Port. He was one of them.

What was more, this time Henderch came in the company of Mistress Dorlas, the midwife, Old Craban’s daughter. The rumour mill had been running about the two of them for a year or so already. Being a widow with a good trade of her own, Mistress Dorlas had many suitors who did not mind that she was barren. Mostly widowers with children of their own, perchance grown ones, who had no need for more heirs but a keen interest in her sturdy house in the Old Port and in the coin that she would be able to earn.

That she would choose Henderch the Brave instead, a good, decent man, albeit still suffering from the results of a crippling injury that had forced him to leave Gondor’s army and return home, surprised no-one. What did make people wonder, though, was why the two would not wed properly. For though Henderch spent much time in her house, seemingly to visit little Godith, the orphan of a fallen Warden whom he had given into Mistress Dorlas’ care, he always returned to the House of the Wardens, where he lived with those who had no families. Late in the evening or only in the morn, but he always returned.

People’s tongues waggled a lot about the midwife and the Chief Warden, yet neither of them seemed to care. And for his part, Goran cared not the least, either. He valued Henderch and his fellow Wardens greatly, and he respected Mistress Dorlas, whose skills had helped him to four strong, healthy grandchildren already. And should any-one speak badly about either of these two, Goran would show them why he had no need for any help with slaying an ox with an axe. He was as peaceful a man as any, but malevolent gossip could bring out a side of him that was not pleasant to watch, as people who had spoken ill of his wife right before their wedding had learned on the hard way. It had been well worth the fee he had to pay the bailiff, and he would do it again.

Thus he grinned at Henderch and Mistress Dorlas, who had even brought little Godith with them, in a friendly manner. The three seemed well content with each other, and ‘twas no-one else’s business what they did and why.

“Well met and welcome, Chief Warden, Mistress,” he said. “Would you care for something to eat? The pig is done already, and I have some fine mutton here, too.”

Henderch looked at Mistress Dorlas in askance, who shrugged.

“We can have a bite,” she said, "but I was looking for Chrochnuit, in truth. She was not in your son’s tent, and I am still worried a bit about her.”

“She has taken the tallow to the chandler,” explained Goran. Cador, the chandler, had married his daughter near fourteen years ago, and for just that long had Goran be freed from making tallow candles. ‘Twas a task he had always hated to do, and Cador paid an honest price for the collected tallow, thus he found it better to focus his strength on his actual trade.

Not to mention that being related to the chandler could earn one some respect. Cador worked for wealthy and noble families well beyond the town walls and earned good coin. A son-in-law like that reflected well on the whole family.

“Chrochnuit should not lift heavy burdens,” said Mistress Dorlas disapprovingly. “While ‘tis true that her child is almost a year old, she is still strangely weakened. I shall have Mistress Angharad take a look at her.”

Goran pulled a face. He had had his only son married to a farmer’s daughter, just as he had married one himself, for in a slaughterhouse, there was much hard work, which a wilting flower could never manage to do. And yet the young wife of his son had turned out to be just that: a wilting flower, who could not regain her former strength after giving birth. Goran considered her shape a persona effort. Aith had born seven children – alas that only two of them had survived! – but had been back on her feet in mere days each time.

Master Goran despised weakness. He was like an ox himself, her wife like a sturdy oak, and his son a young bull of twenty-four. Even his daughter, the chandler’s wife, was large and wholesome, a mother of three sturdy children. Simpering and ailing was something he had little patience for.

“Pampering will not help to get her strength back,” he said, meaning his daughter-in-law. “Other women have children by the dozens and do not whine about each birth for years.”

“Other women did not nearly die in childbirth at the age of sixteen,” riposted Mistress Dorlas sharply. “She lost more blood on that day that I would ever believe possible for any woman and still survive. She should not even think of getting with child again for at least two years to come, if she wants to live beyond twenty.” She shook herself in anger and disgust. “Let us leave this place, Henderch. All of a sudden, I seem to have lost my appetite.”

The Chief Warden gave the butcher an apologetic shrug but followed her out in loving obedience nonetheless. Goran stared after them, more than a little insulted. He liked Mistress Dorlas, he truly did, but she could be so… unreasonable sometimes. Why could she not see that pampering Chrochnuit would do no good? That girl had come to his house like a spoiled princess already, and had not gotten any better ever since. And that foolish son of Goran’s had been at her beck and call all the time, just because he thought that he loved her!

The Master Flesher shook his massive head in disapproval. Love was something for the minstrels and fine lordlings. Men of the common folk wed to achieve more wealth, to have someone to run their household and to bear them children. ‘Twas that simple. Picking up lordly ideas was not good for simple folk – it could only lead them to ruin.

He sighed, pulled the large pan from the hearth and lifted one of the mutton haunches with the iron fork over to the chopping board. A few hirelings from the New Port were coming up the Street of the Bakers, having packed the wares on the fairground all morning. They would have earned good coin; foreign merchants could be generous, more so if they had made good deals. The workers would be hungry.

Master Goran grabbed his huge butcher’s knife and began to slice up the roast mutton haunch. He only wished his problems could be dealt with the same easy way.

~The End – for now~

~~~

(1) People who sold and prepared food – any kind of food – in the Middle Ages. The victualling industry included bakers, brewers, butchers, fishmongers, innkeepers, millers, regraters, tapsters, taverners, vintners and many other obscure specialities.
(2) Hobbits tend to call potatoes taters in LOTR. Since I assume that the Old Folk is related to the people of Bree, who use a similar version of Westron as Hobbits do, I thought I would use this particular term, too. It simply sounds too funny to ignore.


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