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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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19
The Pastry-Cooks

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: The millers and bakers first appeared in “The Last Yule of Halabor”. The meat pasties mentioned here (and in the previous chapter) are something akin to Cornish Pasties. Since I have chosen Cornish names for the Old Folk, to have some sort of continuity in the world-building process, I thought it reasonable to have them had Cornish food, too.


~~~

PART 18 – THE PASTRY-COOKS

Barely two hours were left ‘til the closing of the Fair on that day when Ulogen and Wethinoc, the pastry-cooks of Halabor, took the last tins out of the oven. The time of the annual fairs was always a good one for them, as people liked to eat a bite while strolling among the booths, and pasties were small treats that could be easily eaten. One did not make oneself messy, not even if eating and strolling around at the same time.

Unless one was an urchin of the Old Port, delighting in getting as messy as humanly possible, to the great displeasure of one’s parents, of course.

Ulogen and Wethinoc were brothers, both around forty, with only three years between them. They learned the basic tasks of their craft from their father, the late Uepogen, who had been the only pastry-cook in town, but Wethinoc had also spent a few years in Minas Tirith, by a renowned master, to learn the finer tasks and the little secrets that made his pasties and sweetmeats so excellent and so much sought-after. Why, he even got called to the Castle before the great feasts, to enrich the table of Lord Orchald himself with his delicious creations.

In Minas Tirith, he had married his master’s daughter and even arranged for his wife’s sister to be wedded to his own brother. The two sisters had brought but very little dowry into the marriage, and the bakery went to their brother after Master Ciah’s death, which was the reason why Ulogen and Wethinoc still worked in Mistress Eseld’s bakery, instead of having their own oven and workshop. Their father’s bakery had been destroyed by fire while Wethinoc had learned his craft in Minas Tirith, the oven ruined beyond repair, and they just did not have the coin to have a new one built. ‘Twas cheaper to use Mistress Eseld’s, even though they had to pay rent for the use of both bakery and oven.

Besides, working with Mistress Eseld did have its benefits. She knew her craft like few others did, and she readily gave advice, whether asked for or not. She always gave good advice, though, so one would have been a fool not to follow it, even though she could be a bit… bossy sometimes. Not to mention that working with her meant that her husband, the miller, would make the pastry-cooks a better price, seeing them as kin already.

Which they were, all things considered. Wethinoc’s only daughter, Sinna, had married the miller’s firstborn and already born him a son. And the second son of the miller, who was a baker’s journeyman by his mother, had already asked for the hand of Ulogen’s daughter, Unna. The parents on both had for some time been discussing the matters of a small dowry Ulogen might be able to give his daughter – ‘twas truly not much – and where the young couple would live, and when the wedding would take place, and other such things.

So, things were going reasonably well for the pastry-cooks. Wethinoc’s only regret was that he had no sons to carry on the craft after him. Ceinwen had nearly died when giving birth to Sinna, and she could never carry another child to term after that. Thus the house, the craft and everything else would go to Ulogen’s sons – now ten and five years old - once they had grown enough to take over.

If he was being honest to himself, Wethinoc had to admit that he was more than a little jealous. He loved his only child, who was a sweet girl and a beauty, just like her mother had been at the same age, and the thought to accuse his wife for her inability to give him at least one son never occurred to him. But the thought to hand over his craft to others, even if those were his nephews, his own flesh and blood, did not bode well with him.

He was the one who had brought home new knowledge and finer skills from Minas Tirith. The whole business was still based on his skills and ambitions, on his willingness to work all night and to come up with new things that might catch the customers’ eyes. Ulogen was a decent enough pastry-cook, where the basic skills were asked for, but he lacked the will to experiment, to perfect his abilities. He had no imagination whatsoever, no ambitions to become better in his craft.

And yet it would be Ulogen’s sons to inherit everything one day. Wethinoc only hoped that they would find in themselves more honest interest for the craft they were about to learn. Otherwise, he saw dark times coming for their small family business.

Wethinoc tipped one corner of the baking tin, so that the piping hot, crisp and golden brown meat pasties could slide gently into the wicker basket on their own, without being touched unnecessarily and without getting in danger to break. He then wrapped the basket in a thick cloth of linen to keep the pastries warm and lifted it onto his shoulder.

“I shall take these down to the fairground,” he said. “See that the workshop is cleaned up after us, brother. Mistress Eseld will need room to make the new bread in the morn.”

As he was the ranking one in their business, ‘twas within his rights to order his brother around, and sometimes he could not resist the urge to leave the mundane tasks to Ulogen. ‘Twas foolish and childish, he knew, but there were days when he just had to do it. It somehow compensated him for having to leave everything to his brother’s sons one day.

Not that Ulogen would mind it. His brother accepted the tasks assigned to him with the same lack of true interest that he had shown for their craft, the local gossip, the news coming from Minas Tirith or Rohan… for just about everything. Sometimes Wethinoc truly wondered if his brother cared for aught else but his daily meals and regular tankards of weak ale. The man completely lacked that inventive spirit that made any good craftsman. A cooked fish would show more interest for its surroundings.

And that was supposed to run the family business one day? Wethinoc did not think so. He did not intend to let any-one take over, as long as he could move a hand to fill a pasty or to glaze a seed cake with honey. His nephews could work for him, had they grown enough to do so, but as long as he still had breath in his breast, he would keep the strings in hand.

Somewhat consoled by this decision (one that he renewed every single day), Wethinoc left the bakery to cross the town, leading to the fairground.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Leaving town through Rollo’s Gate, he was stopped at once by Mogh the Dunlending. The Warden asked him to bring his basked directly to the Trade Hall, where the wool-traders from Dunland were apparently starving and in dire need of a good meal.

“But see that you do not charge them more than twice of what you would charge the townsfolk,” added the Warden with an amused twinkle in his small, button-like dark eyes.

Wethinoc grinned. ‘Twas rare that Mogh would unbend enough to show some of the dry with that he had in him, but the two of them had known each other for a long time, and Mogh, very fond of their meat-and-tater pasties, was one of his best regular customers.

“I promise not to demand more than one silver piece for each pasty,” he said gravely, and thy both laughed. But three brass pieces for a pasty (only one more than he would demand from the townsfolk) was a reasonable price, and even the Dunlendings knew that.

The people in the Trade Hall welcomed Wethinoc (and his wonderfully smelling basket) with joyous cries. It seemed that Mogh had not been exaggerating when he said that his landsmen were starving.

“We’ve made good deals,” explained Chief Trader Nogga, another long-time acquaintance, who always made Wethinoc think of a hedgehog, with his thorny black hair and beard. “We’ve earned good coin. So we’re having a feast, with your fine pasties and good mead. You’ll stay and feast with us, yes?”

‘Twas an invitation that Wethinoc could not refuse; not without insulting the well-meaning, generous barbarians, which would have been very unwise. Not that Wethinoc intended to do so. Why should he? The day was winding down to an end, and the Chief Trader had just announced to buy the entire basket of meat pasties off him – for a better price than he could hope to get if he sold them in his tent – and the mead of the Dunlendings had a certain wild spicy quality to it that not even Mistress Lavercham, the best ale-wife of the whole province, could produce. Perchance it was made of wild honey, from flowers that would grow only in the desolate, windswept hills of Dunland.

Thus Wethinoc accepted the invitation readily, and the Dunlendings cleared one of the long tables to set if for the evening meal. Drinking cups were brought forth – large, heavy ones, made in Rhun by the Easterling bronzesmiths yet not without a certain rough beauty – and several small barrels of mead were opened. Every one, even the hallow-eyed, lean, beardless young workers, were treated to at least two still hot pasties, and soon enough, booming laughter, loud banter and foreign songs filled the Trade Hall. Someone even brought forth a bagpipe, and a few of the younger men began to dance, hopping and turning wildly in the middle of the Hall.

Chief Warden Henderch showed up shortly after the dancing had started, to see what was going on. When he spotted Mogh among his landsmen, though, he simply nodded and left again, knowing that things were well under control. No matter how much Mogh had drunk, no-one had ever seen him inebriated. Wethinoc could not be sure, but it seemed to him as if Mistress Dorlas had been waiting for Henderch at the other door of the Hall, which explained the Chief Warden’s hurried retreat.

Well, ‘twas not so that people would not know about them. They truly should master their fears, whatever those might be, and get wedded, thought Wethinoc, clinking his cup with that of Chief Trader Nogga and drinking to the health of the old hedgehog.

Whatever the future might have in store for them all, at least for now, life was good.

~The End – for now~

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