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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
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The Builders

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: Want to know what has become of the ale-house? You can read it in “The Last Yule in Halabor”.



Due to the local custom of building the ground floor of even the modestly wealthy houses of stone, Dochou, the stone-mason – or as the townsfolk liked to call him, the stone-wright – was one of the most important craftsmen in Halabor. His skills were much sought after, from the mundane task to cut various sizes of grinding wheels to the repairing of the ramparts and the town walls and thus ensuring everyone’s safety within the town walls.

Because of the small size of the town and the small numbers of its inhabitants, it could not have provided work for more than one family of builders, though. Thus it was not surprising that Dochou was related to just about everyone in the builder business, either by blood or by marriage. He had married the daughter of a local farmer, a plain, hard-working girl more than thirteen years his junior, and they had four children already. But his brother, the plasterer, was wedded to the roofer’s sister, thus ensuring that every building that had to be built or repaired in Halabor would be done by their hands and included him in some way.

On this morn, Dochou and his brother Tehta were to meet Madern, the roofer, and Vuron, the Master Carpenter, to take a look at the Old Sailor and see what could – and should – be done about it, so that it could open its doors again. Generally, most people in town thought that it would be a very good thing to have an ale-house in the New Port again; more so as it would sell Mistress Lavercham’s excellent ale. As with all things, though, there had been voices against it in the Town Council, too.

“Sulain was protesting rather heavily,” said Vuron, who represented the wood-workers in the Council, wit a broad grin. “Perchance he fears that the ale-house would lure away the patrons from that fancy tavern of his, The Cellar.” Needless to say that the Master Carpenter preferred Mistress Pharin’s tavern, the Drunken Boat, and had little love for the haughty wine-seller.

But Dochou shook his head. “’Tis Clemow who has reason to worry,” he said. “Sulain’s patrons are not likely to leave his tavern for an ale-house; not in the long run anyway. But The Barn will, no doubt, lose quite a few customers.”

His brother, the plasterer, shrugged. “So it will. But there is little that could be done about it. I do feel sorry for Clemow, his life is hard enough as it is, but work is work, and we can use the coin.”

“Besides, Gennys deserves to build a life for himself, too,” added the roofer. “He is a good, decent lad, and not shy of work, I have heard. What other choice would a third son have?”

“True enough,” allowed Dochou. “Let us go then and see that house. I am certain that it will provide us with work for a while.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The three of them met Gennys in the New Port, near the Warehouse, where the Old Sailor, a small, two-story building, now abandoned and empty. With its front door nailed closed with wooden planks, was tucked against a few gnarled trees. It was a dingy, weatherworn house, and possibly in need of a new roof. The outer walls looked old and have not been re-stained for decades, turning mottled brown and grey from years in weather wear, but the shutters were still intact. One of them was banging softly against a window in the light breeze.

“Well, it could be worse,” judged the plasterer. “It would need an overall clean-up and a good staining, but my guess is that it would not take more than a few days. We can do it as long as the weather is warm, so that it would dry properly.”

Gennys nodded. “To be honest, I am more concerned about what we might find in the inside,” he said.

“We should go in and take a look, then,” replied the carpenter, using his axe to remove the nailed-on planks and let the warm autumn sun into the common room.

The inside of the house was not much better for than the outside. To the right, in the common room, once sturdy but now severely banged tables were stuffed in to fit as many as possible. A huge stone fireplace, large enough to crouch in, dominated the end of the room beyond the tables; once, no doubt, offering warmth and welcome, now dark and cold and empty.

The counter on the left was long and made of stout oak. The respectable craftsmen examining it could still remember that in their young years it had used to be turned dark and shiny from years of polishing and the grease of patrons' hands as they had leaned their way through the evenings. Behind its far end was a doorway that led to the household kitchen and stockroom, its curtain hanging in rugs and covered with dust and dirt. Beside it a stairway led up to the second floor where once the tavern owner and his family had lived.

“The hearth is sound and looks strong,” judged Dochou. “There shan’t be much work to do.”

Gennys seemed particularly taken by the counter. He slid a loving hand along the once shiny surface.

“I fear ‘tis beyond help,” he said regretfully. “A shame, it truly is. It must have been a beautiful piece of furniture once.”

“Aye, that it was,” agreed Vuron. “I can recall my father working on it for weeks upon weeks. He practically lived over here, ‘til it was finished. Perchance ‘tis still not beyond help, though. Not entirely. Let me talk to my son. He needs to make his masterpiece, sooner or later – and recreating this would count as much, or more, as making a new one from the scratch. We have my father’s drawings still, so he will be able to take it apart and build it anew with little difficulties.”

Gennys laughed. “Oy, Master Vuron, how could I afford such a thing? I shall be paying off my debts for years to come as it is.”

The carpenter shrugged. “So you will be paying them off a little longer. But you cannot expect your patrons to become regulars in an ale-house where the furniture is falling apart.”

Gennys looked at him in surprise. “You would let me pay you in rates?”

“Why not?” asked the carpenter. “’Tis better to have work paid for a little in each moon than no work at all. Besides, the order we have just received from Lord Orchald allows us a slower pace. I can spare Thei most of the time to work here, not on the counter alone but also on the tables and chairs – they will need a lot of repair, too.”

“I know,” sighed Gennys, “and I do not even dare to guess what awaits us upstairs.”

“Then let us better look at it, too, so that we can calculate the amount of work and the costs,” suggested Vuron, and they took the little stairway beside the kitchen to get to the upper floor.

‘Twas in as poor a state as the lower. The top of the stairs leads directly into the middle of a short, narrow hallway. At the left end of the hall was a large bedroom, somewhere above the common room downstairs – it must have once belonged to the tavern owner. There was another room, right in the middle of the hall, just across the stairs, and a third, small room at the right end. The last one had most likely been used for storage or other purposes. There was a sagging bed tucked into the corner, two mouldering pillows at its head, and a little mat on the floor – obviously, this was where the servants had stayed.

There was nothing to look at in the middle room, except the bed and an open-shuttered window in the far wall that looks out toward the port, its view slightly obscured by the branches of a nearby tree.

The large bedroom of the tavern owner, however, had once been fully furnished and had all the comforts of home. In the corner stood a bed for two, with a palin-posted canopy of added curtains. It had probably been dyed in deep sea green when new; now, however, it was grey and had an unpleasant stench.

“The bedlinens must have gotten wet,” said the plasterer, pulling a face. “I do not think that you could use them. No amount of washing will help this… this stink.”

“That would be the least of my problems,” replied Gennys. “Cardith might not have a dowry, but her mother will not send her into marriage without a proper sortiment of household linens., be it for bed or table. The bed itself worries me more… and the rest of the furniture.”

“At least you will be warm and cozy here,” said the stone-mason. “It seems that the heat from the kitchen fire travels up the stone chimney in the corner and warms the room, though it will take some time 'til the wood floor loses its chill.”

Gennys nodded. “Aye, that is good, at the very least. But what of the rest?” For there was a wardrobe of dark wood, standing against the wall across from the bed, and small table in front of the window, with one chair.

“They are not as battered as they may seem to you,” said Vuron. “I remember this wardrobe; I used to work on it as a young apprentice of my father. ‘Tis good, strong wood; I am certain that I can get it in good shape again.”

“That would be good, as it is a beautiful piece of work,” replied Gennys. “But I must be honest to you, Master Vuron: I know not how long it may take me to pay you off completely.”

“As long as you keep paying, it matters little,” answered the carpenter. “And I shall make you a good price, worry not. We have worked very hard before the fair and earned well. It would do us good to slow down for a while… and my pleasure to save my father’s excellent handiwork. Thei can bring his tools over here and work on the counter ‘til winter turns too cold for that, and we can take the tables and chairs to my barn to repair them during winter, alongside of our other work. It can be done without overmuch effort.”

“I am grateful, Master Vuron,” said Gennys in relief. “I wish to open the Old Sailor as soon as possible; perchance before the next Autumn Fair. Mistress Lavercham will not let her daughter get married sooner than that, for she is still very young. But I would like to begin married life in my own.”

The older men nodded in understanding. They all knew Gennys’ future mother-in-law, the ale-wife. She had a heart of pure gold, but she was also a very… resolute person. While her help was, no doubt, much appreciated, ‘twould surely be better if the young couple could make their first tentative steps towards running their own household without her eyes on them all the time.

”We will do our best,” promised the stonewright in the names of all of them. “The repairs on the hearth will not take long, and we shall leave the place to Thei, so that he can work undisturbed, in a week or so. What about the roof?” he looked at his brother-in-law.

Madern shrugged. “The house could use a new roof and no mistake. But,” he raised a broad hand, seeing that Gennys was about to protest, “it is not strictly necessary. My father had done a good job on that roof, forty or so years ago. If we flick it in a few places, it will hold for another ten years, at the very least.” He gave the young man an understanding grin. “Unless we will have heavy snowfalls in the next few winters, that is.”

Gennys blew out a relieved breath. “You ease my heart, Master Madern. I cannot afford a new roof; certainly not now, and perchance not for quite a few years yet.”

“Very well, then,” said Vuron; as the one with the biggest order of all the builders, the deciding voice was his. “After the Fair, we shall go to the Town Hall and have Odhrain set up our contracts. You will see, my lad – all will be good, in the end.”

Dochou nodded in agreement. He would not have much work with the hearth himself, but Tehta would earn some modest coin with the staining of the outer walls – and what his brother earned, helped the whole family. Between the two of them, they had seven children to feed, none of which could be of considerable help yet. All tasks of the building business required more strength than even Kitto, Dochou’s eleven-year-old firstborn could show.

But the stone-wright had no worries about the near future. He was strong and hale, in his best years, barely beyond forty, and his brother six years younger. They would manage on their own for a few years yet. After that, when their sons had grown strong enough, things would become easier.

“If that is all, I would go now,” he said. “This will keep ‘til after the Fair. But I have to find a boat to bring me over to Cair Andros. The captain of the garrison wants his walls to be checked.”

The others nodded in understanding. The repairs on the great stone hearth of the Old Sailor would earn the stone-wright some coin. But the walls of Cair Andros were important – and Minas Tirith paid well for the repairs on the defences. One could say many things about Steward Denethor, save one: that he would not take the defending of the realm seriously.

~The End – for now~


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