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An Autumn Fair in Halabor
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The Barber-Surgeon

For disclaimer, etc., see the Prologue.

Author’s note: No, really. Dentists of the medieval era, called dentatores, were so expensive that only the very rich could afford their services. They removed decay, which was believed to be caused by worms, and filled the teeth with ground bone. Gold was used for filling cavities by the fifteenth century. They repaired loose teeth with metal bindings and made dentures from ox and other animal bones. The rest of the population simply went to the barber-surgeon and had the tooth in question pulled.



As the sixth day of the Autumn Fair was winding down, Mylor, the barber-surgeon of Halabor, made himself ready to return home. As always during the fairs, he had had a great deal to do in the recent days. People drank a lot on the fairground, which often led to brawls, which, again, often led to knife wounds, loosened or broken teeth, broken or dislocated limbs and other such unpleasant consequences. Only in this morn, he had to right a broken arm, sew four wounds and pull two teeth that had been broken as a result of a drunken fistfight and the chunks needed to be removed. He had heard that there were excellent healers in Minas Tirith who could repair loosened teeth with metal bindings, but such things were far beyond his modest skills – and besides, none of his patients could have paid the price of such a procedure.

Mylor had his barber shop in the New Port, for the poor who dwelt there needed his services as a surgeon, as they could not have paid a proper healer. Not even Mistress Angharad, who truly did not charge much. But every other day, he went up to the Castle to do all the shaving and haircutting that had to be done. Even in such a relatively small household as Lord Orchald’s, the work of a barber was never done.

He was glad that his only son had grown old and skilled enough to help him by now. With his twenty-one years, Melor was already capable of doing the daily tasks of haircutting, shaving, sewing small wounds and the likes alone. Thus Mylor had sent him to the Infirmary in the morn, where they were also regularly hired, to make male patients look acceptable, and called for his sister to help him in the barber shop.

He would have preferred to have his wife with him – he dearly loved the sight of her, and the sound of her voice could calm down the most agitated patients – but once again, Breage was ailing and had gone to the infirmary with her son to ask Mistress Angharad for something against her weakness and upset stomach. ‘Twas saddening that she would be ill so often, but Mylor guessed that having grown up as an orphan in the New Port had something to do with her poor health.

When he had married Breage, she had been barely sixteen; a fragile little waif, all huge eyes and frightened smiles. People – including his own mother and sister – had strongly disapproved this match, warning him not to wed a starving harbour rat of unknown origins. In his prime, at thirty-two, and with a respectable craft, he could have got the daughter of any well-to-do craftsman in town, with a handsome dowry, or even that of a modestly wealthy merchant. Being a comely enough man, he could have even caught the eye of some rich widow, too.

And yet he had chosen Breage, a penniless girl with naught but the clothes she had on her; even those had been worn and threadbare, having served several other owners before her. No-one could understand his choice. Sometimes not even himself. But when he looked in those large, clear grey eyes, he knew he would marry Breage again. There was something in her, something he could not quite grasp. Something that would never let him go.

Besides, despite the nay-sayers – of whom his mother and sister had been the loudest – they managed just fine. After the first childless years (admittedly, there had been quite a few of those, and even the one or other babe born untimely and living only a few days, if even so long), Breage had finally born first Melor, then their daughter Beara, both of whom came after their father’s family, growing up to be strong and healthy and bright-spirited.

Mylor was glad to have a son who would continue the family business one day, and he had no objections when Beara asked to be apprenticed to the healers in the Infirmary. He could not give the girl a dowry, having to feed not only his own family but also his widowed mother and sister, so a trade of her own would be just as good for Beara. The apprentice fee would not be all too high, and she would work there with other young girls; ‘twas a good solution.

Although, if Mylor was being honest, he had to admit that his sister more than earned her keeping, too. Loarne helped to run the household whenever Breage felt too weak to do it herself. Loarne also cared for their mother, who had fallen off the ladder last spring and whose old bones had never healed properly.

Loarne also came to help him in the barber shop whenever the need arose. She was quite competent hen it came to sewing wounds and righting broken bones. And she was lettered and numbered, which was perhaps the greatest help of all, as Mylor could never afford a clerk, and thus could entrust the books to her.

The barber-surgeon watched his sister fondly as she was cleaning the surgical instrument, so that the blood would not destroy the iron they had been made of. She was not very young anymore (though much younger than him), just a year short forty, but handsome and erect of carriage, and moved with a grace rarely seen among women of common stock. She wore a dark gown, matronly and sober, with the long apron of a healer bound before it, and her hair was drawn back and hidden under a crisp white wimple. By the looks of her she could have been a decent burgher’s wife, or a noblewoman’s attendant.

Either of which she could have become, thought Mylor ruefully, had their parents not been so eager to hand her over to the first man who had been willing to take her without a dowry. And while Dogfael had been a good man and a good husband, he had also been a soldier, and soldiers often had short lives. Widowed when barely twenty and nothing but a handful of coin left from her late husband, Loarne had no other choice than to return to her parent’s house and make herself useful as well as she could. The chances to find a new husband were slim. Men only married [I]wealthy[/I] widows.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Loarne must have felt his eyes on her, for she turned to him for a moment and gave him one of her grave smiles. She knew he brother was always worrying about her; she just could not make him understand that it was not necessary.

Men always thought that for a woman to be happy, there had to be a husband and a flock of chicks. For most women, she admitted, that was perchance even true. But she was not like most women. She was fairly content with her fate. ‘Twas true, her ailing mother could be quite a burden sometimes, and the majority of household tasks lay upon her shoulders, most of the time. But those shoulders were strong enough to carry that burden, and being needed gave her a purpose.

Then there was the barber shop. She had naught to do with the shaving and haircutting – people would not accept that from a woman – but at the small surgical tasks she was actually a lot better than her brother or nephew. Her fingers were nimbler, after all, and as a woman, she was used to needlework.

And she was lettered where her brother was not, which gave her status within the family business even more weight. She had taught her niece the letters and was glad that little Beara had chosen to become a healer. Through the work she was doing for her brother, Loarne had long ago become well-acquaintanted with both Mistress Angharad and old Mistress Crodergh, and she knew that Beara would be in good hands with them. She only wished she could have had the same chance when she had been at Beara’s age.

Yet when all was said and done, she was content. She had a purpose and much hard work, but at least she had the freedom to handle that work however she wanted. Mylor let her do thing at her own leisure, and her mother, albeit cantankerous most of the time, had no longer the means to interfere.

She was a fortunate woman indeed. Few could said to have the same freedom.

Finishing the cleaning of the instruments, she closed and locked the wooden chest that was their place and turned to her brother again.

“Must you go up the Castle tonight?” she asked, for this was one of those days when Mylor was needed there, as a rule.

But Mylor shook his head. “Nay, for today Lord Orchald is having guests for evening meal. The leader of those Elves and his lady niece, I was told. I shall go up first thing in the morn, though.”

“You are coming home then?” asked Loarne in mild surprise. Mylor rarely turned in this early.

Her brother shook his head again. “Nay, I must go to Emerie Manor first. It seems the old lady is in need of some bloodletting again. Lord Peredur has sent a page with a mule for me.”

They grinned at each other. The Lord’s bailiff was a generous man, just like his overlord, and his lady mother suffering from countless illnesses that only existed in her vivid imagination. ‘Twas better for the family’s peace when her demands were fulfilled at once. Small wonder that Lord Peredur had, indeed, sent a mule to get the barber-surgeon and his leeches to the manor at the first possible time. ‘Twas a luxury Mylor rarely had the chance to enjoy.

It seemed that the fair would have a profitable end for them, after all.

~The End – for now~


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