Saturday Snippet: To Market

Tarno, having been paid for the season, goes to the market.

Tarno sniffed the air flowing down the long street from the market square to the salt gate.  The wind had shifted with the storm, driving away the clouds and fog. The rich, hot scent from the bakers’ ovens fought with the sourness of earth-coal from the smiths’ quarter behind Rella’s temple. The usual ordure of the beast market had departed with the storm. Rain sweetened as well as drenched, unless it was the slow, warm summer drizzle that brought miasmas out of sour soil and warned of illness among the young and weak. The usual smells would return, but today the air felt empty. Tarno shrugged.  The lead great-hauler on the wagon parked by the tanners’ gate hissed, her crest and neck feathers ruffled. Tarno edged closer to the wall of the tanners’ confraternity building and Master Keiffer’s house. Another man could test the strength of her claws and her kick, thank you!

“Rella’s torch” poured light and heat down on the street.  The warm cobbles under his boot soles made Tarno frown to himself. The boots needed repair, preferably soon. And breeches for Kyle, perhaps for Donton as well. Once Cila patched Kyle’s old breeches, Donton could wear those, if she could patch them, but Kyle would not fit into his father’s old trousers yet. Soon, probably, but not this winter. Tarno considered his needs as he approached the south end of the great market square. Take the old socks to the knitters’ stall so they could decide on credit for him, then the old-clothes stalls, and then he would visit the preserved-meat and spice merchants. He turned to the left and strode along the edge of the market, out of the flow of traffic.

Crash! Wares hit flagstones and cobbles. Tssssss! A great-hauler snapped at a wiry, oddly-clad stranger who ducked, twisted, and ran, arms full of something.

“Thief! Stop thief!” The hue and cry sounded from a dozen voices. Tarno turned and raced after the stranger. The man swore and sped his steps, running faster than the river in spring. Tarno lengthened his stride and reached for the stranger. The man ducked, dodged left and collided with the wagon at the tanners’ gate. Crunch. He staggered, dropped his burden, and collapsed. Blood on his head and on the weathered-grey wood of the wagon’s tail-board told the tale. Panting a little, Tarno stopped and waved his arms, then pointed as two market wardens raced up, boot-nails clattering on the cobbles.

“Uuuungh,” rose from the man on the ground. He wore much-patched and faded blue breeches, brown socks and patched tan shoes, and a faded red shirt. His loose, almost knee-length sleeveless jerkin of blue and brown had been pieced together from tatters of something else, or so Tarno judged. The younger of the two watchmen heaved the thief to his feet. “Claim Scavenger’s toll,” the man slurred. Blood gushed from his nose and chin. Tarno glanced down but didn’t see any teeth on the ground.

“Not here,” Tarno and the older guard said together. The guard continued, “Scavenger’s toll fails. You caught the wagon without being touched.”

“Seen and witnessed,” a man and young woman called from beside the wagon. “Me dahter and me heard ‘t hue-n-cry. Yon master didn’ touch t’ thief. He ran hisself into m’ wagon.”

Trrrwheeee the off-hind great-hauler caroled, as if in agreement. The young woman and a passing goodwife made Yoorst’s sign.

“Donwah and Scavenger witness, I did not touch him.” Tarno averred as he made Donwah’s sign.

“Good ’nuff,” The market watch dragged the flattened stranger back toward the market. One of the market-master’s apprentices had trotted up in the meanwhile. He collected the goods off the ground and hurried back to the sellers. They would inspect the goods in front of witnesses in the Market-master’s hall. If damage claims came forth, well, the motley-clad stranger would be working himself hard.

“Yon fool marked m’ wagon,” the owner grumbled. “T’ priest ‘ll best be called.”

The young woman nodded. “Aye, sir. But a blessing n’er does ill, and we owe t’ Lady of Waters for Her kindness.”

A heavy sigh. “Aye.” Tarno took in the man’s sturdy boots, heavy breeches, the wear patches on his jerkin, and the stained and battered but good felt hat. The man wore cream and nut-hull brown, home-dyed by the look. A farmer, then, likely with schaef or great-hauler flocks if had doings with the tanners. The daughter sounded sensible, and if a touch too square-jawed for beauty, carried herself well. She too wore cream and brown, sturdy and well-made.

“To ‘t temple, then, then trade,” the farmer declared. All three great-haulers dipped their heads. Tarno inclined in a slight bow to the man and betook himself back to the market square to find boy breeches and speak with a heavy-goods cobbler.

The goodwife at the knitters stall considered the socks, such as they were. “A little credit, Master Tarno, but not no more than a quarter silver, if that. The yarn’s worn uneven.”

As much as the socks had been mended and re-worked, a quarter was better than he’d hoped for. “Agreed,” he said. “I’ll be back later for finished goods, socks for two boys and myself.”

“Aye.” She extended her hand and they touched palms on the bargain.

He turned and threaded his way between buyers and wares-laden apprentices, one hand on his purse. No point in tempting one of the Scavenger-born to foolishness, not that he’d been bothered in a year and more. Thieves tended to go wary around him after he’d broken the skull of the last one to cut his purse strings. The hot sun brought the scents out of leather and other things, confusing the nose. Sour wine lees cut through the muddle, rising from a red-purple puddle off to the side of the main way, and he wrinkled his nose. An apprentice would be working right hard to make up for that.

Tarno stopped at the rag buyer’s stall beside the used clothes seller. Goodman Karl shook out the breeches and jerkin. “Aye, boys be hard on breeches,” he sighed. He held them up to the sun, dark green eyes blinking hard. “Can’t quite read a contract through them, but near.” He leaned over and marked Tarno’s name and four scores on the tally-board between his stall and Goodwife Hasla’s stall. “So much I’ll give for both pair and the jerkin. Carpenters want old leather for summat or ‘tother.”

“Agreed.” They touched palms, and Tarno went to the next stall. He stopped, peering at the fancy skirt hanging from one of the pegs. He’d never seen the like. Dark red and blue embroidery decorated the upper skirt and waist-band, but from two hand-lengths down, someone had cut the material and sewn patterns into it, leaving little holes with color around them. Fancy cream-colored thread work decorated the bottom for a hand-width.

The young farm daughter he’d seen earlier stopped as well, basket on one arm, and shook her head. “There’s more trim than skirt,” she declared.

“Aye. Came from a death sale, an’ no takers. Women here don’ wear such, not even as a festival dress with an under-skirt.” The goodwife shook her head. She wore practical, dark colors, a bit worn but clean and well-made. Her flat-edged headdress sported dark brown embroidery, and Tarno saw a pattern of sheaves.

Who had come from where to wear such a skirt? Tarno shrugged to himself.  Probably one of the merchants or confraternity members who traveled on trade. Marrying out brought fresh blood and trade opportunities, if that had been the woman’s dower. Sometimes the blood did more good than the trade, based on the stories from down south. Beast nor man prospered for long if too much stayed in the family, as they said. None of which had to do with breeches for growing boys!

The farm-daughter continued on her way, and Goodwife Hasla nodded to him. “I need breeches for boys, one so tall,” he held his hand a little above waist high, “the other so.” The hand moved to chest high. “Still growin’ the both of them, not too long-legged.”

Goodwife Hasla smiled a little and nodded to a passing journeyman with legs tall enough to rival a great-hauler. “Less than yon, then, aye.” She glanced through her stock. “Heavy fabric I’ve got, leather not so many. Tanners’ not caught up with need yet.” She laid out three pair of breeches, one pair baggy enough at the waist to fit both boys in at the same time. Tarno considered the other two pair, rubbing the material for roughness and turning them to check for wear. Some on the knees, of course, not so much on the seat as he’d feared. They’d do for Kyle, and might last to do for Donton in turn.

“Here’s two in leather, and one your size, Master Tarno.” Goodwife Hasla leaned forward and studied his lower half. “Hmm.” As he considered the leather breeches for Kyle, she flipped through her bundle. “Ah.” A second pair of men’s breeches flopped onto the counter at the front of her stall, and four shirts. “These with t’ breeches. Material’s heavier than most, and not many want light colors for boys.” She winked.

“Aye that. White and boys makes as much sense as makin’ pan salt in th’ rain.” Neither one lasted long! The pale tan shirts would work for both boys. He’d not planned on those, but better now when he could find them than not find when he needed them. Oh, it had been easier when Annaka could just trim or patch to fit. Truly, he needed to find a wife. “So, how much of my year’s wages are ye wantin?” He winked back.

She leaned away, as if offended. “Now, good master, I don’t want all yer wages, just half.” She pulled a tally board out and made marks for the cloth breeches, the leather, and the shirts. “Less the credit with m’ man,” she erased four of the marks. “Three-quarter silver.”

“Three-quarter! Now, Goodwife, I’m not against a fair trade, but three-quarters for used? Nah, one third silver.” He folded his arms and waited.

“One-third? I’m old, not foolish, Master Tarno. Yer not buyin’ shoddy, not from me. You want one-third for this,” she waved a knob-jointed hand over the clothes, “go talk to my goodman. Two-third silver or no.”

After another round, they settled on half a silver and a pooz-weight. Tarno handed her coin and bits of broken silver ring. She weighed them. “Fair dealin’,” she called to all passers-by.

“Heard and witnesses,” one of the assistant market masters said, nodding to them as he passed. Goodwife Hasla bundled the clothes and tied them with a bit of old net-string.

Tarno accepted them. “Maarsdam smile on you.”

“Donwah bless.”

Tarno considered matters. Walking through the market with the bundle might tempt someone. He turned and strode down the row, between the fabric-goods sellers and the dealers in wool, thread, and sewing and spinning things. People filled the rows, haggling, measuring out goods, and exchanging news. Who hadn’t heard the Master Richten, the market master, say that if he could collect a booth-fee for news and gossip, the city would have enough money to bridge the river, expand the walls, and build a roof over the salt works? Tarno half listened as he walked. Nothing caught his ear, at least not yet. Weather talk, crop talk, gossip, the usual things. A few people declared “Fair dealing,” and touched palms over their agreements.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

8 thoughts on “Saturday Snippet: To Market

  1. I am really, really enjoying these snippets and cannot wait until the book is finished and published! However, what is the scavengers toll, and what difference does it make if our main character had actually touched the thief?

    • The Scavenger claims a small percentage of all goods and wares. If Tarno had grabbed the thief, the thief could claim that he’d been taking the Scavenger’s share, and might have gotten to keep part of the goods. But since the man “caught” himself, obviously the Scavenger did not allow the claim in His name.

  2. Scavenget’s roll working something like deodands, then. Makes sense.

    Good market snippet, and a good reminder of what it’s like to be paid once annually, or maybe by completed job. Trading in clothes for leather, yarn, or scrap and getting credit or coin, was a thing, and not too long ago. Also the habit of hand-me-downs. We might be back there, all too soon.

  3. In the 60s my dad would go to town once a month to pay the grocery store and gas station. Once he forgot to sign a check, but it cleared the bank anyway.
    When everyone knows everyone.,,,

    • Know a few businesses that are still like that, in small towns. Annoying and comforting at the same time. People get a lot politer or more discreet, when you’re not just another random fragment going through. Although, every small town has that one family or those couple of hangers-on at the tavern.

      Uh, did we just wander into a senior/grad course on socioeconomic customs in the early and middle HRE (1000 – 1400)?

      • Education is where you find it! And the contrast with our modern prosperity is a lesson on the blessings we enjoy, blessings that the ‘start over at zero’ crowd refuse to acknowledge. Give these books to your twelve-year-olds.

Comments are closed.