Tuesday Tidbit: Contracting a Marriage

Tarno and his Father-in-Law to Be visit the notary.

Two eight-days later, Tarno and Dor Erbstman met at the office of the traveling notary mage. She had rented a small corner of the city council’s hall, and sat surrounded by ledgers, hinged boxes, and stacks of blank parchment and paper. Bottles of ink and a row of pens waited at her left elbow. A fat candle of sealing wax burned on it’s own small, portable table, out of the way of the papers and of drafts. One of the city watch stood in the corner of the room, in part to keep an eye on the people come and go, and in part to discourage the overly frustrated and anyone who thought to steal the notary’s fee. The line moved steadily. Most people brought contracts, sales pages, or documents that only needed a witness and notary seal. Unlike some, this notary did not hear disputes or law cases concerning falsified documents. Three of the temples had truth-priests who had read the law and acted as law-givers.

Tarno had written the marriage contract in his best hand. The notary would read it aloud, copy it onto proper parchment, and both men would sign and make their marks. Then the notary would sign and seal it. Some of the merchants had magic-touched seals and used those on documents as well, but such remained uncommon in Halfeld Fluss.

” . . . Too many lambs,” a man in good but old clothes ahead of Tarno complained. “T’will drive down the price next spring as well as now, mark my words.”

His companion folded his arms. “Neh, ‘Tis a sign of  hard times t’ come, schaef droppin’ so many. Not many will over-live the winter. Yoorst gave ‘t beast sense we don’ have.”

“Price’ll be low een so, come next market,” the first man grumbled.

Tarno looked to Goodman Erbstman. The farmer shrugged. “Radmar turns th’ wheel. More than that, no man can say.”

“Aye that.”

The two men ahead of Tarno got a sales contract confirmed. The grumbling farmer had contracted to the butcher for six gelded male schaef, two years of age, in fat. The pair presented torn copies of the contract. The notary matched the edges. “Goodman Meisser, were the schaef as contracted?

The butcher nodded. “Aye, Yoorst as my witness, the schaef met contract.”

The woman pointed the end of her pen at the farmer. “Goodman Speicher, did you receive one silver or the trade token value of one silver in exchange?”

“Aye, Yoorst as my witness, Meisser paid in full. Trade token.”

The woman set the halves of the contract on her table. She stamped the center, across the tear, then each half, and signed it. “Contract is met, contract is complete,” she called, then returned the halves to the owners. Should anyone ask about the meat, Meisser could show the proof that he’d bought the animals and that they met quality standards.

The farmer and butcher departed, and Tarno approached the notary’s table. She seemed off-balance, as if the legs on her seat were too short on one side. No, he realized when she reached for a piece of parchment, she tilted to one side. Had she been born so, or was it an injury? It mattered not. Tarno inclined toward her and set the contract on the table.

She started to read it, then looked up. “Tarno Halson?”


“And Dor Erbstman?”

Dor nodded. “Aye. I am not fully lettered.”

“Ah.” She took a sip from the tankard set well away from the inks, and read. “Dor Erbstman gives his daughter Urla to be wed to Tarno Halson. She brings her bridal portion and no dowry, and makes no claim on the Erbstman property aside from the daughter’s share.” The notary looked at Dor, eyebrows raised.

He nodded again. “That’s what we agreed to, aye.”

The notary blinked gray eyes, then resumed reading. “Tarno Halson takes Urla Dordatter Erbstman as wife without dower or property claim. He will provide for, shelter, and protect Urla during his life, and leaves her a full widow’s portion, should he die first.” Again the notary paused. “I see no fertility penalty.”

“I have two sons by my late wife,” Tarno said. “More will be welcome, but I see no reason for a fertility penalty.”

The notary nodded and quickly copied out the simple contract. Without property or children specified, the document wasn’t as complicated as some Tarno had seen. She stopped and asked, “Tarno, will your sons retain their portion should you have children of Urla?”


Goodman Erbstman said, “Yes. It’s wrong to favor new children over old.” He sounded very, very certain, and Tarno glanced over. The sturdy man scowled, frowning so deeply that the ends of his mouth seemed to reach the end of his chin.

“I will include that in this, Goodman Erbstman, Master Tarno, so that none will protest.” The notary added the needed words. “Do either of you know of any pending claims against the wedding?”

Tarno took a long breath. “Goodman Fuchsban might protest, but I did not speak with or contract his daughter, and many have heard me say that I do not wish to marry her.”

“The temples of Gember and Donwah have read the handfasting notice aloud three Eighth-Days in a row, and none have spoken against the match,” Dor reported. “Nor has any man approached me with an objection.”

“Good.” She finished writing the contract in a fair hand, then drew two lines across the bottom of the sheet of parchment. She stood, limped out from behind her table, and pointed to Tarno. She called, “Does anyone know this man?”  

A passing woman called back, “Aye. Master Tarno Halson, of the salters, father of Kyle and Donton, Maarsdam witness my words.”

“Thank you, and Maarsdam prosper your trade.” The notary gestured to Dor and called again, “Does anyone know this man?”

Two men waiting in line waved their hands. “Aye. He be Dor Erbstman, farmer on the South Road, Gember my witness,” one of the pair called. “His aunt be my mother-in-law.”

“Gember bless your household, thank you.” The notary limped back to her chair and sat with a soft thud. One hip sat higher than the other, which explained her lean. She presented the men with a dipped pen, first Dor, then Tarno. Dor made his mark, a schaef in profile and the letters D and E. Tarno signed his full name and drew a salt paddle. The notary closed her eyes and Tarno saw a little shimmer around her seal as she touched it to a piece of ink-soaked cloth, then pressed it against the parchment. Beside that she dripped wax, and stamped once more.

The men each gave the notary a half silver ring. She handed the contract to Dor. “Upon final handfasting, give this to the proper temple to hold. Maarsdam bless your trade.”

“Maarsdam prosper you,” Tarno replied, as did Dor. Dor studied the contract, nodded, and rolled it, tying it with a bit of twine. The men touched palms and went their ways, making space for the next pair. Tarno heard barely-muffled sighs from both the notary and the watchman both as Master Hammersmith and an irate-looking goodwife marched up the two steps and into the doorway. Tarno and Dor made themselves small and eased out of the way.

“Ye know that I am not a law-speaker,” Tarno heard the notary say from behind him.

Dor shook his head. “Some people choose not to listen.”

“Aye.” Dor stopped to talk to his cousin-by-marriage and Tarno went about his own business.

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

5 thoughts on “Tuesday Tidbit: Contracting a Marriage

    • Yes. An eight-day is the basic division of calendar time. The Eighth-Day is the day off from work (in some places) and a day of worship (sometimes). In _Miner and Empire_ it was when the bulk of the miners took off work and got paid, while the fire-miners did their thing (they worked only 36 hours out of the week, but those were very, very dangerous and intense hours.)

  1. Very nice vignettes, including the almost obligatory soured-milk reference to Goodman Fuchsban.

    A traveling mage-notary, like other circuit riders, is interesting and a nice addition. A major town or city, or the Emperor, may generate enough documentation and proclamations that you have full-time work for at least one notary, but elsewhere there’s not enough. Using magic enhancement to guarantee and verify sign and seal is perfect, since counterfeiting has always been a lucrative if risky proposition. Imagine the counterfeit protection on one of the Emperor’s documents, complete with a “here, kitty!” summons.

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