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Chapter 3. Driving a Bargain
Sam had been able to entice the pup from Pippin’s lap with a palmful of mince, which he’d taken the precaution of ordering from the royal kitchens, albeit reluctantly. He didn’t like to take advantage of their position in the White City; he’d noticed an alarming tendency on the part of any of the Big People to refuse payment, indeed, to press their wares (or even possessions) upon any of the four hobbits who expressed the slightest degree of admiration. He suspected it was something like this that had trapped Pippin with the oversized puppy, and the lad was simply too polite to refuse the gift. It was too bad that neither of his older cousins, nor Samwise himself, had been with the youth, for they were mastering the art of gentle refusal, though it went against their better nature.
When Shirefolk offered a present, they meant it!
Not like the folk here, especially the Southrons! Sam had never seen anything the like of the brightly-robed Men in the Marketplace. O they bargained with the Men of Gondor in the same way the Men of Gondor bargained with each other, though their attitude was rather condescending, as if they were lowering themselves somehow by doing such a thing. But when bargaining with each other…!
Sam had watched one such bargain, while on a visit to one of the Southrons’ encampments, accompanying Mr. Frodo, who’d been accompanying the King. Apparently the Southrons wanted to honour this – he forgot their word for “hobbit” – who had been responsible for freeing them from the awful lordship they had suffered under, and under which they had been forced into battle. While Elessar and Frodo talked with the leaders, squatting together on the ground, with a circle of robed figures and wary guardsmen surrounding them, Sam had found himself wandering with Galador, a young guardsman – ostensibly assigned for his convenience, and to translate, though Sam himself knew this young Man to be a deadly force with all sorts of weapons and thus a likely, if unannounced, bodyguard – walking with him, gesturing to their surroundings and explaining the way of life of the Haradrim quite as knowledgeably as if he'd lived it himself.
He’d blundered right into a bargaining session, his watchdog at his side, a ring of crouching Southrons surrounding two more. The Southrons were elaborately polite, fetching a soft, knotted rug of intricate design, gesturing to him to be seated on it, quite as if he were Southron royalty, bringing him fragrant tea in an ornate, tall and elegant cup (all this, he was encouraged by his firmly smiling guard in an urgent undertone to accept, "Nod! Smile!").
He sat himself down on the rug, marvelling at its softness, and the guardsman crouched beside him, translating what followed in a low voice.
‘And now t’S’ad is giving S’al’an the saddle and the blanket and all the harness… and now in return S’al’an offers his favourite wife in return for such a handsome gift…’
Samwise was scandalised, but his guard was smiling, as were the two bargainers. ‘But what if he takes the Man’s favourite wife?’ he said in an agitated whisper. ‘Won’t they break out in a battle? Or does he not really love…?’
‘Hush,’ Galador said, though he seemed more amused than alarmed. ‘Drink your tea and watch.’ Sam sipped and watched, and Galador resumed his translation. ‘t’S’ad presents S’al’an with his favourite horse, ah, a white racer, very rare and precious.’ He cleared his throat, and Sam had the feeling he was suppressing laughter. ‘Ah, yes,’ he resumed. ‘S’al’an has just offered his entire household and possessions.’
Sam choked, and was instantly surrounded by solicitous, veiled Haradrim. ‘I’m well,’ he protested, waving them away.
Galador said something; another cup was brought, perhaps more ornate than the last, with much bowing and ceremonial waving of hands.
Sam, guided by Galador’s whispers, took the cup, sipped, smiled as widely as he could, and nodded appreciation. ‘Good!’ he said, with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. ‘Very good!’
The flock of hovering Haradrim dispersed, and the bargainers, who had stopped to watch this byplay as if it were the most important transaction in the world, resumed their discussion.
The Southron buyer casually tossed a silver coin onto a small pile of coins beside the saddle – Sam realised that he’d been toying with the pile of coin for some time now, adding pieces and withdrawing others as the two bargained. Though it was difficult to distinguish behind the robes and veils, the saddle-owner’s expression brightened, and he leaned forward a little.
‘Not to be outdone, ‘t’S’ad offers his entire household and possessions, including his precious infant daughter.’
Benumbed, Sam sipped his tea.
‘S’al’an offers his youngest and most precious son… for the youngest is always the most precious, until the next one comes along…’ Sam nodded absently at the translation, and then shook his head, and then remembering the myriad watching eyes, forced himself to nod again, though he disagreed with Southron ways. Every babe was precious to a hobbit family. It didn’t matter how many came along after.
‘We’re nearly there,’ Galador said. ‘When they start bringing out the youngest children, it’s a sign that the pile of coin is reaching satisfactory levels…’
Sam glanced at him in astonishment, but he was intent on the bargaining, his face as bland and cheerful as those Unveiled who were watching.
‘Inquiry as to the age of the youngest and most precious son…’ Galador narrated. ‘Not yet weaned, apparently, and in their beliefs that means he may not travel. Ah! The baby daughter is also a nursling. Very impractical to trade…’
The Southron bargaining for the saddle tossed another silver coin onto the pile, but withdrew a smaller coin. It seemed enough to tip the balance, for there was a shout from the saddle-owner, and he rose from his crouch and attacked the other Man, taking him in a great wrestling hold and thumping his back most alarmingly.
Sam tensed, spilling his tea, and looked to Galador, who was slowly standing to his feet, but then the Man bent down to offer him a hand. ‘Bargain is concluded,’ he said. ‘t’S’ad will accept the silver coin in lieu of S’al’an’s family and household, as being more convenient to carry about with him, and S’al’an accepts the saddle as being enough to encumber the back of his horse, without having to carry about ‘t’S’ad’s worldly goods as well…’
And Sam saw that the other Man in the bargain was “giving as good as he got” in terms of a Shire wrestling match, and that the two were laughing while thumping and rolling about like bears. Remembering Galador’s earlier advice, before they approached the encampment, to show no surprise, no matter what he might see, he simply smiled faintly and nodded. ‘I see,’ was all he said.
When they had returned to the safety and privacy of the guest house, he had shaken his head for a long, long time. Southrons were a curious folk, and no mistake! He marvelled that Strider and Galador got along so well with them, as if they understood the fellows.
Now, watching the pup devour the minced beef in the oversized mixing bowl brought from the royal kitchens for that very purpose, he shook his head once more, remembering. What in the world would Pippin have done, if a Southron had appeared to give him his entire household and all his possessions, down to that “most precious” newborn babe! And Pip, bound by the constraints of Shire tradition, obliged to accept and keep a gift!
Sam shuddered. It didn’t bear thinking about. He’d have to warn the others not to begin a bargain with any bright-robed Southron. Especially Mr. Pippin. He shuddered again at the thought of the young one returning to the Shire with a tall, brightly robed Southron wife in tow.
An oliphaunt, er, dog, was bad enough!
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