The Fymbels are an association of artisan guilds, whose members work throughout the Kingdom of Santharia. Founded by female stonemasons, the Fymbels have played an important historical role by paving the way for women to practice crafts that were regarded as “men’s work” in the traditions of many Santharian tribes. To this day, the majority of Fymbels are human women. The Fymbel association consists of seventeen guilds, each of which oversees a different craft. Five of the most important guilds are the stonemasons, the woodwrights, the luthiers, the tapestry makers, and the puppeteers. Colloquially, the Fymbels are also known as “Shufflishers” (after their bewildering argot, which they call Shufflish), or as “Fuzzle Lovers” (for their emblem is the humble but nimble fuzzle mouse).
If your river needs a stone bridge, your dining hall a tapestry, or your finger
a signet ring, you could do worse than avail yourself of the services of a
Fymbel. Look for the emblem of the
fuzzle mouse, which you may find displayed above the door of
a workshop, or tattooed on a dexterous hand: by that you shall know that the
craftsperson you’re dealing with has been trained and examined by a Fymbel
guild. In the cities of Southern Sarvonia,
from Strata to
Nyermersys, the sign of the fuzzle is
regarded as a guarantee for proficiency and honesty.
The Fymbels were founded by female stonemasons in the first century a.S. Since then, several sister guilds have emerged, and today, seventeen Fymbel guilds exist, practicing a variety of trades: there are Fymbel woodwrights, wainwrights and shipwrights; toy makers and luthiers; jewelry makers, amanters, and tapestry weavers; weaponsmiths, bell makers, and farriers; potters, tailors, and gardeners; bookbinders and puppeteers. Most Fymbels are human, but occasionally you may come across a Fymbel hobbit, gnome, or even an exiled Volkek-Oshra orc. In the early days, all members were female, and although men have been admitted for many centuries, women remain in the majority. To this day, Fymbel culture is influenced by the founder Fymbels’ struggle against male privilege.
Becoming a Fymbel is not easy. During their apprenticeship, which can last seven years or longer, aspiring Fymbels travel the length and breadth of Santharia in order to learn from a variety of masters of their craft. Throughout the land, these wandering apprentices are known as bringers of news from far-away places, singers of bawdy songs, and providers of cheap but skilled labour.
Some folks view the Fymbels with distrust. This is partly due to ugly rumours that non-Fymbel craftsmen spread about their competitors. Yet it’s also true that the Fymbel apprentices sometimes bring suspicion upon themselves by their clannish conduct: they usually travel in groups and make no secret of the strong solidarity that binds them to one another. Indeed, internal unity and a certain secretiveness toward outsiders helped the Fymbel guilds to survive and thrive in the difficult early period of their history. In those days, they even developed an argot of their own, which is known as Shufflish, and is still taught to every apprentice. Although based on Tharian and not strictly a separate language, Shufflish sounds like gobbledygook to outsiders, and thus provides Fymbels with a means of private communication in public places. Or do you understand the meaning of “Cry moan’s a mad boot daydoo”?
Origin. Fymbels trace their origins back to the first century a.S., and to three Erpheronian women: Fanya the Fuzzle, Katra the Mouth, and Myrael the Ponderer. The three appear to have first met in Astran, then as now the seat of one of the Erpheronian dukes. How the women came to know one another is not known, and in fact constitutes something of a historical puzzle, for Seyella could not have arranged three births more different than theirs: Fanya was an illiterate peasant; Myrael the daughter of a fur trader; and while Katra’s origins are still debated among the learned, most agree that she came from a noble family, and that she used a pseudonym to hide her parentage. The historian Artheos Mirabilis Federkiel believes that her true name was Caressa, and that she was the younger sister of Phelossa, the duchess of Weyring, who became queen of Santharia when she married King Laenthris in 46 a.S.
Fanya, Myrael and Katra were stonemasons – or rather, they wanted to be, but were thwarted in their efforts to learn the trade by the belief of their day and land: that women could not be stonemasons (nor smiths nor woodwrights nor saddlers, for that matter). The three women could quite simply not find a master craftsman to teach them.
They decided to leave the prejudices of their countryfolk behind and try their luck among the Serphelorians in the province of Sanguia – a tribe where women held positions of power more frequently than men, and where no restrictions were put on the occupations women could take up. And indeed, the founder Fymbels found teachers among the Serphelorians, and acquired the basics of their trade, along with, as contemporary Fymbels cheerfully emphasize, a foul-mouthed sense of humour.
According to Fymbel tradition, the three founders realized that further travels would enable them to hone their masonry and their cussing skills both. So they set out to other provinces of the young Santharian kingdom. The Fymbel legends suggest that Fanya, Myrael and Katra frequently dressed as men during these journeys, and thus managed to work with stonemasons who would otherwise have declined to teach or employ women. The densest web of tales is spun around Katra, who is said to have travelled as far as Strata, by which time the practice of her arduous craft had made her so strong that she won every armwrestling contest in every stingo den between Cape Strata and the Yanthian Gulf.
Artheos M. Federkiel, however, doubts whether the founders themselves did indeed ever leave Sanguia again. Many feats attributed to them may in fact have been accomplished by their pupils, or their pupils’ pupils. Some of these must have journeyed far and wide, for we know that as early as the 3rd century a.S., Fymbel stonemasons were operating in places as far apart as Varcopas, Ciosa, Carmalad, and Nyermersys. The stone-carved fuzzle mice that appear on buildings from that period constitute a strong indication of a growing radius of Fymbel activity, as well as of group loyalty and confidence.
The fuzzle mouse is an apt emblem for the Fymbels: an animal easy to overlook, yet dexterous, curious, and resourceful. Thriving on the margins of society, fuzzles and Fymbels alike quietly go about their respective business, increasing in number while the lords of house and land look elsewhere. Contemporary Fymbels believe that the very name “Fymbel” derives from the fuzzle mouse, and that founders Fanya and Katra were responsible. A legend tells that Fanya had been chiseling away at a small statue of a young man she was making, and had stopped to regard her work, holding the statue close to her face to look at details, and turning it around swiftly with her fingers. At that moment, Katra came into the room, saw Fanya and teased: “Nuzzling young men again, are you?”
Fanya, preoccupied with her work, hardly noticed her friend and did not reply, instead continuing to twist and turn her statue. Katra stopped to watch, and couldn’t help being impressed by her friend’s dexterity – especially as Katra herself, although gifted with physical strength, was not the most nimble-fingered of stonemasons, and much preferred chopping at huge chunks of rock to patiently carving delicate features. Her thoughts half entangled in her wasted jest, half preoccupied with wonder at her friend’s work, Katra mumbled: “My, you are a fimble nuzzle, aren’t you” – intending to say “nimble fuzzle”, but mixing up her consonants.
Unfortunately for Katra, but fortunately for Fymbel history, Fanya did pay attention this time, and noticed her friend’s slip of the tongue. The mistake became a source of much merriment among the founder Fymbels, with hapless Katra the butt of the joke. Apparently, the group called themselves “Fimble Nuzzles” for a while, until they settled on the shorter “Fymbels”. If the story is to be believed, it explains not only the origin of the guild’s name, but also describes the inadvertent discovery of the principle of Shufflish (see below).
Even though the Fymbels’ own accounts of their history may largely consist of inventions that have, over time, become venerated traditions, their importance should not be underestimated. A group that knows to tell good stories about itself has done half the work toward ensuring internal solidarity, and is likely to attract new members. Yet in explaining the historical rise of the Fymbels, we should not neglect material conditions either. Artheos M. Federkiel once remarked that the guild’s foundation and expansion, as well as the invention of the wandering apprenticeship, did not by chance occur in the first centuries a.S. The unification of Southern Sarvonia into a single kingdom brought about a number of conditions conspicuous for the Fymbel idea: peaceful times meant relative security for travellers; the intensification of trade between regions increased the availability of materials for artisans; and the widening opportunities for merchants helped create a class of newly-rich burghers, who were eager to display their wealth by buying or commissioning works of fine craft.
Indeed a second guild, the Fymbel Woodwrights, was founded sometime during the 3rd or 4th century a.S. Yet after an initial rapid expansion, both the stonemason and woodwright guilds seem to have stagnated for many centuries.
Image description. The High Bridge of Marcogg as seen from one of the northwestern balconies of the Great Nehtorian Temple. Picture by Quellion.
It was a whim of Seyella that brought the
Fymbels renown across the Santharian Kingdom:
in the 10th century a.S., Fymbel stonemasons were employed to build a bridge
over the Mashdai River on the highest Step of the city of
Marcogg. The carried out their task to great
acclaim. Unto this day, the High Bridge, as it is called, is widely regarded as
the most graceful of Marcogg’s many bridges,
and it made the Fymbels’ name: Female human
artisans had constructed a famous work both durable and beautiful; and which was
widely perceived to outshine the other
Marcoggian bridges, even though these had been the work of expert
News of the Fymbels’ accomplishment seems to have inspired a number of Southern Sarvonian women to follow the example of the Fymbels. In any case, within the space of the next two or three generations, Fymbel stonemasons and woodwrights were flooded with young apprentices eager to join them. The Fymbels’ success also encouraged those who aspired to other crafts, and no fewer than five new Fymbel guilds were founded in this period: these being the luthiers, the shipwrights, the wainwrights, the jewelry makers, and the farriers.
In documents from this time (such as official tax registers, records of court cases, and so forth), we find that references to the “Guild of Fymbles” increase manyfold within a short span of years. The names by which individual Fymbels are recorded give us an indication of the diversification of the guilds’ membership. During the 11th century, some male names begin to appear alongside the female ones. More remarkably even, we find names such as “Butterblossom” or “Tricklebrook”, and “Rignirzh” or “Grummelzhauz” – clear indications that the Fymbels were beginning to welcome hobbits and gnomes into their association.
To this day, eight in ten Fymbels you meet are likely to be human and female. The rest of the membership is made up of human males, as well as hobbits and gnomes of both sexes. In the province of Xaramon, you may even occasionally find an orcish Fymbel. These are invariably Volkek-Oshra, who have been exiled from their Ximaxian clans due to their lack of magical talent.
Appearance. For the most part of their history, Fymbels had no conspicuous distinguishing characteristics apart from being human and female. Only during the 11th century (roughly 1000 years after they were first founded) did the Fymbels begin to distinguish themselves by means of dress. As we have just reported, this was a period of expansion and diversification for the Fymbels, which might explain why outward signs of guild membership began to be regarded as important.
Still, the “Fymbel rags”, as they are known among the guilds, are simple: grey trousers, a white shirt, a grey vest, and a black hat with an enormously wide rim, a red hat band, and a little blue embroidery on the left side, representing a fuzzle mouse. As Fymbels may come from all over Santharia, there is considerable variation in the materials and shades of dye used, and precise adherence to dress code is not regarded as important among most Fymbels.
In any case, master Fymbels wear whatever they like and is practical for their work. Only the wandering apprentices wear the Fymbel rags. On their journeys through Santharia, wearing these clothes has an important advantage: the conspicuous hat, in particular, allows apprentices to recognize and find fellow Fymbels in foreign places. This means that they can exchange news and advice, and also increases the chances of finding company on the roads, which makes the long and dangerous wanderings more enjoyable, and a little safer.
There is one further identifying characteristic, although it is subtle and not always visible: we speak of the fuzzle tattoos that the Fymbels use as marks of membership, and indeed as symbols of rank: apprentices about to embark on their wanderings receive one tattoo; those ready to start preparing their masterwork receive a second; and finally, a third fuzzle confirms that the bearer’s masterwork has been examined and found satisfactory, and that she has thus attained full membership of her guild.
The fuzzle tattoos are simple, stylized, and usually blue. In the early days, Fymbels often decided to bear the tattoos in places that were ordinarily hidden by clothes (such as the shoulder or the upper arm). But with growing acceptance of the Fymbels, and the rise of their reputation, it has become common for the fuzzle tattoos to appear on wrists and hands.
Territory. You may encounter Fymbels throughout Southern Sarvonia. Apprentices wander the length and breadth of the Kingdom of Santharia in search of masters who can teach them new skills. Master Fymbels (called “crones”) may settle anywhere in the kingdom, although they prefer cities, as this is where most business is to be had. Occasionally, a Fymbel may be artisan-in-residence at a noble family’s court.
Shufflish (Argot). Fymbels have their own argot: Shufflish. Although based on Tharian and not strictly a separate language, Shufflish, when spoken by skilled speakers, is all but unintelligible to outsiders. Shufflish was first developed at the time when the Fymbels kept their association secret, and when the female Fymbels frequently tried to pass as men to be accepted as apprentices by non-Fymbels. Yet even today, Shufflish is taught to every apprentice, and the Fymbels still use it amongst themselves to enable private conversations in public spaces.
The basic principle of Shufflish is simple: take a Tharian sentence, and shuffle the sounds around. Consider the following short conversation between two Fymbels:
|[First Fymbel:] Yen kill
[Second Fymbel:] Doshway.
We can assure you that these two Fymbels did not plot an assassination, and neither did they discuss curious road names. The Tharian translation of their speech is simply:
|[First Fymbel:] When will
[Second Fymbel:] Washday.
If it would please the kind readers to make a brief examination of the sounds
contained in the Shufflish original and the Tharian reconstruction, they would
find that the Shufflish expressions have been assembled by shuffling around the
consonants with which the syllables begin. However, Shuffle speakers may shuffle
not only consonants, but vowels also; indeed, they often shuffle both in the
same sentence. To mention but a simple example: the “Fymbel rags” described in
the appearance section are known in Shufflish as “Ramble figs”.
In general, there are no strict rules of how to turn a Tharian sentence into Shufflish; speakers often improvise on the spot. Thence, speaking and understanding Shufflish is an art that requires imagination and quick thinking. Its mastery is further complicated by the existence of regional dialects. For example, the Tharian “today” is usually rendered “dootay” in the areas south of the city of New-Santhala, but “taydoo” (and even “daydoo”) in the North.
Among Shufflish speakers, it is considered beautiful to construct phrases that appear to be nonsensical combinations of Tharian words. Thus, a sentence like: “Cry moan is in a mad boot daydoo!” is considered close to perfection. The Tharian translation is: “My crone is in a bad mood today”.
To make matters even more confusing, syllables or short words may sometimes be left out of well-known phrases. Thus, you might hear the above sentence rendered as “cry moan’s a mad boot ‘doo”. Advanced Shufflers may truncate the phrase even further and render it with but two words: “moans boot”.
Expressions such as “moan” for “my crone” or “boot” for “bad mood today” are called portmanteau words: for as a portmanteau may contain several objects, a portmanteau word contains in itself several other words; and as you may use a portmanteau to conveniently convey your possessions from here to there in one journey (rather than going a number of times, each time carrying as many things as your hands can hold), so a portmanteau word allows you to convey several meanings in one short phrase.
Elegant speakers of Shufflish are much admired among the Fymbels. A Fymbel who overhears a well-shuffled phrase will often memorize it and later pass it on to whomever she happens to speak with next. Thus a constant trickle of new idioms, puns and portmanteaus fills the pool of the language, ensuring that Shufflish is forever changing and never boring.
Picture description. The emblem of the Fymbels Association: the always busy fuzzle mouse. Picture drawn by Drucilla Sablewolffe.
Organization. The Fymbels are a loose
association of separate guilds, each of which oversees standards of production,
trading, and education in their particular craft. Access to membership is
strictly regulated, and each guild is watchful to ensure high standards of
quality. Every major Santharian city has
one or several Fymbel “guild houses” (which may be anything from a spare room in
one of the larger Fymbel workshops to a building specifically erected for the
purpose). The guild houses provide meeting places for the local guild councils
(the so-called chatter rings, see below), and serve as the guilds’
representation to non-Fymbel society. For example, customers who are not
satisfied with something they bought or commissioned from a Fymbel artisan can
appeal to the relevant guild house for redress. The accused’s fellow guild
members will then investigate the case, pass judgement, and may demand that a
guilty artisan replace or repair faulty work, or pay back the money she
The guilds also maintain an eye on the pricing of goods, and may sanction members for selling either below or above customary prices. An offender may be ordered to carry out some work that benefits the guild (for example, a woodwright may make a new set of chairs for the guild house), or to provide the food for the next members’ banquet. For severe transgressions, however, punishments can be harsher. And when a Fymbel is repeatedly found guilty of actions that threaten the Fymbels’ reputation – such as shoddy work, use of inferior materials, or tardy completion of commissions – she may even be expelled from her guild.
Members pay a yearly contribution to their guild’s treasury, and are in turn insured against mishaps, such as a fire in their workshop or injuries that temporarily prevent them from working. Young Fymbels who want to set up their own workshop for the first time can apply to their guild for a loan. Guilds will also pay a small pension to members who have become unable to work due to injury or old age.
Acquiring membership is a long process that takes rarely less than seven years, and often longer. An aspiring artisan has to pass through a series of ranks until she is accepted as a full member. These ranks are rather curiously named: The apprentice starts out as a “tomgirl”, performing simple tasks in a workshop. When she takes to the road to find different masters to learn from, she is called “floozy”. A floozy who has decided to take the final challenge and prepare her masterwork is called a “workmare”. Once that masterwork is completed and has passed examination by senior guild members, she becomes a “crone”, and is now a full member of her guild. Finally, an experienced crone is called a “spinster”.
The names of these ranks strike many outsiders as self-mockery. Yet in the early history of the Fymbel guilds, when the rank names were first chosen, they had a serious purpose: to take up the insults that female artisans encountered in their struggle for recognition and to twist their meaning, thereby transforming them into a badge of pride. The rank names were not changed when men started joining the guilds, and male Fymbels are just as proud as females to call themselves “floozies”, “workmares”, “crones” or “spinsters”. As a rule, however, male “tomgirls” are simply referred to as “toms”.
In the remainder of this section, we describe the five statuses.
A tomgirl is an untrained aspirant who works for a crone, hoping to prove her talent and acquire the basic skills of her chosen craft. Tomgirls are not yet proper members of the guild, but are preparing for the examination they need to pass in order to attain apprentice status.
Tomgirls help the crone and learn from her in the process. Depending on the generosity and the needs of the crone, tomgirls will also have to carry out a variety of other tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, getting water, or going on small errands. After a period of one to three years, the tomgirl undergoes an examination, during which she has to demonstrate her mastery of basic techniques in her craft. Only Shufflish may be spoken in this assessment, and no one who hasn’t mastered Shufflish can pass. If the tomgirl is successful, she receives permission to travel as a wandering apprentice, so that she may hone her skills in the service of a variety of masters. Her new “floozy” status is verified through the blue fuzzle mouse that is tattooed on her hand or arm.
Picture description. A fymbel floozy (wandering apprentice) preparing for rest after a long day's walk. Picture drawn by Bard Judith.
Floozy, or Malise
Floozies have gained apprentice status are required to embark on wanderings that can take them all over Santharia in search of the best master artisans to learn from. These masters don’t need to be Fymbels themselves, although many apprentices choose to learn from Fymbels initially, because this ensures that they will be working with virtuoso masters of their craft, and also because they hope that Fymbel solidarity will encourage crones to be generous toward them.
Before she starts on her “Wanderings”, the floozy must swear that she is not currently sought for a crime. She must also state whether she has a child. If she does, she must explain how she intends to care for it on her journeys, or why she has chosen to leave it behind. Fymbels are keen to ensure that the Wanderings are not used to flee responsibility, and will not tattoo an apprentice that they suspect of wanting to do so.
Once she has left, a floozy is not allowed to step within a hundred-stral circle around her home town for five years. This is to free her from the fetters of family bonds or friendships that might ensnare her, and which might hamper her education. It also encourages her to choose the best masters to learn from, rather than those who happen to live close by.
Floozies are also sometimes called ‘malise’, for they travel from master to master like a malise (or honeybee) travels from blossom to blossom. Rarely does a floozy stay with the same master for longer than a year.
Workmare, or Double-fuzzle
After five years of wandering, and when she feels she has acquired sufficient skills to work as an independent artisan, a floozy may “break the ring” (that is, enter the forbidden hundred-stral circle area around her home) and return to the guild house that first allowed her to sally forth. This house certifies that she has “travelled her time”, by tattooing a second fuzzle onto her arm. As a “double-fuzzle”, the apprentice may now apply to any Fymbel crone to be her supervisor while she prepares her masterwork. Usually, the choice falls on a crone with whom the double-fuzzle worked in her floozy days. This supervisor may, of course, live anywhere in Southern Sarvonia, and double-fuzzles may travel yet another long distance to reach her.
The nature of the masterwork depends on the trade: a woodwright may construct and build a cabinet with nineteen drawers and intricate ornaments; a master puppeteer might devise a new show and direct a troupe of players throughout the rehearsals and the premiere performance; a luthier may construct a pedalos harp, and so forth.
A masterwork usually takes between six moons and a year to complete. Only the most generous and wealthy crones allow the double-fuzzle to fully concentrate on her masterwork during this time. More usually, double-fuzzles have to earn their keep by toiling in the crone’s workshop by day, and do much of the work towards their masterpiece at night. It is not by accident, then, that double-fuzzles are commonly referred to as “workmares” among the Fymbels.
The masterwork is submitted to the nearest guild house and assessed by senior crones, called “spinsters”. If it satisfies the examiners, the workmare receives a third fuzzle tattoo, and is from this moment onwards a crone: a master artisan. She is now a full member of her guild, and enjoys all the benefits of this membership: protection against unfair competition, insurance against accidents and long-standing sickness, and a promise of support in old age. She also has the right to set up her own workshop and use the fuzzle emblem on her shop sign to advertise her guild membership.
Many Fymbel crones do not set up workshops on their own, but form small cooperatives, combining different specialized skills to attract a wider range of customers. Thus, it is not rare to find four or even more crones running a single workshop. Floozies often find it advantageous to work in cooperatives, because they can pick up different tricks from different crones, although life can become laboursome under multiple masters, none of whom lacks ideas when it comes to assigning duties and finding ways of making the apprentice help them in their own projects.
A spinster is a crone whose superior experience and skill has been recognized by her fellows. Whereas all crones are allowed to teach tomgirls, floozies and workmares, only spinsters can act as examiners of masterworks. Appointments to spinsterhood are made by the local guild councils, the so-called “chatter rings” (of which we report in more detail below). The spinster status holds considerable prestige, and every Fymbel aspires to attain it. Yet there is no outward sign that distinguishes a spinster from an ordinary crone.
It is characteristic of Fymbel morality that spinsters are not privileged over other crones in any way, except for the right (and duty) to examine masterworks. Both crones and spinsters sit on the guild councils, where they debate as equals. Craftswomanship and wise government require different skills, and the best artisans are not necessarily the best debaters, arbitrators, or decision makers. So when it comes to appointing, say, a judge to mediate in a dispute between two guild members, a young crone may well be preferred to the most respected spinster, if the former has more aptitude in matters of diplomacy. Given their origins, it is hardly surprising that the Fymbels are mindful lest the privilege of rank gets in the way of the development and utilization of talent.
Another example of the Fymbels’ fondness for irony in naming their most important institutions, chatter rings are councils who administer the treasury, arbitrate in disputes, debate matters of importance to the guild, and make decisions concerning collective courses of action.
Almost every Southern Sarvonian city has several chatter rings; one for each guild that has local members. Marcogg, for example, has seven: the rings of the stonemasons, the woodwrights, the puppeteers, the tapestry weavers, the luthiers, the jewelry makers, and the bell makers. Other trades are not practiced by Fymbels in Marcogg, or at least not in sufficient numbers to warrant the establishment of a chatter ring.
Chatter rings hold regular gatherings in the local guild houses, and every crone and spinster has the right to attend. Interested apprentices, too, are invited and even encouraged to come along and get a whiff of Fymbel self-government. “Chattering” (as Fymbels like to refer to the activity that chatter rings engage in) is taken extremely seriously, as every guild member is aware that the continued independence and success of the Fymbels depends on fair governance within, as well as on prudent management of relations with non-Fymbel powers, such as city councils and the nobility. To maintain their autonomy, the Fymbels try to deal internally with conflict or misdeeds committed by their members. However, they do recognize the jurisdiction of the worldly powers – and also depend on them for protection and safeguarding of rights, since the Fymbels themselves have no weapons or guards with which they could enforce justice.
There is no formal hierarchy in a chatter ring, and decisions are made collectively. If disagreements cannot be resolved by debate, matters are decided by a show of hands. The same system is also used to appoint individuals to certain offices, such as, for example, the Keeper of the Keys for the treasury, who manages the local guild’s funds. Individuals voted into such posts have authority to make important decisions on their own. Yet at the end of their period of office (usually two or three years), they have to lay open their affairs, and must submit to the judgement of their peers. This system has been quite successful in allowing those in posts of responsibility to make unpopular decisions, whose benefits may only transpire in the medium or longer term.
There is no overall governing body of the Fymbels, and never has there been a “Fymbel queen” or anything of the sort. The local guilds have complete autonomy in governing their affairs. Nonetheless there is constant exchange between local guilds of different trades, as well as from city to city. The floozies have an important role to play in spreading news of new ideas, or of looming problems that affect the Fymbels as a whole. In addition, however, Fymbels also organize regional “Big Chatterings” every few years or so. Thus, envoys of all trades from Manthria and northern Brendolan may meet in Ciosa, where they may discuss matters like the security on floozy travel routes, will notify one another of delinquent Fymbels who have been excluded from the guild, and will delight in exchanging new Shufflish witticisms.
Once every thirteen years, hundreds of Fymbels from all over Southern Sarvonia descend on New-Santhala for the so-called Riffbuggledaze (a Shufflish construction that neatly conceals the original name – Big Fuzzle Raid – which would needlessly upset the authorities). The Riffbuggledaze may last three or four weeks, and is a forum for serious debate as well as for raucous celebration of Fymbel solidarity.
Trades. We currently know of seventeen trades practiced by Fymbels. Below we describe five of the most important in detail: stonemasons, woodwrights, puppeteers, luthiers, and tapestry weavers. Then, in the section on “Other trades”, we briefly introduce the remaining twelve.
Stonemasons and Builders
Stonemasons founded the Fymbels, but today their guild is not the biggest, and remains small compared to the numerous woodwrights and puppeteers. Although their skills are outstanding among humans, Fymbel stonewrights have never been able to even get close to the dwarves in terms of the knowledge, love, and artistic manipulation of stone. The richer the client, and the more prestiguous the project, the more likely it is that a commission goes to dwarves rather than to human stonemasons. Nonetheless, Fymbel stonemasons have achieved some remarkable feats. Foremost among them is the High Bridge in Marcogg, which is widely regarded as the most beautiful bridge in the city, and in fact helped to establish the Fymbels’ reputation as capable and reliable crafters.
Fymbel stonemasons undertake a variety of projects: they plan and construct large stone buildings and bridges, chisel ornamental facades and windows, carve statues and statuettes. They are also called upon when works of stone need to be repaired.
There is one advantage that Fymbel builders have over the dwarves, and this is their knowledge of how to protect buildings against certain kinds of unwanted intruders, such as ghosts, demons, gobbleswaps, Evil Listeners (see the entry on the “Evil Ear” superstition), and witches. From a scholarly point of view, we would have to advise the reader that some of these fearsome entities are unlikely to be a danger to most Fymbel clients (who has ever seen a mhorashty demon invade a Ciosan merchant’s bredden grain store?), while others either may not exist or almost certainly don’t (such as Evil Listeners). From the Fymbels’ point of view, however, the client is king, and a king’s fears are ignored at his stonemason’s peril.
For example: Everyone in Erpheronia knows that witches can be deterred from your house if you immure the following objects into the wall above the door: a handful of dried petals of Evening Princess, which must have been picked by an untouched girl or woman in the waxing period of the moon, and three pairs of shoes. At a pinch, six unpaired shoes will do. (And as long as everyone believes the flowerpicking girl to be untouched, the Fymbels are unlikely to ask questions.)
The Avennorians, however, laugh at such Erpheronian superstitions, for they know the true method to ward off witches: stick a petitioner (a salty baked snack whose shape is said to resemble a person in prayer) between the bricks next to each window, and also hang a fresh twig of nightshade bush above your door every new moon.
The Fymbels, since they get around much during their floozy wanderings, are well aware of the variety of beliefs that exist in the different regions of the Santharian Kingdom, and soon come to understand that all these methods are equally effective. Fymbel stonewrights therefore do not hesitate to indulge the peculiar wishes of each client, and for generations have duly immured shoes and flower petals in Erpheronian walls, and salty nibblies in Avennorian ones.
One feature unites all Fymbel buildings, wherever they stand: if you look carefully, you will find a little fuzzle mouse somewhere, carved out of stone but realistic in size, shape and stance. The fuzzle may hide in the shadow of a pillar, crawl up on the outside of a doorpost, or peek out from behind a projection on the wall. When they enter a city for the first time, Fymbels of all guilds make a sport of seeking out buildings of Fymbel construction and looking for the stone fuzzle. The first to find it does not have to pay a san for her drinks that night; her comrades will honour her bill.
The woodwrights are the second oldest Fymbel guild, and today are the largest. They make furniture, build tie-beam structures for wooden roofs, construct wooden bridges, and in general try their hands and smoothing planes at anything that requires skilled woodcraft. Note, however, that wooden means of transport are more commonly built by the wainwrights and shipwrights, and that playthings are the toymakers’ remit.
Of all Fymbels, the woodwrights have the most affection and closest association with the fuzzle mouse. In many a carpenter’s workshop you will find a few tame fuzzles running over tables and toolboxes, sniffing at pots of varnish, and picking up woodchips with their dexterous paws. And like the stonemasons’ buildings, all the woodwrights’ furniture will feature some representation of the fuzzle mouse, be it in form of a carved outline, or even a coloured ornament.
Fymbel woodwrights like to say that to work with wood you need opposable thumbs (such as fuzzles have), by which they mean to say that special talent is required to succeed in their craft. Accordingly, before she can become a floozy, a woodwright tomgirl has to demonstrate her dexterity by whittling a little wooden sculpture of an imaginary bird, commonly known as the “Fymbel fowl”. Its corkscrew legs are particularly difficult to render.
In general, Fymbel woodwrights are neither better nor worse than other Santharian carpenters. The Fymbels do have one speciality, though: the invention and construction of mechanisms that protect drawers or compartments (such as, say, of a cabinet) from being opened by those who do not know the peculiar method of doing so. These mechanisms work without lock or key, and instead allow those privy to their secret to open the desired part by delicate and obscure means, which often involve pressing the wood in certain inconspicuous spots or performing a series of seemingly pointless actions, such as opening and closing a number of other, non-secret drawers in a certain sequence.
The Kokokott Scribble Desk
The Markgraven of the Mithral Marshes in Manthria, who resides in the Keep Mistrash, is in possession of one of the finest specimens of Fymbel artistry: the so-called Kokokott Scribble Desk. The name is believed to be a playful distortion of “coa-coa cote”, since the desk features thirty-five compartments just big enough to serve as hiding places for so many coa-coa birds (or white doves).
The Kokokott is two peds wide, three peds high, and half a ped deep when the writing surface is hinged upwards. When folded down, this surface comes to rest at a convenient height for a seated Avennorian, and provides about one ped by two peds of space to be cluttered with parchments, quills, and inkpots. Below the writing surface are three wide drawers. The thirty-five compartments, however, are arranged in five rows of seven, situated partly behind the writing surface (when it is folded up) and partly above it.
Each of these compartments has a little door, and each door is adorned with a colour painting representing a different bird or flying creature. Most of the birds are exotic and colourful (the psitta, the haloen, and the dragonbird immediately stand out), but some are common Sarvonian species (like the varcosparrow and the stormcrow). Most of these doors can be opened with the help of wooden knobs at their centre, but two withstand all attempts at drawing them open: these are the doors of the balyei flying sponge and the flittertwitch butterfly, respectively.
Some say that these two locked compartments contain precious jewels; others, that they hide maps showing secret passages in the dungeons of Keep Mistrash (and that within those secret passages, the ghosts of dwarven slaves are caged). We have even heard it said that opening the compartments would release an ancient curse that popular superstition associates with Keep Mistrash.
Fymbel woodwrights, however, when you ask them about the Kokokott, will not dwell these rumours, but will instead involve you in a long conversation about the unknown mechanism that keeps those compartments locked. Most believe that to unlock them one must open a certain combination of the other compartments. Will snow falcon, wood owl, and howler goose do the trick? Or are dragonbird, gossiper and garthook required? It is said that only the reigning Markgraven knows the correct method, and will pass it to none but his successor. In any case, let us not neglect to mention that the Kokokott is no exception as far as the omnipresence of the fuzzle mouse on pieces of Fymbel woodcraft is concerned: the fuzzle is indeed running through the picture on one of the compartment doors, pursued by a myrddin falcon.
Fymbel puppeteers proudly assert that theirs was the first guild organization for their profession in Santharia. They also claim that Fymbels invented puppet theatre, but scholarly integrity compels us to emphasize that we have no evidence either to confirm or refute this view; but there is no doubt that the best puppet shows in Santharia are put on by the Fymbels.
Fymbel puppet theatre is played on a raised stage surrounded by wooden panels or curtains, which serve to hide the puppeteers from the audience. Only the puppets themselves appear on stage and play out the action. Puppets are usually wooden; arms, legs, rump and head are made out of separate pieces, and joined together with internal strings, so that each part can be moved independently of the others. The puppets are controlled via a set of thin strings attached to their limbs and head, which connect to a handpiece made of wooden sticks. Through the deft manipulation of handpiece and strings, the puppeteer can animate the puppet, creating the appearance that the puppet walks, waves, or shakes its head of its own accord. Puppets that represent dragons or sea monsters may even be designed so as to be able to open and close their mouths – to terrifying effect!
Famous for their exquisite puppetmaking, their sumptuous stage settings, and their exhilarating performances, Fymbel puppet shows are popular in cities across Santharia. Some troupes have mobile theatres, and travel from village to village and from city to city. They perform under the sky or set up a special tent for their shows. On occasion, they may even get invited to play in a guildhall, town hall, or wealthy burgher’s house. These troupes often join Black Butterfly Rovers as travelling companions, and some have been known to become true Rovers and loosen all ties to the Fymbel guild.
The more established troupes own permanent theatres, where they stage performances most nights. Currently we know of thirteen cities blessed with resident Fymbel puppeteers: Nyermersys in the province of Nermeran; Milkengrad in Vardýnn; Carmalad and Cavthan in Enthronia; Ximax in Xaramon; New-Santhala and Chylikis in Sanguia; Marcogg, Lorehaven and Ciosa in Manthria; Bardavos in Brendolan; and Varcopas and Thalambath in Truban.
Every aspiring puppeteer will try to study at three or more of these thirteen troupes during her apprenticeship, as this will guarantee a most thorough (as well as demanding) education. To play as a guest performer at a residential theatre is considered a high honour; to become one of their permanent members is every puppeteer’s dream.
Yet even among this elite, two troupes stand out, and enjoy a friendly but fierce rivalry for the reputation of being the best ensemble in the kingdom: these are the theatres of Bardavos and New-Santhala. The New-Santhalans base their claim for primacy on the frequent invitations they receive to provide entertainment at the royal court. The Bardavosians retort that the audience in the city of artists is the most sophisticated in the kingdom, and that their superiority is proven by the many guest appearances famous musicians have made in their shows. “You may have your seats graced by the king’s backside,” they will tease the New-Santhalans, “but only last Fallen Leaf, we’ve had Judith of Bardavos playing a gigue to accompany the “Dance of the Hiveling” in “The Swarm-Ghost of Nothesby”!
Such squabbles notwithstanding: if you get a chance to view a performance by any Fymbel puppeteers, whether residential or travelling, prepare yourself for a memorable experience. Many shows are dramatizations of legends or historical events, but tales by well-known storytellers such as Master Tribell are also put on stage. The transformation of a woman into a fox in The Fylja of the Forest has caused many a sensitive audience member to faint. The intricate light effects, the colourful voice acting, and the ingenious puppet design make the metamorphosis so convincing that mages have been suspected of having lent a helping hand.
An apprentice puppeteer must learn a whole gamut of skills: to start with, there is the making of puppets, the painting of stage settings, and the whittling of wooden props. Then one must learn to handle a variety of puppets, which may represent people, animals, mythical beings, and even inanimate objects such as ships, carts, clouds, or trees whose branches sway in the wind. Each puppet’s movements must appear spontaneous and fluent, so as create the illusion that it is alive. Puppeteers must also be able to modulate their voices, giving each character their own individual timbre.
Needless to say, every puppeteer must not only know a vast repertoire of stories, and retain in memory the parts of different characters in a play; she must also have the skill to devise a new play out of legends, stories, or recent remarkable events (such as murders, court intrigues, or hauntings – the more spectacular, the better). In addition, many puppeteers learn to play the flute, harp, or lute, and all are required to master a variety of percussion instruments to create sound effects, so that the theatre may shake with thunder, that sea waves may noisily roll against a ship’s hulk, and that no sword fight may lack the teeth-tickling clang of metal on metal.
Since most puppeteers are illiterate, dramatizations are rarely recorded in writing, but are memorized by repeated practice and passed on from generation to generation of performers. The floozies have an important role, as they pass on new stories and dramatic ideas that they have come across. As a result, plays often “wander” from troupe to troupe, undergoing changes in the process, as each company adds or deletes scenes and dialogue according to their taste, the ability of their actors, and the inclinations of their audiences.
Every puppet show contains a good deal of spontaneous improvisation; audience heckling is responded to and incorporated into the drama, and jokes about recent local events are inserted. (Such jokes are often aimed at local dignitiaries, especially when these dignitaries are in attendance on the night.) Thus it comes that no company ever plays anything the same way twice.
The Cavthan Poppet Company
We cannot close this report on the Fymbel puppeteers without mentioning the “Cavthan Poppet Company”, which is particularly well regarded for the special effects of its shows – a result of imaginative cooperations with their city’s capable gnomish alchemists. The troupe’s most famous show is “Nod and the Hydragon’s Tooth”, a dramatization of a children’s tale, which features an inept wizard and his spectacularly error-prone magic. In the play, each instance of bungled wizardry is accompanied by an explosion of colourful smoke that envelops not only the stage, but half the audience as well. The gnomes are also said to have helped with the famous “tree surprise”, which involves puppet design of shocking mechanical intricacy: at one point in the story, a tree, which had silently stood in the background of several scenes and had seemed to be no more than a static prop, suddenly begins to stretch its branches and tear at its roots, and proceeds to run three times back and forth along the stage, until it exits on the left. Such effects have made this show popular with young and old, and in Cavthan, children who haven’t seen “Nod and the Hydragon’s Tooth” are derided by their peers as ignorant pumpkins.
Luthiers invent, make and repair musical instruments. The guild’s name derives from the lute, and indeed the founders were mainly engaged in the making of string instruments: dulcimers, harps, theorbos, as well as fiddles and their relatives small and large. Today, members of the guild of luthiers may also specialize in wind instruments like flutes, horns, doodlepipes, bubblechanters, and trumblebones, or even in percussion instruments such as meldarines, twinkle stars, thunder disks, sleepy-mice, and the whole gamut of gentle and not-so-gentle noisemakers.
Fymbel instrument makers work all over Santharia. We only mention two of the most famous here: “Klommpotch’s Pluckfiddles” in Bardavos, and “Liomel’s Melodical Supplies” in Lorehaven.
“Klommpotch’s Pluckfiddles” in Bardavos, founded by the hobbit Griselda Klommpotch, is a large workshop that, in good times, employs as many as nine crones and a dozen apprentices. All associates are entitled to five meal breaks a day, as Griselda believed that “it’s no good trying to tune a lute when you can’t tell your Ey from your Ba amid the din of your stomach grumbling”. Two centuries after her death in 1453 a.S., Griselda’s (mostly human) successors have found no reason to change this custom.
“Klommpotch’s Pluckfiddles” produces all kinds of plucked string instruments, but its fame derives from its theorbos, of which the “Klommpotches” are said to be the finest manufacturers in the kingdom, as well as being the admired inventors of new variations of this instrument. The Great Fingertwister, a thirty-three stringed monster the size of a dragonbird, has such a strong resonance that a careless player can drown out a horn in a duet. The fattest strings produce notes so low that some children cannot hear them, but only feel them in their bones. The highest strings, when played skillfully, are rumoured to have the capacity to alleviate strangler’s disease and cure headaches.
The extraordinary tonal range of the Great Fingertwister seems to be attractive to varcosparrows. Players of the instrument report that the tiny birds often come to sit at the window of their room during practice. At concerts, varcosparrows have been known to fly into the venue in their dozens and to perch themselves on ceiling beams or projections on the wall, where they remain throughout the performance, listening in reverent silence.
Liomel’s Melodical Supplies
Another famous Fymbel instrument maker was Liomel of Carmalad, who founded her workshop “Liomel’s Melodical Supplies” in Lorehaven in the 12th century a.S. The daughter of Caltharian cloth dyers, Liomel first became known for her inventive (and sometimes eccentric) way of painting and adorning the instruments of her making. Her famous blue and pink trumblebone, a gift to the princess of Santharia, is still in the possession of the royal family today.
Commanding an astonishing range of talents, Liomel was also a virtuoso musician, and an admirer once said of her that “she paints landscapes with her harp and plays fugues with her colours”. Her legacy lives on in her workshop, which to this day is known for the fine designs and ornaments of their instruments.
If you visit the rooms of “Liomel’s Melodical Supplies”, you will see a large contraption standing in a corner, which may, at first sight, appear like a jumbled heap of spare parts from different types of instruments. If you look closely, however, you will notice that there is not a speck of dust to be found on it. As the workshop’s associates won’t be shy to tell you, they care for it meticulously. For what may look like scrap to the uninitiated eye is in fact the original hardrumpumpet, an invention of Liomel’s. This remarkable instument is a harp, a drum, a trumpet and a doodlepipe all at the same time. The secrets of its making are known only to crones working in “Liomel’s Melodical Supplies”.
Hardrumpumpets are exceedingly rare. In fact, only a dozen or so have ever been produced, and we do not know how many of those are still intact today. It is said that only three people alive can play the hardrumpumpet, and that doing so is strenuous to the highest degree. According to Fymbel lore, Liomel herself never played more than three short folk tunes on this instrument in one session; and when she did, she always required a full day of rest afterwards to recover from the exertion.
The Tapestry Weavers are the wealthiest Fymbel guild. They produce almost exclusively for rich clients, who buy tapestries to adorn their halls and chambers. Fymbel tapestries can be very large, and may completely cover one wall of a spacious dining hall. Given their costliness and the immense amount of work that goes into their production, it is no surprise that tapestry images invariably have serious subjects. Often they illustrate historical or mythical events, and as such serve a variety of purposes: to remind a family of the deeds of their ancestors, to impress on visitors the pedigree of their hosts, to educate the young, and to display wealth and sophisticated taste. Some clients also commission tapestries with religious themes, which they endow to Temples of the Twelvern to please the gods, and to enhance their own reputation in the world of humans.
Tapestries are made by tightening a set of threads (the so-called warp) on a loom, and interweaving these with other threads (the weft), which have been dyed in a variety of colours. When the work is finished and hung on a wall, the beholder should not be able to see any of the warp threads, but only the image, or images, created by the weft. The work requires meticulous planning, as the whole picture must be designed before weaving commences, and as the weavers must make sure to purchase in advance sufficient but not wasteful amounts of threads in all the required dyes.
No tapestry is created by an individual alone. Both design and weaving are group work, and as many as two dozen Fymbels may contribute to the production of a single tapestry. The weavers’ workshops, therefore, tend to be large collectives. Patrons sometimes ask to meet the “master”, the one artist whose creative vision the tapestries realize, the overseer who guides her minions’ work. The Fymbels have a customary answer to such inquiries: “Ask the spider which of her legs made the web.”
Tapestry workshops only exist in the largest Santharian cities, where threads in different dyes are relatively easily available, and where wealthy potential clients live, or find it convenient to travel to. The oldest weaveries are said to be those of Carmalad, and it is certainly plausible that Fymbel weavers should first have settled in a city famous for the quality of its cloth and dyes. In fact, tapestry weavers throughout the kingdom rely on materials from Carmalad, and ceaselessly badger merchants to bring them more.
One detail will not surprise the attentive reader of this account of the Fymbel guilds: on every tapestry produced by Fymbel weavers, a patient search will sooner or later reveal that a fuzzle mouse has been included in the picture. No matter how grand the historical occasion that the image describes, no matter how hostile the landscape where the scene is set: somewhere, and be it in an ever-so-inconspicuous spot, there sits a fuzzle – spying on the beholder through blades of reed, peeking out of a footboy’s pouch, or even reclining on a lady’s lap, gracefully receiving absent-minded caresses from a beringed finger.
It is time to describe two of the most famous tapestries produced by Fymbel artisans: “The Assassination of Ambassador Aelric Salazath”, which currently hangs in the royal palace in New-Santhala, and the “Cycle of Life”, which can be found in the Lorehold library in Lorehaven.
“The Assassination of Ambassador Aelric Salazath”.
“The Assassination of Ambassador Aelric Salazath” hangs in the royal palace in New-Santhala. It is so wide that a dozen people can stand side by side gazing at its marvels, and so high that visitors regularly climb chairs and tables to examine details in the upper half. The tapestry depicts a pivotal event in the history of the Santharia: the murder of Aelric Salazath, whose son Santhros later founded the United Kingdom and became its first ruler. Aelric was the human ambassador to the alliance of the four races that was set up against the threat posed by orcen invadors. He is said to have been ambushed while engaged in negotiations with representatives of the alliance.
The tapestry shows Aelric larger than life. He lies on his back on the barren earth by a lake shore. An arrow having pierced his breast, Aelric is in his death throes. He is attended to by a young man, who holds the ambassador’s head in his lap. Around the pair, three dead bodies lie: an elf, a dwarf, and a hobbit. Apparently using the last of his strength, Aelric’s hand is raised, and his finger points toward a hill in the distance, on the top of which a rider with a golden crown can be seen. The young man’s gaze follows Aelric’s finger.
The young man is usually interpreted to be Aelric’s son, the founder and first king of the United Kingdom of Santharia. The man in the distance, however, is identified by his crown as King Marzevash of Tharania. Aelric’s gesture appears to reveal Marzevash as the mastermind behind the murder.
Like most tapestries, “The Assassination of Ambassador Aelric Salazath” should not be viewed as a historical document. Having been produced many centuries after the event it portrays, it tells us more about a later generation’s interpretation of history than about history itself. Although the assassination did in fact occur, and ambassadors from other races were indeed also killed, neither Santhros nor Marzevash are likely to have been present at the scene. Significantly, also, historians are divided on the question of King Marzevash’s guilt. The tapestry is probably best viewed as an allegory. It is often interpreted as a warning against the pursuit of power for its own sake, showing the destruction wreaked by a fading ruler’s attempt to cling to his dominion.
"The Cycle of Life"
One of the most mysterious of tapestries can be found in one of the reading rooms in Lorehaven’s Lorehold library. No one knows how it got there, although a librarian of venerable age vigorously defends her conviction that one long-forgotten day, the tapestry appeared overnight, as if it had got there of its own accord and fastened itself to the wall. Unusually for a Fymbel work, the tapestry shows no recognizable historical, mythical or religious theme. Indeed, its interpretation has vexed the minds of many a scholar, and to this day there is no agreement about what it means. Among the erudite, this tapestry is called “The Cycle of Life”, although no one can know whether this was the title intended by its makers.
The “Cycle of Life” shows not one, but eight images, which are separated by thin threads of gold. One image is in the centre; the seven others are arranged in a circle around it. The centrepiece is most peculiar, for it appears to be a jumble of greyish and greenish colours without clear contours, out of which a single disembodied yellow eye peeks with an expression at once knowing and melancholic. This eye has a peculiar effect on the observer, for wherever you stand in the reading room, it seems to be looking right at you.
The seven “circle images” each depict a different creature. Starting from the one to the left of the centre, these creatures are: a gnacker mollusc; a jun’era fish; a bonehead fish; a pinnip seal; a human man (sometimes identified, by stature and clothing, to be from the Kuglimz tribe); a horned dragon; and a small formless blob that seems to be floating in water or air. Each of these creatures is depicted in its natural habitat: the gnacker and the fish in the sea, the pinnip resting on a rock by the seashore; the human in front of a house; the dragon sitting on a mountain peak. The images are composed thus that the beholder can see exactly one eye of each creature (which goes without saying for the gnacker mollusc, who in any case only has one eye; yet even the blob, amorphous as it otherwise is, holds us in its one-eyed gaze). Remarkably, all eyes are yellow and have the same shape and expression as the large eye in the centre.
Although the date of its making and the identity of its makers remain mysterious, we know that the “Cycle of Life” is a Fymbel tapestry, because the characteristic fuzzle mouse appears in the image: it peeks out of a little hole in the wooden wall of the house that forms part of the image featuring the human. Significantly, the fuzzle lacks the yellow eye that connects all other creatures in the tapestry – which indicates that the fuzzle does indeed function as a signature, rather than as part of whatever message the image is designed to convey.
Countless theories have been advanced as to the meaning of this tapestry. Most focus on the idea that the creatures in the circle are arranged in a chain of predators: the gnacker might be eaten by the small jun’era fish, who in turn is eaten by the bigger bonehead, on whom pinnips prey – and so forth up to the dragon. However, such accounts fail to explain the blobby creature, and they do not illuminate the function of the centrepiece.
The compendiumist Shabakuk Zeborius Anfang has advanced the most comprehensive interpretation to date. He invites us to read the tapestry as the story of the life of a so-called gobbleswap. The gobbleswap is a mythical creature that becomes what eats it. Having no body or mind of its own, it inhabits other living things, and travels from host to host by being consumed. Shabakuk sees the centre piece as a depiction of the gobbleswap’s essence, and the animals, the man and the dragon as so many different hosts. The mysterious seventh creature, argues Shabakuk, is in reality so small that human eyes can’t see it. It is the form a gobbleswap takes when its host dies without being eaten. In this form, the gobbleswap returns to the sea, where it may be eaten by a gnacker mollusc, and so the cycle begins anew.
There is little evidence, however, to substantiate Shabakuk’s interpretation. In particular, it is unclear why anyone would commission a costly tapestry, only to illustrate the life cycle of a creature that probably does not exist except in folk legend. We also have to consider that Shabakuk is well known in Lorehaven for harbouring eccentric ideas, and indeed has been overheard to advance the claim that he is, in fact, a gobbleswap himself. We should therefore be cautious in attributing too much significance to his claims regarding the Lorehold tapestry.
Among students using Lorehold’s library, the tapestry is known as the “Brinitarisanear”, after a popular children’s song that tells of an animal combining the characteristics of several well-known Santharian creatures. In the song’s last verse, this “Brinitarisanear” is revealed to be a mere fantasy.
We suspect that fantasy and overwrought imaginations are also responsible for a story that Lorehold librarians tell of the tapestry: in moonless nights, they report, when they enter the reading room, they often find that the yellow eyes have vanished from the image. The next morning, when the librarians return, the eyes are all in their place again – but several books have been removed from their places on the shelves and lie about on the reading tables in a disorderly manner. The librarians interpret this to signify that the tapestry’s creatures like to divert themselves by reading at night. They are said to be particularly fond of receipt collections, Mme Sausade’s Cookery Book being their perennial favourite.
Other Trades. Besides the five described in detail above, twelve other trades are currently practiced by Fymbels, and have their own guild organization in Santharia. We will describe them here in turn:
Wainwrights design, build and repair carts, coaches, and chariots; some have also produced wheels for watermills, and a few have even been engaged in the making of war machines such as siege towers, battering rams, and catapults.
Shipwrights make boats and ships, from small vessels such as the Avennorian fijor (see Avennorian ships), via fishing boats, up to big ocean going merchant ships. Unlike the Stormcloaks, a shipping guild based on the Isles of Quios, the Fymbel shipwrights have not engaged in trading or transport of goods. The shipwrights’ service is to build ships; it is up to the customers to sail them.
The toymakers make anything from simple toys such as jumping jaeks and dancing dalossas, up to complex devices representing people or animals that seem to be able to walk and move of their own accord. The latter are based on the same mechanisms that hobbits use to make their mowickles (or “wheely watches”), and in fact the Fymbels probably learned the principles of making such devices from hobbit clockmakers.
Jewellers and Signet Ring Makers
Jewellers make necklaces, bracelets, ankle rings, brooches, earrings, finger rings, diadems, and even crowns out of precious metals and precious stones such as diamant and emeraud. There are rumours, moreover, that Fymbel jewellers in New-Santhala secretly make and sell the infamous crystal daggers, a devious weapon whose hollow blade can be filled with poison. Similar to the stonemasons, Fymbel jewelry makers do not attain the dwarves’ level of mastery, but are well able to compete with most non-Fymbel humans.
Some Fymbel workshops have specialized in the production of signet rings, and are famous for their imaginative designs and the impeccable images their rings produce. Both aristocratic and patrician customers have been known to travel many leagues to commission a personal signet ring from a Fymbel. As signet rings are used to authenticate letters and documents, customers are wary of the possibility of forgery, and frequently require signet ring makers to swear by Urtengor to make unique specimens only, and to keep no records of their designs, lest those fall into the wrong hands. Nonetheless, it is not unheard of that a customer, who has lost his signet ring and returns to his jeweller to commission another, finds that the Fymbel is able to recreate from memory the exact design of the lost ring, and to make a new one whose imprint is indistinguishable from the original’s.
Amantry is the art of using feathers and dragons scales to make clothing, jewelry, wall hangings and other decorative items, and a small guild of Fymbel feather artists, or amanters has been in existence for for almost three centuries, since the early 14th century a.S. Fymbel amanters often collaborate with jewellers and tailors, and prefer to settle in cities where those guilds are well represented. Fymbels are not among the best amanters in Santharia; the pinnacle of the art is produced by the famous feather crafters of Lorehaven, whose workshops can look back on a history of over thousand years.
Fymbel weaponsmiths produce metal weapons and armour. While they are not necessarily among the best weapon crafters around, the wandering apprenticeships have allowed most of them to gain experience with weapons from a range of different Santharian regions. So if you are a Shendar cast up in the northern part of the kingdom, and if your double kilij is in bad need of repair, a Fymbel weaponsmith might be your best bet when it comes to finding someone who has at least seen such a southern blade before. In fact, it is not inconceivable that your northern Fymbel may even have forged a double kilij in her floozy days, when she worked in Strata.
Farriers combine an interesting set of skills, as they command expertise in the making and fitting of horseshoes, in horse hoof care (which includes the use of bandages and medicines to treat injuries), as well as in producing metal pieces used in house building, such as parts of roofs or ornaments. The variety of their work means that most farriers are creative and flexible crafters, and are prepared to accept unusual commissions. Thus, when the famous mowickle clock of Ciosa was in need of repair, it was local Fymbel farriers who were charged with forging the necessary replacement parts.
Bell makers are experts in the production of bells large and small. Bells are made by pouring hot melted metal into wooden moulds, which force the liquid into the desired shape as it cools and solidifies. Large bells are positioned in the guard towers of many Santharian cities; the sound of their tolling carries far, and daily announces events such as the opening of the gates in the morning, and the closing of the gates in the evening. Bells may also be pealed to alert citizens to danger, or to mark the start of an important ceremony.
Smaller bells often serve the wealthy and the coxcombish to ring for their servants, yet Fymbels have also found more beautiful uses for them. Bell makers frequently collaborate with luthiers to produce precisely tuned bells and gongs for musical performances. Indeed, the combined skills of these two types of artisans have lead to the invention of new musical instruments, the most famous of which is the dringaling, which consists of an assortment of thirty-two bells suspended from a wooden frame, each tuned to a different note.
Potters make crockery, amphoras, vases, jars, and vessels large and small for storage of goods as diverse as bredden grain, salt, or perfume. Fymbel potters are well-regarded for their inventively eclectic decorations, which often feature plants or animals from all regions of Santharia. Once again, the floozy wanderings equip Fymbel crafters with a variety of experiences and skills, which find their way into their products and mean that they are often the first to transcend local traditions and develop new ideas.
Fymbel tailors and dressmakers are famous throughout the kingdom for pushing the boundaries of fashion. Hats made from dried mithato lanterns (the silvery cases that protect the mithato fruits in the early stages of their development), bodices adorned with the polished shells of gnacker molluscs, cufflinks in the tubular shape of jeshanna lily blossoms – whether you will always like what you see upon entering a Fymbel tailor’s shop depends on your taste, but you can rely on the experience being a curious one.
Bookbinders commonly work in cities that feature libraries or large places of learning, such as the Lorehold university in Lorehaven, the Starcharts Astrendum in Ciosa, or the library in New-Santhala. The bookbinder’s trade is to produce neat and lasting volumes from the pages that scribes, scholars and librarians provide them with. Moreover, bookbinders are adept in book design, and although not proficient in either calligraphy or illustrative drawing themselves, they count among their friends many scribes, artists, and draughtsmen and -women, and are thus well placed to assist those aspiring writers who, for all their erudition and skill with words, are unable to bring their fingers to produce anything but a dreadful scrawl.
Finally, the gardeners are maybe one of the most unusual of Fymbel guilds. Founded by the Daran gnome Grumdula Farguk in the 13th century a.S., the gardeners are suspected of deriving some of their knowledge from their dealings with the reclusive Golgnomes, and even to be obtaining from them a mysterious sort of mushroom that can be used as a device for exchanging messages over long distances (for further lore of uncertain veracity in this regard, it may please the gentle reader to refer to the section on Golgnomes, which can be found within the chapter on “Relations to Santharian Society” in the present entry).
Fymbel gardeners make most of their money by devising pleasure gardens for the wealthiest inhabitants of Santharia. They are, therefore, not only adept at raising and caring for trees, bushes, and flowers, but also at their tasteful arrangement, and their combination with features such as fountains, pavillions, and statues. Gardens designed by Fymbels often contain a bewildering variety of greens and blossoms. It has been said that wherever you stand in a Fymbel garden, you feel as if you look at a whole world of its own, contained as it be within a space that you might traverse with but a few delicate steps. More than one childless and neglected gravioness has found comfort in the beauty of a Fymbel garden in her precinct, and no fewer than three Fymbel gardeners have been granted the title of Masterartisan by Santharian courts – a number far in excess of what would be expected of a guild so small.
We should not close this section without the remark that Fymbel gardeners frequently take on the task of teaching their noble employers some basic greenfingery. Lastly, they are also sometimes engaged to prepare flower arrangements, which serve as decorations at balls or festivals, or even constitute pieces of art in their own right.
Beliefs and Moral Codes. The key principles of Fymbel life are solidarity and openness and floozy politeness. Let's shed a light on these principles:
Solidarity and Openness
Two qualities have made the Fymbels resilient, and have allowed them to endure and thrive through the centuries: strong bonds of solidarity to one another, and openness to those outside. From a historical point of view, it is remarkable that a group founded to promote the interests of a particular kind of person – human women wanting to learn stonemasonry – and that in its beginnings had secretive and conspirational leanings (to which the invention of Shufflish and the hidden fuzzle tattoos signify), has opened itself to such a degree that it now includes seventeen crafts, humans of either gender, and indeed hobbits, gnomes, and even orcs. The Fymbels will say that if you love the craft, it doesn’t matter whether you wear skirts or trousers, whether you are tall or tiny, hairy or bald, or whether you’ve got tusks sticking out of your mouth or not.
Fymbel solidarity transcends the separation into guilds for different trades, and can be witnessed by anyone who has dealings with Fymbels. Fymbels will help each other out, not only via the systems of insurance and pension funds codified in their guilds’ constitutions, but also in informal ways: woodwrights will repair a puppetry stage for a small price, while the puppeteers will stand ready when the woodwrights need help unloading several cartfuls of ashwude logs from the Thaelon Forest. When a young crone wants to establish her first workshop, others will be generous with advice for the newcomer, and she will be able to borrow money to buy the tools and materials she needs to start out.
This solidarity, while no doubt partly based on a rational assessment of the benefit that mutual help brings to all, is rooted in the experience of floozyhood that all Fymbles share. Journeying through the Santharian Kingdom, with its variety of cultures, creatures and plants, its many dangers, and the many different ways of enjoying oneself in it, is a formative period in every Fymbel’s life. Floozies of all trades are bound together by the knowledge that their survival, both physical and spiritual, depends on the friendship and help of their fellows, and they follow strong (albeit unwritten) rules of conduct. These may be summarized as follows: seek out other floozies wherever you can; never reject a floozy as a travelling companion; always share news of places you have visited and events you have witnessed; never abandon a floozy in distress. Floozies that break these rules quickly find themselves ostracized by their peers, and crones who hear about violations of floozy solidarity may refuse to teach the offenders.
No matter how serious the floozies take their principles of solidarity, they are also much prone to japery and tomfoolery, and love to cultivate a spirit of irreverence for conventions and authority, particularly when amongst themselves. Indeed, if a floozy’s speech doesn’t contain a certain degree of foul-mouthedness, she is considered haughty and, paradoxically, impolite. Even friendship, appreciation and gratitude are often expressed with ostensive rudeness.
For example, consider two floozies who have shared 400 strals of road from Voldar to Milkengrad. Together, they have withstood two thunderstorms, three bandit attacks, and countless hungry nights out in the cold. Apart from their desire to reach the next crone to learn from, only their companionship has kept them alive. Now their roads must part, for one is bound to Thyslan, and the other to Salsair. They may not see each other again as long as they live. What do they say to bid each other farewell?
The first one snorts, and hisses in her companion’s face: “Cake hair for you, tart!” The other cups her hand behind her ear as if listening to a far-off sound, and puts surprise into her voice as she says: “Oh, the lewd duck groans”. To an outsider, it must seem as if these two Fymbels would like nothing better than see the other fall into the next ditch filled with baneg dung. Yet as the attentive reader no doubt guesses, the insults they apparently throw at each other are but Shufflish rags in which warm-hearted wishes are wrapped. The first translates as “Take care of your heart”, and the reply means nothing other than “Good luck on the roads”.
Relations to Santharian Society. There exist many a connection between Fymbels and Santharian society, here's a brief overviews on that matter:
and non-Fymbel Artisans
Needless to say, the Fymbels are not the only craftspeople around. In Santharia as a whole, non-Fymbel artisans outnumber the Fymbels in every craft – except for puppetry, where the Fymbels reign supreme. However, the number of Fymbels of different trades varies widely across the kingdom. For example, Fymbel luthiers are dominant in Lorehaven and well represented in Bardavos, yet all but absent in Ciosa.
In general, the Fymbels are respected for the high quality of their products, and for their fairness in business. Throughout the centuries, individual Fymbels have been among the best artisans in the kingdom, and more than three dozen Fymbels of different crafts have been conferred the title of Masterartisan by the Santharian court. The experience every Fymbel gains on her wanderings is apt to inspire her work with creativity, versatility, and an unconventional imagination. What is more, the standards imposed by their guilds ensure that the Fymbels are rarely your worst bet when it comes to choosing an artisan to buy from in a given city. Yet they are by no means necessarily the best. Once again, situations vary locally, and also from trade to trade.
Thus, while the Fymbel puppeteers undoubtedly put up the best shows in Santharia, the Fymbel amanters are but poor nieces of the long-established (non-Fymbel) amantry workshops in Lorehaven. The Fymbel stonemasons, for their part, have few superiors among other humans, but their skills fall far behind those of the dwarves. Finally, a Fymbel weaponsmith is likely to be just as good or bad as any non-Fymbel practitioner of her craft.
On their journeys through Santharia, Fymbel floozies usually travel in small groups; and whenever they can, they join a troupe of Black Butterfly Rovers, riding along on their wagons and enjoying companionship, safety, and the opportunity to share news and songs. The Rovers, in turn, may well profit from the presence of a craftswoman, although this can hardly be the only reason why they let the young Fymbels sit on their wagons and share their campfires. For although a wainwright will be handy to have around when a wheel breaks, it is hard to see what use a tapestry weaver or a bookbinder could be to the Rovers.
Fymbel lore asserts that their association with the Rovers is as old as the Fymbels themselves, and that Fanya, Katra and Myrael (the founder Fymbels) had made friends with Rovers on their journeys. In fact, Fymbels give credit the Black Butterfly Rovers for inspiring one of their oldest customs: the founder Fymbels are said to have adopted the practice of the fuzzle tattoo in direct imitation of the butterfly tattoo that identifies the Rovers. Indeed, Fymbels believe that it was the Rovers who first taught them the art of tattooing.
The Fymbels have a surprising association with the Golgnomes in the Goltherlon Forest, who otherwise go about their business without bothering much about the rest of Santharia. The Fymbel gardeners say that their guild was founded by a Daran gnome named Grumdula Farguk, a woodwright floozy who got lost in the Goltherlon Forest during her wanderings. Apparently, Grumdula was taken in by a family of Golgnome gardeners, observed the splendid results of their work, and staid for several moons in order to study with them. Naturally, her skills never even remotely approached those of her green-fingered hosts, yet gardening had taken her fancy, so that by the time she left, the woodwright apprentice had made up her mind to change trades. From that time on, Grumdula offered her services to herbmasters throughout the land, soaking up what they taught her, until she eventually became a gardener in her own right, and established the Fymbel guild that has endured to this day.
Whether this tale holds water or not, it is undeniable that Fymbels of various trades have been seen entering and leaving the Goltherlon Forest in small groups. Some researchers have speculated that the Fymbels visit the Golgnomes in order to purchase a peculiar mushroom, which comes in pairs of identical twins and allows communication between two people over great distances. This mushroom, called never-sit-still in Tharian, and ignanok by the gnomes, grows only in the Goltherlon Forest, and none but the Golgnomes possess the secret of its harvesting. At any rate, if the Fymbels did indeed acquire and use never-sit-stills, this would explain how the guilds are able to sustain such a unity of purpose and hearty solidarity amongst their members, dispersed as they are over the whole wide kingdom.
In general, the Fymbel guilds are respected for the skill and trustworthiness of their members. Yet in their early history, the Fymbels faced continual struggle against prevailing social norms, which held that women lack the ability to work in certain crafts, should not travel around the country without male guardians, and shouldn’t establish sources of income that made them independent of men. These norms are still prevalent in many Santharian provinces (albeit to varying degrees), and continue to be a reason why young women join the Fymbels. The same norms also sometimes make everyday life difficult for the guilds.
Thus, a variety of people resent the Fymbels: non-Fymbel craftsmen envy their success; fathers and brothers disapprove of an organization that has seduced their daughter or sister into an unseemly life; and, indeed, some women feel offended that the Fymbels disregard the rules of female subordination that they have resigned themselves to following, and that they may secretly yearn to escape themselves. Thus it comes that a number of rumours and superstitions continue to doggedly pursue the Fymbles.
The wandering apprentices, for one, are widely regarded as trollops, as loose women, as floozies (indeed, the Fymbels’ own term for their apprentices was invented precisely to poke fun at this popular opinion). This perception (for all the bias it betrays, since while women engaged in illicit relations are called “loose”, the men who share the fun are typically less harshly judged, and said to be “sowing their wild bredden”) is not entirely untrue: the income from her work releases a young apprentice from the need to marry a providing husband, while the experience of getting around in the world does nothing to curb the drives that Etherus, the God of Passion, inspires in human souls. Yet most floozies are careful to avoid conceiving a child during their apprenticeships, lest their progress to mastery of their craft be jeopardized. Nonetheless, we neither can nor wish to deny that many Fymbels cultivate friendly relations with herbwives and suspected witches, and that crones have been overheard advising young floozies on ways and means to avoid pregnancy and childbirth.
Paradoxically, while Fymbel apprentices are seen as licentious, Fymbel crones and spinsters have a reputation for standoffishness, and indeed frigidity. This reputation is entirely unfounded, although it does point to the accurate and painful fact that many female Fymbels fail to find a man willing to marry a woman who stands on her own two feet, and doesn’t conform to conventional norms of feminine comportment.
More serious, and indeed dangerous in their consequences, are rumours alleging that Fymbels are in cahoots with secret organizations of rogues. And their association with the widely mistrusted Black Butterfly Rovers doesn’t help the Fymbles in this regard. More than one floozy has been arrested on suspicion of working for Thieves Underground. And in port towns, the authorities are wont to keeping a close eye on the Fymbel shipwrights’ doings and movements: For it is said that Fymbels take commissions from buccaneers, and journey out by boat to remote moorings, where they make good coin by repairing leaky pirate ships.
It is difficult to verify or falsify such rumours in every instance, but all in all we conclude that while Fymbels are not immune to villainy, neither are they particularly prone to it. And although individual Fymbels may get up all kinds of mischief, there is little indication that the Fymbel guilds as a whole collaborate with underground rackets. In any case, Fymbels don’t work for outlaws any more frequently than they work for such scoundrels whose misdeeds are entirely within the laws of the land, if only because the laws were made by these same scoundrels and their friends.
Customs. Feelwell Mare
(with Lewd Duck). The night before a freshly tattooed floozy embarks on
her first wandering, the local guild organizes a big Feelwell Mare (Tharian:
Farewell Meal). The purpose is to wish the apprentice good luck on the roads, to
strengthen her bond with the Fymbel guild, and to have a raucous time. All
Fymbels who live or happen to stay within a day's journey from the feast's
location are invited. In reversal of the usual Fymbel hierarchy, the
preparation, cooking and serving (as well as the subsequent cleaning up) are
done by crones and spinsters; the apprentices merely turn up on the night and
enjoy bossing their elders around. By tradition, the food served is always the
same: a sumptuous Lewd Duck, a
Sophronian receipt whose aphrodisiac qualities are well-known among Fymbels
and subject to lively discussion at every Feelwell Mare. Older apprentices will
tell the younger ones that if you want to know what your crone got up to in her
floozy days, you need to seat yourself next to her and ask a slyly pertinent
question just as she bites into her first piece of Lewd Duck.
The Lewd Duck tradition commemorates the very first Feelwell Mare in Fymbel history, for this is said to have been the dish that the three founders shared on their last night in Chrondra, before their ways parted. The dish was prepared by their Serphelorian hosts. Although it is an old Sophronian receipt, its name is unmistakably of Shufflish origin, which suggests that the first Fymbels did not only found their guild that night, but at the same time contrived to smuggle a bit of Shufflish cheek into Serphelorian culture. Lewd Duck’s original name, if ever there was one, is not remembered today.
Appendix. And here's the receipt in case for everyone to try his her/hands on this traditional Fimbel meal:
1 plump duck, plucked and
 The spelling “Fymbels” is now common across Santharia. Some historians, who believe the anecdote of the name’s origin to be correct, have tried to introduce the more natural “Fimbles”, but their efforts have been thwarted by the power of established conventions. The early Fymbels produced few written documents, and on those that have survived, they prefer to identify their guild by the fuzzle emblem, rather than by spelling out its name. Thus it fell to non-Fymbel scribes, such as those who wrote up contracts between Fymbel artisans and their clients, to decide how “Fymbel” should be spelled. Archival research focusing on the first millenium a.S. has unearthed a variety of spellings, including Finbelles, Phymbles, and Fumbals (these variations probably partly reflect differences of pronunciations due to regional dialects). In the contract for the stonemasons who built the High Bridge of Marcogg, however, “Fymbels” was used, and has been predominant ever since. [Back]
 May the esteemed reader note that, for the remainder of this article, we shall use feminine pronouns whenever we refer to a generic Fymbel: thus, when talking about a Fymbel, it’s “she” who speaks, and “her” possessions are “hers”. While Fymbels can be male, the majority aren’t. And as the Organization section will make clear, the Fymbels’ own vocabulary is heavily influenced by their early history as an all-female guild. We deem it appropriate that the grammar of this article should reflect Fymbel culture. [Back]
 Ey and Ba are notes on a musical scale used commonly among humans and hobbits in Santharia. [Back]