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).

Introduction. 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”?
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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”.[1] 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.

The Manthrian Capital Marcogg

View picture in full size 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 dwarven stonewrights.

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. Return to the top

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.[2]

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.
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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.
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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 woo wumm?
[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 you come?
[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.

The Fuzzle

View picture in full size 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 received.

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.

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.

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:

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:

Relations to Santharian Society. There exist many a connection between Fymbels and Santharian society, here's a brief overviews on that matter:

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:

Sophronian Receipt for Lewd Duck with Cabbage,
as recorded by
Judith of Bardavos:

1 plump duck, plucked and drawn
1 large cabbage, green
1 small cabbage, karikrimson
2 tots sunsip oil
1 scup milchbutter
1 large weeproot, chopped
2 ladles dark foridite
3 pinches of squilla powder
a cup of vinaigre or soured red wine
a goodly bowl of medlarapples, diced
sea salt and peppercorns to taste

Combine vinaigre, foridite, and half the spices.
Stuff duck with chopped medlarapples.
Baste duck with liquid, spit and roast over a low fire.
Continue glazing with liquid, cook until well-browned and crispy.
Chop the two cabbages finely together with the weeproot.
Spice well with reserved seasalt, squilla and peppercorn.
Fry just before serving duck. Slice duck and serve on a bed of the cabbage, ringed with whole medlarapples for décor. Return to the top



[1] 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]

[2] 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]

[3] Ey and Ba are notes on a musical scale used commonly among humans and hobbits in Santharia. [Back]

 Date of last edit 3rd Raising Sun 1670 a.S.

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