Sunlight lay across the huge bed in great golden squares when Brand awoke. He was confused for a moment, for he had never slept so late before in his life, save for when he’d been ill as a small child. And the feather tick was the softest bed he could have ever imagined--like sleeping on a cloud it was. Need for the chamber pot drove him eventually from his soft nest, so he rose slowly, with care for his injured side and arm, which were both very sore this morning, and used the chair behind the screen in the corner once more. Though the captain was not there to ask him to, he washed his hands again. High-born folk, it appeared, were finicky about such things, and since the Swan Knight had lent him his room, it seemed the thing to do.
He looked at the chair where his clothes had lain the night before but found them gone, even his shoes. Only the belt and pouch remained, but when he went to examine them, he found that his handkerchief had been placed back in the pouch. The captain had recognized the handkerchief the night before, or something about it, Brand could tell that much from the look on his face. And the wave dream too, seemed to mean something to him other than a boy’s recurrent nightmare.
I wonder if he knows one of the men who could be my father, and that was why he was so upset? And I wonder if he would tell me if I asked him?
The absence of his clothes was troubling, but he supposed it was possible that they might be washing them. The breeches at least--the shirt was ruined. But the healer had promised him another, and they’d obviously been able to acquire a nightshirt for him from somewhere. Unable to leave the chamber, he crossed to the window and opened it. The sound of clacking wooden swords and the clang of steel immediately reached his ears, explaining why the window had been closed despite the growing warmth of the day.
Peering out, he could see several pairs of Swan Knights sparring in the courtyard below. Off to one side, a couple of the recruits were receiving what looked to be more basic instruction, while the other Swan Knights went at it with the wooden swords--save for the commander, who was fighting with the younger knight Liahan with real weapons. Each man had two long blades and they were whirling and parrying and striking at great speed. Brand had never seen such a thing, and was most impressed. He decided then and there that his curiosity about his father would have to go unsatisfied--there was no way he was going to ask or say anything that might offend such a warrior!
The door opened behind him, and he turned to see the healer entering the room with a breakfast tray.
“Ah, there’s my young patient! Hungry, lad?” Cuilast set the tray upon the desk that stood against one wall, and gestured towards the chair in front of it.
“Aye, sir. You needn’t have gone to the trouble. I would have come downstairs, but I couldn’t find my clothes.” Brand came over, drawn by the appetizing smells, and saw that there were sausages and eggs and toast along with the porridge. Such a breakfast he had never seen at home, and he glanced up at the healer, wide-eyed.
“Yes, it’s yours. Eat up! And if you want more, just say so. Your clothes went with Sergeant Berehan to the market this morning--the captain sent him forth to buy some things for you. It wouldn’t do for you to be dressed in rags and castoffs when you arrive in Dol Amroth.”
Brand nearly choked upon the piece of sausage he’d just bitten off.
“Dol Amroth! I was to go to the tanner today!”
“Not since last night. Your stepfather arrived right after I’d put you to bed, and after very little conversation with him, Captain Andrahar decided that you would be better off with us. So he gave your stepfather money to pay off the tanner, the same again as fee for apprenticing you to us, and still more for his trouble. The carter left without another word, though he’s to bring your mother to see the Captain this afternoon.” Cuilast winked, and laid a hand upon his forehead. “Happy birthday, Brand.”
The boy stared up at the healer, stunned. “I’m an apprentice Swan Knight?”
Cuilast shook his head. “There is no such thing. What you are at present is the Captain’s ward. His intent, I think, is to see that you are schooled until the age of sixteen, which is the youngest age you can become an esquire. Then you will have your opportunity to try for your white belt, like everyone else. Providing you still wish to do so. He says that you may take up any career you like.” He lifted his hand. “Cool enough. That is good. Eat your breakfast lad, it’s getting cold.”
Brand picked up the fork that had been provided, a little awkwardly in his left hand, then paused. “Why…why did the Captain do that?”
The healer shrugged. “Who knows why Andrahar does some of the things he does? He must have liked your spirit.”
It could not have been because of my father, Brand realized suddenly, for the confrontation with Jacyn had happened earlier in the evening, before the dream and the handkerchief. He did it just because of me. He decided that he would have to think about that for a while.
“The Captain is a hard man, but a fair one, Brand,” Cuilast was continuing. “He won’t hurt you or hit you as Jacyn did, but he may not always seem the friendliest sort of fellow.” The healer smiled wryly. “He’s actually very nice on the inside, though he tries hard to hide it. And he’s been very sad for months, which has made some of us worried.”
“Why has he been sad?”
“He lost one of his closest friends in the war, the Prince’s nephew Boromir, and a great many of the Swan Knights as well. Captain Andrahar trained most of those men himself, and though there is no way you can have a battle without casualties, and even the greatest fighter can be brought down by bad battle-luck, he still feels as if he failed those men somehow, by not teaching them well enough.”
“How could that be his fault?”
“It wasn’t, really. And even he realizes that. But he’s still sad, if that makes any sense.” Brand thought about that for a moment, and nodded. “That is why I was so glad to see him take you under his wing, as it were. I think you might be just the thing to cheer him up.”
“How would I be doing that?” Doubt flared in the boy’s breast. He had no ability to entertain that he knew of. Cuilast chuckled.
“You don’t have to play the fool, nothing like that, boy. Just apply yourself to your lessons, and try to do your best. I think that would do more to make him feel better than anything else.” Relieved, Brand nodded. The healer gestured to his plate meaningfully.
“Eat! I shall be back in a bit, to change your dressings and check the wounds. And we’ll see about getting you a proper bath and haircut.” He started for the door, then paused and looked back over his shoulder.
“Oh, and Brand? I would appreciate it very much if you didn’t repeat to the Captain anything I just told you.” With another wink, Cuilast departed.
Brand set to his breakfast, trying to eat neatly with his off hand, and ending by switching back and forth between them, going to the left when the right became too painful. While he was doing so and contemplating the strange turn his fortunes had made the night before, maids entered, drew a bathing tub out of a cabinet in the wall, and began coming in and out to fill it with ewers of hot water. Then the room became even more populated. A man with graying hair in the uniform of Dol Amroth, but without the white belt that indicated a Swan Knight, entered. His arms were full of clothes and a pair of boots hung from one by their laces.
He laid his burden down upon the bed, and turned to Brand with a smiling face. “Here you go, lad--feeling a bit pent up in here, were you? Sorry to take so long, but the Captain was very particular, and it took a bit of time to find enough things already made to measure. Some of it may be a bit large--I took your things with me for reference, but I know how boys grow, and thought it best to leave a little room. And the boots are only soft ones, unfortunately. The Captain won’t let you ride with stirrups with soft boots, but hard ones need to be made to measure. Or we might be able to find you something that will fit out of the young princes’ outgrown pairs when we get to Dol Amroth. You’re going to be a tall lad from the look of things.” Brand stared at the clothes, wide-eyed, and the sergeant’s expression became concerned. “Is everything all right, lad? To your taste?”
The boy got up and came over to the bed. He had ever at the most had three sets of clothing in his life-one on, one off, and one in the wash. There were enough breeches, shirts, smalls, stockings and tunics piled upon the bed that he could wear a different one every day of the week, and a fine new cloak. There was even a nice new black belt to match the boots. Some of the shirts were plain, but three of them had fancy embroidery upon them, better than his own mother could do. He rubbed one between his fingers, savoring the feel of crisp new cloth that had never known a body but his. Most of his shirts and breeches had been cut down from Jacyn’s cast-offs. The carter was a large enough man that with the worn parts removed, there was enough material in one of his garments to make clothing for both Brand and his smallest brother, with careful piecing.
“These are very nice sir--I like them very much!” he hastened to assure the man when he realized the soldier was still awaiting his response. Sergeant Berehan nodded. “Very good then. I think the Captain may want to do a bit more shopping with you, young master, but this should hold you till you get to Dol Amroth.” With a cordial nod, he departed. Brand tried to think of something else he could possibly need in the line of clothing, but his imagination failed him. He divided the time before Cuilast’s return between finishing his breakfast and examining his new wardrobe. He had just picked out the shirt and breeches he wished to wear that day when the healer arrived, his kit and towels in hand.
“A little hot still, so we’ll cut your hair first,” Cuilast declared after testing the bath, sitting Brand in a chair next to the window and draping the boy’s shoulders with a towel. In next to no time, it seemed, he had Brand’s unruly black hair combed out neatly and trimmed, the cut hairs caught up in the towel and whisked away.
“I thought you were a healer,” Brand told him. Cuilast smiled.
“You’ve heard of barber-surgeons? Well, I’m a surgeon-barber. Helped bring in the odd coin when I was a starving student. Now, off with that nightshirt.” He snorted when the boy hesitated, blushing a bit. “Come lad, off with it! Believe you me, you’ve nothing out of the ordinary down there, and in any event, I saw it all last night.” Brand turned beet red, but obeyed, whereupon the healer carefully removed the bandages on his side and arm and urged him into the bathtub. There, Brand got another new experience, as he had a bath he did not have to share with any of his brothers and sisters, one with a delightful, spicy-scented soap.
Cuilast made him keep his arm on the outside of the tub, bathing it carefully there, and was also careful to wash around his sutured wound. His hair was washed thoroughly as well. When all was finished, the healer helped him to towel off, and allowed him to don his new clothes, save for the shirt. Then he cleansed the wounds with an herbal-smelling preparation, bandaged them again, and helped Brand put his chosen shirt, one of the embroidered ones, on. A second combing of his damp hair and a sling of clean white cloth completed the boy’s grooming.
“This is just for the next couple of days, lad,” Cuilast explained, indicating the sling. “I don’t think you truly need it, but it might help you keep that arm still, and not strain the side.” Brand nodded. “Come, have a look at yourself.” The healer led him to the wall, where a sizeable mirror of polished metal hung. Brand got the first really good look at himself in something other than the reflection in a water trough, and his jaw dropped in shock.
The stable boy was gone. A young lordling stood there in fine new clothes, the sort of lad who might have thrown Brand a copper for holding his blooded saddle mare. Cuilast, seeing his reaction, laughed.
“Yes, you clean up passably well, don’t you? The Captain’s down in the courtyard. Why don’t you go show him?” He gave Brand’s shoulder a friendly pat, then went to put away his surgical kit. Brand went forth into the day, though not without one last look at the mirror.
Liesyn, Serl’s sister, was coming out of a room with her feather duster when she spied him, and her eyes widened.
“Brand! Is that you? You look very….nice.”
“Hullo, Liesyn. Is Serl here today?”
The chambermaid shook her head. “Mum said she didn’t care about the coin, he wasn’t coming back until the warhorses are gone. So I’m doing the best I can in the hopes the knights will tip me a bit and help make up for it.” She looked him up and down once more, and Brand began to feel very odd. Liesyn was a year older than he, and had never given him much thought as anything other than her pesky small brother’s friend. Now she was patting her brown curls in the oddest way, and giving him a strange look out of the corner of her eye. Whatever ailed the girl?
“Is your arm all right? Were you very badly hurt? Serl says that you saved his life, that you were very brave…” the words tumbled out in a breathless rush.
Brand looked down at the toes of his new boots. “I wasn’t hurt so bad. This--” and he indicated the sling, “--is just to keep me from moving it a couple of days, so it can mend. Serl’s a good fellow, but he’s making more of it than it was.” She was still giving him the funny look, so he started speaking swiftly in his turn, backing up as he did so--”If you’re doing the Captain’s room, I’ll put a word in his ear about giving you a tip, Liesyn. But I’m supposed to go to him now. See you later!” He turned and fled.
At the bottom of the stairs, he almost barreled into Master Thurfyn. But instead of the box on the ear he would have earned with such behavior before, the innkeeper merely steadied him with a hand to his good arm, and chided, “Not so fast, young master! A good morning to you,” and sent him on his way. He went out to the courtyard, astonished by the difference a set of clothes made in how people treated you.
The Swan Knights had finished their sparring, and shirtless, were sluicing themselves down with buckets of water, the Captain among them. Brand could see the pale slashes of old scars on the skin of his torso, which was darker than those of the other knights. Andrahar wrung the water out of his striped hair, took a towel from a sergeant standing nearby with a word of thanks, and dried his face and body. Then he looked up and spied Brand, as did several of the other knights. After a quick, searching look at the boy from top to toe, the commander smiled.
“Well done, lad,” he said in his deep voice. “You look most appropriate.” Similar murmured compliments came from some of the other knights and Captain Peloren actually looked startled for a moment before he composed himself.
“Master Cuilast and Sergeant Berehan helped me, sir.” Andrahar nodded, and the sergeant assisting him handed him a shirt, which he swiftly pulled on, and his sword belt and weapon, which he held in his hand. Looking at the sheathed sword, the boy sensed that the blade was an extremely valuable one, probably worth more coin than he‘d ever hoped to earn in his entire life.
“And how are you feeling today?” the commander inquired, looking at Brand’s sling.
“Sore, sir. It does hurt. But not that much, so long as I am careful not to move it.”
“Day off, Andra!” Captain Peloren chided, from where he was overseeing the recruits. Andrahar threw up a hand. “I’m going, I’m going!” He looked at the boy. “Come, lad, I need a bath and you have questions, I am sure. We can talk while I render myself presentable.” Brand followed him back into the inn, where he ordered a bath from the innkeeper, and back upstairs to the room, where he laid his sword belt upon the bed, grabbed two of the chairs, turned one around, straddled it, and sat with his arms folded across the back. Brand seated himself more conventionally in the other one.
“Now, what would you like to know?” the captain asked.
“Master Cuilast said you’d paid the tanner’s contract off, and given my stepfather money to apprentice me. But he said I wasn’t an apprentice Swan Knight, that I was your ward. What does that mean?”
“It means that I will take care of you as a father should, see that you stay out of trouble and get the schooling you need to become a Swan Knight, if you wish, or to become something else, if you should change your mind.”
“Does this mean I‘ll be coming with you to Dol Amroth?”
“That is correct.”
“I can’t ride.”
“You can ride in one of the wagons. We have several, as I’m sure you noticed.”
“I help my mother a lot with my brothers and sisters. I wonder what will happen to her when I am gone.”
The captain arched an eyebrow. “The same thing, I would imagine, that would have happened to her had you been apprenticed to the tanner. You would not have been able to help her in any event. But if you have objections, now is the time to voice them. It is true, now that I think about it, that I did not consult you in this matter any more than your stepfather did when he apprenticed you.”
Brand shook his head. “I have no right to complain, sir. You have been very kind to me, and I did not wish to go to the tanner. I had even planned to run away last night, and try to get to Dol Amroth on my own. Mother would have been alone if I had done that too, but I didn't think of that at the time--I was only worried about what would happen to me.” The admission shamed him a bit, but it did not seem to disgust the captain.
“Well, I am glad that matters turned out so that you were unable to run. This is a very old and wicked city, and a lad of your age could have gotten himself into a deal of trouble, either here or on the road.” The door opened at that point, and the first of the maids entered to fill once more the tub they’d just emptied. Brand watched as she emptied her ewer, then left, and when she had gone, commented, “You knights sure seem to take a lot of baths.”
Captain Andrahar grinned, his teeth shining whitely against his bronzed face. “Yes, we do, and you’d best get used to it. It’s one of many things you will have to get used to. The Prince is very finicky about such matters.” Sobering a bit, he continued. “If it makes you feel better, Brand, when you have learned your letters, you will be able to write to your mother--we do regular business in Pelargir, and someone would be able to deliver your letters fairly quickly. And you will receive a stipend every month--if you would like, you can send your mother some money.”
“REALLY?” The boy goggled at his good fortune. To be free of Jacyn, free to chose his own destiny, and still be able to help his family--it was all that he could have ever asked for! “Then I thank you for your kindness again, sir, and would be happy to go with you to Dol Amroth.”
“Excellent! I am glad that we have settled that! There is another matter, however, that I need your advice upon.” He chuckled at Brand’s curious look. “You were not the only one harmed by my stallion. Though the other boy--Serl, wasn’t it?--did not suffer any physical damage, it was only by the grace of your quick thinking. How best might I recompense him for the fright he has suffered?”
The former stable boy pondered this for a moment. “Serl’s sister said that his mum would not let him come back here until the warhorses were gone. And what he will do when he does, now that I won’t be here to work with him and keep the bigger boys off him….” Brand’s face fell as he contemplated this, but the commander of the Swan Knights said nothing, silently watching as he worked things through. “Serl’s family got him a teacher to learn him his letters last winter,” Brand said at last. “Serl’s really smart, he is, sir, and he’d make a good clerk, or something like that. Mayhap if you gave him another winter’s schooling, he’d be able to get ‘prenticed or get a job with one of the merchants or counting houses. But I don’t know what that costs, and it might be more than you’d want to pay.”
“Oh, I daresay I have an idea of what it costs. Your plan is a good one, a fitting solution to the problem,” Andrahar said, and waiting until the latest maid emptied her ewer, swiftly rose from his chair, went to where his saddlebags were laid next to the desk, reached within, and pulled forth a small, heavy metal box, which he unlocked with a key from his belt pouch. Reaching within, he withdrew a soft leather pouch, which he tossed to the boy. It chinked softly when Brand caught it.
“There you are,” he said, relocking the box and tucking it away. “Why don’t you run downstairs and give that to Morlan. He told me he was kin by marriage to the boy. He can be trusted, I think, to see that Serl benefits from the money.”
“Should I return when I am done, sir?”
“Certainly, if you have more questions.” Not sure if he should bow or not, Brand settled for nodding his head, and started downstairs for the second time that morning. This time, there were no collisions with the innkeeper, but he had to look about the courtyard and stables a bit before he found Morlan in the barn with the officer’s horses, forking stalls. Probably has to because he lost me and Serl, the boy thought a bit guiltily, but consoled himself with the fact that he was about to make Serl very happy, and therefore probably Morlan as well.
“Master Morlan?” he said, and Morlan turned, his eyes widening in surprise as he took in Brand’s improved appearance.
“Valar, Brand-lad, you look like a little lord! I heard what the captain did. It certainly looks as if he intends to do right by you.”
“He intends to do right by Serl, too. Told me to give this to you for him, since he could have been hurt by the horse, and got so frightened. It’s for his schooling.” He handed the pouch to the hostler. Morlan smiled.
“That was right decent of him.” He opened the pouch, peered within, and gasped. At Brand’s quizzical look, he asked, “Did he show you what was in here?”
“No, Master Morlan. Is there enough for Serl to go to school this winter?”
“There’s enough that Serl can go to school right now, and stay there, lad! Did you put him up to this?”
Startled at the news, Brand stammered a bit. “Not exactly. He asked me how he should make it up to Serl. I told him about Serl’s lessons, and that he would really like some more, is all.”
The hostler looked down at the boy. “Well, tell him that Serl and his family thank him very much. I’ll tell him later myself, when I get the chance. And Brand--see that you study hard, and do as he says. This looks to be a great chance for you--don’t get willful on the man as you used to do with Jacyn.”
“No, Master Morlan. I wouldn’t dream of it!” The hostler returned to his work, and sensing dismissal, the boy returned to the inn, making his way back upstairs. There he found that the maids had finished filling the bath, and the captain was bathing. He had moved the screen from around the chair to around the bathtub, but Brand could hear the splashing and sloshing, though they fell silent for a moment upon his entrance.
“Is that you lad?”
“Yes, Captain.” The splashing resumed. The boy noticed that the sword belt was no longer on the bed, but hung instead off the corner of the screen, within arm’s reach.
“Very well then. Did you give the hostler the money?”
“Yes sir, and he says that Serl and his family are much obliged, and that he will thank you later himself.”
“The hostler seems a good man.”
“He was always a good master to me, sir.”
“Do you have any more questions about what you’re going to be doing at Dol Amroth?”
“What do I have to learn to become a Swan Knight? Besides the battle stuff?”
There was a chuckle from the bath. “’Battle-stuff’ is it? You have to be able to read and write in at least two languages, and do sums. And you need to learn two skills.”
“What sort of skills?” Brand asked, his mind boggling.
“Well, that depends upon you. Courtly skills count--singing, dancing, scribe-work, things like that. Some Knights choose to learn a bit of leech craft, so as to help their brothers in the field. Lord Liahan did that.”
“Am I going to have time to learn all those things?”
“I think so, though you will have to study very hard. The Prince from time to time will promote a promising man-at-arms from the foot to esquire, and they are often just like you, with no lettering at all. Some of them have won white belts, and you have four more years than they do to learn.”
Brand sighed in relief. “When do I start learning to ride? Sergeant Berehan said I didn‘t have the right boots for it.”
“When you get to Dol Amroth. I don’t want you riding until your side is healed. When we get home, I’ll find you a good saddle horse to learn on.”
The boy blinked. “I get a horse of my own?”
“Well, I certainly don’t need a saddle horse!”
“But you need another warhorse, thanks to me,” Brand pointed out, suddenly depressed. “Are you going to ride in the wagons on the way home?”
“No. Did you not notice the extra horses when we arrived? We always travel with a few, in case a mount should go lame, or some other mishap occur. I have a back-up mount with me, and I’ll ride him. And we always have young warhorses in training at Dol Amroth. There’s a young stallion there I’ve had my eye on the last year or so. I’ll take him up and finish him as my new second horse.” The splashing ceased and there was a sound of movement, as the Captain rose from his bath to begin drying and dressing himself. “You may find that having a horse is not so wonderful a thing as you think, Brand, for I shall expect you to care for him yourself.”
The boy snorted. “Mucking one stall instead of a barn full? I’ll be all right, sir.” Another chuckle, somewhat muffled.
“Of course! I hadn’t thought about it in that way, but you’re right. One horse for a former stable lad is no great problem. I must say, I think I’ll prefer teaching you to some of the spoiled lordlings we get, who’ve been riding since they were small, but never yet cleaned a stall or brushed a horse. And are offended at the idea that they should. But a Swan Knight always takes care of his horses himself.”
“Even the Prince, sir?” Brand asked, intrigued.
“Yes, even the Prince. With his own two hands. And he has a perfectly magnificent warhorse who loves to roll in the mud. He’s always having to curry caked mud off of him, and oh, does he curse while he’s doing it!”
Brand tried to wrap his mind around the idea of the richest man in Gondor currying his own warhorse, and found that he simply couldn’t imagine it. Andrahar stepped out from behind the screen in a shirt and breeches, toweling his hair dry.
“Any other questions?”
“Where will I live when I get to Dol Amroth? With you?”
“That is something that I am still thinking about. I have a house of my own, and there’s a room there that would serve for you. But I would have to get a woman in full time to keep an eye on things, and cook for you. My duties keep me away for much of the day, and sometimes the night, and it might not be the best thing for you. Or you could live at the palace. I shall think about that on the ride home. Anything else?”
Brand looked at his benefactor, who certainly did not seem particularly dangerous with his hair snaking wet over his shoulders, and his shirt hanging loose. He thought about all the man had done for him so far--rescuing him from the tanner, enabling him to send home money to his mother, fixing things so that Serl could go to school, and he would not have to worry about what happened to him once he was gone. There was a need in him to express his gratitude, and a hunger in him for the man’s good regard, but Jacyn had been all too thorough in his teaching that a father’s affection was not something he merited. So he merely shook his head mutely.
The captain, for his part, seemed a bit hesitant as well. He started to reach a hand out to the boy, then seemed to change his mind, and after a moment, let it drop.
“We’d best hurry up, for they’ll be serving lunch soon, and you wouldn’t want to miss that.”
“But I just finished breakfast!” Captain Andrahar laughed.
“I’ve never yet seen the boy that mattered a fig to! I suspect you’ll do the meal justice! Come, give me a hand with these boots!