As Captain Andrahar had predicted, Brand was able to do justice to his lunch despite his late breakfast. He sat at the officer’s table with his new guardian, and received more compliments on his improved appearance, which he accepted with cast down eyes and murmured thanks. Other than that, he said next to nothing, which simultaneously pleased and worried the commander. He was pleased, for Andrahar disliked children, or adults for that matter, who chattered when they had nothing important to say; and worried, for Imrahil’s children had always been far more talkative than Brand was being.
The boy misses his mother and siblings, it is not to be wondered at that he should be silent, the captain told himself. I must find something for him to do this afternoon until his mother arrives. But the healer was ahead of Andrahar in that matter--as lunch ended, Cuilast commandeered the boy to help him inventory his medicinal herbs, and declared that they would see how well Brand knew his letters while they were about it. He winked at Andrahar as they departed and the captain was left, as he often was, torn between offense at the healer’s cheek and admiration of his competence.
Left with time on his hands, Andrahar invoked a privilege of his that he rarely used, and set an esquire who had displeased him the day before to cleaning his tack, and grooming the remount he was riding. Not knowing exactly when Jacyn would arrive, and berating himself for not having made a more definite appointment, he thought that it might be nice to try out the bed he’d given to Brand the night before, and take a nap. So he told a pleasantly surprised Peloren he was not to be disturbed until the carter arrived, went back upstairs, chased the little chambermaid out of the room with a coin for her troubles, and shut the door. Boots, tunic and swordbelt done off, his sword close to his hand, he was asleep, old campaigner that he was, but moments after his head sank into the pillow.
A maid knocked on the door mid-afternoon, to announce the arrival of Master Jacyn and his wife. Andrahar ordered them ushered into the private parlor and offered refreshments, while he swiftly set himself to rights. Upon his arrival downstairs, he found the parlor filled with small children who were all clinging to their older half-brother, and expressing their grief over his departure. The carter sat gingerly in one of the stuffed chairs, as if he feared it would break beneath his weight, and his wife perched stiffly in another, obviously very nervous.
“Brand, why do you not take your brothers and sisters outside?” the captain suggested. “You can show them our wagon teams if you like, but keep them away from the warhorses.”
“Yes, sir,” Brand replied obediently, and shepherded the children out of the room, making a heroic effort to answer many questions at once. When they had gone, and the door closed behind them, things became much more quiet. Andrahar crossed the room to the carter, and presented him with three gold pieces.
“As I promised, master carter, and my thanks to you.” Jacyn accepted the money, and tucked it slowly away in his belt pouch, as his wife watched silently.
“Have you any questions about our agreement, Master Jacyn?” the captain asked, wondering if the carter would at this late date express any sort of concern for the boy he had raised for the last ten years.
“Nay, my lord, you’ve been very generous, both to us and to the boy, obviously. He seems to be minding you well enough now, but don’t fear to give him a taste of the strap if he gets smart.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” Andrahar said pleasantly, while curbing an impulse to smash the man in the face, or take a strap to him and see how he liked it. “Master Jacyn, I need to speak to your wife in private for a time. Why don’t you avail yourself of the very good ale in this inn, at my expense? We shall not be long, I promise.” Bridling slightly at being dismissed so cavalierly, but also obviously not wanting to offend his source of gold coinage, Jacyn stumped out of the room, closing the door behind him with more force than was strictly necessary. His wife started when he did so, then lifted her chin and looked directly at Andrahar.
The remnants of her beauty were still plain upon her face, and the captain could well believe that she might have been a lady of pleasure in a fine house, and that Boromir might have been attracted to her. He inclined his head politely.
“Mistress, I am Captain Andrahar, commander of the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth. Your husband did not tell me your name.”
“I am called Nellith, my lord captain.”
“Mistress Nellith, you no doubt have questions you wish to ask me, even if your husband does not. And I have some I wish to ask you. Now is the time that we should both do that. As the lady here, you may go first.”
“What are your intentions towards my son, sir?” her voice quavered slightly, but was otherwise firm enough.
“I intend to see that your son is educated, and that he has the opportunity to either learn a trade of his choosing, or become a soldier, if that is still his wish, when he is old enough.”
“And is that your sole intention, my lord?”
“You will have to speak more plainly, mistress, if I am to answer you,” Andrahar said, though he suspected he knew what she was getting at, and was curious to see if she would actually risk angering a lord by suggesting it.
Nellith swallowed hard, but did not hesitate. “You have a Southron look to you, my lord. I spent enough time in a house to know that some of your folk have a taste for young boys. My Brand is a comely lad, and just now come to the age that some folk prefer for that sort of thing.”
She does not lack for courage, this lady, thought Andrahar bemusedly. There were stout warriors and influential courtiers who would have never dreamed of confronting him as Nellith just had. And she obviously loves her son. I wonder why she permits the carter to hit him? Not that she could truly do much to stop Jacyn, large as he is. Perhaps she simply has to choose her battles…
“I do not bed boys, madam,” he replied without heat. “I am the Prince of Dol Amroth’s sworn brother, and helped to train all of his sons in the way of arms from a very early age, as well as most of the noble lads of Belfalas and Anfalas. He trusted me with his children, you may trust me with your boy.”
“But why do you want my boy?”
“There are several reasons, some of which did not become apparent until after I had bargained with your husband. The boy has courage, and compassion, and intelligence. He saved his friend from possible injury or even death, did you know that?” Nellith shook her head, her eyes widening slightly. “He very obviously did not want to become a tanner, and I thought him ill-suited to the trade. And most importantly, madam, I did not care for the way your husband treated him.”
Nellith bowed her head. “Jacyn does not love him, ‘tis true, but then it is a lot to ask of a man to love the by-blow of another man,” she murmured. “He has always fed and clothed him, at least.”
“At the very least.” The woman’s head shot back up at that.
“You have no right to judge me, my lord!”
“I am not judging you, mistress. I know only too well the sorts of choices less fortunate folk must make to survive. I did not always enjoy the position of prominence that is my lot today.” Deciding that he would be less intimidating if he stopped looming over the poor woman, Andrahar seated himself, and availed himself of the tea that was set out on the small table between the chairs. He poured a cup for Nellith as well, which she took after a moment. “I shall see that the lad corresponds with you on a regular basis, once he learns to write. And I will give you the address of the Prince’s man of business here in Pelargir, should you need to contact the boy, or have some difficulty of your own. You are his mother, and I will see that he does not forget, even if he is Boromir of Gondor‘s son.”
Brand’s mother blanched, and the cup trembled slightly in her hand. “My lord, I do not know what Brand told you, but I have never claimed that he was fathered by any one particular man! I have often thought that the Captain-General might be his father--he was the only one who had truly black hair--but there were actually at least five men who could have been, and I have always told him that.”
“So he says. But you only kept a token from one of them.”
“It was only by chance that I had it! Lord Boromir had sent his clothes out to be laundered while we dallied. It was a popular service of the house. They were returned in a timely manner, but the handkerchief must have fallen upon the floor, for I found it after he had gone, and it was too late to return it. Surely, I thought, a lord of his status had many such, so it was of no import that I should keep it. He was so famous that I wanted a keepsake of our time together. And that was the reason I had the token from him, my lord, not because I was sure that he was Brand’s father.
Andrahar set his cup down. “Lord Boromir was Brand’s father, Mistress Nellith, unless you slept with one of the younger Princes of Dol Amroth as well.” Nellith shook her head, her eyes puzzled. “The Captain-General was of the royal house of Dol Amroth upon his mother’s side, and there is a trait common to the royal house that shows up from time to time in its members. I know of it because of my long service to the Prince’s family. Brand exhibited that trait last night. I thought at first that the Prince’s son Prince Elphir might have sired him, but then he showed me the handkerchief, and I knew that he was Boromir’s boy. He also looks remarkably like Boromir at that age, as I should have cause to know, for I knew Boromir when he was Brand‘s age.”
“You are certain of this, my lord?”
“As certain as I can be, without further confirmation from you. Which brings me to my first question. I would like you to tell me about your evening with Lord Boromir.”
Nellith bent her head, studying the tea in her cup for a moment, then raised it again. “It was about ten days before mettarë. I was a new girl, and had only had a couple of customers before him.”
“Which house was this, mistress?”
“The Drunkard’s Dream, my lord. Are you familiar with it?”
“I know of it, yes. The Prince was a patron long ago, before his marriage.” Andrahar paused to sip his tea, and Nellith did as well. The action seemed to hearten her.
“I was very excited to have been chosen by him,” she said at last, “but the evening was not at all what I had hoped. He did not strike me or abuse me in any way, but he was a very large, strong man, and held nothing back in his taking of me. I ended the evening quite bruised, and he seemed to feel badly about that, for he gave me a very large tip, and told me to make the madam give me a few days off. I think perhaps he spoke to her as well, for she actually did so.”
“Did he say where he was going, or why?”
“He did not really want to speak to me much at all, but when I asked him that very question, before we…began…he said that he was going to spend mettarë in Dol Amroth with his mother’s kin, and that he had an old friend he wanted to look up.”
Andrahar set his cup down on the table, and sat back in his chair, taking a deep breath to cover the pain of the sudden stab of grief. How ironic! She was the last woman he had, before he came to me the first time. For once he had come to me, there was no one else for either of us…Memory flared, of a chill dark room with a fresh-lit fire flaming upon the hearth, the light flickering upon Boromir’s face as he looked at Andrahar with troubled eyes. “…I have come to believe that it is possible I might be a lover of men.”
Andrahar closed his eyes, and took several more calming breaths. He is gone, but you are still here, and so is the boy. Attend to business!
Nellith was staring at him worriedly when he looked at her once more. “Are you well, my lord captain?”
“Indeed, madam. I am sorry if I startled you. It is simply that your tale very much confirms my theory.”
“Oh.” She did not look particularly reassured.
“So, what happened after that? I always understood that ladies in that profession took various sorts of simples to prevent children.”
“Indeed they do, my lord, and indeed I did. But none of them are foolproof. There are also simples for ending the child when it has begun, and the madam gave me such when it became apparent I was breeding. But that did not work either, and I would not try a second time when she suggested it, for it seemed to me an omen that the child was meant to be.” A chill ran through Andrahar at how narrowly Boromir’s boy had escaped non-existence. “The madam was kind to me, saying that she understood, and she let me work until I became too ungainly to do so, giving me several wealthy clients. I was very careful to save my wages and their tips, and when I finally had to leave the house, I returned to my parents’ farm.”
“They accepted you back?”
“Oh yes, for we had all of us set upon this plan when father became behind in his taxes. I had saved our farm, and I came home with a full purse for them and enough left over to dowry me respectably as well, so they were glad to have me. Brand was born there, and when he was two years old, Jacyn offered for me. And that is all there is to the story.”
Andrahar nodded thoughtfully. “Thank you for answering me so fully, mistress.”
“What do we do now?” Nellith asked hesitantly. “Jacyn and the tanner wrote a contract between them--should we do the same?”
“It is not necessary, but should it reassure you to have one, I can summon the Prince’s man of business here and have one drawn up.” She bit her lip.
“I do not know…I just wish to make certain that you will take good care of my boy. Are you married, Captain? Do you have any children?”
“No to both questions, mistress.”
“Why not?” The commander stared at her for a moment, considering what he should say. Not the whole truth, obviously….
“My service to the Prince kept me too busy for many years to consider such things, and I am too old to start a family now,” he replied at last. “And as I am baseborn myself, I felt no particular pressure to produce an heir.”
Nellith blinked a bit at that revelation. “You’ve dressed Brand well, and for that I thank you, but there is more to raising a child than that. How can I be sure that I am doing the right thing?”
“I have no children of my own, but I helped Prince Imrahil rear his family after the death of his wife,” Andrahar said patiently. “He has three sons and a daughter, and I believe they were not unhappy with my guidance when they were growing up. This is a great opportunity for Brand. How can you deny him? In any event, what would you tell your husband when the boy came back home with you? Mistress Nellith, your husband reared Brand for ten years, and never gave him a father’s love. How could I possibly be any worse than that? And I can guarantee you he will be happier with me than with the tanner.” He fastened his dark eyes upon the woman.
“I took the boy before I knew that he was Boromir’s son, because I liked his spirit, and I would have done the best I could by him simply for that. And madam, after over three decades of training young men to be Swan Knights, my best is very good indeed. Lord Boromir was my dearest friend, and for fifty years, I have served and protected the Princes of Dol Amroth. For both of those reasons, as well as his own fine qualities, Brand would merit my protection. I would die to keep him from harm, Mistress Nellith.” He shrugged, with that boneless grace of expression peculiar to the Haradrim. “If that is not enough to convince you, then I do not know what is.”
Nellith gave him a long, considering look, then a nod. “Very well, captain, I believe you. Will you tell the Prince about Brand’s parentage?”
“Not immediately. The Prince is not intending to return to Dol Amroth for some time, as the King needs him in Minas Tirith. When he comes home, I will tell him. And I will not lie to you--Brand is going to have a lot of new things to become accustomed to. So I am going to withhold that information from him as well, until he becomes comfortable in his new home. But when the time is right, there are many folk there who will be able to tell him about his father, and what sort of man he was.” Andrahar sighed, and swallowed hard. “He came so close to knowing him himself! Boromir fell but eight months ago. I think he would have been pleased to discover he had such a fine son.” This grief, the captain knew, would never leave him. If he had known, he might have left the journey to Imladris to Faramir, who has no children. He might have stayed, for Brand’s sake…
There was a long moment of silence, as the captain struggled to suppress his memories and Nellith to absorb all that he had told her.
“Lord Boromir will never know Brand, ‘tis true,” Brand’s mother said softly at last. “But Brand will know his father’s greatest friend.” Andrahar looked at her and wondered what she saw in his face, for her eyes were suddenly very kind. “And I think that will serve well enough.”
Brand, who had pretty much exhausted any safe means of entertaining his siblings, was very glad to be summoned back to the inn. There he found his stepfather, mellowed by a couple of tankards of very good ale, and his mother, calmer than she had been upon her arrival and with the air of someone who had resolved something to her satisfaction. The captain seemed somewhat withdrawn, but civil.
“Captain Andrahar has been very kind about explaining things to me, Brand,” Nellith said, folding him suddenly into a fierce embrace. “I think that this is a very good chance for you, and I want you to promise me that you will mind him and work hard.”
“I will, Mother,” he promised, burying his face in her neck to hide the tears that suddenly welled up in his eyes. “And as soon as I learn how, I’ll write to you, tell you all about what it is like there.” He kissed her cheek, and stepped back, blinking.
“That will be near as good as a minstrel show, I am sure,” she said, falsely hearty. “Gaelbereth, Jacyn, Faelyn, Baran, say good-bye to your brother.” An uproar followed Nellith’s command. The oldest girl, Gaelbereth, was the only one who remained calm. Brand’s brother Jacyn, a six-year-old of similar temperament to his father, promptly erupted into a veritable storm of tears, which proved contagious to the two younger ones, who had little true idea of what was going on, but decided they had better cry just in case.
“You have to look after the little ones now, Gabby,” Brand told his sister, who nodded solemnly.
“Are you going to get your own horse to ride?” she asked. He nodded. “Will you bring it so I can see it?”
Brand smiled. “When I can. It may be a while, though.” She held up her arms to him, and he stooped down to hug and kiss her, then did the same to the rest of his siblings in their turn. That comforted them, and the crying abated somewhat. Gabby, good as her word, turned her attention to soothing the two youngest children, while the carter swung his namesake up onto his hip.
“You’ve had a rare bit of luck and no mistake,” he growled at Brand. “See that you don’t mess up and have to come back here.”
And in that moment, any lingering doubts Andrahar might have had about Brand’s parentage were laid to rest, for the boy looked up at the man who so carefully cradled his own blood while having denied Brand any affection, and his eyebrow and lip curled up in impudent defiance. Suddenly, eerily, it was young Boromir standing there.
“You needn’t worry,” he told the carter with studied insolence, “I shan’t be back save to visit my mother and sisters and brothers…..sir.” Then he moved deliberately to Andrahar’s side.
Jacyn visibly twitched, as the impulse to smack the boy for his cheek warred with his instinct for self preservation, and Andrahar watched the boy watch him do it. A tiny, warm feeling burgeoned beneath the captain’s breastbone, and after a moment, he realized to his surprise that it was joy. Neither victory upon the Pelennor nor Sauron’s destruction at the Black Gate had served to lift the black pall the captain had been under since learning of Boromir’s death, nor had the coronation and wedding of the king, or the flowering of the White Tree. Speaking to those who had been with Boromir in his last moments had satisfied his desperate need to know how his lover had died, but had not lightened his heart. Now, watching a scrawny, black-haired boy give a carter lip in an inn parlor, his heart finally thawed and he knew hope again at last.
“Come, Nellith,” Jacyn said. “Not being fine folk, we have work to do.” He stomped out of the room, little Jacyn still on his hip, while his wife shepherded the others before her. She paused beside Andrahar before she left.
“His full name is Brandmir, Captain,” she murmured. Andrahar looked down at the boy, who was looking up at him.
“Of course it is,” he said, with a smile that very few people had ever seen.
The captain and Brand followed the boy’s family out onto the porch, watching as they piled into the cart and Jacyn took up the reins. Nellith was trying very hard to control her own tears, and feeling a bit of shame at the sense of relief that had come over her. Intervening between Brand and Jacyn over the years had taken its toll upon her, and she suspected that her husband would be much more pleasant to live with now that the boy had been removed. She had known that the apprenticeship to the tanner was not what Brand had wanted, but there had been no way to give him his heart’s desire, so she had settled for getting him out of her husband’s reach.
An eaglet in a sparrow’s nest, Brand had seemed to her at times, with wishes and dreams that she could not understand or fulfill. Looking back now, as she waved goodbye, she saw the man’s hand drop gently onto Brand’s shoulder. Her son started in surprise, looking up at the commander, who bent his head and smiled. Brand hesitantly leaned in closer, and Andrahar’s arm slid down about his shoulders and squeezed. The two of them looked right together somehow, confirmation of the feeling she had often had about her misbegotten son, that someday the circumstances of his birth would cause him to be taken from her.
I would die to keep him from harm, Mistress Nellith.
Nellith could only hope that that would never become necessary.