Disclaimer: The main characters, the context and the main plot belong to Professor Tolkien, whom I greatly admire. I’m only trying to fill in the gaps he so graciously left for us, fanfic writers, to have some fun.
Series: a stand-alone vignette from the “Sons of Gondor” arc.
Mistress Brín and Mánion have appearances in “The Exercise of Vital Powers”, in “The Face of the Enemy” and in “Outcasts”, so far. They are my original characters, as is Armsmaster Manthor. The Eredrim – the ancient people of Dor-en-Ernil – have been borrowed from the Dol Amroth RPG site.
This story has been inspired by a rather… unpleasant personal experience. And though my hero might come over as a little premature for a nine-year-old, trust me? I have met kids like him during my nearly three decades in education.
My heartfelt thanks go to Lady Masterblott for beta reading and for her excellent suggestions. All remaining mistakes are mine.
Dedication: for Isabeau of Greenlea. Happy early birthday, Isabeau!
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His knuckles were bruised and he could feel the tingling pain up to the very bones of his hand, which annoyed him to no end. ‘Twould have been bad enough, had he injured his hand during sword practice, but that was not the case. He had actually managed to run into the large, protruding key of a tall chest that had been standing in the short corridor in front of his mother’s bedchamber for… for as long as he could remember.
The pain was excruciating. He thought he had felt the bones in his hand splinter; the impact had all but rattled his teeth. He crouched down on the stone-paved floor, biting his lower lip ‘til he drawn blood. He was nine years old – he would not scream like a baby, just because his hand hurt. ‘Twas embarrassing enough that he could not withhold the tears of pain flowing freely down his face.
After the first wave of pain lessened, he tried to move his hand a little and saw with relief that he could do so without hurting himself more. The hand had begun to swell already, and the skin was reddened, but it seemed that it was not broken it, after all. He moved his fingers again. It hurt, but not too badly. Clenching his fist, however, proved to be a much more painful attempt, one that was not entirely successful, no matter how hard he tried.
This was bad, very bad. ‘Twould have been worse had he hurt his sword-hand, of course, but even so, he could not hope to hide the results of his clumsiness from Armsmaster Manthor. Or from his father. They would raise their eyebrows in that manner which always made him feel about two inches tall. The other boys would laugh at him and tease him mercilessly, the older ones even more so.
Unless… unless he got help. From a healer. From one who would not tell anyone, not even his parents. Mayhap if he sought out Mánion’s help… True, Mánion was just an apprentice healer, but even apprentices could treat minor injuries. And Mánion was his friend. Mánion would never tell anyone.
He slipped into his mother’s bedchamber, wetted a white cloth that always hung on the washstand for purposes like this and wrapped it around his aching hand to keep the swelling down, as he had seen Mistress Brín doing it many times. He knew it would help a little – at least long enough to find Mánion. He tugged on the sleeve of his tunic impatiently, pulling it down, so that it would hide the dripping cloth from prying eyes.
Leaving the House of the Stewards was quite a challenge, given that the guards kept a watchful eye on the doors and the servants were constantly looking out for the sons of their Lord. But he had done it before, and if he was careful enough, he could do it again. Hiding in the shadows was something he did very well – unless, of course, he had his baby brother with him. ‘Twas neigh impossible to keep a curious four-year-old quiet.
But today he was alone and could slip through the door unnoticed. Once outside, he sneaked along the wall encircling the upper level of the City, down the lamplit tunnel that ran westward from the Citadel to the sixth circle. No-one tried to stop him, as people knew how much he loved to visit the stables that were in the sixth circle, close by the lodgings of the errant riders, and all were accustomed to see him there.
‘Twas not considered proper for the son of the Steward to have friends among the messenger boys, but he cared not. True, he did have a few friends of his own status – not many, though, as they were envious of his skills – but the messenger boys were more fun to be with. They were often sent out to interesting – or even dangerous – places, saw many things and were willing to share their experiences with him, despite the fact that he was quite a lot younger than them. Just like Mánion.
The boy waved at the stable hands, who grinned at him fondly, jogged along the front of the stables and down the main road to the southern wall of the sixth circle, against which the Houses of Healing had been built. Three one-store buildings, with glass-tiled roofs, small, decorative towers and arched walkways along their inner walls these were, encircling a stone-paved inner courtyard, with the grey stone ring of an old well in the centre of it. One of the Houses – the largest of all – served as the infirmary itself, while in the other two the lodgings and working places of the healers were to be found.
The beautiful gardens, renowned in all Minas Tirith, where the healing patients could walk in the sunlit hours, were situated behind the main building, while the herb gardens were almost hidden behind the long, simple eastern wing. The Lady Finduilas often visited these gardens with her sons... more often with the toddler in these days, now that her firstborn spent more time with the Armsmaster than with her. She said that they reminded her of her home.
The aforementioned firstborn now sneaked along the walkway of the main House, and avoided by a hair’s breadth running straight into Mistress Ioreth’s arms. Not that he did not like the kind and friendly lady healer – everyone liked her – but Ioreth loved to talk, and once she caught someone unawares, escape could take a long time. And the boy had no time to waste, not if he wanted to slip back to the Steward’s House unnoticed... which he did want, very much.
Melting with the shadows behind one of the pillars, he let Ioreth pass and hurried forth to the east wing, where the healers usually prepared their healing tinctures, poultices, dried herb mixtures and the likes. Mistress Brín had mentioned that Mánion was recently taught herbal lore by Master Heledir, the apothecary of the Houses. He hoped to find the young apprentice alone; Mánion had very few friends and preferred to work on his own.
As expected, he found Mánion alone in the airy room that smelled of at least a dozen drying herbs. There was a long table in the middle of the room, and on the table there stood several strangely-shaped glass bottles, with delicate taps on their front sides – bottles, which the apothecary used to distillate herbal oils. On the left half of the table several stone or wooden mortars could be seen, for the grinding of leaves or dried herbs, also small bowls for the mixing of herbs and the preparing of poultices and many other dishes and tools the use of which remained unclear to the boy.
Mánion was standing at one of the glass distillers when he entered and was filling a golden liquid that smelled of... well, of meadow... into tiny bottles. The young man was wearing the usual, rough linen shirt and breeches of the common folk, but with the long apron of the healers bound loosely over them. His hair – dark brown, but not the raven black of those of pure Dúnadan blood – was bound into a tight ponytail on the nape of his neck. His eyes were brown, too, brown and gentle as those of Lady Finduilas – like everyone’s who had the blood of the Eredrim in their veins. His features, however, showed the chiselled elegance of the Dúnadan nobles, making him look older, more mature than his mere sixteen summers.
No-one knew who Mánion’s father had been – perhaps not even the young man himself. The Eredrim guarded their secrets well, and Mistress Brín was no exception of this rule.
“Mánion!” hissed the boy, and the healer looked up from his work in surprise.
“Boromir,” he replied, pleased, with that customary, reserved smile of his.
According to the rules of the court, he should have addressed the Steward’s son as Lord or Master, but as they had practically grown up together, Mánion allowed himself the liberty to use his young Lord’s given name. Boromir did not mind, nor did the Lady Finduilas. Lord Denethor probably would not have liked it, but Mánion hardly ever met the Lord Steward in person, thus they needed not to worry about his disapproval.
“Mánion, I need your help,” said the boy urgently, and the healer gave a reverent nod. This was one of the good things with Mánion: he would not treat Boromir differently than he would treat an adult.
“How can I be of assistance?” he asked.
The boy unwrapped his injured hand. It had adopted a light purplish colour already, and the swelling was visible, too.
“I hurt my hand,” he explained, “and when the others see it, they will laugh at me. Can you make the swelling go away?”
Mánion examined the bruised hand carefully.
“A poultice of ox-eye leaves and elm-leaves will reduce the swelling,” he decided, “and I can give you a small phial of birch oil for the abrasions. But you cannot hide this from the others; you are bruised badly. It will take a day or two for your hand to heal. How did you hurt yourself? Bad day at the training court?”
The boy blushed profoundly. ‘Twas embarrassing to tell the truth, but the thought of lying to Mánion never occurred to him.
“I run into the chest in front of Mother’s bedchamber,” he admitted uncomfortably, “and slammed my hand against the key.”
To his enormous relief, Mánion did not laugh. On the contrary; the young healer winced in sympathy. “That must have been painful.”
The boy nodded. “It still hurts.”
“Well, ‘tis a good thing that you wrapped your hand in a wet cloth,” said Mánion. “The swelling would be much worse otherwise.”
The boy clenched and unclenched his injured hand and scowled. “’Tis bad enough.”
“No doubt,” Mánion gave him another one of those small smiles. “I shall prepare the poultice for you, then.”
He turned to one of the wooden cabinets framing both walls of the room. On the open shelves, fresh and dried herbs were stored in small linen sacks. He selected two of those sacks, took a handful from each and began to grind the leaves in a mortar. While working, the sunlight fell through one of the high windows, directly onto his face, showing that one of his cheeks was badly bruised – much worse, indeed, than Boromir’s hand.
“Mánion... what happened to you?” asked the boy in shock. He could not imagine why someone would want to hurt Mánion, who, after all, never harmed anyone.
The young healer shrugged. “I had an... argument with some of the esquires of the Citadel. They... did not like that I am going in and out of the Steward’s House as I please.”
“Why not? Your mother lives with us all the time...”
“She serves the Lady Finduilas,” corrected Mánion gently. “Yet I am no child any longer, nor do I serve in your home, so they thought I had no business being there at all.”
“Why?” The boy still could not understand. This was foolish. Mánion belonged to his home; he always had.
“Because I am not a Dúnadan,” replied Mánion simply. “No matter what I look like, I am one of the Eredrim, like my mother, and the nobles of Minas Tirith think we are all barbarians, no better than the Dunlendings, although we have served the Princes of Dol Amroth faithfully since the beginning of their House. They think we should only be allowed to enter the noble houses as servants.”
The boy shook his head, finding the whole argument ridiculous.
“But you have lived with us for years. We played together when we were little...”
“The Lady Finduilas was indulgent,” said Mánion with a small smile. “As you probably know, her mother, the Lady Olwen, is one of the Eredrim. Rare as it is, sometimes our lords do wed one from our people.”
“But if Grandmother is one of the Eredrim, am I one, too?” asked the boy, wide-eyed. Mánion laughed quietly.
“Nay, Boromir. In Gondor, ‘tis the father who counts. The father of the Lady Finduilas is the Prince of Dol Amroth. Your father is the Steward of Gondor. No-one can forbid you aught you want – save your own father and grandsire.”
The boy thought about this for a while.
“’Tis not fair!” he finally said, in an accusing manner, just this side from stomping on the ground.
Mánion nodded. “Nay, it is not. But life is seldom fair, as you shall learn early enough. Come now and let me treat your hand.”
The boy extended his injured hand, and Mánion spread the poultice he had mixed in a small bowl over it. The feeling was not unpleasant – slightly cool and soft. Mánion then brought the bandages and wrapped them around the bruised limb.
“Here,” he said. “Keep it bandaged ‘til the evening; and should the swelling get any worse, go to my mother. You must not sneak out of the house like this. The Lady Finduilas would worry if she knew.”
The boy stiffened. “I am no small child anymore. I need no nursemaid to keep me safe.”
“True,” agreed Mánion amiably. “But she is still your mother, and ‘tis a mother’s right to worry about the welfare of her child.”
“Does your mother worry about you?” asked the boy, grey eyes narrowing in suspicion.
Mánion laughed. “All the time. You see, I am her only son – the only family she has in the City.”
“Then I shall not tell her that you have been hurt,” the boy decided solemnly. “’Twould only make her worry more.”
Mánion inclined his head reverently. “I thank you for that. But you should truly go now, or else you may get in trouble.”
The boy clasped Mánion’s forearm in warrior fashion. True, Mánion was no warrior, but he was no child anymore to hug his friends, even the older ones. And Mánion was just as brave as any warrior he knew, and deserved the same respect.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Getting back home was no greater hardness than getting out had been. He came just in time for sword practice... almost a little late. The other boys – all of them between six and fourteen summers and all coming from the noble families of Minas Tirith or one of the fiefs – were gathering already when he arrived. Thus, all eyes turned to him when he joined them, flush-faced and slightly dishevelled and just a little breathless. Including the eyes of Armsmaster Manthor.
“Sword practice begins at the fourth hour of the day,” said the Armsmaster sternly, “even for the Steward’s son.”
“I know that, Master Manthor,” replied Boromir respectfully; then, nodding towards the tower where the silver bells just began to sound, he added. “It is the fourth hour, is it not?”
The Armsmaster looked sternly, but the corner of his mouth twitched for a moment – ‘til he noticed the boy’s bandaged hand. “What happened to you?”
Boromir took a deep breath, collecting all his courage to give an honest answer. “I... I was clumsy, and... and hurt myself. But Mánion says it will be better by tomorrow.”
“You should not waste your time with that filthy bastard,” one of the older boys commented in a nasty tone. “He does not even know who sired him, and his mother is of a lesser people.”
“So is mine,” answered Boromir coldly. “Do you find me unsuitable company as well?”
“Of course not, but...”
“That is enough, Eldûn,” interrupted Master Manthor, his eyes turning cold like ice. “You forget where you are... and whom you are speaking to. Do I have to remind you how to behave at the training court?”
The older boy paled a little, for attracting the Armsmaster’s wrath was a truly bad idea, and murmured his apologies. Addressing them to the Armsmaster, of course, not to the Steward’s son, whom he still considered a brat, regardless of his ancestry and status.
But Boromir was not ready to let him get away with that.
“Master Manthor,” he said solemnly, “it seems to me that my House has been insulted, and ‘tis something I cannot leave unanswered. Do I have your permission to end this here and now?”
The Armsmaster thought about this for a moment. Then he nodded, albeit a little reluctantly. This was the Steward’s son, after all; the one who would rule them all one day.
“Make it short,” he said.
“I will,” promised Boromir. Then he turned to the older boy with an expression that reminded eerily of his father, the Lord Steward. “Do you think the Prince of Dol Amroth and the Steward of Gondor are foolish men who chose unworthy women to be their wives and the mothers of their children?” he asked.
“’Tis not the same!” the older boy protested.
“I believe it is,” said Boromir angrily. “I am told the Eredrim are a people of rustic barbarians, unable to control their rage. And indeed, I seem to feel rise it in me right now. Must be the blood of the Eredrim in my veins.”
He clenched his uninjured hand and punched the older boy in the nose with all the strength he could manage – which was quite an amount for a nine-year-old. The older boy tumbled and fell, his nose bleeding. Boromir glanced at his sore hand and sighed.
“Now my sword-hand is bruised, too.”
“And you still have to learn much about fighting with your bare hands,” added the Armsmaster dryly. “Now, pick up your sword and begin to warm up. Bruises are not an excuse from your daily training.”
About a year later, the Lady Finduilas died. Mistress Brín returned to Dol Amroth. Mánion went with her and finished his training there, eventually becoming the field healer of the Swan Knights.