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2
Part 2

Disclaimer, rating and A/N: see Part 1. Nimrien, too, belongs to Isabeau and is used with her consent.


~~~

II.


The following moons were filled with work for Andrahar. Every morn he would seek out the Elf in the library (for he kept calling the head scribe thusly, at least when he was alone or with Imrahil, not liking the long and peculiar Elvish name) and sit there 'til noon, going over endless wordlists, correcting mispronounced words, showing him how to write from the right to the left as it was required in Haradric. Most of the time Lady Tirathiel accompanied them too, and Andrahar developed a healthy respect for the wise, proud and tireless woman.

Sometimes the orphaned niece of the Lady, a shy, quiet young girl named Nimrien, came with her and listened to the harsh-sounding Haradric words with rapt interest.

Every once in a week Imrahil was ordered by the Prince to partake in these lessons, for Adrahil wanted his son and heir to become fluent in Haradric, as he was to handle Haradrian dignitaries in the future. Whenever he appeared, the dull work became full of bright colours for Andrahar, even though he knew all too well how much his friend would prefer to ride out or practice swordplay with him.

Not that Imrahil would share his dismay against books and other scholarly activities – far from it. But Andrahar's company meant adventure for the restless princeling, and there was truly naught adventurous in a library, bent over some obscure Haradric text. Still, he managed to endure it somehow, and at least the evenings were theirs to do as they please.

Naturally, Imrahil had to attend to regular fight lessons, for to become the Lord of the Swan Knights, Dol Amroth's finest warriors, required that he was at least as good with his weapons as any of them. Andrahar accompanied him to these lessons and watched his training with an unreadable face – until Armsmaster Ornendil decided to give him a good workout, in order to see what the "wild youngling" was capable of.

His amazement over the young Haradrim's skills was beyond limits.

"That lad is better than anyone I have ever seen," he reported to the Prince, still a little shocked. "Certainly, he needs a lot of practice with the long swords our people use, but with his own weapons, he is almost invictible. He is wasted in the library, my Lord."

"He is most valuable in the library," Adrahil corrected, "But when he truly is that good with weapons, I do not mind if you give him some proper training. We shall see whether he is able to follow orders as well, but at least he will work out some of his inner fire – and keep Imrahil on his toes."

"He will follow any order that comes from Imri, " said the Lady Olwen quietly. "He would die for our son at any time."

"He is Haradrim," Adrahil shrugged. "'Tis their way. Imrahil saved his life, therefore his life belongs to Imrahil, unless the debt is repaid in equal measure. Or else he would lose his honour, and that would be worse than dead for a Haradrim."

"There is more behind his devotion to Imri than simple custom, I am certain of that," Lady Olwen replied. "Whatever it is, I find comfort in knowing that our son is fiercely protected. With his hot-headed nature, he shall sorely need a trusted companion."

"I can train the lad to become the young prince's own Armsmaster in a few years," Ornendil said, though doubt was clearly written in his tanned features, "but do you truly want a Haradrim among the Swan Knights, my Lord? Would it be wise to reveal the secrets of our defences to one of our enemies?"

"He is not our enemy – he is Imri's friend," princess Finduilas, also part of all important family decisions ever since her recently coming of age, injected. "And he is not a Haradrim native, either. He must have at least some Númenórean blood. Most noble families of Harad have."

"Yea, the blood of the Black Númenóreans, no doubt," Ornendil answered sourly. "Much good it would do him... or us, for that."

"His blood alone does not determine who he is," Adrahil said, exchanging a long, meaningful look with his Lady. "His deeds do. I am willing to give him a chance to prove himself – mayhap such thing will move Imrahil towards more a responsible behaviour."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thus thing remained very much the same for many moons. Between the library and Master Ornendil, Andrahar was rather busy all day, but he did not mind; not as long as nearly all his activities involved Imrahil as well. The young prince, however, grew impatient more quickly, and soon he began to plan a little trip to Gate Town: the easternmost and outermost district of Dol Amroth that lay on the low saddle just inside the main landward entry through the city walls.

Being the dirtiest and rowdiest neighbourhood in Dol Amroth, it is still kept finer than the quarters in most other cities and attracted the adventurous sons of the noble families in great numbers. It was a most colourful district to say the least, and thought people seldom got robbed and even less frequently killed, Prince Adrahil forbade his son to visit it without proper escort and supervision.

Of course, an escort would have made nigh impossible to pay a proper visit to the famous taverns of Gate Town: Arthoniel's Tavern, The Black Spar or The Sign of the Blind Voyager. And since at least irregular visits were considered a sign of independent adulthood among the noble youth, Imrahil was eager to prove himself in their eyes.

The golden opportunity presented itself when – some seven moons after Andrahar's arrival to Dol Amroth – the Prince and his Lady took their daughter to Edhellond, following the invitation of Lord Gildor, who had just recently returned home after a long absence, to the yearly Autumn Festival. This was one of the greatest feast among the mostly Silvan subjects of Edhellond's Lord, and the first time that princess Finduilas attended to it as an adult – something that had great importance for the Elves, and Lord Gildor, a friend of the princely House since its very foundation, intended to give her a grand celebration.

Imrahil was not invited along, however, for his father and he were not in speaking terms, due to his latest escapades – happening mostly in Gate Town and costing the Prince a considerable amount of coin. Needless to say that he was bitterly disappointed and angry beyond reason. 'Twas quite obvious to Andrahar that his friend burned hotly for the Elf-lord – thus he begun to hate Gildor Inglorion ere he had even caught as much as a glimpse of him.

Therefore Imrahil had been petulant and miserable ever since the Prince's decision was declared, and wanted his revenge – and he wanted Andrahar's company by doing so. Andrahar, would be willing to go wherever his friend wanted, even though he felt that at his age of almost sixteen Imrahil should show some more responsibility towards his duties as the Heir of Dol Amroth. In Harad, a young man of sixteen summers was considered an adult, ready to found his own household, and in his honest moments Andrahar admitted that his friend was a spoiled brat.

Nevertheless, Imrahil saved his life, gave him a home - and captured his heart, and thus Andrahar was willing to partake in anything Imrahil was up to, no mater how foolish or dangerous it might have been. Besides, 'twas his duty to bring the young prince back unhurt from those trips, at least in his own eyes.

Imrahil had shown great strategic sense (worth of much better use, in fact) in planning their several days long trip to the pleasure houses. He planned to do it after the departure of Lady Tirathiel to Minas Tirith, where the Lady was to copy a rare, ancient Elvish book - and, as Prince Adrahil mentioned dryly to his wife during a private conversation, 'to frighten the Steward's son out of his wits'.

Seeing Andrahar's surprise, Imrahil later explained him that frightening was probably not the right word for the strange relationship between the Lady and the Lord Denethor, but people who knew them both mostly agreed that Tirathiel was the only person the son of Ecthelion was wary of. They were both scholars and well-versed in ancient lore, but of vastly different opinions most of the time, and Tirathiel never let herself be frightened by the dour Heir of Gondor. Some even said that they had been promised to each other, ere Tirathiel returned to Dol Amroth to raise the orphaned daughter of her brother.

Whether or not this was true, no-one could tell, yet it added to the Lady's authority greatly, and every time she travelled to Minas Tirith for some perfectly innocent reason, the whispers arose anew. This time she planned to remain there several moons, taking young Nimrien with her, thus Imrahil could be certain that she would not unexpectedly return from Minas Tirith and disturb his carefully laid-out plans. Now there remained one hindrance only in their way to get to Gate Town for the entirety of the Autumn Festival – Master Melpomaen. The head scribe still kept Andrahar in the library from early morn till noon, working with him on the seemingly never-ending book about Haradric languages, customs and history.

"You will be working on it in then years' time still," Imrahil growled. "Surely, he can give you a few days' leave for a proper autumn feast if you ask him."

"Not when I tell him where and what way I intend to celebrate," Andrahar pointed out. Imrahil shrugged.

"Then tell him not," he said dismissively. Andrahar's eyes darkened to burning coals.

"Imrahil of Dol Amroth," he said in a cold voice, "are you asking me to tell him lies? If so, then I hall have to disappoint you. I own you my life, and I would gladly lay it down for you, but you cannot ask me to besmirch my honour – what little there still is of it – only that you can visit your favoured whores."

Imrahil glared at him, unbelievingly. Never in the seven moons they had known each other had Andrahar spoken to him thusly. He felt chastised – which he liked not – and betrayed by his best friend. It occurred to him not how one-sided their friendship had been, with Andrahar doing what ever he wanted, without as much as a word of complaint... till now.

"I asked you not to lie," he replied petulantly, "only to... keep some details to yourself. But if you would let me down, 'tis fine with me. Forget I ever asked. I shall go without you." And with that, out he stomped, leaving a shocked and deeply hurt Andrahar behind.

For several long moments, the young Haradrim was completely numb. Never had Imrahil willingly hurt him before, and he did it now for what? For a chance to get to the pleasure houses of Gate Town, where he would throw around the good coin of his father for something Andrahar would give him gladly out of love.

It hurt. It hurt so much that Andrahar needed all his iron will to force back the tears welling up in his burning eyes. He had fallen hard for the young prince, from the very moment on Imrahil freed him from the hands of the angry mob in Umbar's bazaar. Yet since Imrahil had clearly no such feelings for him, revealing his love would have destroyed their friendship, and he could not risk that. Therefore Andrahar did his best to hide his yearning and his heart-ache – and succeeded. No-one ever knew how much strength it cost him.

Yet now Imrahil was angry with him, ready to slip out of the Castle and vanish for days in Gate Town without him if he must, and Andrahar knew he could not allow that to happen. 'Twas simply not right for a prince to run out of his own, for even inside the safe borders of Dol Amroth, there always were perils. Thus he had to persuade the Elf somehow into giving him the leave he needed. And he thought to know a way to reach his goal.

In his years in the bazaar of Umbar he grown accustomed to paying for favours he could not achieve through stealing and threats with his own body. It gave him little to no pleasure being used that way, but he had learnt it in the hard way how to please a male customer, and he knew he was good at it. So good, in fact, that it almost earned him life-long slavery in the hands of a possessive Khandian prince. Thus he was reasonably sure that he could service the Elf well enough to get what he wanted in exchange.

The thought of returning to the life of a street whore pained him greatly, as he hoped to have left that kind of existence behind for ever. But he could not let Imrahil down. Thus he braced himself for the inevitable, and in the next morn he addressed the head scribe without a preamble.

"Master Melpomaen, I would require a few days of leave from my duties."

The Elf looked up from the parchment he was bewritting and arched an elegant eyebrow.

"What for?" he asked. "As far as I am told, you are perfectly free in the evenings to do as you please. In fact, with Master Ornendil accompanying the Prince on his way to Edhellond, you not even have to attend to fight lessons anymore."

"'Tis true," Andrahar admitted, shifting his weight unhappily. "Still, I would wish a few days for myself to celebrate the Autumn Festival."

That Elven eyebrow climbed even higher, though Andrahar had not thought such thing to be possible. Apparently, Elves – even the not-quite-true sort of them – were more limber than he gave them credit for.

"You mean the young prince wishes to visit the pleasure houses in Gate Town and wants you to go with him?" seeing Andrahar's shocked expression, the head scribe gave him a wry little smile. "I might lead a solitary life, young one, yet I am no fool. Nor is Prince Adrahil unaware of the lecherous adventures of his only son. Though it surprises me even less that you would be willing to go with the young prince."

"I have no interest in the whores of Gate Town," Andrahar replied indignantly – which was the truth. He had been long enough in the trade himself... and women never interested him.

"Nay," the Elf nodded in agreement, "But you would do anything to please Imrahil."

For the second time within mere moments, Andrahar was too shocked to give answer at once. Melpomaen watched him with keen, dark eyes and that tight little smile of him.

"Had you thought me that blind, young one?" he asked gently. "In my long life I have seen much, and little does surprise me or escape my attention. You are desperately in love with Imrahil... there is no shame in it, no shame at all. We cannot choose whom we feel in love with. It simply happens, and we have to live with it – or die of broken heart. Your heart, I deem, is too strong to be broken, so you must find a way to live with your hidden feelings."

"They are not all that well-hidden, it seems," said Andrahar bitterly. Melpomaen tilted his head to one side with a strange, bird-like movement that Andrahar would have associated with Silvan Elves, had he ever seen any.

"Oh, they are... for most people. I am simply accustomed to notice signs others would not. 'Tis the advantage of leading the live of an observer. Though I am almost certain that Lady Olwen would take notice one day, too," he added thoughtfully, and Andrahar paled.

"By Khaiar and the keremets!" the Haradric curse escaped him in his shock. "I am a dead man, then."

"You know the Princess not well enough, or you would not fear for your life," the head scribe answered calmly. "She might not have Elven blood in her veins, yet she and her whole family lived in the neighbourhood of Elves long enough to have their views changed greatly, compared with that of other peoples of Gondor. Besides," he added wryly, "I doubt that you could corrupt the young prince too much anymore."

Melpomaen's easy understanding shocked and surprised Andrahar at the same time – and it made him hope that he might get his much-needed leave, after all.

"What would it take, then, for you to let me go with Imrahil for a few days?" he asked bluntly. "I have not much to offer – unless you need someone to warm your empty bed for a while. I am said to be quite good in that sort of things."

The head scribe put down his feather quill that he was holding during their whole conversation and gave him an icy glare. Gone was the friendly, compassionate look – 'twas a very annoyed Elf who looked at Andrahar as if he were some sort of disgusting insect.

"I take no advantage of my charges, young one, and what ever you might think, you are my charge, as long as you are assigned to me by the Prince to work here," he said, his voice cutting like a sharp blade. "Besides, how would you know whether my bed is empty or not? I am known to be very discreet in my affairs – had I someone waiting for me in my chambers, be assured that you would know naught of it."

The swift change shocked Andrahar even more. Rightly were Elves compared with large cats: smooth and sleek in one moment, slashing your throat open with their claws in the next. He wondered briefly if Melpomaen kept any weapons under that writing desk of his.

"Forgive me, Master Scribe," he murmured, "I meant no offence. But I need a favour from you, and I cannot offer aught else than my... services."

To his surprise, the chilly wrath had gone from those dark eyes just as swiftly as it came. The head scribe sighed, then shook his head, and all of a sudden, the expression upon his pale face became very sad.

"You should not lower yourself thusly, young one. Not for such worthless goal. Were you trying to sell yourself in exchange for the young prince's life, I would understand and admiring such sacrifice. But giving up your pride just so that he can be whoring around as he pleases – 'tis folly."

"He is angry and hurt, for his father let him not to go visiting the Elves," Andrahar murmured, "and he would go, whether I go with him or not. I cannot let him run free in Gate Town, without protection."

Melpomaen gave him a long, intense look that felt as if those dark eyes would burn through his very scull. Then the head scribe sighed again.

"I believe 'tis time the for young prince to consider the possible ramifications of his thoughtless deeds. Sit down on that chair over there, young one, and let me braid your hair – 'tis unruly once again. Then seek out your hot-headed friend and try talking to him. If in the next morn he still wants to go, and you still insist on going with him, I shall give you leave - for the price you named."

Completely bewildered now, Andrahar obeyed nevertheless, allowing the Elf to braid his hair - which took a much longer time than he had expected. When he was done, Melpomaen simply turned away from him, returning to his writing.

"You can go now, young one," he said, without looking up from his work. "I have no use for you this morn."

Andrahar shook his head in astonishment and left the library, in search for Imrahil. When the third or fourth servant whom he encountered on his way was giving him a strange stare, he began to feel uncomfortable and turned in to one of the guest chambers, since those commonly had large mirrors in the sleeping area.

The image in the mirror was like a blow in his face. His coarse black hair was ordered in thin braids, like the tresses of the cheapest whores that sold themselves in the shadowy streets of the port.

His first instinct would have been to break the mirror with his bare fist. His second one to go back to the library and break the nose of that smug Elf. But after several deep breaths he actually understood the message behind Melpomaen's seeming cruelty. With grim determination, he left the guest chambers again, to seek out Imrahil.

TBC

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