This chapter still contains some disturbing topics. But not as bad as the previous one.
When – later on that evening – Andrahar finally sought out Melpomaen in the library again, the head scribe made no remark on his clumsily-shorn hair. He only offered a seat to the young man, then sat himself, folding his long, elegant hands upon the tabletop, and looked at his visitor with intense eyes.
“So you have come to me, after all,” he said. “I thought you had the guts to confront the young Prince.”
“I did,” Andrahar said. Melpomaen arched an eyebrow.
“And he still wants to go to Gate Town? Mayhap I held him in too high an esteem.”
“Nay, said Andrahar with a heavy sigh, “he wants not.”
“That is a relief,” Melpomaen replied. “I would hate to know that the future Lord of Dorn-en-Ernil is a selfish brat. Why have you come, then?”
“We had a bargain,” Andrahar shrugged. “He might have changed his mind, but I promised to go with him where ever he wants to go during the Festival. I still need that leave.”
“In case he changes his mind again?” the head scribe asked. Andrahar nodded grimly, but Melpomaen shook his head. “He will not. He might be stubborn and petulant, but his word means something to him. As I see it, you have been released from our bargain. Besides,” he added with a grim expression upon his face, “I would have a very… unpleasant conversation with him, had he not changed his mind.”
That surprised Andrahar a little. “Why?” he asked.
“I have been his tutor,” said the Elf, “therefore ‘tis my responsibility, too, what sort of Man – what sort of leader – he would once become. I wish not for our people to have a Lord who would sell his best friend for a visit in the pleasure houses. He needs to learn responsibility – he will remain a child not much longer.”
“So you never intended to accept my offer?” Andrahar still felt a little suspicious. Melpomaen laughed – it was a strangely warm, pleasant sound.
“I already told you: I do not take advantage of my charges. I might lead a solitary life, but that makes me not desperate enough to sleep with children.”
“I am no child, either!” Andrahar replied indignantly. The Elf smiled, but in his dark eyes there was sorrow.
“Compared with me, you are, young one.”
“Among my own people I would be considered a grown man,” Andrahar pointed out with a stubborn face.
“Aye, but you are not among your own people any more,” reminded him the head scribe patiently. “The Lords of Dol Amroth measure differently than lesser Men – and they live longer, too. Hence childhood in Dol Amroth is longer than elsewhere as well. You are of Imrahil’s age, are you?”
“I have seen sixteen summers, aye,” Andrahar nodded. “At home, I would be looking for a wife already… well, if I were not an outcast. It would be expected from me to sire heirs for my House – if I had a House, that is.”
“I remember talking about these customs with you,” said Melpomaen. “You told me that bastard sons were not allowed to have their own families, right?”
“That is the custom, aye,” replied Andrahar. “That way the rightful heirs can protect their position. Bastard sons are usually sold to powerful allies of the family as bodyguards or bed slaves. Or both, ‘Tis known to happen that great khans take their bodyguards to their beds, to ensure their devotion.”
“But why selling them to allies?” asked Melpomaen. “One would think that selling them to enemies would better ensure that they remind childless.”
Andrahar sighed. Sometimes he asked himself whether these Western people would ever understand the ways the mind of his own kin worked.
“Nay,” he said. “’Tis the other way round. An ally would protect the legitimate sons by keeping the bastard childless, for thus he can keep the alliance. Sometimes they even go as far as castrating the boys, even in Harad, and fairly often in Khand. But an enemy would prefer strengthening the bastard line and diluting the blood of the House further.”
Melpomaen digested this for a while.
“Your people are truly strange,” he decided finally. Andrahar shrugged. Even though he was suffering from the practice in question, he found it not particularly strange.
“’Tis an old custom that has worked for many hundreds of years,” he said. “Bad for those born in the wrong bed, like myself, but it serves the interests of the great Houses well.”
The Elf shook his head in mild distaste. “A cruel custom it is.”
Andrahar shrugged again. Honestly, he was getting a little tired to explain the reason behind his people’s cruelty. He was not surprised that Imrahil could not understand it. But he thought the head scribe, with all the experiences of a long life, would.
“We are a cruel people,” he said. “Our land is cruel to us, thus we have to be cruel to live in it. Had I been the rightful heir, I most likely would have don the same. ‘Tis the only way we know. And it works.”
Melpomaen remained silent for a while, asking himself if this young man truly was the right company for the young prince. No matter how devoted Andrahar was to his friend and saviour, he might not be a desired influence. But Melpomaen knew as well as Prince Adrahil that it would be futile trying to separate Imrahil from his new friend.
“And how do you think about your customs now?” he finally asked. “Now, that you have seen other ways as well?”
“It still works for them,” replied Andrahar simply. An inquiring eyebrow was raised again.
“For them – and for you?”
“I know not,” Andrahar admitted with a sigh. “I would like to leave my old ways, yet I am not certain that I can. I was shaped very thoroughly to become what I am now. The price was… high.”
“I am certain that it was,” Melpomaen nodded. “But pray tell, young one, what are you, exactly? For you are no lonely child anymore, who needs to fight and cheat himself through the bazaars. Nor are you a street whore any longer, even though you still are tempted to buy favours in the old ways. What are you here, in Dol Amroth, in the court of the Prince?”
“Imrahil’s shadow,” answered the young Haradrim without hesitation. “His protector and guard. His living shield, should the need arise.”
“Until your debt is paid?” the head scribe asked. Andrahar shook his head.
“There is more than that, and you know it, Master Scribe.”
“I do,” Melpomaen agreed. “Yet you need to understand that for keeping that place you have chosen, you must learn how things are done in Dol Amroth. You need to be better than the others, if you want to remain at Imrahil’s side.”
“I am better than most,” stated Andrahar a little haughtily.
“Mayhap,” replied the Elf, “but you still try to do it your way. If you want to secure your position, you will have to learn their ways. For one day Imrahil will become Ruling Prince, and he cannot have a barbarian standing behind his throne. You must become a Swan Knight, if you want to be of any use.”
“A Swan Knight?” the laughter of the young man was harsh and mirthless. “They will never accept me among themselves.”
“They will, if the Prince orders so,” said Melpomaen simply. “They will give you a hard time, of that I am certain, but at the end they will accept you. For them the only important thing is how good you are in your chosen field. You can prove yourself. As you said, you are good enough.”
“I can never be like they are,” murmured Andrahar.
“Nay,” agreed Melpomaen, “that is true. But you can be better than they are in what you do. And you can have friendships and acquaintances among them, or among the others in the court. And lovers.”
“I have had enough lovers for several lifetimes,” Andrahar pulled a face.
“Nay, you have not,” the head scribe replied. “You had customers to please. That is something else entirely.”
“In what?” Andrahar frowned, not entirely believing him.
“It can very very satisfying for both parts if they are equals,” the Elf explained. “And it keeps loneliness from one’s heart, even if you cannot be with the one you desire most. Hearts-ease is a wonderful thing, young one.”
Andrahar looked at him, still a little doubtfully. Then he grabbed one of those pale, slender hands – it looked almost translucent against his own dark skin – and squeezed a little gently.
“Teach me,” he asked. Melpomaen raised another elegant eyebrow.
“Are you certain? I hope ‘tis not some misguided sense of debt that makes you say so.”
“Nay,” Andrahar shook his head vehemently. “I know every little thing about pleasing a customer – yet I know nought about hearts-ease. Can you teach me?”
“Why, certainly!” the Elf laughed. “I am old enough – you would not be my first younger lover. But I do feel a little uncomfortable about it. You still are my charge.”
“And I also am a grown man,” the young Haradrim said, “no matter what the people of Dol Amroth may think. I make my own choices. And I want to learn this. For I wish not to spend my while life alone – or to become someone’s bed slave again.”
“Then come with me,” Melpomaen rose gracefully, “and I shall teach you.”
He stepped to one of the bookshelves and touched a flower-like ornament upon its beautifully-carved frame. The wooden flower sank half an inch deep into the shelf. Melpomaen pushed against the shelf lightly, and it turned with part of the wall soundlessly, opening like a door, barely wide enough for a grown man to slip through. Melpomaen, being particularly thin, had no difficulty passing, but Andrahar had to be careful, or else his broad shoulders would have been caught in the narrow passage.
Behind the door, there was a tall and airy room, sparsely furniture save a few small cupboards, a four-posted bed in the far corner and a writing desk at one of the tall windows. There was also a wash-stand near the bed and a bedside table with books and a small Elven-style lamp upon it. Another door, this one of the normal shape and size, most likely led to the corridor. The room lacked any ornaments, and its walls were covered with bookshelves, just like those of the library rooms. The only item of beauty was a large golden harp with silver strings, standing in a corner, half-covered by a green cloth.
“You are a minstrel, too?” Andrahar asked in surprise. The Elf shrugged.
“I was taught to become one. I am reasonably good at playing the harp, and my voice is pretty for a mere mortal. But when I heard a true Elven minstrel for the first time, I understood that it was not my true calling. So I chose the books instead. Although,” he added with a wry smile, “Prince Adrahil says that I am still twice as good as the fools of his court who call themselves minstrels.”
“You never play your harp anymore?” Andrahar asked. He was curious how the head scribe would handle the beautiful instrument.
“Rarely,” Melpomaen replied. “Though now that the court is absent, I may play a little during the Autumn festival, since all minstrels would be gone to the noble houses to earn some coin.”
“I would like to hear it,” said Andrahar. “I hope Imrahil will choose to remain at home during the festivities.”
“So do I,” answered Melpomaen. “’Tis high time for him to calm down a little. But first let us warm up ourselves.”
He opened one of the cupboards that stood near the first window and brought forth a green bottle, bewritten with golden Elvish letters, and two goblets of masterfully-cut glass.
“A cup of wine first?” he asked. “It may not be as strong as what you are used to, but trust me, it does have fire. Prince Adrahil got a dozen of these from the Lord of Edhellond, and they make good wine.”
“Elven wine is deceptive,” snorted Andrahar, “just like the Elves themselves.”
Melpomaen laughed. “Mayhap they are. But you will never know what they are capable of, ‘til you have tested their fire. Just like that of their wine.”
He raised his goblet as in greeting, and Andrahar did the same.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Young Prince Imrahil celebrated the Autumn Festival in Dol Amroth Castle in that year. ‘Twas a quiet celebration, since the court was in Edhellond, and all the nobles returned to their own palaces to have their own celebrations in the circle of their families. Melpomaen did play his harp during the opening ceremony, and Andrahar had to admit that his mentor in things of hearts-ease was a very skilled minstrel, indeed. Then he was asked to play something on the small, four-stringed Haradrian instrument called the guzla (the only thing that he brought with him aside of his weapons), and earned many compliments for his musical skills.
He kept sharing Melpomaen’s bed for six seasons – that long did it take ‘til he felt confident enough to seek out new affairs on his own. The head scribe stepped back readily when he voiced his wish to move on, and they separated amiably. Andrahar continued working with the librarian on that never-ending book about Haradric languages and customs, and while they could not be called friends – they were much too different for that, in age, interests and temper – they kept a peculiar closeness far into the Fourth Age, ‘til Melpomaen finally succumbed to the burden of his high age and died.
Andrahar became the Armsmaster of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and trained his Swan Knights for decades. They brought the Prince through many battles, even to Barad-dûr and back, and always managed to keep him out of harm’s way, in spite of the often reckless nature of their Lord. And Andrahar became so famous, due to his weapons’ skills, that even the new King spoke of him with respect and admiration.
He also kept his secret love for Imrahil, well-hidden in the fiery depths of his heart. He had short affairs and long-term relationships, during which he always remained faithful to his partners, for that was his very nature. And though his heart was devoted to Imrahil forever, he found with them the hearts-ease that Melpomaen had spoken of, back in his youth.
There is also an epilogue, written by Isabeau of Greenlea
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
khan is a Kazar expression and mains roughly “Lord”. Chieftains of a tribe or heads of great families were called so. The highest authority was the kagan or kha-kan, later replaced by the King.
guzla is a real instrument, though I am not sure that it has four strings. Several nomadic people, which the pagan Hungarians lived with in their old home, used it – usually the women, but on occasion the men, too.