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The Silver Swan
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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2
The Duel

On the eighth of July, Éomer of Rohan returned to Minas Tirith with a company of riders to accompany the body of his uncle, Théoden King, back to Rohan. With Théoden would go the greatest escort any King of the Mark had ever known-the King of Gondor, the Princes of Dol Amroth and Ithilien, Master Elrond of Rivendell and his following, the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood, Gandalf the Grey and the remaining members of the Fellowship were all in the train.

Since Éomer’s arrival had been anticipated, preparations had already been made for the journey and the funeral cortege was able to set out the very next day. I was with them, of course, and my somewhat confused status had provided an opportunity for Faramir. Théoden’s bier was always accompanied by six Riders, but Aragorn had an honor guard from Gondor following right behind them as well, in honor of the late king. So City Guard, Swan Knights and the members of Faramir’s embryonic White Company were all taking turns at this duty. Everyone but the Rangers of Ithilien, who had all dispersed to their posts once more, as Ithilien still harbored some scattered remnants of Sauron’s forces.

Faramir, knowing of my presence in the party, brought a new dress Ranger tabard with him, and presented it to me, requesting that I represent my former comrades in arms in this venture. I was only too happy to do so, and was careful to make sure that every aspect of my and Fortune’s grooming was in good order when it was our turn to take a shift. The other soldiers twitted me a bit about the secret troop of mounted Rangers they’d never known existed, but it was all in good fun, and I gave them a fair bit of rival corps jesting right back.

Our journey to Edoras was very slow, taking nineteen days, but that befitted the solemn nature of the undertaking. It was for the most part, uneventful. I saw very little of the Prince, who was most often with the two kings, and during our few meetings, he was polite, though detached. Remembering our last extended interview, I suspected this mood of his was a defense, and tried to respect what I thought were his wishes by avoiding him whenever possible. But it was hard, for I sorely missed our discussions. Imrahil’s mien was not as cheerful as it usually was, and from time to time I would find his nephew looking from him to me, brow furrowed with its worry line.

Faramir and I, on the other hand, were pretty much at ease with each other once more, though I wondered if that would last when Éowyn re-entered the equation. Out in the open air, away from Minas Tirith’s memories and astride a good horse, he had reverted back to being much the Captain I remembered and loved, and the strain he had been under governing the City while Aragorn was away and arranging the coronation and transfer of government afterwards seemed much eased. The only worry upon his mind was whether Éowyn, having returned to her own people, might have reconsidered marriage to a Gondorian lord. He actually spoke to me of it once, accepted my reassurances, then apparently went away and thought about the unfairness of the conversation. From that point on, he gave me more consideration than I had given Imrahil by not referring to it again. But I grew to understand that when he got silent and a bit sharp if disturbed, that that was probably what was on his mind, and did not disturb him at such times.

My relationship with Elrohir was also one of ease upon the surface with much unsaid beneath. My tent-mate this journey was Princess Lothiriel and his was Elladan. But I could not have brought myself to have been with him intimately in the middle of such a crowd even had we been together, and he did not suggest it. So circumstances caused us to become friends once more rather than continue as lovers, and for the first time in my life I experienced what my male Ranger friends had spoken of time and again-deprivation. I liked what Elrohir did with me and to me, and liked doing things to him, and missed the opportunity to act and be acted upon. I tried to keep it from him, but I suspect he knew. His shielding was rather better, and I felt nothing from him, though I noticed him shooting a couple of extra quivers in the evening at bow practice, and he tended to stay up late playing the harp I’d given him with the other Elves.

Uneventful though the journey was, there are a few memories that are particularly vivid in my mind even now. One was the look upon Talith’s and Betha’s faces when multiple kings and princes descended upon them, and their little inn became the center hub of a huge camp the night we drew near to Min-Rimmon. Another occurred when I was walking up the stairs of that same inn to greet my friends and suddenly realized in shock that the scruffy-looking porch percher second from the end amidst the Sunlanders was the King of Gondor and Arnor, his feet stretched out before him, contentedly puffing away on his pipe. Before that evening was over, Aragorn had deftly finished the wooing of Anorien’s disaffected folk that his wife had begun.

Watching Princess Lothiriel actually mount her filly for the first time herself, when we were but a few days out of Edoras gave me a new appreciation for a young woman I had previously considered a nothing more than a regular court lady, albeit a kind one. Admittedly, she had one of the senior Swan Knights holding the filly’s head and advising her, but she was the one who risked her person actually swinging carefully onto the young horse’s back. And she was the one whom the filly rubbed her head affectionately against afterwards, as she stroked the satin neck and murmured praise and offered a bit of bread. I looked up from this to find that the young King of Rohan had come upon us unawares. He was smiling as he watched the princess, and there was a speculative look in his blue eyes. Feeling very pleased with the effectiveness of my idea, I slipped away.

Prince Imrahil’s youngest son was also a revelation. Prince Amrothos had apparently invited himself along on the journey so that he might take this rare opportunity to garner all the information he could from the Elves. When in pursuit of knowledge, Amrothos transformed from the vague, abstracted scholar; he in fact radiated an almost frightening intensity. It was quite funny to see the young prince corner one of the Firstborn and pepper him with questions, his chose victim’s elegant eyes widening in what might have been alarm as the Elf endeavored to satisfy what was apparently an insatiable curiosity. No one was safe from Amrothos, not even the lords Elrond and Celeborn, or the Lady Galadriel. He seemed totally immune to the awe such beings inspired in others.

The Elves were curious about the youngest of Dol Amroth’s princes as well. The afternoon that we were finally approaching Edoras, I was off-duty and talking with Faramir as we rode. There was a sound of light hooves moving swiftly behind us, and Elrohir pulled up beside me.

“Snowsteel. My lord Steward,” he greeted us, and Faramir looked at him sidelong.

“Did you finally make your move?” Elrohir and Faramir were playing chess today as we rode, Queen Arwen’s pegged travel set having been requisitioned for that purpose. They were keeping the board in the Queen’s carriage, and the two of them would pop in from time to time to study the game and make their moves. Needless to say, the ladies in the carriage were more than pleased to tend the board for them.

“Yes, I did.” An evil chuckle emanated from Elrohir.

“If you will excuse me, Hethlin.” Faramir started to rein his horse around, but was halted by the Peredhel’s upraised hand. “A moment of your time before you go, if you please, my lord.” The Prince of Ithilien resumed his place at my other side.

“What is it, my lord Elrohir?”

“That cousin of yours, Prince Amrothos. Did you know that he has altered the alphabet to a form of his own devising, that he might take down notation almost as fast as people speak the words?”

Faramir looked surprised. “No, I did not. He has not spoken of it to me. Can he actually make sense of the words if he writes them so swiftly?”

“Apparently. He read to Erestor some notes Erestor had given to him yesterday, and Erestor said they were word-perfect. Erestor is fascinated by the script, which your cousin calls shortened-hand. Prince Amrothos is teaching it to him now. They‘re back on one of the baggage wagons.” Elrohir shook his head. “Your cousin is a very interesting mortal. I have never known such a mind. What exactly does he do?”

“Whatever he pleases, for the most part,” the Steward of Gondor replied. “He is the third son, after all, and thus can be allowed the freedom to be a scholar.” He looked a bit wistful as he said this. I thought I could put a name to a second son who would have wished for that same freedom, had not circumstances and duty denied it. “If this shortened-hand is as fast and accurate as you say it is, perhaps I should have him teach it to me--or to my secretary.”

“He says he writes the notes out again in long hand later. But it would be good for those interminable council meetings.” Elrohir flashed me a grin. “Even the First-born have those.” Glancing over at Faramir, he asked, “Does Prince Amrothos play chess as well?”

Faramir considered the question for a moment. “Every now and again,” he said. “You might try playing him if you find your contests with me insufficiently challenging.”

“Did I say anything of the kind? I was merely curious as to whether his expertise extended to such games as well.”

“He is…competent.” Something in the Steward’s tone told me that his cousin was rather more than simply competent, and through me, Elrohir caught it as well.

“Aha! Methinks I detect a trap, my lord steward! You are not being entirely honest about your cousin’s ability!”

The Prince of Ithilien’s expression became an odd mixture of bland and demure. “As I once told Frodo, I would not trap even an orc with a falsehood,” he murmured. “A courtesy which, out of my respect for my King and Queen and your kinship to them both, I have also extended to you.”

I blinked, for there it was again, that veiled rudeness that colored so many of their exchanges. But Elrohir merely laughed.

“Oh go forth, gaze upon the board and know despair, my lord prince! And leave Hethlin to someone who can properly appreciate her.” That got him glowers from both of us, but Faramir did rein his horse away towards Arwen’s carriage.

Once he had gone, Elrond’s son gave me his wicked grin. “We shall be in Edoras early this afternoon, Snowsteel. Shall we shoot a while this evening? Or practice swordplay a bit?”

“If you like we can do both.” I responded, letting my irritation go. One might as well be irritated at sunlight or rain, I had begun to realize over the last few weeks. Elrohir was simply Elrohir.

What my lover was referring to was the evening arms practice. The cortege always made a very early start, but that meant that there was a fair amount of daylight left in the evening. This gave the various warrior factions time to train before night fell and dinner was served. It was interesting to watch the differences between how the Rohirrim and the men of Minas Tirith and the Swan Knights and the Elves all went about perfecting their warrior skills. And I very much enjoyed my shooting practice with Elrohir and the other elves. Despite the fact that several of the immortal archers were of a standard that I, with my short lifespan, could never attain, I had learned much, and my skill was back up to its former level. Which was, Elrohir assured me, not inconsiderable even for an elf. But I would never be the match of say, Prince Legolas, though when I had lamented that fact a couple of days previously, Elrohir had snorted.

“In Eryn Lasgalen, they tie the birthing cord off with a bow-string. Then they measure the length of the child on its birthing-day, times it twice, and make it its first bow. When the child reaches that height, its instruction in archery begins. No one is as good as the Eryn Lasgalen Elves.”

Whether by design or not, Legolas himself had happened to be passing by at that moment, and much taken by Elrohir’s compliment, stayed to shoot with us for a while and offered me some advice, which you may be sure that I took to heart. That evening Elrohir and I had supped with the Elves, staying awake longer perhaps than was wise, listening to tales of great hunts and feats of archery.

But before this night fell in Edoras, I was determined to devote some time to my swordplay as well as my archery. Elrohir and Elladan would drill me with swords if I asked, though it was a bit daunting to finish a bout and find Master Andrahar’s eyes fastened upon me in cool consideration. He often watched me, though he never said anything, and I realized that he had actually intimidated me to the point that I’d been neglecting my sword training in favor of my bow-work. That would never do.

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

The sun was but a little past noon when the cortege drew near to Edoras and found its people assembled on either side of the road to welcome both the old King of the Mark and the new one back home. At the foot of the hill and the forefront of the company stood a woman dressed in Rohan green, the running horse embroidered cunningly in white and gold upon her split-skirted kirtle, her golden hair lifting slightly in the light, warm afternoon breeze.

“Hail, Éomer!” she said, clearly enough that the foremost of the company could hear. “Glad are your people that you have brought Théoden King home to his rest! And gladly do they welcome those here who bear him company to do him honor.” Ladies came forward with cups of welcome, as was their custom, and Faramir she greeted first of all after her brother and the King of Gondor.

You, my lord prince, are very well come to Rohan,” she said with a beaming smile as she gave him the cup. Her fingers touched his and Faramir’s grave face lit up. So much for her changing her mind, I thought, a bit disgruntled. Someone else was watching them as well, though with more approbation. The Prince of Dol Amroth’s gaze moved from the couple to me and a wry smile creased his lips. He inclined his head towards me, exquisitely courteous as always, but I could almost hear the Now you know how I feel. Though that might have been my own guilt talking-certainly the Prince had never taken me to task for my refusal of him.

Éowyn greeted the many notables present, each in their turn, with courteous words. Merry she greeted with a laughing embrace. A horse was brought forth for her and she mounted and fell in beside her brother to lead us up the hill. As before, we passed through the burial mounds and came to the gate. The people were solemn and heads were bared and bowed before their late king. At the gate, packs and necessities were removed and our animals were taken from us by a veritable flood of green-clad retainers, before we trudged up the long road to Meduseld itself. There we found luncheon laid ready upon the boards and ate and drank and refreshed ourselves while servitors swiftly distributed our belongings in the rooms of the guest hall. For whatever reason, Éowyn seemed much more at ease this time, and certainly no one could fault her efficiency.

Space was at something of a premium, for Aragorn had brought a respectable escort, and the Elves were present in large numbers. Even Faramir’s newly formed White Company had managed to find a dozen men to escort their lord as his station demanded. Thus I found myself somewhat to my dismay sharing a room with Princess Lothiriel once more. Not that the princess was uncongenial company, but I had been hoping to have a bit of privacy, that Elrohir and I might have some time together.

Lothiriel was all too aware of this, and kindly offered to make herself scarce in the evenings for as long as possible, but I told her that was not necessary. Elrohir and I would simply have to find our own solution to the problem; there was no need for her to be inconvenienced. She nodded, happily settled down to puttering about in her gowns with the assistance of her lady in waiting, and I went out to check upon my horses.

They were well-stabled, and certainly wanted for nothing, but I spent the remainder of the afternoon until arms practice grooming them and working with Mischief a little upon the long-line. The half day of journeying had settled her to the point that we had a very successful lesson. Then I went forth in search of lessons of my own.

There was a courtyard below the hill that held Meduseld, and it was upon this that the warriors had gathered. Prince Imrahil was there, with his Armsmaster and Swan Knights, and as I waited for Elrohir to arrive, I spent a little time watching Captain Andrahar and his master. The Armsmaster was drilling the Prince personally, and it was intriguing to watch how he made Imrahil stretch for a long while then fight at quarter speed, then half speed before he would let him spar normally. The Prince seemed almost fully recovered, though he did pause at one point to confer with his trainer, who laid a hand upon his leg, and appeared to be asking some questions. Then their bout continued again more slowly. I wondered if he would actually be up to sparring with Éomer as he had threatened the last time we were here.

Eventually, Elrohir and Elladan both showed up, and drilled me at anything but half-speed till I was quite out of breath and feeling that I’d done much to make up for the neglect of my sword-play. Then the King arrived and made me spar with him for a while. That was every bit as humiliating as I’d thought it would be upon our first meeting, though it was educational as well. Aragorn was that rarity, a big man who was both strong and swift, and I was very glad I wasn’t fighting him for real. When I’d exhausted my second wind, I cried mercy, and we all paused to catch our breath. It was then that it happened.

The Elves tended to keep to themselves when practicing, and few of the mortals would trouble to approach them. Even those who revered Elves, like Faramir, did not seem inclined to ask to spar with them. Nor did the Elves seem overmuch curious about mortal martial techniques. Except for Glorfindel.

From things Elrohir had told me, I gathered that Glorfindel was Elrond’s most formidable warrior, and the one responsible for training Imladris’ defenders. More than once upon the journey, I had seen him watching the Armsmaster drill his men. Now he was doing it again, and even as I watched, the elf seemed to come to a decision. He strode across the practice ground to that portion of it where the warriors in blue and silver were gathered, and walked right up to the Armsmaster, who halted his supervision of the weapons drills to stare up at the tall warrior in a less than welcoming manner.

“I was wondering, Armsmaster, if you would agree to a friendly sparring match with me?” the golden Balrog-slayer asked. Captain Andrahar gave him a very flat look.

“Why would you wish to do that?”

“I have watched you instruct you men upon our journey. And you are reputed to be one of the best bladesmen in Gondor. I would very much like to try my steel against yours.”

The Armsmaster had to look up a way to meet the blue and guileless gaze. Glorfindel, his beautiful hair tumbled over his shoulders, glowing in the afternoon light, looked absolutely sincere. After a moment the Swan Knight nodded once, abruptly.

“Do you have a preference as to weapons?” he asked.

Glorfindel smiled pleasantly. “As to that, I understand that you enjoy the two-sword style. It is one I enjoy as well. Would that be acceptable to you?”

“It is. Wood or steel?” The Armsmaster’s words were clipped, as if he were reluctant despite his agreement, though whether it was reluctance to fight Glorfindel or reluctance to fight an elf in general, I was not sure.

“Steel, if it please you.”

“It pleases me.”

A murmur went up from the men who surrounded us and who had stopped their own arms play upon hearing what was proposed. More were coming over, leaving their own bouts as they discerned that something interesting was happening. I felt a presence at my other elbow and turned my head to discover the Prince, who was watching the exchange with a faint frown upon his face.

“My lord? Is all well?” Intent upon the proceedings, he shook himself and turned his attention back to me with a smile.

“Oh yes, Hethlin. All is well.”

“I should not worry, my lord prince,” Elrohir said. His tone was smug. “Glorfindel will let no harm befall your friend. He has instructed many of our greatest warriors over the ages, including my brother, myself, and Estel. Your man is reputed to be good, my lord prince, but this is a foe far beyond him. He will scarce have time to become winded.”

Prince Imrahil had always been exquisitely courteous and respectful to the Elves, and tolerant of Elrohir and his relationship with me. But now, suddenly, there was sea-rime in the gaze he turned upon Master Elrond’s son. Where slurs upon his sworn brother’s reputation were concerned, the Prince apparently had no sense of humor His eyes met Elrohir’s and held them, as most men could not do.

“We shall see, my Lord Elrohir,” was all he said, but I could hear the anger welling beneath the quiet reply and knew that my lover could as well. Elrohir’s eyebrow flew up. What further might have passed between them I was not to learn, for Elladan came up at that moment.

“Glorfindel is dueling? This should be interesting. And br-…” Elrohir must have sent him a very sharp warning, for he never finished the sentence, being careful instead to smile pleasantly at the Prince, who gave him as dour a look as I’d ever seen my liege lord make. Imrahil then turned his attention pointedly back to the combatants who were finishing their preparations.

Glorfindel, who had been fighting in padding with wooden blades, was donning his armor. It was beautiful, the mail washed with silver like the Prince‘s, the plate pieces and helm elaborately chased and wrought in what I thought must be mithril and gold. Captain Andrahar had been sparring in his armor, but his blades were being fetched to him by Lord Liahan. A dense circle was forming about the two fighters as Riders, Swan Knights, City Guard, White Company and the elven guard contingents from Imladris and Lorien all drew in close to watch. I could see King Éomer across the circle from us, with Aragorn, Faramir and his sister, who was nestled within the circle of Faramir’s arm.

Éowyn spied me beside the Prince and waved, smiling. Faramir, looking to where she pointed, also waved. His lady tugged at his arm, obviously expressing a desire to join us, but he hesitated for a moment. I preferred to think that he was weighing the pleasure of his uncle’s company against the annoyance of Elrohir’s, rather than that he was hesitant about meeting me. Eventually, he gave in to her demands, and they worked their way to the outside of the ring of spectators, walked around it, then wormed their way back in to a place upon the Prince’s other side.

“Nephew,” Imrahil acknowledged Faramir with a nod upon their arrival, then smiled at Éowyn. “Niece.” She was a tall woman, but the Prince had the stature that came from his Numenorean blood, so that she still had to stand up upon her toes to kiss his cheek.

“Uncle,” she responded with not a little satisfaction, slipping her arm through his. Having lost a cousin who had been like a brother unto her, and an uncle who had stood in a father’s place, not to mention her own father and mother, it must have been a welcome change to finally be acquiring relatives instead of losing them. “We have come to cheer Dol Amroth on.”

“It is your duty as kinsmen,” the Prince agreed gravely.

Faramir leaned forward from Éowyn’s far side to smile at me, which did much to relieve my earlier worry.

“Watch carefully, Heth, you’re going to see some real swordplay.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Imrahil said before I could answer, his tone extremely dry. “I have it on good authority that the bout will be very brief. So she might want to refrain from blinking.”

Faramir gave his uncle a surprised look, sensing the ire beneath the irony, but said nothing further. Elladan and Elrohir each gave us chagrined glances, but also kept silent.

Upon the field, the King and Lord Celeborn had stepped forward with staffs to officiate. The two fighters had armed and armored themselves, and now stood a few paces apart from each other.

“Are you ready?” the King called out.

“Yes,” Glorfindel’s dulcet voice rang out.

“Yes,” growled the Armsmaster’s bass.

“Then lay on!” cried the King, and the duel commenced.

The opponents circled each other cagily at first, feinting and testing defenses, then Glorfindel moved into the offensive. He seemed to me not so much a fighter as a force of nature, a golden whirlwind or a sunlit rock fall dropping upon one’s head. Elrohir had finally explained to me about the Balrog, and Gondolin, and Glorfindel’s unique status among the Elves of Middle-earth. There was no way a mere mortal should have been able to withstand him. Particularly when Glorfindel had an advantage in reach and strength over said mortal, and the blessing of eternal youth as well.

Yet somehow the Armsmaster did. Darker and smaller, he seemed stunted, almost dwarf-like next to the glowing magnificence that was Glorfindel. In what was almost certainly the late afternoon of his career as a warrior, he had undoubtedly absorbed many tricks and techniques, though there should have been no comparison between his five decades of experience and the Elf’s thousands. Yet Glorfindel’s blades could not find their way through his defenses, and the Elf was not having the easy time of it that his friends expected. Blades clashed and sparked, and attacks and parries of surpassing skill were being made. I had some skill with a sword myself, or I would never have survived the war, yet I could not imagine ever being able to fight to the standard that these two warriors exhibited. Glancing over at the Prince, I found his attention was totally riveted upon the combat, his hand white-knuckled upon his sword. Faramir and Éowyn were also watching intently, exchanging quiet commentary.

Out upon the field something happened. The pace quickened, and beside me, Elrohir shifted a bit.

*What is it?* I asked through our link, not wanting to antagonize the Prince.

*Glorfindel just stopped playing,* came his response, and I detected a faint tinge of surprise.

If I thought the swordplay had been impressive before, what I saw then was superb. Captain Andrahar had never taken wife nor sired child; he had, t’was said, no bride but the sword. And the results of that dedication showed. Though I did not like the Armsmaster personally, and knew that he did not care for me, I nonetheless felt an odd, proud kinship with the man, for in this mixed company of mortals and immortals, he was upholding the honor of the race of Men most magnificently. Glancing across the circle, I could see my feeling reflected upon the faces of the Rohirrim and the men of Gondor, all of us sending silent encouragement to the Haradrim who fought, it seemed, for us all.

There was absolute silence from the audience, as if we feared the slightest sound would distract the combatants and cause some dreadful mishap. To spar at such a level with steel was something only a true sword master would attempt, and no one wanted to see either participant harmed. I actually jumped when beside me the Prince murmured something softly in Haradric.

“What was that?” I asked him equally softly.

“Poetry,” came his quiet response. His eyes never left the battle. “The translation would be something along the line of:

‘All others give way
When the tiger comes down to drink.’”


Faramir shot his uncle an appreciative look. “Boromir actually liked that one, did you know?” he said.

“I know who taught it to him,” Imrahil murmured, still intent upon the bout. Faramir got a rather odd expression upon his face and said no more.

The fighting went on for much longer than I had expected, but the audience never grew restless or bored. This was something worthy of a tale, the Armsmasters of two races matching skills. It finally ended in a flurry of blows and parries too fast for me to follow. The two combatants were almost chest to chest when they came to rest, and I could see that one of Glorfindel’s swords was at Andrahar’s throat.

But- “Double kill,” Celeborn of Lorien called, and Aragorn of Gondor concurred. A second look showed me that one of Captain Andrahar’s blades, which was on the side away from me and difficult to see, was poised with its tip up under the lower edge of the elf-lord’s cuirass.

Muttering broke out in the audience, who had expected an outright victory from one party or the other, but it was silenced when Glorfindel raised his hand after sheathing his swords. Andrahar also sheathed his weapons, and the two stood there eyeing each other without moving from where they had finished.

“You gave me an opening,” the elf-lord said, loud enough to be heard by all. “You bought my defeat with your own. Why?”

“T’was the only course of action available to me,” the Captain replied, his chest heaving. He was out of breath as Glorfindel was not. “I could not vanquish you. I tell my students that a victory bought with their lives is no victory at all, that they should study to increase their skills and stay alive as long as possible. But there are times when that is not possible, that one might have to make a decision to spend one’s life towards a certain end. Had we been upon a battlefield in truth, and on opposite sides, I would have considered it worth my life to take you down, for you are the best with a blade I have ever seen.” He paused for a moment, then lifted his chin slightly. “You will be here for several days yet. Teach me.”

More murmuring from the spectators, elf and man alike. Beside me, the Prince softly said, “Oh, Andra.” There was such a wealth of love and pride and pain in those two words that I shivered to hear it.

The Lord Glorfindel inclined his head graciously, and that glow he had about him always seemed to intensify .

“There is nothing I can teach you as master to student,” he said, his eyes burning bright as blue stars, “for all of the truly important things you know already. Dol Amroth is fortunate indeed in her Armsmaster! You remind me of the mighty-thewed Fathers of Men whom my kindred fought beside in the Elder Days. But I would gladly share with you as master to master. Dine with me this evening, if you would. I would hear of your southern sword masters.”

Captain Andrahar considered the invitation for a moment, then gave another of his abrupt nods. Suddenly, the Prince was gone from my side, moving towards the two warriors as the crowd surged inward to extend their congratulations. He reached his oath-brother first before anyone, and draping an arm about his shoulders, began greeting Andrahar’s well-wishers with his usual charismatic charm. Basking in reflected glory, I thought at first, surprised and a bit disapproving, for such a tactic seemed very unlike the Prince. But then, for just a moment, I thought I saw the Armsmaster’s impassive manner crack, and something that might have been gratitude in his eyes as he looked up at his taller liege lord. No, being a buffer between the captain and the crowd, I realized. And remembered what I had heard but moments earlier in Imrahil’s voice, and the years of loving friendship the two men shared.

How could I ever wed him when the person closest to his heart disapproved of me? I would not have him torn between us. It was but another reason the union would not work out.

“That was…unexpected,” said Elladan, and Elrohir nodded. Faramir looked at them both.

“Surely the two of you, of all people, recognize the worthiness of both races?” he asked simply, and without the veiled animosity he exhibited at times towards Elrohir.

“Indeed, your point is well made, my lord Steward,” Elrohir responded. Bowing, the two Peredhil then left us to go offer their congratulations to Glorfindel, and I moved into the space the Prince had vacated beside Éowyn. I smiled at her, then looked past her to her betrothed.

“How long have the two of them been together?” I asked Faramir, indicating the Prince and the Armsmaster with a nod of my head.

“Since they were both sixteen. Many true brothers are not so close,” came his response.

“It would be a difficulty,” I told him, knowing that he knew of what I spoke. There came a bit of a challenging gleam in his eyes.

“Not an insurmountable one, I deem. You would have to come up with a better reason than that, Heth. Though I would be glad to discuss your reservations with you any time you like.”

Éowyn looked at us curiously. “Whatever are the two of you talking about?”

Faramir answered easily while I was still trying to figure out how to frame a response that would not reveal Imrahil’s interest in me. “Heth is having second thoughts about going to Dol Amroth.”

The White Lady’s eyes widened. “But Heth! ‘Tis such an opportunity for you!”

I grimaced. “Having seen the Swan Knights fight, I am not sure I could ever be so good.”

Éowyn snorted. “You will hardly know if you do not try. Stop being such a girl!”

Faramir looked slightly surprised at his betrothed’s disdainful remark, but suddenly I felt much better about things, and grinned.

“You have been wanting to say that to me for a while now, I’ll wager,” I told her. She grinned back at me.

“Oh yes!” Gesturing to Faramir’s other side, she indicated I should take up position there. “Come, let us see Faramir to supper while everyone is busy here. If you do not watch him carefully, he starts talking to an Elf, and before you know it, the meal is over, and he’s not eaten a thing.”

The Steward of Gondor was taken aback at finding himself suddenly the object of attack. “I think you overstate the situation, my lady,” he informed Éowyn . “It was only the once. And it was worth the privation. Supper will always be there, but the Elves…” There came upon his face then a touch of the same melancholy that possessed me and the King from time to time, an awareness of the passing of something lovely and precious.

“’Supper will always be there’ indeed!” I exclaimed. “Truly you are the child of privilege, my lord, to be so assured about it. My beginnings are rather more humble, however, and I wish to make sure of this myself!” Éowyn chuckled, and Faramir, having recovered himself, gave me one of his ever-so-grave looks that usually indicated he was about to have fun at someone else’s expense.

“Here is what we will do then,” he declared in his best briefing manner. “You will make sure that I eat my supper, and I will make sure that you leave some for the rest.” I glared at him, he tipped his head back and laughed, and the three of us went off to dinner.

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