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A Brotherly Gift
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
Part 1

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. Andrahar, Mahiran and the blade Nightshade belong to Isabeau. Only Halabor and its inhabitants belong to me.

Series: None, but the story belongs to the “Sons of Gondor” story arc and takes place in my imaginary Gondorian town, Halabor.

Summary: Prince Imrahil makes his sworn brother, Andrahar, a very special anniversary gift.

Author’s notes: This is an anniversary fic, written for Isabeau, as an answer to the Edhellond Group’s Anniversary 2006 challenge.

My heartfelt thanks go to Altariel for beta reading.


~~~

PART ONE

[The 23rd day of Urui(1) in the year 3006 of the Third Age]

The summer was unusually warm in Gondor in the 3006th year of the Third Age, tiring both men and beasts whenever Arien(2) steered her golden ship high above upon the deep blue sky. Even Anduin, the Great River, seemed tardy, rolling the heavy mass of its waters slowly southwards. There was no wind, not even a light breeze that would catch the sails of the barges heading to the North, thus they had to be moved laboriously by the oars against the stream or hauled up by long ropes along the river bank.

‘Twas hard labour indeed, at any time, and even more so under the burning golden rays of the sun, but there always were poor, penniless men who hired on the merchant barges for a handful of copper pieces to do just that kind of work. Many a poor cottager or farmer was forced to do so, after an Orc-ride or a sneak attack from the Hill-men had destroyed their previous means of meagre living. These were not easy times for the common folk of Gondor, not even for those who chose not to take up arms and fight against the servants of the Black Land.

Only one vessel was moving easily upwards, despite the lack of wind: a vessel shaped for speed, in the stunning likeness of a white swan, lean and shallow of draught, light of weight for its strength and speed, and a true marvel to look at. Its single mast stood aft, slender and shapely in its nakedness, as the sail had been rolled together, so that it would offer no resistance, and the rowers, ten of them at each side, drove it forth upon the shallow upper waters with little effort. There was even a small timber cabin near the mast, big enough only to offer shelter for the ship’s owner and one more person at best. The swan’s head in front was beautifully carved, its jewelled beak and eyes glinting in the sunlight as if it were a live beast, not a mere galleon figure.

Even though the stream of the Great River only flew strong in the deeper regions, no man would think it possible to drive a vessel upwards with such speed, small and agile though it might be. But the Swanwing had been built by Elven shipwrights in the shipyards of Edhellond for the Prince of Dol Amroth, and was meant for speedy journeys, not for battles or hauling cargo, and could almost fly where other vessels needed heavy labour to move.

Imrahil of Dol Amroth, son and heir of the current ruling Prince, barely beyond fifty and not looking a day beyond thirty, stood upon the deck of the Swanwing, watching the woods and pastures of Anórien march backwards along the west bank of the Great River. He was a tall, slender man, raven-haired and grey-eyed like all his ancestors, although his mother, the Lady Olwen, had come from the nobles of the Eredrim, the people who had lived in Dor-en-Ernil long before the Númenóreans would begin to build harbours on the coast of Belfalas.

Imrahil took after his forefathers, the Men of Westernesse; he was noble and fair in face, long-living and foresighted – and a great lover of the Sea. Although not from Anárion’s line, he was more akin to Gondor’s great Sea-kings than anyone since King Telumehtar Umbardacil, or so people said. But again, the Princes of Dol Amroth had Elven blood in their veins and had been Elf-friends since the beginning of their line, and it certainly showed.

The man standing on his side was almost a head shorter and clearly of Southern origins: olive-skinned and hawk-faced, with badger-striped, bluish-black hair and hard, dark eyes like pieces of obsidian. Like Imrahil himself, the man wore the blue and silver uniform and white belt of the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth, but the sword on his belt was no sword at all but a Haradric-style scimitar, in a beautifully graven scabbard and a hilt with an elaborate lacing of braided leather.

This man was Andrahar of Harad, sworn brother of Prince Imrahil, feared and envied by many but respected equally by friend and foe, for his absolute loyalty towards his lord and for his unique skill with the blade. With any blade, ‘twas said, but most of all with the one on his belt – Nightshade, a legendary sword crafted by the greatest of all Haradric swordsmiths by the name of Mahiran, and taken as war prize during the Kin-strife by Imrahil’s ancestors. It had been in the possession of the Princes of Dol Amroth for years uncounted, ‘til gifted upon Andrahar by Prince Adrahil, as a sign of affection for his excellent service.

Shield and sword and faithful shadow of the Prince he had been, since they were both sixteen, standing by Imrahil in battle as well as on the more treacherous battlefield of negotiations with his own kind. He had been witness at Imrahil’s wedding, helped him teach his sons in the art of arms; he had consoled Imrahil after the untimely death of the Lady Nimrien, never allowing him to be drowned in his grief.

They were brothers in all but blood and of roughly the same age; few true brothers were half this close. And, as the Prince of Dol Amroth was second only to the Ruling Steward in Gondor, he could do as he pleased, with little to no regard for the raised eyebrows among other nobles.

This time, it pleased Imrahil to cut his visit in Minas Tirith short and sail up the Anduin to visit an insignificant little town by the name of Halabor, which lay opposite the south end of Cair Andros on the west bank of the river. His sworn brother followed him without complain, although he had much less love for boats and sailing than his lord. The allegiance between the Princes of Dol Amroth and the Lords of Halabor reached back to the time of Imrazôr the Númenórean, when the forefathers of Lord Orchaldor still had held lands near Pelargir, having settled there back in the Second Age.

Although they had been forced to move northwards, due to the constant attacks from Mordor’s allies, first to Lossarnach and then to their current dwelling place, that bond had never been broken, and to this day, the Lords of Halabor sent their sons – and those of their most valued vassals – to Dol Amroth, to be trained in weapons. Many of them gained the white belt of the Swan Knights and they all swore fealty to the Prince of Dol Amroth rather than to the Steward of Gondor. This was a peculiar tradition that the Stewards generously tolerated, more so as the Lords of Halabor had long lost their weight in the Council and now only ruled over a small fishing town.

Only a few years earlier had the young Herumor, late-born son of Lord Orchaldor, finished his training in Prince Adrahil’s court and returned to his father’s town, thus no-one could truly understand where Imrahil’s sudden wish to visit his old acquaintances had come. When asked, he simply answered that he wanted to discuss important issues of the realm with Lord Orchaldor. Andrahar suspected that there was more to it than that, but Imrahil had been less than forthcoming with explanations so far, thus the Armsmaster gave up and decided to wait. He would learn the true reason soon enough.

The Swanwing swam along the northern side of the small town, the crop fields of the Infirmary that almost reached the bank of the Great River, clearly visible on the left. Before them, on a sheer rocky hill that was wedged into the water, here almost as wide as a lake and considered as good as one by the inhabitants, the Castle of the Lord of Halabor rose to modest height. For someone used to the measures of Dol Amroth Castle, or familiar with the magnificence of Minas Tirith, it was a small, insignificant rectangular keep, encircled by walled courtyards, with slender little turrets rising from each of its corners.

“Not much of a fortress,” judged Andrahar, giving the Castle a critical eye.

“I would not say that,” replied Imrahil. “The walls are made of solid stone and stronger than you would think. And from the waterside, it would be a hard task to climb them; not without ropes or ladders, I deem, and those can be easily turned away or cut through.”

“You seem to know this place,” said Andrahar. “Have you been here before?”

Imrahil shook his head. “Nay, there was no reason. Lord Orchaldor is near twenty years my senior, we barely know each other. ‘Tis my father he is allied to.”

A thick black eyebrow was raised in tolerant amusement, although for anyone who did not know Andrahar very well, that amusement would not have been recognizable.

“Strange that you would make such a long journey, just to discuss important matters of state with someone you barely know,” he commented mildly.

Imrahil laughed. “You know me too well, Andra. And yet I beg you not to ask any more. You shall learn everything when my plans come true.”

“As you wish, my Prince,” Andrahar crossed his arms and leaned back against the cabin wall, smugly content that he knew his lord good enough, indeed, to catch him unaware. But now he was getting even more curious about the true reason of this unexpected journey.

The Swanwing made a wide bow around the long, curved jetty of the small harbour, not wanting to disturb the nets of the fishermen who were out on the River, and moored at its small counterpart on the east side of the Castle, reserved for the visitors of the Lord. Planks were thrown over the ship’s side, to enable the Prince a dignified exit – not out of necessity, as Imrahil could have jumped onto the stone-paved quay as well as any fifteen-year-old, but out of respect for his position. The Prince grinned roguishly, never having been a friend of formalities, but walked ashore nonetheless, flanked by the ever-present Andrahar.

By whatever means used by the people of the harbour – and each port being a world in itself, those could be very different indeed – news of their arrival had already spread widely. The urchins of the port were gathering along the quay to admire the wondrous little ship, the like of which had never been seen here, and they were chatting in high, excited voices, pointing out the Swanwing’s best features to each other with the unerring certainty of those who spent half their day around the boat-makers. Who, for their part, had abandoned their work to take a look, too, just as the net-makers had turned their backs on their frames with the half-finished nets and the fishwives stopped their gutting and salting. Even the patrons of the Riverside Inn, an old, solidly built two-storey building a little further along the river bank, came out to gawk in open-mouthed amazement.

Yet the onlookers were not the ones who caught Prince Imrahil’s eyes. His gaze was focused on a rider who had just ridden through the Castle’s main gate and was now heading their way – a young man, mayhap a year or two short of thirty, riding a beautiful dark bay with the practiced ease of someone accustomed to horses from a very tender age. Due to the heat, he had shed whatever tunic or cottee he might have been wearing earlier, and now rode with his fine linen shirt open, revealing his lean, well-muscled chest, upon which lay the sigil ring of his House, worn on a sturdy golden chain around his neck.

Following his lord’s gaze, Andrahar had to squint twice to recognize in this comely young man the slender youth that had learned the arts of arms under his heavy hand in Dol Amroth for four years. Tall and lissome and very obviously of best Dúnadan stock, even though his mother came from Lord Forlong’s family in Lossarnach, Herumor son of Orchaldor had matured into a grown man during the recent six years.

The late-born and only child of an elderly lord, one whose mother had paid with her own life for setting a new one into the world, fourteen-year-young Herumor had been spoiled rotten when first coming to Dol Amroth. Although an excellent rider and already having considerable skills with the sword, he had struggled for the whole first year to fit in with the other esquires. Fighting lessons and studies had never been hard for him, but he had been used to have his will in everything; not because of his noble birth but also because he had been so very charming. The tutors and the Armsmaster had a hard time to break him out of his customary misbehaviour, born not from any sort of malevolence on his part but from the overly lenient handling of a doting father.

It has been worth the effort, though, decided Andrahar, watching the handsome young man, displayed thusly at his resplendent best. Gone were the fine clothes and silly hats, more fitting for a courtier than for a knight, which the youngling had once been so obsessively fond of. Wearing just the simple linen shirt and dark breeches now, the young man revealed a strength and modesty that he had sorely lacked before. His curly chestnut hair, the only inheritance from his mother, was shorn above his shoulders and haloed a still smooth face that was showing the strong, chiselled features of his father nonetheless. His head bared to the sunlight, those curls had a golden hue to them, contrasting the wide, sea-grey eyes rather nicely. Aye, the lad had grown into a man indeed.

Spotting the Prince and his Armsmaster, Herumor held on his horse, dismounted, and went to one knee as custom demanded, touching his breast with his fists in the manner of the Old Folk, to show his respect.

“My Lord Prince, Master Andrahar,” he cried in obvious delight. “Welcome to our modest home. You should have sent word, my Lord, so that we could have prepared for your arrival, but it is an honour to have you with us all the same.”

“’Tis good to see you, too, Herumor,” Imrahil grinned. “You can save the kneeling, though; I am no Ruling Prince yet.”

Rising from his knee, the young man gave him one of those mischievous looks the Prince remembered all too well.

“Nor am I the Lord of Halabor yet,” said Herumor, “and I hope fervently that the burden shall remain on my father’s shoulder for many years still. He is much better suited for leadership than I shall ever be.”

“I would not be so certain about that,” Imrahil, too, had recognized the newly won maturity of his former esquire. “But speaking of your father – is the Lord Orchaldor in town?”

“Nay, he rode out days ago, hunting,” replied the young man, “but should be back in two days’ time. I shall send word to him of your arrival. And just to spare you the surprise, my Lord – he is calling himself simply Orchald, everywhere but in official records.”

“Why would he shorten his name that way?” asked Imrahil with a frown. “’Tis an ancient and proud one.”

“And hard to speak correctly for the Old Folk, who even speak Westron in their peculiar manner,” laughed Herumor. “After seven decades of his subjects mispronouncing his name in ever new and amazing ways, Father finally decided to take reasonable measures towards solving the problem for good.”

Andrahar shook his head in bewilderment. No nobleman he knew would simply shorten a time-honoured name given to him for his subjects’ sake. Even less so when said subjects were not even of Dúnadan descent. The Armsmaster found that he was looking forward to meet this lord.

Seeing his bewildered expression, Herumor smiled.

“I believe we are much closer to the Old Folk here than most nobles are,” he said. “But I am shamefully neglecting my duties as a host. Would you follow me to the Castle? I shall have the guest rooms prepared for you. We cannot compare our home with the splendour of Dol Amroth, of course, but I shall do my best to make you feel comfortable.”

He led them up to the Castle gate, where a groom of about ten years and with an unruly mop of flaxen hair took his horse away. Entering the courtyard, Imrahil could see that young Herumor’s modesty had not been false. The small, rectangular keep, with the lord’s great chamber extending in the form of a forebuilding on the western side, had the simple ground plan of the motte and bailey castles of old, even though it was built of massive stone – some parts of it even carved into the solid rock of the hill upon which it stood.

It only had three levels – three above the ground, it seemed, although it most likely had dungeons below like most castles in these times. The first storey was on the ground level, carved to its small windows into the living rock for more safety and stability. This was where the cellars could be found, with granaries and large wooden boxes and barrels and casks and other household utensils.

In the storey above were the dwelling and common rooms of the Castle residents, including the larders, pantry and buttery, the great chamber, in which the lord slept (as Halabor had not had a lady for many years), and the great hall, where the lord and his entire household ate and entertained their guests. On one side of the great chamber was the dormitory of the ladies in waiting and their children – an unused place now, due to the absence of a lady – while on the other side the lord’s study (which also served as the Castle library) was situated, as well as the adjoining guest quarters.

In the upper storey of the house were the attic rooms, in which on the one side the sons of the lord, on the other side the daughters would have slept. Herumor being an only child – well, the only surviving one in any case – most of these currently stood empty. However, the watchmen and the servants appointed to keep the house also slept here at various times, thus he needed not to feel separated.

High up on the east side of the keep, in a convenient place, were the rooms of the steward – in this case of the chatelaine and the chamberlain – with family. There were stairs and passages from storey to storey, from the house to the separate kitchens, from room to room, and from the house into the gallery, where the lord and his guests could entertain themselves with conversation or with watching the tricksters and mummers performing in the courtyard; and again, from the gallery to the chatelaine’s rooms.

The kitchens, the servants’ quarters, the barracks, the smithy, the stables, barns and storehouses were situated on the courtyard, leaning against the encircling wall and leaving a fairly large empty space in the middle.

All in all, it was a very modest dwelling for a family ancient enough to count its ancestors back to the heydays of Númenor itself. Nonetheless, young lord Herumor seemed fairly content with his home, even proud of it. Considering that the modest little Castle had stood here for six hundred years of even longer, he perhaps had every reason to do so.

Before the entrance of the keep – which was protected by its own small forebuilding – an elderly matron greeted them, the loose sleeves of her dark green surcoat punned back above her elbows, so that they would not hinder her in her household tasks. Her silver hair was almost completely hidden under a gold-embroidered head-dress, made of the same fabric, and the bound of keys jingling on her belt revealed her important position within the household.

Or, more precisely, on top of it.

“Mistress Gilmith, the chatelaine of our house,” introduced her Herumor. “She will take care of your well-being, while I shall send word to my father about your arrival, my lord Prince.”

“I regret having called him back from the hunt,” said Imrahil, feeling a little guilty. Like all nobles, he, too, enjoyed hunting and would have hated to interrupt his sport for some high-ranking visitor.

Herumor shrugged and smiled.

“He has been away for days already; coming back just a day or two earlier would be no such great hardship. Besides,” he added with a broad grin,” he would have my hide, were I not call him back at once.”

They all laughed, and then Mistress Gilmith took things firmly into her capable hands.

“If you would come with me, my Lord, I would show you to your rooms,” she offered. “Do you happen to have any personal items with you that I should have fetched from your ship?”

“Only a chest of clothes,” replied Imrahil. “My seamen will stay in the inn, but I would be grateful to have my things brought to the Castle.”

Mistress Gilmith nodded. ‘It shall be done, my Lord. Please, follow me.”

She led them to the second storey via a short staircase, to a pleasant little room with a glassed window to the River, equipped with a large, curtained bed. The linen hangings were pulled back, revealing the beautifully stitched quilts and pillows covering the feather mattress. Chests for garments, a few wooden pegs for clothes and a wide, comfortable armchair placed near the window made up the remainder of the furnishings.

“This is the best we can offer,” she said. “I hope it will suffice, my Lord. You will find the passageway to the private chamber behind that curtain at the foot end of the bed. It has a wash-stand, too. Now, Master Andrahar,” she turned to the other man, “I am told that you would always sleep in the Prince’s room when on a journey. Alas, our chambers are too small to provide you with a pallet bed, so I have given you the room next to this, if that is all right.”

Andrahar nodded. He would come over and sleep on the floor, of course, but there was no need to tell that the chatelaine. Not when she had gone such great lengths to provide them with acceptable rooms. Mistress Gilmith seemed satisfied and relieved at the same time.

“Very good,” she said, positively beaming with contentment over a job well done. Then she snapped with her fingers, and a young lad of about fourteen, clad in the Castle livery, came in. He had dark hair and grey eyes and the fine-boned, pretty face of true Dúnadan origins. The son of some local nobleman, most likely.

“This is Lorindol,” said the chatelaine, “one of the Lord’s esquires. He will be to your disposal during your stay, my Lord. I expect the best from him,” she added with a stern look that would make a grown man shiver.

The boy Lorindol lowered himself to one knee with his hand over his heart. “It is an honour, my lord Prince.”

Imrahil frowned. The young face was vaguely familiar, but he could not remember having heard the name before.

“Do I know you?” he asked.

“I think not, my Lord,” answered the youngling respectfully and rose. “I believe you might have met my mother, the lady Galadwen, though. She hails from Dol Amroth.”

“Aye, I do remember,” the lady Galadwen had been one of those silly young maidens who fancied Elves above all other people and tried to lead what they thought was an ‘Elven’ life. She had married an equally delusional nobleman with roots in Harlond. “You are Ulmondil’s son then, right?”

The youngling nodded. “Aye, my Lord – his eldest son and third child. I have one younger brother still.”

“And your father sent you to Lord Orchaldor’s house?” Imrahil was a little surprised, as Ulmondil was just as obsessed with seafaring as his lady wife was with Elves. “I thought he would want to make mariners out of his sons.”

“He tried,” answered the youngling with a slightly pained smile. “When I was ten, he sent me to Lord Golasgil’s household in Anfalas. But I became so seasick just from looking at the waves from the shore that he had no choice but allow me to return home. He puts all his hopes in Celemengil now, who has a stronger stomach than I have.”

“Consider yourself fortunate,” growled Andrahar. “The Sea is naught but a large, treacherous body of water, trying to kill you in new, inspired ways every day.”

The youngling gave him a curious, almost hopeful look. “You are not fond of the Sea either, Master Andrahar?”

“She is an enemy you cannot slay with a good blade,” replied Andrahar grimly. “Such an enemy you should never trust.”

“Even less so if she can make you sick in the stomach,” added Imrahil, grinning. “Well, my lad, see to it that our things are brought here, soon. Master Andrahar and I are going to the town, but we shall be back for the evening meal. I assume the curfew is at sunset here, too?”

“At the fifteenth hour, actually,” said the youngling. “The bell-tower of the Infirmary signals the hours; you cannot miss it, my lord.”

~~~

End notes:
(1) Approximately our August. Unlike the Elves, the Dúnedain used the Sindarin names of the months, all of which were 30 days long.
(2) According to the “Book of Lost Tales”, the Maia who steered the Sun-ship.


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