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Prologue

Many thanks are owed to my patient betas on this piece-E.W., Altairiel and particularly to Dwimordene for the lantern. Duh!


~~~

August 1 3021-

“The Prince will see you now, Master Brandmir,” his secretary said, and Brandmir entered with just the smallest bit of trepidation, for if his great-uncle wanted to speak to him, he did usually not do it so formally. So he was mentally casting back over the last week or two, to see if he’d inadvertently committed some offense or failed to complete some task in a satisfactory manner.

The windows were wide open against the August heat, and high up on the hill as the castle was, breezes were obligingly blowing in from the ocean to cool the room. Blowing a bit too obligingly as it turned out, for when he entered, Imrahil was scrambling to find things to act as makeshift paperweights for the stacks of papers that he’d apparently been working on and that were now being dislodged by the breeze. He’d gotten two stacks under control as Brand entered, and seeing a third stack on the corner of his desk was still not weighted, the boy dived for it and slapped his hand down upon it just before the documents could scatter.

“Thank you, lad!” Imrahil exclaimed. “Your timing is impeccable!” He opened a drawer in his desk, looked inside and rummaged fruitlessly for a moment, then exhaled a sharp, irritated breath. Leaning over the desk, he set his own hand beside Brand’s then said, “Go to the bookshelf and get me a book, lad. That will have to serve-I don’t know where that paperweight the Glassmakers Guild gave me has gotten to.”

Brand did as he was bidden, and once the papers were properly secured, the Prince sat back in his chair with a relieved sigh. Brand seated himself and waited. After a moment, Imrahil became aware of the solemnity of the stare fastened upon him. He smiled.

“No, Brandmir, you’re not in trouble! I’m sorry if I made you think that. It’s just that I’ve had news, important news concerning you, and I wanted to tell you in private.”

“What is it, sir?”

The Prince looked down at the center of his desk, where rested a smaller pile of what looked like two or three documents. His long fingers selected the topmost one.

“A letter from your uncle arrived by courier today. He tells me that Lady Éowyn was safely delivered of a male child named Elboron two weeks ago. At the time of the writing, mother and child were hale and well, though he does say that Éowyn was much wearied by the latter part of the confinement, coming as it did in the hottest part of the year.”

“That’s good news, sir,” Brand said politely, not sure what reaction Imrahil was expecting. “Is the baby named after my father?”

“In part,” the Prince said, his gaze sharpening. “Are you sure that you are comfortable about this, Brandmir?”

Brand thought for a moment. Now I won’t ever have to become the Steward! It didn’t take any more than that. He smiled. “Of course I am, sir! You told me when we first met that I probably would never inherit. I am glad for Uncle!” The smile faded a little bit. “I know better than anyone else that people prefer their own blood to step-folk. Uncle will be happy now.” The Prince frowned.

“Your uncle cares a great deal for you, Brandmir. I don’t know if you can truly appreciate it or not, but it was because he cared for you that he left you here.”

Brand nodded. “I’ve never had an argument about that, sir. It was what I wanted.”

Imrahil’s expression lightened. “Good. I’m glad you understand that, and I’m very glad you’re happy for Faramir. I would suggest,” and this suggestion was in the tone that Brand had long since learned meant that it was actually a command, “that you write to your uncle and aunt in the next couple of days to congratulate them. I’ll see that it’s put in with the next courier package back to Minas Tirith. Let me know if you have anything for Serl or your mother to go as well.”

“Yes, sir. Is that all, sir?”

“No, it is not. There is more.” Imrahil held up the second document in the pile. Brand looked at it, intrigued. It was much more interesting looking than a mere letter- there were illuminated letters at the beginnings of sentences, and seals depended from it by colorful ribbons.

“What is that?”

“When my sister married your grandfather, she took with her a substantial dowry. Part of that dowry was some properties in Belfalas. With her death, the land descended to your father and Faramir. With Boromir’s death, it became Faramir’s alone. He has deeded those lands to you and your heirs, Brandmir. It is a sufficient enough grant to carry with it a patent of nobility and that is what this-” and he held up the third document, which was also sealed and even more elaborate than the last, “-is.”

Stunned, Brand was struggling to comprehend. “Then…I’m a lord now?”

“You are. And of sufficient status to be eligible for a Council seat under the old rules, though Aragorn has changed that somewhat and wisely has all manner of folk seated on his Council.”

“May I see them?” he asked, meaning the documents. Wordlessly, Imrahil handed them over. Brand spent some little time studying them, but the Westron he was finally starting to read fluently seemed to have little in common with this language, which was filled with ‘wherefore’s and ‘aforementioned’s and ‘hitherto’s. He could understand a little of the parts that described the lands, and not much else, but the signatures were clear-his uncle’s, clear and elegant, and the king’s, bold and flourishing, with just the tiniest bit of sloppiness to it as if written in haste. He fingered the lead seals, which held upon them the sigils of the Steward and the King. The third document, the ennoblement, also held Imrahil’s signature and the seal of Dol Amroth.

“Brand?” His great-uncle’s voice seemed to be coming from a great distance. “How are you feeling?”

That would have been difficult if not impossible to describe. But he did have a question, and to his inner horror, his traitor tongue voiced it readily enough.

“Sir, am I being bought off?”

The Prince was not offended. “I can see where it could seem that way to you, Brand,” he said evenly. “And I would be lying were I to say that there was not some element of that in this. But if it makes you feel better, Aragorn and Faramir and I have all been talking about how best to treat you since I first learned of your existence. The gifting of the dower lands occurred to Faramir almost immediately when he met you, but it took time to arrange things. He had his wedding to get through, and he wanted to consult his wife, they needed my signature on certain documents, that sort of thing. We’ve had couriers going back and forth all this time. The paperwork was finished a little while ago, but then it was decided to wait until the baby was born to announce it.”

“I thought so.” Brand grinned suddenly. “My mother has four children, sir. And every time she had another baby, the older children would get presents. Little things, but they helped them not to think she didn’t love them any more, when the baby took so much of her time and attention. Of course, I never got anything-Stepfather always said my present was that I still had a roof over my head.”

Imrahil chuckled. “I keep forgetting that your family is bigger even than mine! It does give one insights single children lack.” Then he sobered. “Brandmir, what these papers make you is landed, ennobled and your father’s recognized bastard. What you can never be is his heir. You do understand that, don’t you?”

Brand nodded. “I understand, sir, and I understand why. It would cause trouble for the kingdom.”

“It would indeed. But this is also helpful in other ways. By ennobling you now, and getting the court accustomed to you, if the worst should happen, your position would be much more secure. For instance, if some sort of horrible fever were to sweep through Minas Tirith and slay Faramir and his heirs, Valar forefend that that should ever happen, then as a known nobleman, it would be much easier for you to assume the Stewardship than if you were merely a Swan Knight. So you’re not completely off the hook yet.”

“Trust me, sir, I want my uncle to live for a long time and sire many, many sons!” Brand exclaimed. “I never wanted to be the Steward! I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to take care of these lands Uncle has given me!”

“Well, you could do as some men do, and hire a competent steward and not worry yourself over the matter at all,” said Imrahil in a tone that indicated he didn’t think much of that idea. “In fact, there is a steward over them now, whom Faramir consulted with from time to time. He was only just getting the time after the war to take a more direct role when he decided to give them to you. That man is a worthy individual and you may safely leave matters in his hands until you are sixteen and can take up rule yourself. I stand regent to you in this matter and you will swear fealty to me the next time I convene a Western Council.”

“Yes, sir.” Brand thought about the people on the lands he’d been given and wondered how they would receive the news that they’d been given into the hands of a thirteen-year-old bastard, particularly if the steward was such a competent fellow.

As if divining his thought, Imrahil smiled reassuringly and said, “Elphir and I will be glad to teach you what you need to know, Brandmir, and by the time the governance of the lands is given into your hands, you should be quite capable. And surely you know that even after they are in your charge, if you ever have need of anything, including advice, you can come to us? We are your kin, lad!”

Comforted, Brand said, “Of course I realize that, sir. Is that all you wanted to tell me?”

“Yes, lad-unless you’d like to have some sort of party to celebrate?”

“No, sir. I think I should wait until I see my uncle again.”

“That’s considerate of you. Since the odds are good I’ll be going up to Minas Tirith very shortly, you may accompany me then, and we’ll all meet little Elboron together. I’m looking forward to it. And now, I think I’ve kept you away from your lessons quite long enough! You may return to them, my lord!”

Grinning beguilingly, Brand asked “Are you sure there is not something more you’d like to teach me about governance this afternoon, sir? I’m sure it would be ever so much more interesting than sums or Haradric.”

The Prince of Dol Amroth cocked a knowing eyebrow and Brand knew his return to the classroom was inevitable. “No, I have my own paperwork to deal with this afternoon, you scamp! Be off with you, Lord Brandmir!”

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