A knock at the door roused Brand some hours later. “Lad, I have your supper.” It was Andrahar’s voice. He pushed himself up onto one elbow.
“Come in, sir.” The door opened to reveal Andrahar, who was carrying a mug and a plate from which delicious odors emanated. Brand thought he recognized them.
“How did we get roast chicken on a ship?”
“’Chiron brought some along, to be killed the first day out,” came the reply, as Andrahar set the food down upon Erchirion’s desk. “Imrahil will have his little delicacies, after all. Come and eat. You can’t tell me you’re not hungry.”
A loud growl emanated from Brand’s stomach, and he smiled. “I certainly am!” Getting to his feet, he stopped long enough to use the pitcher and washbasin, then sat down at the desk and stared at his meal with some appetite. Andrahar gave him a tentative smile. The Armsmaster had done off his armor, and there was that same odd reticent air about him that he had exhibited during their last ride together, after his confession . Brand started to eat, then paused.
“Will you join me, sir?”
“I’ve already eaten, lad. Go ahead. I’ll come back for the plates in a bit.” He started for the door.
A sudden image of Boromir flashed into Brand’s head. “I am here to give you a message to give to Andra. I could never reach him like I could reach Uncle and Faramir, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance again, so see that you live and get back to him.”
“Sir?” Andrahar stopped.
“Could you stay, please? There’s something I have to tell you.”
The Armsmaster turned and made his way back to Erchirion’s bunk, where he seated himself.
“Is this about what happened on the ship? Or about what we discussed before you were captured?”
Brand picked up his cutlery. “It’s more about what happened on the ship than anything. But a little bit about the other as well.”
“Very well then. But make a start on that food first, while it is still hot.”
Brand nodded, and began to eat. Andrahar shifted back on the bunk till he could rest his shoulders and head against the hull of the ship and closed his eyes. He looked weary and lines of stress were graven around his mouth and eyes.
“Were you up all night last night?” Brand asked, after his first few mouthfuls. Andrahar nodded.
“Most of it. I got a little sleep, but not enough. I’ll catch up some tonight, if I can get Imrahil to settle.”
“He’s not been to sea for a while, and won’t be again for quite a bit. He’ll be wanting to savor the opportunity.”
There was silence for a while, as Brand ate and tried to figure out the best way to relay his father’s message to Andrahar. He knew Andrahar to be a very pragmatic and practical person, and did not know how he would receive a purported message from his dead lover. On the other hand, the Haradrim had lived with Imrahil for decades, and was accustomed to the vagaries of the Prince’s gift, so perhaps the straightforward approach was best.
“Last night on board the slave ship, I had a dream about my father,” he said at last, setting his fork down.
“You did?” Andrahar’s eyes were still closed.
“Yes, sir. We were on what looked like the beach at Dol Amroth. He said I’d finally come far enough to find him.” He paused for a moment, then said carefully, “I think that it might have been a family dream.”
Andrahar opened his eyes to give Brand a quizzical look. “You’ve not had one of those yet that I know of-just the wave dream. Why would you think it was one of the visions?”
Brand frowned reminiscently. “Because he seemed very real to me but he was not at all like what I had imagined he would be like. He was rude!” The captain’s eyebrow flicked up at that. “He told me that he’d not come to help me out at all, that he’d come to give a message to you, and that I had better live and escape so that you would get it.”
“Well that certainly was rude! What was this message?” Andrahar asked, his voice carefully neutral.
“That Glorfindel was right.”
He will know what it means, Boromir had told Brand, and the boy, looking at his guardian, knew that Andrahar not only knew what the brief message meant, but that it had shocked him badly. The color ran right out of the Haradrim’s face, leaving it a greyish tan, and he sat bolt upright on the bunk.
“Are you all right, sir?”
“Did Imrahil…did Imrahil ever speak to you of Glorfindel, Brandmir?” Andrahar’s voice was as shaken as Brand had ever heard it.
“No sir. Who is Glorfindel? What does it mean?”
Andrahar did not answer the questions. “Then there was no way you could have known such a thing!” he murmured. “Which means…” If possible, he became paler yet. “Brandmir, was he all right? How did he look? What else did he tell you?”
“He looked just fine, sir,” Brand hastened to say. “Like the portrait at Uncle Faramir’s house, actually, except that he wasn’t wearing armor-just a shirt and breeches and no shoes, like Grandy does when he walks the beach sometimes. And he seemed happy enough. He said he had a…dispensation…because some people had used him badly to get something done. And that he was glad he hadn’t married and lived a lie and that he would never regret loving you. He told me to tell you that he loved you as well.”
An uncomfortable silence fell over the cabin. Brand looked at his guardian, who looked more disconcerted than shocked now. And decidedly uncomfortable. “Brandmir, I-” he started after a moment, but Brand broke in upon him.
“It’s all right, sir. I already knew.”
“How?” Andrahar’s voice was hoarse as if speaking from a tight throat.
“Right before I left for town, I was at the house looking at your armor. I found the letter in your gambeson. I know I shouldn’t have looked, that it was personal, but I thought at first that it was one of those Haradric prayers and I wanted to see if I could read it.”
Andrahar still looked grey, and suddenly very old and exhausted as well. Belatedly Brand remembered something that didn’t often occur to him, given Andrahar’s usual vigor and energy-that the captain was a man of over three score years in age.
“No. You shouldn’t have looked.” There was a world of weariness in the words.
“I put it back just as I found it. And I do apologize, sir. Whether I thought it was a prayer or not, I was still prying into your personal things and I should not have. But it did answer some questions that had been bothering me. Like why I was at Dol Amroth instead of with my Uncle Faramir.”
“You are at Dol Amroth for a number of reasons. That is just one of them.” Brand nodded. “Did Boromir say anything else?” The question was quiet enough but there was something in Andrahar’s dark eyes, a sort of desperate hunger, that Brand had never seen there before.
“He said to thank Aragorn for repealing that law, for your sake. And he had lots to say about how different folks feel about lovers of men. He said he figured the Dunlenders were probably lovers of men or maybe even cattle, their women were so ugly.”
Andrahar blinked quickly a couple of times, then forced a smile. “Well! That definitely sounds like Boromir!” He said nothing more, though Brand thought for a moment that he might. Instead, the Armsmaster lapsed back into silence, his eyes looking blankly past Brand, as if they were fixed on something in the distance outside the ship. Brand took his fork back up and ate a bite, then finding it grown cold and oddly tasteless, gave up on the idea of eating altogether.
“Were you ever going to tell me about him?”
Andrahar nodded, and refocused his attention back on Brand. “When you were sixteen. You may believe me or not as you like. But I thought you should be older before you knew. There are very few who do, Brand, fewer even than know about me and even now it should not be talked of, for the sake of your father’s reputation.”
“My father’s reputation as what? A hero of Gondor?” Brand gave him an exasperated look. “This is all too confusing! Your people have heroes who are lovers of men! Why should who my father slept with make any difference about what he accomplished on the battlefield-if there is nothing wrong with being what he was? He told me that in the dream, by the way! You say you are not ashamed of what you are, and then you say things like that. What am I to believe?”
Andrahar did not immediately answer him, taking a few moments to consider his next words. “Brand,” he said at last, “those who love their own kind go against the natural order of things. I do not deny that. As I told you before, I do not know whether we were made that way or born so-”
“-Father said he was born that way.”
“And your father’s history certainly would seem to bear that out. I prefer to think we are born so as well, for some reason that is not immediately apparent, rather than that we are twisted by circumstance in some way. The latter implies that our condition is simply an act of will, that we can change what we are, and I can assure you that is not the case.” He ran his fingers through his hair in an oddly distracted manner.
“But however it happens, there are few of us and that is as it should be, lest men and women die out altogether. And while Aragorn might have repealed the law against sodomy, such things are still regarded with disfavor in Gondor. It may take many years for society to accept us, even if the law allows us. It would be best to leave your father’s legend as it is for now. Perhaps one day in the future the whole truth of the man may be known.”
Brand nodded reluctantly, his face troubled. Andrahar, watching him, spoke again in an even more somber tone.
“Brand, I know that you were not happy to find out about me the other day, and I would imagine that you were even less happy to find out about your father. But I cannot apologize for being what I am, and I will not apologize for loving Boromir.”
“He said almost the exact same thing about you. And he told me that I would have to make my mind up about how I felt about him and you sooner or later.”
“And have you done so?”
“Not yet, sir. I’ve been a little busy.” Andrahar accepted this with a slow nod.
“I do owe you one apology, Brand. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that I have done you a serious disservice.”
“What do you mean?”
“Knowing who you were as I did, it was wrong of me not to tell Elphir that information as soon as we arrived in Dol Amroth, so that he could have relayed it to Faramir and Imrahil. Your uncle could have met you months earlier, before you became so attached to me. He is your father’s brother, it was his right to have you and by my actions I robbed him of you, or at the very least of precious time with you. I had no right to do that.”
A chill came over Brand. “What are you telling me, sir?”
“I am telling you that, because of this war in Dale, you will be moving up into the palace with your kin when we get back to Dol Amroth in any event. And that I will be away for at least a year, possibly longer. I know that you disliked what you discovered about me. When I return, it will almost be time for you to take up esquire training-if you still desire to do so then. It might be better for both of us if there is a bit more distance between us.”
“A bit more distance?” Brand was surprised how much this suggestion hurt, given that he had been contemplating distancing himself from Andrahar on his own.
“Yes.” Though the captain’s voice was steady, Brand could see something in his eyes that might have been pain. “Take the time while I am gone to get to know Faramir, and to decide about how you feel about all this. You are still my heir-that will never change. Who else would I leave such things to? But your proper place is with your blood kin.”
“What if I want to stay with you?” Brand remembered the night before, when the dark idea had occurred to him that perhaps his Dol Amroth family would let him be taken off, relieved to be rid of their bastard kin. It was an idea he had never truly taken seriously, but he also remembered that other idea, held with absolute certainty, that Andrahar at least would never have given him up, would have sought for him and found him, no matter how long it took. Why had he been so sure of that? Was it because Andrahar was a bastard himself, and no matter how much Grandy and the rest of them cared about him, only Andrahar truly understood? It occurred to him now that he had never looked upon Andrahar’s rescue of him as that of a man rescuing his catamite, but of a father rescuing his son.
“If you truly decide that is so, and Faramir is willing, then I will be only too happy to continue as your guardian. These last couple of years have been very happy ones for me, Brand, and I thank you for that. But I will abide by whatever you decide.”
Brand looked down at his plate, took up his fork and pushed the now totally cool food around listlessly. He could feel Andrahar’s eyes intent upon him. When the Captain spoke again, his usual brisk, matter-of-fact manner was back in place.
“Now that we have that settled-what happened down in the hold of the merchant ship today?”
As difficult as the topic was, it was nonetheless a welcome change of subject, and Brand seized upon it eagerly. “It’s as I said earlier, sir. The captain saw Foam-flyer coming, and didn’t want to be caught with Gondorian children on board. But he came down into the hold to tell Nezam what to do and he didn’t know I spoke some Haradric. So when Nezam came down to kill us, I was ready for him. I tried to talk him into bringing the captain down to talk to me, but he wouldn’t. I told him who I was. I even threatened to curse the ship if he killed me.”
“But he didn’t listen to you?”
“No. He said if you all were looking for me then he certainly had to kill me. He tried to grab me. I remembered what you said about weapons being all around and that’s when I threw the slops bucket at him and went for the knife. He got his hands around my neck and was throttling me and I guess he thought I was too far gone to go for it. But I did, and shoved it into him a couple of times. It went in real easy.” Brand grimaced. “I didn’t think it would be that easy. Or that hard.”
Andrahar seemed to know of what he spoke. “We are fragile sacks of bone and blood and meat, when all is said and done,” he said calmly. “We can be maimed or die all too easily, and not just by the blade. The world is full of perils besides the damage men do to each other. What happened after that? Did this Nezam die on his own or did you have to finish him?”
Brand swallowed hard. “I had to finish him. He was just lying there, staring at me. I knew I had to do it, but it was the hardest part, because he wasn’t trying to hurt me anymore. He just watched me while I cut his throat.” He fell silent, folded his arms on the desk and bowed his head over them. Andrahar regarded him dispassionately for a moment.
"So-how do you feel about it now? Being a killer?"
Brand’s head snapped up in indignation at Andrahar’s casual callousness. “I hated having to do it! I told him who I was and to go get his captain, but he wouldn’t! He didn’t leave me any choice-he tried to kill me!”
“So you killed him instead. And now you know that you are capable of killing someone, and you don’t like learning that about yourself. But had you not done it, Brand, we would not be sitting here having this uncomfortable discussion. Nor would your little friends be safe on deck having their supper. When I called you a killer a moment ago it was a compliment. Sometimes people come to a point in their lives when they have to kill or be killed. More than usual, in these last few years. You did. I did. We are still here. The ones who couldn’t, aren’t.” The Armsmaster pushed himself to his feet and moved to the stern window, staring out at the darkness and the phosphorescent glow of Foam-flyer’s wake.
“When I was fourteen, my master Ulantoris lent me to a merchant friend of his to sport with for a fortnight,” he said quietly. “And by doing so, I knew that my time in his house was done one way or another, for this particular man was a person who enjoyed the infliction of pain as one of his intimate pleasures. To such an extent that his bed partners often did not survive or if they did, were disfigured and crippled. So I knew that I had outgrown any appeal for my master and that I was the most expendable among his slaves. If his friend crippled me, my master would have me killed. If I survived relatively unscathed, he might sell me, or go ahead and geld me. I did not like any of those options, so I made another for myself.”
Brand raised his head and looked at his guardian. Andrahar’s voice and face were absolutely calm, devoid of any emotion.
“When I was brought to the merchant, I saw the implements of torture laid out by the hearth and knew that I was in grave danger. The man told me to submit to having my hands bound. He undoubtedly thought I would submit, even if I understood my peril, for I was only a slave, was I not? But in that moment I ceased to be a slave. I was young and quick and had been trained in arms in my first household. I went for one of the implements that lay heating upon the hearth and shoved it through him. It was much duller than your dagger, but like you, I found it all too easy. I will remember the look in his eyes, and the sound he made and the hissing of the hot iron and the smell until the day I die. And perhaps after, if there is any sort of judgement and those we send to the afterlife wait to confront us.”
“Do you think that they do?” Brand was startled by that idea.
“I do not know.” An ironic smile creased Andrahar’s face as he turned his back to the window. “If they do, then I suspect that I am in a great deal of trouble.” The smile left as quickly as it came. “Though I truly don’t believe that. Your dead need not wait until you are dead to confront you-they are with you all the time.” Brand did not find that a particularly reassuring thought, and Andrahar seemed to sense it.
“Brand, what you did today will remain with you for the rest of your life. I will not pretend that it will not. And if you become a Swan Knight, you will be doing that many more times, over and over again. Because after all the tradition and nice horses and pretty uniforms are done with, we are dealers of death and we deal it better than most. I don’t make pots or thatch roofs or do anything particularly constructive-I kill people.”
“But you kill the bad people, the ones that are trying to hurt our folk!” Brand protested.
Andrahar inclined his head. “‘Tis true that I kill the ‘bad people’ as you call them, so that the potters and the thatchers and the rest of them can ply their trade in peace, safe from those who kill to prey upon them. But that makes me no less a killer, and you will be no less a killer either. Your Lady Hethlin, of whom you are so fond, is a very, very good killer.”
“She says that people are wolves or hounds or harts and that she is a hound.”
“That’s another way of putting it. I can tell you that I would have never accepted her in the Swan Knights, no matter what Aragorn or Imrahil wanted, if she had not been well-blooded first, for ‘tis against a woman’s truer nature to do what she does. There have even been lads who won their knight-probationer’s belts who fell in their first battle, because they’d never been blooded and couldn’t bring themselves to kill, despite their training.” Brand’s eyes grew wide at this-it was not something he had ever heard before.
“So in truth, Brand, harsh though it may seem, I am relieved in a way that this happened before you became an esquire. You know the truth of your own nature now, and the truth about us, and can make an informed decision.”
“Mother used to tell me that being a soldier was not as glamorous as I thought it was. She bade me remember the harbor after the Corsairs came.”
“Your mother is a very wise woman. I thought so when I met her.”
“I wish she were here now,” Brand muttered almost too low to hear.
“I would imagine that you do,” Andrahar said understandingly. “Sometimes a boy needs his mother. Even an older boy.”
Brand looked up at him in surprise. The Armsmaster had never struck him as the sort to appreciate motherly affection. “Your mother is dead, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she died when I was twelve.”
“Do you still miss her?”
“Actually, I do. She was a very good mother to me. And very beautiful. I still remember how the sun looked on her hair.” The smile that came over his guardian’s face then was one of the softest expressions Brand had ever seen on him. Feeling Brand’s eyes upon him, Andrahar shook himself a bit.
“Of course we will be going through Pelargir on the way to Minas Tirith. I am sure Imrahil will not mind if you want to visit your mother and her family, Brand. You did the last time, did you not?”
“Yes. And Grandy told me a while back that I could stop by again-I have some things for her. Goodness, but the little ones must be getting big now!” The thought of seeing his mother and siblings again did to Brand what nothing else in the past couple of days had succeeded in doing, and he felt tears finally starting in his eyes. He bent his head and squeezed them shut. There was a sound of movement and Andrahar’s voice came from much closer, across the desk from him.
“Brandmir, something you said earlier, about not wanting to be touched, worried me. Did the men on that ship do anything to you? Were you raped, lad?”
Brand shook his head, his eyes still shut. His voice was suddenly thick with tears. “No. The captain looked at me when I came on board. My teeth and …other things. He pulled my breeches down. They wanted to know how old I was. And they talked about gelding me. But nothing more than that.”
“That was more than enough!” Andrahar’s words were quiet, but there was anger beneath them and Brand could hear it. “I should have killed that man when I had the chance!”
“I wish you could have, sir! But I gave my word. I didn’t want to, but I didn’t know what else to do.”
The next time Andrahar spoke the anger was gone, or at least suppressed. He had apparently realized that he was distressing Brand. “And you acted rightly,” he said soothingly. “And because you acted rightly, those three children are safe. You saved their lives, Brand. Remember that when memories of this day trouble you.” There was another sound of movement, and Brand felt cloth touch his hand. “There’s a handkerchief. Shall I leave you alone?” Brand thought about it for a moment. There was in him a desire to throw himself into Andrahar’s arms and sob himself out upon the captain’s shoulder, but then the memory of the feel of the Tufayl’s hands upon him slid into his mind and killed that desire.
“Yes, sir. Please.”
Was that a sigh of disappointment he heard? “Very well then. Take all the time alone you need, Brand. We none of us are expecting to see you before the morning.” And with a chink of plates and cutlery, Andrahar left the cabin.
Once he had gone, Brand laid his head upon the desk and gave in to the tears. He sobbed until his eyes and nose were swollen near shut, all the while not sure exactly who the tears were for. Were they for the man he had killed? Or the boy he had been before this day? Perhaps at least some of them were for the boy Andrahar had been once upon a time or the father Brand had never known…of a certainty there were things a-plenty in the world to weep about. When there were no more tears left in him, the strange weariness came over him once more, despite his earlier nap. He staggered back over to Erchirion’s bunk and fell deeply asleep again almost as soon as he had pulled the coverlet up to his chin.