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13
The Choices of Lord Húrin

The events surrounding the King of the Fair are based on the old Celtic tradition of Lughnasadh. I tried to keep as close as possible while still adapting it to Middle-earth.

I profoundly apologize for not being able to deliver the entire ballad – poetry is not easy to write, especially not when you have a very tight deadline. If I ever manage to finish it, I will add it to the story, honestly! In any case, the fragment is a rewritten version of the first strophes of “Lady Isabel and the elf-knight”, a medieval English ballad.


~~~

CHAPTER 13 – THE CHOICES OF LORD HÚRIN

Fortunately for them all, ere Boromir could have answered, Faramir came running back. The children had strolled forward a few hundred feet, watching the mummers and the jesters, but it seemed that Faramir had found something else – something he wanted to share with his brother.

“Brother, I found a minstrel who knows the ballad of the Lady Khorsheed,” he cried, all but jumping up and down in excitement, which was a rare thing for him to do indeed. “You need to come with me and hear it! Please, brother, you must come! We might never get another chance to hear it, if the minstrel leaves!

Hoping that the minstrel’s song would, indeed, lift his spirits again, Boromir followed his little brother to the place left miraculously free among all the stalls and booths. True, ‘twas before one of those water-spenders shaped like some mythical beasts, frequently used by the people attending to the fair, so that there had to be left free to a certain extent; nonetheless, it showed a great eye for the right opportunity to occupy just that place for a performance.

There sat the minstrel on a folding chair, his rebec carefully placed on his knees, ready to play as his audience asked. He was a man of about fifty and of striking appearance, due to his hawkish Southron features. He had a full head of greying, curly black hair, a curved nose and a clipped heard. He carried himself with the easy self-confidence of a man who was valued for his gift; his clothes made of the finest cotton damask of very pale yellow and black, and his belt adorned with gold. ‘Twas obvious that he was one of those wandering minstrels of some wealth who came to the northern part of the realm from Pelargir and most likely had some Haradric blood in their veins, though considered themselves Gondorrim in all that counted.

Two attendants accompanied him, very apparently of the same origins. The young lad of perhaps twenty, or even less, lightly built and graceful in movement, stand behind his chair, holding a beautifully made, seemingly very old psaltery on his arms as if it were his own child. The lad had a round, child-like face, curly dark hair and falsely innocent, amber eyes, full of ill-veiled mischief.

On another chair like the minstrel’s a young woman was sitting, tall and lean, dark-haired and blue-eyed, mayhap a few summers older than the lad, with a thin, oval face and slim shoulders that seemed too bony for a girl of her age. They both wore what must have been their finery: the lad clothes similar to the ones of his master, just of less fine fabric, the girl a gown of deep, bright blue like her eyes, with a girdle of gold braid around her lean hips, her hair braided in red ribbons, with curls arranged artfully around her temples. She had a nine-string dulcimer on her knees and the hammers to play on it rested lightly between the second and third finger of each narrow hand.

“I have met them yesterday, ere I found the books at the silversmith’s,” whispered Faramir. “They are better than the minstrels in Grandfather’s court, even. They might not know Elven ballads, but they all three sing and play beautifully.”

“Why, thank you, young master,” the minstrel, apparently a man of keen ears, said, obviously pleased. “You are mistaken, though, if you think we know no Elven ballads. In truth, we know quite a few of them – we have run into some wandering Elves yesteryear, while travelling up from the southern shores, and they were more than willing to share. I can demonstrate, if that is what you wish.”

“Later, perhaps,” intervened Boromir, not wanting to spend the entire day with listening to them. “My little brother here tells me that you know the ballad of the Lady Khorsheed – is that true?”

“Indeed, I do, my Lord, and we shall be happy to perform for you and your brother,” the experienced eye of the minstrel had seized them up already, calculating the coin he could get out of this demand. “We shall sing it to you in three voices, as it was used to sing in old times, ere the mummers made a lowly spectacle out of it. I shall sing the main voice, if it pleases you, while Tunidor,” he nodded at the lad, “will sing the part of Lord Faelan and
Dahud can lend her voice to the Lady Khorsheed. Will that suffice, my Lord?”

“I think is will,” said Boromir; a three-voice performance was a rare thing to hear, even in Dol Amroth.

The minstrel and his attendants fine-tuned their instruments for a moment or two, and then they began to play. The melody was a foreign-sounding one, and even the rhythm was very different from what Gondorian ears were used to; perchance due to a great deal of Southron influence. It was matching, though; after all, the Lady Khorsheed had supposedly been a Southron princess.

Then the minstrel raised his strong, clear voice above the music, and even Boromir, who was a lot less apt to become enraptured with art than his brother, could not help but listen to it, as if bewitched by the song’s beauty.

Fair Lady Khorsheed sat in her bower, sewing
Aye, as the gowans grew gay
There she heard Lord Faelan blowing his horn
The first morn on Thrimilch Day(1).


The voice of the girl Dahud now took over from him, pealing like little silver bells in a fresh breeze.

If I had you horn that I hear blowing
And you proud lord to sleep in my bosom


And the voice of the lad Tunidor now answered her, soaring sweetly like that of a lark.

‘Tis a strange matter, fair lady mine.
I cannot blow my horn by you call on me.
But will ye go to yon grey stone Castle?
If ye cannot go, I shall cause you to ride.


And thus it continued, verse after verse, more performing than merely reciting the long forgotten events, from the first glimpse the imprisoned Lady Khorsheed and Lord Faelan, one of Lord Forlong’s apparently dashing and valiant ancestors, had gotten of each other ‘til the glorious event of their wedding, to which the entire town had been invited.

Faramir was delighted beyond measure, and even Boromir had to admit that he liked both the music and the performance. He gave the minstrel three silver pieces, one for each performer, to show his satisfaction.

“I shall recommend you to Prince Adrahil, good minstrel,” he said, “if you would tell me your name.”

The minstrel’s eyes lit up like fireworks; after all, catching the eye of a patron as wealthy and generous as the Prince of Dol Amroth was known to be was a chance that happened once in a lifetime.

“That is most generous of you, my Lord,” he said with an elegant bow that mixed gratitude and pride in the most amazing manner. “My name is Priavel, my Lord, Priavel of Pelargir. For that is where I was born, though my journeys have taken me across the realm several times.”

“Let us hope that you shall be able to travel to Dol Amroth, soon,” said Boromir. “I am certain my brother would enjoy hearing your singing again.”

With that, the brothers took their leave from the minstrel and his attendants and went to rejoin their own company.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Achren and Húrin had been strolling through the fair, with one eye on the children all the time. They seemed happy enough with that arrangement that allowed them to follow their own fancies, while knowing they would not be left alone among all those strangers. True, there were also the guards, but – as Morwen declared – no guards could ever hope to compare themselves with Lord Húrin of Minas Tirith; and the other children whole-heartedly agreed.

“I fear I have offended your cousin, my Lord,” said Achren after a while. “That was not my intention; I am truly sorry.”

“Boromir is not easily offended, as a rule,” replied Húrin. “Yet you unknowingly managed to hit a sore spot. The Lord Steward, as much as he loves his firstborn – and he does love Boromir dearly – cannot always hide his disappointment about Boromir not becoming a scholar as well as a warrior.”

“Why not?” asked Achren curiously. Húrin shrugged.

“Whatever my esteemed uncle might think, not everyone is born with an insatiable hunger for bookish knowledge. Boromir was but a toddler of four when he already played with toy soldiers. I remember a day, Faramir was not even born yet, when Queen Morwen of Rohan was visiting with her daughter and grandson. Boromir and Théodred became friends within moments, and ere anyone realized what they were up to, they were laying on their bellies on the floor, using Aunt Finduilas’ priceless Khandian silk scarf to represent the river Anduin, playing Corsairs and Riders with wooden ships and mounted warriors.”(2)

“They had known each other for so long?” Achren was honestly surprised. Húrin nodded.

“Those were happier times; although, unbeknownst to anyone at court, Aunt Finduilas had already fought the dry sickness. After Faramir’s birth, her condition kept worsening ‘til her untimely death. Uncle Denethor was never the same afterwards.”

“They say the Lord Denethor is a harsh man,” said Achren carefully.

“It may seem so sometimes,” Húrin allowed, “yet you must consider that he has a heavy burden to bear, too. ‘Tis not easy to work for the good of Gondor day and night, the way he does. Harsh he might be, but he is also a noble and wise man. They say, his knowledge of old lore is greater than anyone else’s in the realm. I wish his life would not be consumed by duty so completely, so that he had more time to teach me.”

“To teach you?” repeated Achren in surprise. Húrin nodded.

“I am the Warden of he Keys, my Lady; should anything happen to the Steward – Valar beware – the responsibility for Minas Tirith would fall to me.”

“To you?” Achren frowned. “Not to Lord Boromir?”

“Nay,” said Húrin, “not ‘til he has taken over the white sceptre from his father. He is the Captain of the White Tower, and he will be the Captain-General of Gondor once he is old enough for that, but the Warden of the Keys is responsible for the White City itself, in good times and bad times, in times of war and in times of peace.”

He paused and gave Achren a serious look, as if trying to seize her up, whether she would have the strength for the task he had in mind for her.

“I wonder if you would be willing to come and live in my city of stone,” he then said. “Not anyone could do that; we have learned that truth while facing the sad fate of Aunt Finduilas. I do not wish for you to meet that fate. Yet I would very much like to take you with me to Minas Tirith; to make you the Lady of my House, if ‘tis your wish as well.”

Most young ladies at the court would have swooned from delight, had they got such an offer. But Achren was apparently not like most young ladies.

“You will have to give me time to think about it,” she said. “We have just met, after all. And though I have no doubt that my father would be pleased by this match – not to mention his wife or my grandmother – he loves me enough to allow me my own choice. As for that, I would like to know what I am getting myself into. For though I like you well enough for an unknown stranger, and lovely and loveable though your little daughter is, there certainly is more about your House than just the two of you.”

“There is,” Húrin nodded, “and ‘tis not my wish to mislead you in any way by showing a picture that is brighter than the truth would be.”

“So tell me the truth, then,” she said. “I am Forlong’s daughter; I can bear it.”

“The truth is, there is much grief and sorrow in my House,” answered Húrin slowly. “My father has been ailing for some time now, ever since he suffered a hunting accident, and it does not seem as if he would get any better, ever. ‘Tis more likely that he will wither and die, slowly, inadvertedly. My mother is your grandmother not unlike: a woman of strong opinions and an iron will – she is the Lord Steward’s sister, after all.”

He paused to collect his thoughts. The next part would be painful, despite the years that had gone by, but it was time for him to face his loss and get done with grieving.

“My… my first wife, may the Valar bless her, had not an easy time with Mother,” he continued. “But again, Aerien was very young when we wed, barely of age, and Mother had not focussed all her considerable strength on easing Father’s discomfort back then. Would I to wed again, my new wife would have it easier. But she would still have to be strong; to shoulder the burden of a big household; to care for a motherless child and to bear all this alone in the times of my absence. For at least once a year, I would be gone for weeks, to look after our family’s lands in Anórien; to bring in the taxes and to act as the Steward’s deputy in legal matters. ‘Tis would not be an easy life for any wife of mine, and I could offer but little reward for all the sacrifices.”

Achren did not seem frightened by those chances at all.

“I see,” she said calmly. “Indeed, ‘tis not an easy task for a second wife to master, although I am well confident that I would be strong enough to shoulder it, should I choose to accept your proposition. But pray tell me, my Lord, what is it you can offer as a reward for such arduous labours?”

Húrin smiled. ‘Twas an infectious smile that made him look even younger than his years.

“All I can offer is my person,” he said. “That I would be faithful to my wife; that I would be shield and support for her as she would be the same for me. That I would love her and respect her to the best of my strength; that I would stay with her ‘til death do us part. This I can and do promise, however little it might be.”

“And this would suffice, for what else could any wife ask her husband for?” said Achren. “Yet I still want to think about it first, for all this came a little sudden for me. Promise tat you shall not speak to my father ere I say you so.”

Húrin inclined his head in his best courtly manner.

“You have my word, lady mine,” he replied, for though Lord Forlong would have the right – and the necessary paternal authority – to make his daughter wed him, there would be no blessing on a forced marital bond. Of that he was certain.

Being done with the serious discussion, they lengthened their stride to catch up with the children who had gotten too far already. Boromir and Faramir also joined them a short while later, discussing the skills of the minstrel Faramir had found delightedly. Listening for a moment to Faramir’s excited words, Achren nodded.

“Aye, Master Priavel is well known in Father’s court,” she said. “Many a feast has he adorned with his singing and his music. I did not know he was in town again; he has visited the southern fiefs for the last couple of years. I shall tell Father; he will, no doubt, hire the man to perform at Herumor’s knighting ceremony.”

That possibility seemed to delight Faramir greatly, and thus they went up to the Castle together, discussing music they loved, songs they preferred and skilled minstrels they had known, on their way back.

~~~

End notes:
(1) Thrimilch or Thimridge is the equivalent of May in the Bree-calendar
(2) The scene described here will take place in the third chapter of “Exercise of Vital Powers”… eventually.


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