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18
The Tournament - Day Two

Tent pegging is a game that has been very popular since ancient times up to this day. What you will see here is, of course, the Middle-earth version.

As for the winner getting horse and armour of his opponent (or a suitable ransom for it) is an historic fact. Some knights got very rich during such tournaments, while others lost everything they had. It never stopped anyone to participate, though.

I profoundly apologize for the delay. This chapter just would not cooperate. As a result, I am afraid this story would not be finished till Christmas. I shall try to finish it before the year ends, though. Sorry.


~~~

CHAPTER 18 – THE TOURNAMENT, DAY TWO

Herumor woke up feeling as if he had been run over by a mûmak – and a particularly big and vicious one, at that. He also had a hangover of the size of said mûmak, which was understandable, considering that he never used to drink heavily, and that the ale of the Rohirrim was a tricky beverage indeed. As a result, he felt as if enraged Dwarf-smiths would be pounding his head from the inside with very heavy hammers, and he felt vaguely nauseous. His very bones ached, every single one of them… but that was to be expected. After all, he had taken a few rather forceful strikes on the previous day, beside the one delivered by Boromir that had knocked him off his saddle.

Needless to say, the hangover did not make things easier.

Sitting up in bed was a deed of heroic proportions, more so as his head felt somehow… swollen, and as if it would be swimming in a cloud of indefinite vapours. Somehow he still managed to maneuver himself into a more or less upright position, and was about to carefully move his feet to the floor, when there was an unbearably loud knock on his door, and without waiting for an answer, Madenn hurried in, followed by several maids who brought the wooden bathtub, the bathing screen, towels and jugs of hot water.

“Oh, good, you are up already,” she said cheerfully… way too cheerfully for Herumor’s rotten mood. “You shall need a bath, I deem… you must be sore.”

“I am dead,” groaned Herumor pathetically. “I have got a thick head, my stomach is upset, and even my bruises have bruises. I wonder why I have ever thought that being a knight would be such an honourable and glorious thing?”

“You are asking the wrong person,” Madenn laughed. “I am just a woman, remember? I am here to heal you when you break each other’s head (or drink each other under the table), not to give you any excuses for doing so. Now, drink this and let me see those bruises of you while your bath cools a little.”

This was Madenn’s hangover cure: an absolutely vile brew, which, nonetheless, could cure the worst hangover in very little time. Herumor pinched his nostrils together and downed the indefinable liquid quickly, ere he could have realized its taste, yet he still shuddered for moments afterwards, while Madenn was watching him without compassion.

“That will teach you to get drunk with the Rohirrim,” she said. “You know they can drink ale like the fish drink water and it never harms them. You, on the other hand, have inherited the sensitive stomach of Aunt Humleth… what were you thinking?”

“Not much, at that moment,” admitted Herumor, feeling somewhat better already.

Madenn shook her head in tolerant amusement and released the maids for the time being. Then, ignoring Herumor’s feeble attempts of modesty, pulled the nightshirt over his head – declaring that he did not have aught under it that she had not seen already – and gave his bruised upper body a thorough examination. She even applied pressure with the flat of her hand on one spot or another, which made Herumor wince, but while he hurt everyone, the pain was not too bad.

“You look… colourful,” she judged, still not displaying any abundance of compassion. “Do you have pain when breathing?” Herumor shook his head; and regretted it at the very moment, despite the hangover cure. “Good. Just as I thought: no broken ribs. I shall add lavender oil to your bath and treat your bruises with a poultice of ox-eye leaves and elm-leaves afterwards. Master Mánion, the Prince’s healer has taught me how to prepare it.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Getting into the bath-tub was a painful exercise, but the warm water, the lavender oil – and afterwards Madenn’s poultice – worked wonders indeed. About an hour later, Herumor was feeling more like himself again, clad in clean clothes and actually capable of moving around without a pitiful groan accentuating each of his steps.

“Uncle is having first meal with Prince Adrahil,” Madenn told him. “He expects you to join them as soon as you are… passable. I would say you are passable enough.”

First meal was a casual affair in the Castle of Carvossonn, served between the first and the third hour of the day(1), at everyone’s convenience. Also, for the guests it was served in a parlour adjacent to the kitchens, rather than in the Great Hall, so that they could come and go as they pleased. The Lord and his family usually broke their fast in their private quarters, so there was no sign of the older generation. However, both Madenn and Achren joined their guests. Madenn sat down unceremoniously to the table of her beloved uncle, while Achren had been invited to eat with the steward’s family, namely Lord Húrin, little Morwen and both of Denethor’s sons.

Boromir seemed none the worse after the previous day’s joust, much to Herumor’s annoyance. But again, the Steward’s son had probably seen worse. A lot worse. He only listened to the conversation with half an ear, attacking his food with the devotion of every soldier who had to learn the importance of keeping one’s strength the hard way.

Almost at the same time as Herumor, Prince Adrahil, too, arrived to first meal, flanked by Elphir and Liahan, both of whom seemed very excited about something. Mánion, the young healer, followed them from some distance, and took his place among the pages and esquires, after greeting Madenn with a slight nod. The two of them had become something akin to friends during the Prince’s stay, mostly due to their shared work, to mutual advantage.

“But Grandfather,” exclaimed Elphir, obviously continuing an argument that must have begun some time earlier, “I am nine years old! I can ride as well as Liahan!”

“On your own pony, on the training grounds of Dol Amroth, mayhap you can,” replied the Prince. “You are not safe enough on the back of a big horse yet, though. Nay, Elphir, stop begging. I have spoken the last word in this, and I shall not change my mind. Liahan may participate if that is his wish – he has ridden real horses for two years by now – but you may not. And do not even think of running to your aunt Ivriniel and making a spectacle; it would not help.”

“Participate?” Faramir turned around, interested. “Participate in what?”

“The knights who jousted so splendidly yesterday are given two days of rest to heal and recover,” explained the Prince. “So, today and tomorrow there will be a tent pegging competition for pages and young esquires, on the same combat grounds. There will be several games like ring jousting, apple sticking, quintain tilting and mounted archery, depending on the age or previous training of the participants. Now, Liahan here has already had some weapons training with Master Andrahar, and he is a very good rider for his age. Thus I have allowed him to try his skills at the apple sticking, which is, I am told, for the youngest boys. Unfortunately, my grandson cannot understand that, too young and untrained at he is, he would not stand a chance.” He glared at his eldest grandson with mock annoyance. “I wonder whom he might have learned that attitude from.”

Boromir shrugged and swallowed before answering.

“I certainly have not encouraged him; ‘tis the first time I hear about the whole thing. I do believe, however, that Faramir would do well enough in the mounted archery.”

“I think not,” said Faramir modestly. “I am not used to shooting from horseback.”

“Then let yourself inscribe to the ring shooting,” suggested Achren. “That is done from the standing position… although I heard the esquires from Pinnath Gelin will be there, so the competition might be strong.”

“They are very good,” Faramir agreed, “but I think I might stand a chance against them.”

“I know you will,” said Boromir, then he looked at Liahan. “You, however, will need a very fast horse. The local esquires are skilled; you need to outdo them with speed.”

“Take Cealaigh,” offered Herumor. “He knows you well; you have often taken care of him in Dol Amroth… and he is light and fast.”

“But also fiery and stubborn,” the Prince said in concern. “Will Liahan able to remain on his back?”

“Cealaigh would never throw off a rider I have placed onto his back,” replied Herumor, smiling at the boy. “My offer stands. On Cealaigh, you have a real chance.”

“I thankfully accept,” said Liahan with the characteristic graveness of young children who had learned to take responsibility at a very tender age, and he bowed respectfully.

“Speaking of which,” Lord Orchaldor turned to Boromir, “I shall send my esquire to you later in the morning, to negotiate the redemption of my son’s armour and horse, ere he ends up without any steed at all.”

“As you wish, my Lord,” said Boromir. “Such is the law of arms; yet I would loathe depriving a new knight of his hereditary armour and his only war-horse. What would be your offer?”

“Verily,” said Lord Orchaldor, “the armour worn by my son in last day’s passage of arms is an old heirloom of or House and therefore priceless for us. However, I am told by the armourers of Lord Forlong that the armour is worth forty gold pieces in today’s currency, and the horse is worth another twelve. That is the ransom I can offer you… if you are willing to wait ‘til my son receives the ransom from his own defeated opponents, that is,” he added with a certain bitterness. “An ancient and honourable House we might be, but a wealthy one we are not. Not any longer.”

“Uncle, I am certain that Father would help you out if need must be,” said Madenn quietly.

“There is no need for that,” Herumor interrupted firmly. “I can offer, as the first rate of my payment, a precious rug worth at least thirty gold pieces, made by the Haradric rug-maker of our town. The Merchants’ Guild gave it in order for my return, and they even sent it to Minas Tirith for me, with a shipment of wine meant for Pelargir. I have no doubt that we shall be able to come up with the rest ere we leave, if Lord Boromir is willing to wait.”

Boromir bit his lower lip. Paying the ransom in gold would mean quite the cut for Lord Orchaldor’s household, but he could not refuse entirely. That would be against the law of arms, and it would have humiliated the old lord deeply.

“I shall accept the rug,” he said, after a moment of consideration. “Living in a tent among the ruins of Osgiliath is fairly unpleasant, so I shall put your ransom to good use, in Haradric fashion.”

“Master Andrahar would be astonished,” Herumor grinned. “He never tires saying how our people have no understanding what a decent tent has to look like.”

Boromir grinned back at him. “I remember. Rendering Andrahar speechless is worth the remaining coin for me. And you have just offered Liahan your own horse, risking that it might get injured; I deem you ought to be given some compensation for the possible risks. Let us call this business finished here.”

Herumor gave in gracefully, hiding his relief and gratitude well enough. Fifty-two gold pieces were a small fortune for someone like his father, whose modest wealth was in woods and lands, rather than in gold or gemstones that one could turn into coin easily. Boromir clasped forearms with them, and they both dug into their food again. Madenn’s hangover cure had worked wonders indeed, and Herumor realized that he was very hungry, all of a sudden.

Prince Adrahil, quiet spectator of the discussion, gave his eldest grandson a glance full of fondness and pride. The skill and elegance, with which Boromir avoided to embarrass the proud Lord of Halabor, while still turning things so that Herumor would get away at the smallest possible price, was a stunning achievement indeed. This young man, thought the Prince, will become a great and well-loved ruler of Gondor one day.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Later in the morning, Herumor was sought out by the esquires of Lord Peredur, the Lady Aud and Prince Théodred, to negotiate the ransom for their masters’ arms and horses. He accepted the thirty gold pieces from Lord Peredur with an easy conscience, as he had already asked his father to use it for the fortification of Emerië Manor(2), where the same Lord’s duty was to train Lord Orchaldor’s men-at-arms – a sad necessity in these dark days.

As the mearas would not bear any other masters than the members of Rohan’s royal clan, the Rohirrim offered two breeding mares and a young stallion instead, for each their steeds, which was a generous offer, for thus Lord Orchaldor would be able to breed his own stock for his household knights. Hrotgar, his horse-master, hailed from Rohan himself, he would know how to handle the proud horses of the Mark. Needless to say that Herumor accepted the offer gladly, together with the additional twenty gold pieces from each of his royal (or almost-royal) opponents.

“You have done well, son,” commented Lord Orchaldor. “For a new knight to defeat three such opponents was no small feat. ‘Tis a shame about the beautiful rug, though. Lord Boromir might have been willing to wait for his ransom.”

“Nay, Father,” said Herumor earnestly. “Even with Lord Peredur’s ransom, I could not have paid off my debt – and his coin is sorely needed to strengthen the defences at Emerië Manor; you know that as well as I do. And as for these,” he lifted the small, soft purse with the Rohirric coins, “they will be well-used to establish more Wardens in our town, as you have wished for years.”

“You should keep some for yourself,” said his father with a small smile. “'Twas your bones that had been put to risk to earn them, after all. Young men like you have needs.”

“None that I would need to pay with gold for,” Herumor smiled back at him. “I always knew that the abundance I enjoyed in Dol Amroth was just for that time. I am not afraid of returning to our simpler life – ‘tis good enough for me, as it has been good enough for you, all your life. Besides, ‘tis not so that we would suffer need of anything.” He stood and stretched carefully, mindful of his bruised ribs. “I better go down to the stables and make sure Cealaigh allows Liahan to ride him.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The tent pegging games of the pages and esquires took place a good hour after midday meal, for the attendants had needed time to prepare the lists. But now the spectators were gathering again, to watch Gondor’s future prove their skills. Lord Forlong came in person to oversee the games, and with him came Prince Adrahil and Lord Orchaldor and Erkenbrand of the Westfold, and all the knights who had taken part in the previous day’s jousting, for some of their own esquires had been inscribed. The ladies had come, too, with the exception of Princess Idis, who had asked – and been given – permission to try her hand in the ring jousting. She had no intention to become a shieldmaiden, but all noble daughters of the Mark were trained in arms to a certain extent, and she was determined to show her skills.

The first game was the apple-sticking, though, for this was the one where the youngest boys were allowed to participate. About thirty of them had gathered at the northern entrance of the combat field, of various ages between ten and fourteen. The oldest was a tall, comely lad, lissome and long-limbed, with a full head of dark curls, clearly a son of the local nobility, while the youngest was obviously Liahan, who looked very small and fragile, riding Herumor’s courser, Cealaigh.

The apple-sticking was a game with several targets, some of them sitting on a platform, some of them suspended from a cord or simply lying on the ground. In order to win the game, a boy needed to spear up as much as seven apples with his sword and present them to the heralds. The most difficult task provided the apples hanging from a cord; the boys needed to slash the cord first and pick up the fallen apple from the ground second, all that without breaking their rhythm, for time and speed were of utmost importance here.

The trumpets sounded, signalling the beginning of the game, and the boys broke the group, spreading all over the field. There was no prescribed route – they simply galloped away, trying to pick up as many targets as they could, in the shortest possible time.

Liahan gained quite the advantage right away. Not only had he a particularly fast and light-footed horse to his disposal, thanks to Herumor’s generosity, he was also very light himself, and that came handy in this game, for he was barely a burden for Cealaigh, a horse used to fully grown riders. Unlike the other boys, who went for the easiest targets, the ones sitting on platforms, trying to drive each other away, Liahan, practically hanging on one side of Cealaigh, holding himself with one hand on the bridle and one foot in the stirrup, began with picking up the apples lying on the ground. He had five speared on his sword already when the others realized what he was doing and speeded after him.

The oldest lad – who happened to be the son of Lord Benniget, one of the knights defeated by Boromir on the previous day – galloped in front. He, too, had four apples already, and a very fast horse. ‘Twas apparent to anyone that the game would be decided between him and Liahan. Benead clearly had the skills and years’ worth of weapons training over Liahan, while Liahan had the advantage of being light and limber and used to compete with older, stronger boys.

All the easier targets had been taken, and now the boys were going for the most difficult ones. Liahan, smartly realizing that he would not be able to drive Benead away by sheer strength, set on speed instead, galloping for the targets further away. He still had one apple over the other boy, trying to pick up the remaining two faster than his opponent could have gathered three.

His calculation seemed to work, but the game was still open. Benead had considerable skills, too, and he was strong enough to drive the other boys away from his chosen target. Now both he and Liahan had six apples on their swords and were racing for the last target in view. It hung fairly high from a wooden post, but it was in clear line of sight. Everything depended on speed now – and speed preferred the smaller, lighter champion.

Liahan reached the target first. He had to stand up in the stirrups to slash the cord, and the apples on his sword made it not easier to keep his balance, either. Still, there could be but little doubt that he would pick up his fallen target in time.

His opponent saw it, too – he was hot on Liahan’s heels, but not close enough to get there first. His handsome face darkened with anger, and at the very moment when Liahan slashed the cord, he gave his steed the spurs viciously, and rammed Cealaigh from behind.

Cealaigh reared and bolted, and the spectators sprang to their feet in terror, expecting to see the younger boy under the thundering hooves, his small body broken and bloodied. To their open-mouthed astonishment, however, Liahan had somehow managed to remain on his horse, if not exactly in the saddle. As he had done before voluntarily, he acted now out of need, hanging on Cealaigh’s side, holding on the reins with one hand only, and in the stirrup with just one foot. With the other hand, he speared the seventh apple on his sword, hanging almost upside down, while Cealaigh galloped around the field, coming down from his fright little by little.

When the horse’s gait became even again, Liahan swung back into the saddle, raising his sword with all seven apples speared on it, and he grinned in delight, still too young to fully comprehend how close to death he had just been. A murmur rose from the rows of the spectators, astonished by the excellent horsemanship of such a young boy, but also in anger towards Benead son of Benniget who had very nearly caused his death, out of jealousy.

“That was a dishonourable deed, my son,” Lord Benniget of Gwenter lectured his firstborn sternly. “You have brought shame upon my good name and upon our House. We shall discuss your punishment in private. As for you, young sir,” he turned to Liahan, “pray allow me to offer you this dagger as reparation. May you wield it in the service of Gondor victoriously when you grow into your full strength.”

Liahan blushed a little but accepted the finely-made dagger graciously, as it was proper for a future Swan Knight. He presented his sword with the seven apples to the heralds (ere feeding the apples to Cealaigh as a sign of his gratitude), and thus he was declared the winner of the first game and given his prize right away. ‘Twas three fine pieces of cloth, of which his mother would be able to make three surcoats for him, once back in Dol Amroth.

Then he returned to the Lord’s gallery, to sit with the other children in the lower row, after having endured a quick examination by Master Mánion. The healer wanted to see if he was still hale, presumably by the Prince’s command. Liahan then made himself comfortable to watch the rest of the games, clutching his winnings and his new dagger to his chest.

Now came the ring jousting for the esquires, a game in which the galloping riders had to pass the point of their spear through a number of suspended rings of various sizes, most of them fairly small and some of them barely visible on the ground. ‘Twas a game that originated in Ithilien, a province often threatened by the Haradrim, and served as a training tool for the spear-fighters who had to face the huge mûmaks carrying the enemy’s war-towers. As these enormous beasts had hides tougher than a knight’s chain mail, one either had to shoot them in the eye with a well-aimed arrow or to stab the highly sensitive flesh behind their toenails, which would cause the mûmak to rear, unseat its mahout, and possibly run amok, breaking ranks and trampling down the enemy’s own foot soldiers.

Whatever the true origins of the game might have been, ring jousting had been very popular among the esquires for as long as the Men of Gondor could remember. Therefore as good as every single esquire of the Castle as well as the ones who had come with the visiting knights was eager to try their skills on the different targets.

Princess Idis looked as frighteningly beautiful as her brother or the Lady Aud, in her gilded chain mail that covered her knees. She had a round, green shield with the image of a running white horse upon it, and her spear was barely shorter and lighter than the ones carried by the grown Riders of Théodred’s éored. She wore a helmet akin to those of the grown warriors, but her golden hair flattered after her, unbraided, like a sunlit cloud.

“She is very beautiful,” breathed Faramir, clearly smitten, but Liahan stole a glance at little Morwen and said with a blush.

“Your cousin is prettier.”

Faramir looked from one girl to the other and shrugged. He had never considered Morwen aught else but a sometimes annoying little cousin, but now he had to admit that she was pretty indeed. Still, he found the golden beauty of Princess Idis far more enchanting.

The beginning of the game was signalled by clarions and trumpets, and the young riders galloped away. Unlike by the apple sticking, here they had to follow a certain path that led from one target to another, tossing the heads of their spears through the hanging or laying rings in a certain order. Once a player missed a target, he had to leave the lists… ‘twas a game of both speed and skills. Reaching the target first helped, but was not enough.

Many an esquire filled his targets, setting for speed alone, others were more skilled but not fast enough. Soon enough it seemed clear to everyone that the game would be decided between Duartane, the ranking esquire of Lord Orchaldor’s, Vorondil, one of the future Swan Knights, and Princess Idis. They were fairly even, with the Princess having the best horse (naturally), Vorondil having the best skills (again, expectable from someone with four years’ worth of Swan Knight training under his belt), and Duartane being the one who knew the combat ground best, having participated here similar games before.

Finally, the skills won out. Vorondil managed to get all the targets, while Duartane ended up on the second place with two misses and the Princess on the third place with four misses.

“It matters not,” declared Duartane, after having accepted the congratulations contentedly. “I shall do better at the quintain tilting. ‘Twas a good game. ‘Tis not easy to best someone with Swan Knight training… though not impossible, I would say.”

“We shall see,” grinned Vorondil. “I am eager to try my skills against yours once more, good sir.”

They clasped forearms in warrior fashion, laughed, and then Vorondil went to gather his prize: a finely made spear in Lossarnach style, its head thrice-forged, strong enough to finish a wild boar. He was very content with it, as everyone knew that while the finest swords and armours were made in Lamedon and Minas Tirith itself, Lossarnach was the home of the best hunting and fighting spears and battle-axes.

After a short rest, while the attendants placed the quintains upon their posts, nearly the same group of esquires gathered to take part in the last game of the day. Quintain tilting was the highest form of jousting games: the mounted esquires had to strike the shield hanging from the quintain’s “neck” straight and fair in the centre, otherwise it would spin around, hitting the unfortunate lad with the weight fastened on a staff on the other side of the quintain with enough force to knock him off the saddle. This was the closest thing to the actual jousting practiced by grown knights allowed for younglings.

Princess Idis did not take part in this final game. She had proved her skills with the spear already and that was enough for her. Besides, she wanted to save her strength for the horse racing that was to take place near the end of the tournament and was closest to the heart of the Rohirrim than all the other games.

Thus the quintain tilting became a personal competition between Vorondil and Duartane once again, with only two or three other esquires from Lossarnach and Rohan to come near them. This time, though, familiarity with the ground proved to be an advantage, as the quintains raised by Lord Forlong’s men packed quite a punch if not hit squarely in the centre of the shield; a much stronger one than similar devices used in other lists of Gondor.

As a result, while both Duartane and Vorondil finished the route with only one imperfect strike, Vorondil was caught unaware by the unusually hard impact and thrown off his saddle at the very end of the field. Duartane, who had tried his hand on Lossarnach-style quintains before, had been prepared for the punch and managed to remain in the saddle, being thus declared the winner of that day’s last game. He was prized a sword and excellent leather gauntlets, which seemed to make him very happy.

All in all, the warriors of Halabor had featured rather splendidly so far, announced Lord Orchaldor after the evening meal, and he was proud of them. All of them, from the youngest esquire to his own son. Captain Borondir had also recovered from the blow dealt to him by Boromir and (after the healers had righted his broken nose) was fairly content with himself. For though he had lost the joust against Boromir, like everyone else, he also turned out even handed against Lord Hirluin and the Lady Aud, which was no small feat, either, and could still hope to win back his ransom in the mêlée.

As the following day was another one of rest for the knights, dedicated to ring shooting and mounted archery for pages and esquires, the men of Halabor stayed up late in the night once again, telling tales of old battles and sharing songs. The minstrel Priavel had been called to the Great Hall to entertain the Lord and the Prince and other dignities, but the girl singer Dahud begged for leave, pretending to be fatigued, and her master released her. Instead of going back to her small chamber, though, she climbed up the wines like a sleek cat, onto the gallery of Lord Orchaldor’s chambers, and was watching the men inside through the open window.

Nay, not all the men. Only one of them: the young knight with those changeable eyes under the thick brows. The knight who was barely more than a boy still, and yet he had managed to be victorious against older and stronger opponents.

She was a singer, grown up on ballads. ‘Twas easy for her to lose her heart to such a champion. Now if she could only make her champion notice her!

Unbeknownst of his conquest, Herumor was enjoying the long-missed company of his father and their household, his mind already on the challenges that lay before him. He could not suspect that a huntress, armed with weapons as yet unfamiliar for him, had her eyes on him already.

~~~

End notes:
(1) between 7p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively
(2) The home of Lord Peredur, and at the same the training ground for those men-at-arms he was duty-bound to send to Gondor’s army in the times of war. Established in “The Last Yule of Halabor”.


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