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The Young Knights
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The Tournament - Day Three

Originally, I wanted to have the younglings’ competitions done in one day. But that would have resulted in an ungodly long chapter, so I delegated… *g*

Derufin and his father, Duinhir, the Lord of Morthond Vale, are mentioned in RotK. Derufin and his brother Duilin fell in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, trampled down when leading their archers against the mûmaks.



Faramir woke up in the next morn with excitement fluttering in his stomach like butterflies. ‘Twas not so that he would not trust his abilities; he knew he was an excellent archer – for his age anyway – but the esquires of Pinnath Gelin were every bit as good… and they were older and more experienced.

“Just keep your calm and focus on your target,” Prince Adrahil had said on the previous night. “Never mind your opponents; they would only distract you. Tis up to you and your bow, naught else.”

As they were using the same targets as the ring jousters before, the ring-shooting competition was set shortly after first meal. Faramir could barely restrain himself; he ran down to the lists at the second hour already to get inscribed in time, although the games were not to start before the fourth. As he tried to get a closer look at the targets, someone stopped him. ‘Twas a very young man, stout and well set, clad in green and brown in the fashion of the woodland folk, dark-haired and grey-eyed. He had at least a dozen arrows stuck in his belt, with a baldric and badge of silver, and a longbow of six feet length in his hand.

“I am sorry, young sir,” he said in a friendly but firm voice, “but those who are taking part of the game are not allowed to get any closer.

Faramir gave a man a curious look. The stranger was clearly of Dúnadan stock, younger than Boromir, even, his face brown like a nut from the constant exposure to wind and weather. Yet there was something in his firm tone, in his spare movements that revealed him a warrior rather than a simple huntsman.

“Forgive me, good sir,” replied Faramir, “I was not aware of this rule. May I know your name and where you are from?”

“My name is Anborn,” said the young man, “Anborn son of Arthod, from the Morthond Vale. My father is a vassal of Lord Duinhir there. I have come to participate when the shooting at the Falcon takes place, on the last day of the Summer Fair.”

“But I was told that only those who live in town are allowed to participate,” said Faramir, a little enviously. The young man nodded.

“’Tis true,” he agreed. “But the people of my mother live in this town, and thus I am allowed to join the King’s camp, due to my kinship with a local family.”

“Your clothes confuse me, though,” said Faramir, “for you seem to me as one who has been a warrior for some time, and yet I have never seen any of our soldiers clad this way.”

“You have never met any of the Ithilien Rangers before, I deem,” smiled Anborn. “We are but a small garrison and not widely known even in Minas Tirith, as we seldom stay within stone walls. You will learn more about us in time, I assume.”

Faramir gave him a suspicious look. “You know who I am?”

“I know who your brother is,” Anborn shrugged, “and you have a similar enough look for me to know that you must be the Steward’s younger son. As a Ranger and a scout you learn to look for small signs.”

“How long have you been with the Rangers?” asked Faramir, for the man seemed still awfully young.

“Three years it will be in the autumn,” replied Anborn. “I was sent there at the age of fourteen, as a messenger boy.” Seeing Faramir’s surprise he shrugged again. “My father may be a landed vassal, but I have two older brothers and a sister. What other choice did I have?”

“Have you… have you ever regretted it?” asked Faramir hesitantly.

Anborn shook his head, smiling. “Nay, I have not. The Rangers have become something akin a family to me, and were it not for my sister’s wedding, I would be celebrating summer equinox with them. Still, I am glad to be here now, for ‘tis a feast I have not seen for many years, and I always enjoy being with my mother’s people. You should go now, though, ere the heralds catch you sneaking around the targets. That could get you expelled of the competition, and I believe not you would want that.”

Faramir thanked the Ranger and returned to his brother’s tent, at the southern entrance, as he had served as Boromir’s esquire during the tournament. That was slightly bending the rules, of course, as he had yet to begin his esquire training officially, but the heralds had turned a blind eye at that little technicality. They were the Steward’s sons, after all.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
By the fourth hour, the attendants had rearranged the targets from the previous day, leaving only those rings that had been suspended from a post by a cord. Like the ring jousting before, ring-shooting had once been a training tool for the Ithilien archers, designed to train them to hit the eye of a mûmak from a safe distance. For the competitors of the mounted archers, more traditional targets had been set up at the northern end of the combat fields, so that they would not hit the spectators by accident, should a shot go awry.

More than thirty esquires presented themselves as competitors for the ring-shooting. Most of them in the service of the local nobility, a few of them from Lord Hirluin’s escort, two from the future Swan Knights who originally hailed from the Morthond Wale, like the Ranger Anborn, whom Faramir had met earlier in the morning, and some even from the Morthond Vale itself, having escorted their Lord to the Council in Minas Tirith and given leave to come to the tournament. No Rohirrim had been inscribed; understandably enough, they all opted for the mounted archery. Faramir was among the youngest, although some of the local boys seemed even younger – but they were the sons of Lord Forlong’s forester, thus thy promised to be more than worthy opponents, after all.

The trumpets sounded, and the contending archers took their station in turn, at the bottom of the southern entrance. They were to shoot each three arrows in succession at each of the targets. The true difficulty of the task was ensured by the fact that while the first target contained one ring only, and one of the size of a small plate, each new one had one more ring, and those rings grew gradually smaller. The final one contained no fewer than seven rings, each of the size of a bracelet meant for a young girl, hung up in a straight line, so that an archer strong enough – and with keen enough eyes – could send his arrow through all seven of them with one single shot.

‘Twas quite the challenge for a boy of Faramir’s age, tall and skilled though he might be, more so as a good number of the other younglings ware years older and much stronger than him. Seeing his mild anxiety, Princess Idis, who had come with the other children to cheer him on, loosened one of her braids, untangled the bright green ribbon from it and pinned it upon his jerkin with a golden needle.

“For luck, she said, kissing him on the cheek. “Now go and show them how the Men of Westernesse draw a good bow!”

Faramir blushed furiously, and the older boys were giving him jealous looks, for truly, how many of them could say that they had gotten a kiss and a good luck charm from a real princess before the competition? But they had no time for teasing, as they had to begin the game now.

Every single one of the competitors managed to get the first target, which was a fairly easy one, at the first shot. The second and third ones were more difficult, and by the last target, there were only eight of the original thirty left. By then, they were all as highly strung as their bows, and thus more prone to mistakes.

One by one, they stepped forward to deliver their shots at their best abilities. Of twenty-four arrows shot in accession, ten flew through all seven rings in a straight line. The others, albeit they had not quite managed all seven rings, at least got as far as through five or six, and were thus considered good archery.

Of the ten arrows that crossed all seven rings, two were shot by Faramir and two by a boy named Derufin, who turned out to be the younger son of Duinhir, Lord of the Morthond Vale. He was only a year older than Faramir himself, but several inches taller, and his already heavy-set shoulders revealed that he had spent years perfecting his archery.

Now that they ended up even, they had to shoot again, to decide the game between them.

“’Twould be not fair to take another shot at the rings,” declared Lord Forlong, “as the one who is stronger, due to age and training, would have unjust advantage over the one who has the same skills. Bring them a traditional target instead and place it at the usual distance.”

The attendants carried out his order in a hurry, and Faramir, who had drawn a lower number by the previous lot, was called to shoot first. He took his aim with great deliberation, measuring the distance with his eye carefully, while holding the bent bow in his hand, the arrow placed upon the string. Finally, he made a step forward, and raising the bow at the full stretch of his left arm, he drew the bowstring to his ear, which was an impressive display of strength from a thirteen-year-old. Released, the arrow whistled through the air and hit the target within the inner ring, though not exactly in the centre. ‘Twas a good shot nonetheless, proving that he already had the sinew of his Númenórean ancestors, despite his age.

Derufin whistled in appreciation. Like every true bowman, he enjoyed a well-delivered shot, even if it was done by an opponent.

“That was a great shot and no mistake,” he said approvingly. “If you had allowed for the wind, it would have been perfect. But worry not; you shall learn that sort of thing in time.”

Saying so, he stepped forward, giving his target a good, hard look, and then released his arrow, which hit the target barely an inch nearer to the white spot marking the centre than that of Faramir.

Faramir bit his lower lip, disappointed and angry with himself, but determined to do better in the second and third rounds. And indeed, at the second time his arrow hit the very centre of the target, as he had followed his opponent’s well-meant advice and taken the light wind into consideration.

But Derufin was every bit as successful, splitting his arrow in two. Thus the final decision was left for the third round, and now both young archers prepared themselves with great care, hell-bent to win, whatever it might cost. Derufin even changed the string of his bow to make sure his last arrow would not go awry.

There was great silence among the spectators when the Steward’s younger son stepped to the appointed station and bent his bow for the last time. They all knew the prowess of Boromir and were now realizing that one day the younger brother might reach the same fortitude, thus they were awaiting the last shot with great expectance.

Driven by the legendary strength of will that had enabled his forefathers to rule Gondor through twenty-six generations, Faramir bent his bow and released his last arrow. It hit the centre of the target unerringly. A great murmur arose from the spectators, for while the first perfect shot could have been a matter of luck the second one clearly showed great skill.

The greatest cheer came from the ladies’ gallery, of course. Little Morwen sprang onto the bench she had been sitting on, waving with an admittedly no longer perfectly clean handkerchief (sweetmeats could do that to clothing) enthusiastically and shouting in delight. On the Lord’s gallery opposite her, Prince Adrahil beamed with pride, and Boromir was looking at him approvingly, which was even better than the smile of Princess Idis or Elphir’s jealous looks. For a moment, Faramir felt like the King Returned, or even better, for what was a kingdom compared with this?

But the competition was not yet over, and now Derufin had his final shot. Duinhir’s son took aim with great attention and released his arrow, which hit the inner ring of the target; not exactly in the centre, but closer to it than Faramir’s first arrow had, practically touching the rim of the white spot.

There was a great argument among the judges about which boy should now declared the winner of the game, for according to the rules it could have been each of them – or both. In the end, Lord Forlong intervened, vindicating himself the right of the decision, as he was the patron of the tournament, and he declared both boys of equal skill. And since the best archer’s prize, a bugle-horn, mounted with silver, and a richly ornamented silken baldric, could not be divided between them, the Lord of Lossarnach declared that it should go to Derufin, as he could put it to better use in his father’s forests, while Faramir was given a different prize: a well-quiver, covered with black leather and ornamented with small, silver images of the Rose of Lossarnach, an with it came two dozen fine arrows.

Faramir was more than content with this solution – he had no use for a horn anyway – and returned to the other children to accept their congratulations. Those included slightly sticky kisses from Morwen (due to some honeyed seed cakes she had consumed during the game, and which had completely ruined her appetite for midday meal), a warrior-style handshake from Liahan and some envious pouting from Elphir.

“It seems that my token has brought you luck, after all,” said Princess Idis with a mischievous smile.

“Indeed it has,” replied Faramir earnestly, his hand moving already to remove the green ribbon from his jerkin and give it back to her. But she stopped him with a raised hand.

“Nay, keep it,” she said. “’Tis only proper for you to have a reminder of this day; for you have ceased to be a boy today, and made the first step to become a true warrior.”

And she bent over and kissed him on the brow, to the great envy of every other lad present… and to his mortal embarrassment.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They watched the competition of the mounted archers with impartial interest as they had no close friends among the participants. Needless to say that the Rohirrim – having the best horses of all – won it with practiced ease. After that, they returned to the Castle for midday meal, which was consumed in high spirits, with songs and music and tales about great archers being told.

Priavel of Pelargir was called to the Great Hall once again, and this time he got his chance to prove that he had quite the repertoire of Elven ballads indeed. He treated them with the lay of Beleg Cúthalion, the greatest Elven archer known to Men (and possibly to Elves as well), which he performed in passable, though accented Sindarin.

The events of that day’s archery contest were also discussed in great detail, which made Faramir very uncomfortable, as he was not used to so much attention. ‘Twas no wonder therefore, that he became beet red when someone noticed Princess Idis’ token pinned to his jerkin, and now he had to explain how he had gained it.

“The keen eyes and the steady hand of a true warrior,” praised Prince Théodred with a broad grin. “I would say, he has earned both the token and the kiss fair and well.”

The rest of the discussion was drowned in general laughter and merriment, to the utter mortification of poor Faramir. Herumor, a great deal less shy himself, felt sorry for the boy nonetheless, but there was no way he could have helped.

“What about you, good knight?” asked a low, melodious voice. “Are you going to combat without the token and the kiss of your lady tomorrow?”

He turned around, surprised, and saw the minstrel’s girl singer standing in the shadows, barely more than a shadow herself, save the large, smouldering lustre of her eyes in the pale oval of her face and a few sparkling points of brightness, as the light fell upon the silver embroidery alongside the hems of her bliaut. She was in her finery again, as she had been singing to entertain the guests up to a short time earlier. There was something… unsettling in the quiet intensity of her presence, as if she had set her mind on a goal and there was no power in Middle-earth great enough to bring her down from her chosen path.

“What do you say?” asked Herumor back, feeling uncomfortable like a bird trapped under the spell of the mesmerizing eyes of a snake.

“They say a knight needs three things, and three things only,” the girl Dahud said, her deep blue eyes very intense and very bright, “a sword, a horse, and a ladylove. The first two you already have. The third, I can provide, with the token and the kiss for luck… if it pleases you.”

“I have no mind for such games as you play them,” replied Herumor stiffly, for she made him increasingly uncomfortable, and he felt cornered. “My concern is the combat tomorrow, and that I may fight valiantly and honourably.”

“That is why you need all the luck you can find,” she replied, unsmiling. “And is it not time-honoured custom for a knight to carry a token of his lady on his shield for luck?”

“You are not my lady,” said Herumor, more harshly than intended. “You are…”

“Not a lady at all,” she finished him agreeably. “’Tis very true, as I am but a ‘prentice of a wandering minstrel, just one step from being his slave. And yet for the time we both spend in this town, I can give you the very thing you need – unless you are too much a coward to accept it, that is.”

“’Tis no cowardice to stay on the path of honour,” told her Herumor coolly. To his surprise, she took no offence, just laughed quietly.

“Oh, but you are so very young… I should leave you alone to wait for your upcoming battle unblessed by love. Fortunately for you, I am not that cruel.”

To his mild shock, she opened the uppermost button of her bodice and pulled out e fine silk handkerchief, creamy pale in colour and scented with rose oil.

“Here,” she said, tucking it into his belt, “for you to wear tomorrow in the mêlée. I shall seek you out afterwards to collect my reward – think not that you have escaped me for good.”

With that, she stood on tiptoes, kissed him on the lips boldly, and then she merged with the shadows anew, as if she had never been there.


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