Brand woke when the morning light began to flood into the stern window the next morning. He got up and took care of his morning business, and had scarcely finished before a knock on the door announced a sailor bringing him a breakfast of bacon and porridge and cider. His appetite had returned, and he did credit to the meal, then ventured forth onto the deck to return the dishes and see how the world was looking.
The sky was overcast, but it was warm for autumn and a stiff breeze bellied the sails. A different sailor appeared to relieve him of his dishes, then vanished down into the hold. Brand cast his eyes about, but did not see Imrahil, Andrahar or Erchirion-Erchirion’s first officer was at the helm. But there was a laundry line strung across the deck from mast to quarterdeck, and there were some child-sized clothes pinned securely upon it. Up close to the prow he saw a white-headed figure in Swan Knight dress, sitting upon a coil of rope while three smaller figures clustered about her feet. Smiling, he ventured forward.
Eiliriel was playing with a doll that had been cunningly fashioned out of sailcloth, by one of Erchirion’s sailors, Brand guessed. It had a painted face and hair that had been made of unraveled hemp. Tullus was teaching Celeg how to play at dice for fish bones. They were all clad in breeches and shirts that were suspiciously large for them, cinched in with cord belts. Brand looked down at Hethlin and grinned.
“Should you be letting them gamble? Aren’t you teaching them bad habits?”
“’Twas not me!” she protested, grinning in turn. “Tullus already knew how, and Erchirion’s bosun lent the dice to him, saying every lad should know how to gamble. He wanted to teach him to drink as well, but I did put a stop to that!” Brand laughed, a little surprised to find himself doing so.
“Good morning, Brand,” Tullus said, gathering some of Celeg’s fish bones to him while the younger boy scowled. He quickly ventured another throw, and had Celeg do the same, then shoved some back, which prevented what looked to be a major tantrum coming on.
“Good morning, Tullus, Celeg.” Celeg acknowledged his greeting with a truculent nod, his eyes intent upon the dice.
“Good morning, Big Boy,” Eiliriel said complacently. She held up her doll for Brand to inspect. “This is Elfhild. She is a princess of Rohan-see the hair?”
“Her hair is very nice, Eiliriel, and I think Elfhild is a very good name for her.”
Eiliriel gave him a sunny smile, pleased. Hethlin made a peculiar, muffled sound. Brand looked down and found that her mouth was pursed suspiciously tight. He remembered that she was good friends with another princess of Rohan and wondered if she had come up with the name and exactly what was running through her head at the moment.
He looked up at the grey and lowering sky. “Is it going to rain, do you think?”
The former Ranger shook her head. “Nay. It spat a little earlier, but it’s starting to break up now. Look westward.” Brand did so and found that there were indeed breaks in the clouds in that direction, and the sunlight was slanting down in columns to the sea. “Another hour or so, and it’ll be as pretty a day as you could wish for. Erchirion said last night we should reach Dol Amroth by early afternoon-maybe by noon, if this wind holds.”
Brand looked down at his former fellow captives. “Do you hear that? You’ll all be home in time for supper.”
Tullus nodded. “We already know that.” Suddenly, he gave Brand an imploring look. “Say Brand, would you please finish the story for us? I know it’s not night-time, but you were too tired last night and if we don’t do it this morning, we won’t ever get the chance.”
Celeg and Eiliriel promptly chimed in with their pleas as well. Brand looked pleadingly over at Hethlin, more than a little embarrassed at the idea of storytelling in front of an adult audience. He was hoping she would take the hint and get up and depart, but instead she settled more comfortably upon her pile of cable, her eyes twinkling.
“Don’t let me stop you. I like stories.”
With a resigned sigh, he surrendered to the inevitable and dropped to the deck, the children scooting closer to hear.
“As you know,” he began, “when we last left Callon, he was talking to the harp, the one that looked like an elven lady. And she had warned him that he was in the home of a terrible giant, who liked to eat boys whenever he got them, which fortunately wasn’t often, given where he lived.”
“Did he eat little girls too?” Eiliriel asked, clutching her new doll to her, eyes wide.
“No. Too sweet. Made his teeth hurt,” Brand said swiftly, with a wink at her. He heard a soft snicker from Hethlin, but did not deign to take notice. “In any event, Callon was not pleased to hear this news, but he was also curious about the harp. ‘How did you come to be here, lady,’ he asked politely, ‘and how is it that a harp has the power of speech?’”
“’My name is Nimrodel,’ the harp said, much pleased by Callon’s courtesy, ‘and I was wandering in the White Mountains, looking for my beloved Amroth. I had lost my way and gotten onto the far side by mistake when a vile Dunlendish sorcerer found me. He was enchanted by my singing, so he did a mighty spell founded in the dark arts and turned me into a musical instrument, that I might not escape and that he might always have my music by him. And he commanded me to sing for him often. I was singing for him the night the giant came down close to the sorcerer’s village hunting. He heard the music and followed it, and that was the last of the sorcerer. For though the sorcerer had powerful magic, that sort of thing really doesn’t help when a giant steps on you.’”
The children laughed and Hethlin smiled. Feeling a little more at ease, Brand continued.
“’I have been his captive ever since,’ the elf-harp said, ‘and oh, how I have wished for rescue! I would not blame you for fleeing now, boy, but we might be able to help one another and profit by it.’ At the mention of profit, Callon looked about at all the treasure and wondered if he might not at least fill his pouch with some gems. Even one of them would be enough to end his mother’s worries and feed them both for years to come.”
“I’d take lots and lots!” Celeg exclaimed, and Tullus and Eiliriel murmured their agreement as well.
“Yes, I’ve noticed you’ve a love of coin, Celeg,” Brand commented. The remark flew over the Celeg’s head, who merely nodded his assent.
“The elf-harp noticed Callon looking at the treasure and said, ‘Beware, boy! The giant knows his horde to the very last copper piece. Like a dragon he is about it. The moment you touch it, he will know and be in here fast as anything. But if you agree to carry me from this place, I will sing a slumber upon him and thus it may be that we will both escape.’”
“’Lady, even if you could not aid me, I would not let you linger in this place,’ Callon declared. ‘Though I am but a common boy, my parents taught me better than that.’ Very pleased, Nimrodel advised him to look long before he touched anything. ‘For once you take it up, that is when the giant will rouse.’ Callon told her of his plan to take only gems and she thought that wise. ‘To burden yourself with gold would be foolish-it is a long climb down, and I am no light burden.’ But she did suggest that he take a beautiful sword with a golden hilt that lay to one side in the horde. ‘For it is a magic blade and very sharp and might be of use before we are done.’”
“Where did the sword come from? Who did it belong to?” Tullus asked. Brand shrugged.
“As to that, that is another tale entirely, and does not come into this one.” Hethlin chuckled.
“Good parry, Brand.”
Ignoring the supposedly mature portion of his audience, Brand continued.
“So, after looking carefully at the horde, Callon made note in his mind of the larger gems and where they were located, opened his pouch and started to move. The first thing he did was to scramble to the very top of the horde and seize Nimrodel. The moment he did so, a horrendous roar rose in the very next room!
“WHO DARES TO DISTURB MY TREASURE! WHAT ROGUE DARES LAY HANDS UPON WHAT IS MINE!”
Brand spoke very loudly, deepening his voice to what he hoped was a giantish range, ignoring the twinge in his abused throat. It had felt much better than the day before when he began the story, but he could tell he shouldn’t do giant speech more than the once. But it was very effective-the children all jumped in a most satisfactory matter, as did a sailor going back towards the stern.
“Poor Callon jumped, he was that startled, and he slipped on the slippery coins and slid all the way to the bottom of the horde. But he kept his hold on Nimrodel, and he fell as chance would have it very close to the sword. He had set the harp on the floor and was belting it on, when a huge dark shape appeared in the doorway.”
“The giant?” Celeg gasped.
“Indeed it was! Callon had never seen an uglier face, all covered with warts and hairy moles. The giant’s skin was a sickly greenish grey. Reddish-yellow hair sprouted in tufts all over his head and out his ears and
“Yuck!” Eiliriel exclaimed.
“-and his eyes looked reddish-yellow too. He saw Callon and glared at him. Foam from his lips dropped onto the floor and he snarled, “A boy! A fine, fat boy! I’ll have roast boy for supper, then grind your bones to make my bread!”
“I don’t see how Callon was all that fat,” Tullus objected. “You’d said he and his mother hadn’t much to eat.”
“He wasn’t. But it had been a while since the giant had had a boy, and he wasn’t very bright, so he didn’t remember how a fat boy looked,” Brand said swiftly. Hethlin sank her teeth into her lower lip, her eyes alight. He gave her a warning look, and she refrained from commenting. “In any event, he started into the room and Nimrodel began to sing. Her beautiful face was twisted with rage at being held a prisoner for so long and her song was like ice made into melody. The giant staggered, a surprised look on his face, and fell. Even Callon felt sleep stealing over him, though the song was not meant for him, and had to shake himself.”
“He needs to run away! Right now! Boys need to run away when they’re told to!” Eiliriel said, bouncing up and down in place, and giving her brother a glare. Brand had wondered if she understood enough to hold her brother responsible for their misadventure and it was now obvious that she did.
“Well, Callon couldn’t run. He had to be careful, because the giant was laying in the doorway. But since Nimrodel seemed to have the giant sleeping deeply, Callon did take the time to gather a big pocketful of the best gems and large pearls within his reach. Then he took her up once more and then, ever so cautiously, he crept past the giant. There was a bad part where he had to squeeze between the giant’s knee and the doorpost, but he managed. Then he pelted off, fast as anything, towards the door.”
“And he got away!” Celeg crowed. He had simply ignored his sister’s ire.
“Not quite yet,” Brand warned. “For you see, the giant had a cat. And being a giant, it was a giant cat! Which meant that Callon was the size of a little mouse to it. It was reddish-yellow, like its master and as bad tempered, and as Callon ran towards the door and freedom, it leapt in front of him and barred the way.”
His audience’s eyes were gratifyingly wide, Brand noted. “Callon looked to Nimrodel for help, but she was still singing her song and her eyes were wide and fearful. It took him a moment to understand, but he was a bright boy and he soon realized that she was still holding the giant asleep with her song and couldn’t help him with the cat.”
“Good thing he had that sword,” Tullus noted.
“A good thing indeed. And as the cat leapt at him, he laid the harp down and drew it, and more by luck than anything else, sliced deeply into the cat’s paw when it made to strike at him! Now the cat was not much pleased by this, to find that the mouse it hunted had claws of its own. So it gave up the battle, and ran off on three legs, yowling furiously and smearing blood everywhere.”
“Bad kitty!” Eiliriel said.
Brand nodded. “It was a bad kitty. And very loud. Callon suddenly realized that he could no longer hear Nimrodel’s music over the yowling. And when he picked her up, she was no longer singing.”
“‘RUN, Callon!’ she cried. ‘I could not overcome the cat’s noise. The giant will be waking now!’ And sure enough, Callon could hear a puzzled rumble as the giant awoke. He ran, fast as ever he could, sheathing the sword and slinging Nimrodel over his back. And he reached the beanstalk and started down, shinnying as quickly as he could without letting go and falling to his doom. All the times he’d climbed trees as a small boy stood him in good stead that day.”
Hethlin looked up suddenly, and smiled in greeting. Brand turned his head to find his great-uncle coming towards them, a cup of something hot cradled in his hands. He looked a bit bleary-eyed, but cheerful enough, and dropped down beside Hethlin’s cable coil to look expectantly at Brand.
“Don’t let me stop you,” he said, just as Hethlin had earlier, bending his head over his cup and taking a sip. Flustered at the prospect of continuing the tale in the presence of such an accomplished storyteller, Brand merely stared at him for a moment. Celeg also gave the Prince the eye, intrigued.
“What’s that you’re drinking?”
“Bean tea. From Harad.”
“Is it good?”
“If you’re used to it.”
“Would I like it?” There was a greedy gleam in the younger boy’s eyes.
Imrahil was unoffended by the cheek. “I don’t think so, it’s rather bitter. But by all means, give it a try.” Celeg took a tiny sip from the cup offered to him and made a face.
“So many people say.”
“Why do you drink it then, my lord prince?” Tullus asked cautiously, his eyes wide at his sudden proximity to a legend.
“To wake me up.”
“You’re not wearing your crown, king,” Eiliriel commented.
“I just told you, I’m not awake yet.” There was a slightly querulous note in his voice. The little girl patted his leg.
“Oh poor king, do you have trouble waking up?”
Hethlin made a heroic effort to bite back a response, then gave it up and spluttered, “You wouldn’t believe how much trouble he has!”
The Prince of Dol Amroth gave her a reproachful look. “All of this frivolous talk about my personal habits is interrupting the story. Be silent, all of you, and let Brand continue.”
“Yes. Well…let me see. Where were we?”
“Callon was climbing down the beanstalk and the giant was after him,” Tullus supplied helpfully.
“The giant wasn’t after him just yet, but you are right, he did eventually figure out what had happened, even though he wasn’t very bright. And when he did, he wasn’t happy. Roaring in rage, he started down the beanstalk after Callon and even though Callon had a good head start, the giant was so much bigger that he was closing the distance very quickly. But Callon reached the ground while he was still halfway up. Callon was much brighter than the giant and he didn’t need Nimrodel crying ‘Chop it down! Chop it down!’ in his ear to tell him what needed to be done. Out came that bright blade again and Callon laid into the beanstalk with arms tough from years of digging in the garden and chopping wood.”
“Did the giant get him?” Eiliriel asked breathlessly.
“No, for the sword was very sharp and it hewed through the beanstalk as if it were a scythe harvesting wheat. The giant was about halfway down when it was chopped all the way through, and his roar of rage and fear as he fell to his death broke windows and crockery for miles around. And because he was a giant, and made of the bones of the earth, when he fell he broke into pieces of stone, which were scattered all over the uplands of Morthond. You can still see them today. One place they even call the Giant’s Fingers.”
The children looked very impressed, particularly when Imrahil added, “I’ve ridden past the place. You can see them-the rocks look just like five big fingers.”
“Yes,” Brand continued. “Fortunately, the beanstalk and the giant missed Callon’s house, falling instead in the pastures and fields. In fact, it fell across his unpleasant neighbor’s fields, and though Callon compensated him for the trouble the man still had to haul cartloads of rotting beanstalk away for the next few weeks.”
“Fairy-tale justice,” the Prince of Dol Amroth murmured. “I love it.” His bean-tea was almost gone and he looked almost awake as a consequence.
“What happened to Callon and his mother after that?” Tullus prompted.
“Well, Callon went to the nearest town and he changed one of the smallest of his gems for coin, hired a carriage and took his mother and Nimrodel to Minas Tirith. There he changed more gems and bought his mother and himself fine clothing and sought an audience with the King and Queen on their audience day. And since he no longer looked like a farm boy and had a magic harp besides, he was able to get in to see them.”
“And the Queen had one of her pretty dresses on,” Eiliriel declared contentedly.
“That she did. And they were both wearing their crowns.” Imrahil bowed his head over his cup once more and a soft snort issued from Hethlin.
“And as things turned out, when the King and Queen found out what had befallen Nimrodel, the Queen was able to send her back to some of her kin in Lorien, and they were able to undo the enchantment that had made her into a harp, though her singing voice remained as sweet as ever. She eventually went West and was reunited with her beloved Amroth once more.”
“Yay!” Eiliriel exclaimed. Even at her young age, she was apparently pleased that love had triumphed.
“As for Callon-the King was impressed with him and his bravery. He would be more impressed before Callon was done, for as you well know, Callon had many adventures after this. But for the time being, Callon took his money and his mother and they moved back west, to Belfalas, for they had heard good things of the land and the people there-”
“All the best people living in Belfalas,” the Prince interjected, the children nodding in agreement.
“Only the best people that aren’t living in Anorien,” Hethlin retorted with a raised eyebrow. Imrahil grinned his pirate’s grin at her. Brand glared at them both, annoyed at the interruption, and they desisted.
“People aside, of a certainty there were fewer large rocks! There he bought himself a large manor and set himself up in fine style, raising white cattle in memory of Fain. And he was a good neighbor and a good friend and the people of Belfalas loved him. And there he lived happily ever after-until his next adventure.”
The Prince and Hethlin applauded, and after a moment, the children joined in as well. Brand accepted the accolades with a nod, his cheeks slightly pink.
“That was a really good story, Brand!” Tullus said happily. “I wish we had time to hear another!”
“Unfortunately there is no time for more tales,” Imrahil said firmly, coming to Brand’s rescue. “I need to speak to Brand right now.” He looked down at his lady esquire. “Are you all right keeping these heroes company, Hethlin?”
“Yes, my lord,” she said with a smile. “We’ll be just fine.”
“Good. Brand, if you’ll come with me?” Brand got up as well, brushed his breeches off, and followed the Prince.
The Prince went back towards the stern and into Erchirion’s cabin, graciously acknowledging the salutes of Swan Knights and marines and sailors along the way. There Imrahil seated himself at his son’s desk, pulled pen and paper to himself and gestured that Brand should use the other chair.
“Though it might be uncomfortable for you to talk about it, Brandmir, I need to know what happened to you, how it was that you came to be taken.” Imrahil said.
“What are you doing, sir?” Brand asked, indicating the paper.
“Making notes. I intend to speak to the Haradric ambassador when we get to Minas Tirith and I would like to have my facts straight. So if you could begin at the beginning, when you were taken, that would be very helpful.” He took up his pen and gave Brand an expectant look. After a moment, Brand began to recount the tale of his capture and captivity. The part where the slavers had examined him was still difficult to talk about, despite the fact that he’d already told Andrahar about it, but the Prince, sensing this, did not question him further about it and was satisfied with what Brand chose to relate. He similarly glossed over killing Nezam, and Imrahil did not press him about that either, though he could see compassion and understanding in the Prince’s grey eyes.
When Brand came to the end of his account, Imrahil laid his notes aside. “Andra told me last night that the two of you had talked, Brand.” The Prince’s long fingers turned the quill over and over in his hands. “He mentioned a dream you had while captive.”
“The one with my father?”
“Yes. I am glad that you passed Boromir’s message on to him, strange though that must have seemed to you and I hope that you do not mind that Andra told me. He was a more than a little worried about you and a bit…unsettled, and talking to me calms him down sometimes.”
Brand remembered Andrahar’s remark about settling Imrahil down and smiled a little. “No sir, I don’t mind.” He hesitated for a moment, then spoke cautiously. “Do you think it really was my father?”
“I think it very possibly was.”
Imrahil’s ready assent surprised Brand, and made him suspicious as well.
“Have the dead ever spoken to you, Grandy?”
The Prince nodded. “Once. It was Boromir for me as well. He appeared to me soon after he was killed, to say good-bye. He asked me to talk to Andrahar, just as he asked you. And to look after your Uncle Faramir.”
“Did he seem like a ghost?”
“No, he seemed like himself, save that he bore the marks of many wounds. Did he appear in that guise to you? Andra didn’t really talk about that part.”
“No, he wasn’t hurt at all. He was dressed like you are when you walk on the beach. And he hugged me before he left. He felt as if he was actually alive.”
Imrahil nodded. “He embraced me as well, and it was as if he were there. I could even smell the steel and leather of his armor.” He smiled ruefully. “I used to wish that Nimrien would come to me, but she never did. I suspect that you have to have had the Dol Amroth gift in life to speak to those who have it after you are dead.”
“I guess. I don’t know enough about it myself.”
The Prince gave him a sympathetic look. “Did he frighten you, Brandmir?”
“Oh no. Mostly I was annoyed because he didn’t seem to care about the trouble I was in. But afterwards, that helped in an odd sort of way. Because if he wasn’t worried about it, then perhaps it was because he thought I could get out of it.”
“Boromir always knew how best to encourage men-it was one of his greatest gifts.” Imrahil smiled sadly. “I am glad you got to meet him, Brandmir, even if it was only in a dream.”
“He was nicer towards the end of it. He gave me his blessing and said some nice things. I’m glad I got to meet him too.” Somehow, that didn’t seem as odd as it might have. Brand sighed, then looked at his great-uncle inquiringly.
“Grandy? May I ask you a question?”
“How did you all find me?”
Imrahil smiled. “Ah! Now it is my turn to tell a story! As you know, I was hearing cases the day of your birthday. I had a very full docket, because people knew I was leaving to go to war. About three in the afternoon, a woman came before me. She was Tullus’ mother. His family was still out looking for him because they didn’t believe that he’d been drowned. Too good of a swimmer, she told me.”
“Tullus said the same to me. He was very offended when I told him that he’d been believed drowned.”
“Even the strongest swimmer can be taken by a rip tide, if they don’t know what they’re about,” the Prince commented. “But his mother was adamant in her belief that there had been foul play. T’was not the first time such a thing had happened, she said. That was why her husband had sent her to talk to me instead of having her help search. Three other children had gone missing in the dock district five months previously, she told me. Of course, I was already aware of that.”
“Were those the children you were asking the captain about?”
“Yes. They’d never been found, and the constable had claimed they’d all drowned. The dock-folk had not been happy with their constable then, and they were not happy with the idea that the disappearances were starting again.”
“It sounds as if the constable wasn’t doing his job.”
“This particular constable is in fact very close to retirement. But he is actually a very able man and I intentionally put him into a difficult position-with his consent. The truth is that he had been commanded by me to explain the disappearances in that manner. Elphir and Amrothos had investigated the disappearances at the time, suspecting slavers because they’d all been young children. Children are very popular as slaves since they adapt to servitude more successfully than older captives. We had activated our spies down in Umbar, to intercept the children if they’d gone to market there, but found no sign of them. Now, of course, we know why. It is a very great disappointment, to fail my folk in that way, but despite what I told Tufayl, my influence only stretches so far.”
“But Grandy…those people think their children have died!”
Imrahil nodded, his expression somber.
“Since they cannot be retrieved they might as well be dead, Brand. Indeed, one or more of them may have died by now-a slave’s life is often a hard one. It is perhaps kinder that their parents believe them dead, mourn them and in time move past that grief, then that they imagine for years the torments their sons may be enduring in a foreign land, hoping for a return that will never come.”
Brand frowned. “It seems dishonest, somehow.”
“That is because it is. And high-handed of me as well. But though the pretense did not please me, I deemed it necessary for a couple of reasons. I did not want a rumor of slavers bandied about the port because I wished the villains to believe that they were safe and could return, so that I could capture them if possible. I also did not want people taking matters into their own hands and attacking innocent Haradric ships upon mere suspicion. As you know, tempers are still high after the War and it would take little to cause a major riot in the dock district.” He took up the quill again and began turning it over and over once more.
“We had documented the ships of foreign registry in port during the first disappearances, so that we would have a record to use should more children vanish. If you recollect, my sons were all hearing court with me yesterday, so that they would be caught up on the current cases and could take over for me. When we had heard the story, Elphir and Amrothos went down to see the harbormaster and the constable, and Erchirion went to finish preparing Foam-flyer for sea in case we had to chase someone. Elphir and Amrothos compared their five-months old list against the ships that were currently in port. There were three Haradric ships that matched. One was in our dry-dock, having storm damage repaired, and was unable to sail at all. One was still in port. And the third had left port shortly after noon.”
“I told Andra to have you and all the other pages and castle children found and brought back up to the castle, just to be on the safe side. He was also to take all of Swan Knights and the senior esquires and search the dock and warehouse area for the missing children as well as the ship that was in port. That was done, and the ship in port turned out to be clean. By dark the castle children were all accounted for except for you and when you did not turn up anywhere in the castle or the grounds, we began to worry that you might be missing as well. Your friends were questioned. Gellam’s father said he’d seen and spoken to you about noon, and that you had said you were headed towards the point. Gellam himself said he’d gone out that there after his lessons, only to find you weren’t there. Andra sent riders out that way as well as down the beach other way. They found no sign of either you or Tullus. The warehouse district and the docks were combed, to no avail. Mistress Alfirin told us she’d fixed you lunch, and that you hadn’t looked well when you’d set out. This did nothing to allay our concern, and the rest of the city was searched as well. No Brandmir anywhere.”
“While we were searching, Celeg and Eiliriel were reported missing as well. We were almost certain at that point that we were dealing with slavers, and that you might have been taken. Andrahar was frantic as I have rarely seen him, and the rest of us were none too happy either. I decided that we had better take Foam-flyer out in pursuit of the sailed ship, and Andra got together a squad of Swan Knights as an escort. We boarded, and set sail late in the evening, leaving Elphir and Amrothos in charge of continuing the search back at the city.”
“And you managed to catch up to us by noon the next day?” Brand was very impressed. “You must have been flying indeed! But how did you know where to look?”
“Well, Elphir is a very good sailor of course, and we had a favorable wind, with all sail cracked on. And Foam-flyer truly is the fastest ship in these waters. Merchant-ships generally hug the coast, but not so close in as to come onto shoals, so it was not very difficult to plot a course that might bring us upon her.” Here Imrahil paused and looked a bit hesitant. “I also looked for you,” he said at last.
“‘Looked for me’?” Brand asked.
“Yes. As you know, I have the dreaming gift. But what you don’t know is that unlike most of my house, I’ve had Elven training to deal with it. My gift is very strong, so strong that it actually imperiled my life and sanity at one point. The training I received was to control it and damp it down to the point that I could function as Prince. That’s very difficult to do when you’re continuously wandering through other times and places in your head.”
Brand stared at his kinsman, astonished. Imrahil always seemed so centered, so sure of himself. That he had to contend with such an arcane thing came as a very great surprise.
“Does that still happen to you?”
“Oh no. It’s not been a problem for decades. But the point is, that Elven training did lay a little groundwork for other things. You might recall that a couple of years back I went to Lorien with Lady Hethlin to escort Queen Arwen to her wedding. I can’t remember if I’ve spoken to you about it or not.”
“You’ve mentioned it in passing a time or two, sir, but never really spoke of what happened.”
“I was wounded on the way there and because of that injury I fell ill, and had to spend some time in Lorien recovering. While I was there, I had some very interesting conversations with the Lady Galadriel.”
“Isn’t she the Queen’s grandmother?”
“Yes. She is an Elf of immense age and wisdom, and she has a magic mirror she showed to Hethlin and me one night. The mirror could show you the past or the future, though the future, she said, was not fixed. We could either tell her what we wanted to see, or leave the Mirror to work freely on its own. Lady Galadriel was able to command it to show me something that I had very much wanted to see.”
“What was that?”
Imrahil smiled. “The Elven kingdoms in the height of their flowering, and the Two Trees themselves.”
By now, Brand had had enough history lessons to appreciate the significance of this. “But wasn’t that ages ago?”
“Indeed it was, which was why I wanted to see it. Hethlin looked as well, but she left the Mirror free to show her what it would, and I don’t think she liked the result much, poor thing. But she has never told me anything about what she saw, so I cannot be sure.”
Brand tried to imagine a device which could show you such wonders. Magic was the only thing that could explain it, he decided. Wide-eyed, he looked at his great-uncle. “You were very lucky!”
“Wasn’t I just?” Imrahil agreed. “In any event, the Lady and I had several conversations during my stay about my gift and divination in general and she gave me, I can’t call it training exactly, I wasn’t really feeling well enough for that, it was more like some advice about ways that I might focus and use my gift a-purpose in direst necessity. Which this situation certainly qualified as, to my way of thinking.”
“So last night, I sat down in this cabin with a candle and a bowl of sea-water and I tried to find you. Andra was not happy about it in the least-he feared a return of my old trouble, should I try to force my gift in such a way.”
“You didn’t hurt yourself, did you, Grandy?” Concerned, Brand looked his great-uncle up and down.
The Prince shook his head. “No. Have no fear of that, lad. I got a very bad headache, which I pretty much slept off afterwards, though a bit of it still remains even now. And I never actually saw you. But I did see a piece of coastline, a little after the sun had risen to its highest point. And I know this coast well enough to know exactly where that was-Delugond Point. So I gave Erchirion the information and he plotted the swiftest course there. Which was another reason we were able to close with you so quickly.”
Dead men talking to me and Grandy having visions of where to find me-things have been very strange the last couple of days! Brand thought. “It all seems like some sort of fantastic tale to me, sir,” he said aloud.
“It is quite the story, isn’t it? Now you have one of your own to tell-besides your well-wrought rendition of Callon’s tales.”
Brand blushed. “I’m nowhere near the story-teller you are, sir.”
“I don’t know about that. Your audience seemed appreciative enough.”
“On the ship it was the only think I could think of to do, to keep them from worrying. Though they did well enough, really. Celeg and Eiliriel didn’t fuss all that much, and as for Tullus…he was the rock I leaned on. Did you know that he wants to join the Navy?”
“No, I didn’t. Does he really?”
“That, or the Marines, I’m not sure which. But he wants to go to sea in any event.” Brand hesitated for a moment, then asked, “I was wondering, sir…do you think you could put a good word in for him with ‘Chiron?”
Imrahil mulled this over for a moment, then said, “I could indeed. But I won’t. That’s your responsibility.”
“Yes. Yours. The person who can speak of Tullus’ finer qualities from personal experience.”
Seeing Brand’s startled expression, the Prince of Dol Amroth smiled. “Don’t you remember, Brandmir, that talk about a lord’s duties you and I had last month?”
“Which one? We talked a couple of times about it after you showed me the letters.”
“The one where I said that a lord’s duty to punish wrong-doers and his duty to reward the worthy are equally solemn charges? And that though the first is the lord’s burden, the second is his joy?”
Brand remembered Imrahil hanging the pirates and the one seemingly interminable court of justice the Prince had insisted he sit through for educational purposes. Then he remembered the most recent knighting ceremony for the Swan Knights, and the glow of pride and happiness on the Prince’s face as he rewarded his followers. I have the power to make Tullus very happy!
The biggest smile Imrahil had seen since his rescue came over the boy’s face.
“Are we finished, Grandy?”
“I think so. If I think of any more questions to ask you, I will do it later.”
Brand jumped to his feet, his usual adolescent energy and eagerness in evidence once more. “Then will you excuse me, sir?”
He found Tullus having wandered away from the others, watching one of Erchirion’s sailors splice a rope. “Trying to learn all you can, are you?”
Tullus grinned up at him, eyes shining. He looked happy as a cat with the catch come in. “Of course! This is Foam-flyer, Brand!
“Yes, I’ve noticed you coveting my cousin’s ship,” Brand said with an answering grin. “Come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet.”
Tullus came along with Brand willingly enough-until he saw their destination was the quarterdeck. Then he dug in his heels.
“Brand! I can’t! That’s the Admiral!”
“You’d like to meet him, wouldn’t you?”
“Come on, Tullus, meeting him isn’t any worse than dealing with a bunch of hostile slavers!”
“Easy for you to say,” the younger boy muttered. “He’s your cousin!” Brand took his arm, seeking to overcome his reluctance that way, but after a couple of steps Tullus shook him off, muttering, “I’ll go to my doom under my own sail, thank you!”
Erchirion, who had seen them coming, had stepped away from his helmsman and was watching their approach with an air of solemnity that was quite spoilt by the twinkle in his eyes. Fortunately, Tullus was too intimidated to notice.
“Prince Erchirion,” Brand said formally once they had ascended the steps.
“Lord Brandmir,” Erchirion intoned equally formally, though Brand thought he detected the faintest twitch of the lips.
“I would like to introduce to you Tullus son of…oh bother! Tullus, what’s your father’s name?”
“Randir, sir,” Tullus managed to answer while staring awestruck at Erchirion. “Randir the Cooper. Our shop is down on the West Docks.”
Erchirion nodded in recognition. “Oh yes! I know the man. Have some of his casks in the hold beneath your feet, in fact. He does good work-never had any of his cooperage spring a leak on me.”
Tullus smiled shyly, bolstered and gratified by this praise of his parent. Brand, himself a little flustered by his lack of preparedness in the matter of names, pressed onward.
“My lord prince, Tullus has informed me that he does not wish to follow his father’s trade, but would rather go to sea. He helped me during that business with the slavers, and I can tell you that he is courageous in battle and keeps his wits about him when many do not. I could not have attempted my escape without his help and I commend him to you in the hope that he might be able to go to sea with you or some other worthy captain.”
“A strong recommendation indeed, Lord Brandmir! I will bear it in mind.” Erchirion studied Tullus thoughtfully. “You’re a well-grown lad. Know your knots?”
“Aye, sir!” Tullus cast his eye desperately about for any stray cordage upon which he might prove his proficiency but there was none on the ship-shape quarterdeck. Erchirion chuckled.
“Time enough for that later! Have you a head for heights?”
“And a strong stomach?”
“The best, sir!”
“Well then! I’ll be taking Foam-flyer out along the western coast here soon. Since Lord Brandmir speaks so highly of you, I’d be glad to take you on trial as a cabin boy.”
Tullus’ jaw dropped. “On this ship, sir?”
Erchirion took a moment to look pointedly about his vessel. Brand suspected that it was at least in part so that he would not burst out laughing.
“It appears to be the only one I have… Needless to say, you will need to get your parents’ leave. And I will warn you-they may not wish to let you go after your recent adventures.”
“Oh sir! Thank you, sir! I’m sure I’ll be able to get them to give me leave, captain!”
Brand suspected their lives would be a misery until they did. The same thought must have crossed Erchirion’s mind, for he smiled rather wryly.
“Very well then. If you two lads don’t have any further business with me, then I have a ship to sail.”
Brand bowed. “Thank you, cousin, for hearing my petition.”
Erchirion inclined his head. “It is always a pleasure to have persons of worth brought to my attention, Lord Brandmir.” Tullus bobbed an awkward bow as well, and the two boys retreated back down the stairs. Erchirion watched them go, and his grin flashed suddenly white in the late morning sun.