Altariel and I went over the discussion between Faramir and Brand at some length during our trip back in September, and while it is not exactly as we set it out then, I hope that she will not be too disappointed.
“Clear?” Hethlin looked to Brand, who nodded, and the two of them marched to the target to retrieve their arrows. The morning was well advanced and though Captain Andrahar had had the esquires up and at their usual training regimen at the crack of dawn as promised, Hethlin had been excused the morning session so that she could practice her shooting-the tournament had an archery round and she was the best archer Dol Amroth had. By chance, she had encountered Brand after breakfast and had agreed to let him accompany her down to shoot at the targets on the Pelennor used by the Minas Tirith detachment. There were several men in sable and silver there practicing, but after some good-humored insults brought on by her Dol Amroth blue, she and Brand had been left alone to practice at a target on the end of the row.
They had compared further accounts of the celebration the evening before, then conversation had lapsed and the shooting had continued in relative silence, until they had both shot several rounds. But now as they drew their arrows carefully from the target, Hethlin gave Brand an earnest look.
“Brand, I do not want to pry. And I don’t know what went on between you and the Captain that has the two of you so at odds. But you should really try to settle it before he leaves for the North. It is bad luck to go into battle with an unresolved quarrel at your back. You don’t want to ill-wish him, do you?”
Disconcerted, Brand stared at her. He had never heard of such a belief. Andrahar certainly did not seem to put credence in such things. But her words caused a chill to come over him, and he remembered the disastrous dream he had dreamt in Dol Amroth before their departure.
“Valar’s sake, Hethlin! Must you frighten my nephew with every unfounded superstition that ever made its way through the Rangers?” came a voice from behind them before Brand could think of how he should reply. They both turned to find the Steward of Gondor standing there, rather anonymous in a shabby black tunic and workaday breeches and boots.
”Captain!” Hethlin exclaimed in delight, her face lighting up. Then, seeing that he carried a quiver of arrows and bow of his own, a wicked twinkle came into her eyes. She gestured towards the weapon. “Do you actually remember how to use one of those?”
Brand’s uncle raised an eyebrow. “Now that will be quite enough of that!” he murmured, but though his expression was perfectly solemn, his own eyes were laughing in response. “Good morning, Brandmir,” he added.
“And to you, sir,” Brand responded. “I did not think to see you this early.”
“There is a Council called for the afternoon, and I doubt I will be free till late this evening,” the Steward explained. “So I thought that I would come and find you now. I saw Uncle earlier this morning and he told me that you’d come down here to shoot with Hethlin, so I found my bow and followed you.”
“I am very glad you did, sir. Lady Hethlin told me that you are one of the best archers in the city.”
“Was one of the best archers in the city,” came Hethlin’s impertinent murmur. “He’s gone soft, sitting behind a desk all day. I’ll wager he can’t even string that bow.”
Knowing his uncle to be a man of the utmost dignity, Brand was aghast. Even if Hethlin was his uncle’s friend, this hardly seemed the way to address the Steward of Gondor, who was also the Prince of Ithilien! He looked at Faramir in trepidation, only to find him surveying the Dol Amroth esquire coolly, his head tilted a little to one side. Grey eyes met grey-gold and contested for a long moment, then he grinned boyishly and stepped forward to embrace his former Ranger, who eagerly embraced him back. Brand sighed in relief.
“Ah Heth, it is good to see you!”
“And you, Captain!”
“You looked lovely last night.”
“Not lovely enough for you to dance with me, apparently.”
“Mercy, Heth! I didn’t even get a chance to dance with my wife! I‘d been too long at Emyn Arnen and the lords gave me no peace all evening.”
“Where did Éowyn go? I caught a glimpse of her early in the evening, but she was with some ladies and I did not want to intrude. I never saw her again after that, and I did so want to greet her.”
“And she you. But the Lady Firiel annoyed her so much that she left early.”
“Was that the lady she spilled the wine on?” Brand asked curiously. His uncle put his hand over his eyes for a moment, chuckling ruefully.
“You saw that, did you? Yes, that was Lady Firiel.”
Hethlin laughed. “I am sorry I missed that! It looks as if Éowyn was doing her part to keep the ladies of Minas Tirith in check, even as Brand and I were!”
Faramir grinned again, to Brand’s astonishment. Hethlin seemed to have quite the cheering effect upon his uncle. “Yes, I heard about Lady Jerulas. Really, Heth-the King’s Master of Hounds? Aragorn doesn’t even have such an official!”
“Well you’ll need to find him one, if snippy little wenches like Jerulas are the rule at court these days,” the lady esquire said unrepentantly. “Does Éowyn like the city?”
“Not particularly,” Faramir answered, a slight frown on his face. “though she enjoys the Queen’s company greatly. She much prefers Emyn Arnen. I cannot say I blame her. You must come to dinner, Hethlin, and soon. Éowyn will be so happy to see you again.” His expression brightened. “And I want to show you my son!”
Hethlin smiled, her eyes soft of a sudden. “I should very much like that, Faramir. I don’t doubt that he is beautiful.”
The Steward’s pride in his offspring was palpable. “I certainly think so! Can I win you free of Captain Andrahar any time soon?”
“Not until after the tournament, I fear,” Hethlin said, shaking her head regretfully. “He has got us all working furiously. We would have been in any event, preparing for our tests, but I think this might be even worse. I’m to shoot until lunch, then after lunch I‘ve mounted practice, and since I missed the morning foot drills, I’ll have to spar in the evening with the officers and the punishment detail to make up.”
Faramir whistled. “That is quite a schedule!” He reached out and grasped her forearm briefly, squeezing. She squeezed his in return. His eyes widened. “And you’ve put a lot of muscle on! Do you remember that time when you blacked my eye for me? I told you then you had gotten much more dangerous since the time we’d met. I’ll wager you’d hit even harder now!”
“You blacked my uncle’s eye?” Brand interjected, interested. Hethlin gave the Steward a disgruntled look.
“You would bring that up, wouldn’t you?” To Brand she added, “I was injured at the time, Brand, and not exactly myself.”
“Nonsense. All the Rangers went in terror of you always,” Faramir said, his face perfectly straight. Hethlin’s eyebrow arched.
“As I recollect, you were collecting black eyes at the time,” she replied sweetly. “I was hardly the only one hitting you.”
“And you would have to remind me of that!” It was Faramir’s turn to look disgruntled.
“In any event, all that muscle certainly helps with my draw,” the former Ranger declared, grinning. She obviously felt she had scored the winning point in the exchange. “Speaking of which-can you string that bow? Or are you just going to stand here and talk all morning? Some of us have shooting to do!”
The Prince of Ithilien, and the former captain of its Rangers, did not deign to reply. Instead, he gave Hethlin a pointed stare as he drew the bow from its oiled casing, slipped the string onto the one end, stepped into the proper stance and bent the stave, sliding the other end of the string into its notch with only the tiniest of grunts. She nodded approval, then looked him up and down with a great show of feigned concern.
“Are you absolutely sure you didn’t strain anything?” Seeing his affronted glare, she laughed out loud.
“Then come and shoot with us, Captain, if you think you remember how.”
Faramir was disconcerted to find that he had indeed fallen off greatly from his war-time standard. In their first round, he was outscored not only by Hethlin but by Brand, which surprised both of them. But he did not stint his praise.
“You appear to have quite the knack for this, Brandmir! You shoot very well for one who has only been training for a couple of years.”
“I’ve had a good teacher, sir,” Brand said.
Faramir gave Hethlin an approving nod. “I can’t think of a better myself. Your father never was interested in archery much-you’re more like me in that respect.” That idea seemed to please him.
He was even more pleased with the swiftness with which his skill returned. They shot several more rounds, and Brand never beat him again. Faramir improved consistently though he never managed to defeat Hethlin. During the last round he gave her a close battle, then admitted his defeat, shaking out his arms and shoulders with a wince as they gathered their arrows.
“There’s truth to what you said earlier, Heth. I am not what I once was.”
“You’d come back quick enough, Captain, if you’d just spend some time keeping your hand in,” came Hethlin’s tart rejoinder. “Today was proof of that.” Relenting, she added, “Though I imagine that it is pretty hard for you to find the time to do it now.”
“It is,” the Steward admitted. “My duties take up most of my waking hours. Though I had forgotten how shooting targets calms my mind and clears my thoughts. For that reason alone, it would be worthwhile to try to do it every so often.” He stepped into his bow and unstrung it, wincing once more before giving her a wry look. “Preferably often enough to keep from ‘straining something’ as you put it. Hethlin, I need to talk to Brandmir. Might I steal him from you?”
“Certainly, Faramir. It is past time for him to stop. He’s shot his full number and more besides, and I’ll not be having him overdo it.” Brand hastened to unstring and case his own bow, and stepped to his uncle’s side.
“Might I join you again some morning, Heth, if I get up early enough?” Faramir asked.
“You needn’t ever ask, Faramir. You know that,” came her soft reply.
“But I often have. And you have never stinted in your answer,” came his equally soft response.
Brand could not fathom the look that passed between them then. It ended when Hethlin smiled suddenly, shook her head as if in disbelief at something and turned back to her shooting. “I hate it when you do that!” she declared, though there was no heat in her voice and Brand had no idea what she was talking about.
The Steward chuckled. “Good luck with the tournament and the test, Heth.”
She looked back over her shoulder. “You’ll need more luck than I, my lord. You’ve the Council to deal with!”
Faramir acknowledged the truth of that statement with a rueful smile and a nod, then looked down at Brand.
“It is almost lunch time. Why don’t we go get some food and talk?”
The Silver Chalice was Brand’s uncle’s choice for lunch-a very nice tavern in the third circle. Faramir had apparently eaten there before-the tavern-keeper obviously recognized him despite his modest clothing, and quickly took them upstairs to a private dining room with a nice view out of the windows of the circles below them.
“Will this serve, my lord Steward? I assumed that you would not wish the common room,” he said with a bow.
“This will do nicely, Faelan,” Brand’s uncle replied.
“Would you care for a hot or cold lunch?” came the next query. Faramir looked at Brand, who shrugged.
“Cold, I think. My nephew has never had one of your good salads. And some wine, please.” The tavern-keeper gave Brand a startled, speculative look when he was named nephew, then bowed and departed, a young maid entering as he did so to lay napkins and tankards and utensils before them. She departed in her turn and when the door had closed behind her, Faramir looked at Brand.
“It was very good to see Hethlin this morning. I am glad I came out.”
“She speaks very highly of you, sir.”
“And I have naught but praise for her. We’ve saved each others’ lives often enough.” He drew his forefinger down his right cheek. “That’s how she got that scar, did you know? Standing over me on the Pelennor.”
“Yes, Grandy told me about that.”
“She is a very good friend to have.”
“So I have found her to be, sir. She has been very patient teaching me archery.”
“And from what I saw this morning, she is doing an excellent job!” Faramir steepled his fingers together. "Now-what was it you needed to talk to me about?”
“It’s about Captain Andrahar, sir.” A nod across the table, as if a suspicion had been confirmed.
“I thought that it might be. Uncle let slip one or two things that made me think there was some trouble between you. And speaking of Uncle, why have you not consulted with him about this? He is, after all, Gondor’s acknowledged expert on Andrahar.”
“He wants me to,” Brand admitted uncomfortably. “I think sometimes he would also like to knock our heads together! But…I did not want to put him in the middle, if you know what I mean. He and the captain are so close. And he accepts what the captain is. I would feel silly talking to him about this.”
“Uncle is usually quick-footed-whether in the middle or in other tricky spots. And he is more than capable of appreciating another’s point of view-that is one of a diplomat’s gifts. He does not blame you for the way you feel, of that I am certain. But I am always glad to give you counsel, Brand. I am very pleased you asked. So-has Andrahar failed in his guardianship in some way?”
Brand hastened to reassure. “Oh no, sir! He has done nothing wrong! He has always taken very good care of me.”
“Then what is the matter?”
“I found out about him and my father. On my birthday. I asked him why he had never married.”
Faramir’s eyebrow arched, and that unnervingly intent gaze of his settled upon his nephew. “And he told you everything?”
“Not exactly.” Here Brand cast down his eyes, embarrassed still by the trespass. “He explained that he was a lover of men. I went back to the house. All of his armor and things were out, because he was packing for the campaign. I was looking at his things and noticed his gambeson had a pocket in it. There was a wallet in the pocket. I pulled it out because I was curious. There was a letter from my father in the wallet. I read it.”
“That was not well done, Brandmir.” The rebuke was gentle enough, but Brand’s ears turned red nonetheless.
“I know, sir. I have apologized to him.”
“Is that what the problem is? That he is wroth with you about the letter?”
Brand looked back up. “No sir, he understands about that. But he knows that I was not…happy… about him and my father. After he and Grandy and ’Chiron rescued me from the slavers, we had a talk. He said that he should not have kept me to himself when he found me, that he should have told Elphir right away, so that you would know, that you should have had the chance to know me before I got so attached to him. And that since he was going to war for more than a year and that I would be starting esquire training when he got back, that perhaps we should distance ourselves, since I was unhappy about him and my father. And that I should spend more time with you, since you are my true kindred.”
“You know that you are always welcome in my home, Brand, either to visit or to stay.” Though his uncle’s voice was perfectly even, Brand got the feeling that he was both surprised and pleased.
“I know that, sir. I know you would have liked me to come with you when you visited me that first time.”
Faramir nodded, his fingers unconsciously toying with his napkin. “Yes, I would have. It was nice to have the time alone with Éowyn when we were first married, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat resentful that all of Dol Amroth seemed to be conspiring to keep you away from me. Had you not made it clear that you preferred Dol Amroth to Minas Tirith yourself, I would have protested much more.”
“Perhaps I should have come with you then, Uncle, despite how I felt,” Brand admitted. “Then, if I had decided to become a Swan Knight, there would have been enough distance between us to suit the captain. He really meant what he said, sir-I hardly see him anymore, and he won’t talk to me!”
“It is very unlike Andrahar to avoid anything or anyone,” the Steward mused, “though it is quite possible, believe it or not, to hurt his feelings. And he is well aware of the attitude most Gondorians have towards men with his…tastes. If he believes you disapprove of such things, he will not inflict his presence upon you.” He gave his nephew another piercingly intent look. “Is that such a loss to you? You still have Uncle and my cousins, after all.”
Brand made a frustrated gesture. “I know that. But I miss him! We used to talk about things. I could tell him anything. Please don’t take this wrongly, sir, but…we’re both bastards. Though everyone at Dol Amroth has always been wonderful to me, he is the only person who really understands about some things.”
The return of the serving-girl with their lunch interrupted the discussion. Despite his troubles, Brand surveyed the salads, cold meats and cheeses and very beautiful bread with a growing boy’s avid appetite and Faramir smiled. Once the table had been laid, he started eating so that Brand would as well, and they didn’t speak for a couple of minutes.
Then, continuing the conversation, Faramir said, “I can see why you would value Andrahar’s counsel-Uncle has for decades. And I can certainly see that the two of you have much in common! But what exactly is it that you want, Brand? Andrahar is right in saying that by the time he returns, you will be almost sixteen, and that gives you a man’s status in some things in Gondor. You could enlist in the army at that age. Will you still have such need of his advice then? When Cousin Elphir became an esquire, I know that Andrahar worried about being properly impartial, given that he was Elphir’s uncle in all but name. Consequently, poor Elphir had a much harder time of it than everyone else, just so no one would claim that Andrahar had shown him any favoritism! It is most likely that experience, as much as what happened recently, that makes him want to back away from you now. He might be trying to make things easier for you down the road.”
“I did not know that about Cousin Elphir. That makes sense, I suppose.” Brand looked down at his plate glumly and stirred his food with his fork. “And if that is why he is doing this, it’s difficult to argue with him. But I want things to be like they were before all this happened! I want us to be easy with each other again-even if it means he does come down hard on me when I am an esquire.”
Faramir took a sip of his wine. “Future favoritism in the Swan Knights aside, I do not believe that Andrahar would have trouble reconciling with you-provided you can bring yourself to accept that he is a lover of men. And make him believe that you accept it. For he is not only honest to a fault, he can sense a falsehood far better than most. Do you really accept it? Do you know exactly what it was that he and your father were doing together?”
“I looked at that book, the one the captain told me to. That Garden book in the library, with all the pictures.”
“Ah yes, the true source of wisdom for all things carnal in Dol Amroth,” Faramir chuckled. “What did you think? Were you disgusted?”
Brand frowned in thoughtful reminiscence. “No, not any more than by some of the other things in there. Do people really do those things?”
“Some do some of them. Very few, I think, do all of them.”
“That’s a relief!”
Brand’s uncle chuckled again, and Brand took the opportunity to eat a couple of bites. When he had done so, he looked up hesitantly at Faramir, who cocked an eyebrow.
“What is it, Brand?”
“Did Grandy tell you about the dream I had when I was on board the slavers’ ship?”
“No, he did not. Was it a special dream? One of the visions? I know you have the wave dream.”
Brand nodded. “It was. It was my father. We were on the beach at Dol Amroth, and he told me lots of things, mostly about him and the captain. Father told me to give a message to the captain, and when I gave it to him, Andrahar was very shaken. It made no sense to me, but it obviously meant something to him, so I knew that my father had really been there.”
“What did your father say?” the Steward asked lightly enough, but Brand noticed something of the same hunger in his eyes that Andrahar had shown. So he recounted the entire conversation as best he could, and as he did so, his uncle’s face lit up. Faramir looked much younger of a sudden, and even laughed in a couple of places.
When Brand was done, his uncle dabbed at his eyes with his napkin and asked, “Oh, Valar! That was definitely Boromir! Did he give you any message for me?”
“I am sorry, sir, but no.”
At Brand’s worried look, Faramir smiled. “Don’t worry, lad. All is well. We said our farewells long ago. I am very glad that you got to meet him, even if only in a dream.”
“I am too, though it makes me sad. Even though he was rude a couple of times, I still would have liked to know him.”
“And he would have liked to have known you, as I told you when we first met.” There was a pause as Faramir’s eyes grew distant and he played with the silver ring upon his left hand. Brand waited in polite silence and eventually he spoke again.
“Brand, I want to help you. And I will help you in any way I can. But to do that, I have a question that you must answer, and you need to answer this question as honestly as you can, without worrying about offending me. Will you do that?” His uncle’s customary gravity was back in full force and sensing the solemnity of the request, Brand took a moment to actually think about his response before he nodded slowly.
“Very well then.” Faramir smiled reassuringly. “My question is this-what is Andrahar to you? In other words, what do you name him in your heart when you think upon him? Friend? Guardian?”
Brand hesitated for a long moment before he answered. “Father,” he said at last softly. Despite Faramir’s assurances, he hastened to explain. “I am sorry, sir, but it’s just that…that my step-father never loved me. And you all love me because I am Boromir’s son. But the captain bought me out from the tanner before he knew who I was. He chose me for me. And I haven’t forgotten that.”
“Nor should you. His choice does give him a valid claim upon your affections.” The same hand that had been twisting the ring but moments before reached across the table to enfold Brand’s and give it a gentle squeeze. “Be at peace, Brand! I am honored that you trust me enough to answer so honestly. And it is fitting, in a way. Did not my brother say so? ‘You have my blessing, for whatever that is worth and my hope that you will be able to come to terms with this and look after Andra for me. You don’t need me to tell you that you are good for each other.’ I rarely argued with my brother when he was alive and find no profit in doing so now. You have told me what I need to know, and now I can help you.”
Brand gave his uncle a searching look, worried that he might have caused him grief, but Faramir seemed totally at ease. “Have you had enough to eat?” he asked, and at Brand’s affirmative nod, pushed away from the table. Standing up, he laid the price of their meal on the boards and gathered his bow and arrows. Brand followed suit.
“Come. The Council convenes soon, but we have a little time. Let us go to Uncle’s house and have a look in the library there. I tend to rely upon books for my answers, and I am thinking that if memory serves me, there may be one or two there that will help you.” Brand’s face fell at that prospect, and Faramir laughed.
“If there were ever a doubt you are my brother’s son, that look just proved your heritage! So Boromir used to look when I suggested that he study some work or other for answers to his problems!” He laid a companionable arm about his nephew’s shoulders and ushered him from the tavern.
As they walked back up to the Prince’s townhouse, Faramir chatted amiably with his nephew about the progress of his studies in Dol Amroth and other family news, including some understandably prideful description of Brand’s new cousin Elboron. They were greeted upon their arrival by Imrahil, who gave the Steward a quizzical look.
“Am I late for Council, Faramir? I thought it was not convening until the eighth bell.”
“You are correct, Uncle. I just brought Brand back. We’ve business in the library and then I will walk over with you if you like.”
“Excellent! I will leave you to it then.” With a nod and a cheery smile, he left them, and Brand followed his uncle down the hall to the library, not so large or impressive a room as the library at Dol Amroth, but equally well-lit and comfortable. With the air of a man who knew the place intimately, Faramir began to prowl the shelves. Brand toyed with the pieces of the chess set while he did so.
“Do you play, Brandmir? I did not know that,” the Steward said, upon turning around and seeing this.
Brand set the knight he’d been turning over in his fingers back upon the board. “I only just started learning, sir. The captain taught me-he said it was a good game for a soldier to know.”
“It is a good game for anyone to know-it teaches clear thinking. Shall we play a game sometime?”
“Only if you promise to be more patient with me than Cousin Amrothos was!” Boromir’s grin manifested suddenly upon his son’s face. “Because I have heard Grandy say that the two of you are the best chess players in Gondor and I tried playing with Cousin Amrothos once. He did not enjoy it much.”
Faramir chuckled. “’Rothos is capable of being a patient teacher of some subjects, but it is true that he is very serious about his chess. However, I think that I can summon up enough fortitude to deal with you.”
“Then I would be glad to play with you, Uncle.”
“We will do it soon.” Faramir promised, turning back to his search.
“What are you looking for, sir?”
“Oh, some things that might help you understand Andrahar a little better. There are a couple of titles I am thinking of…” his voice trailed off into silence, then Brandmir heard a small, surprised exclamation. “What is this doing here? I thought it was in Dol Amroth.”
Intrigued, Brand joined his uncle, to find him opening an old, rather nondescript volume. There was a bookmark in the book, a simple piece of plum-colored ribbon. To Brand’s surprise, the ribbon seemed to have great significance to the Steward, who stroked it with his fingers for a moment, then took it up and pressed it gently to his lips before placing it back in the book. Only then did he look down at the place where the book had been marked. He scanned a couple of pages and his eyebrows rose. “Right as usual, Aunt,” he murmured, then looked up at Brand, his eyes glowing with some deep emotion.
“This book might help you, Brand, particularly the marked chapter. It’s a bit florid, but despite that it once proved very useful indeed. It actually saved Gondor from going to war decades before she did! Show it to Uncle and ask him to tell you the tale. After you’ve had a look at it we’ll talk again. I want you to come to dinner soon-Éowyn has been asking about you. If you need to talk to me sooner, just send a message. I am very busy right now, but I will always try to make time for you if it is at all possible.”
“Thank you, sir,” Brand said as he accepted the book. The door opened soundlessly, and the Prince of Dol Amroth stuck his head into the room.
“Faramir? We should be going now.”
“I was just saying my good-byes to Brand.” Faramir embraced his nephew. “I promise we will talk again soon, lad.”
Brand nodded. “Good afternoon, sir. I hope the Council does not go on too long.” His great-uncle rolled eyes heavenward.
“We can only hope! Come, my lord Steward!” Faramir joined him and they started down the hall. As they went, Brand heard his uncle say, “There is no need to hurry so, Uncle-they cannot start without us. I must officially open the session.” Imrahil’s reply was muted by distance.
Brand looked down at the book. If the text were as florid as his uncle had said, the title of the book certainly matched it. Among The Savages, it read, A Journal Of Explorations In The Wilder Regions of Harad And Khand By Meneldor of Lebennin. The chapter marked by the ribbon was Chapter Sixteen, and it was titled-Inheritance Laws And Customs-A Comparison Between The More Civilized Khanates And The Deep Desert Barbarians.