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13
"Keep good watch if you will, my friend."

There are not enough dogs in Tolkien. So this chapter is for my doggy friends-Erin Rua, Lady Masterblott and Raksha the Demon.


~~~

Lord Lalven’s home was an ancient manse all the way down in the third circle, in a neighborhood of similar houses that had fallen from their former exalted station and had been divided into apartments. His home seemed to be the only one still occupied by a single family.

Brand was escorted there by a cheerful young foot soldier named Talgeth, a member of the small detachment Prince Imrahil kept at his Minas Tirith house at all times. Talgeth had been stationed in Minas Tirith long enough that he was able to swiftly guide Brandmir to his destination. Having done so, he settled himself upon a bench at the front of the house with the obvious intention of waiting as Brand approached the front door.

“You can go back on up the hill, if you like,” Brand said to the soldier. “I can find my own way back.”

“It would be worth my life to return without you, my lord.” Talgeth replied amiably. “And I am passing fond of my life! I do not mind.”

“I used to run alone in Pelargir in a lot worse neighborhoods than this, and I was a lot younger when I did. I wish people would remember that!”

Talgeth chuckled. “I think that what the Prince and Captain Andrahar are chiefly remembering at this point is what happened in Dol Amroth right before you left, my lord. Give the memory a month or two to fade, and they’ll slacken the leash.”

“In a month, they’ll be gone!”

“Well! There you have it. The problem will be solved then.” Showing no inclination whatsoever to leave, Talgeth gave the bell-pull a pointed look. “Don’t you have someplace to be, my lord?”

Brand gave the argument up as a lost cause and rang the bell. As he did so, he reflected upon the fact that the Prince never seemed to go anywhere outside the palace or the townhouse without at least one guard in attendance, and wondered if his life was going to take that same path. Perhaps not. After all, I am just a lord and a minor one at that, not a prince. And from things he’d overheard, Imrahil had not always been held to such strict oversight. The Captain had become much more stringent about the Prince’s escort since Imrahil had returned from his Lorien misadventure.

The sound of the door opening interrupted Brand’s deliberations. A tall, rather round, middle-aged woman stood there, a big apron over her dress and a dish towel draped over one arm. She gave Brand a considering look, then smiled.

“You must be Lord Brandmir,” she said. “Do come in, my lord. His lordship is in the study and is expecting you.” She stepped aside to allow Brand to enter the entrance hall, which was clean but plainly furnished. But Brand had little attention to spare for the furnishings, for he was frozen in shock, his gaze riveted upon the dog that stood in the hallway.

Maeddan had warned him that Lalven’s family kept dogs, and had implied that there were several of them, and even that they were large. But the valet had been guilty of understatement in the extreme. This hound was the biggest dog Brand had ever seen, far larger than the hounds in the Prince’s pack. Standing as tall as a small pony, the animal was covered with black, wiry hair, and its dark brown eyes assessed Brand coolly for a moment before it turned and began to pad silently down the hall.

The housekeeper, if such she was, did not seem intimidated by the dog in the least. “Come along, Lord Brandmir, I’ll show you to his lordship. Don’t mind old Morneleg there-he’s as gentle as a lamb.” Morneleg, who was preceding them down the hall, did not look gentle as a lamb to Brand-he looked as if he could devour a lamb in three gulps!
But Brand walked with the housekeeper and gamely tried to ignore the dog, noting instead the air of faintly shabby gentility that lay over the house.

After turning to the left and following that passage past several doors, the housekeeper stopped before a larger, open one and knocked.

“Lord Brandmir, my lord,” she announced, sticking her head in the door after a moment‘s pause. There was a murmured response from within.
“You can go on in, my lord,” she said to Brand, smiling, and opening the door.

Morneleg preceded him into the room. Brand followed, and found himself in a study not unlike the Prince’s, with the same sorts of shelves of books and sheaves of documents, save that it was smaller, and not so richly furnished or tidy. But it did look out upon a pretty pocket garden. Lord Lalven, who had been seated at the desk, rose as Brand entered and gestured to a comfortable chair that had been set before it.

“Lord Brandmir. It is a pleasure to meet you at last. Please, do sit down. Would you care for tea?” Lalven’s voice was soft and resonant like his son’s, and they both shared the same beautiful dark grey eyes. But other than those eyes he was unremarkable looking, of middling height and build and nowhere near so handsome as Liahan. His right arm was held close to his side in a sling of dark cloth, his right hand looking somewhat curled in upon itself.

Thinking that he would not be up to talking to Lalven while minding his tea manners at the same time, Brand said “No thank you, my lord,” remembering belatedly to sit gently rather than dropping into the chair. Lord Lalven resumed his own seat. The huge black hound moved to his left side, its dark eyes regarding Brand around the corner of the desk as its master ruffled its ears.

“Does the dog bother you, Lord Brandmir?”

“A little, my lord,” Brand admitted, hoping honesty would win out over possible offense. “I’ve never seen one quite so big as yours.”

“Have you never owned a dog of your own then?”

“Oh no, my lord! When I lived with my mother and step-father, we didn’t have the money to feed a dog. There were street dogs and such, but I didn’t have anything to do with them. And since I’ve been in Dol Amroth, I’ve lived with Captain Andrahar. I don’t know if he doesn’t like dogs, or just doesn’t have time for them, but I never thought to ask him if I could have one. The only dog I ever really had much to do with was at the inn I worked at. I worked in the stables, and the stable master had a little dog he kept to kill the rats. She was a ratter, brown and white with short little legs and a stubby tail.”

“I know the breed,” Tathar’s father said, nodding. “We have one or two of them at home in our own stable.”

“Master Morlan called her Killer by way of a joke because she was so little, though she was certainly death to the rats! He loved that dog, she was the most cunning little thing. She would do tricks and dance on her hind legs. I used to give her bits of my lunch.” Brand suddenly realized that he was almost babbling and gesticulating quite broadly because he was nervous, and made an effort to collect himself and laid his hands back in his lap. But Lord Lalven did not seem to notice or mind.

“What happened to Killer?” he asked. “Is she there still?”

“No,” Brand said, and grimaced a bit despite himself. “She never would leave the carts alone despite Master Morlan’s scolding her. She was always dashing after them and the horses, and running between the horses’ legs. One of the big dray horses kicked her one day, caught her square in the head. She died right there. Master Morlan was heartbroken. He took her home to his garden to bury, and never bought another dog, at least not while I was still there. I missed her for the longest time. She was such a happy little creature.”

“Most dogs are happy by nature,” Lalven said quietly, before changing the subject back to the matter at hand. “So. I understand you wish to take my daughter riding. Why would you wish to do that?”

Taking a deep breath, Brand set forth the reasons he had given the Prince earlier, while being sure to make the recommended omissions. Lord Lalven listened without interrupting him until the very end, when he asked, “Are you absolutely certain that we are not inconveniencing the Prince? I shan’t have Imrahil buying my daughter a horse just because she wants to ride.” Brand then reiterated what he had written about Princess Mariel’s palfrey and how the Prince would truly be grateful if Tathar would exercise it. Tathar’s father seemed much reassured.

“That is well then. I heard about your adventure with the slavers,” he added with a small smile.

“How, sir?” The story had not been bandied about the court that Brand knew of. His uncle and the King knew, but Imrahil had not spoken of it beyond that, and he did not think Hethlin or Andrahar would either.

“Liahan has been very busy with the testing of the esquires, but he did find the time to take dinner with us one evening. He spoke very highly of you, and said that you saved those three children.”

Brand’s cheeks reddened. “I was saving myself at the same time, sir. There is not so much credit in it as all that.”

Lalven gave him a surprisingly piercing look. “You are a modest young man. I like that. And you come recommended by people whose opinions I trust. You have my permission to ride out with my daughter.”

Stifling a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over, Brand inclined his head respectfully. “Thank you, sir.” Lalven stood, and he stood with him.

“Would you like to say hello to Tathar while you are here?”

“I would, my lord.”

“Then come along and I will take you to her.” Morneleg at his side, Lalven led Brand out the study door and down the hall. They went down the passage for some way, past other rooms that like the study, were clean but modestly furnished. Then, to Brand’s surprise, the master of the house actually took him out through the kitchen to the stable yard. Like most yards in Minas Tirith, it was a paved stone expanse surrounded by stalls with an overhanging eave. But there were only four horses that Brand could see, in the stalls across the yard. The other stall doors were open and vacant, and several large dogs clearly of the same breed as Morneleg lounged basking contentedly on the sunlit stone of the yard.

The dogs, whose colors varied wildly from white to tawny to brown brindle to various shades of grey, all rose when they spied Lalven and came over to greet him, tails wagging. He was busy for a few moments with much one-handed ruffling of ears and caressing of heads. Brand was watching this reunion when he felt a nudge at his hand and looked down to see one of the slightly smaller, younger looking dogs, a bluish-grey one. The dog sat down for a moment, looking up at Brand with what the boy would have sworn was a grin, then got back to his feet and shoved his head under Brand’s hand once more, this time with imperious insistence. Grinning back at the impudent youngster, Brand obeyed and began tentatively scratching the hound’s ears, which unlike the rest of its wiry coat, were actually rather silky.

“Your beggar is named Luin,” Lord Lalven commented with a smile.

“Is he younger than the others?” Brand asked. “He’s a little smaller.”

Lalven nodded. “He and those four others,” and he indicated another, lighter grey, a brindle, a black and a cream-colored dog, “are my finest young dogs. I brought them to the City in the event that the King would wish to have them, but I’ve not had a chance to talk to him about them yet. He has been very busy.”

“They are the finest dogs I have ever seen, sir,” Brand said. “I am sure the King would be happy to buy one.”

Lalven gave him a wry look. “You do not understand, Lord Brandmir. The King cannot purchase what he already owns. My family has kept this line of hounds since the days of Elendil, kept them for the Kings of Gondor. If Elessar wishes to have them, he has but to claim them, one or all. Even my Morneleg would go with the king, did Elessar command him to do so. They know their true master.”

Amazed, Brand stared at the dogs, trying to comprehend keeping a bloodline pure for that length of time. I’ll wager their pedigrees are much better than mine! He also wondered how many more dogs Tathar’s family had at home. From listening to Captain Peloren and Captain Andrahar talking about horse breeding, he knew that it was bad to breed animals that were too closely related together. And from talking to Imrahil’s hound-master, he had a vague idea of how much meat it took to feed a pack. Noticing how clean and well-fed Lalven’s dogs were, he suddenly thought he might understand those ‘expenditures’ the Prince had referred to.

Lalven clapped him gently on the shoulder. “Come, my lord, we will find Tathar in the stables with Medlin and the puppies.”

“Puppies?” Brand asked curiously, following behind, the young hound Luin at his side.

“Yes. Medlin was due to whelp when the summons to the City came, so we put her in the carriage. She had the puppies in the carriage on the way here. It was an…interesting journey to say the least. But all turned out well. They are three weeks old now.”

They found Tathar in one of the stalls, which was well bedded in fragrant wood shavings. She was much as Brand remembered, though this day her hair was in a straggling braid and she wore a shabby brown dress. Medlin was a honey-colored dog nearly as large as Morneleg. A number of small, fat bodies in various colors crawled about her. Brand stared at them, fascinated. He had only ever seen the odd pet puppy in Pelargir, and they had all been older than these.

“Hullo, Lord Brandmir!” Tathar said with a smile. She was holding one of the puppies close to her, talking to it and stroking its soft fur. “I am sorry but I’ve not finished your initial yet-I’ve only got it drafted out so far.”

“Oh, that’s quite all right, Lady Tathar. I am sure they must take an awful lot of time, they look so complicated. I just came today to tell your father that Prince Imrahil says you may ride Princess Mariel’s palfrey. He keeps one here for her in the City, and of course she isn’t riding it right now. You’d be doing him a service. Your father has given his permission.”

Tathar’s face lit up. “Oh, that is wonderful! Thank you, Father!”

“See that you thank Prince Imrahil when next you see him, Tathar. ‘Twas a great kindness on his part, no matter what Lord Brandmir says. And on Lord Brandmir’s part as well, for suggesting it.”

“It was no trouble at all, truly, sir,” Brand insisted, generously forgetting the literary tortures he had undergone.

“When shall we go then, Lord Brandmir?” Tathar asked, actually bouncing slightly in her eagerness.

“When it is convenient for the Prince,” her father replied with quelling firmness.

“The Prince said that he had to find a suitable escort,” Brand said. “I do not know how long that will take, given how busy he is.” Tathar’s face fell a little, and he hastened to reassure her. “But I do know that he wanted me to write today so that you could go sooner rather than later, so I am thinking it will be soon. Either he or I will send word. I am not really sure how that is supposed to work,” he admitted sheepishly, and Lord Lalven chuckled.

“You are doing well enough, young lord. Some of our customs must seem very strange to you.”

“They do, sir, if you will pardon me for saying so.” Some of the puppies were squeaking indignantly as they crawled over the shavings, and Brand looked down at them, bemused. “I do not see how anything so tiny can grow into one of these big fellows!” and his hand stroked Luin’s head, whose tail wagged appreciatively.

“It takes a while. And a lot of food,” Lord Lalven said with a smile. “You can go closer, if you like.”

“Will the mother mind?” Brand asked a little anxiously, though Medlin seemed mild enough.

“Not while we are here,” Lord Lalven assured him.

Brand stepped carefully into the stall and knelt, offering his hand to Medlin to sniff. To his surprise, the mother dog actually gave it a tiny lick. Reassured, he scratched her under the chin and behind the ears, and her tail thumped in the shavings.

“That’s good,” Tathar said approvingly. “Usually people just want to look at the puppies and ignore the mother. She likes attention too.” Setting the puppy she had been holding down, she selected another one, a black one, and offered it to Brand. “Would you like to hold him?”

“How do I do it?”

“Just keep him close to you. They don’t like to be held out in the air-they fear they’ll fall.” Hesitantly, Brand took the plump little body and nestled him in his arm next to his tunic as he’d seen Tathar do. “He’s so warm!” he marveled, as his fingers stroked the little back.

“They can keep themselves warm now, within reason,” Tathar said. “When they are newly born, the mother does that for them. They are born with their eyes closed, but these are all open now.”

“They don’t walk very well yet.”

“They won’t for about another three weeks. But by the time they are eight weeks old, they’ll be all over the place.”

“I would like to see that.”

“We will probably still be here. Will you?”

“I think so. I am not certain.” Brand’s puppy, which had been squirming, settled under his caresses deeper into the crook of his arm, laid its tiny chin down and closed its eyes. “I think he is falling to sleep!” he exclaimed softly.

“He is,” Tathar confirmed. “He trusts you. We hold them when they are little, to get them accustomed to people. I come out here every day and pet them and talk to them. We all do. It’s good to get them used to different folk. You’re welcome to come if you like.” Belatedly realizing that she might be being presumptuous, Tathar looked up to her father for confirmation, but Lalven, who was leaning against the door of the stall, merely nodded.

“I would like that,” Brand said. Suddenly, he felt a warm wetness spreading against his chest and arm. “Oh! I think he may have wet me, Lady Tathar.”

“Puppies do that sometimes,” she said matter-of-factly; then, with belated concern, exclaimed, “I am sorry! That is your good tunic, is it not?”

“It is, lady, but don’t worry about it. That is what launderers and fullers are for,” Brand said swiftly, and thinking of Maeddan, added, “I am sure that there is someone in the Prince’s house who knows how to clean it.”

“You are very understanding, Lord Brandmir,” Lord Lalven said, then turned towards the sound of approaching footsteps.

“Father! Gwilwileth said that you’d brought Lord Brandmir out here to see Tathar!” a scandalized voice Brandmir recognized as Lady Nelladel’s exclaimed. “Oh, and you have! You let him see her like this, all dirt and dragglement?” Nelladel caught sight of the damp mark on Brandmir’s tunic and almost squealed in horror. Medlin’s ears flattened at the sound. “And you let puppies wet on him! I declare, there is no doing anything with either of you!”

“Nella, that will be enough.” The command was quietly issued, but there was no mistaking the sudden authority in the erstwhile mild lord’s voice. In that, Brand thought, he was also very like his fourth-born son. “There is no need for shrieking. Of course I brought him out here to see the puppies. Boys like puppies! And as for Tathar-they are just friends. This is not some great romance here, even if you would make it so. They are both too young for that. If Lord Brandmir sees Tathar at what you call her worst, then he will like her all the more when he sees her at her best.”

“Father, you have no sense of occasion!”

“Yes. I know. It was one of the things your mother liked best about me.” It was a dry comment, but Lalven’s face was sorrowful for the briefest moment. Nelladel saw that, and her manner softened immediately. She kissed his cheek, then sighed, shaking her head in resignation.

“The damage has been done already, I suppose. Enjoy yourselves. Lord Brandmir, would you like Gwilileth to have a look at that tunic? She is good with such things.”

Given that his shirt underneath was damp as well, Brand did not feel like stripping to the waist among people he barely knew. “No thank you, Lady Nelladel. If you all don’t mind me, it can wait until I get home.”

“Very well then.” She gave him a friendly nod, turned and went back into the house. Still holding the sleeping puppy, Brand turned to Lord Lalven.

“I was a little surprised that you wanted to see me today, my lord. Lady Tathar said that you’d come for the Council, and there is a Council today.”

Lalven smiled. “There are Councils and Councils, Lord Brandmir. For instance, there is the King’s Privy Council. Those are his great lords and I am not one of those. Today was a War Council. I am not involved in that either, praise the Valar! The King will meet eventually with those of us who stay behind, and the Prince will want to confer with those lords of his who have come here as well. I will be at those Councils.”

“I see. It is all still very confusing.”

“You will pick it up soon enough. I believe that your holdings are extensive enough that you would qualify for the Privy Council pool when you reach your majority.”

“The Prince said that I would have right to a Council seat, but that the King would decide it. I wasn’t sure what he meant.”

“The two Princes of the realm and the major lords-Lossarnach, Anfalas, Morthond, and the others-automatically have a place on the King’s Privy Council, as does the Captain-General. Elessar has also named certain influential commoners to his Council-heads of merchant guilds, that sort of thing. That has caused some consternation as it is a departure from our traditions, but I think it is a very good thing. All of Gondor’s folk should have a voice on the Council. The Privy Council pool is comprised of those lords who are not the major ones, but hold enough land that they could be considered. The King may select further Counselors from that pool. Actually, Elessar can appoint whoever he likes to the Council, but those are the lords who are considered most…appropriate.”

Brand contemplated being appropriate for a moment, then smiled at Lord Lalven. “You explain things very well, sir. Like my teachers in Dol Amroth.”

“I am glad that I was able to help, Lord Brandmir.”

After that, Lord Lalven fell silent and let his daughter take over the conversational duties. Predictably, the talk turned to dogs and horses. Brand set his black puppy down and held several others in their turn, though none of them wet him further. Medlin came in for her share of scratching, as did the importunate Luin, who hung about the stable door. He dared not come in any further though, for Medlin growled at him when he tried to join Brand inside.

“Would you care to stay for tea, Lord Brandmir?” Lalven asked eventually, with a hint of a smile. “I noticed that you didn’t want any earlier.”

Did I offend him then? Brand wondered. Aloud, he replied, “I would like that very much, sir.”

“I will warn you, we don’t stand much on ceremony here.”

“That is all right, my lord. I usually don’t myself.” Lalven sent his daughter into the house to change and wash up, closed the bottom part of the stall door so that Medlin would not be disturbed and escorted Brand back inside. Morneleg gave Luin a long-suffering look as the younger dog fell in beside Brand. After taking Brand to a guest room where a washbasin was set out for him, to Brand’s surprise the family all settled into the kitchen for their tea, though as they did so Nelladel gave her father a meaningful stare which Lalven ignored. Tathar returned in a simple blue dress which was in better condition, and had washed her face and brushed her hair. Gwilwileth even sat with them. The fare set before them was simple but tasty, and the tea was served in simple pottery cups that reminded Brand more of his old home in Pelargir than the magnificence that was tea at the Prince’s residence. Luin, who had not left his side, was settled under the table, his head resting upon one of Brand’s feet.

“Have you been privy to any of the planning for the war, Lord Brandmir?” Lord Lalven asked. “We have heard all sorts of rumors floating about the city, of course, and I thought that you might be able to separate fancy from fact. But if you are sworn to silence, I do not ask you to break that oath.”

“I do hear things, Lord Lalven,” Brand admitted, curling his hands about his cup. “I do not know if they are the most current things, but the Prince has not told me that I may not speak of them. The Prince said the other night that Dale had asked for our help too late in the year for the whole army to set out, so he and the King were going to go north, hopefully before the winter set in, with a company of Swan Knights and some of Minas Tirith’s cavalry. They were going to winter over in Erebor, so that they could plan with the Dwarves and the Men of Dale. King Éomer was going to join them in the spring with his Riders and the rest of Gondor’s men.”

“It will cost Dale a pretty penny to house and feed even those two companies of Gondor’s cavalry over the winter,” Lalwen mused with the air of a man who knew something about strategy. “That would be why they are all not going now, I suppose.”

Brand nodded. “So the Prince was saying. The better part of the Easterlings have retreated, he said, gone back east onto the plains for the winter. He is hoping that what he and the King bring with them will be enough to keep raiders at bay until the spring.”

“I am not sure that I am happy at the prospect of Elessar traveling north with such a reduced company. Particularly since he has no heir as yet.”

“The Prince was of like mind to you, my lord,” Brand said, grinning. “But he said that when he confronted the King with his worry, King Elessar told him that since he’d been wandering alone up and down the whole length of the Wilderland and even into Harad and Mordor all by himself for decades, he thought that he would be safe enough in the company of a couple hundred of Gondor’s finest!”

Lord Lalven raised an eyebrow. “Well, there is that. We tend to forget that Elessar is as much a Ranger as anything else.” He sipped from his cup. “I was a little surprised, however, to hear that Imrahil was leaving Liahan behind. He is a young man, and fit, and one of Imrahil’s best swordsmen and commanders. You would think he would want him close to his side and the King’s. Not that I am complaining, you understand. Liahan has certainly gained his share of glory already and he has a new son and we are only too happy that he will stay here with us.” But Brand thought he could see worry in the glance the quiet lord gave him, and hastened to reassure him.

“’Twas not meant as a slight, if that is what you are worried about, my lord. The Prince and Captain Andrahar both hold Lord Liahan in the highest regard. It is simply that Captain Andrahar will not be parted from the Prince, and someone must stay behind to teach the younger esquires, and he thinks that Lord Liahan is the best one to do that.” Brand had been privy to a couple of those discussions before he and Andrahar had had their falling out. “It is an honor, really-Captain Andrahar is the only other Swan Knight who has ever served as Armsmaster at such a young age. And this way, Lord Liahan is close to Prince Elphir, who will need protecting too, with his father and many of the knights gone.”

“And Liahan and Prince Elphir have always gotten along well,” Lalven murmured, with a thoughtful nod. He looked across the table at Brandmir. “Thank you, Lord Brandmir, for setting my mind at ease about the matter. I am sorry if I made you uncomfortable with my questions.”

“I should not have answered them if I had been, my lord,” Brand said simply.

There was a moment of silence, as all present sipped their tea. Then Tathar asked, “Are you going to go to the tournament, Lord Brandmir?”

“Oh yes! I must cheer Dol Amroth on. Will you be there?”

“If I can convince Father or Nella to take me. Which days are you going to go?”

“All three of them.”

“Even the archery match on the first day? Father says Dol Amroth will lose that day, because of all the Ithilien Rangers. I do not want to watch that.”

“It may not be so bad as all that. My archery teacher, Lady Hethlin, is going to shoot for Dol Amroth, and she used to be an Ithilien Ranger. I hope that she will keep us from being completely routed.”

“Are you not somewhat conflicted then about the first day, Lord Brandmir?” Lalven asked with a smile. “I do not see how you could decide between cheering for Dol Amroth or Ithilien, given who your uncle is.”

“I suppose that I am a winner either way the first day!” Brand agreed, laughing.

Tathar gave her father an imploring look. “Please, Father-I must go see the horse battles the second day. That will be the most fun-Gondor doesn’t have a chance against our Swan Knights!” The last was said with a certain bloodthirsty relish.

“I believe that something can be arranged, Tathar,” Lord Lalven said. “I would like to see the horse combat as well. There has been some improvement in Gondor’s cavalry of late. Elessar has brought in a couple of Rohirric trainers. They will not defeat the Swan Knights, but I believe the horse battles will be close enough that with the archery points going to Gondor, the foot fights will have to decide the tournament in the end.”

“Is Lady Hethlin going to fight on any of the other days, Lord Brandmir?” Lady Nelladel asked.

“I do not know, my lady-the Captain has not discussed his choices with me.” Or anything else lately, for that matter! “I would think that if she did, it would be in the horse battles. She is very good on horseback.”

“I do not care for such displays as a rule, but it might be interesting to go if she were going to fight,” Tathar’s older sister said. “I have heard the tale of your Aunt Éowyn and the Nazgûl, Lord Brandmir, of course we all have. But I have never seen a woman warrior fight. Is she very good?”

“I think that she is. The Captain gives her extra lessons, as he did Lord Liahan.”

“Liahan speaks very well of her,” Lord Lalven said, dropping his hand to Morneleg’s head. There came the sound of a tail thumping against the tiles.

“I still cannot quite understand it, why a woman would wish to fight for a living,” Nelladel mused. “I can see how one might be brought to fight out of necessity, if one’s home were attacked and there was no one else to defend the children. But to become a soldier, perhaps to be wounded and scarred…” She shuddered.

Brand shrugged. “Lady Hethlin is scarred, but she doesn’t seem to mind. She says that fighting is the one thing that she is really good at.” He grinned suddenly. “She told me once that people were wolves or harts or hounds, and that she was a hound.”

Lord Lalven cocked an eyebrow, amused. “A noble sentiment.”

Brand drained his cup. “She would have stayed with the Rangers if the King had not asked her to be a Swan Knight.”

“Well, I am glad that she is on our side now, if she shoots as well as you say,” Tathar declared.

“I am too. I hope that I will see you all at the tournament.”

“We will look for you, Lord Brandmir.”

Noticing that everyone else had finished their tea and cakes as well, Brand looked to his host, rose and bowed. “I should be going, Lord Lalven-I have imposed upon your hospitality long enough.”

Lalven rose to his feet in his turn. “’Twas no imposition, Lord Brandmir. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

Brand turned to Tathar and Nelladel and bowed again. “Lady Nelladel, Lady Tathar-it is always a pleasure. I will talk to the Prince about when we might ride, Lady Tathar, and send word to you as soon as I know.”

Tathar smiled. “I look forward to it, Lord Brandmir. I will work on your initial. Perhaps it will be finished by the time that we ride.”

“I can’t wait to see it.” With a gracious gesture, Lord Lalven indicated that Brandmir should accompany him out of the kitchen. He did so, the young grey dog still at his side, even as Morneleg accompanied his master. They made their way back through the house to the front door, which Lalven opened. Brand stepped through, Luin still at his heels. He looked down at the dog, unsure about how to compel it to return into the house. Luin sat down and looked up at him, grinning.

“Lord Lalven, I am sorry, but I don’t know what to do to make him-” Lalven stopped Brand with an upraised hand.

“It is all right, Lord Brandmir.” He looked down at Luin, who looked up, cocking his head to one side. “Is that the way of it then?” he asked the dog, who shoved his head beneath Brand’s hand for a caress once more, his tail thumping upon the paving stones. “It would seem that it is. Bide just a moment, my lord.” Brand watched, puzzled, as Lalven re-entered the house, only to return a moment later with a braided leather leash, which he slipped over Luin’s neck. He offered it to the boy with a sad smile.

“He does not actually need it now that he has chosen you, he will stay at your side without it, but it makes others in the City feel more comfortable. As you have said, they are very large dogs.”

Shocked, Brand looked at the leash, then back up at Tathar’s father. “Sir, I can’t take Luin from you!”

“You are not taking him, he has chosen you. It happens every great once in a while, that one of them fancies a master not of the family." He held up a hand, forestalling Brand’s next question. “And no, you need pay nothing for him. Just take good care of him.”

“I do not know how to take care of him,” Brand said, looking down at the dog in dismay.

“Prince Imrahil knows the way of it, and Liahan. And there are others in his household as well, of that I am sure. And you may always come to me with any questions.”

To protest any further would have been verging on rudeness, he knew, so despite his discomfiture Brand smiled, inclined his head and took the leash. “Thank you, sir. He is a princely gift.”

“I have always felt that it is good for boys to have dogs. May you enjoy him for a very long time, Lord Brandmir.”

“I will, my lord,” Brand replied, bowing. Lalven inclined his head and retreated into the house, closing the door. Brand turned to where Talgeth was waiting. The soldier stood, looked at Luin, and shook his head, smiling.

“I don’t know about you, but I feel much safer now. And rather useless, if truth be told. I don‘t think anyone would dare bother you with him around.”

Brand suddenly realized that there might actually be advantages to owning a very large, very fierce-looking dog. He smiled down at Luin, who grinned back up at him.

“I suppose we should be getting back.”

8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8-8

Brand’s return with Luin caused a certain amount of consternation at the townhouse, but the Prince’s people were used to thinking upon their feet, and in very little time he had bowls for his new dog’s food and water, an old blanket folded up at the foot of his bed for the hound to sleep upon and the kitchen folk had sent a runner down to Lord Lalven’s house to obtain his instructions about proper feeding. By dinner time, Luin had been settled in, and Brand ate his meal with the dog’s head upon his foot as he had at tea. Luin and Prince Amrothos were his only company, for the Prince had not returned from the Council meeting and none of the Swan Knight officers were present.

“They’re out celebrating,” Amrothos explained when Brand asked about where everyone was, spearing himself a slice of roast from the platter. “Finished testing the esquires today, and now everyone, esquires and instructors alike, are out getting drunk in relief. Not in the same places, of course.”

“Did everyone pass?” Brand asked, worrying about Hethlin.

“I haven’t heard. But I haven’t heard anyone didn’t either. And this year’s lot are good ones. Sometimes there are one or two who are close to the line, but I don’t think we had anyone like that this year. So I wouldn’t worry, were I you.” Amrothos turned his attention back to his food at that point, and Brand fell back into silence. He had learned early on that Amrothos was not much of a conversationalist at meals-he seemed to regard them as an evil necessity required to sustain the body that housed his ever-active mind, and not an opportunity for socialization. So it was better not to try to engage him in conversation unless he offered it himself-he just got grumpy.

But he did seem willing to talk a bit this night. “That’s a big dog you’ve got there,” the youngest Dol Amroth prince said, after swallowing his latest mouthful. “One of Lalven’s, I take it?”

“Yes, he just sort of came home with me. Lord Lalven said that they do that sometimes.”

Amrothos nodded. “I’ve heard that you cannot buy them for love or money. He would probably have rather given you his daughter. He has plenty of those.” He looked up from his food, saw Brand’s expression and chuckled. “Yes, I know, I know. You and Lady Tathar are just friends.”

“Has anyone else in the family ever had one of Tathar’s family’s dogs?” Brand asked, curious. Amrothos shook his head.

“Not recently, but I believe that Grandfather might have had one of them when he was young. Father says that Grandmother did after she and Grandfather married-she really liked dogs. Father likes dogs well enough, but he’s always been too busy, I think, and Aunt Fin liked little sleeve dogs, nothing like your monster. This generation-not so far, but the smart money is on Elphir. He likes dogs like Grandmother did. They’re too messy for ‘Thiri, though that might have changed since she got to Rohan-I think Éomer keeps hounds. ‘Chiron’s got no use for anything that can’t swim, and I’m too busy as well. Never much bothered with pets in any event-though if I were to bother with one, I think I’d have a cat, so long as it stayed out of my experiments. They can take care of themselves.” A sudden, wicked smile manifested on Amrothos’ face.

“What?” Brand asked, a little worried.

“I was just thinking that I am glad that I am not you, because I can guarantee you that if you want to keep that dog in the house, then Father will insist that it be bathed on a regular basis. And that is a lot of dog to wash!”

Having made that depressing observation, Amrothos turned his attention back to his meal and ceased any further conversational participation. Brand finished his meal in silence, took Luin out for an evening walk, then came back in to struggle with the book his uncle had given him until he got tired. He went to bed, only to find that Luin had no intention of utilizing the nice blankets that had been laid out for him on the floor. Instead, the hound effortlessly hopped up onto the tall bed with Brand and disposed himself upon the coverlet at Brand’s feet. When Brand attempted to dislodge him by poking at him with his toes, Luin merely gave him a reproachful look, sighed, then made his way further up the bed and flopped down beside Brand, laying his head upon the boy’s stomach. Laughing, Brand gave up the fight and ruffled the dog’s ears until he fell to sleep.

Which was how Prince Imrahil found them, when he finally returned from his marathon Council session that evening. Having been told of the new member of his household, he opened the door softly to peek in on his way to his own bed. As the light from the hall fell across the bed, the young hound lifted his head from under Brand’s hand to stare at the Prince with dark eyes. Brand, deeply asleep, did not stir.

“Luin, is it?” the Prince murmured quietly. There was the thump of a tail upon the coverlet. “Keep good watch if you will, my friend. I am more than passing fond of the lad.” Another thumping sound. The Prince smiled, closed the door and sought his own rest.

~~~

As regards Brand's explanation about the strategy for the war in Dale-I have had to deviate from Altariel's original idea in Game of Chess, because you simply don't take an army into winter weather like that, so far from your line of supply. Particularly horses. So I consulted with my wargamer husband and came up with this compromise. Hopefully, she will forgive me.


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