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"A King could do worse..."

I was intending to move along with the tournament and some other goodies, when a certain Personage added his name to the list of characters who have hijacked my stories.


The next morning before sunrise Brand awoke to find Luin at the bedroom door, obviously wanting to go out. So he threw his clothes and boots on, reflecting upon this new responsibility that had been laid upon him. He thought that Luin might enjoy going out onto the Pelenor itself where he would have room to run, so he slipped the leash over the hound’s head and headed out of the house. The courtyard was empty of esquires and Swan Knights after the previous night’s celebration, the first time he had seen it that way since their arrival, and he took advantage of the absence of supervision to venture forth into the City alone.

There was the slightest cool nip to the air that indicated fall was well and truly on its way, very refreshing after the summer’s heat, and a faint pink-gold glow over the Ephel Dúath said that Anor would make an appearance soon. The upper levels of the City were quiet, though he could see the guards at the entrance to the Citadel. A maid was sweeping the stoop of one of the grand houses as he passed, but paid him no heed, pausing once to knuckle sleep from her eyes.

As he came down into the lower levels, things became a little livelier, with workmen hastening to the many reconstruction jobs that were still going on about the city, and taverns opening early to serve breakfast to them. The thoroughfares were for the most part still empty, a far cry from the bustling traffic they would carry in but a couple of hours, but the guards had already opened the barricade that had taken the place of the Great Gate, and there were farmer’s wagons laden with fruits and towing livestock behind them beginning to come into the City, headed for the market.

No one paid him any heed in particular, and Brand found himself enjoying the anonymity and freedom of this early morning jaunt. Once out the gate, he slipped Luin’s leash off and found that Lord Lalven had spoken truly-the dog trotted at his side as if he were attached there. He made his way down towards the archery butts, but he did not see Hethlin there, which was not surprising-it was early even for her, and she had probably been celebrating late into the evening.. There was only one archer there, a very lean, tall man in worn and patched leather who was shooting into one of the closest targets with swift regularity and admirable accuracy despite the poor light.

So Brand turned away from the butts and took Luin out into the meadows, encouraging him to run free, which the hound did quite eagerly, fetching a stick back to his master and bowing, tongue lolling and tail wagging, in an obvious effort to coax Brand into playing. Brand laughed and complied with Luin’s wishes, throwing the stick over and over again, until the sun was up halfway over the horizon and the dog indicated that he had finally had enough by dropping the stick at Brand’s feet and disposing himself there moments later.

“If you think I am carrying you back up that hill, you are sadly mistaken!” Brand told his new dog, who thumped his tail in answer but did not stir. But when Brand moved off towards the City, Luin immediately leapt up and fell in at his side as before.

The taverns were doing good business, he could tell from the tasty odors that permeated the air of the second circle, where there were many such establishments, and Brand paused for a moment, tempted. His stomach was growling loudly. Though a properly princely breakfast awaited him at the townhouse, the smell of frying sausages brought back memories of Pelargir. He rifled the coin in his belt pouch. There was certainly enough there, should he wish to patronize a tavern. The homely sound of the speech of common folk, speaking of common concerns, drifted from doors and open windows, rousing in his breast a wave of homesickness such as he had not felt in months.

“Why don’t I buy you breakfast, Lord Brandmir,” came a voice at his side, and Brand started, for he had not heard the approach of the lone archer he had seen earlier. The man’s garb was not improved by close proximity, it was still shabby and weatherbeaten, and his bow and arrows, though well-kept looked also well-used. But the face was that of the King of Gondor.

“My lo-,” Brand began, only to have a royal finger laid over his lips. “Not this morning. This morning you may call me Strider. Would you like some breakfast?”

Brand’s stomach chose that moment to growl again. Loudly. Embarrassed, he looked up at his sovereign. “I would, sir.”

“Come with me, then. I know a good place.” Aragorn looked down at Luin, whose tail was wagging so furiously that his whole body vibrated. “Who is this fine fellow? He’s a handsome lad. I didn’t know you had a dog.” The royal hand reached down to ruffle Luin’s ears with an ease that spoke of previous acquaintance with dogs.

“I didn’t until yesterday, sir. This is Luin. He is one of Lord Lalven’s dogs.”

“Lalven? He is one of Imrahil’s people, is he not?”

“Yes, my lo-I mean sir. He keeps these hounds, but he says they belong to you, that his family has been keeping them since Elendil’s time and that they are the King’s Hounds. He has some young ones here for you in the City, if you would care to claim them.”

The King tapped his chin thoughtfully. “I believe Imrahil mentioned something about that yesterday. I will have to look into this.” Brand’s stomach growled again, and Aragorn laughed. “But not until we’ve gotten some breakfast into you!” He threw a companionable arm about an astonished Brand’s shoulders and steered the boy down a side street to a tavern with a sign that portrayed a running dog in bright red. “Appropriate, don’t you think?” the King of Gondor said to the hound with a smile as they entered.

There were delicious smells within, and the common room was crowded, but the tavern keep hurried over as soon as they entered. “Good morning, master! Would you and your …son care for breakfast this morning?” He had noticed the contrast between Brand’s good quality garb and the patched leather. Then he got a good look at Aragorn’s face and froze in sudden realization.

“Your Ma-”
“Quietly, please, MasterTraghan,” the King interjected, swift and soft. “I am playing truant this morning. Could you bring us some of everything twice over please? We’ll go sit in the corner over there.”

“Of course…master,” the tavern keep said aloud, having recovered himself. He started to bow, stopped himself and went back into the kitchens. Aragorn led Brand over to one of the few empty tables, in a corner with a good view of the room, but out of the way. They seated themselves, and Luin settled down beneath the table. Brand looked across the table at the King, who was settling his back against the wall and sticking his long legs under the table. In “Strider” guise, he was not so intimidating as he was when surrounded with the trappings of his position. He was quite approachable, really. And since he apparently wished to leave the office behind for just a little while, Brand decided that it was all right to speak to him as if he were just one of the other adults in Brand’s life.

“You’ve been here before, haven’t you, sir?” he asked quietly.

There was a glint of approval in those keen grey eyes. “As a matter of fact I have. Lady Hethlin recommended their meat pies to me once, and I have found that they do a good breakfast as well. ’Twas fortunate you were out and about this morning, lad,” the King said. “I had been wanting to talk to you about a certain matter and given how long the Councils have been running, I had no idea when I was going to be able to do it.”

“They must be running long indeed. I don’t know when Grandy came in last night-I waited up for him for a while, but he had still not come when I finally went to bed. You are up early yourself, sir, for such a late night.”

“Sleep isn’t the only way to rest. I found that I needed some solitude more than I needed my bed, after being locked in the Council chamber for so long. And I need to get my archer’s eye back in any event. Imrahil tells me you’ve become quite the archer yourself.”

“I’m really still just a beginner, sir, though Lady Hethlin says my groupings are getting tighter. Why did you want to talk to me? Have I done something wrong?”

“Oh no, lad! I wanted to talk to you about the Haradrim ambassador, let you know what is going on with your case.”

“My case?”

“Yes. Imrahil, Faramir and I have all lodged protests with the Haradrim ambassador about what happened in Dol Amroth, and he is currently speaking with his government. I do not know what, if anything, will happen to Captain Tufayl. But I strongly suspect that the ambassador will be offering you an honor price on behalf of his government. We have all insisted that some form of compensation is due from Harad for the dangers you suffered.”

Master Traghan arrived with their breakfast at that point. Sausages, bacon, eggs, porridge, toast, and the fried spiced potatoes Brand loved were all heaped high on plates and bowls, with cider to drink. Aragorn left off talking in favor of eating, and indicated that Brand should do the same, which, hungry as he was, was no hardship. The two of them ate silently for a time, until the King took up the conversation again, speaking as if he had never left off.

“I almost felt sorry for the man. You have probably seen Imrahil in a fury.” Brand, remembering the scene on board the ship, nodded. “I guarantee you that for all his quiet ways, your uncle can be equally…imposing.” Aragorn smiled. “And I fancy that I made my own modest contribution as well.”

Brand imagined Gondor’s three greatest lords in full wrath, with that wrath being directed at one individual, and shuddered. “This honor price, sir. Captain Andrahar has told me a little about such things, and I have been reading a book my uncle recommended about Haradric custom. I just finished the chapter about honor and honor prices. It said that the honor price is greater for lords than commoners, greater for men than for women and that slaves have no honor price-other than the compensation to their owners for their loss, which is a different sort of thing.”

“Yes, that is correct. You have a question, don’t you?”

“A couple of them, if you do not mind, sir.”

“Go ahead, then.”

“Are Tullus and Celeg and Eiliriel going to have honor prices as well? And what about the families of the three boys who were taken away to Khand?”

“We did insist upon honor price for your three companions as well. As to the other boys…that is something that Imrahil and I are still discussing with the ambassador. The payment of an honor price by the Haradric government would, of course, expose the fact that their fate had been other than what the Prince had said it was.”

I don’t think Grandy would mind that, if it meant he could help their families, Brand thought. Aloud, he asked, “The honor prices for my friends will not be anywhere so large as mine, will they?”

“No, they will not,” the King said, his voice very calm and even.

“And if this had happened before anyone knew who I was, if I had been the fatherless bastard still, no one would have come after me.”

“Though I cannot speak for the constabulary of Pelargir, or Dol Amroth for that matter…most likely not, Brandmir,” Aragorn admitted. Brand cast his eyes down and stirred his porridge.

“I do not think that I wish to accept any honor price from Harad, sir.”

“I understand perfectly why you would feel that way,” the King said gently, as he forked another bite of sausage. “But we need for you to accept this, now that we’ve made such an uproar about the matter. You may do with the money as you wish once you’re accepted it-give it to the poor fund, do something to help your own people, dower your half-sisters. But we need you to take it so that Harad can save face and we can resolve this matter.”

Brand looked up and met the King’s eyes, frowning. Remembering the liberties Tufayl had visited upon his person and the casual way the Haradrim sea captain had spoken of killing himself and the other children, he said, “I am not overmuch concerned with Harad’s face or if she gets it back, sir.”

Aragorn, who had seen that selfsame resolute frown upon the face of one of the Fellowship more than once, nodded acknowledgment as he chewed and swallowed his sausage. “I know, lad. And again, I understand. But this is a matter of peace between nations.” His voice was still gentle, but insistent. He was obviously going to require Brand to do this.

Dropping his eyes back down to his porridge, as if the answers to all his doubts lay in its gelid depths, Brand considered what he should say. What was it that Master Morlan told me when I left Dol Amroth, not to get willful with the Captain? I wonder what he would think if he could see me now, getting willful with the King! He understood the necessity Aragorn spoke of, but this whole business did not sit well with him. It looks as if I’m being bought off again! He had never thought to seek compensation for his suffering-his only concern had been that Tufayl would be brought to justice by his own people when because of his oath Dol Amroth could not do so-unless Tufayl were stupid enough to venture into Gondorian waters again. He knew that that was not likely to happen. Brand wanted such a thing as had happened to him to never happen again, wanted an example to be made, so that no other parents would have to suffer the fear and grief that Tullus’ and Celeg’s and Eiliriel’s parents had. Not to mention the parents of those three boys, who believed their sons were dead because of a falsehood delivered for compassion’s sake by his usually scrupulously honorable great-uncle. And if that wasn’t going to happen, any other sort of settlement seemed rather pointless. But one did not refuse the King…

Tufayl not being able to trade in Gondor ever again just doesn’t seem like enough of a punishment for what he did. ‘Chiron had said that his government might do something to him, but I don’t think it has, or surely they would have told Grandy. And since he won’t ever be punished, why take money? It doesn’t really make anything better. It will mean something to the families of the children that were with me, but it won’t bring those other boys back!

Something Amrothos had told him once popped suddenly into his head. Brand had come upon the young Prince in the garden, sitting under a tree seemingly half-asleep, watching one of the fountains. When asked if he were all right, for he looked rather disgruntled, Amrothos had said, “Actually, I’m trying to solve a problem with one of my experiments.”

“But you’re out here,” Brand had said, puzzled. Whatever it was Amrothos was doing, it didn’t look like work to him. “Isn’t your experiment in your workroom?”

“Yes, it is,” Amrothos replied with a stretch and a yawn. “But I’ve been going at it straight on for a while now, with no luck at all. I’ve found that sometimes, if you sidle up to a problem instead, it solves itself.”

Sidle up to a problem…Brand looked back up. “Sir…does the honor price have to be money? That book I’ve been reading said that sometimes it was something else, that sometimes there were conditions or actions to be taken to make the injured party whole.”

The King cocked an eyebrow. “Yes, that is true, though it is not quite so common. What did you have in mind?”

“Those first three boys that Captain Tufayl took. When Grandy got him to admit he had taken them, and found out where they were, Grandy said that they were out of his reach. But I’ll wager they’re not out of Harad’s reach. I don’t care about money-that’s the easy way out for them. The honor price I want is this-I want the Haradric government to find out what happened to those boys. If they’re dead, I want proof of it. And if they’re alive, I want them returned to their families. And honor price paid to the families. It’s not been a year yet-they can’t all three be dead.” He laid his spoon down and looked Aragorn straight in the eye.

“I know what it feels like, to think that no one will be able to find you and come for you. They are probably scared and in despair. I want that to change. That is my honor price, sir, for Lord Brandmir and Brand of Pelargir both.”

The King’s face was unreadable. Brand watched anxiously as he settled further back into his chair, reached into his belt pouch, pulled out his pipe and tobacco pouch, loaded the pipe and lighted it, all in silence. Have I angered him with my impertinence? The fragrance of the pipe-weed began to fill the air, as Aragorn took a couple puffs.

“The tavern keeper mistook you for my son when we came in,” he said at last. “A King could do worse. Much worse.” He chuckled as the compliment registered and Brand went beet-red. “As I told you earlier, we have pressed the ambassador upon that subject a little, and while he admits to the justice of our claim and given our stations certainly does not want to offend us, there have also been many complaints about the impossibility and the expense and effort involved. But if you, as the injured party, add your insistence to ours, then he will have little choice. Is that truly what you wish to do, Brandmir? You are losing out on quite a bit of money this way.”

Brand collected himself and nodded. “It is, sir. I don’t care about the money. What do I need that I don’t already have?”

“Wise lad! And would you be willing to speak with the Haradrim ambassador yourself? Myself, your uncle and great-uncle would all be with you when you did.”

“I would, sir.”

“Excellent!” With a smile of approval that Brand would have cheerfully died for, the King sat up and reached across the table to squeeze his forearm in a warrior grip. Brand squeezed back, though it was like gripping iron.

“I will send for you when next we speak to him. But enough of business for now! Our breakfast is getting cold! Tell me some more about these dogs!”

They managed to finish off the huge breakfast that had been laid before them as Brand told the King about his visit to Lalven’s house. Luin was rewarded for his good behavior with a couple of strips of bacon, which he accepted daintily, then politely licked Brand‘s fingers clean afterwards.

“No more than that,” the King said with a smile. “You do not want to make him sick. There are hounds very much like this in my peoples’ lands in the north. I have to wonder Lalven’s are from the same bloodline. I do need to talk to the man.”

They moved on from there to archery, and Aragorn spoke of how the Rangers hunted and patrolled in the north, which was fascinating to Brand. The King was a good storyteller, and his decades of vagabond existence gave him plenty of material to draw upon. But eventually he looked at the quality of the light coming in through the window and said that he must go.

“I will be missed, and I suspect you will be as well.” The tavern-keeper being well paid for both his breakfast and his discretion, King, lordling and hound went forth into the morning. Traffic had increased considerably in the last hour, and the shops were opening up. Aragorn’s height and his woodsman’s garb did draw a look or two from passers by, but no one seemed to make the connection with the exalted King of Gondor. His long legs made light of the climb back up to the higher levels of the city, and Brand had to scamper once or twice to keep up.

They arrived at the townhouse to find Prince Imrahil and Captain Andrahar conferring in the courtyard. The Captain was perfectly turned out as usual, but the Prince wore his robe and slippers over his breeches and shirt, and was clutching a mug of bean-tea almost desperately.

“I am sure that it is nothing, Andra,” the Prince was saying. “The lad probably just took his dog out for a run.”

“What dog is this?” Andrahar demanded. “I know nothing of any dog! Does he not understand that he cannot just wander about the City as he pleases? Did what happened in Dol Amroth teach him nothing?”

“That dog over there.” Imrahil made a graceful gesture towards the newcomers. “The one with Brand and the King. Good morning, Your Majesty!”

“Good morning, Imrahil. Good morning, Captain Andrahar,” said the King as they approached. “You needn’t have worried about Brandmir, Captain-I was down on the Pelennor shooting and I kept an eye upon him the whole time. And I apologize if I was the cause of any concern, but my time has been so scarce of late that I delayed Brandmir’s return by taking him to breakfast to talk to him about the case pending before the Haradrim Ambassador.”

“I thank you for looking after him, Aragorn,” Imrahil replied, “and I am glad that you got the chance to talk to him about that. Besides, Andra,” and the Prince’s voice suddenly held that imperious tone that even Andrahar paid heed to, “I see no reason why Brand cannot go about in the City on his own. Boromir and Faramir did when they were lads younger than he, as did my own children. And so long as Luin there is with him, I believe he will be safe enough.”

Luin, sitting quietly at Brand’s side, wagged his tail when his name was mentioned. His gaze was fastened upon the Commander of the Swan Knights, his head tilted a bit to one side, grinning. Andrahar stared back for a moment, then shook himself, his expression settling into one of blank impassivity.

“Then I apologize for waking you for no good purpose, my prince,” he said curtly. “Lord Brandmir, Your Majesty-please excuse me.” He spun on his heel and stalked off towards the esquire barracks. Aragorn looked after him, eyebrow raised.

“I am sorry, Imrahil. Am I the cause of some trouble?”

The Prince took a deep draught of his bean-tea before answering. “Family business, my liege. You need have no concern-I am the one who has angered him, and I will deal with it.”

“I would suggest that you might go back to bed instead of dealing with it.”

“The wisdom of the King knows no bounds.”

Aragorn chuckled. “A good morning to you, Imrahil, wherever you spend it. And to you, Brandmir.”

“Good morning, sir.”

The King departed with a cheery salute. When he had gone, Imrahil reached down and ruffled Luin’s ears, which gestured was received with enthusiasm and a gentle lick of the hand. Brand gave his great uncle an apologetic look.

“I am sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to alarm anyone.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say Andra was alarmed, exactly.” The Prince’s voice was very dry. “He showed up at my door a little after dawn, telling me that the maid had reported that your bed had not been slept in.”

“It had been, sir, but I made it as I was supposed to.”

“So I assumed. But Andra thought that the worst had happened and wanted to know what I intended to do about it. He was quite insistent. Since I could tell that he wouldn’t be happy until I left my bed, I did so, and followed him out to the courtyard in an effort to prevent him from calling out every hung-over esquire and knight to comb the City from top to bottom. Which was where we were at when you found us.” Imrahil scrubbed wearily at his eyes with his free hand. “Never doubt that he loves you, lad. Recent events might have given you cause to think that he does not, but it is simply not the case.”

“I have never doubted his love, sir. He is doing this because he thinks that it is best for me, no matter what he wants. But he never lets me close enough to talk any more.”

The Prince sighed. “I could force the issue, but I would rather not. The matter concerns the two of you, and perhaps Faramir, more than it does me-other than the fact that I love you all.” He gave Brand’s shoulders a squeeze. "I do hope the two of you resolve things sooner than later, however. I would rather not ride north with Andrahar in the state he is in at present.” He looked blearily about the courtyard for a moment. The growing, golden light of the morning did not seem to please him. “I meant what I said about you being able to come and go, Brand. But do tell someone in the kitchen at least, when you go out. They’re always up early.”

“I will do that, sir.”

“Good lad! What a ghastly time of day this is.” Imrahil trailed slowly back into the house.
Brand watched him go, then looked towards the esquire barracks. He wondered if he should follow after Captain Andrahar and try to speak with him now, but the Captain’s mood, whether it was comprised of worry about Brand, the presence of the King, a head-ache from overindulgence himself the night before or all of the above, did not make such a prospect very inviting. The Haradrim ambassador seems easy by comparison!

He contemplated what he should do with the rest of his morning. There was no sign of Hethlin, so shooting was out of the question. He had forgotten to ask the Prince about the escort for his and Tathar’s ride, so that was probably not going to happen today either. Cuilast was at the townhouse, for the healer was going north with the Prince. He might welcome some help inventorying his supplies. Or…

Master Meneldor stood me in good stead this morning, what with all that information about honor prices. Maybe Uncle was right. Maybe…maybe I just need to read faster!

So Boromir’s son went off to hit the books.


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