Once again, this will be added to Silver Swan in some form at some point. But until then, a little something for the Heth/Imri shippers out there. Heavily revised on 3/24/09, because Imrahil finally told me what he was wallowing about. Dwim is always right.
The Prince had retired to his rooms after the execution of the pirates and stayed there the whole next day, refusing to see anyone, including his other sons and Captain Andrahar. The castle was abuzz, discussing his reaction and the departure of Prince Erchirion, and everyone was on tenterhooks. Imrahil remained in his rooms the following morning as well. At noon, Captain Andrahar summoned me to his office after the morning sparring session.
"Captain, sir, you wished to see me?" I was puzzled, for I was reasonably sure I had neither done anything nor omitted doing anything that might cause his ire.
Captain Andrahar folded his hands over one of his eternal piles of paperwork. His expression was unreadable. "Yes, esquire. It has been brought to my attention that you have yet to serve the Prince in any personal capacity, though all of your classmates have done so already. So we are going to rectify that now. Wash up, then go to the kitchen and get the tray that they will have prepared for the Prince. Take it up to his chambers and see that he eats it."
I stared at him, agog. The Prince did not want me serving him in any intimate capacity, of that I was certain. At least, he had informed me that he did not during the Lorien journey and given that he had stayed in Minas Tirith just to avoid me, I could hardly believe that he wished to have me in his private chambers. Particularly when he didn't want anyone else there either! Was this another one of the captain's more spiteful assignments? If that were so, it was a discouraging sign. I had thought us getting along much better of late.
"Why the fish-eyed look, esquire? Is there something about that order that you cannot comprehend? Is your understanding so limited?"
"No, sir." I suppressed the now-habitual momentary stab of annoyance, bowed and straightened, and as I did so, caught the slightest flash of what might be pain in the commander's dark eyes. He bent his head over the papers, an oddly subdued gesture and I suddenly realized what was going on. This isn't spite at all! He thinks the Prince will open the door for me, when he would not for him. How terrible he must feel!
Careful to let no sign of sympathy show, I assured him, "I'll go up right away, sir," bowed and started out of the room.
"Be aware, esquire. He may be drinking," came the Armsmaster's quiet warning from behind me.
Reflecting upon the current state of turmoil in the castle and the pain I had glimpsed in the Armsmaster's eyes caused me to be powerfully annoyed by the time I reached the rarified upper regions of the palace, and I did not particularly care whether Imrahil had been drinking or not. It would not be the first time I had had to deal with a man stupid with drink.
My knock upon the swan-carved doors to his chambers was intentionally loud, as was my announcement. "My lord, it's Hethlin. I have your lunch."
"Leave it," came the muffled response from within.
"Out here? Where the last three trays were left untouched? I don't think so, my lord. Captain Andrahar ordered me to bring your lunch in to you and see that you eat it. Those were his exact words."
"Captain Andrahar will have to be disappointed, esquire. I rank him, I do believe."
"I can't disappoint the captain, sir! I've only just now gotten him to the point where he tolerates me. If you will not open the door, I'll have to get a sack, a rope and a grapple, go down to the next floor and out through that window, climb up the tower wall and bring your lunch up over your balcony through those fancy glass doors of yours."
"You cannot climb up the Swan Tower, Hethlin!"
"Actually, sir, I can. Heights don't bother me a bit-I've climbed worse in Ithilien. Though I don't know how nice Therin's lunch will look once I've slung it about in a sack. You really ought to just open the door, my lord."
There was silence for a long time, and I was thinking that I was going to have to make good my bluff. Then came a sound of movement from within, and the door opened. A distinctly bleary-eyed and totally disheveled Imrahil glared at me, wearing what looked to be the breeches and shirt from the trial with a robe thrown haphazardly over them.
"You are being impertinent, esquire," he growled, "and presuming upon my affection."
I steeled myself. "I am about to be more so and do more presuming," and knowing that he had been scrupulously avoiding any physical contact with me, shoved past him into the room. He gave way as I thought he would, and I was able to enter his sitting room. Placing the tray upon a table, I turned and regarded him. "Your lunch, my lord. Please eat it. And if I may be so bold, a bath afterwards would not go amiss."
He did not answer, moving instead to the aforementioned full length glass doors that opened onto his balcony, looking out over the sea.
"Your lunch is getting cold, sir."
Still no answer. There were, I noted, a couple of empty brandy bottles upon the sideboard, though the Prince did not seem to be drinking now and I did not know if they had both been full to begin with. Nonetheless, I felt my temper snap.
"I do have to wonder," I said to his back, "if we would be having all this drama had Veleda been ugly?"
That startled him, and he turned around. "What do you mean?"
"If Veleda had been some big, beefy wench with a harelip and warts on her chin, would any of this happened? Prince Erchirion would not have cared whether you executed her or not, nor would you be going through all these…spasms! She would just have been another pirate. You would have thought she had earned what she got for associating with the other pirates. Laying down with dogs and getting up with fleas, and all that. This isn't about you regretting hanging a woman, my lord, it's about you regretting hanging a beautiful woman. How very…" I cast about for the right word for a moment, and then it came, fruit of my months of studies here. A word worthy of Faramir. "…superficial of you."
"I don't think…" he began, but I ran right over him, for my blood was up.
"Well I do think, and the more I think about it, the more offended I am! Beautiful or not, Veleda tried to kill me with that same damned poisoned dagger she tried finish off the rest of your family with, your royal highness! I can forgive Prince Erchirion being blinded by a pretty face, Veleda did her best to seduce him, but you? She was a pirate and an assassin. You treated her as such. End of story. She was not worth all this wallowing. Your family is upset and worried, Captain Andrahar is upset and worried, and the whole palace is tiptoeing around because you're behaving like a fool. Veleda would no doubt be very pleased, if she could see."
I ignored him and plowed on. "And furthermore, consider this. I am trying to be a Swan Knight. If I succeed and become a Swan Knight, then I wish to be treated just like my fellow Swan Knights. Were myself and my sword-brothers to be captured, and all of them executed and me spared and imprisoned, just because I am a woman, how do you think I would feel? Veleda was the captain's lover, and you sent her with him. It was what she would have wanted, I think. I know that it is what I would want, to die with my sword-brothers! Finally, when all else is said and done, she was just too dangerous to leave alive. What if she had beguiled one of your guards and escaped? And got her second chance at your family? Then you would have had cause for wallowing! And grief!"
I ran down at last and looked at Imrahil, panting a bit, worried as to his possible response.
He did not seem angry as he had been when I first entered, he appeared to have calmed considerably, but the princely eyebrow made an appearance.
"Are you quite finished making assumptions?"
"Why would you assume I was having 'spasms', as you so colorfully put it, about Veleda of all things? I know perfectly well that she was an assassin, and that she tried to kill you and my family. Why would I waste any grief on her?"
"I…well, that was what everyone in the castle was saying…because of Erchirion and all." I suddenly began feeling rather young and foolish.
"Well, everyone in the castle was wrong. Did Andra tell you what he thought the matter was when he sent you up here?"
"No, my lord, he just said that he wanted me to see that you ate."
The Prince sighed. "When I was a young man, I did everything I could to keep myself out of the courts. My late wife quite rightly chided me for it before we were married. I did not like passing judgment, though over time I resigned myself to the necessity. I am the lord of Belfalas after all, with the powers of low, middle and high justice, and my people rely upon me to keep the law. But while I deplore what the pirates did to my people, I hate executing folk, no matter how justified it may be. The occasions I've had to do it have been few and far between, and I have always dreaded them. I would much rather kill someone in battle-it seems cleaner, somehow."
"You never turned a hair when you hung the pirates, sir."
"I am a consummate actor, Hethlin, you know that." A sad smile curled Imrahil's lips. "It was such a waste-they were all young men, did you notice? I thought I was done with killing young men. Then these fools come along and the best thing they can do with lives spared from war is to spend them trying to drag us into another!"
He glanced over at the brandy bottles, looked back at me ruefully.
"Though in truth, my little retreat wasn't entirely about that, tired as I am of dealing out death. It was a combination of things-the execution, my worry about Erchirion, my dreading seeing you again…and a bit of plain old weariness. I had been working without pause to help the King in Minas Tirith, then I rode here as swiftly as I could to preside over the trial and execution, and when it was over, hiding away-or wallowing, as you put it-for a couple of days seemed a very attractive idea. Surely I can take a couple of days rest?"
"But you weren't eating!"
"No, I will admit my diet was of a purely liquid nature. I've not done that in years and it was a bad idea-I haven't the capacity I once had, and I had some absolutely terrible dreams. Andra would have said it served me right."
"And you wouldn't even let the Captain in! That was what had people really worried."
The Prince scrubbed at his face wearily, then ran his hands through his unkempt hair. "Yes, well, there was really nothing I could talk to Andra about, you see. It is a very rare occurrence, but it sometimes does happen. Talking to him about the pirates would have led to talking about Veleda, and that would have only reminded him of his failure to apprehend her. And talking about Veleda would inevitably have led to talking about you, and I don't want to talk to Andra about you, because he has already made his opinion about older men who chase after women young enough to be their granddaughters abundantly clear. I did not feel like hearing it again." There was an almost mulish glint in the Prince's eye.
"Would it be easier for you if I left Dol Amroth, sir?" I inquired, harking back to his statement about dreading to see me. The idea of doing caused a surprising pang of sorrow. I had won my place here with such pain… "You are needed here, that much is obvious. And I would not come between you and the Captain for the world."
He threw up a hand in negation. "What? End your training when you've just begun to settle in? Neither the king nor Andra would forgive me! And I am not needed here anywhere near so much as you think. Elphir is perfectly competent. The only reason he called me home was that he knew there were Haradrim nobles involved, and he wanted it absolutely clear to Harad that the ultimate authority in Dol Amroth had acted. He could have executed them himself as Regent, and I would have backed him up, but there is no question this way. That is why I am here. Harad must be treated delicately the next little while. And as far as Andra is concerned…you need have no fear of 'coming between us' as you say. You are his student now, and in his keeping, and that takes precedence over any wish of mine."
With a resigned smile, he pulled a chair over to the table upon which the tray sat, seated himself, then looked up at me.
"I would have come down to dinner tonight in any event, if that makes you feel better-I was pretty much done. What a hash I've made of things! I told you that I was an adult, and that you should make your decision and not trouble yourself about my feelings, and here I am acting the boy!"
I found myself smiling back, my earlier ire dissipating. "Well, I did tell you upon more than one occasion that I thought you shouldn't be acting the old greybeard all the time."
"I took it a little too far in the other direction though, don't you think? I've not gone on a binge such as this since I was a much younger man, and it does me no credit. Nor does my behavior about you. Just because I am a prince, and accustomed to getting what I want, is no reason to cause such drama when I can't have it. Rest easy, Hethlin. In the future, I shall endeavor to move between Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith in my usual manner without troubling you or being troubled by you." He lifted the silver cover over his lunch plate, and sniffed. "It does smell good. Therin fixed my favorite. And I am hungry-a steady diet of brandy is not particularly filling." He took up his fork, then paused. "Have you had your lunch yet?"
"I'll get mine when I go back, my lord."
Nodding, Imrahil said, "You needn't worry further about disappointing Andra either. If you will, please, send him up when you go down. Tell him to bring his lunch up if he likes. I shall endeavor to move our conversation into channels we can both enjoy. Thank you for the counsel…and for the presumption. And speaking of presumption, I will not presume that it means the same to you that it does to me, but I do thank you for not patting me on the head and telling me, 'there, there, it will be all right.'"
It took me a moment to recollect that he was quoting from my description of the sort of man I might marry, from a discussion we had had on the way back from Lorien. My hair-trigger blush manifested itself, and I saw that damnable pirate's grin bloom on the Prince's face at last, just before he lifted the fork to his lips.
"I will join him then," Captain Andrahar said, when I reported back to him. "Go and seek your own lunch, esquire, and take your time about it. I have already told Peloren that you are excused mounted practice today. Though you might take some of the extra time to study your mathematics. I am informed by your instructor that you are still far from proficient in that area."
"Thank you for the time off, sir, and the suggestion. You may be sure that I will heed it," I said with a bow. Once more, as I was departing, he called me back.
"Hethlin. Erchirion was not the only man fooled by Veleda. Thank you again for your actions on that day. And on this one."
The captain was not smiling as he met my eyes, but he was not frowning either. Perhaps, unlikely though it seemed, we'd rubbed against each other enough that some of the rough edges were smoothing over. Certainly, it was no hardship to smile back at him.
"You are very welcome, sir."