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The Baby Pool
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The Baby Pool

Written in answer to the B2MeM Day Four Challenge-

"There would be no one to frighten you if you refused to be afraid."

-Ghandi

Write a story or poem or create artwork where the character conquers his or her fears.


~~~

“You can’t swim? But you grew up in Pelargir! The Anduin flows right by it! Elphir, Heir to Dol Amroth, looked down at his newly discovered (albeit from the wrong side of the blanket) cousin Brandmir in puzzlement. He’d encountered the lad in the stable, diligently currying his little mare after a ride.

“Have you ever seen the Anduin in west Pelargir, sir?” Brandmir answered diffidently. “You’d not want to dip your toes in it, much less the rest of you!”

The Heir considered this for a moment. He’d often traveled to Minas Tirith, by horse and by ship up the Anduin. “Fair enough. Point taken.” Then he cocked his head and looked down at Brandmir once more. “But you love to fish! You ate fish from a river you won’t swim in?”

“No sir, I ate fish from the eastern side, upstream from the city. Used to hike over there. Everyone did. Or from the north, upstream on the Sirith.”

“But you don’t know how to swim…”

“We were drover-folk, not fisher-folk, sir.”

Elphir sighed. “You don’t have to keep calling me ‘sir’, Brandmir. We’re family. Just call me by my name.”

“Yes, my lor-I mean Elphir.”

Brandmir thought that on the whole he preferred things as they had been when he was just Captain Andrahar’s ward and not Lord Boromir’s son. He’d been perfectly comfortable relating to the royal house of Dol Amroth as well…royalty. Now they were his cousins, the Steward of Gondor was his uncle, Prince Imrahil was his great-uncle and it was all just a little too much. They were so obviously wanting him to feel welcome that it was rather daunting. And it was hard to believe them. He’d spent the better part of his life in a house where he had been considered a marginally useful intruder, it was difficult still for him to imagine people actually wanting him to be part of their family. Andrahar’s act of buying him out of his apprenticeship had given the Captain a credibility that had enabled Brand to feel much more at ease with him than would otherwise have been the case. He knew the Prince’s family was not to blame for his difficulty-it was his long-held inability to let his guard down, lest he be rejected.


“You do realize that if you want to become a Swan Knight, you’ll have to learn to swim, don’t you?” came Elphir’s voice into his ruminations.

Brandmir stared up at his tall cousin in shock. “Really?”

Elphir nodded. “Really. It is one of the requirements. You should learn in any event, living here, but you arrived in the fall and by the time you’d settled in the water was too cold to teach you. It’s warming up now, though, so you should start.”

Brand looked back down at his feet, feeling a dream die. “I didn’t know Swan Knights had to be able to swim.” He contemplated life as a tradesman or scribe.

Elphir’s voice came to him softly, and without condemnation. “Brandmir, are you afraid of the water?”

He looked back up. Much as he didn’t want to have Elphir think badly of him, he was a truthful lad. “I am. I don’t like the way that it clutches at your legs and that you can’t see the bottom.” Grimacing, he added, “When I try to wade in there and the weeds brush against me, I get all these fancies about big fish with teeth and those octopus things with all the legs.”

“Octupuses in the Anduin?” the young prince asked, a smile tweaking his lips. Brand gave him a look of injured dignity.

“I did say they were fancies, sir.” Elphir let the ‘sir’ pass.

“Not so fanciful as all that, when it’s the ocean you’re talking about. I’ve seen sharks and such when out with ‘Chiron. And you’re right, Brandmir, the ocean, or any body of water is dangerous and you should have a care with it. But swords are also dangerous and you’re learning to use one of them. Horses have killed any number of people who’ve messed with them. Rahur taught you that lesson very well, but you still ride. I can help you with this if you would like.”

“You, sir? Why not the Captain? He can swim, can’t he?”

“Of course. In fact, he’s a very strong swimmer. But he’s always busy and besides, he hates the water.” The Heir’s brows drew down and when he spoke again, he’d lowered his voice into a bass register and it had acquired a distinct Haradric lilt.

“I do not see why the world needs such water! The Sea is your enemy, lad! Always respect her and never turn your back on her! Vanquish her with your diligence and craft!”

The resemblance to Andrahar was uncanny and Brandmir bit back a horrified, delighted laugh.

Elphir’s voice and face became his own once more. “I’ve always thought it best to have someone who actually likes the water teach someone who is fearful of it. We’ll start tomorrow afternoon, after your morning classes.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To Brand’s surprise, his swimming lesson had apparently become the excuse for a picnic and a party. Elphir had directed him to meet him at the stables after his lessons and when Brand did so, he found not only the Heir, but Prince Amrothos and Princess Lothiriel waiting for him as well. Amrothos’ horse was encumbered with a couple of large parcels strapped across its hindquarters, but the phlegmatic beast seemed unperturbed. Princess Lothiriel was carrying what might have been blankets and towels rolled up in a bundle upon her spirited palfrey and Prince Elphir was stowing what looked to be lunch into his saddlebags. He was riding one of the Prince’s fine hunters rather than his war horse.

“Ah, there you are, Brand,” he said with a smile. “I took the liberty of having the stableman saddle your mare. We’ve a little way to go, so we’d best be off.” As they left the stable and mounted, they were joined by six Swan Knights. This did not particularly surprise Brand; after all he was in the company of three of Imrahil’s four children, but it still felt a little odd to be escorted in such a way, as if he himself were important.

“Have you gentlemen had your lunch?” Elphir inquired politely of their escort. “We can get something down in the city for you if you have not.”

“We have eaten, my lord prince. Thank you for asking,” the oldest knight, who was presumably the head of the detachment, responded.

“And even had we not, the Commander would hand us our heads if we ate on duty, my lord!” another of the knights added with a grin. The oldest one quelled him with a meaningful look and with no further words their escort fell in with them.

They rode down through the city and down the south coast road. Though he was not looking forward to going into the water, Brand could not help but enjoy the ride. It was a lovely spring day, almost hot with a gentle breeze, and the horses were frisky. There were many travelers on the road and they hailed their ruling family with waves and cheerful greetings, which were returned by Elphir and Lothiriel. Amrothos, as was often his wont, was seemingly lost in intellectual abstraction and did not even notice, his horse trotting placidly along with the others without any obvious direction from him.

About five miles south of the city, the party turned onto a path towards the beach that was marked with a signboard carrying the royal arms.

“This is our beach house,” Elphir explained to Brand as they came over a rise in the dunes and saw a graceful stone building set back a way from the water. A small cove lay before them, the water brilliantly blue over golden sand. “No one comes here but us and the servants who maintain it.”

“The water here is shallow a good way out, Brandmir, and there’s no real current. So it’s a good place to learn to swim. Most of Dol Amroth’s princes have done that here,” Lothiriel added with an encouraging smile.

“We call the shallow part the Baby Pool,” Amrothos said, speaking for the first time since they’d left the city.

When they had approached the house, the Swan Knights took charge of their horses and set up a watch. Amrothos took his odd bundles off from behind the saddle and carried them down towards the shore. Lothiriel unrolled hers, took a smaller roll of cloth from the middle of it and tossed the rest to Elphir.

“Towels and a blanket,” she said. “Just in case they’ve not put any inside yet.” Holding out her hand to her oldest brother, she demanded, “Key.”

Elphir pulled a large key out of his belt pouch and gave her a mock-serious look. “You have your sun-cream, I trust? Tirathiel will never forgive me if you come back burnt or speckled.”

“Of course.” Lothiriel rolled her eyes. “Nag.”

“That is the primary purpose of big brothers. Come Brandmir, let’s get this blanket laid out.”

Lothiriel unlocked the door and vanished into the house. Brand followed Elphir down to the shore, where they spread the blanket above the tide line and set the towels upon it. That task completed, the Heir sat down and began pulling his boots off. He looked up at Brand.

“Come on, then, off with the clothes”, he commanded. “Down to your drawers.” Blushing, Brand followed suit, as did Amrothos, who wandered over when the towel was spread.

“Did Princess Mariel not want to come today? Or the Prince?” Brand asked as he undressed.

“It’s still a little too cold to suit Mariel,” Elphir replied. “She’ll come with us later on in the summer. As for Father,” here the young prince grinned, “he would have been with us, but he was so dismayed by you being afraid of him when you first met him that he decided you had enough things to be afraid of for one day.”

“But I’m not afraid of him now!” Brand protested. Amrothos snorted.

“Elphir is jesting, Brandmir. Or at least it’s what passes for a sense of humor with him. Father had to hear court today, or he certainly would have come. He loves it here.”

“In any event, I deemed it best that I should instruct you rather than Father, Brandmir,” the Heir said with a laugh. “I think you’ll like my methods better. Father just pitches people over a ship’s rail into the bay, then calls down encouraging suggestions as they try not to drown.” Brand’s eyes widened.

“How exactly is this helping things, brother?” Amrothos asked, then turned back to his new cousin. “More ‘humor‘, Brandmir. Father taught us all to swim and I will guarantee you he didn’t throw us into the bay. That is the tale according to Uncle Andra, and as has been established, Uncle Andra is a bit prejudiced where water is concerned.” He rose to his feet and sauntered towards the shore. “I am going to go check on the platform while you wait for Lothiriel.” Brand watched as he nonchalantly strode into the surf, took a few long strides and threw himself into the water, stroking strongly out to sea.

“The platform?” he asked Elphir. The prince indicated a dark place on the waves, parallel to the end of the point.

“It’s a wooden platform, and it’s anchored to the sea floor with chains. You can swim out there and sun yourself, or fish if you like.”

Brand looked at it with trepidation. Amrothos was moving slowly but surely towards it.
“Is the water deep there?”

“It’s not as deep as it gets further out, but yes, well over our heads by that point,” Elphir said with a sympathetic smile. Amrothos disappeared suddenly and Brand gasped.

“Where did he go? What happened?”

“He’s just diving. He’s a better diver than any of us. Checking out the chains. He’ll be all right.” Sure enough, the youngest prince’s head eventually re-emerged. He dived down a couple of times, before hauling himself up onto the platform and waving towards them. Brand waved back in relief.

Elphir suddenly called to the escort, “Eyes landward, gentleman! The princess is on the beach!”

“Yes, my lord!“ the Swan Knights acknowledged and turned their backs politely. Brand saw Lothiriel coming towards them. The Princess had braided her hair tightly, and she was wearing fewer clothes than Brand had ever seen on her. The fisher girls on the docks in the city and outside it dressed much as she did to swim, in shifts that went to just below the knee, but the Princess’s was blue fabric, not white, and it looked heavier than what the fisher girls wore, which was a relief to Brand because when the fisher girls got wet, they didn’t leave a lot to the imagination and he wasn‘t sure he was ready to see that much of Lothiriel.

“’The Princess is on the beach!‘ I feel so important!“ she chuckled, then looked about and asked “Where’s ‘Rothos?” Elphir pointed out towards the platform. Lothiriel frowned.

“He’s supposed to be helping us teach Brandmir! Don’t think I didn’t notice him bringing all his contraptions, Elphir! You need to take him in hand now, or it will be ‘Rothos-checking-on-the-platform and ‘Rothos-trying-out-his-latest-breathing-tube and ‘Rothos-saying-hello-to-all-of-his-spiny-sea-creatures all day long!”

The young prince threw up a hand. “Enough ‘Thiri! You and I will suffice to teach Brandmir, I am sure. This is the first time I’ve seen ‘Rothos go back in the water since Osgiliath and if he wants to spend the entire day kissing sea urchins and crabs, he may for all of me.”

That shut the princess up for some reason. Brand was puzzled, and not just about what a ‘sea urchin’ might be. What had Osgiliath, a big battle, to do with Amrothos? He knew that Imrahil’s younger son had never served in the army or navy, and that much was even more obvious when the two princes had stripped. Elphir bore what were definitely battle scars on his body while Amrothos, who was more fit albeit in a wiry way than might have been thought for someone who spent so much time in libraries, was unmarked. He resolved to ask the Captain about the matter that very evening. Surely Andrahar knew what the story was!

Lothiriel held a hand down to him. “Come, Brandmir. Let’s get you and the water acquainted!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In the end, it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. Both Elphir and Lothiriel were very patient with him and didn’t think it odd at all that he was scared.

“You said it bothered you that you couldn’t see the bottom,” Elphir reminded him when he reluctantly waded out to knee‘s depth. “Well look, here you can! If there are any sharks or octopuses, you‘ll see them coming a way off. And no weeds today either, though they do sometimes float in.”

“Brrrrr! It’s cold!” Brand protested.

“It is a little early,” the Heir admitted with a rueful smile, “but the water is warm enough and we won’t be in here that long for your first time. Best to get wet all over fast as you can, then you don’t feel it so much.”

They stayed there with him for a while, letting him sit down in the waves and get used to them. Then they took him deeper still, up to his waist. There Elphir taught him how to stick his head in the water and hold his breath. At that point Amrothos returned as well, the three royals making a reassuring wall between him and the sea.

“Things and people float more easily in salt water than fresh,” the youngest prince told him encouragingly. “I’ve done studies on it. So better you learn here than in a river.” They then let him float, holding onto Elphir’s arms while he learned to kick. Lothiriel and Amrothos gave him a demonstration on arm-strokes by swimming out a bit themselves while he watched. The lesson ended when, terrified but exhilarated as well, he actually managed to flail and kick a short distance between Lothiriel and Elphir, while Amrothos stood guard seaward.

“There! You’ve done it! You’ve officially swum! Well done!” the Heir said, clapping him on the shoulder as he clutched at Elphir’s arms. “That’s enough for one day! Time for lunch!”

“You did very well today, for someone who is afraid of water, Brandmir,” the princess remarked approvingly as they waded out of the ocean and headed for the blanket. “I thought we’d only get to the kicking part.”

Encouraged, Brand was only too ready to eat. “I’m so hungry!” he marveled, as Elphir parceled out sausages, bread, cheese and fruit after they‘d all toweled dry. He also had a small cask of some fizzy sort of light cider to drink.

“Something about messing about in and on the water always gives you a good appetite,” Elphir remarked. “I daresay Amrothos will study why some day.”

Amrothos, who was already busily stuffing food into his mouth, made a muffled and for him, an unintelligible response.

“There are fishing poles in the house,” the oldest prince added. “Later on in the year we’ll fish and dig for clams and make a fire on the beach and cook it all. Tastes marvelous!”

Brand admitted to himself that the idea of a sea-feast did sound good. And sitting here in the sun with his cousins was no longer quite so intimidating as it had been. They were obviously full of good will towards him.

“I always sleep better here than anywhere else,” Elphir continued. “Something about the way the sea murmurs is so soothing.”

“’Soothing’ is it? Is that what you’re calling it now?” Amrothos remarked, his eyebrow raised. “We are reasonably certain that Alphros was conceived in that very house over there,” he explained to Brand while Lothiriel giggled and Elphir actually dipped his head, his cheeks redder than could be explained by sun-burn.

“The tide is going out, ‘Rothos. Don’t you have some sea-creatures to reacquaint yourself with?” he asked pointedly.

“Oh, I intend to. After lunch.” Conversation after that was a bit desultory, as everyone addressed themselves to the food. Lothiriel asked Brand about his lessons and Elphir discussed horses with him. Amrothos simply went back to eating. He got up abruptly when he was done.

“It’s still too cold for me to want to go back into the water now that I’m dry,” he announced. “But I do want to go look at the tide pools before we leave. I shan’t be long.”

“You might find them interesting, Brandmir,” Elphir suggested.

So Brand went with Amrothos and helped him carry his equipment, which consisted of a net of very fine mesh, a scoop, a magnifying lens, some small tongs and a large glass bowl with high sides.

“What are tide pools?” he asked as they walked towards the arm of the cove on their left. There were rocks there, unlike the smooth, golden sand of the beach.

“Little pools in the rock left behind when the tide goes out,” Amrothos explained. “There are some interesting creatures in them.”

And indeed there were. They spent the next hour stepping carefully over rocks and dipping out crabs and other creatures to look at in the large glass bowl. There was even a tiny octopus! Brand was astonished at how much the young prince knew about them-he seemed to have spent a long time studying them. The former stable boy reflected upon how only a prince would have the leisure time to do such study and how most princes would have found other ways to spend their time.

“Why do you like to do this?” Brand asked daringly. Amrothos threw him a side-long look.

“It’s fascinating, the way the world is put together, don’t you think?”

“What do you mean? It’s just the world, isn’t it?”

“There’s a plan to it, Brandmir, didn’t you know? Things fit together in interesting ways. For instance…” his voice trailed off for a moment as he scanned the pools. “Over there! Go take a look.” He indicated a pool close to his right hand. Brand peered in.

“What am I looking for?”

“See the little fellow attached to the rock there? The one that looks like a pinkish flower?” Amrothos handed him the magnifying lens and Brand peered in. After a little searching, he found what the young prince had described.

“Oh! It’s pretty! That’s an animal?”

“It is. It just doesn’t move around like most animals, stays attached to that rock.” The waving petals looked soft, seeming to invite a touch. Brand started to reach his hand in, only to be stopped by Amrothos’ swift warning.

“Don’t! It will sting you! That’s an aearlotheg, a sea-flower.”

“It stings?”

“Yes. There are things in the ocean that do. We’ll teach you about them. Anyway, you usually see these things out a little deeper. They’re bigger there. They get their food by stinging it when it swims by, fishes and such, then they draw it into their mouths. See the mouth in the middle?” Brand nodded, though he didn’t think it looked much like a mouth as he understood the term. More like the opposite end of things…

“The interesting thing is that there is one kind of fish that the poison doesn’t affect. It lives right in the petals of the aearlotheg. One fish to one aearlotheg. I think perhaps it helps to defend the aearlotheg, since the aearlotheg can’t move and then it gets the food the aearlotheg drops or doesn’t want. So they sort of help each other. Like it was planned.”

“By the One? Or the Valar?”

“Possibly,” Amrothos said absently as he studied the creature himself. “But even in stories and legends, no one ever gets to see the One to ask. And I’ve seen a lot of things, but I’ve never seen a Vala.”

Stunned by the casual blasphemy, Brand just stared at him in shocked silence for a moment. Feeling the stare, the young prince turned his attention away from the sea-flower and back to his cousin. He smiled wryly.

“There. I’ve done it. Gone and shocked you. But you’d best get used to it, if you’re living with us. I’m not going to change my ways at this late date and I’ll warn you, I’m always like this.”

“No, it’s all right,” Brand assured him, and after a moment he realized it actually was. Amrothos just did not think like ordinary people. He worried about things that never occurred to most folk. It was interesting.

“Well now that I’ve shocked you so, we’d best be getting back. I did tell Elphir we wouldn‘t be long and we‘ve got a ride to do.” Brand helped him gather up the equipment and they started back towards the others.

“I always wanted to bring the sea home with me,” Amrothos told him as they trudged back around the cove. “I tried to keep some creatures in my room in a glass bowl bigger than this when I was small.”

“What happened?”

“They died, unfortunately. I do all right with most land creatures and birds-if you study what they need and give it to them, you can usually keep them for a little while at least, though it‘s sometimes more than a bit of trouble. And I’ve kept minnows and little carp well enough-you just change the water once a day. But sea creatures need much more sea water and I think it needs to move.” He brooded upon that idea for a moment, then grinned in sudden reminiscence. “I thought after my first failure that I’d solved the problem. But Father informed me that my plan of paying a procession of malodorous wharf rats to bring me bowls of fresh sea water and take back the old at all hours of the day and night was seriously flawed and was not going to happen in his castle, and he made me take my second batch of creatures back to the Sea.”

“Did you really do that?”

“Oh yes. Father also informed me at the same time that Cousin Faramir had been possessed of a similar desire to take fish home with him when he was small. So I suppose we will have to watch you closely, to make sure you aren’t overcome with a desire to cuddle up to a fish yourself.”

“The only way I cuddle up to fish is on a plate at dinner, with butter sauce on the side!” Brand declared with a laugh.

“That is society’s approved method of dealing with them,” Amrothos agreed, smiling, “but it lacks imagination.”

Lothiriel and Elphir waved at them as they approached. Brandmir noticed that the princess was well slathered with her sun-cream.

“Did you have a good time, Brandmir?” Elphir asked.

“Oh yes! Amrothos showed me an octopus! A little one. And an aearlotheg.”

“And told you they stung, I hope.” Amrothos gave his brother a long-suffering look.

“Of course I did. We’ll have to show him the jellyfish when we next see them, Elphir.”

“Indeed.”

Lothiriel got to her feet. “I am going to go change. Why don’t you all pack things up while I am gone?”

They did as the princess had bidden them, lashing the blanket and their lunch containers back onto their saddles. Lothiriel took a while to return, longer Brand thought than when she’d changed upon their arrival, but Elphir explained that she had to get the sun-cream off. They were standing by their horses, girths tightened and bridles back on when she came out of the house and locked it behind her. Her earlier ebullience was gone, her face sad.

“Whatever is the matter, ‘Thiri?” Elphir asked, then saw what she held in her hand and fell silent.

“These are for you, Brandmir,” she said softly, handing a pair of gloves to him. “I found them inside when I was checking things before I locked up.” Brand turned them over in his hands, a man’s gloves for a man with big hands, embroidered not with a swan-ship but with Gondor’s tree and stars and knew who they must have belonged to.

“They’re probably stiff from the salt air. I’ll help you clean them up,” came Elphir’s voice, a bit roughly. “Properly, so they won’t be harmed.” Brand threw a glance at him and saw that the Heir’s face was calm, but the muscle in his jaw was clenched, as if he were biting back some emotion. It’s only been a year, the boy suddenly realized, and my father was probably the closest thing to a big brother Prince Elphir ever had.

“It is so like him! He was always leaving little bits behind-” Lothiriel bit back a gasp and went crimson. Her eyes were suspiciously damp. “I am sorry, Brandmir!” Lothiriel certainly has enough older brothers of her own, Brand reflected, but perhaps my father was another one. Or perhaps, only girl in two male households, she had enjoyed mothering him?

“Tell me again how I’m the socially inept one in this family?” Amrothos inquired of the air, but his gaze was fixed intently upon Brand as he did so. Brand couldn’t imagine what Amrothos and Boromir might have had in common, but he seemed as moved as the others.

He looked around at them as his fingers stroked the leather absently. How had he come to this? A princess and two princes looking at him in trepidation, wanting his good will? It had never occurred to him that they might be as worried about him liking them as the other way around! It had never occurred to him that they might need him, to help assuage their grief over one they had loved! Thinking back over all the care they’d taken with him, both this day and since he had come to Dol Amroth, he realized that they genuinely wanted to love him, if he would only give them the chance.

The defenses that he had built high about his heart over the years, that Jacyn had mortared up, the reserve that had held at first even with Andrahar, dropped. He found himself grinning, a grin that made Elphir suck in a shocked breath of recognition.

“Given that it was a handkerchief Father forgot that brought me here in the first place, I don’t guess we should complain too much, ‘Thiri,” he declared, watching the princess’s face light up at the nickname he’d never used before. Holding out his arms, it took but a moment for them to be filled with Lothiriel, then the other two were there as well, with the loving embraces that he had gradually come to understand even he could deserve. Soaking them up like the sun on the sand or the breeze off the sea, he closed his eyes and squeezed back.

“Let’s go home,” he said.

~~~

Elphir the Reticent finally decided to speak to me for this one, so I could hardly refuse him! Thanks to Dwimordene for Andra's opinion about oceans.


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