Happy Birthday, short stuff! And many, many more!
I am sharing another anniversary with Una. January marks our tenth anniversary on ff.net and the start of a wonderful friendship.
I am sharing another anniversary with Una. January marks our tenth anniversary on ff.net and the start of a wonderful friendship.
Needless to say, the Heir to Dol Amroth’s birthday was a special occasion. And this one was even more so. Adrahil spared no expense, making sure that all the most influential nobles of Belfalas were invited, hiring minstrels, instructing the cooks that a feast of great magnificence should be prepared.
The result was a most festive evening of songs and dancing, of presentation of gifts and toasts to the honoree, who became more than three sheets to the wind as the evening progressed. But it was a friendly drunk, one that brought out the more sparkling aspects of an already sparkling personality. Imrahil at his most witty and charming was difficult to resist and the goodwill in the great hall that night was genuine.
It was not until he was back in his own quarters with his wife, that the ugly realization reared its head.
‘What is the matter, dear?” Nimrien inquired, stroking his brow gently. She had given him a very nice present privately that had involved some interesting ‘packaging’ and a prolonged period of unwrapping. “Do you have a headache already? Shall I go get you a hangover potion?”
“No, it’s not that. Or it’s bound to be, in the morning. But I’ll go get it myself, love-let that be my penance. It’s just that I realized something tonight that’s a bit terrifying.”
“And that is?”
“Valar, Nimrien, I’m forty!”
Long after the hangover was gone, the four decades seemed to weigh more heavily upon the Prince than they ought to. Nimrien put up with the moping for a week before she decided she’d had enough and consulted Andrahar in his office.
“It’s ridiculous, Andra,” she fumed, bouncing young Amrothos on her hip. The Armsmaster, who was forty himself this year, sat attentively behind his desk and listened to her rant with a courteous air. “There is no difference between turning thirty-nine and forty! His people regularly reach close to a hundred years or more! He’s just grown up!”
“I suspect that might be the problem,” Andrahar said thoughtfully in his deep voice. “More than any particular number of years. He is grown up and there is no more denying the fact. Imri relished the rakehell role and lived it for a long time, my lady. But it is a little difficult to continue to picture yourself the dashing pirate when you have a wife and three young sons.“
“Do you think that he misses that life so much?” Nimrien asked, a bit taken aback.
“No! Never doubt that he loves you and the boys,” came the swift, firm answer. “But his image of himself in his head is a bit behind the times. For instance-Lord Denethor used to say that he wouldn’t trust Imrahil to make a more serious choice than picking what shirt to wear every morning.” A grimace crossed the Haradrim’s handsome, hawkish face. “Though to be fair, that is a much more involved process than Lord Denethor realizes.”
Nimrien chuckled. “I should say so! It is usually best just to leave the room until he is fully dressed. I find it saves a lot of bother.”
“But from what I have heard , he’s beginning to get a reputation for being a fair and insightful judge of men.”
“Yes, there are people who ask him to rule on their cases at court, preferring him even over Father,” the Princess said. “It happened twice just last week. You would think he would be happy about that!”
“He is, on some level. But he just doesn’t want to admit it.”
“Well, what shall we do about it?”
Andrahar gave her one of his rare, limpid grins. “I would not dare to presume to suggest how you might make him feel better, my lady. You are a woman of great wit and I am sure that something…appropriate will occur to you. As for me…I do actually have an idea. And it is a thing that will solve another problem I currently have.”
“Imrahil hasn’t spent much time with the Swan Knights of late. For the last year, in fact. And it’s been much longer than that since he’s sparred with anyone other than the senior officers, and lately it’s just been me. ‘Tis understandable, the Prince has kept him very busy with judicial matters and other tasks important to the running of the principality. He truly hasn’t had the time. But his absence has been noted, particularly among the older esquires. I am thinking that the proper sort of return might serve to kill two birds with one stone.”
“Very well then, Andra. You work on things from your end and I’ll do the same from mine.”
White teeth flashed in a wolfish smile. “Caught between the two of us, he ought to come around quickly enough.”
“You should all be honored that the Prince has deigned to spar with us today,” Andrahar announced to his senior class the next morning. Imrahil saw them looking among themselves with puzzlement. A couple of the esquires looked almost…guilty for some reason. There was very obviously something going on that he didn’t know about. He gave his blood brother the inquiring look that said he wanted an answer right now but it was disregarded.
“Daranthor, Cirlian, Meraud, Lethril, Targren-onto the list.” Andrahar turned to him then and said, loudly enough to be heard by the class, “Don’t break any bones, if you please, my lord prince-I don’t want their training interrupted. But feel free to pummel them severely otherwise. Consider this a disciplinary action.”
Still wondering when he was going to get the explanation for this oddity, Imrahil took up his shield and sword and stepped into the list. Five at once? A bit much, don’t you think, Andra?
“Lay on!” Andrahar commanded and the five esquires swarmed forward. Imrahil’s inner debate ended and his finely-honed battle instinct took over. His shield came up and the wooden practice sword lashed out, catching the luckless esquire on the left solidly up the side of the head. He dropped, stunned. The remaining esquires tried to flank him, but Imrahil back-stepped quickly to the rail to cover his back, then concentrated on picking them off one by one. The one in the center was overeager, pressing forward ahead of the others. Imrahil caught the right-hand edge of his shield with his own, pulled him halfway around into the esquire on his right and hit him solidly in the head as well, managing to block the two esquires on the left with the shield’s backswing just in time. The esquire he’d hit did not go down, but Andrahar called him out.
“You’re dead, Targren. Morlach, step in for Targren and Gannelmir, you step in for Cirlian,” he heard Andrahar say. The numbers went back up to five again.
What in the name of the Valar are you up to, Andra? Imrahil thought, as he redoubled his efforts to avoid the ignominy of being taken down by a mere esquire.
Andrahar watched the fight with the smallest of smiles hovering about the corners of his mouth. He always enjoyed watching Imrahil fight. In part because Andrahar was partially responsible for the Prince’s prowess; in part because despite Andrahar’s tutelage Imrahil’s style was uniquely his own and therefore interesting to watch; and not a little because it was just pure joy to watch him move. Andrahar himself had been called catlike. Imrahil, though equally graceful, did not move like a cat or a wolf or any animal Andrahar could name; he simply moved like Imrahil.
Andrahar fought always with cold calculation, in tourney or in battle. Imrahil was what Andrahar called a hot fighter, someone who brought emotion into the picture. It was both a strength and a weakness. Imrahil did not always show well in tournaments, but on the battlefield he was a force to be reckoned with. Upon a least one occasion, during a desperate battle at sea when Andrahar had been severely wounded, he had seemingly gone into that state the Rohirrim called bearsark- a blind, killing rage that had given him great prowess in battle. It was something Andrahar hoped would never happen again. Bearsarks tended to perform amazing feats on the battlefield, ignoring all wounds. They also tended to die soon after those feats, when the battle fever wore off and all the holes they’d been ignoring caught up with them.
The trick was always to get Imrahil emotionally involved to the point that his fullest interest had been engaged. Irritation and perplexity could serve as well as anything to do that and as Andrahar called in the replacement esquires, he saw his liege finally drop into that heightened state that brought his extensive expertise to the front, the speed and ferocity of his attacks increasing.
The esquires facing him never stood a chance, nor did the next three replacements Andrahar called in and they were the best senior esquires Dol Amroth possessed. From much experience, Imrahil knew how to prioritize in a press. Andrahar had been called the best warrior in Gondor. He would have debated that ranking but not his rightful place in the top five. By his reckoning, Imrahil was also ranked in the top five and ten luckless esquires quickly found that out. When the fight was over, the young men limped off the field, while a couple who had not been fighting came and picked a groaning Cirlian up and helped him off to the side.
“I heard something that displeased me greatly the other day,” Andrahar said in an ominously conversational tone to the esquires, striding out into the center of the list. “A couple of the individuals who just fought were speculating upon how Prince Imrahil had gotten his white belt. Despite the fact that his exploits are song-fodder throughout Belfalas, because these particular individuals had never seen him fight with us, and because he has not participated in our daily routines during the small span of time they have been in the Swan Knights, they speculated that he had acquired his belt through nepotism, by virtue of his rank.” The Armsmaster hooked his thumbs in his belt and surveyed his students with magisterial displeasure.
“This is offensive upon so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start numbering them. It is offensive to Prince Adrahil, your liege lord. It is offensive to Prince Imrahil, your future liege lord. It is offensive to myself, the Commander and all of the other senior officers, for it calls our judgment into question. It is offensive to all the rest of the Swan Knights, for it casts aspersions upon their skill and training. Some of you have been given a harsh lesson today and it is this-that things may actually be otherwise than are dictated by your youthful and limited experience.”
Andrahar gestured towards Imrahil, who was sliding his shield off his arm and listening impassively. “You have just seen how seasoned skill can triumph over youthful swiftness and strength. This is the man who led his crew over the rail of an Umbarian ship against a crew numbering three times his own and prevailed. This is the man who sailed his ship back into a burning harbor at Hurrhabi, went ashore with a landing party, fought his way through countless Haradrim and covered Captain Thorongil’s escape.”
Andrahar’s daunting, black-eyed gaze swept across the students. “Since it is difficult to know how widely this opinion is held, I must assume that you are all lacking a complete understanding of the history of the order you seek to join. In order to correct this, all free periods are cancelled for the next month. During that time, you will seek to increase your understanding of Swan Knight custom and history by utilizing the resources available to you in the library and the expertise of your Senior knights. At the end of that month, you will each present me with an essay chronicling the complete history of the Order and its traditions down to the present day. If your essay pleases me and the other senior officers, you may resume your usual schedule. If it does not, you will study for another month and revise it until it does. I strongly suggest that your essay be satisfactory at the conclusion of that second month, or the senior staff will be giving your career in the Order some very serious re-consideration." He lifted an ironical brow at the esquires.
"Since it is my duty as Armsmaster to aid all of you in your education, I will begin your period of exploration with this information, which you should already know and obviously don‘t. Any Prince of Dol Amroth may rightfully order the Swan Knights into battle, for we serve the Prince and that is his due. But not all Princes become Swan Knights. And only one who wears the white belt can ride with us. This man rides with us, and rightly so. Any questions?”
“No sir!” the esquires chorused.
“Then you are dismissed. Two of you, take Cirlian to the Infirmary.” As one, the esquires bowed deeply to Imrahil, then saluted the Armsmaster and left dejectedly.
“Alas, all your youth and beauty departed,” Andrahar deadpanned when they were gone. “Good thing you can still kick arse.”
“Has Nimrien been speaking with you, Andra?” Imrahil asked suspiciously.
“It must have seemed preferable to heaving half the library at your thick head. Your wife’s patience is not limitless, Imri. Leave off the moping. You have no cause-Nimrien finds your manly beauty, prowess and vigor undimmed. And I thank you for your help with this little problem.”
“It was rather offensive, but I suppose I can see why the esquires might come to think that. I’ve not had much to do with the Swan Knights for the last bit.”
“For the last three years.”
“Has it truly been that long? I hadn't realized. I am sorry, Andra.”
“I know that your father has kept you busy. With your permission, I am going to talk to him about this. I suppose that you wouldn’t be heartbroken if you had to spend more time with esquires and your fellow knights and less time with tax collectors and petitioners?”
“Valar, do you think you could make that happen? I’d be so very grateful.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Andrahar promised as they headed for the water bucket. “It was a good fight, by the way.”
“High praise coming from you, Andra. I was actually wondering why they didn‘t give me more trouble. Five on one and I could still take them. Are you slipping?”
Andrahar snorted. “Hardly. They’re actually a very good class. They’re just inexperienced and you’re older and more cunning. It takes surviving battles to make a real warrior. You’re in your prime now, Imri-you’re at the height of your strength and speed, and you know enough to be really dangerous. Sparring with just me all the time has made you forget how good you really are. I’ll use that as an argument with your father.”
At the bucket, he took up a dipper full of water, gave Imrahil a small smile and clinked his dipper against the Prince’s. “To the next forty years.”
“The next forty years, Andra.”
Andrahar was requested at dinner that night in the great hall. His presence was always welcome there, but he did not go every night, sometimes preferring to have a meal delivered to his office and work on paperwork over supper.
When he seated himself, his place at the high table at Nimrien’s side did not hold the same roast pork that everyone else had. Instead, his plate held his favorite lamb stew, Bakshir style, complete with the hot pepper sauce on the side. He glanced over at the Princess, who was sipping white wine with the heavy-lidded look of a woman who had been thoroughly sated. Imrahil was over at the other end of the table, talking to a merchant, laughing, obviously in high good humor.
“A special occasion, my lady?” Andrahar asked quietly, indicating his plate.
“Consider it a reward, Andra. Apparently beating up on ten strong young esquires was just what my husband needed to recover his spirits. I hardly had to do anything myself.”
“I suspect there was a little more effort involved than that, my lady,” he said with the smallest of smiles. “Given his very good humor this evening.” Nimrien smiled back, her eyes crinkling.
“Perhaps. Just a little,” she admitted, gesturing towards him with her glass. “But thank you again. Between the two of us, Andra, I think we can keep him on course. To the next forty years.”
He lifted his glass and clinked hers gently. “To the next forty years, my lady.”