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16
"In the name of family solidarity..."

Two mornings later, Brand was walking with Luin and Lady Hethlin down to the archery field. The written examinations being over, Hethlin had been tasked with continuing her archery practice for the tournament. During the walk, the two archers could see that the Pelennor was changing-pavilions and tents of all descriptions were sprouting like mushrooms after rain. What looked to be a good-sized fair was being created to cater to the tournament spectators. The stands for the main arena were a hive of activity, hammers banging even though the sun was barely up. And the traffic on the main road was twice what it normally was at that hour. Luin’s deceptively fierce exterior proved useful, for the pedestrians tended to give him wide berth. He was not much of a deterrent to the carters however, who seemed to have the idea that the Valar themselves had given them the right-of-way. Brand, reminded of his step-father by some of the language that was being shouted, grinned.

“Remind you of home?” asked Hethlin with uncanny perceptiveness, after they dodged one particularly inventive drover. Brand looked over at her, a bit surprised and relieved. She’d been uncharacteristically silent that morning.

“Oh yes! Though I think Stepfather might be able to out-do these fellows. He knows all sorts of cursing words.”

“I suspect you know plenty yourself, some of them Haradric.”

“I learned a few more on that slaver’s ship, I can tell you.”

“I can imagine! Sailors tend to be a foul-mouthed lot. By the way, are you doing all right about that? No nightmares or anything?”

The question was seemingly casual and off-hand, but it masked genuine concern. It warmed Brand’s heart.

“No, I’ve not had any nightmares about it. I expected to, honestly, but it didn’t happen.” The nightmare he had had before leaving home leapt to mind then, and he fell silent. Hethlin gave him a penetrating look and he decided to change the subject quickly. He certainly did not want to tell her about that dream! Reflecting upon her earlier silence and the fact that the tournament started on the morrow, he asked, “You’re not worried about the archery tournament, are you, my lady?”

His shot hit the mark and her eyes widened in surprise. “Aye, actually I am,” she admitted after a moment with a bit of a grimace. “I’ve not shot in competition before. Oh, the Rangers used to get up to contests all the time, but we didn’t have an audience. So I’m a bit come over with butterflies. The Prince is counting pretty heavily on me to get us some archery points. He doesn’t think the others we field will do well enough to get into the top four, and only the top four count.”

“So long as you do the best you can, he won’t be angry.”

“I know that, but I’d like to do well. Just to show I’ve kept my hand in.”

“Show the other Rangers?”

“Yes.”

“I would think that tournament butterflies would be better than battle butterflies.”

The lady esquire laughed. “Do you know, I am not so certain about that?”

They had arrived at the archery field. Hethlin stopped dead in her tracks and Brand halted beside her. Despite the early hour, the targets were mobbed and not just with the usual black and silver of the City Guard. Several of the ones closest to them were crowded with archers clad in leather and cloaks of varying patterns of mottled brown and green. Realizing that these must in fact be Ithilien Rangers, Brand looked over at his friend.

“I thought they would be here by now,” she muttered. “I wonder if…”

Hethlin pursed her lips as if she were going to whistle, paused and licked them nervously, then to Brand’s surprise, she trilled forth something that sounded just like a bird’s song.

Heads swiveled in their direction, then four rangers left the others and strode towards them. Two of them had uniforms that tended more towards green, the other two wore garb that was more brown. The green-clad pair were taller, one of the brown-clad ones was older than the rest and the other brown-clad Ranger had light brown hair.

“Hair’s right but uniform’s wrong,” the taller of the two green rangers noted laconically as they walked up. He had a scar upon his cheek not unlike Hethlin’s, Brand noted.

“Ah, but she did know the proper signal, Anborn,” the other green ranger, who had captain’s bars on his sleeves said. “So I don’t suppose we should shoot her just yet.”

“Hmmmph, that’s enough out of you two,” the older, brown-clad Ranger (who also bore captain’s bars) declared; then, throwing his arms open, he roared “Come here, Heth!”

Hethlin, her eyes alight and all hesitation gone, leapt forward laughing. “Mablung! Lorend! Damrod! Anborn!”

The next couple of minutes were filled with hugging, back-slapping, exclamations of joy and inquiries about the status of other Rangers and family. Brand and Luin watched in bemusement. Some of the younger Rangers did as well, which told Brand that they didn’t know who Hethlin was, for there were obviously others who did and were grinning at the reunion. “It’s the Blackbow herself!” he heard one of them exclaim.

Eventually the esquire remembered her manners. “Lord Brandmir, I would like to introduce to you Captain Mablung of the South Ithilien Rangers, Captain Damrod of the North Ithilien and their lieutenants-Anborn of the North and Lorend of the South. Gentlemen, this is Lord Brandmir, son of Lord Boromir.”

Brand experienced another of those wrenching moments of disbelief at the order of introduction. I outrank these renowned warriors? That doesn’t seem right!

Said warriors did not seem to mind, however, and greeted him courteously. Captain Mablung seemed particularly moved.

“You have the look of your father, my lord, and I am very glad to meet you. I will own I was surprised when Captain Faramir wrote me about finding you, but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to know that the Captain-General left some of his blood behind.”

From the sincerity in his tone and eyes, Brand could tell that this man meant what he said and didn’t give a fig about the irregularity of Brand’s birth. He also knew from the stories that Hethlin had told him that the captain, despite his undistinguished pedigree, had been not only his uncle’s friend but one of his father’s favorite companions as well.

“It is a very great pleasure for me to meet you at last, Captain Mablung,” he said to the Ranger, offering his hand with a smile. “Lady Hethlin and my uncle have spoken to me of you upon many occasions.”

The greying captain gave him a warrior’s grip for a moment, then released him and gestured towards his bow.

“You take more after your uncle than your father in some things, it would seem. How long have you been shooting, my lord?”

“Lady Hethlin has been teaching me for two years now, sir.”

“That’s our girl!” the one called Lorend said with a grin. “The Swannies take our Ranger, so she trains up a Ranger in her stead.”

“Lorend!” growled Captain Mablung.

“I think that Lord Brandmir wants to be a Swan Knight as well, Lorend,” Hethlin said, giving her former companion-in-arms a warning look. The irrepressible Lieutenant Lorend was not daunted by either his captain’s growl or Hethlin’s glower.

“Did she tell you anything about me, Lord Brandmir?”

“He doesn’t look old enough for most that could be said about you,” Captain Damrod commented.

“Damrod, Brandmir is blooded,” Hethlin said quietly. The younger captain gave Brand a surprised, reassessing look.

“Truly?”

“Yes. And we won’t speak of it here. I’ll tell you about it later. After we shoot! I can treat you all to lunch if you like-I’ve got the afternoon off duty.”

Lorend grinned and waggled a hand. “Whoohee! We’re going into society, Rangers! Keeping company with the high-and-mighty Swan Knights!”

“Hardly ‘high society’ on an esquire’s stipend!” Hethlin remarked dryly. “I was thinking more of the Red Dog. Besides, if I’m seen anywhere decent in public with you, Lorend, my reputation will never recover!”

Laughter and some rude remarks seconding Hethlin’s opinion came from the watching rangers, causing the light-haired ranger to glower in his turn, but obviously no one was taking anything seriously and it made Brand smile to watch them.

“Don’t you lot have some shooting to do?” Captain Mablung remarked casually to the rest of the Rangers, turning on their spectators. The Rangers immediately redistributed themselves along the butts and commenced to busily filling their targets with arrows.

“We’ll shoot with you and Lord Brandmir, if that is agreeable,” he said to Hethlin, who nodded, beaming.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

***************


Brand had some archery butterflies of his own at the idea of shooting with such accomplished archers, but they all had an easy, casual way about them that put him at ease very swiftly. And it was easy enough to pick his arrows out of the crowd-they were the only ones scattered around the outer edge of the bulls-eye, which sported a thicket of arrows every round. Captain Mablung had a suggestion or two to make as he shot, but didn’t seem to think he was doing all that badly.

“For starting so late, you’re doing well, lad,” he commented as they retrieved their arrows, giving Brand’s grouping a quick look. “Not that I’d expect any less of an archer Heth trained.” Hethlin smiled, her cheeks turning pink as the captain continued. “Another couple years of steady practice and you’d be up to Ranger standard-you‘ve got the knack for it like Faramir had. Aside from what Lorend said, when you turn sixteen if you’ve a mind to do other than become a Swan Knight, then write to me. I’ll take you down in Poros.”

Surprised, Brand said, “But sir, I don’t know how to track or hunt or be stealthy-not anything like that.”

“Aye, that’s true, but you do know Haradric. That’s more important down in Poros. The rest can be taught. Not that I’m trying to dissuade you from joining the Swan Knights, understand. I’ve fought with them and they’re great warriors. They have to be, the way Andrahar rides them. They just do a different sort of fighting than what we do and if you find ours is to your liking, I’d be more than glad to have you.”

“Thank you, sir, that’s good to know,” Brand responded, feeling both a pang at the casual mention of his guardian and not a little pleasure that he would actually be considered an asset as a green warrior. He made sure to focus and shoot the best he could for the remainder of the time they were together.

Eventually the sun rose high enough in the sky that the Rangers began to think of lunch rather than shooting. Brand knew that it was time to take his leave. “Thank you, sir, for the encouragement,” he said to Captain Mablung, who clasped his arm once more with a nod. “And it so very nice to meet all of you at last,” he said to the others. “I now have faces to go with all the stories.”

“Yes, Heth, you’ll have to tell us just what you’ve been saying about us!” Lorend said, “Over lunch, of course. You were buying, didn‘t you say?” The others laughed, but Captain Mablung looked over at Brand.

“You needn’t leave, my lord, unless you’ve another appointment, of course. You’re more than welcome to take lunch with us.”

“Yes, Brand, please do!” Hethlin encouraged.

Realizing that this might be his chance to hear some interesting war tales from something other than the Swan Knight point of view, Brand agreed to do so. He gathered his arrows, unstrung and cased his bow, and called Luin to heel. After doing likewise, the Rangers began trooping up the road back into the City and he went with them.

***************

Lunch was everything he had hoped it would be. Easy camaraderie and lots of tales of the Ring War and the skirmishes since. It was fun to watch Hethlin blush when her exploits were told (which were quite impressive to say the least), and Captain Mablung even had a rather unlikely and very funny story about himself and Uncle Faramir on leave down by the Harlond, hiding behind piles of garbage to escape both the watch and the outraged sailors Mablung had picked a barroom brawl with. Brand wouldn’t have believed anything of the sort, had not the Rangers all sworn that it was true.

“Remember how I told you the Captain was collecting black eyes, Brand?” Hethlin asked with a laugh. “That was one of them!”

“I just can’t imagine Uncle drunk!”

“Oh, it didn’t happen often. Which was why it was always so funny when it did,” Hethlin said. “Most of the time, Lord Boromir was responsible. He used to bring really good wine up to Henneth-Annûn and make a point of getting the Captain to drink too much. ‘Training up his capacity’ he called it. He always claimed Faramir had no head for drink.”

A moment’s silence fell. Captain Mablung raised his mug. “Let’s have a toast, lads, to the memory of the Captain-General. A finer man there never was.” Mugs were raised and clinked together. “Lord Boromir!” came the toast. Brandmir found himself moved. His father had obviously been loved by these men.

“Go on, Heth!” Lorend urged. “Tell Lord Brandmir the story about that time Lord Boromir visited and you became a Ranger. We’d fished Heth out of the river a few months before,” the light-haired Ranger explained to Brand, “and the Captain was afraid the Captain-General would send her away to some place where she had no kin. He was trying to make other arrangements, so he sent her and the Captain there, who was only a lieutenant then,” indicating Mablung, “to hide within the sentry circle until after Lord Boromir was gone. But things didn’t work out quite the way he planned.”

“You seem to have the whole thing well set in your head, Lorend,” Hethlin observed. “Why don’t you tell it?”

“Because I wasn’t there for the business about the orc spy, or the stuff about finding the huge orc patrol. There are even Swan Knights in the story, Lord Brandmir.”

“Really?”

“Yes. You know Captain Esteven?”

“Of course.”

“Well, he was there with some of his men.”

Brand was thoroughly intrigued at the prospect of a story that included his father, Rangers and Swan Knights. Seeing this, the Rangers decided to take turns, with Mablung starting the tale and Hethlin finishing it.

“So you see, your father is the real reason I became a Ranger,” she said at the conclusion of the stirring tale. Brand sipped his ale and mulled this over.

I wonder how much of my father’s understanding of Hethlin was because he himself was different? He too was living a secret life-he knew the risks and the rewards.

“It’s a wonderful story, Lady Hethlin,” he said aloud. “I’m very glad my father took up for you.”

“As is Lord Faramir, I’m sure,” Lorend noted. “Seeing as she saved his life!”

“I’m given to understand Lord Brandmir has a tale of his own he could tell,” Captain Damrod said with a pleasant smile.

Brandmir blushed. “I’m afraid I’m not very good at telling tales,” he said at last. The very thought of talking about the slavers in front of all these warriors was extremely daunting.

“I think you’re a perfectly good story teller, Brand, and I’ve had proof.“ Hethlin said with an encouraging smile. She gave the Ranger captain a pointed look. “But Brandmir needn’t tell it if he doesn’t feel like it, Damrod. If you want to know the particulars, I‘ll tell you later.” Damrod threw up his hands in apology.

“Pardon me, Lord Brandmir. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“No, it’s all right. I guess I could talk about it.” He didn’t want to seem ungracious, after these warriors had invited him to join their company.

So he began the tale with his walk down into the city and his capture with Celeg and Eiliriel. Captain Tufayl’s examination he skipped over, mentioning only that the captain had discussed gelding him. Captain Mablung gave him a grim nod upon hearing that, and he wondered if Poros’ Ranger captain, with his greater experience of Haradrim, was filling in the blanks. Keeping the children occupied was quickly covered, almost too quickly, and then he had to speak of the Foam-flyer’s pursuit, the captain’s orders to kill the children and the battle between him and Nezam. There was no desire in him to embellish as he had done with Callon’s tale-the matter was quickly and flatly told, and he paused to take a drink afterwards. Everyone sat very quietly, giving him understanding looks.

The very tall, very taciturn Ranger with the scarred cheek much like Hethlin’s broke the silence then, giving Brand a meaningful stare. “It was him or you. Nothing to be done about it. Glad it was you.”

Somehow, that was oddly cheering and he found himself able to continue, telling about his threat to fire the ship, the bargain he’d made with the captain and their eventual rescue. There were appreciative chuckles at the end of the story.

“You’ve a silver tongue to you, Lord Brandmir!” the unquenchable Lorend declared. “I particularly liked the cursing bit.”

“It didn’t work.”

“But it might very well have. You tried to cover everything.”

“You certainly kept your wits about you,” Captain Mablung added with a smile. “Not that I’d expect any less from Lord Boromir’s son.”

That was both gratifying and intimidating on some level. Fortunately, the subject of conversation changed then to the tournament and Hethlin became herself the subject of friendly mockery; much as she’d done to Faramir, there was ribald speculation upon whether she could still shoot or not. The Rangers were laughing over their latest sally and her defense when Brand’s former escort Talgeth appeared suddenly in the tavern. Scanning the room, he made his way over to them.

“Lord Brandmir? The Prince wishes to see you up at the house.”

“Does he require me as well, Talgeth?” Lady Hethlin asked.

“No, my lady. You have leave, do you not? Just Lord Brandmir. I’ll escort him.”

“Very well.”

Brand rose, and Luin got to his feet. “Once again, it was very nice to meet you all! I hope to see you again at the archery bout.”

To his surprise, the Rangers all rose and bowed to him. He inclined his head and turning to Talgeth, started out of the tavern. They were almost to the door when he stopped.

“My lord?”

“Give me a moment.” Making his way back to the rear of the tavern where Master Traghan stood, he opened his purse. “I’ll pay for the Rangers’ lunches, Master Traghan.” The tavern keep gave him the total and he paid it. “And how much for a round on me?” Traghan smiled and told him. Brand paid that as well. He found that it was actually a rather nice feeling, having enough money to be able to be generous to others. And he knew that he could afford it better than Hethlin. Imrahil had a tendency to give him pocket money on a fairly regular basis, and he just didn’t spend that much.

“We’d best be going,” Talgeth told him when he was done. “The Prince was pretty firm that he wanted you back up there right away. And he said something about having time to clean up first.”

Brand’s brow furrowed. “Did I do something wrong? He wasn’t up this morning when I left and he didn’t tell me I had any place to be last night.”

The soldier shook his head. “I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. I think he was just expecting that you’d be back by lunch and when you weren’t he sent me after you. I went down to the archery field and the Rangers there told me where you’d gone.”

“It sounds like we need to hurry then. I’m sorry you had to go so far out of your way.”

Talgeth shrugged. “I’m a foot soldier,” he said philosophically. “What else am I going to do but trudge?”

************

Imrahil was just finishing his own lunch up when Brand arrived. “Ah, there you are! So you got to meet the Ithilien Rangers, did you? Did you like them?”

“Lady Hethlin’s friends are very nice, particularly Captain Mablung.” Imrahil nodded.

“Mablung is a great man in his own way. And his counsel is always good.”

“Did I do something wrong, sir? I didn’t know that you wanted me for anything today or I wouldn’t have left.”

“Oh no, lad,” the Prince hastened to reassure. “The fault is mine. I didn’t tell you last night because I just assumed you’d be here for lunch, but the King has arranged that meeting with the Haradrim ambassador for this afternoon. You need to get washed up and changed-we’re due over at the Citadel in a little bit.”

The bottom fell out of Brand’s stomach. Seeing his expression, Imrahil laid a hand upon his shoulder. “This is not going to be something horrible, Brand. The ambassador is actually a rather nice man. And you’ll have myself and Faramir and the King all on your side. But he needs to speak to you directly. I believe you’ve already discussed the honor price business with Aragorn, haven’t you?”

“I have, sir.”

“Well there you have it. All you need to do is tell him what you and the King decided upon.”

“Very well, sir. Shall I wear something in particular?” The Prince nodded.

“Wear the black and silver. Maeddan is getting it ready for you. He’ll help you.”

The black and silver tunic was the fanciest thing he owned. This did not reassure Brand.

“Run along, lad,” the Prince urged. “I’ve a bit of wash-and-brush to do myself and I‘d like to have my valet back.”

**************


Maeddan was his usual highly efficient self. While Brand took a quick bath, the valet put the finishing touches upon his clothing and helped him to dress afterwards.

“The Prince requested that you wear this as well,” the valet said, pinning an brooch with Dol Amroth’s arms onto Brand’s shoulder. “This way, both connections will be obvious to the ambassador and he will realize that he is dealing with someone dear to both the Steward’s house and Dol Amroth’s.”

“You can say all of that with clothes?” Brand asked as Maeddan turned his attention to his hair.

“Of course, if one is attuned to the subtleties. And the ambassador certainly is.” It took but a little time for Maeddan to tame his hair into something the valet found acceptable, whereupon he bowed to Brand.

“You look very well, young lord. And now, if you will excuse me, I must attend the Prince. I believe he wished you to wait in the library for him.”

“Thank you, Maeddan.”

“You’re very welcome.” The valet bowed and departed.

***********


Brand left a disappointed Luin in his room and made his way down to the library to wait. It wasn’t long until Imrahil appeared, garbed in a very rich but severe tunic of dark blue silk brocade, also trimmed in silver. He smiled in approval when he saw Brand.

“Very nice, Brand.” The door opened and Amrothos came into the room. That was not surprising of itself-he spent more time in the library than anywhere else. What was astonishing was that he was actually much better dressed than usual, in a dress tunic of brighter blue and silver than his father’s. His clothing all matched, his boots were polished and his hair was even combed! Brand wondered if he’d borrowed Maeddan as well.

“’Rothos?” Imrahil asked inquiringly, his eyebrow arched in amazement.

“I thought I’d come along with you, if you don’t mind, Father,” Amrothos said mildly, as if the moon and sun hadn’t just left their usual orbits. “In the name of family solidarity. I know the others would want to come, were they here.”

The Prince looked at Brand. “It’s up to you, Brandmir.”

Brand, who was feeling a great warmth within him, smiled. “I’d be very grateful if you’d would, ‘Rothos.”

The young prince nodded.

“We’d best be off,” Imrahil said, and they moved to the door, only to be confronted by Andrahar in his dress blues.

“Andra! Are you accompanying us then?” the Prince asked, a pleased smile on his face.

“Is it not the usual custom when you have dealings with the Haradrim, my lord?” came his cool response.

Brand, who had felt a moment’s hope that Andrahar’s appearance might mean he was willing to revisit his distancing stance, felt both face and spirits fall.

“Of all the idiocy!” Amrothos snorted, giving his honorary uncle a glare before shoving past him out the door. Imrahil’s chin lifted and his eyes narrowed. His voice had cooled considerably from its previous welcoming tone when he said, “Very well then, Commander. Fall in.” Draping an arm about Brand’s shoulders, he ushered his grand-nephew out the door without giving Andrahar another glance.

“My lord prince!” the Armsmaster snapped crisply in acknowledgement, following silently behind the three of them.

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