The Haradrim ambassador Lord Kazim was a man of middle age, with the hawk-nosed features common among his people and grey at the temples of his black hair. His manner was polite and not intimidating at all, though that could have been partly because the King of Gondor, in all his royal finery, and the Steward of Gondor in his black were seated at the table already when they came in. The meeting was being held in one of the smaller Council chambers.
When they had all seated themselves, Aragorn made the introductions, which came with a surprise for Brand when the Ambassador acknowledged them.
“Your Majesty, Prince Imrahil, Prince Andrahar, Prince and Steward Faramir, Prince Amrothos, Lord Brandmir,” Kazim said in excellent Westron, “I thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”
Prince Andrahar? Brand thought, startled. He was confused by the order of introduction as well-since when did Andrahar rank his uncle?-but was the only one present who seemed surprised at the form of address.
“We are all well aware that it is impossible for any sovereign to fully control the actions of all of his subjects,” the King was saying smoothly. “Many times, the best one can do is to take action after the fact to restore face and honor. We appreciate your willingness to do what you can to mend this matter, Ambassador.”
The Ambassador inclined his head. “You are very gracious, Your Majesty.” Brand wondered if the exchange of compliments was going to go on all afternoon, but Kazim seemed to be satisfied. From things Andrahar had told him, the courtesies would have been much more prolonged in Harad, as was customary before any bout of haggling. The ambassador was wisely truncating things for his more impatient northern audience.
“Lord Brandmir’s travail, and that of his companions was indeed regrettable,” the ambassador declared, getting right to the point. “And unlawful, as Harad freely acknowledges. His Highness,” and here the Haradrim inclined his head to Imrahil, who inclined his head right back, “has already negotiated and received the honor-prices for the three children captured along with Lord Brandmir, and has promised to see that they reach the appropriate parties. It only remains for the young lord’s recompense to be settled.” The ambassador’s attention focused upon Brandmir, who endeavored to look him straight in the eye.
“The young man is twice royal,” the ambassador continued, “and though I understand that his father himself was unable to recognize him because of his untimely and regrettable death, Prince Imrahil and Prince Andrahar have explained to me some differences in custom between our two countries which have made me understand that he is, in fact, recognized, though he is not his late father’s true heir. This, and the King’s regard, which His Majesty has made very clear to me, as well as that of the Prince-Steward, who has also been most eloquent and determined upon the matter,” nods to Aragorn and Faramir, with a hint of dryness entering the ambassador’s tone, “have made me realize that despite certain…irregularities, the young man’s honor price is considerable.”
Kazim reached down to the floor then, and lifted up a small coffer, which he placed upon the table. Pushing it forward into the center of the expanse, he lifted the lid. Brand bit back a gasp.
He had always known that Prince Imrahil was wealthy. Only the wealthiest of men could sustain households of the richness and luxury that he did in Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith, not to mention travel in comfort between them. Only a man with the riches of well…a prince…could put troops like the Swan Knights into the field. And there were a host of little things on any given day, like the pocket money in silver Imrahil bestowed so casually upon Brand, that spoke of it as well. But even Imrahil didn’t leave piles of gold and gems about and this was the first time that Brand had ever seen this kind of wealth in one place. It was like something out of a pirate tale of treasure.
The little coffer was filled with gold and many gems, darkly glowing. Brand suspected that he would not have brought anywhere near so much on the block in Umbar. And it was sobering to think that here, calculated to precision, was the price of his life now, when before it might have brought a handful of silver and a bit of gold at the most. Yet it was still the same life to him…
He gave Imrahil a beseeching look and the Prince reached out and pulled the coffer to his side of the table. Giving it a casual inspection, he pushed it over to Amrothos, who actually picked a few of the gems out of it and held them up to the light.
“Nice. Very nice. Very fine quality,” he commented.
Imrahil lifted a brow at the Ambassador. “Sir, will you be able to sustain your household here in Minas Tirith if you give us this? I’ll wager it’s most of your reserves.”
Brand was surprised at that, though when he thought upon it, he realized that it made sense. The ambassador would have to pay him either from his embassy‘s funds or any personal wealth he possessed. “The restoration of my country’s honor is more important,” Kazim said firmly. “I am already in communication with my superiors about this. The Ka-khan himself wished me to make any amends that I could.”
“You need have no fear, Ambassador,” the King put in then. “I shall see that your household is maintained until additional funds are sent to you.” The ambassador bowed in his chair in Aragorn’s direction and though his manner was impassive, Brand thought he detected the tiniest bit of relief.
But he wondered, a bit puzzled, why the King had made that promise when he knew that Brand intended to give the money back. Brand cast a careful glance in his direction and was met by a warm, grey gaze. Aragorn smiled and suddenly Brand understood. I talked a good show, there in the Red Dog, about not wanting to be bought off. But he’s letting me know that I didn’t really understand what I was giving up then and if I want to change my mind, that’s all right. He knows that I’ve been poor and what a temptation this is. He’ll take care of the ambassador.
And it was undeniably tempting. There, across the table from him, was enough wealth to see his family set for life, the girls dowered, the boys set up in business, his mother and Jacyn comfortable in their old age. He felt almost guilty passing the riches up. While he could make that decision for himself, did he have the right to deny them the life-changing wealth?
Now Amrothos was passing the coffer over to Andrahar, whose fingers stirred it but a moment, assessing, before he looked at the Ambassador.
“Sufficient. Barely,” came his dry response. Kazim did another of those seated bows.
“Thank you, my lord prince.”
The coffer then made its way around the table to Faramir, who declared himself satisfied after a quick look, and Aragorn, who praised the ambassador’s honesty and generosity. The King finally pushed it across the table to Brand, his eyebrow lifted the least little bit. Brand took it and stroked his fingers across the cool smoothness of the jewels, the cool roughness of the carved gold, for just a moment.
He will understand and he might not even think much the less of me. But I will think the less of me. I told him my intent. I don’t think Father would go back on his word! And I’m a lord now. I’ve already helped my family and I can do more in the future, even without this.
He bowed his head for a moment, gathering his resolve and shifting mental gears into Haradric. Then he lifted it, and pushed the coffer back to the Ambassador.
“I claim an honor price of deeds, not gold,” he said firmly in the Ambassador’s native tongue, and locked eyes with the Haradrim. Brand didn’t know if there was a proper formula for such things, but the ambassador did not seem offended. He was surprised, however, and looked a bit wary as well.
“What deeds may Harad do that will suffice you, my lord?” Kazim asked in his language.
Brand shifted back to his native tongue. “Harad has paid back Tufayl’s latest victims. But he took three other boys months ago. He admitted this and said that they were sold to a caravan bound for inner Khand.”
“Your elders have already broached this matter to me, Lord Brandmir,” Kazim said in Westron again, a bit of testiness in his voice. “It is somewhat irregular, but I stand ready to give honor-price to their families as well.”
“Not good enough,” Brand said, lifting his chin. He was surprised at the firmness of his voice under these circumstances, but the ambassador’s willingness to dismiss the suffering of those three families, just because they were commoners, angered him and that in turn strengthened his determination. “They will not be made whole by mere money. I want Harad to find and return their sons to them.”
He was intent upon the ambassador, so he did not see the reactions of the others at the table to his decision. The King was unsurprised of course, but he looked pleased. Imrahil, startled for just a moment, was almost blazing approval and pride. Amrothos, though hardly privy to Brand’s talk with Aragorn, was not surprised at all for some reason and amused as well, most likely at the ambassador‘s expense. Faramir was also approving in his more somber, grave way, his eyes intent upon Brand as he spoke, nodding just a little as if urging him along.
Andrahar’s head was bent over his twined hands upon the table top, for he had seen that look upon another boy’s face long ago and that tone of voice before as well, from another boy come for summers to Dol Amroth, and that as well as Brand’s decision struck him to the heart.
“This would be a difficult thing to accomplish,” Kazim was saying. “With all due respect, I’m not sure you appreciate the magnitude of the task, Lord Brandmir. The slave trade in Khand is very large.” He gestured to the coffer. “What I offer would more than suffice to hire agents to find them, if you are truly set upon this task. I doubt it would take more than a third of those funds.”
“Then it would seem that I am doing Harad a favor, Ambassador, by accepting deeds instead of gold! Will Harad mend what she has marred, or will she not?”
“You will not accept the gold, then?”
“I will not. You have my price.”
“And what if one or more of the boys are dead?”
“You will send me proof of that, to give to their parents. And if they are dead, you will pay the honor price to their families.”
The ambassador gave Brand an ironic smile. “And what is to keep me from merely forging some documents to save myself considerable bother, young lord?” Andrahar lifted his head as if to speak then, but was stopped by Imrahil’s hand upon his arm.
“There are men of honor in Harad, even as there are in Gondor,” Brand answered back forthrightly. “You would not be in the position you are in, Ambassador Kazim, were you not one of them. I am confident that you will carry out this charge to the best of your ability.”
The ambassador dropped his eyes for a moment, as if considering. He pulled the coffer back over to his side of the table. When he lifted his head again, there was a rueful smile upon his face.
“It is said that your late father was formidable on both the battlefield and in the council chamber. Though I never met Lord Boromir and therefore do not speak from personal experience, it would seem that you take after him. I accept your charge, Lord Brandmir. If Prince Imrahil will supply me with the particulars about the boys who were taken, I will send messages to start the search. I hope that you do realize that it may take as much as a couple of years before we hear anything, given the distances involved? And more time yet to return the young men?”
Brand nodded. “I knew that it would not be quick, Ambassador. But I think their families will be glad to have them back whenever they can be returned. Thank you very much.”
“I am given to understand that you reside in Dol Amroth much of the time. Will it suffice if I send reports on the progress of the search to your uncle the Steward, so that he may forward them on to you?”
“That will more than suffice, Ambassador.”
“Then if Your Majesty has nothing further he requires of me?” The polite inquiry was tendered to Aragorn, who smiled and shook his head.
“There is nothing more I require today. You have my thanks, Ambassador. And please send my regards to the Ka-khan as well. I will also be writing him to tell him how pleased We are with the ambassador he has chosen.”
Kazim took up the coffer, rose to his feet and bowed deeply to the King. “Your Majesty is very kind. Thank you.” After bowing in turn to the others in the order which he had acknowledged them upon their entering the room, the ambassador departed.
When he had gone, the King stretched in his chair. “That went well, I think,” he commented.
“That went very well. Very well indeed!” the Prince said, still radiating warmth and pride. “Well done, Brand!”
“It was a meet and proper thing, Brand,” came his uncle’s comment. “And a solution that had never occurred to me, to be honest. Whatever made you think of it?”
Brand glanced over at the king. “When His Majesty and I talked about what was going to happen with the ambassador, I thought about all the fuss that was being made over me. And I thought about what would have happened had the slaver taken me when I was just Brand of Pelargir. Which was nothing much. People wouldn’t have been sending warships after me and talking to ambassadors. I don’t know if the constables in Pelargir would even have bothered to write a report, though I’m sure that at least would have happened in Dol Amroth. I’d have just been sold in Khand and spent the rest of my life there.” He sighed. “But I’m still the same person, and that made me not want to take any of the money. The King said that I must, to make peace between nations. Then that book you’ve been making me read came in handy, Uncle. The chapter about the honor-prices and all. That’s where I got the thing about deeds not gold from.”
Faramir smiled genuinely. “I’m glad it was a help, Brand. You see, books can be useful at times.”
“I’ve never thought they weren’t, Uncle. Reading just still comes hard to me.”
“If you can survive Among the Savages, much less actually bring anything useful away from it, you’re getting a lot better at reading, Brand,” Amrothos declared, then grinned. “You surprised the ambassador, that much is certain!”
Aragorn rose and they all rose with him. “Before we go, I was wondering if you would do me a favor, Brandmir,” Faramir said, serious once more. “I will be at the tournament tomorrow, but not the two days afterward. There is too much to be done before the army’s departure . Would you be so kind as to escort your aunt for me on the second and third days? She has said that she would like to spend more time with you and I think she would really enjoy your company.”
“Of course, sir. I would be glad to,” Brand said, a bit surprised. “But are you sure you cannot come? I know that Lady Hethlin will be disappointed if you do not see her fight.”
“Faramir is being kind and sparing me,” the King put in. “There is still too much to be done that falls to either of us. And I must appear at the tournament all three days. I have a very good Steward.”
Which seemed plausible and well enough, had Brand not caught Imrahil’s swift glance between the two men and the look of sudden comprehension that followed. Is something else going on? The Armsmaster’s narrowed eyes said that he’d noticed something amiss as well and Amrothos had that deceptively sleepy expression that actually meant he was paying very close attention..
But whatever was going on, the mighty of the land were hardly obliged to inform him! Brandmir forced his curiosity down as they left the chamber.
After the King left them with cordial farewells, the walk back to the townhouse was silent. That silence was broken only once, by Andrahar, when they were back in the courtyard, which was filled with sparring esquires.
“I must go oversee the practice, and finalize my list for the tournament, my lord prince,” he said with an inquiring look at Imrahil.
“By all means, Commander,” the Prince responded, his manner still as cool as before. Andrahar bowed and started to turn away, then turned back. For the first time in a long time, his eyes met Brand’s.
“Never doubt that you are your father’s son,” he said abruptly, then turned and strode off before Brand could think to answer.
“Why did the Ambassador call the Captain ‘Prince Andrahar’?” Brand asked when Andrahar had gone and they were entering the house. Imrahil smiled.
“That actually has something to do with that story I mentioned to you once before, about your father nearly causing a war when he was seven years old.” He paused for a moment, to speak to one of the house-maids.
“Nessa, could the three of us have tea brought out to the garden?” She curtseyed. “Of course, my lord prince.”
They went out to the garden and settled themselves at the table beneath the trees. The sun was very warm and pleasant and the Prince surveyed his flowers, still beautiful with the coming of autumn, with a slightly pensive air for a moment, before turning his attention back to Brand.
“As I believe I told you, we’d just signed a peace treaty with the Haradrim.”
“A ten-year peace treaty. Father negotiated it. He’s the only one who was ever able to get that out of them,” Amrothos said proudly.
“That was due more to favorable circumstance rather than any particular diplomatic prowess upon my part,” Imrahil demurred, though he did give his youngest a fond smile. “And in any event, the very next day it was almost broken by Boromir.”
“What did he do?” Brand asked, intrigued.
“Oh, it was nothing really horrible, it just escalated. And to be honest, most of it was not his fault at all. Boromir snuck out of the house to the stables, to see the pony our family had just given him for his birthday. Andrahar was out there as well, taking care of his horse. There was a group of three Haradrim guarding their steeds at the other end of the stable. They were playing bones and Boromir wanted to see if the game were any different than the one he knew. One of them spoke Westron and they were showing him the rules of the game when Andrahar came down to check on him. Which was when the one who spoke Westron grabbed Boromir by the shoulders and said that they were going to have fun with the captain.”
Brand contemplated the absolute protectiveness with which Andrahar regarded his adopted family. “I’ll wager the captain didn’t like that.”
“No, he didn’t. Not at all. He told the man to release Boromir and the man refused to do so unless Andrahar told him his father’s name. You know about that custom.”
“Yes. But did he do it?”
“No, he refused and told the man to release Boromir a second time. He said that if he had to ask a third and it wasn’t done, that he’d kill the soldier. The soldier refused and asked the name again, taunting him. Andrahar asked a third time and again his father's name was demanded of him. Whereupon he put a throwing knife into the soldier's eye and killed him.”
“While the man was holding my father in front of him?”
“Yes. Andra is that good with throwing knives. Then he seized Boromir, threw him behind him and told him to run and find his guard or the Swan Knights. Andrahar went to blades with the other two, and wounded them in the arms.” The Prince paused for a moment to stretch and undo his top collar button, then resumed the tale.
“Needless to say, an alarm went up. By the time I got out there, both sides were glaring at each other, on the point of drawing swords and Andrahar was ringed with archers, their bows all trained upon him. Your grandfather Denethor had your father with him, and my father was out there as well. Boromir was weeping at first, but when it became clear that the Haradrim would not listen to anything Andrahar had to say because he was a bastard, he stopped weeping and got angry and demanded to tell the true story of what had happened.”
“Did they let him?”
“Oh yes! Asadel, the Haradrim ambassador, was not happy to see the peace treaty jeopardized in such a fashion. The Lord of Umbar had wanted the peace treaty and Asadel was his man. So Boromir stood right up in front of the nobles of two nations and told exactly what had happened, including the fact that he’d slipped out when he was not supposed to.” The Prince’s expression became one of loving reminiscence. “There was never a single day in his life when your father was not bold and courageous, Brandmir. When Asadel realized that it was the actions of his people that had caused the problem, he released Andrahar and arrested the other two soldiers.”
“What happened to them?”
“I do not know exactly, but it cannot have been nice. The two most likely things were that they were taken out back and strangled immediately, or that they were enslaved and chained to a galley bench. I suspect the latter-it would have been less wasteful.” Seeing Brand’s wide-eyed stare, the Prince smiled ruefully.
“There was nothing that could have been done for them, lad. Asadel did offer them to my father for punishment, but even he could not have simply let them go. Those men were not slaves, but they were common men and they had laid hands upon a child of princely blood. Even if it was Gondorian princely blood, such is not permitted in Harad. My father could not have let them go without losing face and did not care to be Harad’s executioner, so he rightly left it to Harad to deal with them.”
“The prince thing comes in next,” Amrothos put in. “Since I know you were about to ask, Brand.”
“Thank you, ‘Rothos,” the Prince said dryly before continuing. “Seeing that all the commotion had been caused by Andrahar’s bastard status and what was perceived as his undeserved elevation among us, my father decided that the best way to prevent such incidents in the future was to adopt Andrahar. So he called upon the three most highly ranked Haradric noblemen there to act as witnesses and declared that Andrahar was his son. Have you covered adoption customs in your book yet, lad?”
“No, sir. But it’s coming up soon.”
“Well you will find that that declaration made him a Prince of Dol Amroth in Harad’s eyes, though Gondor does not acknowledge him as such. Our family records in Harad were changed to note that fact and that is why the ambassador addressed him as such.”
“So your father did it to protect him?”
“Yes, at least in part. I might have had to journey to Harad at some point and it is more than likely that Andra would have come with me. It is not impossible that Andrahar’s family would have made an assassination attempt on a mere Swan Knight-they know very well where he is-but my brother? That would make them think twice. It was a layer of protection, if not a fool-proof one, and also an expression of gratitude, I think. Andra had saved my life at least twice by then, and my father wanted him to know that he was loved and appreciated.”
“That was very nice of Prince Adrahil. How did the captain take it?”
“He was very shocked and surprised. Father took him off afterwards to have a talk and to this day I don’t know what was said between them. But Andrahar was much easier with him afterwards.”
“That’s a good story, sir,” Brand said earnestly. It has certainly given me a lot to think about! “Thank you for telling me.” Imrahil inclined his head in acknowledgement and after a moment Brand pressed on. “But I have another question about today. Why did the ambassador address us in the order he did? Even if the captain is a prince to them, surely he doesn’t rank my uncle?”
“You noticed that? Clever lad!” Imrahil was obviously pleased. “It is a subtle point and I didn’t think you’d notice. The ambassador addressed us in the order he did because he was using Haradric precedence and not Gondorian. And he was doing that because of the whole honor-price business. We’d addressed the question of recompense for your trials in the form of honor-price because the ambassador was more comfortable thinking of it in that way. It was a gentle reminder at the very start that we’d agreed already to use his country‘s customs.”
Amrothos snorted. “Yes, because then he could just throw money around and his government wouldn’t have to go to any real trouble.” He grinned. “But then you went and thwarted that with your deeds not gold thing!”
The Prince gave his youngest son a lifted brow, and received an almost identical lifted brow in response. With a sigh and a shake of his head, he continued. “Meneldor wanders all over the place in that book, Brand. So I know you’ve not seen the bits on precedence yet, though they rightfully ought to have preceded a lot of the other stuff. It would have been more logical.“ Amrothos started to interject something else at that point, only to be forestalled by Imrahil’s lifted hand. “Yes, ‘Rothos, we already know more than we need to about your opinion of Meneldor.” Amrothos rolled his eyes, but he was grinning, so Brand didn’t think he was too offended.
“One of the main differences between Haradric precedence and Gondorian is that the Haradrim factor in the age of the principalities involved,” the Prince explained, folding his hands once more upon the table. “Dol Amroth is an ancient principality, old as anything in Harad. Ithilien is very, very new by comparison. So the first generation of Dol Amroth, the ruler and any siblings, ranks the first generation of Ithilien. Thus-Aragorn, myself, Andrahar, Faramir, Amrothos and yourself. In Gondor of course, the proper precedence would have been Aragorn, myself, Faramir, Amrothos, you and Andra.”
“But wasn’t the ambassador worried about insulting Uncle Faramir? It seemed to me from the things he’d said that uncle had been very…persistent about getting me recompense.”
“No, I don’t think so. He knows that Faramir has a good grasp of Haradric custom and would understand what was going on. And he knows how close I am to Andra, so it was probably intended to curry favor with me as well.”
Brand sighed, shaking his head. “I just don’t understand all these layers and layers of things that people have going on when they do diplomacy! Master Maedan was telling me earlier about all the things that putting this brooch on me would mean to the ambassador,” and he patted the Dol Amroth sigil upon his shoulder. “It’s all very confusing.” To his surprise, his cousin threw back his head and started laughing out loud.
“Oh, it’s starting already!” Amrothos choked out between howls. “’Poor little old me, I’m just a simple soldier, what could I possibly know about negotiation!’ Always said right before your father did some sort of incredible flanking move and beat nobles into line where even his father couldn’t!”
“There is a decided similarity now that you mention it, ‘Rothos,” the Prince noted with a smile.
“But I didn’t do some incredible diplomatic thing!”
Amrothos snorted yet again. “No, you just made the Haradrim ambassador spend a bunch of his own money and the next two to three years of his life tracking down three Gondorian commoners I will guarantee he doesn’t care a fig about! Nothing extraordinary about that!”
“That wasn’t me! That was the King and Grandy and Uncle Faramir standing up for me that made him do it!”
“Yes, but you’re the one who came up with the idea, Brand!”
Fortunately for Brand, at that moment Nessa came out with the tea.