Author: Isabeau of Greenlea PM
A sequel to Dol Amroth Yule and Noble Jewel, in which Andrahar finds that life with his ward brings unexpected difficulties.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 5,554 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 1 - Published: 02-04-06 - id: 2785471
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The day after Mettarë , Andrahar of Umbar sat in the Great Hall of Dol Amroth deep in thought. The holiday garlands still remained and would for another week, but all traces of the feasting and revelry that had taken place the night before were gone. Everything was scrubbed and tidy once more, the household long accustomed to upholding Imrahil's finicky standards even when the Prince himself was not present. Only the tables remained, and it was at one end of the high table that Andrahar now sat, deep in speculative thought.
The assassin was…right about there, her back to Hethlin. 'Chiron on her left side, Elphir and Mariel and 'Rothos to her front. Hethlin was sitting here in a dress, half-asleep from what she said. A moment to realize that she recognized the voice, another to see the knife, and she was up and over the table.
He moved then himself, up and out of the chair, which fell backwards with a crash to the floor, and launched himself over the table, his spurred boots marring the polished surface as they touched momentarily before he found himself on his feet upon the other side.
"My lord!" exclaimed the butler, who was carrying cloths to start setting the table for dinner, his expression shocked. Andrahar threw a cursory glance at the table.
"It will polish out," he said loftily, then departed before the man could protest further, heading for his office, where he could reasonably expect some peace and quiet since the esquires were all out reveling upon the town. There he seated himself behind the desk, glanced cursorily at the pile of requisitions and the other, eternal paperwork that was his lot as Commander and Armsmaster, dismissed what was there as business that could wait for later and lost himself in musing once more.
I told Hethlin she was fast enough, but she was more than swift. And not only in action, but in judgment. As for me…there was a time when I would have considered any stranger who approached the Prince's family as a potential threat, be they man or woman. I should not have accepted the Khandian's story at face value. I have failed, and I must tell Imrahil of my failure.
The lady esquire, who certainly had no cause whatsoever to love him, had been gracious in her triumph. Still sporting the black eye he had given her, there had been no gloating, no smug satisfaction.
"It is fortunate that Master Andrahar had given me instruction on how to look for wrist sheaths and such but a month ago, or I might have been too late," she had said, and there had even been something that might have been sympathy in her gaze as she had looked at him. She at least had realized his failure and what it meant to him, though he had heard as yet no word of censure from any of Imrahil's sons.
The world was very much awry this day, and he did not know what to do about it. This confused state of affairs had been in the making for some time-ever since the girl had come to Dol Amroth. No, more accurately, ever since Imrahil had ridden forth to Lorien without Andrahar, in the company of the girl and a couple of almost-Elves. King Elessar Telcontar had not given him leave to go with Imrahil, another black mark against the man, though Andrahar arguably might indeed have found it difficult to conduct himself with proper decorum in a kingdom full of Elves. Imrahil, however, had no such difficulty, and he had very much wanted the errand, though whether it was because he was eager to explore his Elven heritage or eager to spend time in Hethlin's company was debatable. He had refused to listen to Andrahar's arguments, as stubborn and willful as he'd not been since his youth, and had ridden forth to nearly get himself killed. And when he had returned, he was a changed man.
Nearly two decades had gone by since Nimrien's passing, and Andrahar had come to believe that Imrahil would never love another woman, though there had been a time immediately after her death when the Prince had actively sought another wife. And Andrahar had been very comfortable with that situation, which made him Imrahil's closest companion and undisputed confidant. When the Armsmaster had considered the possibility of Imrahil wedding again, it was always a widow of Imrahil's own age that he had envisaged, someone placid who would be happy to settle into a feminine orbit that would content Imrahil but not overly intrude upon the Armsmaster's relationship with his oath-brother. Never had he imagined the possibility that the Prince of Dol Amroth, staid and settled and venerable, would fixate upon a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. A surly, mule-stubborn, not particularly attractive upstart girl who, as a warrior, would intrude upon all aspects of Andrahar's comradeship with Imrahil.
And the King, intentionally or not, had exacerbated the situation by forcing Imrahil to take Hethlin in fealty as an esquire. For Imrahil realized that there was no way that Hethlin could properly train as a Swan Knight if it became known that she held his favor. And he was having difficulty maintaining his equanimity in her presence since he'd proposed marriage and been refused. So he had told Andrahar that he would be remaining in Minas Tirith for the next couple of years, until the girl's training was over. Andrahar had not wanted to take her as a pupil in the first place, and the separation from his oath-brother pleased him even less, for training Hethlin might have been easier or more bearable had he had Imrahil to consult. He had no idea of how to properly train a woman, how to overcome her disadvantage of strength. Fortunately, Hethlin was a large enough girl that size was not the issue it might have been with most women. But still, she presented difficulties and they were difficulties that Andrahar must overcome. He had to train her to a Swan Knight standard, and perhaps even beyond it, for she was Imrahil's beloved, and if she were to fall in battle, it might crush Imrahil beyond any hope of recovery. I could do nothing to save Nimrien for him. But Hethlin's success as a warrior, and her survival, is ultimately my responsibility.
Hethlin had not helped matters either by her initial waffling over whether to accept the King's dictate or go north to her kin. Andrahar had been doubly offended by Aragorn's pre-emption of the Armsmaster's right to select Swan Knight candidates and Hethlin's perception of the King's demand as a punishment, when many a man would have found their nomination to esquire status as the fulfillment of a cherished dream. And he had admittedly made her initial training as brutal as possible in the hopes that she would regret her decision and give up and go away. Go away all the way, to the North, out of the Swan Knights and out of Imrahil's life…He had warned her that he would be harder upon her than upon the male esquires, and he had certainly kept his word, though the expenditure of extra time and effort upon her had wearied him enormously.
To the girl's credit however, once she had made up her mind, she had been tenacious, enduring whatever he had thrown at her without complaint, as well as suffering the petty pranks inflicted upon her by her fellow esquires. Andrahar had known of the harassment, for he knew everything the esquires did, but had not intervened, for he felt that if Hethlin were ever to succeed as a commander of men, gaining their respect was a hurdle she would face time and time again and best she learn how to do it now. Though things had escalated of late, and he might have no choice but to step in soon. Sensing that Andrahar did not wish her among them, it was possible that the esquires might do something that would cause her actual harm, and that must not be allowed.
It is time to accept that she is here to stay and find a way to encourage the esquires to accept her. Whether he liked it or not, he was going to have to rein in his obvious dislike of the girl. Allowing her into the regular classes was the first step, and he had already taken that. How to proceed from there was the puzzling part, and he was mulling over that when there came a knock at the door.
"Enter," he said, somewhat irritated at the intrusion, but the irritation vanished the next moment when Brand stuck his head in the door.
"Sir? I was looking for you. It's getting late. Are we going to eat here or go home?"
"Home," said Andrahar, savoring the word. "Mistress Alfirin is doing supper for us this evening. A quiet night at home will be a good thing after last night, don't you think? I was just going over a few things, lad, but I'm done now. Let's be off." He rose and slung his cloak over his shoulders, then left the office. Brand fell in beside him with a shy smile and Andrahar marveled again at the pure pleasure simply looking upon the boy gave him. A tiny bit of guilt nagged at him, that he'd not written to Imrahil or Faramir about the lad yet, but he forced it back. Surely there is no harm in keeping him to myself just a bit longer. Surely I am owed that much? For Faramir may very well want him in Minas Tirith once he knows, and I'd not see Brand very much at all were he there. No more than I ever saw his father…
The feeling of contentment he got from having the boy about was not something Andrahar was willing to relinquish any time soon, and he listened indulgently as Brand prattled on about his day, which had apparently been spent down in the warehouse district by the docks. One of Imrahil's pages was the son of one of Belfalas' premier merchant families, a social coup for them to say the least, and he had taken to Brand. So they'd spent the day in the warehouses watching the ships being unloaded, and examining the exotic wares of Gondor's luxury trade.
"There were tiger skins, sir! Great big ones! And Mumak horns!" Much more in this vein followed as they crossed the courtyard, went through the palace gate and walked down to the house. There they found Mistress Alfirin had their supper ready, and she set it upon the table while they washed up. After she departed, they sat to their meat and Andrahar was able to forget his concerns about the girl for a time-until Brand brought her to his attention once more. For having discussed his day in depth, the boy was now ready to revisit the previous evening and all its excitement. Hethlin and her deed figured rather prominently in his account, and Andrahar, listening, realized that Brand might very well have a bit of a crush upon the lady esquire.
"And then she punched her, and punched her again…Do you think Lady Hethlin knew the knife was poisoned, sir? Because if she did, it was a very brave thing to do! I asked Prince Amrothos about it and he said the poison would drop you stone dead just like that if you got the merest scratch!"
"I think that she may have suspected the blade was poisoned, yes, Brand. But there was no way of knowing how deadly it was. You are right, though-it was an extremely brave thing to do." He addressed himself to his meat once more, hoping to discourage the tide of Hethlin-praise, but Brand was not done yet.
"And to do that after coming off of a battle! You must think she's good, sir-she was the only esquire you took to Lithabad!"
"She was the only esquire who was a blooded battle-archer, and I needed one night before last."
"Did she kill any pirates?" Brand asked with relish. Andrahar nodded.
"Seven or eight, I believe. Shot them as they were trying to escape in their boats. She wasn't in the battle in the village."
There was a moment's silence. Andrahar looked up from his plate to find Brand staring at him in puzzlement.
"What's the matter, lad?"
"Well, I was just wondering…how did she hurt her face, then? I thought she got it in the battle. Did one of the esquires hit her? You should find out who did it, sir, and punish them."
Cold curled in the pit of Andrahar's stomach. He had never considered that Brand might notice Hethlin's face and question how it had happened. And he was not sure how an honest answer would affect the boy. For just a moment, he was tempted to prevaricate. But his sense of honor and honesty would not allow it.
"It was not one of the esquires. I struck her, Brand. She angered me after the battle."
Brand's eyes widened, and he pushed back away from the table almost instinctively. Getting his feet under him and giving himself room to move, Andrahar realized, his heart sinking.
"Why did you hit her, sir?" the question was cautious. "How did she make you angry?"
"The Elves of Edhellond were there, or some of them at least."
"Elves? Real elves?"
The idea that there were real elves at hand seemed to overcome the boy's dismay for a moment, and Andrahar sighed. Brand, it seemed, shared his family's fascination for the Elder Race. "Yes. They had been sailing into their harbor, saw the attack and came to lend their aid. Lord Gildor was with them. You've not met him yet, though you might some day-though he comes very rarely to Dol Amroth. He is a most provoking Elf, always insisting upon a translator when I meet him, though I know he speaks Westron perfectly well. We don't get along. I had ordered Hethlin to give him a message, that we had matters in hand and he could leave. She exceeded her orders and thanked him in the Prince's name, which she was not authorized to do."
It took a moment for Brand to puzzle it through, but at last he asked, "You hit her because she was polite to him?"
"Yes. And because she was right to do so, and I was wrong to provoke him and it angered me that she was right." There, that was certainly honest enough-if not particularly admirable.
"Are you going to hit me if I make you angry, captain?" The question was asked in a curiously flat tone, and suddenly there was a look on Brand's face Andrahar had never seen before, a closed, wary look that chilled his very marrow. "Because Master Cuilast told me in Pelargrir that you never would, and I should like to know if he was mistaken."
"No, I would never hit you, lad!"
"How can I be sure of that? Do you hit the other esquires?"
"Sometimes," Andrahar admitted hesitantly. "A cuff on the shoulder, or with the flat of a sword across the rump during training, if they're not paying attention. Not enough to hurt them." A sense of panic was growing within him-was he going to lose the boy?
"But not in the face?"
"Have you ever hit anyone else in the face?"
"Outside of a bar-room brawl? No, lad. You only strike in the face if you are…" and he paused for a moment in shock as realization set in, "…if you are challenging someone."
"Were you challenging her, then?"
"I didn't think so at the time." But she might have, Andrahar thought, remembering the fire in her grey eyes as she recovered from the blow. And she might have been right, usurper of Imri's affections that she is.
"Have you ever hit another woman?" Brand was asking. "Because that's how a man hits a woman-in the face."
"No, I haven't. Did you father hit your mother that way, Brand?"
The boy frowned. "Yes. Not very often, but sometimes when he was drunk. And no one thought anything of it in Pelargrir. The men in the taverns, they make jests about beating their wives. But here, they say that women are deserving of respect and that we should defend them and that hitting them is wrong." There was frustration in his voice. "What should I believe? Can you hit Lady Hethlin even though she is a woman because she is a warrior?"
"No. Or not like that. I was wrong to do that."
The admission seemed to calm Brand. "You were wrong?"
"Yes, I was wrong. What may I do to assure you that it will not happen again?"
The closed look was gone now, thankfully, but Brand's eyes blazed forthrightly as his father's ever had. "Your word is good, sir, everyone says that. Swear that you won't hit her again, and I will be satisfied."
Andrahar nodded, got to his feet and laid his hand on his sword hilt. "I swear to you on my sword and my oath as a Swan Knight that I will never hit Hethlin or any other woman again. And I will never hit you. May the Fire bear witness. Is that good enough?"
Brand inclined his head almost regally. He did seem to be reassured, to Andrahar's great relief. Then he frowned, and spoke a bit hesitantly.
"I think…I think you owe Lady Hethlin an apology too, sir. Don't you?"
There was a roaring in Andrahar's ears like the very sea itself, and he suddenly realized that the boy was right, that that was what had been awry all along. He remembered Hethlin's furious eyes once more, but also Liahan's and Esteven's and the other knights and their discomfort over his action. After decades of flawless service, it seemed that he had come to believe in his reputation for infallibility, and had become complacent and arrogant as a result. Frustration, fear and anger, however great, did not excuse his attack upon Hethlin. It was not knightly, and while his comrades might forgive the lapse, providing such never happened again, that was not enough.
And suddenly he remembered a boy, a Haradrim boy, as unwelcome among the knights as Hethlin was. Violence had been done upon him, and against all expectation he had received justice. With Adrahil long dead, and Imrahil absent, who was there to do justice in Hethlin's name?
Peace washed over him as he realized what he must do to restore his sense of balance, and he smiled at the boy, who smiled tentatively back.
"Yes, I do, Brand."
Elphir was regent in Imrahil's name, so Elphir sat in the Prince's seat at the conclave, with Mariel at his side, and his brothers upon thrones to either side of the ruling couple. A rare thing it was, that all three of Dol Amroth's heirs were present. The remainder of the Great Hall was filled to overflowing with all of the Swan Knights currently present in Dol Amroth. Andrahar was sitting upon the front row with Peloren and the company commanders, Brand at his side.
Elphir rose and advanced into the space between the thrones and the assembled knights.
"There are a couple of matters before us this day, and hopefully they won't take too much of your time. The first one is a very pleasant matter. Esquire Hethlin, stand forth, please." The girl did so, moving up the aisle between the seats from the esquire benches at the back. Andrahar could find no fault with her turnout-her hair was caught back at her neck into a somewhat fluffy tail it was true, but the fluffiness was due to the fact that the hair was still too short to make a proper tail, which was something that time would mend.
When she stood before Elphir, she bowed, then stood awaiting his pleasure. Imrahil's eldest smiled.
"There was a time when saving a Prince of Dol Amroth warranted a choice from among the best swords our armory offered. But you have a sword you prefer already, and you've saved not one, but three Princes! And we have no bows to better yours either! So I hope you will excuse me if I simply offer my family's thanks for now, and consult with my father to decide how best to reward your vigilance and valor." He took Hethlin's shoulders gently, and kissed her upon both cheeks. Those cheeks flamed red as applause rang through the room, and Andrahar could see the scar on her right cheek show whitely in contrast to the bruise shadowing her left. She murmured something to the Prince, bowed again and turned to go, but Andrahar stood up.
"One moment, Esquire." Hethlin froze, the same sort of wary caution upon her face that Brand had exhibited the night before. Andrahar moved to face her.
"I owe you my thanks as well, for the Prince's security is one of my responsibilities and your vigilance made up for my lack of it. And I owe you an apology, for I should not have struck you in Lithabad. I beg your pardon for doing so, for it was a violation of the trust between a captain and those he commands."
Hethlin looked decidedly flustered. "There is no need, my lord…" she began, but Andrahar shook his head.
"There is indeed need." Over his shoulder to Elphir, he added, "My lord Prince, I seek a judgement from you and from my peers. The other night, in Lithabad, my detachment came upon Lord Gildor of Edhellond, who had put ashore with a detachment of Elves when he saw the village was under attack to lend what aid he could. After the battle was over, he approached us, and I set Esquire Hethlin the task of translating between us. Many of you are aware that Lord Gildor and I do not…get along. I commanded Esquire Hethlin to give him a message that was less than knightly in nature. The tone of the message was inappropriate for an ally. Esquire Hethlin delivered my message, but took it upon herself to soften it by adding Prince Imrahil's thanks for his efforts upon our behalf. In doing so, she behaved in a courteous and knightly manner, but I was angry that she had exceeded my orders. I struck her in the face with my fist. The traces of that blow linger still upon her countenance."
A murmur broke out among the assembled knights. Hethlin bowed her head, her cheeks flaming once more. "Such was not a knightly action," Andrahar declared calmly. "Particularly as she is an esquire given into my charge to educate in the ways of knightly behavior. So I submit myself to you and ask that you mete out whatever punishment you deem appropriate."
Prince Elphir, the only one of Imrahil's three sons to wear the white belt, frowned thoughtfully for a moment then got to his feet. "Captain Andrahar, Esquire Hethlin, please be seated." He looked at the assembled company. "Horsemaster Peloren, Lieutenants Esteven and Liahan, company commanders. Attend us." The individuals named rose to their feet and filed forward. The rest of the Swan Knights stood as well as Elphir led his chosen few out the back entrance of the main hall, then seated themselves once more. Andrahar and Hethlin returned to their places. Hethlin had an entire gauntlet of curious stares to contend with as she walked back to her seat in the esquires' section. Andrahar had only one wide-eyed boy, as the officer's bench was now vacant.
"Why did you do that, sir?" Brand whispered. "Not the apologizing, but the other?"
"Because my honor, and the honor of the company demanded it," came the Armsmaster's low response. "Do you understand, Brand?"
"Not really," the boy admitted. Andrahar smiled wryly.
"A Swan Knight must always guard his honor. He must cultivate it. And he helps his brothers cultivate theirs, for the temptation is always there to take the easy course, the un-knightly one. It happens to even the most experienced knights, as I proved in Lithabad. And while there is some shame in such a failure, everyone makes mistakes. The greater shame lies in refusing to address the fault. For one can redeem one's honor with appropriate action." He had to pause for a moment before continuing, for a vision of arrow-pierced Boromir sinking down slowly beside a tree suddenly flashed before his eyes.
"Sir?" came Brand's voice, soft and concerned.
Andrahar drew a somewhat shaky breath, mastered himself and continued. "It is every knight's duty to look not only to his own honor, but to that of his brothers, and if he deems them to be in need of correction, to bring that to their attention."
"But they did not tell you to do that."
"They might very well have, had I not offered myself up. I was wondering if Elphir was going to say something. I like to think they would have, for if they dare not offer me such support and correction because I am the Commander and they deem me above it, then I have a very hard and lonely road before me. You were right to chastise me about this, Brand. I will not say that there will be many times when you should question my judgment, for I have many more years than you and like to think I am a reasonably wise man, but in this one instance, you were correct. And your willingness to do so in spite of the fact that you were afraid I would be angry with you was very knightly."
Andrahar was not certain the boy fully understood the conversation, but that last statement seemed to please him mightily. Brand ducked his head, abashed, and having been charged with knightly behavior, endeavored to remain still and quiet while the deliberations took place.
They did not take long. The Swan Knights rose once more when Prince Elphir re-entered the room, but he gestured that they should seat themselves. He and the officers remained standing.
"Captain Andrahar, rise and come forward."
Andrahar did so, bowing to the Prince. Elphir's face had the same unreadable bland expression his father cultivated when some unpleasant duty presented itself.
"Your fellow officers and I have conferred upon this matter. Hear now our judgement. We do indeed find that your striking Esquire Hethlin was uncalled for, and behavior unbefitting a knight. However, she was not greatly harmed, so some leniency is called for. You hold two of the highest offices within our order, captain, and are called upon to do the work of two men. We are not unaware of the burden this can be, nor are we unaware that you have fulfilled both of those duties admirably for many years. Nor are we ungrateful for your efforts on our behalf and on the order's. However, in this instance, we believe that you would be the better for some additional time for reflection. As the offense occurred when you were acting in your capacity of Commander rather than Armsmaster, it is our decision that you surrender the office of Commander of the Order until Prince Imrahil returns from Minas Tirith. We sent messengers to the White City yesterday, requesting that he return home to pass judgement upon the pirates. Horsemaster Peloren will act as Commander until Father arrives, whereupon he will decide if your punishment is complete or not. Do you accept this judgement of your brother officers?"
"I do, and I thank them and you, my lord prince." Andrahar reached up and removed the Commander's chain of office from around his neck, presenting it to Elphir, who in turn set it about Peloren's shoulders. He then bowed to the young Prince, and to Peloren, who acknowledged him with a nod, turned and returned to his seat. Elphir then dismissed the company, who rose in a buzz of fevered conversation and began to disperse, casting many curious glances in Andrahar's direction. The Armsmaster looked down at his ward, who was looking distressed, and winked. Brand sighed, and his expression lightened a little.
"I was beginning to worry." Peloren stood before them. "Esteven spoke to me after the attack. He was very troubled."
"I was a bit slow, Commander," Andrahar admitted. "You have Brand to thank for setting me on the right path."
"Indeed? Good lad." Peloren looked down at Brand with a smile. His expression became thoughtfully speculative as he studied the boy's face. He almost started to say something, then seemed to think better of it. "Just so you know-I don't intend to keep this bauble a moment longer than necessary," he told Andrahar instead, lifting the chain of office slightly.
The Armsmaster grinned. "Oh, I don't know…it almost seems more a vacation than a punishment to me! Though it would have been more of a vacation had you taken the other office instead."
"Oh no, that one is all yours! We were all in agreement about that. You have to learn to deal with her, Andra."
Andrahar nodded. "Ah well. It was worth a try. Another couple of days of peace, then back to the grind once more." He looked down at Brand. "Well lad, we've the rest of the day before us. What shall we do with it?"
"Go for a ride?" Brand suggested. He seemed reassured by the normalcy of the question after the stress of the morning's events.
"A ride it is, then. Here now, why don't you go to the kitchens and get us a picnic lunch? You're a growing boy, they'll give us more if you ask." Brand grinned, and Peloren started. He set off for the kitchens with a whoop of enthusiasm. The acting Commander stared after him.
"Andra, that boy is the very image of Lord Boromir at that age!"
"Is he?" came the dry response. "I suppose there might be some resemblance."
"Is there something you are not telling me?"
"Were you not there when I found him, Peloren? You know the lad was a stable boy."
"I know you talked to his mother for quite a while."
"So I did."
Peloren sighed in exasperation. "What will you tell the Prince when he returns?"
"About Hethlin? The truth."
"About the boy."
"I don't imagine I'll have to tell him much. Imrahil's eyesight is perfectly good."
"Valar! That's letting the cat among the canaries!" Sympathy kindled in Peloren's glance then, and he asked softly, "Would you keep the boy for your own, Andra?"
"What do you think?" The question came out harsh with suppressed feeling, and the Horsemaster laid a hand upon his friend's shoulder.
"He could do far worse for a father."
"Even after today?"
"Especially after today." Peloren smiled. "One of our Gondorrim philosophers once said the truest mirror of a man's soul can be found in his sons' eyes. Watch how the boy looks upon you." And he gave Andrahar a friendly clap upon the shoulder and departed.
The Gondorrim don't have any philosophers worthy of the name, Andrahar thought grumpily as he headed down towards the kitchens to meet the boy. But he was reasonably content. The punishment was, he felt, a just one, and in some respects no punishment at all. It would be a relief to have only one set of responsibilities to deal with for a time, particularly with all the extra time he'd been spending on Hethlin of late. And there was a feeling of balance back in his life again-the prospect of penance had centered him. Yes, the world seemed to be righting itself once more. Whether that would remain the case after Imrahil returned…well, he would cross that desert when he reached the edge of it. Certainly, he was not looking forward to the interview in which he informed his oath-brother that he'd nearly let his entire family be killed, and struck the woman Imrahil loved besides. But even that, he felt, could be survived.
He reached the kitchens, and Brand came running out with their lunch in a sack, his face alight with enthusiasm for the outing before them. And when Andrahar looked into his eyes, Boromir's eyes, and saw the trust and respect returned once more, he was content.