Okay...here's something else from me. I'd like to thank my friends from the Brothers of Gondor discussion board, Astara, Cressida, and Illwynd, for their peer reading, nudging, comforting when things were going wrong, and simply their wonderful presence at my side while I was working on this story. I'll do what I must: this story is for you, ladies, and may it bring smiles to your faces again :)
The droplets flew through the air and landed on Elboron's slumped back.
'Oh, will you just stop that!' he snarled at the other boy, who sighed miserably and wiped his hand on the front of his clothes.
Elboron got to his feet.
'It wasn't fair,' he proclaimed, pushing the hair out of his eyes. 'Wasn't.'
'Well, we did drop him…' Eldarion said hesitantly.
Throw him would have been more accurate. Just about an hour before, the two had undertaken to entertain two-year-old Dorlas, son of the Steward's scribe. The entertainment had meant grabbing the boy's hands and feet and swaying him to and fro.
The three had been enjoying it greatly, little Dorlas not the least, when Eldarion, younger, more plump, and not as agile and strong as his friend, let go of their charge's feet. The latter promptly concluded what had seemed the best time of his short life in a stream that the Queen had ordered made in her back garden. Splashes, wails, and a good lecture from some angry nannies and mothers had followed shortly, naturally.
The judgement had been pronounced swiftly and mercilessly: no swordplay for Elboron, no riding his new pony for Eldarion, and no dessert for both.
Elboron was annoyed and was taking great efforts to let the heir to the throne know just how annoyed he was.
'For a whole week!' he lamented. 'I am not allowed to spar with Bergil for a week! And all because you couldn't hold onto his feet!'
'But…but his boot came off!' Eldarion attempted.
'So what? You should have held tighter! And now, all because of you, I'll have to miss my sparring and the apricot pie!'
Eldarion sighed again. Elboron had sneaked off to the kitchens earlier in the day (he was just so lucky not to be a king's son!) and managed to find out what was to be for dessert. They both loved apricot pie…
'And Mother is angry with me, and she will tell Father, too!'
Eldarion's eyes became round.
'Will he…will he…beat you?' he breathed.
'What!' Elboron turned on his heels and stared at him. 'Beat me? Of course not! But he will be upset…and he will not take me for a ride to the river, as he promised.'
'Maybe he will,' Eldarion said, shrugging. 'Maybe your mother will not tell him.'
'Oh no,' Elboron sighed. 'She will. She always tells him everything.'
Eldarion went quiet. Suddenly, it dawned on him that his own father would learn about everything too…
'We shouldn't have played in that way at all,' he said.
Elboron looked at him with exasperation.
'If you had held on tighter, we would still be playing. And if you hadn't started crying too, we could have made Dorlas laugh, and it's warm and he would have dried quickly, so nothing would have happened!'
'You…you…' Eldarion was short of breath and deep red with anger. 'You are insp…insup…what your mother said!'
'And you are a cry-baby.'
'Yes you are.'
Elboron turned round and walked a couple of steps away, arms crossed at his chest. Anyone who knew Faramir the Steward of Gondor would be highly amused, for the boy's stance copied his father's perfectly.
He stood shuffling his foot on the gravel path, as if trying to get revenge at least on the Queen's garden, which was a place where his mother came very often too. Her healing herbs grew here: the Queen had offered her the spot for its excellent sunlight.
He was prepared for another round of Eldarion's fierce self-defence, but none came. Tired of waiting and already feeling a little guilty, Elboron turned to face his younger friend again, only to see he was crying quietly, wiping his nose on a sleeve now and then.
Elboron gasped and rushed to his side, trying to hug him clumsily.
'No, Eldarion, I'm sorry…please don't cry, please please! I'm not angry anymore, honest!'
'I…am not…a cry-baby,' Eldarion gulped, sniffing loudly and wiping his wet cheeks. 'Dorlas is.'
'Of course he is! Well…he is very little, too. You know what? We shall not play with him anymore, and we shall not be in trouble.'
Both relieved to have peace again, the boys sat on the carefully-cut grass. A stranger could have thought them brothers: same raven black hair, same big grey eyes, though Eldarion's were slightly more round, giving the King's son a somewhat bewildered look. Also, he was not yet past the childish chubbiness, whereas the Steward's son was taller and thinner – skinny, in fact, – and much more restless.
When affairs of state or any other reasons caused Faramir's family move to Minas Tirith, it was only natural that these two were together. Both the King and the Steward were in favour of this arrangement; weren't the children meant to become collaborators in the future? Common playtime could only help. Certainly, there were other children too, but Eldarion and Elboron both felt very comfortable in each other's company.
The serious and somewhat reserved Eldarion suddenly discovered the pleasures he had never dreamed of. Indeed, what courtier's son or daughter would have dared get into the Houses of Healing and, in one way or another, bring from there a whole bottle of sweet-smelling dark green liquid that tasted so wonderful? Of course the Lady Éowyn later said it was a cough syrup and one was not supposed to drink it in pints and served them both right to be all itchy the morning after… And who would have been on the lookout for guards at the entrance to the throne chamber while Eldarion was trying to climb onto the throne to try it out? (He was the heir to the throne, right? And Elboron had climbed the Steward's chair earlier, so it was only fair.)
And of course there was Bergil. Bergil the Strong, the Big, the Best Swordsman Ever. Was there anyone in the whole realm of Gondor who was not awed by Bergil? Certainly not among those younger than ten years of age. And Bergil lived in Emyn Arnen! Where Elboron lived! Why, Elboron could see him every day, and even spar with him!
There were pleasures in it for Elboron as well. Eldarion happened to have an Elf mother. And Elven toys, and Elven books! Even his father did not have Real Elven Books. Well, he said they were Elven, but Elboron never believed that entirely. How could they have been if his father had also said Elves had not lived in Gondor for ages (never mind how long that was)?
At some point, he had also decided that he liked Eldarion, although the latter was younger.
And now, he still felt guilty for making his friend cry. He had to do something nice for him. Like…like his mother had done when his kitten was run over by a cart (he had to bite his lip at the memory not to start crying too…). She sat with him long, and then she winked and said she would show him something…and she showed him the hilt of That Same Sword she had killed the Witch-king with!
It would be so good to show Eldarion something too…but what? The Sword was in Emyn Arnen…
And suddenly, he knew what to do.
He leaned to Eldarion's ear.
'Do you want to see my Uncle Boromir's horn?' he whispered.
Eldarion shrugged, not showing much interest.
'I have seen it,' he said.
Elboron crouched in front of him, eyes glowing.
'I know you have seen it,' he said in an urgent whisper. 'But…have you touched it?'
The little prince's mouth fell open, his own eyes becoming even more round.
'No…' he whispered back.
'I can let you hold it,' Elboron said proudly, nodding several times, as if to give his words more weight.
Eldarion cocked his head to one side.
'Won't your father be mad?' he asked cautiously.
'But of course he won't!' Elboron cried excitedly, getting to his feet with a jump. 'Remember when we tried out the chairs in the throne chamber?'
Eldarion nodded, rubbing the spot right above his left eyebrow. The cut he had received falling from one of the aforesaid "chairs" was not painful anymore (after the Lady Éowyn's help), but there was still a tiny pink scar, to remind him of the accident.
Elboron continued, meanwhile, 'You said it was all right for you to sit there because you were the heir to the throne. Well, I'm the Steward's heir. I am going to get the Horn when I grow up, you know.'
Eldarion could not help thinking that it was all a little unfair. He was not getting any important things in addition to the throne…
'All right,' he said decidedly.
At least he would get to hold the legendary Horn!
'See? It's there.'
'Oh, we'll get it. Give me that chair. All right, now stay here and I'll give it to you!'
Reaching up to the shelf, Elboron carefully took hold of the Horn and passed it to Eldarion. The prince gasped a little and held the heirloom to his chest with both hands. Elboron jumped off the chair.
'Look, this is where it was broken in two. Father had it mended, with silver.'
'But you can still see it was broken,' the more practical Eldarion said.
Elboron heaved an exasperated sigh.
'It has to be so, silly!'
Eldarion blinked, but wisely did not say anything else. Privately, he decided that Elboron's was a strange family. A broken horn here in the Steward's office…and at Emyn Arnen, the Lady Éowyn had a sword handle without a blade! If they were such important things, couldn't anyone have mended them properly?
'Here, let me just show you how my Uncle Boromir blew it…'
Neither of them knew how it happened. Perhaps their hands were sweaty and a little shaky with excitement…perhaps both were thinking the other one would keep hold of it better…but it happened.
With a pathetic clink the Horn of Gondor fell to the stone floor right onto the spot where there was no rug, and broke in two. Again.