Brand spent the rest of the morning reading Among the Savages. He found that with repeated practice, the archaic dialect was easier to understand and he began to actually make some progress. At lunch his virtue was rewarded when Prince Imrahil, looking much more lively and awake than he had that morning, announced that he would serve as chaperone for Brand's ride with Tathar that very afternoon. After lunch the Prince saddled his warhorse Caerith while Brand saddled Swift, and the two of them rode down to Lord Lalven's house, the Prince leading Mariel's palfrey. Tathar gleefully joined them, in a riding habit that had obviously been cut down to fit her but had been a stylish garment in its heyday. Brand wondered if it had belonged to her mother.
A pleasant afternoon followed as they cantered over the Pelennor, Luin racing along beside them. Tathar was a surprisingly good rider for all that she had only ever ridden the pony; fearless but not foolish, riding light in the saddle with a gentle hand on the palfrey's mouth. The Prince dropped back to Brand's side and reined close after they had been out for a while, letting Tathar ride on before.
"She needs a better horse," he murmured to Brand. "Something with more spirit than Nínim there."
"When I went to talk to her father he said that he did not want you buying a horse for her, Grandy."
Imrahil did not seem daunted. "Let me see what I can work out. There is more than one way to skin that particular cat. Or dog as it were."
While they were out, they encountered the Queen and her entourage out riding, also enjoying the lovely fall weather. Brand cast a quick look over the company, but Lady Jerulas was thankfully nowhere to be found. His aunt, however, was present and called out gladly when she saw them, reining her beautiful mare out of the troop of courtiers and riding towards them.
"Uncle! Brother-son! You are well met! Come here!"
They obeyed her command, drawing their horses along either side of hers. Éowyn leaned deftly from her saddle to embrace Imrahil with a happy smile.
"It is good to see you, Uncle!"
"You look lovely, Éowyn! Absolutely glowing! How is my great-nephew?"
"He is well. He grows swiftly, and I am told by his nurse that he is a very good child. He does not cry very much. You must come see him again!"
"Oh, I intend to. I'd have been over earlier but for all the councils. They've run so late into the night most times that I didn't want to intrude."
She turned to Brand, and embraced him as well. He was oddly disconcerted by the feel of his arm about his aunt's lithe figure and the soft, golden glory of her hair tickling his nose, and shook himself a little when she released him.
"Speaking of growing, Brandmir, I do believe you're near as tall as I am now!" She raked him and his horse with a piercing look. "We will make a Rider of you yet! That is a fine fellow you have there-is he new? I thought you had a bay mare."
"I outgrew her, Aunt. This is Swift-Captain Andrahar gave him to me for my birthday."
She nodded approvingly. "Well, he will certainly serve-at least until you turn eighteen and I ask my brother to send you a proper warhorse." Her smile was wicked.
"Ahem!" said the Prince, arching his eyebrow with a look of false affront, his free hand stroking Caerith's crest. Éowyn laughed.
"I suppose there might be one or two decent warhorses in Dol Amroth, Uncle-or Éomer would not have encouraged Caerith to dally a bit when you were last in Rohan," she conceded. Her eye then fell upon Tathar, who was hanging back a little, wide-eyed and obviously in awe of the slayer of the Witch-King.
"Who is your friend, Brandmir?"
Brand hastily ran over his introduction etiquette in his mind, then plunged in. "Lady Éowyn, this is Lady Tathar, daughter of Lord Lalven. You might know her older brother, Lord Liahan. He's going to be the Armsmaster when Captain Andrahar leaves for the North. Lady Tathar, this is my aunt Lady Éowyn, my Uncle Faramir's wife."
Tathar inclined her head respectfully. "My Lady."
Éowyn cast a critical eye over her. "You've got a decent seat on you-what are you doing on Mariel's hack? I know you've got better in your stables, Uncle."
Tathar was saved from having to answer by the Prince, which was just as well, for she looked totally confounded by the compliment. "I'd not seen Tathar ride before, Éowyn, and felt it wisest to err on the side of caution. The next time we go out, I will put her on something a little more lively."
Éowyn nodded her understanding; then, giving Imrahil her most beguiling smile, said, "You've stayed away entirely too long, Uncle, councils or not! You must come to dinner this evening, you and Brandmir! And bring Amrothos and Captain Andrahar and Hethlin as well! We will make a family evening of it. Faramir will be so pleased."
The Prince shook his head regretfully. "Though I am always at your service, my dear, I fear that I must disappoint you this evening, at least in part. Amrothos would be only too glad to come, I am certain, but Captain Andrahar and Hethlin are preparing for the tournament and none of the esquires are allowed leave at present."
Éowyn frowned. "Oh, that is too bad, though I certainly understand that they both are very busy." She then gave the Prince an inquiring look. "I am assuming Hethlin will be shooting for Dol Amroth?" Imrahil nodded.
"I am counting upon her to save us from a complete rout at the hands of the Ithilien Rangers on the first day."
"Aha! At last I understand the reason for her recruitment!" Éowyn exclaimed, amused. "Everyone says that you are a foresighted man, Uncle!"
"Not that foresighted!" the Prince replied, chuckling. "Besides, it was the King who demanded that I recruit her. He is said to be foresighted as well, but why would Aragorn do something that would weaken his own chances?"
"Because he likes a sporting fight?" Éowyn suggested, and they both laughed. "Is Hethlin going to be in the foot or horse battles? I would like to come and cheer her on."
"I honestly can't give you the answer to that, Éowyn. I don't believe Andrahar has finalized his list yet. I would think the horse battles would be more likely-he has said that she has done very well with her horsemanship."
"And it would probably be easier for her to fight on horseback than on foot," Brandmir's aunt said thoughtfully.
"She used to think otherwise when she first came to Dol Amroth, but I believe things have changed since then," Imrahil agreed. "In any event, you will be able to see her after the tournament-all the esquires will have leave then."
"Then I will look forward to that," Éowyn declared. "And to the three of you coming to see us this evening. You will come, won't you, Uncle?"
"If you do not think your staff will be thrown into confusion by a last minute invitation, then we will be glad to come, Éowyn."
"That is wonderful!" She looked over her shoulder, to where the rest of the courtiers were receding into the distance. "I suppose I had better catch up. Would you all care to come with us?"
"Why not?" said the Prince, and they all set heels to their horses and galloped to the Queen's party.
Arwen greeted them all cordially, even Tathar, who was oddly enough less taken aback by the Queen than she had been by Éowyn. The Queen made a point of speaking to Brandmir for some time, which Brandmir suspected was to drive home to the courtiers that Brandmir had her favor. Which idea was both flattering and a bit frightening at the same time. He wondered what his family back in Pelargir would make of him now, hobnobbing with the highest in the land. Several young ladies greeted him quite cordially after the Queen's display of favor, and while they were doing so, he saw the Prince with his head close to Arwen's. The two of them kept looking in Tathar's direction and Brand hoped that something good would come to the girl from what looked to be their collusion.
They rode with the Queen until the sun began sinking towards the West, returned a very happy Tathar to her family, then made their way up to the townhouse for baths and a quick change. The Prince (who after all had Maeddan to help him) finished his preparations before Brand did and appeared at his great- nephew's door with a bottle of wine in one hand and a bouquet of late roses from the garden in the other.
"Here, take these if you would, Brand. They are for your aunt," Imrahil said. Brand carefully took the flowers in his arms, then fell in beside his great-uncle, who stopped at the library and stuck his head in. "'Rothos, are you ready?"
"Coming, Father," came a muted voice from inside. Imrahil's youngest son appeared a few moments later, carrying a stack of five or six books. The Prince looked him up and down critically. Amrothos was actually better turned out than usual, except for his hair, which looked like it had been washed but not combed and was very rumpled.
"Give me those," Imrahil immediately commanded, while producing a comb from his belt pouch. Amrothos handed him the books and took the comb, a mutinous look on his face.
"It is only Faramir, sir!"
"And your kinswoman, before whom I will not have you appear looking like you spent the night in a hedgerow!"
"I just hope that we won't have that baby with us all night!" Amrothos grumbled as he yanked the comb through his locks. The Prince frowned.
"Faramir was more than patient with you when you were a tiny child, 'Rothos. It is only fitting that you extend your young cousin the same courtesy."
"But I haven't had a chance to have a good talk with Faramir since we got here! You and the King have kept him so busy in councils that I've not even had a chance to show him the Alkhayam yet!"
"I am so sorry that determining the disposition of Gondor in our absence has interfered with your scholarly explorations," Imrahil said briskly. Brand didn't think he sounded sorry at all. "You could, of course, remain here while we are in Dale. You would probably get to speak to Faramir on a regular basis then."
Amrothos gave his hair a final swipe of the comb, looked at his father for approval, and at Imrahil's nod, exchanged the comb for his books. "What? And lose what will probably be my only opportunity to speak with Dwarves? No sir, you shan't get rid of me that easily!"
"I am not trying to get rid of you at all, 'Rothos. I am simply pointing out that your situation is at least partly the results of your own choices."
"Yes, sir," Amrothos muttered grumpily, and Imrahil's eyebrow lifted. When he spoke again, his voice was crisp and commanding.
"Furthermore, I want to make it clear that you will not be dragging Faramir off this evening for a little scholar's conference, leaving the rest of us to amuse ourselves without him. And while I do not know to what extent Elboron will be included in events, I would suggest that if you cannot feign a convincing enthusiasm for your new cousin, then you should at the very least keep your silence. If you do not feel yourself capable of conforming to these conditions, please remain here. I would be glad to make your excuses."
"That won't be necessary, sir." The young prince's tone was much more subdued and civil this time, and Imrahil nodded.
"Very well, then. Let us be off."
They walked the short distance to the Steward's House. Luin did not accompany them, he had been shut up in Brand's room to his great displeasure. Chastisement over and apparently forgotten, the Prince asked his youngest son about the books he had brought with him and there was a brief, amiable discussion about that, but Brand had nothing to contribute on that subject and was silent.
The door was opened to them by Faramir's housekeeper, who beamed when she saw Imrahil.
"'Tis good to see you again, Your Highness! And you, Your Highness, and Lord Brandmir! Do come in! The Prince and Princess are waiting for you in the library." She took the bottle of wine from Imrahil, and having ascertained that none of them had cloaks that needed to be dealt with, vanished back into the kitchens.
They made their way down the hall to the library, where they found Faramir at a desk doing something that looked suspiciously like paperwork while Éowyn sat upon the couch and read a book. He was clad in Ithilien green this night, while his wife wore a pale blue dress that brought out the color in her eyes. She looked up and smiled when they appeared in the doorway.
"Uncle! 'Rothos! Brandmir! So good of you to come!"
"These are for you, Aunt," Brandmir said, going to meet her. She got up and took the bouquet from him, burying her nose in it appreciatively.
"There are no flowers in Minas Tirith as good as the ones in your garden, Uncle," Éowyn said. "I have been trying my hand at a little gardening myself, but my gardens don't look anything like yours."
"I can take no credit for it, Éowyn," Imrahil said, coming over and embracing her. "My gardens are the result of generations of work by dedicated gardeners who persevere in spite of the Princes' efforts to dictate to them what they want." Éowyn laughed.
"Let me find a vase for these." She stepped out into the hall.
"Did you bring your Alkyham, 'Rothos?" Faramir asked, rising from his desk and going to his cousin's side. He examined Amrothos' pile of books with interest after giving his cousin's shoulders a companionable squeeze.
"I did," said Amrothos, pulling the largest volume out of the pile and presenting it to Faramir. "But I have been directed not to monopolize you tonight-" this said with a sidelong look at his father "-so I don't know when we'll be able to talk about it."
Faramir ran a hand wistfully over the embossed cover. "For this, I'll find the time, I promise. Just you and I, before you leave for the North." Amrothos nodded, mollified.
He turned his attention to his nephew. "How is your reading going, Brand?"
"Slowly, sir." Brandmir grinned ruefully. "Though I am plugging away at it. I'm seven chapters in at present."
Amrothos looked up, intrigued. "What has he got you reading, Brand?"
"Among the Savages."
"Really?" Amrothos gave his cousin an appalled look. "Whatever has the boy done to you, Faramir? You'll turn him off scholarship completely, not that he's got much love for it that I've seen, if you make him read that sort of turgid nonsense."
Faramir merely smiled. "A true scholar cannot be daunted, 'Rothos. As proof, I submit to you the reading list my father assigned me when I was a lad. Many much worse things than Among the Savages and I'm still a scholar despite it. Besides, Meneldor's book has some bearing on Brand's current situation."
"Ah yes, the Andrahar business," Amrothos muttered.
"I am curious as to how the book came to be at the townhouse, 'Rothos," Imrahil said, forestalling any further conversation about Andrahar, to Brand's great relief. "Did you carry it here recently?"
Amrothos tapped his lips with the finger of the hand that wasn't holding the books, brow furrowed in concentration. "I might have. Can't recollect what I'd been working on that I thought that antiquated hack would help with, but there might have been something." He looked around at his kinsmen. "I must have brought it, though I can't recollect doing so-I can't think of how it could have gotten here otherwise."
"You carry so many books with you everywhere, 'Rothos," Brand offered, "that it might have just slipped into the bottom of one of your stacks by accident."
There was a general agreement all around that that was what must have happened when
"Dinner is almost ready," she said with a smile. "We can go ahead and sit, or if you would like to see Elboron, we can do that first."
"It would be best to see Elboron now," said experienced father and grandfather Imrahil, "since he is most likely ready for bed."
"I will send for him," said Éowyn, but was forestalled by Imrahil's upraised hand.
"Let us not disturb him more than necessary. We can go up to him."
They left the library and started upstairs. As they did so, the sound of an infant wailing could be heard above, faint behind a closed door.
"Someone is not happy," the Prince commented. Éowyn frowned.
"He is not usually so loud," she said. "I wonder what is amiss?"
The wails grew louder as they approached what was obviously the nursery door. Éowyn, her brow furrowed, tapped upon it. "Maidh? Gwaloth? What is the matter?"
"One moment, my lady," came a voice from inside. After a brief wait, there was a sound of movement and the door opened, to reveal a young woman of seventeen or eighteen with a pleasant, roundish face and light brown hair. She had obviously been nursing the baby for her over gown was half undone and a red-faced infant squalled upon her shoulder. Her eyes widened at the sight of her lord and his three male guests and she endeavored to finish closing her gown with her free hand.
"Maidh? Where is Gwaloth?" Éowyn asked with a frown.
"'Tis her evening off, my lady, do you not remember?" the girl stammered. "I had my half day today and she is gone now. We did not know you were going to entertain or we would have waited till tomorrow."
"Maidh is Elboron's wet-nurse and Gwaloth is his nurse," Faramir explained to the others. "Be easy, Maidh, the dinner was arranged at the last minute. There was no way you could have known." Brand looked from his aunt to his uncle and back in surprise. He was not unaware of the differences as regarded child-rearing in noble houses, he had heard that noble women often did not nurse their children themselves, but two women to take care of one baby? Did his aunt spend any time with Elboron at all?
However much she was involved in his day-to-day care, she did seem concerned for him now. "Is Elboron ill? What is the matter with him?"
"I do not know, my lady!" Maidh looked almost as distressed as Elboron, who had little tears running down the creases of his face. "I have changed him and rocked him and tried to feed him, but he only starts to nurse, then stops and starts crying!"
"Perhaps we should take him to the Houses of Healing," Faramir said, his hand reaching out to tenderly touch the downy little head. There was a worried crease between his brows.
"He doesn't sound like a sick child," Imrahil observed, his eyes intent upon the baby. Brand thought the same. Amrothos looked as if he would have loved to flee to the library and escape all the noise, but he stood his ground.
"Might I see him, Aunt?" Brand asked, wanting to get a closer look. Éowyn looked startled for a moment, then nodded. Maidh reached for a towel upon a nearby table and handed it to Brand, followed by the baby himself after Brand had draped the towel over his shoulder.
Years of holding his baby brothers and sisters had not been forgotten. Brand stared down into the furious little face for a moment, watching Elboron gnaw upon his hand in frustration, then swung his tiny cousin up onto his shoulder. He began to walk about the nursery, hitching his shoulder in practiced rhythm while he rubbed the small back in gentle circles and stroked the dark fuzz on his head with careful fingertips.
"Hist now, whatever is the matter with you?" he cooed to his cousin, lapsing back into the speech patterns of his childhood. "Why do you want to be carrying on so?" Elboron wailed twice more then subsided into hiccups, to the fascination of the adults watching.
"Thank the Valar!" Amrothos murmured fervently, only to be quelled by a stern glance from his father.
"This won't hold him long," Brand warned them. "I think the trouble is he's hungry."
"But I have tried to feed him!" Maidh was almost crying. "He won't eat! He starts, then spits it out."
Brand pondered that for a moment as he circled around the nursery. Then, as he passed close to Maidh, he caught it. The lass was a cleanly one, but clinging to her hair was a faint whiff that called back memories of home.
"Your Mum makes a good baked onion pie, does she?" he asked the nurse. Maidh's eyes grew wide in astonishment.
"Aye, that she does, my…lord. How did you know? The very best!"
"And you had some for lunch today?"
"That I did-they don't make it here and I do love it so."
"I think that is the problem. The taste has gotten into the milk and Elboron doesn't like it."
"I never heard of such a thing!" Maidh protested. "Mum ate them all the time when she was nursing us!"
"My mum did the same when she was nursing us," Brand agreed, "until it came to Baran, my youngest brother. He was doing the same as Elboron here and Mum was at her wits' end until she talked to the midwife. The midwife said some babies are picky about the taste of the milk, so Mum had to stop eating onions or cabbage or anything really tasty while she was nursing him. Drove her near mad, I can tell you. What does Elboron eat when you're not here?"
"We've got a goat out in the stables," Faramir answered.
"Well then, let's have some goat's milk for him. If he drinks that, then that's what the problem is. If he doesn't, then perhaps you ought to take him to the Houses and have them look him over."
"I will have some milk fetched straight away!" Éowyn said, the prospect of action obviously relieving her mind greatly. She paused in the doorway, belatedly remembering her duties as hostess. "Would you all care to go ahead and sit to dinner? I will join you in a little while."
"Since I have Elboron quiet right now, I'd just as soon wait until he's settled, Aunt," Brand said. "Please everyone, go ahead without me if you like."
"I will tell the cooks to hold dinner," Faramir said. "It can wait a few minutes."
"Come, Amrothos," Imrahil commanded. "Speaking of cooks, I think that there are enough in this particular kitchen. We will wait in the library, Faramir."
Amrothos did not need to be told twice. The room emptied out and Brand was left with the wet-nurse.
"You'll need to milk out, so fresh can come in, if it's the onions troubling him," Brand told her, blushing a bit. "Most likely by morning things will be all right again."
"Are you from the country, my lord?" Maidh asked curiously, watching him pace and murmur to Elboron. The baby was hiccupping still, but had not started crying again.
"No. Dol Amroth by way of Pelargir. Why?"
"Country lords aren't so particular as city folk. More down to earth, as it were. I thought you must be, since you know so much about babies."
"Four younger brothers and sisters is why I know so much about babies, as well as a couple of them that didn't live. But no, I'm not a country lord, just a new one. Since August, so it's not been official that long at all."
Maidh's eyes widened once more. "I didn't think they ever made lords, just that they were born."
"It doesn't happen often, in the usual way of things. And I can tell you I worry a lot about doing a good job of it."
The wet-nurse, busying herself with tidying the room, snorted. "This kingdom could do with more nobles as has their feet on the ground rather than their noses in the air. A lord who knows how the common folk actually live? You'll do just fine, my lord."
Éowyn returned very swiftly with the goat's milk, given that she would have had to find someone to actually milk the animal. Brand seated himself in a chair and took the nursing cup she offered. To everyone's relief, Elboron accepted it eagerly and his reddened complexion began to clear as his stomach filled. After some time had passed, Éowyn touched Brand's arm.
"You may leave that to Maidh now, Brand. Dinner is waiting."
Seeing the displeased look his aunt was directing towards the wet-nurse, Brand said quickly, "It wasn't Maidh's fault, Aunt. There was no way she could have known. Most babies are not so…particular in their tastes."
The ire in Éowyn's glance lessened but her voice was stern when she said, "You must eat only bland and sweet things henceforth, Maidh-I won't have him upset again."
"I will, my lady," the chastened wet-nurse said.
"No more onion pies."
"No, my lady."
They left the room and closed the door behind them. To Brand's surprise his aunt did not immediately take him downstairs. Instead, she gave him an embarrassed look.
"You must think me the worst mother in the world."
"I know that the high-born do things differently, Aunt. I don't think that at all."
"The other ladies and even my maid told me, you see, that I should not nurse him myself. That it was not done that way here. That I should hasten to make myself attractive to my lord again."
"I do not think you need worry upon that account!" Éowyn smiled.
"Perhaps not," she agreed.
"Do high-born ladies in Rohan nurse their babies themselves?" Brand asked curiously.
"Most do, when they can."
"Are the ones who can't not considered good mothers?"
"No, not necessarily."
"Well there you have it." His aunt did not seem as comforted as she might have been. Reflecting upon the evening's events, Brand wondered if she was uncomfortable taking care of his cousin and ashamed of that. He leaned his shoulder against the wall.
"My mother always wept like a fountain for a month after she had each of us," he said casually. "My stepfather and I learned to tip-toe around her during that time. The least little thing would set her off. I asked the midwife once why she always got so sad, because I'd always heard that mothers were supposed to be happy when babies came. The midwife said it was because the humors got all roiled from having the baby inside you and then not having it there. That mothers weren't always happy when babies came, especially when they came hard and that sometimes it was months before they warmed up to them but that they always did. That seemed very odd to me, but she said it happened quite a bit. Mother always liked us well enough in the end, so I guess she was right."
Something shifted behind Éowyn's blue eyes. "So that was a very common thing to have happen?" she asked.
"That is what she told me."
"I think I should have liked to have had your mother's midwife. She seems a very sensible sort." His aunt stepped up to him and laid her hands upon his shoulders then, looking him in the eye. "You are well come in our house, brother-son, and not because I need another nurse for Elboron! Faramir and I would be only too happy if you would stay with us when the Prince goes North."
"I am thinking about it, Aunt, truly I am."
"Well, I'll not win you over by starving you, that much is certain! Come, let us go down to dinner."
Dinner was a very pleasant affair. Topics such as the war or Brand's difficulties with Andrahar were not discussed. Instead, the progress of Amrothos' and Brand's studies, the rebuilding of the city (which was still going on after two years) and the upcoming tournament were the subjects of conversation.
"Will you be able to attend, Faramir?" the Prince asked. His nephew shrugged.
"I am hoping to attend all three days, but I am not certain that I will be able to. There is so much still to do and as the King will be required to attend, it falls to me to do it. I will definitely be watching the archery the first day-I must cheer my Rangers on!"
"And what of your former Ranger? Will you be cheering her on as well?"
Faramir grinned boyishly. "Only to the extent that it does not demoralize my own men! If Hethlin manages to defeat them, I will strive to be a gracious loser." He took a sip of his wine. "How is she getting along, by the way? I've not asked in a while. Judging from the other morning, her shooting hasn't fallen off at all from her Ranger days."
"She's been given time to keep that up. You would have to ask Andrahar about the rest of it," Imrahil said casually, taking up his own cup. "I've been away so much I can't give you a full report. I do know that she passed her tests. They all did this year. A good group of esquires."
Brand sighed in relief, for this was news to him.
Amrothos set his fork and knife down and smiled sweetly across the table at his father.
"Good! Hethlin's passed the tests. She's going to be a Swan Knight. So could we please drop the pretense now? You're among friends here."
"What pretense is that, 'Rothos?" the Prince asked, his eyes hooded as he sipped.
"The tiresome but necessary pretence that you're not in love with Hethlin! You can give it up, Father-we all know!"
Imrahil coughed and set his wine down. "Who exactly is 'we'?" Color stained his cheekbones of a sudden and Brand suspected that wasn't from the wine.
"Your children! The ones who have eyes! And functioning brains! Do you think we just ignored that kiss two years ago? And all that business about staying in Minas Tirith? Not to mention the calf eyes you've been making at her every time you've been back in Dol Amroth."
"I do not make calf eyes at Hethlin, 'Rothos!"
"Not in mixed company. But from a distance; yes, you do. I'm assuming Faramir knows as well-he was there for the kiss, after all. And you always tell him things you don't tell us." Faramir inclined his head, a bit of a smile hovering about his lips. "What about you, Brand? Did you know?"
"I did, 'Rothos. I have for a while now." Amrothos's eyebrow flicked up.
"Aren't you the extremely clever lad."
"I didn't know!" Éowyn protested, her eyes alight with curiosity. "Is this true, Uncle? Are you in love with Hethlin? And what is this about a kiss?"
With an uncharacteristic show of hesitation, the Prince cleared his throat, rubbed his temple for a moment, then ran his fingers around the rim of his wine cup while everyone watched. "It is true, Éowyn," he admitted at last. "You were in Rohan when Captain Mablung wed his lady, but we were all at the party afterwards. Hethlin was dancing with a somewhat drunk fellow soldier and he threw her out of the dance by accident. By happy chance, I caught her and claimed a forfeit for the service."
"It was quite the kiss," Faramir interjected. "I'd never truly believed all the tales of Uncle's misspent youth until that night."
"Have some care for my dignity, will you, Faramir?"
"But Uncle," Éowyn said, her expression puzzled, " I saw you with Hethlin when the King escorted his kin to Rohan on their way back home. You gave no sign of being in love with her at all. The horse dance-why did you not declare yourself then?"
"Because I had already proposed to Hethlin and she had refused me. To make any further sort of public declaration would have been boorish in the extreme."
Amrothos was genuinely surprised, a rare occurrence. "You've already proposed to Hethlin?"
"Yes. The same night I kissed her. And as I said, she refused."
"For Valar's sake, why?"
"Much as I appreciate your belief in my irresistibility, 'Rothos, the lady had her reasons," the Prince said, in a tone that discouraged further inquiry. "But while we are on the subject-how do my children feel about it?"
"'Thiri doesn't have all the latest news, but you know she'd think it was too horribly romantic for words." Imrahil grimaced. "Chiron thinks you're quite the sly old sea dog and he's rather admiring, if you must know." A snort issued from the Prince's general direction. "Elph's the one you'll have trouble with, if you try to go through with this. He's Mother's oldest and remembers her the best and he thinks it's quite inappropriate."
"I'll bear that in mind. And you?"
"I know nothing about love and when I'm totally ignorant about a subject, I don't make myself look foolish by expressing an opinion. But I do hope that whatever happens, you'll both be happy. Because you both deserve it."
"I'll drink to that!" Faramir exclaimed, and they all raised their glasses. When they had all drunk, Imrahil cast a magisterial glance about the table.
"I want you all to promise me that you will not be discussing this with Hethlin, or pressuring her in any way. She told me once that she did not always know her own heart and that sometimes it took a while for things to become clear to her. I am hoping that in time she will come to appreciate me, but I want that to occur naturally, and not because she's been badgered by my friends and relations!"
They all chorused their promises. The Prince seemed very relieved. Éowyn asked softly, "But, Uncle, how long will you wait? You've waited so long already. Should you not take up courting her in earnest now?"
Imrahil's response was equally soft. "This Dale business must be got through first, don't you think, Éowyn? There is not much point in pursuing the matter until it is over."
Because one or the other or both of them could end up dead, Brand realized with a sudden chill, remembering his nightmare. His uncle made a sudden movement, almost a flinch, and began twisting the Steward's ring on his finger. The Prince gave his nephew a gentle, oddly compassionate smile.
"It's all right, Faramir." The Steward nodded, and then Éowyn turned the talk to funnier matters, a method she'd developed for rating the most shrewish of the Gondorian ladies. Jerulas came in for a fair bit of negative scoring, as did other women Brand had no knowledge of. Amrothos actually kept score, jotting numbers on a scrap of parchment he had in his pouch. But Brand noticed that though his uncle chimed in easily enough, his eyes looked almost haunted. There is something else going on here. But he had no idea what it could be.
On the way home, Amrothos asked Brand how he had discerned what was wrong with Elboron. Brand explained about the scent of the onions and Amrothos chuckled.
"Deductive reasoning! You are so much like your father! He always claimed he had no love of book-learning, but nothing much got past him! He was smart, and shrewd as well."
"Yes," the Prince put in quietly. "Brand is much like his father. And this evening, I saw something that for a long time I never thought I would see, both of my nephews' sons together. That made it the best of nights-even with you tattling on me, 'Rothos!" Laughter rose towards the stars as they went into the townhouse.