Wine Is Fine, but Ale Works As Well
1. Chap 1
Faramir looked up and saw the elf Legolas crossing the Pavillion of the White Tree, eyes fixed on him. "Your pardon, ladies," he said, and he left their company to meet the imposing elf walking toward him. These ladies of the court talked endlessly about topics the steward had no interest in or knowledge of, who was promised to whom and when the wedding would be, when such-and-such a lady was expected to give birth, and so on. Legolas at least was likely to provide more interesting conversation.
"Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduillion," Faramir said, crossing his chest and bowing. This for some reason seemed to amuse the elf.
"Mae govannen, Faramir Denethorion, Steward of Gondor." He bowed similarly. "May I borrow your company for a while? Out of the Citadel?"
"Out of the Citadel?" Faramir repeated. "But why --"
"Why is for me to know and you to learn."
"Yes, of course, Lord Legolas, but the king's --"
"The king is happily married and is much too occupied with his new wife's company to miss yours," Legolas answered. "The rest of his court have enjoyed a bit too much of the royal wine and soon will not miss your company, either. You, though, I notice have failed to enjoy the king's wine as much as they."
"Master Faramir," Legolas laughed, "I will not accept 'no' as an answer."
Faramir looked at him, trying to judge if this was some joke or if the elf was in earnest. Legolas' eyes still danced, but Faramir could see a seriousness behind their mirth. The elf's eyes settled on one of the guards standing close by as if threatening to call the guard over, and Faramir threw his hands into the air. "All right," he said. "Where are we going?"
"Where," Legolas replied, laughing, "is also for me to know and you to learn." And with that he led Faramir toward the gate.
The fire in the great hearth was built to a roaring blaze, and several faggots lay not far away, ready to keep the fire burning far into the night if necessary. The oil lamps along the walls burned brightly, and the cushions on the couch were fluffed. Four crystal wine glasses sat on a low table, and a bottle of Dorwinion wine chilled in a bucket of ice sitting nearby on the floor. Merry reclined in a chair, puffing at his pipe, while Pippin prodded the fire.
"They're coming," Merry said as he heard the footsteps and muffled voices coming down the street.
"Put that pipe out," Pippin said. "You know Faramir cannot tolerate the smell." He hurried down the hall to welcome their guests.
"Greetings, my lords," Pippin said, opening the door and bowing, "and welcome to the house of Halimar, master craftsman of Minas Tirith. As Halimar is yet to return from the mountain refuges, my lord the king Strider has --"
"Pippin!" Merry hissed from the other room. "Elessar!"
"Pardon me," Pippin said, inclining his head and giving the elf and man a mischievous grin. "My lord the king Elessar has graciously granted us the use of this house. Now, if you will just follow me." He walked down the hallway and returned to the parlour.
Faramir followed Pippin and Legolas down the corridor. "Strider?" he asked.
To this Legolas merely shrugged. "The hobbits met Elessar in Eriador," he said at last. "Perhaps he was called by that name there?"
"It is no name for a king," Faramir replied, frowning slightly.
"Which is undoubtedly why you never heard the name before," Legolas replied merrily. "I would forget it when you leave these doors."
Faramir nodded but did not have time to consider the matter further. Legolas opened the door at the end of the parlour, and he and Faramir walked in. Faramir almost immediately began coughing "Do you mind?" he asked, nodding to the pipe Merry held in his hand.
"Your pardon," Merry said as he leisurely extinguished his pipe. He nodded toward the couch, and Faramir and Legolas sat down. A crash was heard in adjoining room, and Merry hastily finished putting out his pipe, then excused himself and hurried off to investigate.
"What was that?" Faramir asked, but Legolas silenced him.
"Fool of a Took," they heard Merry hiss in the other room. "Now you've gone and gotten creme all over the papers. Here, let me help you." A moment later Merry and Pippin returned, Merry carrying a tray of fruit and pastries. Pippin moved to pour the wine but at a look from Merry sat down instead and waited to be served. Merry set the tray on the table, filled the wine glasses, and sat down himself.
Faramir took a sip, then held the glass out for inspection. "Is this ... ?"
Merry nodded. "Only the best for the likes of us, Faramir. Dorwinion. 2996, a very good year as I've been told."
"But how did you manage it?" Faramir asked, trying to suppress the astonished look that threatened to surface.
Merry and Pippin merely smiled knowingly at each other. At last Legolas said, "Periannath are remarkably adept at finding food and drink, no matter the circumstances. Were they in the third month of a siege they could put together a five-course meal fit for a captain's council. I believe that Pippin, honoured knight of the White Tower, is most likely responsible. Have not you and Beregond been overseeing the tributes to the new king that have been arriving these last few weeks?"
Pippin coughed, no small amount of wine spraying from his mouth. "I swear, we didn't knick it, if that's what you are suggesting," he replied, laughing. "The king himself suggested that Merry and I might be tired of the crowds after the wedding festivities all day, and he gave us this bottle to enjoy between ourselves."
Merry nodded. "Not that we haven't earned it! Faramir, you can easily blend into the crowds, and even you, Legolas, are not the only elf in the city. But Pippin and myself are two of only four halflings, and what's more, no one in this city had seen one before we arrived. Add to that that I helped the lady Éowyn slay the witch-king and Pippin killed a mountain troll by himself, and that both of us were healed by Gandalf and by Elessar himself -- we have not had a moment's peace the whole day."
Faramir sipped his wine slowly, trying to dissect this scene playing out before him. Legolas was not so reserved. "You knaves!" he exclaimed, laughing. "You loved every moment of it, you know you did."
Pippin gave him an impish grin. "Aye, but that doesn't mean we're not tired from all the attention."
Faramir finally laughed at that. "I suppose so," he said. "So, you were gifted this wine by the king. I am not entirely convinced, but I will accept that for the time being. Now I have another question: why did you bring me here?"
"Well, that's simple enough, Faramir," Merry replied. "You are too serious."
"I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed, the mirth fleeing from his face.
"Oh, we don't mean it like that," Pippin clarified quickly. "But every time I walk by your office you always are so busy, and my cousin and I thought you might could use a little ... fun."
Faramir took another sip from his glass and relaxed. The periannath were right, he did often work well into the night, but that did not mean he was overly serious. "My lords, if I do work too much -- which I do not entirely deny -- then it is for good reason. The city has recently --"
But Legolas held up his right hand, silencing the steward. "Faramir, do not speak to me of responsibilities. I was killing spiders under Greenwood's eaves before the last of the old kings of Gondor rode away. I know something of what must be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. But we have a saying in Greenwood: 'Toil beneath Anar so you may sing beneath Isil.'"
Faramir nodded, raising his glass to take another sip. He was surprised to find it empty. Had he really drunk that much? That would explain why his thoughts were slightly fuzzy. My, but the wine was good! "I suppose I have been working too hard," he said at last, chuckling to himself. "Is there any more wine?"
Merry shook his head. "I'm afraid not. The king would only give us the one bottle." Faramir looked slightly disappointed at this and thought of sending a messenger for another bottle from his private stores in the Seventh Circle. It would not be Dorwinion wine, but worse was better than naught, he supposed ...
"Merry, you stingy hobbit!" Pippin laughed. "You would put Otho and Lobelia to shame, holding back your ale from the steward of Gondor."
"Ale?" Faramir asked. "No thank you. I much prefer the wine. I do not mind sending for another bottle --"
"Nonsense," Merry replied. "I'm sorry we didn't offer earlier -- due to my not thinking of it, not stinginess as my cousin suggests -- but you really should try this ale. It's the best in Minas Tirith."
"And you would know that how, exactly?" Faramir pressed.
"Through careful trial and error," Legolas answered for the hobbits. "I believe they have dragged Gimli to every inn in your fair city, not that Gimli complained too much. These two insisted that, more than anything else, they missed the Green Dragon, and so they have searched from the Citadel to the Pelennor for the brew that comes closest."
Pippin headed toward the kitchen. "Think of it as a cultural experience," he called over his shoulder. "Come on, Merry."
Legolas and Faramir looked at each other, not speaking. "No, you don't, Pip," they heard from the other room. "I'll carry the ale." A moment later the hobbits returned, Merry carrying a large pitcher and Pippin, four large pewter mugs.
"I've an idea," Pippin said after he and Merry had distributed the first round and had settled back into their seats. "Beregond told me about a drinking game not too long ago, and I'd like to try it. We pick someone -- a king or the like, someone with lots of names. Let's say Merry and I were playing. I pick one of the king's names and Merry would have to say where he got the name, and what it means. If Merry got it right, he takes a sip. If not, then I take one."
"That sounds like fun," Merry agreed. Faramir considered for a moment, trying to organise his thoughts. Legolas slowly nodded, then added, "But only if we do Aragorn. It is his wedding day, after all, and he did provide the wine."
Faramir looked over his companions. He did not like losing his control over himself, especially in front of others, and he thought drinking games base and crude. Yet he would not be losing this contest, he knew. Surely the halflings could not hold nearly as much alcohol as an elf or a man; they would surely become inebriated first. "What shall we drink for, he asked?"
"If you win," Merry volunteered, "my cousin and I will never smoke pipeweed in your presence again."
"I will accept that wager," Legolas said, eying Merry's pipe laying on the table.
Pippin looked over at his cousin skeptically but then nodded his head in agreement. "Aye, I can do that. But if we win, then you must never complain about our smoking again." Legolas looked slightly offended. "Yes, you as well," Pippin laughed. "You are almost as bad as Faramir for telling us to put out our pipes or just coughing loudly around us."
Legolas smiled. "A fair enough observation. If you win, you may blow your horrid smoke in my face and I shall not complain. But you shall not win."
Faramir sat in silence, grimmacing. He hated everything about the vile weed, from the ashes the hobbits occasionally let fall in the courtyards to the choking smell to the clouds they left behind and left him to walk through. He did not relish the idea of them smoking wherever they pleased, but he was sure that they at least could not outdrink him. "All right," he said at last. "But I ask the first question. Pippin, explain 'Strider.'"
"Oh, that's easy," Pippin answered, "it's a name given to the King by Barliman Butterbur, an innkeeper in Bree, and comes from the fact that Strider -- Elessar, as you please -- walked everywhere he went in the North Kingdom." Pippin took a large gulp, nearly draining his pint, then refilled it, and the game continued. Several pints later Faramir realised that periannath, or at least these periannath, could consume amazing quantities of ale with seemingly no ill effects. He realised he had been wrong in several of his assumptions that evening; he also realised that he no longer cared.
"Mercy, my fine hobbits! You and the elf may come and go as you please, but I am the steward of Gondor, and I must work tomorrow with the people who see me stumbling the streets tonight!"
"Mercy, he says?" Pippin asked, grinning widely. "Very well, my lord, enough of this game. What shall we do now?"
"We could teach him a song or two," Merry suggested.
"I really doubt," Faramir answered, ever so slurred, "that I am in any condition for that. I would never remember it come tomorrow..." He trailed off.
"All the better," Legolas said, "for then we will have to teach them to you again some other night. Come, now, let us hear the song."
"What shall we sing?" Merry asked.
"I think I might know a song or two," Pippin answered. "How's this?"
"Sing ho! for the inn down the row
Where folk both big and small must go
To quench their thirst at the end of day
After milking cows and cutting hay."
Half a moment later Merry was standing by his side.
"You can journey far and wide,
Over plain and under mountain,
You can see fair Rohan's Golden Hall,
And stand by the White Fountain.
"You can taste of Rohan's mead,
You can drink it by the flaggon,
But where e'er you drink, ye'll always think:
Still don't beat the Green Dragon!"
Faramir was tapping his foot as Legolas sang a song of the elf-maiden Lúthien, then laughed through Pippin's next tune about a pig that refused to be unstuck. After that he could not remember what happened, though he thought he remembered at one point standing up himself and loudly sharing a song his brother had taught him when they were both younger.
Many pints were consumed -- again, Faramir could not recall how many -- before at last Legolas helped pick him up off the floor. He had signed something then at Pippin's insistence, and not long after someone had said something about it being quite late. Faramir remembered the cold air against his neck and how very uneven the streets had become, and how nice his velvet comforter felt against his cheek as he fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning Faramir was woken not by his housekeeper or the bustle of the city outside but by the sun pouring through the window onto his face. The birds' song was exceptionally loud for some reason. He wished they would stop, they were hurting his aching head, and more to get away from their song than anything else he stumbled into the washroom and started to get ready for that day's work. An hour later he was at his desk, a mug of strong coffee in hand, trying desperately to focus his eyes on the stack of papers in front of him. Half way through his third mug they began to make sense.
Requests to see the king; letters of congratulations on the wedding; lists of supplies needed by the various guards. All these could be handled, even in his current state. Then about half way through the stack he came to a decree bearing his signature, though he could not remember signing it. As he read it he slumped down in his chair, resting his throbbing head against his hand, then started laughing. He read it out loud to make sure he was not deceiving himself:
"It is hereby decreed that a private store of the plant galenas in excess of that which is deemed sufficient to supply five individuals for two weeks shall be kept in ready and reserved for the use of any such periannath as may visit Minas Tirith, as long as any such perian remains in the service of the king."
Then he set the decree down. Never try to outdrink a hobbit, he told himself. It was obvious he still had much to learn about being steward.
* Anar and Isil --> the sun and the moon
* galenas --> name for pipeweed given in RotK: "The Houses of Healing"
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.