Best Brew in Buckland, The
8. The Drunken Dragon Pt 3
"I'm so sorry," Merry began, but Erchirion shook his head, scowling.
"Do not trouble yourself," he said, handing a cloth to the drenched hobbit. "'Twas pure accident, I am sure." He poured Merry a new drink and nodded for the two hobbits to sit back down.
The others busied themselves mopping up ale and picking up the broken mug. The innkeeper came back with a pitcher of ale, a new mug, and some more cloths, then ran off again with the used ones and the broken pieces of crockery. Soon the room was once more ringing with song, this time an ode to Helm Hammerhand from a group of Rohirrim near the door. As the horse-lords finished their song, Merry gently clinked Elphir's mug and asked, "Have you a song?"
Elphir nodded and rose. "Aye, I have just the one."
Faramir leaned over toward Merry. "Why did you do that?" he asked.
"Do what?" Merry replied, furrowing his brow in confusion.
"Ask Elphir. You should have asked Erchirion."
"I had just doused him in ale," Merry said. "This hardly seemed the fitting moment to ask him to sing."
Faramir shook his head. "Trust me, Erchirion would much prefer to sing himself than suffer his brother's voice."
"Oh, I'm sure it's not --"
"Yes, it is," Faramir answered him. "Erchirion and I were gifted with fine voices. Elphir's leaves no doubt he is a child of the sea -- he squawks like a gull!"
Merry tried to find words but fell silent as Elphir proved Faramir right.
"To brave Ulmo in Aman, we sent abroad our plea:
To leave his fine homeland and dwell near our fair shore."
Erchirion quickly jumped up and joined his brother in song, toasting the air to the rhythm of others' mugs clanging on tabletops as he tried his best to out-sing his brother.
"And if he dared journey to the land 'cross the Sea
We would hold him in honour, we'd serve him forevermore.
For this land's pointed stones tore at skin and cracked bone;
Each ship whose bow broke left our young wives alone.
He'd keep us from danger, watching o'er ocean and stream,
And beneath mighty Manwë, we'd hold him supreme."
It was a well-known drinking song, and soon all those from the southern parts of Gondor were singing along, none louder than Elphir, Erchirion, and Faramir. Before they had even begun the second verse Faramir was standing at Elphir's side, drink in hand, singing as loudly as he could.
"But Ulmo was abroad, and he heard not our call,
So Manwë, he gathered all Maiar who would hear.
Yet none would journey far, keep Men from their thrall,
Save the lord and his lady who feared not that wild frontier.
Uinen and Ossë journeyed into the fray
Through cold water deep to that far-away bay
Where they greeted the sailors 'neath Anar's summertime gleam,
And beneath mighty Manwë, they held them supreme."
The innkeepers' wife came into the common room from the kitchen to see what all the noise was about and leaned back against a wall to enjoy the song. Faramir's fair voice rang out above all the others -- no mean feat -- as the room burst into the third verse:
"Now the storms, they would leave, and the sailors would thrive,
For the will of these strangers would keep all of them safe.
But they guessed not this strength new from Aman arrived,
But to Ossë, a fierce storm is the finest of play.
'Uinen,' they implored, 'keep a rein on your lord,
For your temper is mild, yet his would wreck our shores.'
And e'er since then, fair Uinen, she has e'er been our queen;
We hold her, o'er Ossë, 'neath Manwë supreme."
Faramir and his cousins sank down onto the bench, happy to let the other men in the room carry on singing. Occasionally Faramir and Pippin would join the soldiers in a chorus, but for the most part even they were silent, much more interested in drinking than in providing the entertainment. Faramir found his mug always full; who topped it up he could not say, nor could he work out how many pints he must have drunk. At long last he shook his head, trying to clear it. The singing, always boisterous, now seemed an assault on his ears.
"My lords, I need some air," he said.
He left the table, walking unsteadily toward the front door. Halfway across the room he laid a hand on a table to catch his balance.
Pippin, watching with a frown on his face, stood up. "I should go help him," he told his friends before running to Faramir's side. He helped Faramir to the door and into the relatively quiet alley beyond.
Faramir stepped outside and pulled his hair away from his neck, allowing the night breeze to refresh his damp skin. The wind, slightly chilly but not yet unpleasantly cold, carried the scent of cheap ale and rotting vegetables. Faramir breathed in the air and gagged slightly at the smell. He shook his head, trying to clear the fog that currently obscured his thoughts. When that failed, he grunted in exasperation and kicked at the night air.
Or what he thought was simply night air. Much to his surprise his foot found fur and bone, and he heard a plaintive mew begin, then stop abruptly as the cat landed on a pile of rubbish ten feet hence. Faramir sank down onto the step behind him, a dazed look on his face.
Pippin ran over to the cat and, seeing that it was uninjured but wary of its opponent's small friend, returned to Faramir. Faramir now sat on the step, resting his head wearily in the palms of his hands. "My lord... ?" he began, brushing Faramir's hair away from his face. He took one look at the steward's features, recognised the queasy expression, and grabbed Faramir's shoulders, forcing him toward the hedge beside the door. Faramir rose to his knees unsteadily and braced himself against Pippin's shoulder. Pippin held his lord's hair out of the way as Faramir's gut purged itself of much of his efforts that evening.
Pippin eased Faramir back onto the step and the steward leaned against the wall of the inn, his face flushed. "Stay here," Pippin ordered, and he went inside. A moment later he returned with a pitcher and a linen cloth.
Faramir eyed the pitcher sceptically but Pippin silenced him. "This is not for drinking, though it would do you well to drink some alongside your ale." Pippin sat the pitcher down, dampened the cloth, and began bathing Faramir's face with cool water.
Faramir sat there in silence for some time. At last he sighed and reached his hand out for the cloth. "Nay," Pippin said, moving to stand behind Faramir. He lifted the raven locks and wiped the back of Faramir's neck.
"You are a jewel among diamonds," Faramir slurred, reaching around to pat Pippin on the shoulder.
Pippin tried to decipher Faramir's words. "You mean a diamond among jewels? Perhaps," he replied. "But, in your current condition, you would name the same way any soldier who took care of you." He shrugged Faramir's hand off. "Sit still, my lord." When Faramir continued to shift from side to side, Pippin sighed in exasperation. "If you cannot keep still, then busy yourself by removing your overtunic."
Faramir hesitated for a second, turning his head and looking quizzically at the halfling.
"And keep your head still so I may better bathe it."
"Aye, my ernil i periannath," Faramir answered, attempting to remove his tunic. He had pulled one arm out but caught the second at the elbow. He tried to free his arm but only succeeded in twisting the tunic around his neck.
"Hardly," Pippin said. He helped Faramir untangle himself, then began folding the tunic.
"A good friend, then," Faramir said.
Pippin did not answer but focused his attention on the task at hand. 'Tis well I sit so tall, Faramir thought, for the perian is in poor condition to lean over. Faramir did not notice how controlled Pippin's hands were, nor that he was far steadier on his feet than Faramir just then. The steward fought the urge to slump back and lean against the wall.
A cool breeze continued to blow down the alley, caressing Faramir's now-exposed forearms, and he relaxed. The halfling had been right. "How did you know that would help?" he asked. "You said you were but a child."
Pippin chuckled at that. "Nay, I am a tween." He let Faramir's hair fall and sat down beside him on the step. He dipped his cloth in the pitcher and took Faramir's hand in his lap to wash it.
"Ah," Faramir said. Pippin had corrected him on this point before, but it was easy to forget. Gondor had no similar period between adolescence and manhood. When Pippin said no more, Faramir asked, "Pippin?"
The halfling looked up at him, smiling wearily. "I was a tween when I left the Shire," he said at last, "and when I return I shall be a tween for a few years yet, or shall try to be one for my family's sake."
Faramir placed his free hand atop Pippin's and smiled foolishly, giving the hand a squeeze. "But?" he asked.
"War matures the greenest of us, doesn't it?" Pippin replied pointedly, breathing in sharply to calm himself. "And I am scarce younger than those boys the orcs saw fit to slaughter on the Pelennor."
Pippin began washing Faramir's hand again, but Faramir stilled him, placing an awkward hand on his esquire's wrist. It was small -- so small! -- had it always been this small? He stared pityingly at the soldier sitting beside him and let the night breeze blow away some of the fog that had befuddled his thoughts. "You obviously have learned to drink well since the War ended," Faramir said at last. "I see my father gave you much to forget."
"Forget?" Pippin asked. He looked up at Faramir, his eyes shining with interest. "Why do you say 'forget'? Nay, my lord Denethor gave me much to remember." He grinned. "And if Merry and I have been overzealous in our toasting, it is only because we had such worthy lords."
"Worthy," Faramir repeated, nearly spitting the words out as he stared across the alley.
"The Eye seemed to believe so," Pippin replied. "And Gandalf said, deceive as he might, Sauron could not use the palantír to lie to your father."
Faramir considered that. This halfling spoke the truth. Sauron was no safe source of news, but the palantíri always showed the truth. That much at least ancient lore testified.
"Faramir?" Pippin asked, searching the steward's face.
Faramir looked at him with a blank expression. He took the cloth from Pippin's hand and dabbed at his eyes. When had they become so misty? It must be the ale. At last he returned the cloth, shaking his head solemnly. "Aye," he said, "you served a worthy lord."
Pippin reached up and laid his hand on Faramir's shoulder. "I still do."
"Indeed," Faramir agreed, "Elessar is a breathing image of the kings of old --"
"No!" Pippin exclaimed. "I meant you."
Faramir laughed derisively, his eyes drifting to the shrub. "I would hope," he replied, "that such a worthy lord could hold his ale."
"Do you consider your new brother worthy?" Pippin asked.
"Of course!" Faramir replied. "He is valiant, and honourable, and -- and, if you would hear the truth, my new brother reminds me of my old."
"Then this evening does not prove you unworthy," Pippin remarked, "for Éomer did little better the night he first became well-oiled."
Faramir cocked an eyebrow at that. "Oh?"
"Indeed," Pippin replied, struggling to suppress a grin.
"And how came you by this knowledge, Master Peregrin?"
"That wonderful rascal Merry told me not a fortnight ago," Pippin replied, "near the end of an evening much like this; he heard the tale from your equally wonderful beloved." When Faramir made no further comment, Pippin continued, "'Twas eleven summers ago, when Théodred was named second marshal. Éomer had just turned seventeen and wanted his cousin to think him a man. He downed one too many steins and sought some cool air to clear his head, just as you. Unfortunately for him he did not have with him a friend as good as you have."
"Aye," Faramir interrupted, misinterpreting Pippin taking a breath as a pause in the story. He laid a clumsy arm around Pippin's shoulders, squeezing them.
Pippin shot him a look clearly saying "Shall I finish this story or shan't I?" Faramir hastily removed his arm and apologised, "I am sorry, go on."
"As I was saying," Pippin continued pointedly, "Éomer left Meduseld to escape the noise of the celebrations and soon found himself outside Edoras. He wandered from field to field for a while. Eventually he must have fumbled one of the gate latches, and the gate swung open. A horse followed him, a stallion. It fought with another. It was bitten on the back and could not be ridden for a week."
Faramir looked slightly confused at that. "Aye, that is embarrassing -- but still, what of it? Surely Rohan has no shortage of horses." He reached for the pitcher of water and raised it to his lips.
Pippin frowned. "I don't think this was just any horse. It belonged to -- who did Merry say? Gathlúf?"
Faramir coughed, spewing water in the street in front of him. "Guthláf, perhaps?"
"Yes, that sounds right," Pippin replied.
Pippin shrugged. "I suppose so. It was a young stallion, a gift from the Rider's wife."
Faramir simply stared at the halfling. Then he smiled and chuckled, the laugh finally growing to a raucous level.
"Your future brother-in-law had to clean the royal stables for a month, the horse's mistress saw to that."
"I suppose my overindulgence is not so bad, then." Faramir paused. "But why are you telling me this? Wouldn't Merry prefer you didn't?"
"I suppose so," Pippin said, "but I make my own choices, and you needed the story."
"You are a noble knight," Faramir replied, clapping Pippin on the back. "You would have made a fine man."
Pippin rested his hand on Faramir's knee. "I will be happy to be called a good halfling."
Faramir smiled at that, though the tears threatened to spill out of his eyes. "Aye, we should all aim so high." He sighed, drinking in the night air and washing it down with another gulp of water. "What did I ever do for you, what you should so befriend me?"
"You saved my cousin's life," Pippin replied plainly.
"I saved Gondor."
Pippin chuckled. "Aye, that too, but you also spared Frodo. Yet that is not why I am here, on this draughty step with you."
"And why is that?"
"To help you," Pippin replied in a conspiratorial tone.
"As you have," Faramir replied, "and for that I thank you --"
"Oh, I mean to do more than tell you stories and hold your hair while you're sick. I wish to help you out-drink my cousin."
Faramir raised an eyebrow at that. "How did you know I wanted to outdrink you and Merry?" he asked.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Pippin replied. "Gimli complained about how Merry could speak of nothing but how we outdrank you. The very next night you are escorted to an inn by him and your future brother-in-law, one of the few people in the city who could force you to come."
Faramir stood up, still a bit unsteady though much better than he had been when he first came out. He stepped out into the alley and turned to face Pippin. "Indeed. You will excuse me, Master Perian, but I am not nearly far enough in my cups to believe you followed me out here to conspire against your kinsman."
Pippin just looked innocently at the man standing in front of him. "He is my cousin, and I love him. But he is far from perfect. And you are not his lord. He does not see you as I do. For him, this is all a game, a bit of fun before we return home. For you, though, there will be no returning, and what you do this evening might haunt you twenty years hence."
Faramir considered those words, then remarked, "That did not stop you on Mid-summer."
"Mid-summer was private," Pippin replied. "This is in front of your men." He paused. "And I have promised Gondor my fealty. That means protecting her steward from harm, be it by an orc's blade or a slanderer's tongue." He grinned slyly. "I owe Buckland no such service."
Suddenly the night's quiet was broken by the sound of metal clanging against stone behind the inn. The cat, startled from the pile of rubbish where it was sitting, sped through Faramir's legs, knocking him off-balance. Pippin lunged forward and caught Faramir before he hit the ground face first, but the steward still fell to his knees.
Faramir looked at Pippin who, convinced Faramir was secure, was trying to extricate his arms from around his lord's chest. Are these the deeds of a traitor? Faramir asked himself. One who would put blood above oath? Nay, both his words and his actions prove his heart honest. And he has proved a more reliable friend than dwarf or horse-lord, who would drink without me when I could no longer match them.
"I believe it is your turn to purchase a round?" Faramir asked aloud, and Pippin nodded. "Then," Faramir continued, "I have just the drink. Now can we please find a chamberpot? I feel the need of one like never before."
* Elphir's song "To Ulmo, in Aman" is based in form on "To Anacreon, in Heaven," the drinking song that in turn was adapted into the American national anthem.
* Thanks to the many equestrians at HA and especially to Sulriel and Nessime for their help with Pippin's story.
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.