Best Brew in Buckland, The
1. The Wager
"Master Steward!" someone called from across the courtyard. Faramir saw an elf approaching, eyes fixed on him. At last, a reprieve, he thought, and he seized the opportunity to excuse himself from the current social drudgery. "Your pardon, my lady," he said, and he left Nimloth's company to meet the merry elf walking toward him.
"Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion," Faramir said, folding his arm across his chest and bowing. This for some reason seemed to amuse the elf.
"Mae govannen, Faramir Denethorion, Steward of Gondor." Legolas bowed similarly, his lips turning up ever so slightly at the corners. "May I beg your company?" he asked. "Out of the Citadel?"
What could possibly require my attention at this late hour? Faramir wondered. And why should the elf be the one to bring me news of it? "Your pardon, Lord, but I do not understand why --"
"Why is for me to know and you to learn," Legolas replied. His voice carried the lilt that Faramir found slightly unnerving, the Elven air that seemed to hide their true feelings from plainspoken folk like the men of Gondor. Faramir did not like to be so blinded to what those around him thought and felt, and so he found himself annoyed at the elf -- and annoyed at himself for disliking him for no fault of his own.
"Yes, of course, Lord Legolas," Faramir said, careful to keep his voice cordial, "but the king's --"
"The king is now happily married and is much too occupied with his new wife's company to miss yours," Legolas said. "The rest of his court have enjoyed a surfeit 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."
"I -- "
"Lord Steward," 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 danced, but the steward perceived seriousness behind their mirth.
"I could summon assistance," Legolas said, raising an eyebrow as if he dared Faramir to contradict him.
Faramir laughed at that. "If you would convince one of my own guards to force me out of the Citadel, then it must be important indeed. Where are we going?"
"Where," Legolas replied, "is also for me to know and for you to learn." With that he led Faramir toward the gate.
The gate guard smiled at Faramir as the clearly pleased elf escorted the steward out of the Citadel. Faramir returned the smile. Yes, I walk with Elves. He had of course learnt of the legends from the Elder Days: first in the tales Mithrandir reluctantly told him to stop his pestering; later from the histories, recorded in ancient scrolls for the most part forsaken by Gondor's lore masters. He was no master of elf-lore, it was true. Yet he had always been strangely moved by tales of Elves and Elf-friends: Finrod and Beren, Beleg and Túrin, Turgon and Húrin. Who would have guessed those stories would now prove more useful than the lists of kings and stewards he had memorised as a child?
And after all the things you have seen these last weeks, does an evening walk with an elf still surprise you? For Gondor had survived the night and lived to see the morning. Some towers had endured, their long vigilance rewarded, while others fell. Isildur's heir had returned from the North, Eärnur's crown had left the Hallows, and Faramir hoped one day soon to replace the silver ring that now graced Éowyn's hand with one of gold. No, Faramir decided, after living to see such wonders, a walk with an elf is hardly noteworthy.
"You know, we are not so different, you and I."
Faramir stopped at the sound of the comely voice behind him and turned around. He saw Legolas a few paces back, running his finger through the soil of a window box.
"I become so absorbed in a simple plant that I fail to see you continuing on without me, and you, you are so bound in your thoughts you do not notice I have stopped. 'Tis a good thing we did not meet until after all was accomplished! I shudder to think what disaster we could have caused if we had met sooner."
"The life unexamined is not worth living," Faramir replied, feeling his face go red. "I often take moments such as these to consider the world around me and my place in it. I apologise for my... distraction." Always you walk alone, even when surrounded by those who would be your friends, he chastised himself. But even he should not ignore an Elf. And not just any Elf: one of the Walkers!
Legolas withdrew his hand from the soil and dusted his fingers against his leggings. He reached Faramir in a few long, graceful strides and draped an arm around the steward's shoulders. "Aye, that is true enough, and the last year has left us precious little time for such thought. I think it is better that you meditate on the deep questions in my presence than in some Orc's." Legolas began to walk down the street busy with merry-makers; Faramir had little choice but to match his step. "But for all that," Legolas continued, "I was not speaking of contemplation when I said we shared more than you realised. Aragorn has told me how you served in Ithilien. Do you miss the trees as well?"
Faramir looked at the tall stone buildings hemming the street on either side, shooting up almost into the clouds, and he sighed. Ithilien had been blood, sweat, danger, and loss at every turn. The orcs' filth despoiled the rivers, the forests, even the very soil. And yet, for all that, Ithilien was beautiful, and Faramir missed it. How lovely it would be now that it could flower, as it always should have...
"Yes," he admitted, his voice wistful. "I miss the trees."
They walked on in silence for a while. Legolas led him through the tunnel to the Fifth Circle and down a side street. "We are almost there," he assured Faramir.
The steward raised an eyebrow. "And where is 'there'?"
Legolas smiled cryptically. "Why, 'there' is 'here'." Removing his arm from Faramir's shoulders, Legolas opened a gate and held out his hand, beckoning the other to approach the house.
The door opened and Faramir was surprised to see Pippin. He had rarely encountered the Halfling, who served as his personal esquire, outside the Citadel. "Greetings, my lord," he said, "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!" someone hissed from inside the house. "Elessar!"
"Pardon me," Pippin said, cocking his head and giving 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 led them down the hallway.
"Strider?" Faramir whispered into Legolas's ear.
The elf shrugged. "I am not quite sure -- the hobbits have always called him by that name, and I never thought to ask them its origin. Your lord seems to acquire a different name in every land he visits."
Faramir nodded, frowning slightly. "That is no proper name for a king," he observed.
"If Aragorn wished you to call him by that name," Legolas said, "I am sure he would have told you it. As he did not, I suggest you forget it when you leave this house."
Faramir nodded but did not have time to consider the matter further. Legolas opened a door, and he and Faramir entered the parlour. Faramir almost immediately began coughing. He saw that a halfling sat by the fire, pipe in hand. This was not Pippin -- Pippin had learned not to smoke in Faramir's presence -- but instead his incorrigible cousin.
"Do you mind?" Faramir demanded, nodding at the pipe.
"Your pardon," Merry said calmly. He began to extinguish his pipe, though Faramir noted he seemed to be taking his time over it. He does nothing at which I can take offence, Faramir thought, and yet something about him seems to mock me. Faramir sat at the end of the couch, maintaining the stiff posture Gondorian nobility used when they met with those outside their family. Legolas eschewed such formality, pulling off his shoes and folding himself into a chair. Faramir realised this was not meant to be a ceremonious social event but a more relaxed gathering of friends. Which raises the question, 'Why am I here?' He immediately dismissed it. That was undoubtedly one of the many things for Legolas to know and Faramir to learn. The steward allowed himself to relax his posture and leaned back into the couch.
A crash was heard in an adjoining room, and Merry hastily finished putting out his pipe, then excused himself and hurried off to investigate.
"What was that?" Faramir asked. Legolas tilted his head to the side, clearly concentrating on the conversation in the next room, and Faramir fell silent.
"Fool of a Took," they heard Merry hiss in the other room. "Now you've gone and smeared custard all over the papers. Here, let me help you." A moment later Merry and Pippin returned, Merry carrying a tray of fruit and pastries in one hand and a small bottle of wine in the other. Pippin moved to pour the wine, but at a look from his cousin he sat down beside Faramir and waited to be served. After seeing that everyone had some food and wine, Merry joined him on the couch.
Faramir took a sip of his wine and held the glass out for inspection. He tried to keep his wonder from showing on his face. "Is this...?"
Legolas tasted his own wine. "Dorwinion. 2996, I believe?"
Merry nodded. "Only the best for the likes of us."
"That was a good year," Legolas replied. "Just how did you manage it?"
"How did you manage a bottle of Dorwinion at all?" Faramir asked. He turned to face Legolas. "Perhaps Dorwinion wine is more common further north, where you live," he said, "but here it is a rare treat indeed." He had his own ideas, of course, but wanted to hear what sort of tale the hobbits would produce to explain away their doubtless questionable actions.
Merry and Pippin smiled knowingly at each other. When it was clear neither of them would answer, 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 table. I believe that Pippin, honoured knight of the White Tower, is most likely responsible. Have you not been overseeing the tributes to the new king that have arrived these last few weeks?"
Pippin coughed, spraying most of a mouthful of wine. "I swear, we didn't nick it, if that's what you're suggesting," he laughed. "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 hide yourself in the crowds, and even you, Legolas, are not the only elf in the city. But Pippin and I are two of just four halflings. What's more, no one in this city had ever seen one before we arrived. Add to that the fact that I helped the lady Éowyn slay the witch-king and Pippin saved your Captain Beregond's life by killing a full-grown mountain troll more than ten times his height -- "
"Merry, you're exaggerating," Pippin said, blushing.
"I am not," Merry replied. "'Twas a deed worthy of song. And Elessar healed both of us. As a result, we have had hardly a moment's peace the entire day."
Faramir sipped his wine slowly, trying to make sense of the 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."
"And what of you?" Merry said. "You are no better than us, strutting around the Citadel in that mithril circlet of yours, making all the ladies nearly swoon. I think you would have a care for their health and put it away..."
Legolas raised an eyebrow at that, and Faramir thought back to his earlier conversation with Nimloth. She, like so many other ladies, asked the steward how well he knew the elf. But Legolas' face did not betray whether he enjoyed that attention more or less than the hobbits seemed to.
"Regardless of whether we enjoyed it or not," Pippin said, "such attention is tiring."
Faramir nodded. "I suppose so," he said. He chuckled gently to himself. "So, you were gifted this wine by the king. I am not entirely convinced, but I will accept that story." He smiled at the hobbits. "And now I have another question: why did you bring me here?"
"Well, that's simple enough," Merry replied. "You are too serious."
"I beg your pardon!" Faramir exclaimed. He could not believe the halflings would say such a thing -- or that they would mean it. We can not all carouse around the city day and night as you do, Master Meriadoc, and if it were your homeland near destroyed, I am certain you would work just as hard to repair it as I do.
"Oh, we don't mean it like that," Pippin clarified quickly. "But every time I walk by your office you are always so busy, and my cousin and I thought you could use a little...fun."
Faramir took another sip from his glass and relaxed again. The periannath were right: he did often work well into the night. Yet that did not mean he was overly serious. "My lords, if I do work too much -- which I do not entirely deny -- it is for good reason. The city has recently -- "
But Legolas held up his hand, silencing the steward. "Do not speak to me of responsibilities. I was killing spiders under Greenwood's eaves before the Stewards granted Calenardhon to your betrothed's people. I know something of what must be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. We have a saying in Greenwood: Toil beneath Anor so you may sing beneath Isil."
Faramir nodded. "I suppose I have been working too hard," he said at last, chuckling to himself. Raising his glass to his lips for another sip, he noticed that it was nearly empty. "Is there any more wine?" he asked.
Merry shook his head regretfully. "I'm afraid not. The king only gave us one bottle."
Faramir frowned and thought of sending a messenger for another bottle from his private stores in the Citadel. It would not be Dorwinion, 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."
The hobbits' eyes gleamed mischievously. Faramir was reminded of the impish looks Damrod and Mablung exchanged when they planned to issue new recruits with two right boots or play some similar prank on them. But the hobbits are such cheerful folk, he thought. Perhaps this is just their natural manner; they have no cause to trick me.
Faramir considered the offer his esquire appeared to have made. "Ale?" he responded. "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 the city."
"And you would know that how, exactly?" Faramir pressed. He had heard vague rumors of the hobbits' many trips to the city inns, how he always had a song to share and a smile for the soldier who needed it most. But Minas Tirith had many inns, each with several brews to sample. Even many of the merchants who had been frequenting the White City's inns for years would not make so brash a claim.
"Through careful trial and error," Legolas volunteered when the hobbits did not answer. "I believe they have dragged Gimli to every inn in your fair city. Not that Gimli complained overmuch. 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."
"Where is he tonight?" Faramir asked. Now that he considered the matter, it was strange to see Legolas without Gimli.
Legolas shrugged. "Most likely with Éomer. He and Gimli are fast becoming friends."
"This is good ale," Pippin said as he and Merry headed for the door. "Think of it as a cultural experience," he called over his shoulder.
"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 pewter mugs.
"I've an idea," Pippin said after Merry had distributed the first round and 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 several names. Let's say Merry and I were playing. I choose 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, I would take a gulp; if not, he would."
"That sounds fun," Merry agreed.
Pippin slowly nodded, adding, "But only if we do Aragorn. It is his wedding day, after all, and he did provide the wine."
"Aragorn will do nicely," Legolas said. "With as many names as he was, we could drink for hours."
Faramir looked his companions over. He did not like losing his control over himself, especially in front of others. And drinking games are crude -- the sort of revelry you would expect from the Anórien troops, not a Ranger, he thought proudly. But he would not be losing this contest. Those halflings could not possibly hold nearly as much drink as an elf or a man!
"What shall we drink for?" Legolas asked.
Faramir looked sharply at the elf. He knew how these games were normally played, even if he himself rarely engaged in them, but he had half hoped this custom was limited to Gondor.
"If you win," Merry volunteered, "my cousin and I will never smoke pipeweed in your presence again."
"I at least will accept that wager," Legolas said, eyeing Merry's pipe lying on the table.
Pippin looked over at his cousin sceptically but then nodded in agreement. "Aye, I can do that. But if we win, 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, grimacing. He did not relish the idea of the hobbits smoking wherever they pleased. He hated everything about the vile weed, from the ashes they let fall in the courtyards to the choking smell that hung around the hallways to the clouds of foul air they left behind for him to walk through. But how could they hope to defeat 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, if you please -- walked everywhere he went in the North Kingdom." Faramir took a pull of his ale, Pippin refilled his mug, and the game continued.
Several pints later Faramir found 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; but he no longer cared and that thought unnerved him. If he wished to reach his bed without damaging his good name he decided he must stop this contest.
"Mercy, my fine hobbits!" he said before they could embark on another round of names. "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, 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, "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 you again some other night. Come, now, let us hear the song."
"What shall we sing?" Merry asked.
"I think I might know just the song," Pippin answered, rising. "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,
Through midge-marsh 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 flagon,
But whate'er you drink, ye'll always think:
Still don't beat the Green Dragon!"
Faramir tapped his foot as Legolas sang a song of Doriath, and he laughed through Merry's tune about a pig that refused to be unstuck. After that he could not recall what happened, though he rather thought he remembered standing up himself at one point and loudly sharing a song his brother had taught him when they were both younger.
They finished several more rounds before Legolas helped Faramir off the floor. He had signed something, at Pippin's insistence, and not long after that someone had mentioned how late it was. Faramir did remember the cold air against his neck, how very uneven the winding streets seemed to have become, and how nice his velvet comforter felt against his cheek as he fell into a deep sleep when he finally reached his own chambers.
The next morning Faramir was woken not by his household staff, or by the bustle of the city outside, but by the late morning sun pouring through the window onto his face. The birdsong -- not the dawn chorus he was accustomed to hearing when he woke, he realised, but the usually quiet twittering heard throughout the day -- was exceptionally loud for some reason. He pulled the shutters closed, hoping to block out the noise, and massaged his temples with his fingertips.
Wrapping his dressing robe around his body, he stumbled out of the bedroom and wet a cloth in the cold water his maid left for him every morning. As he washed his face he began to remember the night before: the king's reception and the elf's insistence he leave; a glass of wine and a name explained. As Faramir progressed through his recollection of the evening his memories grew more vague, but he decided that was probably for the best.
More than anything he wished to rid himself of the foul taste that lingered in his mouth. He lifted the pitcher to his lips, took a deep sip, and spat it out into the basin. That was better, if only marginally so. But it would do for now; he doubted he would be able to stomach much breakfast but did not wish to explain why.
He finished dressing and made his way through the Steward's House until he reached the great entranceway. He opened the door, blinking owlishly and wincing at the bright light, and walked down the steps into the busy courtyard. Judging from the sun's height in the sky it was later than he had thought. He ignored the curious looks from the people in the courtyard and hurried toward the White Tower.
At last he reached the hall that housed the Office of the Steward. He had seldom been gladder to reach its quiet sanctity. As he approached his office he saw Pippin standing outside the door.
"Good morning, my lord," Pippin said, following Faramir into his office. "The Lord Húrin of the Keys came by not a half hour ago; I told him that you were not yet in but would be this afternoon."
"Very good," Faramir said.
"I've put some of the latest correspondence on your desk. Gelmir is still processing the rest," Pippin added, nodding toward the stack of papers on an otherwise cleared desk."
"Thank you," Faramir replied. "You may tell Lord Húrin that I have arrived and am available should he need to confer with me."
Pippin bowed and started toward the door.
"But first --" Faramir began, and Pippin turned to face him. Faramir let his lips curl into a small smile. "A mug of coffee, if you please. Strong coffee."
The hobbit nodded. Whether he had suppressed a smile or not Faramir could not guess, but the steward did notice his esquire's eyes twinkled. "Immediately, my lord," Pippin said, and he exited the office, closing the door behind him.
Faramir turned his attention to the stack of papers on his desk. Requests to see the king; letters of congratulations on the wedding; lists of supplies needed by the various guard patrols. All these could be handled even in his current state; he wondered if perhaps Pippin had purposefully selected the most routine tasks and was holding those that might require more careful thought until later.
About half way through the stack he came to a decree stained with custard and bearing his signature, though he could not remember signing it. As he read it he slumped down in his chair, resting his head against his hand. Now you've gone and smeared custard all over the papers, they had said. He cursed his own stupidity and sighed heavily. But, to his own amazement, he also laughed, both at the absurdity of the situation and at a people that would go to such lengths to get him drunk so they could make such a simple request. The document read:
"The Steward to all the subjects of the King, greeting.
"Know that I have granted and by this present charter of Mine have confirmed to Meriadoc Brandybuck son of Saradoc of the Buckland and to Peregrin Took son of Paladin of the Shire, the privilege to smoke any plant they shall see fit to consume in the presence of any citizen of the King. Said privilege is granted and guaranteed by the authority of Faramir, Steward of Gondor, and his heirs and successors, to continue so long as the line of the King shall endure, and to be extended to any periannath who honour the aforementioned city with their presence as long as they live freely and quietly, honourably and fully, so that no person thereon shall presume to offer them any hurt or hindrance. Any citizen of the realm who should venture to hinder this privilege shall be answerable to his Lord Steward Faramir or such party as the steward shall appoint to act on his behalf, and his heirs and successors.
"granted by the hand of Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, Our Steward of Gondor at Minas Tirith, 1 July in the first year of the reign of Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor."
Telcontar: they who walk. Mithrandir had told him the story of how, after Elessar had healed the Steward and the White Lady, he had announced to the healers that his house would bear that name, in memory of long years of striding through Rohan, Gondor, and the wilds of Eriador.
Strider! And to think his current headache was at least in part due to his curiosity to understand that strange name he should have guessed all along. His eye rested on the blank line above the seal on the right, awaiting the king's signature, and his nausea sprang up anew.
A knock came at the door. "Come in!" Faramir called, and Pippin entered with the mug of coffee. Pippin set it on the desk, bowed, and turned toward the door, but Faramir stopped him. "Sir Peregrin, I believe some sort of a mistake has been made." He held up the decree he had just read.
Pippin came around to the side of the steward's desk and took the paper. After reading it he looked up nervously at Faramir. "My lord..." he began, but his voice trailed off.
Faramir waved his hand, dismissing Pippin's objections. "This order was clearly placed in the wrong stack this morning," he said, giving Pippin's hand a reassuring squeeze. "It has already been signed. See that Gelmir files it properly." The hobbits may have bested me this time, Faramir thought, but that will never happen again.
Pippin nodded, grinning widely, and left the room.
* "The life unexamined is not worth living."--> This is a slightly altered quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self-reliance."
* Anar and Isil--> The sun and the moon.
* galenas--> name for pipeweed in RotK:"The Houses of Healing
* periannath--> Gondorian term for the hobbits; sing., perian
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.