Steward's Sons, The
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Summer Nights: 1. Part One
Faramir held his book out at arm's length, clenched his hands around it, and thought about throwing it out to sea as well. No, that would never do; the useless thing is too valuable. He heaved an exasperated sigh. What am I doing here? he asked himself, wiping the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand. It will be another week ere Boromir is released by his captain -- and Elphir is scarce old enough to make mischief.
Dol Amroth had seemed such a good idea back in Minas Tirith, but anywhere but Minas Tirith had seemed like a good idea. The white marble reflected the sun's harsh rays until the entire city baked and you could not find an inch of shade, be you beggar's son or steward's. Dol Amroth at least had other colours of stone -- red, grey, and, yes, some white -- so it did not reflect the heat quite so badly. Small mercy, Faramir thought.
Every morning, to gain some relief, Faramir had taken a book, a loaf of bread, and a flask of water and walked through the woods outside the city. There at least the branches blocked out the sun above, even if the air was unbearably muggy. It had served him well so far.
That afternoon, though, the mosquitoes had arrived.
Faramir lasted an hour, swatting away the pests and trying to concentrate on the verb conjugations he had set himself to review that afternoon. "Linen, linnech, linnant, linnem…" he recited to himself, shoving his fingers in his ears to block out the mocking sound of the crashing waves. Oh domain of Ossë, you are supposed to bring cool breezes. So -- why -- don't -- you!? He looked down at the book, realising he had lost his place. "Linen, linnech …" He gave up. He slammed the book shut, flattened his long-empty water flask under his arm, and began the walk back to the city.
At last Faramir reached the city gates. The bugs had not followed him -- some small fortune at last -- but here the heat was worse than ever, impossible though that seemed. Faramir wandered for some time, searching for a spot of shade without success. The heat kept him from staying in one place overlong. He walked up one street and down another, idly letting his mind wander. The green lawns are lovely, he thought to himself. Wouldn't they make Minas Tirith look fine? He roamed through the seven circles in his mind, adding flower gardens and small lawns, shoving centuries-old buildings aside to make room. There, that's better, he thought with satisfaction, looking around to see where he was.
He realised he was lost.
Curse it all, he thought angrily, you have been coming here nigh seventeen summers and can you still not find your way home? He calmed down and took a good look around. The road was lined with bushes, and on either side stood a row of houses and inns made from the finest stone, each several stories tall. Faramir craned his neck, trying to find a familiar landmark, but with no success. Well, there's nothing for it, he chastised himself, you'll just have to go back the way you came.
And which way is that? the other part of his brain answered. Faramir looked around and realised he had no idea how he had got here. He could easily get himself lost worse than he was, and that wouldn't do at all.
His eyes rested on the neatly carved ash sign hanging in front of the nearest grey stone building. The Silver Fox. Now, that looked promising. It was an inn, so he would not have to disturb some goodwife's dinner table, and what he could see of the inside through the small window -- some tables with proper settings and suitably fancy chairs -- seemed pleasant enough. I'll just step inside, ask directions, and be on my way.
Faramir placed his hand against the door -- and then paused in surprise. Berúthiel's cats, that's cold. If the door is that cold, that means… He quickly pushed the door open and stepped inside.
"May I help you, my lord?" Faramir looked up and saw a middle-aged woman approaching. She wore a crimson, high-collared dress and had her hair in a tight bun. A bit austere, but not unfriendly, Faramir decided.
"Good afternoon," Faramir said, bowing slightly and looking around. "How is it so cool in here?"
"Elvish magic," the matron replied, a twinkle in her eyes. "What would you prefer?" She waited a second, looking at him expectantly, but when he did not answer she added, "A table perhaps?"
"Yes, that sounds nice," Faramir heard himself reply. Now that I think about it, he thought to himself, I'm already here; I might as well eat dinner. It is, after all, my silver. He knew his cousins would miss him when he did not join them for dinner, but managed to push the thought aside. I am no child and no longer need to ask my uncle for permission for every little thing I do. And he smiled to himself, trying not to think of the inconvenience he would be causing his uncle's chefs.
Faramir sat down at the table to which the matron led him. "It is always a pleasure," she said, "to welcome one of the Prince's men." Her eyes rested on his ring, a silver band with the design of a swan etched into it and a light blue gem where the swan's mouth would be, and Faramir smiled understandingly. The ring was the mark of his uncle's household, and all the merchants throughout town recognised it.
"I am the Prince's nephew," Faramir volunteered. "The ring was a gift from him."
"Ah, my lord Boromir!" the matron exclaimed, a look of recognition crossing her face. "I should have known, of course. But you have changed --"
Faramir held up his hand, silencing her. "Boromir is my brother. I am Faramir."
Her face paled noticeably, and she bowed her head. "My lord Faramir, pardon my --"
"Do not trouble yourself!" he laughed. "'Twas a simple mistake." Curious to learn more about an inn Boromir apparently frequented but had never seen fit to mention to his brother, Faramir motioned toward the chair across the table. "Please, sit, if you will," he said cordially. After the matron had settled herself into her chair Faramir said, "Did my brother come here often, then?"
"On occasion," she replied. "Yes, your brother came when he could, two or three times a month during his summer visits, since he was not much older than you. He loved the food and the wine -- and the pretty faces of our wenches, if I may say so. Where is he? I would have expected him to join you."
"He will arrive within the week," Faramir said. "He is a member of the guard now, you know…"
"Oh, yes," the matron replied cheerfully. "Of course. He is quite the man, your brother."
Faramir remembered how Boromir had often shown off in front of his friends by lifting the heavy rocks -- small boulders, really -- in the woods at the foot of Mindolluin. He also remembered how, on more than one occasion, he had supported Boromir along the wearisome road toward the Houses of Healing when his brother had overtaxed himself. "He thinks he is, at any rate," Faramir said, smiling at the memory.
That made her laugh, for some reason. "But here I am talking of Boromir," she said, "when it is you I should be seeing to. Will you be wanting something to eat?"
Faramir nodded, taking a final look around the quiet room and deciding it would do quite nicely as a setting his evening meal. "Nothing cooked, I think; it is far too hot for that. What do you have cold?"
She considered the question. "The crab is delicious. We could prepare a paste from it, if you like. Perhaps some white bread, nice cheese, a cold spread, and a glass of wine. How does that sound?"
"Wonderful," Faramir replied, giving her a tired but appreciative smile.
"My poor dear!" she exclaimed. "You look exhausted, and I should hardly wonder in this heat." She thought for a second, then nodded to herself, a playful grin spreading across her face. "I have an idea. Your dinner will take some time to prepare. While I must apologise for confusing you with your brother, my Lord Faramir, I am sure you will forgive me for suggesting that you follow his practice of taking a rest before your meal in one of the rooms upstairs. I can send for you when your food is ready."
His heart leapt at the thought of a cool, dark room in which to relax. "That would be wonderful. Are you sure it is all right?" In Minas Tirith he would not have been offered a room before dinner, but this was not Minas Tirith. For all he knew this was the custom in Dol Amroth if one was dining alone; before he had always had Boromir's company to sustain him while they waited for the meal to arrive. And he was not going to say no to a cool room on such a hot day.
"Of course. Just take those stairs," she said, motioning toward the back of the room. "Room Four should be free." Faramir thanked her and, leaving his book and water flask on the table, headed in the direction she had indicated."
Faramir stretched out on the luxurious bed, the silk sheets even cooler than the rest of the room. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of the flowers on the bedside table. Why Boromir had kept this place a secret for so long… He would have to ask his brother, when he arrived, but that could wait.
The door opened, and Faramir looked over, surprised. In the dim light he saw a girl a few years older than him, her thick black hair in a loose braid down her back. "Is my dinner ready?" he asked softly.
"No," she replied. "We have some time yet. The matron said you would enjoy some company."
Faramir sat up. Was it the custom to provide a dinner companion if one dined alone? "We? I did not request company."
The girl suppressed a giggle. "As you insist, my lord," she said and sat next to him on the bed.
Faramir moved over a little to give her more room. "What is your name?" he asked, slightly confused as to why she giggled at such a straightforward statement.
"I have been called many things, my lord," she answered, "and you may name me as you wish. But if you desire it, my friends here call me Isilwen."
That's an odd answer to a simple question, Faramir thought. But she seemed pleasant enough, and he would not refuse company, especially from one so beautiful, if she wished to give it. "Isilwen," he said, smiling congenially. "That is a beautiful name."
Isilwen nodded. "So I have been told, by many." She leaned towards him and pushed a lock of his hair back off his face, leaving her hand resting on the nape of his neck.
Faramir leaned away and looked at her. This is not right at all, he thought. Seventeen summers he had come here, yet he knew that did not make him a native, and much about the fastness by the sea still seemed strange to him, yet was this normal behaviour anywhere?
"Your hair, it is -- it is wonderful," she said. "Do all the men of your city have such luxurious hair?"
"Not -- not all, but many." He calmed himself, trying to slow his racing blood, before reaching up to remove her hand from his neck and lay it on the bed. He was surprised at how stead his on hand proved.
"You are blessed," Isilwen continued. She eased toward him and traced down the curve of his face with one long finger until her hand came to rest just inside his tunic on his shoulder. Faramir sat still, tense as a cat readying itself for a pounce. She began to kiss his neck but he laid his palm on her shoulder and pushed her back.
"Tell me, Isilwen," he demanded, attempting to keep his voice steady, "why -- why are you here?"
"The matron said my services were needed," she replied. Her voice was calm, unflustered… Professional, even… The suspicion that had been growing in his mind crystallised as she asked, "Have you changed your mind, then?"
"I never made up my mind to begin with," he answered indignantly. I can guess only too well what she is offering, Faramir thought to himself, but best to be sure. He turned to face her, and her warm silken lips trailed his cheek. He gently increased the pressure of his hand on her shoulder, holding her slightly back. Then, deciding physical contact was not a good idea, he snatched his hand away and shuffled along the bed further away from her. "What services -- w-what, exactly, do you speak of?" he asked, irritated to hear his voice wobbling.
"The usual, of course," she said. "I am skilled in all the arts, and whatever you wish --"
Faramir's eyes narrowed. "All I wished was a cool room out of the sun and a good meal," he said, hearing a touch of anger in his voice.
"Did you not request the room?" Isilwen asked, a confused look on her face.
"Aye," Faramir said, staring at her in disbelief, "a cool place to rest until my meal was ready. Nothing more, I assure you!"
Isilwen looked at the ceiling and let out a slightly annoyed sigh. "You are new to the city, are you not?" She looked at him for confirmation and shook her head. "When you ask for a room in an inn such as this, my lord, you are asking for more than a bed. You are asking for a wench to share the bed." Faramir opened his mouth to protest, but no words came out. "Shh," Isilwen said. "It is all right. A simple misunderstanding."
"I am so sorry --" Faramir managed to stammer.
"No harm," Isilwen said, chuckling to herself. "Our ways are strange to you."
"Are you mocking me?" Faramir asked her. His voice was cold; he was a little cross that she seemed to find his discomfort so amusing. "How dare you --"
"No, my lord, I assure you," she replied quickly. "I apologise. I was merely thinking of the matron, and the look on her face when she realises her mistake." Faramir nodded, accepting her apology. "I will go, if you wish." Isilwen looked at him expectantly. When he did not respond after some time she gazed at him seductively. "Or I could stay."
Faramir thought about that for a moment, looking at the bed and the girl. It would be nice, he thought to himself. Boromir seems to enjoy doing this, and it is so cool… He breathed in her aroma of lilies, rose petals, and vines. Reaching out, he allowed his hand to rest on her knee. He let it lie there for a moment and, when she did not move but simply continued to look at him with that beguiling gaze, he leaned over to kiss her. Yet before his lips touched hers he stopped himself. With her? She has probably pleasured countless men! And a woman is not to be bought like a bolt of cloth in the marketplace. You do not do this, Faramir. Slowly he shook his head and withdrew his hand. "I think you should go."
"As you wish," Isilwen said. Faramir noticed the regretful note in her voice. That surprised him: it was the first particular interest she had shown in him so far. She left quietly, pulling the door shut behind her, and he tried to relax again. The room was cool, true, but he could not stop thinking about all that must have occurred here, on the very bed he lay on. Before long, he got up and walked down the stairs to the common room below.
"My lord?" the matron asked when she saw him. "Is something the matter?"
"It is indeed," Faramir replied. He tried to make his tone as cool as the room he had just left. "I did not request… 'company'."
The matron blanched slightly. "I am sorry for the confusion, my lord. I only assumed as your brother --"
"My brother's actions are not my own," he interrupted. "Faramir of Gondor does not pay for women, whether his brother will or not. This was a mistake." He sighed, and his manner softened slightly. As angry as he was, he did not mean to frighten the woman. "In Minas Tirith, this would never have happened. I suggest that in the future you ask less coded questions and get more plain answers from visitors to your fair city." He reached into his moneybag and pulled out a few silver pieces, laying them on the table. "For your kitchen's trouble. I shall not be dining here after all."
Faramir turned his back and marched out of the door. He would find his own way home.
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