Language Lessons: 1. Language Lessons

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1. Language Lessons

Author's note:
I must gratefully acknowledge the help of Watson and Wídfara at TOR.n, who together contributed to the idea behind this story.


Clang! Crash!

Boromir watched eagerly as the two men ran through their drill. Hallas, the swordmaster, had great ability, but the strange captain was pressing him hard. Boromir held his breath in anticipation. Even a simple practice bout was exciting when the combatants were this skilled.

Though he was only eight, and could barely lift the heavy drill swords, Boromir spent all the time he could steal down in the armory and on the practice field. His own drills were carried out with a wooden stave, as yet, but he knew himself to be the best among the lads of his age in Minas Tirith. Not only quick and strong, he also learned any new move rapidly and well, almost as if he had known it before and merely needed reminding. Remarkably for his age, he was even able to pick up much simply by watching the older boys and men, as he was doing now.

As Boromir looked on in sheer delight at their expertise, Hallas neatly disarmed his opponent. The stranger's sword fell to the bare earth almost soundlessly, and he raised his hands in laughing surrender.

"Enough! By the White Tree, enough!" he wheezed. "I see your arm has lost none of its strength, Hallas my friend."

Hallas snorted. "And did you really think it would, Aldadil? They will bury me the day that happens."

Aldadil bent to retrieve the sword. "And may the day be long in coming, as long as the Lord Denethor's rule. Now, you were going to show me that new shipment of arrowheads?"

And the two men strolled into the dim coolness of the armory.

Boromir remained seated for a little longer, thinking through the movements he had seen used that day. He knew he could not duplicate them all, not yet, but several he would try out and show his friends on the morrow. As he finally rose to trot inside himself - his mother would be dismayed if he were late for his supper - he also recalled the curious expression that Aldadil had used.

"By the White Tree," he spoke the words aloud. I suppose that is the dead tree in the garden by the fountain? he thought. I do not know what else it could be. It is a fine hearty phrase, though.

When Boromir reached the main room of the family's chambers, he groaned. Once again his little brother had managed to strew colored wooden blocks all around the floor, and he knew exactly who was going to be called on to help pick them up after supper.

His parents were standing together at the far end of the room, gazing out of the window and speaking quietly.

"I am well enough, my dear husband, to travel to Dol Amroth," Finduilas was insisting in a tired voice. "The journey by ship is but a few days. Far less wearisome than staying in the city through the heat of the summer."

"But I cannot accompany you at this time," Denethor replied, an edge of anger in his voice. "Surely you would not wish to be away from me for the whole season? Nor to travel alone?"

"I had thought to take Faramir, at least, with me. Boromir too, if he would like and you are willing - he has only visited there once. And it is not that I wish to be separated from you, as you must know, but that I always gain strength when I am in my own country. I would prefer to be truly well before the winter comes again," Finduilas said with a small smile.

Denethor's face softened. "I know, my heart. I wish that too. So, you will abandon me and the White City for the temporary pleasures of rural life? If you feel it is for the best, I suppose you must." He reached out and gently stroked her dark hair, then drew her to his side. "We can decide on the arrangements for your journey tomorrow. But now, I am hungry, and I am sure that the boys are too."

Boromir nodded vigorously, and Faramir looked up from the wall he was building to chime an agreement.

"Well, come over here for the Standing Silence, then," said Denethor.

Boromir felt a small sticky hand slipped into his own as he stood and thought about lost Númenor to the West, drowned in the great sea. He looked down to see Faramir gazing trustfully up at him.

"Will you play with me after supper?" asked the little boy.

"For a short while, until you have to go to bed," Boromir replied, and received a happy smile in return.

Dinner was much as usual; Boromir was pleased that the dessert was berry pie, his favorite. He did not listen much to his parents' conversation, which was mostly about dull things like new furnishings for their rooms and relatives' weddings. The boy finished his meal before anyone else, and waited, bored but dutiful, until his parents would allow him to leave the table.

At last even Faramir had finished eating and Boromir could get up.

"What do you want to play, Faramir?" he asked his brother.

"Chase!" cried the little boy.

Boromir sighed. He should have anticipated that, for "Chase" was Faramir's favorite, consisting of Boromir chasing him around the room while making scary animal noises. This choice meant that he would have to pick up all those blocks first, lest one or the other of them trip during the game.

"By the White Tree, you're a nuisance," he told Faramir, "but all right," and he bent over to begin collecting an armful of blocks.

Suddenly he felt his father's hands take him firmly by the shoulders. Denethor marched his elder son out of the room.

"What did you just say?" came the stern voice.

"I said, 'By the White Tree,' Father," answered Boromir.

"Never, ever, say that again in my presence. Do you even know what it means?" Denethor asked.

Boromir looked at the floor. He had never seen his father so angry.

"The dead tree in the garden?" he said in a small voice.

"Precisely. The White Tree was the emblem of the Kings of Gondor. It descended from the tree Galathilion, that was created by Yavanna herself as an image of Telperion in Valinor. From Galathilion came Nimloth, the White Tree of Númenor. Isildur himself preserved a fruit of Nimloth and planted a seedling here in Minas Tirith. (1) It symbolizes the greatest heritage of our kings and our people, and is not something to be spoken of lightly or disrespectfully. Such words cheapen your tongue. Do you understand me?"

"Y-yes, Father."

"Good. Now, I want you to go to your room and think about what I have said. There is to be no repetition of this. I shall have your mother come to fetch you in half an hour." Denethor turned and went back into the room, where Boromir could hear him telling Faramir that no, his brother could not play with him now after all, but perhaps later.

Boromir walked slowly to his room. But the Kings of Gondor are no more, he reflected. It is my father who rules, and I shall rule after him. And I do not see how my speaking the name is so disrespectful. Aldadil said it, and he is a great lord and captain; he would not do anything dishonorable.

He threw himself across his bed and sighed. Whether disrespectful or not, clearly he could not say it again, at least not where his father could hear.

But I like it, he thought stubbornly. I just will be careful where I say it from now on. He heaved another sigh.

I suppose I should finish my arithmetic problems now, since I have nothing else to do. There aren't that many and I can probably do them before Mother comes. Then I can go down to drill early tomorrow. He crossed over to the small table that served as his desk, sat down, and began to write, his feet curled around the legs of the chair and all his body tense with concentration as he struggled with the intricacies of multiplication.

He had finished all but two of the problems that Master Golasgil had set when Finduilas tapped at the door and entered.

"Are you ready to come back to the family, Boromir?" and she looked at him with love and concern in her eyes. He was hard for her to comprehend, this elder son; all energy and action, so different from the more bookish - if still soldierly - men of her own family. Perhaps when he was a few years older she would understand his ways better.

"Yes, Mother," he pushed away the page on which he had been writing and crossed over to her.

She stooped and hugged him, then took his hand to go back to the room where Faramir still waited to play with his brother.

"I picked up Faramir's blocks, Boromir," Finduilas smiled as they walked down the passage. "So you can have a good game of Chase with him before we have your lesson in Sindarin."

Boromir was glad to hear that his disgrace had at least meant that he need not pick up after his brother. But he had secretly hoped that he might get out of the lesson today. Sindarin was not exactly his favorite subject, although he liked learning from his mother.

Faramir wriggled down from Denethor's lap as his brother entered the room.

"I want to play now!" he commanded in his piping voice.

Boromir stooped and growled, arching his arms out and taking the largest, slowest strides he could as Faramir fled, shrieking with laughter, before him.

"I'm coming for you... I'm after you... I'm going to get you!" he roared, careful only to catch Faramir's sleeve or brush his head, so that the little boy would feel he was outdistancing his brother.

Denethor and Finduilas sat together and looked on as their sons raced around the room, dodging in and out among the chairs as they ran. Finduilas sighed and rested her head on her husband's shoulder.

"Boromir is a good boy, Denethor; I am sure that he would not have spoken so had he known it would disturb you. He probably overheard some soldier saying the phrase. I wish he did not spend so much of his time around the armory and the barracks," she fretted.

"You're probably right about where he learned it," agreed Denethor. "But I don't think you need worry too much if he goes to the armory at this age; I did, myself. He has plenty of time to learn what he needs to become a good Steward. I certainly have no thought of dying soon, though I waited long for you, my wife. And I believe that he will be more cautious hereafter about what he learns from the soldiers, beyond their fighting skills."

He drew a finger down her soft cheek. "I must return to my chambers and finish with a few more matters of business tonight; unfortunately they cannot wait for the morning. But I will only be two hours at most, I hope." And Denethor left, closing the door quietly behind him.

After the two boys had run around for some twenty minutes, and Faramir was clearly growing tired, Finduilas called her sons to her.

"All right, it's time to calm down now. Time for your lesson, Boromir. Faramir, are you ready for bed or do you want to sit on my lap while Boromir talks to me?"

"I'll sit with you, Mama," and the small body snuggled confidingly against her.

"Very well. Now, Boromir, let us begin. How would you greet a friend? Start a conversation with him," she instructed.

"Mae govannen," Boromir began obediently, "Man agorech?" (2) And for the next half an hour he struggled haltingly through the conversation.

"You are coming along well," Finduilas approved. "I know that this is difficult for you, Boromir, but it is important that you speak and read the Elven language comfortably. Many of the records that a Steward must be familiar with are written in that tongue, and many of the older lords prefer to use it for formal conversation."

Faramir, meanwhile, had squirmed out of his mother's arms and was standing by the window, looking out at the stars.

"O menel aglar elenath," they heard him murmur. (3)

Boromir's shoulders slumped in dismay. "It's no use, Mother, Faramir speaks Sindarin better than I do, and he is but three years old!"

Finduilas shook her head. "Do not compare yourself to your brother. We each have our own abilities and strengths. He may have a gift for tongues or book-learning, but do you not excel in your own ways? Are you not the quickest and strongest of the lads your age, yes, and among
those older too? Does not Hallas praise your skill?"

"You are right, Mother," and Boromir paused, thinking intently. "I have it! When I am Steward, I will have Faramir for my chief counselor. I will protect and rule our people, and he can help me by reading through the old histories and telling me how the old Kings dealt with similar troubles."

"That is a good thought, my son. I am proud of you for it," Finduilas kissed his cheek. "If you share responsibilities with your brother, and value him enough to use his abilities wisely, I have no fear but that you will govern well. But now it is past time for him to sleep, and for you to begin to get ready for bed also. Do you want me to come and tell you more of the story of Tuor tonight?"

"Yes, please," said Boromir. He preferred Tuor to almost any of the other old heroes, except Beren and Túrin, and he loved to hear his mother tell stories. She always made her voice rise and fall dramatically, and made sounds like the rushing of water and the clash of swords at the proper times.

"Then run off to your room and wash your face before bed, and I will be there as soon as I have tucked Faramir in," she said as she lifted her sleepy younger son to her hip.

A few minutes later, Boromir lay happily among his pillows as Finduilas described how Tuor journeyed to Nevrast, and how Ulmo came to him there, and sent Voronwë to be his guide to the Hidden City of Gondolin.

"And there, as the two scrambled through the rocky tunnel, there came of a sudden a voice in the darkness, which bade them to stand and show themselves friend or foe," she ended. "And as to what happened next, why, that will have to wait for tomorrow evening. Goodnight, Boromir.
Rest you well," she pressed a kiss to his forehead and rose.

"Goodnight, Mother," he said sleepily. "Tell Father goodnight for me too, please."

"I will, my son." Finduilas slipped out of the room.

I hope I am like Tuor when I grow up, Boromir thought. He did such great deeds. Or Beren, maybe. Or perhaps Túrin, although Mother hasn't ever told me all of his story. She says it is too dark and sad, and that I will learn it when I am older. But he was a good fighter, that I know!

He burrowed down amid the covers. Gradually his breathing slowed, and Boromir slept, to dream of becoming a great hero himself.


(1) For those who pay attention to such details, yes, I've simplified the line of descent quite a bit. Denethor is explaining this to an eight-year-old, after all, who is unlikely to take in even this much of the history of the Trees.
(2) "Well met. What did you do?"
(3) "The glory of the starry host slants down."

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.

Story Information

Author: Celandine Brandybuck

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/20/04

Original Post: 07/07/02

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