7. The Minstrel
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“A soldier’s life, a soldier’s life, who needs a hearth or a home or a wife!
Just give me a sword and a company,
‘Tis a soldier’s life for me!”
I finish the song with a flourish, letting the last notes ring out from the strings of my lute as the sharp drumbeats trail off. We bow to the crowd then, who applaud vigorously. More importantly, I can hear the clank of the coins they toss into the caps laying before on the ground. A good take today, I think, my pleasure in our monies swelling up and blotting out my disappointment at still being here in Minas Tirith.
“Another song, Veryandil!” a woman calls. “For we have much to sing of today!”
“After a brief pause, I beg you, for even the best of minstrels needs to wet his throat.”
I pick up the wineskins and pass them around to the others. Failon pokes me in the back with his flute and echoes my thoughts.
“This money makes up for not going to meet the king and his army, doesn’t it?” he mutters. “But even so, I find myself jealous of Taratar and Altallo.”
“No point in complaining, for what’s done is done, and they were summoned,” I say with false cheer. “And if we are lucky, some pretty girls shall come our way and warm the evening hours.”
“Well, then, take a good look at that blonde beauty over there!” exclaims Mirimo. He waves his drumstick towards a lovely woman who has wandered into the crowd and is coming close to us; she is indeed a beauty, with flowing golden hair and splendid carriage. “Who is she?”
“I am not sure . . .” I begin, but I see a familiar figure come up behind her and whisper in her ear. “But considering who she is with, I can make a good guess based on the gossip of the street.” I nod at the couple. “If Faramir is her companion, it can be no one but the Lady of Rohan, Eowyn.”
Earon whistles softly as he cranes his head to see her, accidentally twanging the strings of his rebec. “So that is the lady! Far lovelier than the common report of the court, I’ll be bound. What a jealous pack of harpies!”
“Faramir is here?” Mirimo turns to me with a grin. “Ask him to join us in a song, Veryandil, for no lady can resist his voice and style! Do ask him!”
I smile as well, for Faramir has often sung and played with us at his father’s feasts, never giving himself airs as the Steward’s son, but simply becoming another musician among us, with a fine voice and real skill on the lute. Many a lady has been charmed by his music, for unlike his brother Boromir he valued the arts of peace rather than those of war, and so had his pick of feminine company. I decide it would be a good thing to give him a chance to show off a trifle for the warrior woman he seeks to win.
“My Lord Faramir!” I call to him. “Will you not come sing with us? Long has it been since you have performed with us, and we would hear you again, not to mention the people of the city.” A murmur of voices from the crowd accompanies my sally, and more people draw near to hear the Steward.
Faramir is clearly disconcerted, but not displeased, by the unexpected invitation. “Would you have me flaunt my feathers in front of my friends, Veryandil? I suspect they already think me vain as it is.” The Lady Eowyn chuckles; her laugh is rich and warm and makes my skin tingle. But another voice speaks before she can say anything.
“I want to hear you sing, Faramir! I know how much you love music, and I do too, remember. Won’t you please do it?”
I look down at the small person who has pushed through the taller folk and now stands in front of Faramir with a challenging expression, his pointed ears seeming to prick up with eagerness. It strikes me that this is one of the Periannath, the halflings that the whole city celebrates. He must be one of the kinsmen of the Ringbearer, I decide. He must also be a close friend of Faramir to beard him so openly.
Faramir smiles affectionately at the halfling, and turns to Lady Eowyn. “What say you? Shall I perform as Merry wishes?”
“Yes,” she replies, smiling slowly, “I would like to hear you sing, my lord.”
“Very well.” He joins us with a jaunty stride, and his eyes twinkle in amusement at the applause from the crowd. “Well, what song do you have in mind? Something happy, or something sad?”
“Nay, Lord Faramir, something romantic, I think,” I say with sly wit. “Don’t you agree ‘Ah, moon of my delight’ would be a fine one?”
“A good one, that is!” cries a young man who beams at his chubbily pretty sweetheart on his arm. “Please sing that, my lord!”
“We do like a bit of romance, my lord,” adds an old woman hopefully.
Faramir raises an eyebrow; he clearly knows what I am up to, and gracefully concedes he has been brought to bay. “Very well, then. Veryandil, if you would . . .”
I give a quick count and we launch the introduction; Faramir’s honeyed tenor sails into the main melody easily, not affected a whit by his lack of recent practice with us. As he sings, I see that many of the young women standing about are sighing longingly, but my eyes are repeatedly drawn to where the Lady Eowyn stands with the halfling Merry.
The enchanted expression on her face tells me that she did not know how fine a singing voice Faramir possessed, nor of his skill in performing. And does not music feed love? I think gleefully, and mentally pat myself on the back for giving my friend a perfect opportunity to beguile his lady. I see that his gaze keeps seeking her; I sense that this is no idle flirtation or affair. It is not difficult to understand why he wishes to wed her; she is the first woman he has cared for who is queenly enough to deserve a man as princely as Faramir.
He lets his voice taper off after the high note that ends the song; the applause from the spectators thunders as Faramir takes a bow. As he stands up, a male voice shouts, “Another song, my lord!”
Faramir shakes his head. “Forgive me, I pray—I feel I have been sufficiently vain for one afternoon.” He strolls back to Lady Eowyn; I strain to hear their exchange.
“If worse comes to worst, you could earn a living as a songster,” she says.
He grins. “So I have been told before! But the worst did not come, so Steward I stay.”
I am struck by how playful their banter is. I take another sip from my wineskin, preparing to sing again, when I feel a tug on my sleeve. I discover the small halfling has sidled up to me. “What may I do for you, Master Halfling?” I ask.
“Hello, sir,” he says. “My name is Merry Brandybuck, and I’m a friend of Faramir’s. Do you think everyone might enjoy a tune from my home in the Shire? We hobbits know lots of songs, and I’d be glad to sing if you believe they would suit.”
I hesitate, wondering what kind of singing voice such a little creature has, but then I reflect that he is right, and that the novelty of new music will appeal greatly to the folk here at the fair. “Very well—thank you for offering,” I say. I raise my voice and cry, “Gather round, good people! One of the halfling race, those who have redeemed us from the Dark Lord, wants to sing for us!” A loud cheer greets my words.
I lean down to Merry. “Start singing a song, and we will pick up the melody.”
“All right,” he says, clearly a bit nervous, but not as much as I would have expected. “It’s a dance of the seasons—it’s from Buckland, where I come from . . .”
“The water runs free, laddie, laddie,
Comes now Mistress Spring,
Lifting up her pretty flowered skirts
To dance in the stream . . .”
We quickly begin to improvise an accompaniment. The tune is both dreamy and sprightly, and people start to sway and tap their feet. It helps that Master Brandybuck has a good voice; it may not be as fine as Faramir’s, for it is far lighter in timbre, but it is sweet and true.
“The water stands still, laddie, sparkling
Jewels for Mistress Winter
With her bright skirts of snowy white,
Sweeping over the hill,
Laddie, come sing now, come sing!”
The crowd claps enthusiastically, with many cries of “More! More!” Merry looks over at Faramir and Lady Eowyn anxiously.
“We don’t need to hurry home, do we? May I keep singing?”
“Of course you can, Merry! I had no idea you could sing well too!” Lady Eowyn’s face is shining with love; this small one is very dear to her indeed. Faramir bestows a look of almost paternal pride on the halfling.
“Go ahead, my friend, for I too am impressed and want to hear more.”
Merry grins happily. “The same as before—start and you follow me?” he asks me.
He clears his throat and speaks loudly. “This one’s a hunting song the Tooks, my cousin Pippin’s folk, sing—it’s called ‘Coney Pie.’”
“I hunt all day midst the curing hay,
Just to catch a brace of coney dinner,
For a coney pie brings a gleam to eye,
Such a pie is sure to be a winner!”
As Merry bounces his way through the rollicking tune, the clapping begins again and I am overjoyed to hear many more coins being thrown. I find myself praying the halfling can keep performing for the rest of the fair, for at this rate we will be paid far beyond our hopes . . .
“And I’ll sing you a Hey!
If you make it this way,
With a crust as flaky as can be!
Hey, ho! Bake it up this day,
And I’ll ask you—hey!
Pretty lassie, will you marry me?”
There are scattered cheers this time amongst the clapping, for the song is even livelier than the first one. I give Merry the wineskin after he bows to the crowd; he takes a long swig, far longer than I expected, and then begins another song. We do not stop again until the sun is heading to the west and the shadows begin falling across the paving stones. When we step back into the shelter of a neighboring wall, Faramir and Lady Eowyn approach us.
“A thousand apologies, Veryandil, but it grows later in the afternoon, and Eowyn and I must steal your soloist away.” He thumps my shoulder affectionately.
“No need to apologize, my lord, for we have kept your friend overlong, I fear.” I look at the halfling; he is yawning. “See how we have worked him hard!”
“I am rather tired,” Merry says. “But thank you so very much for letting me sing; it was great fun!” He extends his hand, and I shake it firmly.
“It is I who should thank you, for we have gathered many coins because of your singing.” I lean down and scoop up a handful of gold and silver. “Please take these, for you have earned them.”
“I couldn’t,” the halfling demurs, but Faramir prods him.
“Veryandil is right, these are fairly earned. Take them.”
Merry accepts the money and puts it into his belt purse. I bow low to the Lady Eowyn.
“It has been a great honour to play for you, my lady.”
“And I am equally honoured to hear you! Many thanks, my good minstrel.” Her cheeks are flushed a becoming rose, and her blue-grey eyes are dancing with mirth. She turns to Faramir. “But we really should go, before Ioreth sends out a search party for the three of us.”
“The Valar forbid!” He smiles and shakes all our hands. “I shall speak to all of you later, my friends. Keep well.”
“We shall, my lord,” we chorus. As they depart, Failon whispers, “Care to lay a bet on when the wedding is?”
“Fifty mirians that it’s in four months,” I answer promptly. “And now, lads, let us pack up and go to the nearest tavern, where we shall drink a round to the Steward and his lady, and our fine halfling singer, and perhaps find some bonny wenches too!”