12. A Day Out
"Where do you go when you're not here?" Boromir wanted to know as he ate his meal.
He was referring to my half-days. I had a half-day every week -- most women in my position only had a half-day every fortnight, so I was fortunate in that-- and I usually explored the City. The first time, I had gotten dreadfully lost, of course. Fortunately, in the fourth circle I had run across an off-duty guardsman, and he had escorted me back to the Citadel just before I would have been late. I still did not know the City as well as those born to it, and probably never would, but after three years, I had learned my way around those winding lanes well enough.
I told him this, and he seemed fascinated. "So where are you going tomorrow?"
"I think that I shall go to the markets," I said, smiling and handing him a piece of buttered bread. "And perhaps I will buy something special to eat. Sometimes it is fun to eat different things, you know. Maybe I shall bring you something new to try."
"Can't I go with you?" Boromir asked.
"Please do not talk with food in your mouth, and I do not think your father would allow it," I said, sitting at the table across from him. "I am going clear to the first level - it is a very long way."
Boromir swallowed. "I've never been to the markets before," he said, grabbing for another piece of bread. "Can I ask Father if I can go?
"You must eat something else, Boromir," I informed him sternly, moving the bread out of reach and pointing to the meat on his plate, "before you are allowed any more honey-bread. And certainly you may ask your father. But do not be too sad if he says no."
I assumed that Lord Denethor would sooner sell Boromir to the Haradrim than let him traipse around the first circle, so I did not think there could be any harm in allowing Boromir to ask. His father would say no, Boromir would pout, but he would not be upset with me for denying him.
I assumed wrongly. That evening, when I took Boromir to bid his parents good-night, Lord Denethor considered Boromir's request for a few moments. He spoke briefly with the Lady Finduilas, then said, "As long as you take a guardsman with you, I see no reason why not, my son. It will be an interesting excursion for you."
I almost gaped in surprise. I had been certain Lord Denethor would refuse to allow such a thing, for the first circle was not a place where one found nobles of any age. Now I was going to be corralling a boisterous three-year-old on what should have been most of a day spent on my own. I loved Boromir dearly, but I also loved having a small piece of time when I did not have to concern myself with his welfare, and I was displeased to have to give up that time.
As I readied Boromir for bed that night, I tried to hide my irritation. Luckily, he was so excited that he did not even notice that I was in a less-than-pleasant mood.
"Will there be oliphaunts?"
"What about puppets? That boy in the kitchens said there were puppets!"
"There may be puppets -- we will see."
"And a witch! Do we get to see a witch?"
I laughed despite my ill-humour. "A witch? There are no witches in Minas Tirith, Boromir."
He kept talking as I pulled the nightshirt over his head. "Uh-huh. The last time he was here Uncle said he met a very pretty witch at a tavern , and ---"
"Your uncle," I broke in, caught between laughter and embarrassment, "should not be telling you about witches or taverns."
"He wasn't telling me," Boromir said, "I heard him talking to another man about witches."
I made a note to have a word with the Lady Finduilas about this. I did not need Boromir bringing up 'tavern witches' at a formal dinner.
Boromir continued to chatter until I threatened him with staying home if he did not go to sleep right now. As was normal, once I had gotten him to be still and stop talking for a few moments, he fell asleep almost immediately. I tidied up the playroom and spent some time trying to write a letter to my mother, but I was so annoyed that it kept coming out rather too antagonistic. Finally, I gave up trying, and went to bed.
Of course, dawn had barely broken before Boromir was up and poking me in the shoulder. Usually he was very slow to wake, which suited me well, as I was the same way, but this morning, he was so full of energy that I wondered how I would make it through the day. In fact, he had dressed himself - though his shirt was on backwards, he could not lace his boots and he had not bothered to comb his hair -- and he was impatient to leave. "We are not going until the guard arrives, Boromir," I informed him, yawning, "go and eat your breakfast so I may get dressed in peace."
He scampered off, and I dawdled in getting ready; I was still grumpy at having to spend my half-day trying to control a lively little boy in the markets of Minas Tirith.
Our guard arrived shortly -- an older man named Hirvegil, who knew the lower circles quite well. "Grew up down there," he told me with a friendly grin, "oh, and the Lord Denethor sent this." He held out a small pouch, which turned out to hold quite a pretty sum of money. "Feel safer if I carry that?"
"Yes, please," I nodded, a little overwhelmed at seeing that much coin. "Wait--is there any copper?" There was, a small amount, and I gave a handful of the coins to Boromir, who promptly stuffed them in one of his belt pouches and began bouncing to hear the jingle. "Boromir -- Boromir! I would like your attention for one moment, please."
He stopped bouncing with a visible effort. "Yes, Nanny?"
"Here are the rules," I said, ignoring his little groan of protest. "No running off -- you will stay in sight of me or Hirvegil at all times. If you cannot see us, we cannot see you. If you run off, I swear to you, I will tie you to my wrist with a rope."
"Yes, Nanny," with an eager nod of his head.
"If either I or Hirvegil call you, you will come immediately. If we say 'stop', you will stop immediately."
"If, despite all this, you get lost, stay put. Do not roam off trying to find us. Tell someone your name, and we will find you. Understood?"
"Yes, Nanny…Are you going to leave your hair braided? You never wear a braid when you go out."
Hirvegil stifled a chuckle, and I rolled my eyes at Boromir's distraction. If this was any indication, it promised to be a very trying day. "Repeat that back to me, and I will take the braid out."
"No running off or I get tied up, come if you yell, and don't roam if I get lost."
"That will have to do, I suppose. Now we may go."
Oh, the walk from the Citadel to the markets had never taken so long. Boromir wanted to stop and see every little thing, from flowerpots to pigeons to wives sweeping their doorsteps. Finally I was obliged to say, "If you wish to see the markets, duckling, then we must hurry our pace. Perhaps we could stop to see all these things on the way back?" (Knowing full well, of course, that by that time, Boromir would be far too tired to want anything but his bed.)
He started to complain, but then Hirvegil offered to carry Boromir on his shoulders, and we moved much more quickly, though Boromir did feel the need to greet everyone we passed, while waving madly. He was so cheerful and excited that I was starting to lose my rather sour mood; simply watching Boromir take everything in was quite amusing. By the time we reached the markets, he had managed to maneuver me into a much more pleasant temper.
Hirvegil was not wearing his uniform, but a simpler black-and-silver surcoat with no elaborate heraldry on it, which marked him as in the employ of the Citadel, but not necessarily as a member of the Guard. When I questioned this, he confided that the Lord Denethor had thought it best if we did not draw attention to who Boromir was. I could not disagree; if he had been in uniform, unsavory types might wonder who Boromir and I were that we warranted a Citadel Guard as escort. There was little unrest in the City, and therefore almost no chance that anyone might wish harm to the Steward's family, but there was no point in tempting fate.
"Look, Nanny, look! Belt pouches! Oh, let me down!"
Hirvegil looked to me, and when I nodded my assent, lifted Boromir from his shoulders to the ground. Boromir tore to the leatherworker's stall, and began touching every single pouch the man had. "Oh, look --I don't have this one! May I have one, may I have one? OH! Swans!"
That child and his belt pouches. After much deliberation and discussion, in which it was firmly decided that he was only allowed one belt pouch, and no, it could not be the one with a slavering warg's head on it, he settled on a green pouch embossed with a golden sword. Of course he insisted that he had to pay with his own money, so there was a moment of silent adult conspiracy as the merchant accepted Boromir's copper with a wink; as I was fastening the pouch to Boromir's belt, Hirvegil paid the stall-keeper with the coin supplied by Lord Denethor, and slipped the copper back into that pouch.
I had no actual destination in mind; when I came to the markets on my own, I just wandered, talking to merchants and perhaps buying a bit of fresh produce. Of course we always had such things in the Citadel, but there was something very pleasing about eating a fresh peach as I wandered the streets at my leisure. So I was more than willing to let Boromir dictate our path.
The stalls we walked among first were mostly those which sold material items, rather than food, though of course there were food stalls at intervals. There were cobblers and sawyers; potters and weavers; carters and dyers, and Boromir had to stop and see them all. He ran slightly ahead of us, which I was willing to allow, for there was no point in trying to keep up with him. He would stop, examine the merchant's wares, then shout back to me, "What is this? What does it do?"
The merchants were amused at his inquisitiveness, and would answer anything he cared to ask, much more thoroughly than I could ever hope to. Predictably, Boromir was enthralled by the weapons, and we spent a great deal of time observing the smiths, bowyers, and fletchers who had set up stalls to advertise their shops and to display their merchandise. I was not particularly interested in such things, and I was content to leave Boromir under Hirvegil's watchful eye as I browsed neighboring stalls. I half-listened as the crafters explained their art to Boromir, noting that a number of these men seemed to be acquaintances of Hirvegil, as well.
Boromir was an engaging, friendly boy, and people could not help but respond to his open nature. I was a bit surprised to find that we came away from many of these stalls with small tokens -- a handful of feathers which were useless for fletching, a ruined crosspiece for a dagger, a scrap of splintered wood that had once been an arrow. It was lucky I had brought a woven carrying-bag along, for all of Boromir's trinkets would not fit in his belt-pouches.
I did hear a smith ask Boromir his name, and turned to see the man's startled expression when Boromir gave it. As far as I knew, he was the only child in the City called "Boromir", and from the smith's face, he had drawn the correct conclusion as to who this boy was. Then I saw Hirvegil shake his head slightly, and press one finger to his mouth in shushing gesture, and the other man made no comment about my little one's name.
Somewhere along the way, we also acquired a dog as company, which delighted Boromir to no end, and I began planning an explanation of why we could not take a stray mongrel home with us.
I had worried that Hirvegil might find this sort of duty dull, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. "Got three of my own," he told me as Boromir watched a woodcarver with wide eyes. "Two boys, one girl, all grown, no grandchildren yet. It's nice to be around a little 'un again. You forget how curious they are. And he's right well-mannered." I got the distinct impression that Hirvegil had feared Lord Denethor's son would be spoiled and unbearable, as so many noble children were.
"I do not allow children under my care to be ill-mannered," I said, a bit insulted, "no matter who their parents might be."
"Beggin' your pardon, miss," Hirvegil apologized with a tilt of his head, and I thought I saw a spark of approving amusement in his eyes at my affront.
"I'm hungry," Boromir declared, smelling the chunk of cedar that the woodcarver had given him. "When is it time to eat?"
"Whenever you please, little one," I replied, trying to flatten his unruly hair with my fingers. "We can go to the areas that sell only food, and you will have many choices. But you are not going to have just pastries." This last added as we approached a baker's stall.
"Can I have a scone for while we walk?" he said, greedily eyeing the trays piled with baked goods. "I'm really hungry."
Hirvegil chuckled at Boromir's plaintive tone, and I agreed with a laugh of my own, partially because the smell of cinnamon scones were stirring my own hunger. And I knew that there was no chance of ruining Boromir's appetite -- he ate any time food was offered to him, and always seemed to have room for more..
We meandered along, eating our scones -- the dog ended up receiving a large portion of Boromir's -- until we came to one of the larger squares, where a sizable crowd, mostly children, had gathered. Boromir gave a shout of glee. "Puppets! It's the puppets! May I go watch?"
"You may," I smiled at him. "We will be over here, all right?"
"Come on, dog," Boromir said, laughing as the dog licked his face, though I cringed, "come on, it's puppets!" They took themselves off, and I could see Boromir making his way to the front. Satisfied that he would not move from that spot until I dragged him away, I sat down on the edge of the square's fountain to rest my sore feet.
"You look as if you could use a bit o' drink," Hirvegil pointed out, grinning but sympathetic, "You like me to go fetch something?"
"That would be wonderful," I said gratefully. "I had forgotten how tiring it can be trying to corral one this young in public. Have I -- I have not spent too much of Lord Denethor's coin, have I?"
Hirvegil looked. "You've spent naught, except for that pouch o' his," he replied. "I think you can spend a bit more -- I think you'd better, or Lord Denethor will wonder why you were so stingy with his boy."
He was joking, but frankly, I suspected he was correct. So Hirvegil went to a nearby stall, and returned shortly with two small wooden mugs of soft cider. We sat, waiting for the puppet show to end, chatting amiably about our families and exchanging Citadel gossip. When the show was finished, Boromir came running back over and scrambled into my lap, hugging my neck fiercely.
"Thank you, love!" I grinned down at him, ruffling his hair and hugging him back. "But why are you all wet?"
"Oh, I fell in a puddle over there," he said, waving his hand vaguely.
He had muddy pawprints on the front of his shirt, and I suspected he had not so much "fallen" in the puddle so much as "got knocked in the puddle." But as he was not hurt, nor upset with the dog, there was very little point in my scolding either one of them. It was also never worth the energy it took to try and keep Boromir clean when he was absorbed in something new.
I still had half a mug of cider, and Boromir drained the contents when I offered the mug to him. He also looked flushed, so I soaked my handkerchief in the fountain, and wet his face to cool him down. This did not stop him from rattling on excitedly about Corsairs and Captain Thorongil, which had been the subject of the puppet show, as we continued on our way.
In the greengrocer's aisles I had to keep a closer watch on Boromir; there were more people, and I was afraid I might lose him in the bustling crowd. But he was content to hold to me with one grubby hand, and listened avidly when I explained the unfamiliar foods to him. And, of course, he wanted to taste almost everything. He devoured a baked apple, puckered at a lime and asked for more, turned his nose up at all the greens except for asparagus, but begged for roasted yams as if he'd never eaten before in his life. I laughed at him, and mostly gave in -- he was not stuffing himself with rich cakes or candies, although, naturally, he did nearly shriek with delight at the stall which carried such things. And, as Boromir was sharing everything with the fortunate dog, I knew that it was quite possible he was still hungry.
I indulged in the yams, as well as a baked gingered pear, for I loved pears and only infrequently had the chance for such a treat. I spent a bit of Lord Denethor's money on more pears, and also on various things which caught Boromir's fancy, such as the limes, blueberries, radishes, and fat black olives. He kept giggling at the artichokes --"they look like hedgehogs!" -- but showed no interest at all in eating one. Hirvegil chose to wait for the cooked meats, which were available closer to the butcher's market.
I had made a passing aquaintance with a few of the women, so I stopped to visit with them. Most had a child or two with them, and Boromir was happy to play with these children while I talked. They chattered and laughed and ran around the stalls, chasing each other and the dog, and the nearby merchants barely noticed. I decided that if none of the matrons had ever lost their child, I could stop worrying about losing Boromir, at least for a moment. As long as I could hear Boromir's voice, I knew where he was, and he rarely got to play so unencumbered. Most noble children were a bit intimidated by him, an attitude which was probably instilled by their parents, and it was refreshing to see him with children who had no idea who he was. We stayed in the greengrocer's lanes much longer than I normally would have, but Boromir was having fun, I was enjoying myself, and Hirvegil knew people here as well, so he had conversation with which to occupy himself.
Eventually we reached the butcher's aisles, which was not a section I cared to frequent often. It smelled too strongly of blood and sweat and animals, and in addition, it was a great deal messier than the other areas of the market. But Boromir was desperate to see, and I could not see any harm in it.
"Chickens!" Boromir exclaimed, and ran over to the crate where the birds were kept.
"Don't let that dog get near 'em!" the matron who kept the chickens warned, rightfully so, for the dog was sniffing the crate with far too much interest.
"Hirvegil, will you?" I asked, and he obligingly pulled the dog away. "And do not put your fingers in the crate, duckling. They might peck you."
"Oh, they will not peck me," Boromir argued, "see, they like me. Look at that one, with the -- ow!" He jerked his hand out of the crate, glaring at the bird. "Bad chicken!"
"I did warn you," I reminded him as he came back over to me, shaking his hand.
"Are those eating chickens?" Boromir asked, still scowling at the red hen.
I laughed, examining his hand to make sure the bird had not drawn blood. "You want to eat her because she pecked you?"
"Yes," he nodded. "I didn't hurt her."
"You were aggravating her." I said. "If you aggravate chickens, my little one, you may very well get pecked. We are not buying a chicken, but the mistress has boiled eggs, if you would like one of those."
"Oh, yes, please!" he brightened immediately, and forgot his grudge against the chicken.
He was morbidly captivated by the entire area, dwelling on the blood that had pooled under sides of meat and sheep's heads, asking that I hold him up so he could watch one of the women pulling the innards out of a piglet, gaping at the fishmonger as he deftly chopped off trout heads and tossed them to the side. I had to keep Boromir from picking one up and putting it in a pouch, although I reluctantly allowed him to feed several to the dog. Smelling of fish was not going to make his rumpled state any worse.
We did not linger in the butcher's aisles - it always seemed much hotter there, and there was not that much to see. And it was getting late enough that I decided we had best start for home -- it was still a long walk back to the Citadel. Boromir protested, but only half-heartedly. By now I could see that he was growing tired, and it would not be long before he would become snappish and contrary.
As we left the markets, however, I saw that he was chewing something. "Boromir," I asked, puzzled, "what on earth are you eating? I did not give you that. You did not find it on the ground, did you?"
He showed it to me. It looked like some sort of fried meat. "No, I'm not allowed to eat things off the ground," he reminded me with a bit of indignation. There had been a short period where Boromir would indeed eat any food he found on the ground -- including horse oats and chicken feed-- and it had driven me half-wild trying to break him of the habit. "It's a oyster."
"An oyster?" I repeated, frowning. "At the market in Minas Tirith? I did not see anyone selling oysters."
"That boy at the butcher gave it to me," Boromir answered, taking another bite. "He says his father has them all the time."
I heard Hirvegil snort. "Boromir," I said, a suspicion forming, "did he say what kind of oyster that is?"
Boromir nodded, his grimy little face smiling up at me. "From the mountains."Hirvegil was now laughing so hard that he had to stop walking. "Mountain oysters," I exclaimed, covering my face with my hands. "You cannot be serious."
Boromir held it out to me. "You can have a bite."
"No thank you," I said firmly, torn between bursting into laughter and demanding he throw it away, "That you do not need to share, duckling." I threw a look at Hirvegil, who had subdued himself somewhat, but was still grinning hugely. "Mountain oysters."
"Surprised you know that," Hirvegil said, looking at me curiously as we resumed walking.
I chuckled, shaking my head. "I have two older brothers. I know a number of things that I perhaps should not."
The trip back seemed to take an eternity, partially because my feet were swollen, partially because it was uphill, and partially because, after we reached the gate to the second circle, Boromir insisted on being carried. Hirvegil offered to again carry Boromir on his shoulders, but Boromir refused vehemently and clung to me, resting his head on my shoulder. He was dirt-smeared, he smelled of dog, sweat and every place we had been today, his hair was damp with perspiration, and he was starting to be cranky. I did not look forward to cajoling him into the bath-tub this evening.
"Where is that dog?" he asked, raising his head to look behind us. "Did we lose the dog?"
"The dog probably went back to his home, Boromir," I said, glad that the dog was not still trailing us. "He cannot live at the Citadel, you know."
"Oh," he said, laying his head back down, one sticky hand toying idly with my hair. "Where does he live?"
I had not realized Boromir was that tired -- I had been prepared for a terrible tantrum about the dog. "Maybe he lives in the market," I suggested, shifting Boromir a bit. "He liked those fish heads, didn't he? If he lives in the market, he will have fish heads all the time."
"But what if it rains?" He yawned in my ear.
"Dogs find them a place to hide from the rain," Hirvegil chimed in, and I smiled my thanks. "He'll be all right."
I had to stop to rest halfway to the fourth circle. Boromir had gotten so much heavier in the past year; soon I would not be able to carry him with any ease, and I felt a stab of regret at that inevitability.
"You sit here," Hirvegil said, "I'll be back in a moment."
I wondered where he was going, but my back and arms were aching too badly to argue with him. He disappeared inside a wineseller's shop, and returned swiftly, wearing a satisfied smile. "Now there's a man over there, friend o' my sister's husband," he pointed, "who's got him a donkey cart. He says he'll take us on up for just a bit of coin."
"Do you know everyone in the City?" I wondered tiredly, and Hirvegil looked abashed, but flattered. "That would be lovely. I should still have enough left, shouldn't I?"
"Oh, you got plenty," Hirvegil assured me. "And he don't want more than a few coppers, anyhow."
"I would give him the entire contents of that pouch, at this moment," I said with no exaggeration. "I am not sure I could carry Boromir one more step."
"I'll fetch him."
There was only room for Boromir and me in the cart, but as the donkey did not walk very fast, Hirvegil could keep pace easily. His sister's husband's friend walked as well, and they talked between themselves as we moved along. Boromir did not wake, though he would stir if we hit a rough patch, and I myself nearly drifted off once or twice.
Finally we reached the gates to the sixth level, and the guards there would not allow the cart to go any further. I knew it was proper procedure, and did not argue, though in my weary state it frustrated me a great deal. However, Boromir had awakened once we'd stopped, and he allowed Hirvegil to carry him the short distance to the Tower, so I was spared both an argument and strained muscles.
Hirvegil bid us farewell, and went to return the money to Lord Denethor, as Boromir and I made our slow way back to the nursery. The door had barely shut behind us when there was a perfunctory knock, and, to my surprise, both Lady Finduilas and Lord Denethor entered. Usually I took Boromir to them, before putting him to bed, and they almost never came to the nursery together at this time of the day.
Boromir perked up at the sight of his parents and went to hug them both, and I prepared myself for some sort of disapproval at the filthy state of their son. Lady Finduilas' nose wrinkled, when she got close enough to smell Boromir, but she said nothing. Lord Denethor, however, favoured me with a stern look, and I bit my tongue. I was too exhausted to be prudent at this moment, so it was best to say nothing. I was not certain Lord Denethor would understand the utter futility of trying to keep Boromir clean during such an outing.
"Look, Father," Boromir was saying as I readied his bath in the other room, "Look, see! The man who does the daggers gave me this! He said that it got too hot and he couldn't use it so I could have it! And Mother, Mother -- smell this wood!"
"You did indeed have an eventful day," Lord Denethor smiled, an expression I saw so rarely that it always startled me. "You will have to tell me all about it tomorrow, while Nanny is out. Now you should have your bath, and eat your dinner."
"I'm not hungry," Boromir said, words I had never heard come out of his mouth unless he was ill. "I had an apple and a scone and lots of yams and a oyster and radishes--"
"An oyster?" Lady Finduilas was as skeptical as I had been, and she looked to me. "Nanny let you eat oysters from the market?"
I groaned inwardly. "It was not a sea-oyster, my lady," I said.. "I certainly would not have let him eat one of those from an open market unless he was in Dol Amroth, and perhaps not then."
Lady Finduilas looked confused. "What do you mean, not 'sea-oysters'?"
I felt my face turn bright red, wondering how I was going to delicately explain this to my lord and lady. I could not think of one single thing to say that would not be highly improper.
Then, to my amazement, I saw an twinkle in Lord Denethor's eyes. "Boromir," he said, obviously trying to repress laughter, "that would not have been a mountain oyster, by chance?"
"Uh-huh," Boromir nodded as he began examining the contents of his pouches. "I got it from the butcher."
"I am sure you did," Lord Denethor nodded, almost grinning. "Come, my lady wife -- let us leave Boromir to his bath and bed. And I am certain Nanny wishes to have a bit of rest as well. "
Lady Finduilas was still mystified, but she gingerly kissed Boromir's forehead, then took her husband's arm, and I fervently hoped that Lord Denethor would explain "mountain oysters" to her, for I very much did not wish to have that task fall to me.
Then I remembered something Lord Denethor said a moment ago. "Your pardon, my lord," I hastened to say, "but -- you said I shall be out tomorrow? Where -- where am I going?" I was stricken with the fear that I had been dismissed with no warning, though I honestly thought it unlikely.
He regarded me for a moment, as if I should know the answer already. "Where ever you like, miss," he told me, a small smile on his face. "You may take your half-day tomorrow, as you spent all day today showing Boromir the City."
I managed to keep my mouth from dropping open, for I had assumed that I had lost my half-day for the week, which was why I had been so cross about the whole excursion. "Oh. Yes, my lord. Thank you, my lord, my lady."
They left after bidding us good-night again, and, as the door closed, I heard Lady Finduilas say, "Husband, what on the earth did she mean by 'not sea-oysters?"
Then came Lord Denethor's answering laughter, as loud and unreserved as Hirvegil's had been.