6. Rumours (part 2)
So I gathered up a shawl to cover us -- the stone corridors could get quite chilly at night -- and headed for the kitchens. As I walked, however, I wondered how I was going to bring up what was troubling me. I had never spoken at length with Mag -- what if she thought I was being presumptuous, bringing such a matter to her? I did not expect her to solve my problem-- I simply wanted another person's opinion on the situation, and I thought Mag would be ideally suited to give such advice.
Boromir showed no interest in our short journey, and was content to rest against me while we walked. When we reached the kitchens themselves, however, he sat up in my arms and looked around with wide eyes. Of course he had never been to the kitchens before, and I could see he was fascinated by everything the room held -- the stoves, the chopping blocks, the spotless copper pots hanging from the rack, the huge fireplace, though this late, the fire burned very low. He did not struggle to get down, which told me how tired he was, for all that he refused to sleep. A few hours ago, he would have been begging to explore every nook and cranny.
Sure enough, Mag was still there, and, thankfully, she was alone. She was wiping down countertops, and she looked up when we entered. For a moment, she looked startled -- I suppose we did look an odd pair, me with my loose hair and rumpled dress, sleepy-eyed Boromir in his nightshirt, the two of us wrapped in a shawl. "One of you is up past your bedtime," she said, smiling and coming toward us.
I smiled back, adjusting Boromir on my hip. "Have you had the chance to meet Boromir?" I asked, and her smile grew wider.
"I met him once, when he was just a wee babe," Mag replied, chuckling. "His father the Lord Denethor came 'round, showing off this lad to any who would look. Since then I've not seen him except from a distance. How he's grown!"
"Boromir, this is Mag," I told him, and he studied her. "Will you say hello?"
He crumpled his forehead thoughtfully, then asked, "Rusks?" and I could not help but laugh. Though Boromir was past teething, he still loved the hard crumbly rounds of bread.
"Yes, duckling, this is the woman who makes your rusks," I agreed, and Mag looked inordinately pleased. "I talk to him about …well, everything. Apparently he remembers who prepares his favourite treats."
Mag fairly beamed at this. "You just tell me what his favourite treats are," she told me, "and he can have them whenever he likes." She was watching Boromir as intently as he was watching her, and I was struck with the odd certainty that Mag was very partial to my little man, though she'd not seen him more than a handful of times.
"Would you like to hold him?" I asked impulsively. "He is very friendly, and loves the attention, especially when he is this sleepy."
Mag looked taken aback. "Oh, no," she said, shaking her head. "I'd be afraid I'd drop him and break his head, and then where would we be?"
I did not understand this fear-- but then, I'd been holding children since I was five years old, and it was as natural to me as breathing. I would likely react the same way if Mag asked me if I would like to bake a pie.
"Now what has brought the two of you to the kitchens so late?" she wanted to know. "In search of a snack, or perhaps just a nice cup of tea?"
"Oh, tea would be lovely, if it's not too much trouble," I said, just as Boromir piped up hopefully, "Rusk?"
Mag laughed, reaching out to briefly touch Boromir's bare foot where it peeped out from under the shawl. "Tea is no trouble," she assured me, "and I imagine that I could find a rusk or two as well. Now sit down, and make yourself comfortable."
I sat down at one of the tables, adjusting Boromir in my lap, as Mag busied herself with the tasks at hand. I was a bit surprised when she set three mugs on the table along with the teapot. I said cautiously, "Mag, I do not think Boromir is quite of an age for tea…"
She poured a teaspoon's worth into one of the mugs, then filled it the rest of the way with milk I had not even seen her warm up. "Bit of cinnamon and honey in there as well," she said, winking at me as she joined us at the table. "That ought to ease him towards sleep."
"Rusk?" Boromir asked, eagerly reaching for the plate. "Please thank you?"
"Ah, and see how well-mannered he is!" Mag smiled, handing him one. "Such a lovely child, though quite a handful, I'm sure."
"Oh, he is not as rowdy as some I've cared for, " I replied, thinking of my younger siblings. "And there is only one of him, after all. He's not yet difficult to keep up with."
"I'm sure that's a comfort," Mag said, watching Boromir as he began to eat. "And you - are you enjoying life in the White City, and your position here? It's quite different from Dol Amroth, I'm sure, though I've never been there. I've heard tell it's a lovely city too. All that seafood must be a treat. Or do you become sick of it after a while?"
"It is....different here, you are certainly right about that. Busier, I guess. I did not really expect Minas Tirith to be so large!" I admitted, remembering how overwhelmed I had been when I first arrived. "As for me, I have never tired of fresh seafood -- it is one of the things I miss most." I had been surprised at how much I missed having seafood whenever I pleased -- here, it was a treat, not an everyday dish.
Boromir was trying to lift his mug, but could not quite get his small hands around it, so I helped him lift it, and held it while he drank. "And I am enjoying my position - Boromir is a sweet boy. He has recently had some of the lords' sons come in to play, and he seems to enjoy that." I could not have asked for a better opportunity to approach the subject.
"Was that your idea?" Mag asked. "What a clever girl! 'Tis true, not that he's a spoiled child -or not overly spoiled, you keep a good eye on that. But he'll need to learn to get along well with others, if he's to lead. What kind of games do they play?"
I blushed, for it was not often someone called me "clever". "Thank you -- yes, I thought he needed some companions his own age. I have many siblings, and it seemed odd for Boromir to have no children to play with. They play whatever strikes their fancy - he's got so many toys to choose from! Often they like to pull out everything he owns and play with all of them together." I thought it was curious that Mag was so interested in this -- most women without children could have cared less what little boys did to occupy their time.
Boromir was after his mug again -- rusks were by nature very dry --and again I held it for him. "Drink more slowly, Boromir - you are getting it all over." I dabbed at the spot on his nightshirt with the shawl, and went on, carefully choosing my words. "The other nannies... they mostly sit and chat with me. I've not had a chance to meet most of them before, and...they seem to like to gossip a great deal."
"Ah, gossip! The City runs on it, more than water or food it seems sometime!" Mag exclaimed knowingly. "Those magpies are always chattering away. There's an old expression, too - 'knowledge is power' -- and there are always some to want to trade in that kind of coin, if you take my meaning. They'll exchange pieces of stories, embroider what little of truth they've got, and make up the rest." She laughed, and I wondered if she was going to dismiss my fears as just something that I would have to put up with for as long as I lived here. But then Mag cast an appraising eye at me. "Has one of those magpies said something that is hurtful to you?"
I wiped milk from Boromir's face, then took a long drink of tea, giving myself time to screw up my courage further. It was, after all, why I had sought Mag out. I took a deep breath. "Have you...I am sure you hear a lot of things, with all the people that come in and out of your kitchen ...have you heard anyone say that I ...that there is something…um...inappropriate between me and Lord Denethor?" The words spilled out in a rush, and I could feel my face turning bright red.
Mag choked on her tea. "With the Lord Denethor? That cold.…" she was giggling as if she were years younger than me, which, somehow, put me at ease. "Forgive me....it's just that...him, of all people!" She lowered her voice conspiratorially. " Now his father, Lord Ecthelion....now he was a one. They warned us about him, first thing, and so we warned all the other new ones as they came along. Free with his hands, he was, and there are some as said he was like that with the lads as well ...but now I'm gossiping, just as bad as those magpies! But Lord Denethor....no, he's not ever a one for anything like that." She wiped tears of laughter from her eyes.
I was blushing furiously, but managed to reply, "Mmmmm, yes, I was warned about Lord Ecthelion, not that I am ever in his presence. So....so you've heard no rumours about… ...about how I got this position? One of the women -- she told me that everyone believes I earned my place by....um…"
"By what? Oh -- " she took a look at my face and I am sure saw that I was too embarrassed to be more specific. "Oh, my dear...not that you're not a lovely lass, but no, oh no, not a bit. Anyone who works here would laugh at such a tale as well. We know him, you see, and of course we know you, too. But those outside, as well as inside, have such little lives of their own that they need to create tales to fill up the holes in their own brains."
I was a bit confused as to how anyone in the Steward's household knew me, considering how little I interacted with any of the other servants, but Mag's assurance did bolster my confidence. "I suppose it is understandable, when people talk about those in a high position. But I am just Boromir's nanny. Why would she --why would anyone- make up something like that about me? I do not know her -- I have never done anything to harm or upset her...well, until today."
"Jealous, probably," Mag nodded, smiling as Boromir reached for another rusk. " 'Tis a goodly position, and there was quite a bit of curious talk as to where and how a nanny would be found. You were quite unexpected, dear, to most, and likely put a nose or two out of joint. But we all thought it understandable for her to want someone from her own land, to be a comfort to her among strangers."
I bit my lip, realized I was doing so, and made myself stop. "I do not know that being from Dol Amroth will help me," I confessed, unnecessarily straightening Boromir's hair. He was oblivious to all, perfectly content with his rusk and his sweet milky tea. "I got very angry at the other woman -- she cannot sit and say such vile things in the Steward's house and expect me do nothing! So I...um...I threw her out of the nursery. Had her escorted out by one of the guards."
"You did what?" Mag began chortling again.
"I threw her out," I repeated, half-mumbling. "Olleth was just --sitting there, looking smug, as if she had caught me with my hand in the cookie jar! And she was so -- oh, she made me so angry!" My voice had risen with indignation just remembering the look on Olleth's face, and Boromir looked at me.
"Angry?" he said anxiously, touching my chin.
"No, Boromir, I am not angry," I told him, lowering my voice to a less strident level. "I'm sorry, little one. I did not mean to be so loud." He beamed at me, and turned back to his rusk, which he was breaking into pieces and dunking into his tea.
"Olleth, was it? Good for you!" Mag declared, and something in her voice made me think that this was not the first time Olleth had roused someone's temper. "And what did you say to her?"
"I told her to get out, and that she was not welcome back," I said, "and that she had given great insult to the Steward's entire family. She would not leave immediately, so I -- I called one of the guards to help her on her way. And now…" I sighed, "Lady Finduilas wishes to speak with me tomorrow about this, and -- I do not know what I shall say to her! I cannot simply repeat those things to my lady... "
Mag was still chuckling. "…Called for the guards...oh, so that was what they were talking about! I heard something about Olleth, and 'mad as a wet hen'. Now it all makes sense.…"
"Oh,no," I gasped. "You have already heard of this? Oh.... so it is already all over the Citadel." My stomach was churning again. Lord Denethor had likely heard as well. Oh, no…
"Well, there's another example of how fast word spreads here," Mag shrugged, "and a proof for you that there was no gossip, ever, about you, else it would have been all around already."
I had been so worried that this very obvious fact had escaped me. "Hmmmm.....you are correct about that. I just -- I do not really know what goes on in the Tower. So.....do you think that the Lady will be angry with me? I -- I do not want to be sent home. I do not know how to explain my actions without saying something -- offensive."
"Sent home?" Mag scoffed. "That's the silliest thing I ever heard! Why should you be sent home because that girl is a ninny?"
"Because I lost my temper with her -- it is not a very good example to set for Boromir," I explained. "And if Lord Pelinlas decides to take offense, it could create a great deal of trouble. No-one wants a servant who starts trouble."
Mag shook her head, looking sympathetic. "Lady Finduilas may look fragile, but she's no fool. She comes from a royal house, remember, and she's seen toadying. And heard a fair bit of gossip, true or not in her days, as well. And she knows you. She knows your patience, and your affection for our dear Boromir, and the care you put into everything you do. She'll hear you out. You have nothing to fear from our lady. She is the kindest, sweetest lady who ever lived, but strong underneath."
Mag was so confident that I was starting to feel a little ridiculous about working myself into such a state. "You know her better than I do," I said, "I do not speak to her very often, and you have been in her service much longer. I have been worried that she is the type to be hysterical over such things....hysterical woman do not often let you tell your side of the story." I was thinking of my mother -- she was apt to succumb to the vapors if the bread was slightly too brown.
"Hysterical? You mean with crying, and carrying on, and such things?" Mag considered a moment. "No, I've never, ever, heard of such behavior from our Lady Finduilas."
"More?" Boromir asked, showing me his empty mug. "More tea?"
"I do not know if there is more," I said, looking to Mag, who nodded with a smile. "And I would like it if you asked properly." I did not believe in talking to young children as if they were incapable of understanding me, and had always spoken in such a manner to Boromir. He had been able to say "please" and "thank you" for six months, and I insisted that he do so, most times.
"More tea please?" Boromir directed his words at Mag, giving her a smile that could melt a heart of stone. She gave a delighted laugh, and went to refill his mug.
" I suppose the thing to remember is our Lady Finduilas wasn't born this very morning," Mag continued, "and has seen and heard things in her time - she knows people like to gossip; but she knows you, and she knows her lord, and I daresay she knows Olleth, too, and her ilk."
"Perhaps I am just used to the way my mother carries on," I said wryly as Mag returned to the table, and her smile grew wider when Boromir thanked her very sweetly. "Perhaps it will not be as bad as I have been thinking...I just do not want to upset the lady. But you are right - Lady Finduilas certainly knows her lord, and such a thing would be impossible to keep a secret, if it were happening. And you are right again -- I have been so concerned about myself that .. I forgot that the lady has probably seen worse things than a nanny losing her temper at a spiteful woman."
"You have nothing to be afraid of at all, dear," Mag assured me, patting my hand comfortably. "It'll work out just fine."
I gave a hugely relieved smile. "Thank you, Mag -- I have been fretting myself sick.....I feel much better now…"
There was a noise behind me, and Mag looked up as another woman entered the kitchens. "Nall!" she exclaimed, eyes softening with a light I could not quite place. "I didn't realize it was that late already. This is my good friend Niallis. Nall, this is Boromir's nanny."
"Hello, Nall," I said, inexplicably feeling as if I were intruding. "Do you work in the Citadel as well? I do not know many people."
"I work in the laundry, over at the Houses," Nall said. "I've seen you, though, when you've brought our little lord over to the garden. How he's grown!"
I laughed as I stood, hoisting Boromir back to my hip. His eyes were heavy, though he was still watching with interest. "And keeps growing, too. Boromir, will you say hello to Nall?"
Mag rose, and began lowering the flames on the lamps, closing up the kitchen for the night.
Boromir hesitated an instant then said, "H'llo," and quickly hid his face with his hands.
"When have you ever been bashful?" I teased him, then said, "thank you, Mag. I did not mean to take up so much of your time, and you have been so helpful."
I wrapped the shawl tighter around Boromir-- his legs seemed chilly to me. As I was doing so, I saw Mag's arm slip around Nall's waist, as Nall lightly rested her head on Mag's shoulder. Then I understood Mag's brilliant smile at Nall's appearance.
We paused at the entrance to the kitchen, and Mag shyly reached out to stroke Boromir's cheek. "Sweet boy," she said fondly, and Boromir grinned, grabbing her fingers.
"Good night, Mag, Nall," I said. "And thank you again."
"Good night, dears," Mag said, and Nall echoed her.
Boromir yawned, "Night," and waved sleepily at them, and as we began to make our way down the corridor, I heard Mag's soft, pleased laughter.
A/N - All of Mag's dialogue written by her creator, Ann.
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.