38. Manners Maketh Man
Manners maketh man. William of Wykeham
With thanks to Raksha
King and Steward sat companionably beside each other on a bench watching the fishes swimming in the pool beneath the fountain in the Queen's garden. In contrast to his elders, Eldarion dashed between the bushes, throwing sticks for his lively spaniel, Nimrodel.
"How quickly this garden has grown and become a place of peace and beauty!" Faramir observed. He leaned forward, trailed a finger in the sunken pool, and then smiled when a fish gently nibbled it.
"I am so glad we have this private place of refuge in the Citadel," said Aragorn. "Arwen loves it too as it reminds her a little of Imladris. When the weather is as hot as today, I could happily spend all afternoon sitting here. I suppose I should be making my way to the Court of the Fountain," he said. "The Grand Potentate of Khand should be here soon." He sighed, looking down ruefully at his elaborate clothing, specially made in silks of vivid purple and gold. "I wonder if I will ever become accustomed to having to dress like this?" he mused.
Faramir smiled, seemingly untroubled by his own near identical attire. "I have worn worst during my father's time. Purple breeches and a gold tunic are not as bad as the mustard yellow and lime green I was required to wear when greeting Lord Duinhir some fifteen years ago. My father hoped Boromir might marry his daughter and decreed we should both wear their colours to honour her. Boromir would only wear a mustard yellow shirt with green cuffs, but my father insisted that all my garments were of the ghastly hues. I cannot abide mustard to this day!"
Aragorn laughed then rose to his feet reluctantly. "Come, Eldarion!" he called. "It is time for you to take Nimrodel indoors."
Eldarion approached his father and called to the young spaniel who was burying a bone at the far side of the garden. She raced towards her master, and attempted to jump across the pool in her haste to reach him. It was too wide to jump and she landed in the water with a loud splash. Aragorn and Faramir leapt backwards to avoid getting soaked. Nimrodel clambered out, raced a swift circle around the pool, and then thrust herself into the mud at its side, rolled over, kicking her legs in the air, and finally padded over to the King. The spaniel looked up at her master's father, seeming almost to smile as she shook the water from her coat all over the King's she merrily jumped up on the King's knees, leaving muddy paw prints and pondweed embedded in Aragorn's silk breeches.
"No, bad dog!" cried the King, recoiling too late from the dripping spaniel.
"Ada, I am sorry. Nimrodel didn't mean to be naughty," said Eldarion.
The dog surveyed King and Prince with a nervously wagging tail.
Aragorn struggled to remain calm as he considered the damage: his clothing was now adorned with droplets of dirty water and mud, unmistakeable paw prints and smelly pondweed. "I do understand that it is natural that dogs shake themselves, but I am due to greet the Grand Potentate of Khand within a few minutes wearing his kingdom's colours. I have no other clothing in these colours, and even if I had, there is no time to return to my chambers. Gondor will be a laughing stock if her lord is thus attired."
Faramir looked thoughtful for a moment. He glanced down at his own spotless apparel. "Change clothing with me, mellon nîn," he suggested. "It is only essential that you greet the Grand Potentate. He will not notice I am missing, or if he does, he will believe it our custom that the King alone greets a guest."
Aragorn was about to joyfully embrace Faramir, but realised to do so would cover his Steward's prized garb in mud and pondweed too. "As usual, you have a wise solution, ion nîn!" he exclaimed. "But what will you do? You can hardly wear these clothes!"
"Eldarion can fetch me some clean garments," said Faramir. "I will wait here hidden in the bushes. " Quickly now, there is no time to loose! Eldarion, tell Nimrodel to sit over by the birch trees. Then come and hold these clean garments for your father and warn us if anyone approaches!"
Aragorn and Faramir ducked behind a clump of bushes. They were a purple flowered shrub from the east with dense dark green leaves. Aragorn swiftly flung off his now stinking garments and left them on the ground. Faramir carefully removed his clean boots, shirt, tunic, and breeches and handed them to the boy. Eldarion held the clothes aloft, so they would not get dirty and passed them to his father one by one. A few moments later, a fresh and clean looking King emerged, clad in Faramir's clothing. The two men were much of a size and if the breeches were a little short and the boots slightly too tight, it was doubtful anyone would notice.
A bell started to toll.
"Hurry!" cried Faramir. "The Potentate has reached the sixth circle. Your lady will be concerned what is keeping you, not to mention the Council!"
"A great pity the Men of Khand debar women from public life or Arwen could greet them perfectly well on her own," Aragorn grumbled. "We dare not offend the Potentate, though, if we desire peace."
He raced off in the direction of the Court of the Fountain,more than living up to his name of Wingfoot.
"Go and fetch me some clean clothes now," Faramir instructed Eldarion. "Ask one of your father's valets to find them for you." The boy gathered up the filthy garments from where the King had thrown them. Clutching the bundle, he trotted off towards the royal apartments. Nimrodel pranced at his heels, now vigorously wagging her tail and clutching a stick between her teeth.
Wearing only his drawers, Faramir settled down to wait in the shelter of the shrubbery. He had a strong aversion to being other than fully clothed where anyone might see him, but it was a hot day and for a while, wearing so little did not trouble him overmuch. The garden was strictly for the use of the Royal family and their closest friends. Not even the servants were allowed to walk within it. He had little cause to worry about anyone coming as the gardeners only worked when the Royal family were absent. However, the gardens were in clear view of many of the upper windows in the Citadel and he dared not stir from his hiding place.
The Steward waited and waited. There was no sign of Eldarion. He started to grow anxious. Surely, the boy had not forgotten him. Then he heard voices. To his horror, it was the Queen, and with her were six women, who from their elaborate jewellery, purple, and gold clothing and all concealing veils were obviously the Potentate's wives.
"It is kind of you to show me your garden, gracious lady," said one of the visitors in heavily accented Weston. "The women of our people do not usually get to see such pleasing sights when our lord pays visits."
"These flowers are most fair!" said another, approaching the bushes behind which Faramir was crouched. "They are the colours of our land!"
"They were a gift from the Ambassador Tahir of Harad," explained Arwen. "They are not native to Gondor, but seem to thrive here and we love the blooms."
Faramir crouched lower, unfortunately rustling the branches. One of Potentate's wives spotted the movement. "Eek!" she screamed in her own tongue, "A wild beast lurking in the bushes! I see its fierce eyes glaring at me!"
The ladies all started twittering agitatedly like a flock of exotic birds, their jewels jangling like bells
"The wild beast will devour us!" cried the lady who spoke Weston. "Is it a wolf or a bear? I heard that your lands harbour many wild beasts!"
Arwen stared fixedly at the bushes for a moment then said. "Calm yourselves, I beg of you. There are no wild beasts here in my garden, but I suggest we now go inside. You will wish to rest after your long journey, I am certain." Thus saying, she shepherded the ladies back within doors.
Faramir crouched lower in the bushes heaved a sigh of relief, all the while wishing fervently that Eldarion would hurry. He wished now he had kept Aragorn's clothes. Better to smell of pondweed than to have nothing to wear at all! It was starting to grow chill as the sun moved away from the bushes and the stiff pointed leaves felt uncomfortable against his skin.
He was greatly relieved when a little while later, an anxious looking Aragorn hurried into the garden, now limping slightly in the ill-fitting boots. He clutched a bundle of clothing. Faramir's head emerged from the bush. "Praise the Valar you are here!" he cried.
"I am so sorry, Faramir," Aragorn apologised. "Eldarion's nurse was annoyed with him for letting Nimrodel leave muddy paw print on the floor, and would not let him come outside again. He had already given my clothes to the washerwoman and she did not believe his farfetched sounding story. I came as soon as the Potentate went to rest in his chambers. Apparently, his wives glimpsed a wild beast here!"
Faramir stretched out an arm to take the clothes Aragorn had brought and pulled them on in great haste.
When he emerged from behind the bush, Aragorn could not help but burst out laughing.
"What is so funny?" Faramir demanded. "Are my breeches on back to front or have I truly transformed into a wild beast?"
"A wild man maybe!" Aragorn chuckled. "Your face is streaked with dirt and your hair is full of leaves and purple blossoms! Come; let me help you, ion nîn." He started to pluck the flowers out of Faramir's hair while the Steward rubbed this face with his sleeve. "I have decreed that everyone wear their own colours for the reception tonight," he said. "I have also made it clear that our ladies will be attending the feasts while the Potentate is present. We will respect their customs while honouring our own too."
"Do I look presentable enough now?" asked Faramir. "I will have a bath before the reception."
"You do. And I thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming to the rescue this afternoon."
"What else are friends for?" said Faramir. Side by side, the two men made their way indoors.
Two days had passed since the arrival of the Potentate of Khand and his wives. It seemed that Aragorn and Faramir's misadventures with their ceremonial garments had been something of an omen, for the visit was not going well, despite the carefully planned entertainments for the visitors.
Éowyn put down her spoon and beckoned a serving maid over She whispered something in the girl's ear. A few moments later, the maid returned with a shawl, which the Princess of Ithilien draped around her shoulders.
The Potentate of Khand, who sat opposite to her frowned and looked disappointed.
"Is something amiss, my love," Faramir enquired.
"I am just feeling a trifle chilled," said Éowyn, not wanting her husband to know how uncomfortable the Potentate made her feel. Whenever Faramir looked away, the man started trying to stare down the front of her gown! She considered, though, that the Potentate's appalling lack of manners should not damage the chance of a more peaceful relationship between Khand and Gondor. Her hands itched to slap the lecherous ruler, but to do so would no doubt cause a war and she had seen too many good men perish upon the field of battle.
"Let us leave the menfolk to debate matters of state," said Arwen, rising from her seat, much to Éowyn's relief. They were the only ladies present at the banquet in deference to the customs of their visitor. The King and the Steward had refused to countenance such an insult to their ladies by not including them at dinner, but Éowyn inwardly vowed that should any further state visitors from Khand come to Gondor, she would remain in Ithilien and invite Arwen to join her there.
"I would speak with you privately, man to man, Prince Faramir," said the Potentate as the guests were about to retire for the night.
Faramir readily agreed, assuming the foreign ruler saw him as a source of influence with the King.
"I think your wife most fair," said the Potentate. "Never have I seen a woman with hair like gold before!"
"She is indeed very beautiful," Faramir readily agreed.
"I would buy her from you for ten camels and five slave girls," said the Potentate.
"What?" Faramir was aghast, hardly able to believe he was hearing aright.
"You are right, my Lord Prince, the price was too low. I will give you twenty goats, ten camels, five horses, and a sack of gold and emeralds too for the woman."
"My wife is not for sale at any price," said Faramir struggling to keep his temper. He quickly left the room, deciding it wiser not to tell Aragorn lest the treaty be put at risk. He would suggest to Éowyn that she plead illness for the rest of the Potentate's stay to protect her from further insults.
Arwen raised her fan to cover the neckline of her dress from the Potentate's gaze. The dress was of a modest design, but still the Potentate stared at her figure. She could only hope that Aragorn had not noticed. Peace between the two lands could not be thrown away over one man's wandering eye.
"I would speak with you alone, Lord King," said the Potentate as the feast concluded. "Your wife intrigues me, surely as she is part Elven, she must be most skilled in the arts of love, and her beauty surpasses that of the moon. I will give you twelve camels and eight horses for her!"
"How dare you!" exclaimed Aragorn.
"You find the price too low? Or maybe you want another woman to warm your bed? I will give you one of my wives in exchange. They are all fruitful and able to give you sons. You can choose whichever one pleases you. Or would you prefer two of my concubines? They know many more ways to please a man than my wives. We train them in the arts of love from their youth. I will be generous, one of my wives, two concubines and a sack of precious stones for the woman."
Aragorn's hand instinctively reached towards his sword hilt. He feared if he tarried a moment longer, he would be sore tempted to draw it against this unspeakable excuse for a man! Speechless with rage and disgust, Aragorn strode hastily from the room, almost colliding with Faramir as he did so.
"What ails you, mellon nîn?" enquired the Steward. "I have never seen you look so angry!"
Aragorn told him.
Faramir listened in amazement. "But only yesterday the Potentate tried to buy Éowyn!" he exclaimed. "She is feigning illness to avoid him!"
"I have no desire to start a war over a lustful old fool's lack of manners," said Aragorn. "But the Potentate needs to be taught a lesson!"
"I think I have an idea," said Faramir.
The next day Aragorn and Faramir invited the Potentate to a private dinner for just the three of them. At every mealtime so far, his hosts had been serving him the highly spiced foods of Khand as a courtesy to their guest. Today, though, the food was simple fare such as a captain of Gondor might eat.
When the Potentate tasted the mutton and vegetables, he frowned. "Send for the cook and strike off his head!" he demanded. "This food has no flavour."
"The food is exactly how I commanded it to be served," said Aragorn. "As food without flavour is to you, so would life without his beloved wife at his side, be to a man of Gondor."
Much to their surprise the Potentate burst out laughing. "You are wise indeed, O King of Gondor!" he cried." I did but jest with you over desiring your wives to see if you were indeed as wise and noble as I had been told. Lesser man would have insulted their guests. Gladly will I sign your treaty, let there be peace between our peoples.
A/n. This was written several years ago for two prompts on the AA list, "Clothes" and "Manners."
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