Banjoverse: The Full Epic
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Night-whispers: 1. I
“Nay, I’m serious, sir, an’ this is the last time I’m getting’ meself all wet and muddied and floured up thanks to young Elboron-sir’s teasin’.”
The study. Bookshelves, crowded with tomes of varying sizes. Dog-eared maps neatly folded and re-folded, falling apart at the creases. Wooden horses and soldiers, intricately carved and painted. Trinkets from Harad, Rohan, the Shire, the Northern Kingdom. Embroidered cloth of Pinnath Gelin, draped carelessly over a rejected bust of the Lord Steward, gathering dust.
The wide oak desk was scattered with several new reports outlining the harvest amounts for Pinnath Gelin, Lebennin and Lamedon. Beside the unrolled parchment, wax seals, dripping with heat, ready for use, stood at attention beside ink and quill. A candle, nearly spent. A mug of tea, untouched, long since lukewarm. The window behind the desk showed a snowy winter evening – fresh white flakes falling, gathering against the windowsills. Night.
Faramir looked up. Idhren the nurse stood in the doorway, her round cheeks flushed, her grey hair pulled up in a haphazard bun. Her apron and dress were caked with flour, and she clutched a clay pot with her, apparently the flour pot. It was empty.
“Now, thas’ nearly a week’s worth a flour, an’ if I hadn’ put away some a the bread and such from las’ even, why, we would’ve had a bare supper for the comin’ sennight, by my troth.” Idhren clucked her tongue in annoyance. “I’m not asking for much, me lord, I’m jus’ askin’ that ye talk some sense inta the lad – beggin’ yer pardon, but he won’ listen to me. He jus’ keeps rantin’ on in that elfish, an’ I can’ follow a single word ‘e says.”
Faramir sighed. He leaned forward, massaged his temples. How late was it? It felt as if he had been in this study for hours, for already his head ached and his vision was blurred. Silently, he thanked his son for providing at least some distraction from an otherwise dreary and mundane task.
“Very well, Idhren, you have my sincere apologies,” he murmured. “And I shall send someone to fetch more flour from the cellars. In the meantime, I shall talk with him. Where is he?”
“Preparin’ for bed, that he should be doin’ and no mistake,” Idhren huffed. “I believe I saw the fair Lady Éowyn goin’ ta wish him good night.”
“Bring him here, I shall have a word with him.”
The plump nurse bowed her head and curtsied before hobbling away. Faramir leaned back in his chair, waited. He could hear her lumbering steps, the stairs creaking, followed by a stretch of silence. Folding his hands over his stomach, he let his eyes wander idly over the nearest bookshelf. His gaze was drawn to one title in particular: On the council of Osgiliath, as recorded by Halgon, scribe of Isildur King in the 3441st year of the Second Age. Inexplicably, his thoughts were drawn to his brother. Boromir had always struggled with the history lessons Faramir had so easily absorbed, and Faramir remembered now the painstaking effort it had taken for Boromir to recall anything more than the barest shred of detail regarding the famed Osgiliath Council. He wondered where Boromir was on this cold, wintery night...
Faramir smiled. So like Elboron, it seems. For as Elboron had grown, he too had displayed an increasing impatience with his studies, preferring instead to spend his days orchestrating elaborate, imaginary battles between the servant children with he as their captain. Once Faramir had humored Elboron and joined the children in their games, dashing across the lawns with his own miniature wooden sword, provoking a sort of concerned laughter from Éowyn as she watched him from the terrace. And Faramir had been surprised and impressed to see the complex web of alliances Elboron had managed to create – so that the stable children were considered loyal, however they were easily swayed by the kitchen children, whom Elboron would bribe with biscuits and sweetmeats from his hidden stash. The children of the gardeners and maids were considered sworn enemies to Elboron’s small army – and their leader, Idhren’s own son, young Bellmir – had recently negotiated an uneasy peace between his band and Elboron’s, in exchange for protection against the stable children, who had, in their last attack, set a scourge of toads hopping throughout the maidservant’s quarters…
Shuffling steps. Faramir snapped back to attention and saw Idhren reappear in the doorway, this time pulling along a lanky and dejected-looking ten-year-old boy. Elboron’s auburn locks were ruffled, and he kept his eyes fixed on the floor. He was barefoot and wearing his long nightshirt. Idhren urged him inside, and the boy – without ever looking up – took a few steps and then bowed formally.
A surge of affection burst within Faramir – wholly inappropriate considering he had to maintain a certain level of severity for this exchange. He smothered a smile, schooled his face into a stern, expressionless mask.
“Elboron, Lady Idhren tells me you have wreaked havoc in the kitchens, and we have lost an entire week’s supply of flour on your account.”
“Aye, father,” Elboron answered miserably and without hesitation.
“She also tells me that you have been speaking with her in the elven tongues – an entirely impolite gesture considering Lady Idhren does not speak Sindarin.”
“What is it that you have been saying?”
Elboron’s face darkened to a deep crimson. Yet Faramir saw immediately that it was not embarrassment or guilt which tainted his son’s expression, but rather the boy was trying desperately hard not to laugh. Faramir felt an anticipatory smile already bubbling up within him, and he forced it away.
“Well?” he asked, voice level. “Speak.”
A quick burst of laughter escaped Faramir before he could control himself, causing Idhren to scowl in fury and Elboron to jerk his head up to meet his father’s eyes. Yet Faramir choked back the laugh, frowned. With a quaking voice, entirely unconvincing, he chided:
“That is very impolite, my son.”
It was too late. Elboron had already understood that Faramir was not truly angry with him, and so the boy was clearly enjoying himself now. He smiled, nodded, decided to play along, keeping his face stern. Immediately, he dropped his eyes again, shuffled as if embarrassed.
“And the incident in the kitchens is enough to warrant a rather severe punishment.”
Elboron feigned a nod of utmost gravity. Idhren shifted her weight, scowling.
“Aye, father. Of course.”
Faramir pretended to muse over his judgment for a few moments. Then, with a resolute nod, he met Elboron’s eyes sternly.
“Elboron, son of Faramir, I hereby present your punishment: exile. You are hereby banished from all lands of Gondor, and especially the manor here in Ithilien. May you run free with the wild children of the forest you so clearly resemble.”
Elboron, ever the talented actor, widened his eyes with shock and gasped. He feigned one staggering step backwards – another instance that Faramir had to stifle his own laughter – before shaking his head.
“Nay, father! What of the Stewardship?”
Using all of his energy to keep from howling with mirth, Faramir pursed his lips.
“It shall go to my horse. Laerpôd.”
Father and son lost control of themselves in the same instant, and soon both of them were doubled over with laughter while Idhren was yelling something over them. Faramir could just hear the old woman over his own gasping sobs and Elboron’s high-pitched giggles:
“ – an’ I doan appreciate bein’ teased by ye too, me lord! If ye need me, I’ll be in me own quarters. Good night, me lords!”
“You shouldn’t encourage him.”
Faramir glanced up from his papers. The entertainment with Elboron had long since ended, with many sincere apologies issued to a very irate Idhren, and Faramir was alone now, in his study, staring blankly at the Lebennin report. He had read the same page several times over, never actually understanding it, but he had promised himself to finish at least one more report before he went to bed.
Éowyn approached from the doorway. She was wearing her flowing night-dress, her hair already loosened from its various braids and ties, flowing like pale gold in the candlelight. Seeing her, he leaned back in his chair with a sigh. And he opened his arms, inviting her to join him in the seat. She laughed lightly – musically – before settling in his lap, threading her fingers through his hair. Faramir leaned forward, embraced her with both arms, pulled them both back into the chair.
They lay so, lounging, for a few moments.
“And you should not tease Idhren so,” Éowyn eventually said, her breath gusting over his brow. “She has ever been a good nurse. And she is a wise woman, whatever you would think.”
Faramir nuzzled his wife’s neck, inhaled deeply. He began to pepper light kisses against the pale skin. Éowyn pulled away.
“Are you listening to me?”
“Nay…” he admitted, locking eyes with her.
She clucked her tongue in annoyance, leaned her cheek against his hair. She continued caressing his hair, pushing her hand through, and he hummed softly.
Éowyn sighed. “It seems our son has inherited his father’s romantic streak as well.”
Faramir continued to nip at her neck, her earlobe. “Mmm?”
“Aye…” Éowyn continued, distracted. “I found a poem he had written the other day for one of the kitchen girls. It was for Mallen. She is near three years his senior!”
“Mmm… she is also the enemy…”
But Faramir was too preoccupied laying open-mouthed kisses on her collarbone and shoulder to answer. He brought a hand up, cupped her bosom, rolled his hips. And she laughed suddenly, breathlessly, cupping his face in her hands.
“Husband, if you are so determined, we must find privacy.”
Faramir growled against her neck. “The house is asleep.”
“Aye, but I prefer the bed to the chair…” Swiftly, she disentangled herself – causing Faramir to moan in disappointment – and stood. She was flushed now, and smiling. “I shall wait for you in the bedroom.”
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