Leithian Script: Act IV: 30. Scene IV.viii - part II

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30. Scene IV.viii - part II


Steward:
Few would have marked your responses -- nor made much of them: both slight, and not inappropriate as annoyance from one impatient of being dismissed for his youth. Only in the combination, and in consideration with other things, and observed consistently over time -- and, I venture to say, only because I was watching you. One does that, when one must report how a message is received: the mere words themselves being useless without the setting, as a stone cannot be worn without its fixture.

Apprentice:
Hm. So what else was it?

Soldier: [to the Captain]
The children, sir--

[the Captain nods]

Captain:
That was another thing that was marked, by us, how you conducted yourself laboring in the Hall of Play.

Apprentice: [anxious]
Am I not sufficiently well-disposed towards them?

Captain:
Not at all -- you were too good. Even parents sometimes find the whims of their offspring to grow tiresome, as you'd know if you'd ever been either. But your patience had a sort of fascinated wonder about it, as if you were a loremaster studying some strange new phenomenon, or a traveller come to a place where the wild birds settle for winter, overwhelmed with bounty and hardly to be pried away from watching, when most people would have gone off with a headache, or at least requested a little more quiet, less frisking about, long since.

Beren: [startled]
There are children here--?

[the others look at him, and his dismayed expression turns to bitter realization]

Of course -- I -- didn't think--

Huan: [pawing over at his foot]
[thin whine]

Apprentice:
Not so many, now. --And they do not stay long, usually.

[Beren sighs, and nods after a moment. Curiously:]

--You sorrow for those you've never met.

Beren:
Don't you?

Apprentice:
Yes, but -- you -- your people -- aren't like us--

Second Guard: [aside]
Which "us" do you mean?

Beren: [intense]
--Aren't we?

Captain: [breaking in]
So after a while we started paying closer attention, after Himself pointed out that you never actually said "Ingwe" or "Valmar" when you were speaking of your King sending you to the Lady, and that everyone just assumed that was who you meant, when you spoke of your lord on Taniquetil. Things that startle you, things that annoy you -- you seem to find it very annoying to have to go up one hallway and down another to get to a place that's physically adjacent but not connected by a doorway, for example -- and things that delight you. Such as very small people who talk nonstop, for another. --Does that help you? We could spend a lot longer going into greater detail, but I thought you had things you were supposed to be doing for Lady Vaire.

[the Apprentice nods, looking a bit piqued again -- then starts and looks much more dismayed]

What's wrong, lad?

Apprentice:
I just realized something. --Well, not just, but I've been too busy to do anything about it.

Captain:
And?

Apprentice:
I didn't win.

Captain:
And?

Apprentice:
Not really. You let me win.

Captain:
I thought we'd established that already.

Apprentice:
And -- we didn't finish.

Captain:
Only just realized that?

Apprentice:
I -- I hadn't thought about what it meant! You could have demolished me, you were pushing me hard before you started giving me openings, and -- and -- I don't have a chance!

Captain:
Oh, you've got a chance, all right. Blind luck and random factors play a great part in these things. Someone might do something to distract me, or say something, or I might forget about a step in the Hall and trip, you never know. You could luck out, as they say back home.

[the Youngest Ranger reaches over and pokes the nearest of his companions hard in the arm, but his superior does not notice]

Apprentice:
But unless something happens, unpredictably, like that, your friends will "bet" on you, and they'll win.

[the Captain shrugs]

I thought I was free, once I did this job, and instead I have to look forward to -- to -- what would happen if you'd actually landed a blow?

Captain:
How should I know?

Apprentice:
! ? !

Captain:
I gather that you've been rehearsing and studying with other -- members of your family, from the level of skill you displayed, what happens when you connect with each other?

Apprentice:
Erm…

Captain:
Does it hurt? Do the effects last? Simple questions, I'd think,

Apprentice:
Well, yes, but it's -- different. There's a lot more -- noise and light, for one thing.

Captain:
Ah. You're not fighting in this form, then.

Apprentice:
Not -- not exactly.

Captain:
So you're cheating.

Apprentice: [sullen]
I suppose you could call it that.

Captain:
Well --

[setting his left hand on the hilt of his sword]

Only one way to find out--

[in a quick gesture he draws it left-handed, in a second move flips it up into the air, catching it to heft it correctly -- and sweeps it over to swat the flat of the blade hard against the side of the Apprentice's neck. With a strangled yell the "Vanyar Elf" tries to move out of the way too late, and scrambling falls down in a heap, holding at his neck. He looks up at the Captain in dismayed outrage]

I should say that it does. I don't know if you'd have to re-embody if I "killed" you, --I don't suppose you want to find out, eh?

Apprentice: [stunned]
You -- that -- I can't believe you did that--!

Captain:
Strange -- the effects seemed pretty believable to me.

Apprentice:
You know what I mean! How -- how -- that was so unfair!

Captain:
Not at all.

[he gets up, sheaths the blade and holds out his left hand to the Apprentice, who stares at him in revulsion and scrambles to his feet on his own.]

You had a fast three-count while I was drawing and turning it, and you sat there "like a bump on a log." You think an animal would stay still for such a threat? Go out and try catching turtles, if you think so. Not my fault you've not got the sense nor speed of a turtle.

Apprentice:
Turtles? Turtles are so slow, it's proverbial.

[Beren laughs, as do several of the others]

Ranger:
Didn't I say something like that when you told me to go catch turtles for my first arms practice?

Captain: [dryly]
Among many other things. Let me tell you, after being in charge of a unit for six months, I had even less idea than before why anyone would want to be ruler over the Noldor.

[to the Apprentice, as he sits back down among the company, very lecturing, but not harsh:]

Lad, nothing that fears for its life or death can afford to be wrong in that regard. And we, who have to worry about doing wrong as well, can still less afford mistakes. To be alert, to assess swiftly and accurately, that's the only answer. Else a delusion of the Enemy might cause you to fail, and cost not only your own life, but all those you're tasked to protect -- or too great haste to guard against such might lead you into murder.

[to Beren]

If I didn't remember to apologize then, I'm sorry for saying that I wished I'd not seen the Ring, and shot you as a servant of the Enemy from far off.

Beren:
You--

Captain: [interrupting]
I did mean it, then.

Beren:
I was going to say, you have to be fair, Sir -- you were only agreeing with me.

Apprentice:
Agreeing --?!?

Beren:
Yup.

Apprentice:
But -- you'd be dead. --Then. And not even have succeeded in liberating a Silmaril.

Beren: [flatly]
And nobody else would be. And the Silmarils would be where they were for hundreds of years.

Apprentice:
You -- you'd rather have died without accomplishing anything -- by mistake -- than…?

[he looks around at the Ten with a troubled expression]

Warrior: [proudly]
That's because he's Edain.

Apprentice: [frowning]
Isn't that just a dialect form for "Secondborn"?

Warrior:
Not the way we use it.

Apprentice: [sniffs, grasping for the superior manner again]
Even if one grants that you are perhaps not all crazy, you're still very confusing people. And no chivalry, no sense of sportsmanship whatsoever!

[he gives the Captain a very stern Look -- the latter is not fazed at all]

Captain:
Lesson one, friends?

The Ten, and Beren: [chorus]
"War is not a game--"

Captain:
That's why I call duelling "that silly ritual combat nonsense." It creates all kinds of bad habits, and worse assumptions, such as the one that your opponent will follow the same rules as you.

Apprentice: [rubbing at his trapezoidal again]
I'm doomed.

[pause]

Captain:
You don't have to be. If you'd like, we can train you properly, and not finish our match until you feel you're ready.

Apprentice: [bleak]
I'm not as good as you are -- and unless I…cheat…I never will be, will I?

Captain:
I've no idea. Only one way to find out--

[Nienna's student flinches]

--Nothing like that fast. Or that easy. Same principle, though -- you have to try.

Apprentice: [faintly]
Oh joy.

[pause]

Captain: [serious]
Do you want me to let you off? Call it even, once your task is done, and we're quits?

[the Apprentice is clearly thinking hard about this, but after a moment he shakes his head, though with a very unhappy look, knowing he's going to regret it -- probably more than once]

Good lad. --Second lesson: it always hurts. No matter what you do, or do not do, the results are going to be unpleasant in one way or another. That's the way of it. You simply have to pick. Would you rather live with: having walked away? --Or being beaten like an ingot until you don't stand there like a rock asking yourself -- "I say, can he really do that, now?"

[the other grimaces at the imitation, and the fact that rest of the Ten think it's funny]

--or stand there afterwards saying "Hey, I've been hit! This can't be happening to me!" for another few moments before reacting. --Shock of it, and the fear, hurts nearly as much as the blow itself, doesn't it?

[the Apprentice nods, unhappily -- then checks]

Apprentice:
You hit me with the flat, and it hurt that much.

Captain:
Don't worry, we'll train with blunted and dulled equipment until you're safe to handle live edges.

Apprentice:
No. That's not what I meant.

[getting more upset]

I wounded you with edge and point, and I didn't pull the blows either. If -- is this what it's like? To be wounded? Only worse? To be--

[he breaks off, distraught]

Captain: [gently]
I knew what I was in for.

Apprentice:
But--

[he looks at the Ten, anguished, and is not entirely reassured by their expressions]

Captain:
Are you afraid that I will exact punishment from you for that?

[giving him an intense stare]

You've already called my honor into question a second time, and you know that I can slice the truth fine enough to weave nets for even such a soaring bird-of-passage as yourself -- are you worried I have trapped you yet again?

[pause]

Apprentice:
No. You've only made trouble to defend your friends -- or, well, out of boredom, and--

[frowning]

--I suppose I could be as mistaken as before, and quite foolish saying this, but -- I don't think any of you bear me any ill will.

[turning and bowing graciously towards the Steward]

Not even you, sir, despite some cause.

[after a second the Steward gives him a neutral nod in return. To the Captain, reluctantly:]

I am worried -- about what I did to you. Can I at least see how badly your arm is hurt?

Captain:
There's naught to see -- we that are but mind and memory have no blood to spill, it's but the thought of it that counts with us, so to speak.

[brief pause]

But I'll give you my hand in fellowship, and to seal our bargain, if you will.

[longer pause]

Apprentice:
Forgive me -- I am disquieted and -- revulsed, I have to admit, by your state. --It's nothing personal, you understand.

Captain: [wry smile]
Do you think I haven't noticed that as well? Why do you think I baited you so hard and left you no time for second-thoughts of any sort? Had to encourage that hot-headed impulsiveness to the point where both your common sense and your reservations were swept away.

Apprentice: [dry]
Which, I must say, you managed most adroitly.

[sadly]

How you must despise me--!

Beren: [frowning]
I think I'm missing something. What's the matter?

[he looks at the others, who look at the Apprentice, who looks at the floor]

Apprentice:
I am not -- easy, among the -- the discorporate, though I do try not to make it obvious, or be -- insulting, about it.

Beren:
You mean dead, right?

Apprentice:
I -- suppose, though the term seems rather clumsy, seeing how, well, it doesn't mean just those who are temporarily lacking as your friends, but your own permanently-transient situation.

Beren:
But you don't mean spirits like in the stories that are invisible servants of the gods--

[breaks off]

--Is that why I couldn't
see them? Is it just as simple, as stupid, as that?

Apprentice:
Er…

Captain: [urgent]
Don't trouble over it, Beren. The answer's yes, of course, and perhaps, because what does "invisible" mean? Only that you can't see something. Does it matter why now? --That much?

[the mortal shakes his head -- his friends are much relieved]

But I don't think that he means them in any case.

Apprentice:
Well, as a matter of fact, no. --The involuntarily discorporate, to be exact.

First Guard:
What about people who choose to fade? Like the late King's first wife?

Ranger: [a bit aggressively]
Right -- does that bother you less than people who've been killed? And if so, why?

[Nienna's student is increasingly flustered and defensive]

Apprentice:
You have to understand--

Beren: [breaking in]
He's afraid of ghosts. That's all. I guess it isn't any weirder than for me.

Ranger:
Yes, but why? It isn't like
we could do anything to him, even if we wanted to.

Youngest Ranger: [conscientious]
Well, that's not quite true--

Ranger:
Yes, but not really. Not "Undeath" or possession or anything like that. Being dumb enough to pick fights, that's doesn't count. Besides--

[giving the Maia a dark Look]

--he didn't get hurt, in any event.

[his commander gestures him quiet]

Captain:
Don't be so hard on yourself, lad, you were gracious enough to help me up, troubling to you or not.

Apprentice:
Yes, but -- I had to. I'd injured you, after all.

[pause]

Beren: [thoughtful]
--Horses don't like going
near blood. Takes a lot of patience to convince a green pony to carry kill,
or go to war. They know it's wrong. Not the way things're supposed
to be.

[Nienna's student gives him a wary look]

--Not trying to insult you,
by the way. Just talking about it being in the nature of things.

Warrior: [abruptly]
What about you?

Apprentice:
What?

Warrior:
You change, don't you? That's what we've been guessing. --Though I suppose it could all be illusion, depending on whose company you're in. But when you talk about going home, you're like them again, aren't you? The rest of the Manir? So aren't you being unreasonable to feel as though there's something horribly wrong with us, when you go back and forth from being housed yourself?

[an expectant silence]

Apprentice: [still more defensive]
When I -- forsake this form, I -- am not diminished. It's only a change in states of being. I -- can't understand what it would be like to lose -- part of one's self. And I -- I really don't want to, but I can't help wondering.

[Beren raises an eyebrow]

Beren: [coolly]
Not fun.

Apprentice:
Ah -- oh. That -- I -- forgot. I didn't -- I wasn't--

[he sits down abruptly and covers his face with his hands]

Beren: [even]
It's not just that, it's everything else, too -- you don't know how much you take having both hands for granted until one's gone. It's not like having the arm broken or injured, either. I stumble just walking sometimes, because of that little imbalance in weight.

[the Apprentice, hanging his head, does not answer]

Captain:
It's all right, we won't drench you for honest stupidity.

Apprentice: [muffled]
It's hopeless.

Captain:
What is?

Apprentice:
Everything.

Captain:
Oh, I hope not.

Apprentice:
Me, at least.

[Huan comes over, whining, and tries to snuggle, leaning over his shoulder and pressing his head and muzzle against the forlorn Maia's face]

Gyah!!

[he tries to pull away from the sympathetic Hound]

Beren:
That's one of the dangers of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself when there's a wet dog around. He might feel sorry for you, too.

[the Apprentice is treated to some more canine sympathy, not much to his delight]

You better figure out what you want to do, because otherwise he's going to keep trying to cheer you up.

Apprentice: [polite but edged]
Huan, please. Would you stop doing that?

[this has no discernible effect]

Beren:
The way that works best when he's being like that is to push him hard with both hands, just like a horse. Otherwise you're just going to keep on getting wet.

[pause]

I haven't been very good at it in any sense since I lost my hand, of course.

[silence. Nienna's student grimaces and resolutely shoves Huan's nose away from his ear, straightening up]

Apprentice: [sighing]
I'm being insufferable, aren't I?

Beren: [shrugs]
You're being a kid, is all. And everyone gets like that under stress.

[he glances over at his friends, laughing at himself]

Apprentice:
But I'm not a child. Not compared to any of you, at least. I'm not all that much younger than the rest of my kind. I just -- have a hard time settling down. Everything's so interesting and different, and why limit one's self? I thought I wanted to be an Eagle, but -- it turned out to be so much routine work, I wouldn't be able to just go off and explore as I expected. And -- there were other incidents.

Beren:
Can't figure out what you want to be when you grow up, huh?

[the Apprentice bristles, then looks a bit worried when Beren only smiles and leans back to look at the Ten again]

He could talk to -- to Finrod about that too, eh?

[ducking quickly to avoid a retaliatory cuff from the Captain -- even the Steward smiles a little at the by-play]

Apprentice: [frowning]
You're trying to encourage me.

Beren: [shrugging again, pulling Huan down next to him by his collar]
Hm, yeah. --You offended by that?

Apprentice:
--No. But -- that isn't how it's meant to work. You're supposed to be helped by us, not the other way round.

Steward:
Indeed? I had heard otherwise, but I must presume myself mistaken. At least with regards to who was also in need of help, if not who should give it.

[pause]

Apprentice:
You make simple things more complicated, you know.

Third Guard:
Are you sure? Or is it only that they really were complicated all along? Lord Edrahil's usually right, even if he's got the most annoying way of putting things.

Steward: [slight smile]
One may learn patience from the most unlikely of sources, I have found.

Apprentice: [mournful]
And I thought Lady Nienna was being hard on me with that business of the candles!

Beren:
Candles? What was that?

Apprentice:
They're sort of like lamps, only more convenient: if you can imagine a stick of wax, with a cord running through it, the way the pith goes through a twig--

Beren: [pleasantly]
Actually, I used to help making them sometimes when I was a kid. On account of how they always made me get the combs out anyway because of not getting stung, and hanging around afterwards I usually got to scrounge some of the bits that were too small to be worth pressing, and plus it was boring, but not as boring as having to clean up the leftover wax after.

[the other blinks]

Apprentice: [chagrined]
You meant what was that business, not what "candles" meant.

[sighing theatrically]

She gave me a basket of candles,
and sent me into Tirion late one afternoon, telling me to light one and give it to each person I met, if they'd accept it, and ask them to carry them around until they burned out. I didn't realize the basket was attuned to the storeroom!

Steward: [raising an eyebrow]
I take it you didn't expect them to last as long as they did?

[he looks quietly amused]

Apprentice: [exclaiming indignantly]
Do you know how many people there are in Tirion?

[the Ten exchange looks]

Soldier:
Not any more.

Apprentice: [morose]
Lots. And they all think I'm mad, now.

Beren: [frowning]
So what was the point of it?

Apprentice:
I beg your pardon?

Beren:
Some kind of lesson, right?

Apprentice:
Yes. I thought it was along the lines of a practical joke, to keep me passing out candles so that every time I'd got to the end of it, and was just starting to feel hopeful, it would be filled again. And when she came to meet me at the end of it, in the great square by the Tree, and asked me what I'd learned, I said that I'd learned not to ask how things could get worse. And she asked me if that was all, and if it was all, what would it take to open my eyes? Because I hadn't even looked past the pile of candles for -- oh, hours.

Beren:
Well, that's something you never want to ask, but what was the problem? And what else was it you were supposed to figure out?

Apprentice:
I was frustrated and I'd asked her earlier in the day what difference it could possibly make whether I ever -- attained the virtues she was supposed to be instructing me in, how could it possibly be worse or better for my part, what affect could I have one way or the other on the world. And she handed me the basket, and sent me to Tirion.

Beren: [fascinated]
And?

Apprentice: [increasingly rapt in memory]
I was so tired, and footsore, and embarrassed at the end of the day, and I couldn't wait to be rid of the wretched basket, and she took me by the shoulders and said, "Next, I want you to name me the visible stars," and I groaned, and looked up -- and couldn't see a one. There was so much light in Tirion from the candles, and people were standing on roofs and balconies and walkways talking and laughing, and they weren't really laughing at me, they weren't even thinking about me.

[frowning]

--And that was -- worse, in a way that I'm not happy about. The whole City was -- almost as it had been, before the Night, but different: you could hardly even see the Beacon, and the White Tree was almost as gold as the Lady Tree before She died, and -- it was so beautiful I couldn't even speak, and I hadn't even noticed how many people were carrying my candles, or how much difference it made as Narya came home and it got dark. And we sat there in the square and watched until the flames died away and we could see some of the brighter stars and did that and then we went home.

Beren: [quietly]
What tree was that? I thought -- both of them…?

Apprentice:
--Oh. No -- that was the White Tree, Galathilion, who lives in Tirion. He -- he was a little version of Telperion, almost like a portrait, but alive, not made of anything inorganic. When the wind blows he flickers just like living flames, but silver. You should see him, when you're--

[he breaks off]

I -- I'm--

Beren: [looking at him intently]
I have. Just now, through your words.

Apprentice:
It hardly seems enough.

Beren:
Never is. But you take what you can get.

[the other gives him a troubled look]

Sounds to me like you learned stuff from that.

[Nienna's student smiles, hesitantly and after a briefer physical hesitation, holds out his right hand -- even as he realizes his mistake and falters Beren pulls him to his feet, left-handed, and leads him the few steps to where the Captain is sitting, giving him an encouraging slap on the back as his victorious opponent slowly rises and looks at him consideringly]

Apprentice: [resigned, and formally polite]
I'm very grateful for your kindness and trouble, milord, in--

Captain: [shaking his head]
Not yet, you shouldn't be. You're going to hate me, and every single one of us, many times over, before you're through.

Apprentice:


Captain:
But -- if you train properly, you will learn not only self-defense but a certain amount of discipline, and very definitely focus, or you'll wash out very quickly. Can't promise anything more than that, and only what you're willing to learn.

[daunted but resolute, the Apprentice holds out his hand again and does not look away in discomfiture or embarrassment as they shake on the deal]

Apprentice:
I promise you, sir, I will learn whatever you can teach me. Nor to quit before you say I can't learn anything more.

Captain:
And I pledge I will not ever, ever push you harder than I truly believe you equal to -- in training. In a testing match, that's a most different story. But even there, I will never punish you, not least for being good -- that is, I will never deliberately hurt you in retaliation for the same, of anger, or humiliate you for making me look the fool as you improve.

[his adversary looks shocked at the notion; he smiles grimly]

Oh yes. You don't think I've been tempted -- or that you will be too? Just wait until some half-yen recruit walks in out of the woods and splits your arrow without even half-trying--

[glancing over at the Sindarin Ranger, who looks away with an embarrassed grin]

--and then does it again, without any more work, so it's clearly not one of those random incidents that sometimes happen -- and it's equally clear from the minute he draws his sword that he's never used it for anything but a machete to cut reeds with, or possibly to play at swordfighting with other children. If you don't think the temptation'll be there to flatten the little punk so that he -- and everyone else who's witnessed it -- will remember who was the one who looked the fool at day's end, then you've never been in that situation.

Ranger: [wonderingly]
We would never have guessed you felt that way, if you hadn't apologized for it when it was his turn.

[Nienna's student gives him a puzzled frown -- answering the unspoken question:]

In the Pit, sir.

[the Apprentice looks quite ill]

Captain: [to all of them]
One learns things about one's self, inevitably, as a teacher, if one does the job properly. And if one learns -- then one has a choice that must be made. I didn't much care for the destination if I set foot on that path -- it led due North, to my mind. Or who would be left at the end of it.

Apprentice: [pulling himself gamefully together]
So, what, you just beat people up for the sheer fun of it now?

Captain:
Mostly. Or because they need it, as per those who are trainees. --Sometimes for being repellent, arrogant twerps who need it, regardless of the amusement value, to remind them not to humiliate those they think weaker for their own amusement. But not because I've been slighted, however slightly, in front of others.

[stern]

Though if you do things that are not within Eldarin abilities to get out of trouble, in the future, you'll make that much more difficult for me.

[the Apprentice nods, rueful]
--Of course, you and I are going to disagree significantly on what you're capable of.

Apprentice: [stoic]
This is going to hurt. A lot.

Captain:
Third lesson -- it always hurts. No matter how good you are.

[the disguised Maia rubs at the side of his neck once more]

Apprentice: [a touch resentfully]
Did you enjoy scaring me like that?

Captain:
A little. You were quite obnoxious, crowing like that earlier, you know, and I'm still going short for that last blow.

[pause]

--Not anywhere near as much as you not backing down, though. I look for the best in people, and sometimes--

Both Rangers: [coming in simultaneously]
--he's not disappointed.

Captain:
-- I'm not disappointed.
Apprentice: [sour]

You're all enjoying this.

Warrior:
Consider it thus, gentle sir -- you've been here to be learning patience, well, you've found the shortest way to it. Nothing like learning from the best, is there now?

Apprentice: [wary]
Indeed?

Warrior: [nodding]
Why, the commander will patiently drub you sixty times running, if need be. Where another instructor would say, "go off and practice at the pels until you get the hang of it," he'll keep after you until you start paying attention and actually learning.

Apprentice:
Oh joy.

[but he doesn't sound quite as gloomy as might be expected -- this is, after all, a major challenge to look forward to.]

Beren: [musing]
You know, where I come from, we seal bargains with a drink as well as a handshake.

[he and the Captain exchange a meaningful Look]

Captain: [offhand]
True. --You want to do it
all right and proper as per the Old Country?

Apprentice: [getting interested]
Oh, that's with a drinking horn, and that beverage that they make out of bread, right?

Captain:
Something like that, yes.

[the Apprentice does not notice the attentive and hopeful aspect of the other shades, not excluding the Steward, for all his attempts to seem disinterested, in his enthusiasm for arcane lore and living history--]

Apprentice:
Oh, how fascinating! A genuine new-fashioned custom from another culture -- this will be something exciting to tell my family next time--

[meanwhile the Captain has manifested a drinking horn with rather ornate fixtures and offered it to Beren]

Beren:
Hey, I've seen this one before --Wow! I guess it did come from Nargothrond like everyone said.

Captain:
Yes, I thought you had. You want to make sure I've remembered everything right?

[Beren takes the horn carefully, bracing the tail of it on his forearm, and tries the contents]

Beren: [judiciously]
That's not bad at all.

Captain:
Himself will be happy to hear it. It's always tricky, replicating someone else's art, especially when one hasn't a tradition of it, such as brewing.

[he reclaims the horn, solemnly drinks from it and with a formal gesture passes it to the Apprentice, who unwarily takes a large gulp, and is horrified. Everyone else is much amused.

Apprentice: [gasping]
What -- what is this?

Captain:
That's ale.

Beren:
Also called beer.

Apprentice:
It's supposed to taste like this? Bitter?

Beren:
Nearly. I mean, it tastes the way I remember it, which isn't the same as really tasting something.

Apprentice:
And people drink this voluntarily? Not just because you haven't any wine?

Steward: [aside]
Incredibly, yes.

Apprentice:
And you -- you like it?

Second Guard:
Mortals do.

Beren:
Most. Not everyone.

Steward:
And a very few mad Eldar. --Most definitely not everyone.

Youngest Ranger:
His Majesty likes beer, sir.

Steward: [haughty]
His Majesty has not ever been able to determine whether he likes it or loathes it. Hence his continuing tests across the centuries, culminating in the experiment which served to prove that it would never under any circumstances replace the vintners' work in popular esteem. --Nor even rival it, saving among certain lunatics and risktakers both here and in Doriath. --Though I always suspected it was at least in part an affectation, to appall more civilized folk.

[the Captain grins]

Apprentice: [shaking his head]
It's like some horrible perversion of mead.

Beren:
It is not! Mead is something completely different. And a lot sweeter.

Steward:
He means something entirely other by it, in any case. The word was simply applied by analogy -- it isn't what they drink here.

Beren: [plaintive]
Why did you all do that? How come you didn't just make up different words for different things?

Steward:
Alas, I was not consulted when our ancestors first devised language, not having been born then, or rest assured I would have insisted upon a more logical state of affairs -- I warn you, however, that the result would have been even more words, and thus more nouns to decline.

[pause]

Beren:
There's that.

Apprentice: [a bit sulky]
You're enjoying yourselves at my expense again.

Beren:
But that's good. That means you're welcome.

[the Apprentice gives him a doubtful Look]

Apprentice:
But -- they engage in humor at nearly everyone's expense. It doesn't mean that -- oh, the Warden of Formenos is welcome--

Ranger:
Seneschal.

Apprentice:
Hm?

Ranger:
He'd be very put out to hear you. Formenos was a much grander stronghold than any of their holdings in Beleriand, because they didn't stop to pack the way we did, and so he has to have a grander title than anyone else.

Apprentice:
Don't they mean essentially the same thing?

Beren:
You'll have to ask--

[he does not duck quite soon enough]

--ow!

[rubbing his head -- to Nienna's student]

See? That's what I meant. He wouldn't have dinged me like that otherwise.

Apprentice: [bemused]
But how do you know? What's teasing-to-show-ease, and what's simple mockery? Are there any rules?

Beren:
Nope. It just depends. --Do you want that?

[nodding to the drinking-horn which the Apprentice is still holding as though it were a poisonous snake]

Apprentice:
Ah -- no.

[with a very dubious expression, not sure what's going to be perpetrated on him next, he starts to pass it across -- but Huan gets up and leans over, intercepting it, and starts lapping out of it.]

Is that part of your joke?

Beren: [chagrined]
No, I think that's Huan teasing both of us.

Huan:
[enthusiastic tail-wag]

[Beren tugs him away by the collar again as if he were a horse and claims the drinking horn]

Apprentice:
Is -- that also a mortal custom, sharing one's vessels with one's livestock?

Beren: [swallowing]
--Not ordinarily. But it's Huan, and it's a shame to waste good beer.

[the other grimaces in recollection]

Besides, we're both ghosts, so I don't think it matters anyway.

[this gets him a damp bit of doggy affection in turn.]

Apprentice: [frustrated]
I'm still baffled. I don't know why he's doing this.

Beren:
What?

Steward: [comprehending]
Being a dog? Or remaining discorporate?

Apprentice:
Both.

Beren:
But didn't he choose to keep going in the Rebellion? So isn't he under the Doom with them, too? Until Lord Mandos judges him?

Apprentice:
Well, yes, but--

Beren:
You think he's gonna cheat and, what, use special privileges to get out of here? Like it was all a game, and now because he's a demi-god he's going home and everyone else has to suffer through?

Apprentice:
Erm--

Beren: [earnest]
He's Lord of Dogs. He's got way too much honor to do that.

Apprentice: [hurt]
You needn't talk to me as though I were stupid.

[Beren nudges at Huan's foreleg with his foot, and the Hound grins up slyly from where he's resting his head on his paws]

Beren:
I'm not saying anything that he might not tell you. He called me "witless" for being about to try to walk into Angband alone.

Fourth Guard: [innocent]
But what you haven't told us, is -- was that a conditional statement or not?

Beren: [nodding towards the Maia]
You want for me to teach him that reaping song that has a hundred different verses that all sound the same?

Apprentice: [frowning]
What? That's a contradiction in terms.

Beren:
Not really. There aren't any real words, and each verse is just a note different from the other one, and when you finish all of them the changes bring you right back to the first one. It sounds really neat when you do it right.

Apprentice:
How can you sing it if there aren't any words?

Beren:
Well, there are words, only nobody knows what they mean any more. They don't even mean anything in our Old Tongue. There are a lot of working songs like that. And they all sound kind of the same, but they're different. So the threshing song is actually the reaping song done backwards.

[pause]

They seem really easy to sing, but they're not easy to get right, and if you mix it up you have to start over, and your friends throw chaff at you for breaking the changes because if one person gets off then everyone loses their place.

[with a rueful smile towards the Steward]

Lord Edrahil absolutely hates them, on account of how they're boring and complicated at the same time.

Steward:
You left out the fact that once one hears one such -- tune, one cannot banish it from memory.

Captain:
And you've left out the fact that you made certain that someone was humming it, in response to your peevish reminiscences, just when the Warden of Aglon was happening along to scoff at Himself for having been set down by Amarie.

Beren:
See, that's humor-at-someone's-expense.

Captain:
And a particularly-ruthless employment of a Gift, as well.

Steward: [extremely patronizing]
--Delightful as this has undoubtedly been, I must leave you to your…simple diversions, now.

[he gets up and bows to the Apprentice, just a shade too deeply -- his composure is mostly recovered and his expression is faintly ironic, ready for verbal combat.]

Beren:
But not this. This is just friendly joshing around.

[the Steward taps him lightly on the head as he goes past]

Steward:
Don't bedevil your elders, child -- or at least make a serious effort, if you can't do better than that.

[they share a quick smile]

Beren:
I promise I'll follow your example, sir.

Steward: [sniffing]
Did I advise you thus? I think you'll find not.

[as he edges through, his companions all reach up and clasp his hand or pat his arm]

Captain: [serious]
Good luck--

Steward: [very dry]
It can't be any worse than explaining to the Lady how it was that a conduit was inadvertently sheared across. --And no, I'd not have another instance to verify comparisons.

Apprentice: [staring after him]
You are all insane.

Captain:
Yes, but you have to admit, we do have so much more fun.

[the disguised Maia tries to look prim and disapproving and responsible -- and fails utterly]

Any bets on how long it'll take before he's tripping people into fountains too?

Apprentice:


First Guard: [cheerfully reassuring]
You'll fit right in.

Apprentice:
Ah -- was that meant as a compliment? Or as humor?

Beren: [nodding, very seriously]
You got it.

Apprentice: [lightly, but with a more thoughtful look than his words indicate]
--Melisma, but you've caught the habit of cryptic Elven -- erm, I suppose I've got to call it wit? -- as well!

[Huan stretches his way up, leans over, and snuffles him enthusiastically, evoking another strangled yell]


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.

Story Information

Author: Philosopher At Large

Status: General

Completion: Work in Progress

Era: 1st Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 08/11/03

Original Post: 12/24/02

Go to Leithian Script: Act IV overview

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