It was a beautiful mid-summer night in Dol Amroth. The stars and the moon shone brightly above. Their pure brilliant light reflected off of the drawn blades of two combatants as they circled around one another on a cliff beside the sea.
Five spectators flanked the swordsmen in a semi-circle. There was a distinguished white-haired knight serving as a judge, and then each combatant was supported by two seconds. And then one of those seconds was accompanied by his bodyguard.
"You know, I think this is how regular work-a-day fellows like myself get fired, your highness," that bodyguard remarked in a good-natured aside.
His highness the Lord Elboron, heir to the princedom of Ithilien and oldest grandson of Elessar Telcontar, King of the Reunited Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor, murmured back, “Don’t worry, Alagon. I’m only here as a second, and if anyone’s hide gets nailed to the wall for this, I’ll make sure it’s mine.”
Alagon chuckled, and then muttered ruefully, “I know that you’re as good as your word, Sir, but I’m fairly certain that this is exactly the type of thing Lieutenant Borlas said I wasn’t to let you get yourself involved in when he handed you over to me.”
“I’m sure he wasn’t that specific,” Elboron protested. Dueling was, after all, legal in Dol Amroth. The practice had been banned in most of Gondor and Arnor during the years immediately following the Ring War. Part of the reason for that ban was the King’s response to a duel Elboron’s father Faramir had fought with a mind-sick soldier, a man who had blamed Faramir for the death of his brothers at the Battle of the Pelennor. Elboron knew that his father still blamed himself for many of those deaths. Knowing that, and knowing his father, Elboron could believe that Faramir had been unable to deny the grieving man’s demand that he meet him sword-to-sword. But he understood his grandfather’s feelings on the matter as well. Faramir had only been following orders on the Pelennor. The deaths hadn’t been his fault. And Faramir’s death at that point wouldn’t have helped anyone, but Elboron was perhaps somewhat biased in that regard.
The ban on dueling had originally been intended to apply to Dol Amroth as well, but Prince Imrahil had objected on the grounds of it not being worth the trouble to enforce. Dueling had a long historical tradition in Dol Amroth, its founding prince, Prince Imrazor, having fought no less than fifty duels, forty-five of which he’d won. Dueling to the death had always been taboo in Gondor’s only semi-autonomous principality, but duels to the satisfaction of honor, or to first blood, whichever came first, were still permitted, albeit not without certain proprieties being required.
Proprieties which had all been observed, Elboron had made sure of that at least. He’d at first tried to convince his sergeant, Landir, the challenged party, from going through with the whole ordeal to begin with. But when Landir had confessed that his future wife had been accused of lewd behavior with her own brother, and that the accuser, one Sir Raevor, had refused to recant his bitter words unless Landir met him in single combat, well . . . what was a good officer to do but stand as his man’s second? Even if said officer was angling for what he felt was a well-deserved early promotion, it was the thing to do.
Besides, Landir was a good fellow. Orphaned in the wake of the Ring War, he had grown up in one of the orphanages founded by Elboron’s adoptive grandmother, Queen Arwen. Without the advantage of parents or noble blood, Landir had worked and sweated his way into the highest position a non-commanding officer could hold in the Reunited Kingdom’s army. Sir Raevor, on the other hand, was in Elboron’s considered opinion a good swordsman but otherwise an entitled donkey’s ass.
The problem that had led them to the cliff overlooking the sea and the old sandstone castle had begun when Sir Raevor wooed Landir’s betrothed, Tiril Fendoriel. Fendor, Tiril’s father, had been a knight in service to the old Lord of Lossarnach, putting Tiril, at least in Raevor’s opinion, well out of the social reach of Landir, a potter’s orphaned son.
Elboron knew and even loved a number of people who would have agreed with that sentiment, but Tiril and Landir had not, and that was all that mattered to Elboron. Tiril had spurned Raevor, apparently in less than diplomatic terms. Given Raevor’s general disposition and attitude, Elboron found it hard to fault her for that. Raevor had responded to this romantic disappointment by announcing at the party for Landir and Tiril’s betrothal that Tiril was unfit for marriage due to having dallied with her own brother.
Landir and Tiril’s available recourses were to force Raevor to recant by proving before a court that his words were untrue, or to meet him in a duel and prove by winning it that he spoke falsely. Proving Raevor a liar in court would have meant airing his accusations again in public, which while Tiril was willing to do, Landir understandably wished to avoid. As did Tiril’s brother Thoron, who served this night as Landir’s other second. Tiril herself was apparently unaware of the duel, as she didn’t wish to risk her husband’s life over mere words, however incendiary. Elboron had some sympathy for that point of view, but Landir was one of Elboron’s men, and if Landir was determined to go through with this, then Elboron would stand by his side.
Raevor was a more skilled swordsman, but Landir had spent more time in actual combat. If Elboron had been a betting man, he would have put his money on Landir.
Of course, that was only true if Raevor didn’t cheat. Elboron stiffened and put his hand to his sword-hilt as the dark-haired young knight once again reached for his belt knife with his off hand.
“Sir Raevor,” scolded the duel’s judge, a retired navy lieutenant, “If you draw a secondary weapon, Sergeant Landir will win by default.”
“Minas Tirith slum trash!” sneered Raevor, spitting at his opponent. Landir, to Elboron’s pride, kept his tongue and his temper, waiting patiently for Raevor to make a mistake.
“You know,” Elboron’s bodyguard Alagon drawled, “I’ve been reliably informed by our Haradrim allies that Minas Tirith doesn’t even have slums.”
“Southron-loving scum!” Raevor added, turning his head to glare at Alagon just long enough for Landir to land a solid blow to his side. Landir kept good control of the blade, slicing through Raevor’s fine tunic with only enough force to cut him lightly. But blood there was, and blood ended a duel in Dol Amroth.
Elboron sighed in relief, anticipating chilled wine and cinnamon cakes with buttercream frosting, and even better, their arrival to the evening’s festivities at Prince Imrahil’s castle before anyone in the family noticed his delayed arrival to the after-dinner revelry. After all, while duels themselves might be legal in Dol Amroth, Aragorn had long ago decreed that none of his children were permitted to be involved in them, either as duelist or second or witness. It had apparently been the subject of a long argument between Imrahil and Aragorn, which had ended, much to Faramir’s disgust, when both of them agreed that Faramir had been out of line in getting into the duel with the mind-sick soldier. Still, it was a prohibition which stood to this day, and not one that Elboron was in a hurry to find out whether his normally tolerant grandfather still felt it necessary to enforce.
“Sir Raevor, you have been wounded. Sergeant Landir is the victor. Desist and drop your weapon, Sir!” yelled the judge. Raevor, unheeding, drew his dagger and threw it at Landir, at the same time hefting his sword and preparing to go after the unprepared sergeant with that as well.
“Oh, Raevor would be this type of idiot!” Alagon griped, and then was just a hair too slow to catch his lord as Elboron threw himself between Raevor and Landir.
“Valar-curse-it-all, my Lord!” Alagon yelled, tackling one of Raevor’s seconds before he could go to the cheat’s aid, “THIS is how bodyguards get fired!”
Elboron was too busy avoiding Raevor’s blade and keeping himself between the enraged knight and his sergeant to laugh, otherwise he might well have. Faramir, Borlas, Beregrond, and Orohael had hand-picked Alagon to be Elboron’s primary bodyguard, and would probably not fire him over this, even if Daerada Aragorn wanted them to. But Elboron had little time to think on that, as Raevor’s other second had dodged Alagon and the judge and was on his way to help his idiot friend.
“Hold!” bellowed an authoritative and irritatingly familiar voice, “Hold in the name of your Prince!”
Elboron hid a smile as he disarmed the white-faced Raevor, thinking to himself that this might be the first time he’d ever been glad to see his cousin Alphros! The family’s cheerful troublemaker and the future Prince of Dol Amroth was five years older than Elboron, and had often teased the more quiet, earnest, and scholarly Elboron while they were growing up. Of course, now they were both adults. Alphros had settled down and was now married to Elboron’s beloved aunt Melyanna, Aragorn and Arwen’s older daughter. And to be fair to Alphros, this was at least the second time that Elboron had been glad to see him. The first had been that time with the sand burrs.
“Well-met, nephew!” roared Prince Alphros merrily, slinging a bulky arm around Elboron’s more slender shoulders as his soldiers took the protesting Raevor and his compatriots into custody.
“Alphros.” Elboron greeted his cousin levelly, knowing from unfortunate experience that pointing out that he didn’t like being called Alphros’ nephew would just result in more teasing. “Kind of you to appear in such a timely fashion. Sir Raevor is apparently in need of a reminder as to Dol Amroth’s time-honored rules of dueling.”
“Always happy to remind one of my Swan Knights of such important procedures, Bron,” Alphros replied airily, but with a chilling look towards the now cringing Raevor. That particular knight’s evening did not improve as Alphros consigned him to the custody of the angry dueling judge. Elboron couldn’t find it in himself to regret Raevor’s unhappy fate. He was too much concerned with his own immediate future.
Alphros pulled Elboron, Landir, and Alagon aside as they re-entered the castle complex.
“You will never guess how I heard about your activities tonight, Bron!”Alphros remarked jovially.
With an internal groan that matched Alagon’s loud sigh, Elboron asked hopefully, “Tiril came to the guard when she realized that Landir and her brother weren’t out drinking in anticipation of their marriage as they had claimed?”
“No. Well, yes, she did – you have a good woman in her, Sergeant Landir.”
“Don’t I know it,” said that worthy with a self-conscious grin, “I’m sure that she’s none-too-pleased with me at the moment, though.”
“That was my guard captain’s impression, yes.” Alphros said with no small amount of sympathy, “Why don’t you go ahead and see what you can do to make it up to her? I need to have a few words with my cousin and his man here.”
“Yes, your highness,” agreed Landir. After all, what more was there to say? He did give Elboron an apologetic look over his shoulder, which Elboron appreciated. It wasn’t as if Landir had known about Elboron’s grandfather’s rather stringent position on dueling, but it was generally frowned upon to get the heir to a princedom into the middle of a fight, however inadvertently.
“Go ahead, Alphros,” Elboron asked, figuring that he might as well get it over with. “Tell us who sent you out after us tonight.”
“Well,” began Alphros with a sympathetic smile that made the hairs on the back of Elboron’s neck rise in fear, “My grandfather and your grandfather were taking a post-prandial stroll around the northern balcony . . .”
Elboron did groan at that. Alagon smacked his head with his hand, and then he smacked Elboron’s shoulder for good measure.
“When they happened to see a duel on the cliff opposite them. You’ll never guess who recognized you first, Bron,” Alphros continued airily.
“Daerada Aragorn,” guessed Elboron.
Alphros outright laughed, the louse. “No. Did I forget to mention? Our venerable elders were accompanied by three young, impressionable boys.”
Elboron closed his eyes and sighed. “Elion, Elros and Kader all saw me jump between two armed men, didn’t they?”
“I think that’s a fairly safe bet, yes. Elion recognized you first. Observant boy, your baby brother. And he worships you,” Alphros reported with a wholly unnecessary amount of ebullience. Elboron fought an urge to push Alphros into the fountain beside the orange trees. A not-uncommon urge, when it came to Elboron’s interactions with Alphros.
“So, guess who wants to talk to you now?” Alphros concluded, with another irritating grin.
Elboron didn’t bother to guess. Great Uncle Imrahil wouldn’t be pleased, but it would be Daerada Aragorn who wanted to talk to Elboron. And "talk" certainly meant "lecture and scold."
“Oh, and Borlas, who is here keeping an eye on Elion, would like to have a word or six with Alagon.”
“Perhaps I could be fired instead?” Alagon asked hopefully.