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"Is it today?" Faramir was fairly bouncing in his chair as he attempted to eat breakfast. "Today we’re going to sleep in a tent?”
"It is today!" Boromir exclaimed. "You said yesterday that it was tomorrow and now it is tomorrow!" He wasn't wiggling like his brother was, but his tone told me that he was just as impatient.
"You are both correct," I smiled at them as I buttered Faramir's toast. "And it is not just sleeping in a tent – you will do many other things as well.”
"What other things, Nanny?" Faramir wanted to know. He was normally a neat eater, but today was managing to smear porridge all over in his hurry to finish.
"I am not sure," I answered, deciding it would be wasted energy to clean his face now. "You shall have to ask Halhigil and Elchim."
"Who are they?" Boromir asked. "Are they going to camp with us?"
"They are Rangers," I revealed. "They are going to teach you some ranger skills."
Both boys stopped eating and stared at me with wide eyes. "Are you teasing?" Faramir asked, slightly breathless.
"No," I assured him. "I am not teasing. You shall spend much of today with them, in fact.”
They traded looks of astonishment, and burst into excited chatter.
“But –“ I interrupted them, knowing how their minds ran, “you are not going anywhere without breakfast.”
Obediently, they began to eat again, though, of course, still speculating as to what the day held for them.
When I had approached Lord Denethor with the idea of letting them camp out in the gardens, he had not only agreed, he had arranged the whole thing much more efficiently than I could have, including finding Ithilien Rangers to take charge of them for the day. "They've not yet learned many important wilderness skills," the Steward had declared, "and this would be a fine time to start. They shall need a guard for the night as well - they certainly cannot be left alone, and I do not think it would be seemly for you to sleep in the gardens overnight.”
I did not know any Rangers; I hoped that they had volunteered for the duty, for if they did not know how to manage children, it could be a trying day for all involved.
Finally Boromir and Faramir finished; then, without urging, scrubbed hands and faces cleaner than I had ever before seen them do voluntarily. Their small packs and bedrolls – worn blankets bound with twine – lay waiting expectantly on one of the couches. Boromir slipped his pack and bedroll over his shoulders easily then shoved his wooden sword through his belt. He helped Faramir struggle into his pack, then demanded, "Where are we going? Where is our tent?"
"We are going to the gardens," I said. "Do you remember where there is a tall willow?"
"Can I go?" If Boromir had been a horse, he would have been stamping his feet and snorting. "I know where it is, can I go?"
"You may both go," I nodded, and they did not need to be told twice.
Lord Denethor had informed me that he himself would assist the boys in setting up their small camp, and when I glanced out the window, I could see that he was already in the garden, so I did not hurry to follow them.
When I reached the garden, the boys and their father were deeply involved in pitching the small tent. Lord Denethor and Boromir were cutting poles to a proper length, and Faramir was hammering pegs into the ground with a mallet
I did not interrupt them, but settled on the grass to watch. The boys were enjoying themselves hugely, running to and fro to follow their father's directions, and I was quite pleased with myself, for my idea had certainly gone over well.
I was peeking into the pack to see what treats Mag had prepared when Faramir caught sight of me. "Nanny!" he exclaimed, running over to me and seizing my hand. "Look, look at our tent!"
"I have been watching you put it up," I told him, restraining the urge to brush the dirt from his knees. "What a good job you have done!"
"No girls!" Boromir had his arms crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face. "There aren't any girl Rangers, Nanny, and you are a girl, so you can't play."
I did not particularly want to stalk rabbits and sleep outside, but Boromir's tone of voice was rather too arrogant for my liking. I was preparing to chastise him when Lord Denethor spoke.
"Boromir," he said sternly, and his eldest turned reluctantly to face him. "That is not polite, especially considering that Nanny arranged for this outing. If you cannot be appreciative, then you will go inside by yourself, is that understood?"
I was caught off-guard by this reaction – I could not remember ever having heard the Steward defend me before, and it was very disconcerting.
"Yes, Father," Boromir replied, looking much abashed. He was not an unkind boy, but he was so impulsive that he often spoke before he thought. "I'm sorry, Nanny," he went on, turning back toward me, "I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, but…but there aren't any girl Rangers." He was now so earnest that I had to hide a smile, and I would have sworn that I saw the corner of Lord Denethor's mouth twitch upward.
Faramir looked as if he had been thinking something over and had not liked the conclusion he had come to. "Then where are you sleeping?" he asked me worriedly. "Are you going to leave us here?"
"I am sleeping in my own bed," I told him gently. Faramir had yet to spend a night more than one room away from me, and he was still young enough that he wanted me close by. "But of course you will not be all alone – you will have Boromir and Haloth to keep you company."
Faramir looked up at me, unconvinced. "Will you tuck me in and sing to me?"
I kissed his dirty little forehead. "Of course I will," I assured him, and he seemed much happier.
When Lord Denethor had gone, I set the boys to unloading their packs and setting up their bedrolls inside the tent. Before they had completed that task, one of the promised Ithilien Rangers had appeared. Halhigil had been in the Houses of Healing, having just recovered from a bout of lung illness. "Of course I volunteered when the Lord Steward asked," he told me, "though the healers were none too pleased - can't stand being kept in abed when there’s nothing wrong with me."
“I do not know what you know of children,” I said cautiously, not wanting to offend him, “but know this about these two – Faramir will climb anything that looks climbable, and Boromir is…..stubborn.”
Halhigil regarded me for a moment, a spark of amusement in his eyes. “I have none of my own,” he admitted, “but nieces and nephews a-plenty. I will keep your words in mind, and return your chicks safely to you, miss.”
Boromir and Faramir were dumbstruck by Halhigil’s very presence, and it took a bit of friendly coaxing on his part before either boy would say a word. They saw guards of the Citadel and soldiers every day, but Rangers were like oliphaunts – oft discussed, rarely glimpsed, and, to their young minds, the subject of many legends.
But once they started talking, there was no stopping them. Halhigil patiently answered their questions, then led them all over the garden, halting now and again to show them something on the ground or to point at a tree or plant. They wandered out of my vision, but of course I was not worried – what could happen to them here, in the company of a Ranger? Why would I be worried?
I was being ridiculous, and I knew it, and what was more, I had no say in the matter. Halhigil could take them into the deepest Harad, and I could say nothing, for Lord Denethor wished them to learn skills of the wild.
Sighing, trying not to fret, I set the pack of food inside the tent, and went back to the nursery. It seemed very quiet and empty.
“Where are we going?” Boromir demanded as Halhigil led them through the garden gates. “We’re not staying here?”
“We are going out onto the Pelennor,” Halhigil revealed. “We shall meet a friend of mine called Elchim, and we will have some Ranger training in the woods there.”
Halhigil saw the boys exchanged an awed look; likely they had never been outside the City walls except in a carriage.
“What will we see?” Faramir wanted to know, and Halhigil was surprised when the boy took his hand and held it tightly.
The Ranger smiled down at him. “We shall see many things, young master Faramir. Birds and squirrels, different types of trees, perhaps a fox or two. I shall show you how to tell one animal’s tracks from another, and if we are fortunate, we will follow some creature to its den.”
“We aren’t going to catch them, though, are we?” Boromir asked, glancing anxiously at his brother.
Halhigil hid his amusement. “No, we are not,” he agreed, though that had indeed been part of what he had planned. Apparently the sons of the Steward were not yet ready to trap their own supper. They would learn soon enough.
Elchim was resting in the shade of a tall maple when they arrived, and true to their Nanny’s warning, Faramir immediately began to climb into its branches while the two Rangers spoke together. Halhigil did not stop him, only kept an eye on his progress.
Boromir, however, had other ideas. “Faramir!” he called authoritatively. “If you go too high and get stuck, I’m not going to come get you!”
“I won’t go very high, I promise.” Faramir’s voice drifted down from among the leaves.
Elchim choked back a laugh. “Are you sure we’re needed at all?” he said to Halhigil. “Sounds as if Boromir has the situation well in hand.”
Halhigil grinned. “Brothers will brothers,” he shrugged, and turned his attention towards the children. “Come, young men, let us begin your instruction!”
Halhigil was impressed with how eager the Steward’s sons were to learn. He had volunteered to accompany them because he was bored of lying in the Houses, and had half-expected two unmanageable boys. But while they were high-spirited and energetic, they were obedient, and listened to what he and Elchim had to teach them. It was a little odd; Halhigil was not used to having such a captive audience when he explained the difference between rabbit tracks and fox tracks.
They paused for a meal of cold meat, bread, and cheese, and the Rangers were amused to find a small leather provisions bag in with the other food. “Here is Ranger food indeed,” Elchim said with a grin. He showed the boys the contents of the pouch: twists of jerked meat, hard flatbread, a mix of dried berries and nuts, a little pouch holding sweetened oats suitable for making porridge.
The boys were eager to try the unfamiliar food, but both grimaced at the meat, and Boromir refused to have anything to do with the flatbread. Faramir, however, proved rather fond of the berries and nuts, and filled one of his little belt pouches with the mixture.
The men would have lingered over the food, for fresh bread and cheese were not to be taken for granted, but the children were impatient to return to exploring, so luncheon was a quick affair.
They stayed within sight each another, but Boromir tended to end up trailing Halhigil, while Faramir was never far from Elchim. Halhigil kept an eye on Boromir, who was now wandering off the narrow path, while Faramir was asking endless questions about the surrounding foliage. Elchim had been surprised at how much the boy already knew; when asked where he had learned to identify plants by their leaves, Faramir had shrugged and replied, “From people – Nanny and Mag and the gardeners and Mother. They told me.”
“What is this one?” Faramir was reaching to touch a crawling vine, and Elchim hastily ordered, “Stop!”
Faramir froze, but asked, “Why?”
“Because that one will make you itch dreadfully,” Elchim explained, and Faramir backed away from the plant. “Your hand would swell up; you would have to bathe it in starch to make the itching stop, and your nanny would have my head for letting you get into such a mess.”
“Come look at this!” Boromir shouted. “I found something!”
Halhigil saw a crow take startled flight from a branch just above the boy’s head. He could not help but grin; both boys had been so loud all day that it was a wonder there were any animals left in the wood at all.
Elchim and Faramir joined them where Boromir was crouched, peering under some thick brush at a hole set in the side of a low knoll.
“Does something live in there?” Faramir’s eyes were wide.
“That is a fox den,” Halhigil said. “Do not put your hand in there, Boromir – “ the boy jerked back guiltily, “- what if the fox were inside?”
“He would bite you,” Faramir supplied, frowning at his brother and ignoring the scowl he got in return.
“Where is he?” Boromir asked. “Where is the fox? I want to see him.”
Elchim chuckled. “He is probably hiding,” he replied. “We have not been very quiet today, and foxes do not like a great deal of noise.”
“If we are quiet, will he come back?” Boromir wanted to know. “I’ve never seen a fox before. We could sit here til he comes back.”
“He will not come back until we are gone, I’m afraid,” Halhigil said, exchanging a grin with Elchim. “Not only can he hear us, but he can smell us, as well, and he thinks it is not safe to return.”
“Smell us,” Faramir giggled, leaning forward and sniffing his brother. “You smell like dirt.”
“You smell like dirt, too!” Boromir shot back. “And you’re loud! If you would stop being loud, the fox would come back!”
“You’re loud!” Faramir pointed out, offended. “You’re loud right now!”
“You are both loud,” Halhigil laughed. “And we all smell like dirt – Rangers do not have nice warm baths all the time, you know. They have to make do with cold water from the river.”
“Really?” Faramir forgot the argument with his brother. “Do we get to bathe in the river?”
Elchim chuckled. “The river is too far, but there is a stream just a bit further up that would serve the purpose. Do you know how to swim?”
“Oh, yes,” Boromir said proudly. “Uncle taught us to swim! Is a stream like the ocean?”
“No, indeed,” Halhigil shook his head. “Come, we will show you what a stream is.” He could not imagine a child of Boromir’s age having never seen something as simple as a woodland stream, but, he admitted, he could also not imagine what the sea must look like.
Both boys were astounded at how small the brook was. “I could walk to the other side,” Boromir said, sounding a bit disappointed, then he brightened. “Can I walk to the other side?”
“Take off your boots and socks first,” Elchim bade. “Never let your boots get wet if you can help it – wet boots will give you blisters and can cause a terrible rot of your feet as well.”
Faramir sat down next to his brother to pull off his boots. “I don’t want a rot in my feet,” he said, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
“Then keep your feet dry,” Halhigil said with a half-smile, removing his own battered boots. He had known more than one man who had not been able to do that very thing, and the results had been most unpleasant.
The boys were tentative at first, but the sun had warmed the water, and soon they were shouting with laughter and splashing each other wildly. Boromir spotted a frog, and they ran clumsily through the water trying to catch it –“No, Faramir, he went that way! That way!” – and after Boromir slipped and fell for the third time, Halhigil wished he’d had them remove their clothes entirely. He had forgotten that little boys were incapable of simply wading.
Finally Halhigil called them out of the water, and they came readily enough, eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed, and mud up to their knees. “I’m hungry,” Boromir announced. “Can we eat now?”
“We shall to go back to your campsite,” Halhigil said. “There is food waiting there, and it is growing late.”
“Will we have a fire?” Boromir wanted to know. “I want a fire!”
“We will see,” Halhigil replied, though he doubted the gardeners would want a fire pit dug in their carefully tended grass. “Put your boots on, and we shall start back.”
Elchim saw that Faramir made no move to obey. “Come, Faramir, you need to put your boots on.”
“My feet are wet,” Faramir said fretfully. “They will get a rot in them.”
Elchim did not laugh, though Halhigil could see from his expression that it was a close thing. “Here, dry your feet with your socks,” he said kindly, “and then wear your boots with no socks. You should not do that very often, but it will be all right for the short time it takes us to walk back to the City.”
Looking mightily relieved, Faramir obeyed, and soon they were on their way back to Minas Tirith. Both boys were drooping with weariness by the time they reached the gates, and Faramir did not protest when Elchim picked him up. Boromir stubbornly managed to keep on his feet until half-way up the fifth circle, and Halhigil took pity on him as well.
Boromir livened up a bit when he saw their night-guard, Haloth, lounging on the grass next to the tent, for Haloth was a friendly young man and a favourite of the Steward’s sons. Halhigil was grateful to set the boy on his feet, for he was no light burden.
“How was your day of rangering?” Haloth asked, and it was the right question, for Boromir began to talk so excitedly that his words could barely be made out.
“I’m hungry,” Faramir said, sounding cranky and very tired. “Where is supper? Is Nanny bringing supper?”
“Supper is here,” Halhigil said, bringing out the pack he’d found in the tent. “While I am setting out the food, you two change into drier clothing – you do have clothing in your packs, yes?”
Faramir scowled, and Elchim took a deep breath to brace himself for an argument, but surprisingly, Boromir tore himself away from Haloth. “Come on, Faramir,” he coaxed, “I’ll help you – you can’t go to sleep in wet clothes.”
The younger boy grumbled, but he went into the tent, and the Rangers looked at each other in appreciation at how easily Boromir guided his brother.
Mag had provided a great deal of food – apparently she had heard that there would be more mouths to feed than just the boys and one Ranger. There was squab and cold venison, soft cheese and bread, potatoes, cheese pastries which Faramir was loathe to share, plums and apricots, a flask of lemon-water for the children, and ale for the men.
At length, Halhigil rose, stretching. “We must take our leave of you young men now,” he said - the sun had set some time ago, and it had been a long day, even for seasoned Rangers. He had forgotten how tiring looking after children could be. “I hope that you will remember what you learned today?”
“Will you take us again?” Boromir asked hopefully, and Faramir nodded his approval of the question.
“If we are able,” Elchim answered with a smile. “We are not often in the City, but if we can, we shall.”
“Come, it is late for you to be awake,” Haloth said as the Rangers departed. “It is time for you to go to sleep.”
“Nanny said she would come and sing to me,” Faramir suddenly remembered. “I have to wait til she comes.”
“She will come,” Haloth assured him. “And she will be most pleased to see that you are waiting for her in your bed.”
They obeyed, though Faramir looked unhappy, and Haloth sat outside the open tent flap, meaning to stay there until they fell asleep. Contrary to how tired both boys seemed, they did not drop off immediately, but began whispering back and forth, talking about what they had done and seen that day. After a while, Haloth stood, and began strolling the gardens, staying close enough that he could still hear them.
There was a lull in the conversation, then:
"Let's sleep on the grass!" Boromir suggested. "If it rains, we can go in the tent."
Haloth smothered a laugh at this exchange; well did he remember his own older brother trying to frighten him about what lurked in the dark. Then Faramir’s alarmed voice made him hurry back to the little campsite.
“Where is Hanu?” Faramir exclaimed as he looked through his blankets. “I forgot him!”
“Rangers don’t sleep with toys,” Boromir said heartlessly.
“Hanu isn’t a toy!” Faramir protested. “He’s – he’s a pet! Rangers can have pets! I have to go get him…” He made as if to run out of the garden
“You cannot wander about alone at night,” the guard said firmly, “And I cannot leave you, so I am afraid that you have to sleep without him.”
Faramir looked on the verge of tears, and Boromir gave a heavy sigh. “Can I go get him?” he asked, looking both annoyed and concerned for his little brother.
“Is there a Ranger here missing his pet rabbit?”
“Nanny!” Faramir cried, leaping up and running to her. “Did you bring Hanu?”
“I did,” she said, smiling. “Good evening, Haloth.”
“Good evening, miss,” he returned, sighing in relief at her timely appearance. He had not relished the notion of arguing the point with a grouchy four-year-old.
“Now I see you are ready for bed,” she said to the boys, “so come and lie down, and I shall sing to you, all right? Tomorrow you can tell me all about your day.”
“All right,” Faramir nodded, clutching the stuffed rabbit to his chest as he scrambled back under his blankets.
Nanny – Haloth realized he did not even know her name – pulled their blankets smooth, tucked the edges underneath them, and sat down between the boys. That surprised him – very few women, even women in service, would sit on grass without even bothering to see if the ground was muddy, but she did not seem to care. He was also surprised that she was so calm; he had expected her to be all a-flutter with anxiety, for everyone in the Citadel knew how protective she was of the Steward’s sons, and putting them in the care of someone else for a whole day had likely been trying for her.
“Now, what shall I sing for you?” Nanny asked fondly, combing her fingers through Faramir’s hair.
“A Ranger song,” Boromir declared sleepily.
Nanny looked startled. “I am afraid I do not know any Ranger songs,” she admitted, glancing at Haloth for help.
Fortunately, he did know one Ranger song. “Might I sing for you, instead of Nanny?” he asked.
Faramir lifted his head and frowned. “She is not your Nanny,” he said severely. “She is ours.”
Nanny gave a cough that sounded more like a laugh. “It is no matter, Faramir,” she said, the faintest hint of rebuke in her voice. “Haloth may call me that if he wishes. Now shall he sing?”
The boys agreed, and Haloth took a moment to remember all the words.
Oh darling, my darling, remember
That my heart lies with you when I’ve gone
This parting will not be eternal
Though I must be away with the dawn
Now softly I kiss your sweet lips
That I’ll miss so when I’m far away
Don’t cry, love, we’ve still time to linger
Til then, in your arms I will stay
One day ‘twil be no need for fighting
One day ‘twil the road lead me home
One day I’ll have no need to wander
One day, I’ll have no need to roam
“That is lovely,” Nanny said softly, “though I think they were both sound asleep before the first chorus.”
“My uncle was a Ranger,” Haloth told her. “And my aunt sang it often when he was away.”
She carefully moved Boromir’s arm from where it was sprawled across her knees, and stood, sighing. “It has been so quiet in the nursery today,” she said wistfully. “But I know you shall watch over them well.”
“I would not dare do otherwise,” Haloth replied as they moved away from the sleeping children. “It is well-known how you respond to those who do not treat these boys properly.”
He grinned when he saw her flush in the dim moonlight. “Cheeky,” she said with a wry smile. “I am not quite as hot-tempered as everyone seems to think – but if it serves my little ones well, then I do not mind.” She cast a last glance at Boromir and Faramir. “Good night, Haloth – and thank you for guarding them.”
I did not sleep well that night, though I knew they were safe. They were only in the gardens, after all, and Haloth was there. Yet still I lay awake for some time, dwelling on the day when they would both be grown and gone, and wondered how hard it would be to sleep when they no longer needed to be watched over.
A/N: The Ranger song is a filk of “Kitty”. The version I used is performed by the Pogues, but it’s a traditional song.
Written for the "Brothers of Gondor" 2006 zine.
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