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The first time Mormegil ever shaved Denethor, he was terrified.
When he arrived in the kitchen to collect the early morning tea-tray, one of the kitchen maids gave him the message. Gethron, Lord Denethor's manservant, had been taken ill overnight, and it fell to Mormegil, as manservant-in-training, to attend Lord Denethor in his morning ablutions. In theory, it would not be difficult; Mormegil had been training under Gethron for many months, and was well familiar with his lord's morning routine; but to pick up that wicked -looking razor, and take it to Lord Denethor's bared throat – the thought was enough to make him feel quite ill himself.
“Here, drink this.” The girl handed him a mug of tea and he downed it without question. It was hot, and strong, much stronger than it usually tasted, and he caught a whiff of some exotic spice. Lord Denethor's tea? How dare she!
“Go on, then,” she laughed. “He'll not know, and you look like you need it. A pity about Gethron, though we've seen it coming; that's why they brought you in, after all. D'ye want some breakfast before you go up? It'll be a long morning, if you have to do your work and his, too; not much chance of slipping down later. I'll fix the tray while you sit a bit. I got up early to make scones; that's why I was the one to get the message. He won't mind his tea a bit late if there's a scone with it. You sit, now.”
Nervous as he was, Mormegil was glad to have a few minutes to compose himself and think through what must be done. The dispatches, first; he must check to see if there were any to be brought up with the tray. Then, while Lord Denethor drank his tea, Mormegil would go to the dressing room and see to heating the shaving water, mix the bowl of shaving soap, set the towel near, but not too near, the brazier to warm. He had watched Gethron do these small tasks a hundred times, had done them himself many times, knew exactly how hot the water should be, how much of the (precious and costly, he'd been reminded often enough) soap flakes should be used, how to mix the lather to the perfect consistency, but still...he buried his head for a moment in his hands.
When he opened his eyes, the girl was smiling at him over the top of her tea mug; a plate of thickly-sliced bread, melted cheese oozing deliciously over it, was there next to him. The kitchen smelled of cinnamon and orange and baking scones, comforting smells. Smiling back at her, he took a deep breath. He could do this.
Lord Denethor responded with an absent-minded hrumph when Mormegil told him of Gethron's absence. As he tied the warm towel around Lord Denethor's neck he noted, almost unconsciously, that the stitching on the shoulder of the Heir's nightshirt was coming apart and would need to be repaired; he would tend to that first-thing as soon as Lord Denethor was gone for the day.
When he began his apprenticeship in the Archives, he had never imagined the odd turn of fate that would place him here in Lord Denethor's chamber, holding a razor to his throat. He had started out sweeping and dusting, running errands for the scribes and bookbinders and visiting scholars. When he was promoted to work in the repair rooms, breathing the heady fumes of glue and paint and ink, carefully re-stitching and repairing frayed bindings and casings, he thought his joy was complete – he could have happily spent the rest of his days there, hunched over his workbench, the pure white light of fine beeswax candles illuminating his tasks.
The day he was summoned by the Head Archivist, and found him sitting in his office with the Steward's Chamberlain by his side, he thought he would faint then and there from terror. What had he done wrong? He could scarcely understand what the Chamberlain was trying to explain, that the Lord Denethor's manservant would be retiring within a few years, that a replacement was being sought, that none of the young footmen or even kinsmen of other Citadel servants had been found suitable. That he, Mormegil, had been put forward for his meticulous attention to detail, his exemplary work habits, his quiet, modest ways, his elegant and flawless stitchery. Might he be interested in the position? The rate of pay mentioned seemed an fortune to a lad of eighteen, even after sending half home to his family; a small private apartment in the Upper Servant's wing; full board; a clothing allowance; one afternoon off each fortnight. That he would be working for the formidable Lord Denethor, the Steward's only son and heir, distressed him not a bit, for did he not know of him from his visits to the Archives?
But all that had been nearly a year ago; now it was the moment of truth. For the fact of the matter was, Mormegil had made such a botch of shaving himself, back in his youth (was it only four years ago?) that, as soon as practicable, he had grown a small neat beard, trimming it each week with his first purchase with his new-made fortune, a pair of exquisitely crafted scissors, dwarven-steel pattern-welded in gold. It was the sight of the scissors themselves, in fact, that spurred his decision to grow a beard; the thought of possessing an object of such beauty and utility, and making the opportunity to avail himself of such a luxury, was an altogether fortuitous decision.
And now here he stood, holding a razor, another item of such supreme loveliness, perfect weight and balance as he always heard swordsmen lovingly boast of their blades, honed each day to nearly unimaginable sharpness, and his lord awaiting his ministrations -
“Well, are you going to get on with it?” Lord Denethor asked.
The blade skimmed along the skin like a leaf dancing on a frozen pond, like a raindrop along the edge of a flower. And when the deed was done, every bit of rosemary-scented lather wiped away with the warm dampened towel, when Lord Denethor had been helped into his heavy surcotte, when the barest trace of imaginary dust had been brushed off his shoulder, Lord Denethor paused on his way out the door.
“Well done,” he said, and was gone.
And Mormegil could breathe again.
That evening Mormegil heard that Gethron had passed away. “Pity,” Denethor murmured. “You'll do well enough, I suppose.” His words left Mormegil feeling disconcerted until he received a note from the Exchequer that his salary had been doubled.
On the same day, he ran into Gethron's widow, who burst into tears, embraced him, and begged him to relay her gratitude to Lord Denethor for the extremely generous settlement he had made upon her. “He's such a dear, dear man,” she sobbed, and Mormegil, when he was finally able to break away, was filled with a new appreciation for his lord.
Epilogue #2: Twenty-five years later
Boromir sat at breakfast, trying to act unconcerned. He had only returned from Dol Amroth the evening before, and had greeted his father briefly before retiring. Now he awaited judgement: the project he had carefully nurtured over the past several weeks was come to fruition. Faramir, he could see, was nearly twitching with anticipation as well.
After seating himself at the head of the table, Denethor regarded him coolly for a long moment.
“A beard, is it?” he finally said. “Well, you'd best speak with Mormegil about keeping it neatly trimmed. I'll not have you looking like some scruffy ranger.”
Inspired by the endless debate on the subject: “Numenoreans: Bearded, or Not?”
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