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I based some of the rules on those for the Ducal Court of Burgundy in the 15th century.
The newly established King Elessar, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, pushed back his hair, rubbed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose and cursed fluently. He had been sorting through piles of scrolls in the study and had never been so bored in his long life. At this moment he was fervently wishing that he could throw on his old cloak and disappear off into the woods of Ithilien or, failing that, as far as the nearest inn, where the hobbits and Gimli were no doubt sampling the ale.
"More bloody protocol!" he muttered, unrolling a large parchment full of the rules and regulations of court life. Life at court had never been this rigid in the days of the original kings, and certainly not when he was here in the days of Ecthelion II. Denethor must have instituted most of these weird and wonderful rules of etiquette, and Aragorn marvelled yet again at the mind of the man who had been the previous Steward of Gondor and father to Boromir and Faramir.
If the visitor to the court be above the rank of Prince, he may advance to the dais and bow.
If above the rank of lord, but below Prince, he must advance no more than eight steps and kneel.
Those above the rank of knight but below that of lord must advance no more than four steps, and kneel.
All those below the rank of knight must abase themselves fully, prostrating themselves upon the floor before the lord of Gondor.
The lord of Gondor will advance three steps upon the dais if the guest be above the rank of Prince, one step if the visitor be above the rank of lord, and for all others he will not advance at all, but shall remain seated.
"Poppycock!" Aragorn shouted, and threw the scroll across the chamber. "I have never heard such condescending, pompous rubbish in all my life!"
A few minutes later there was quite a pile of similar scrolls littering the floor, and Aragorn was becoming dangerously irritated. The obsession with rank, the stifling formality, were getting to him. He poured himself some ale and sliced some of the cold beef which had been left for him, then started suddenly at a knock on the door.
The face of his Steward appeared round the door. Faramir was still a little unsure of himself and there was often an anxious air about him.There were times when he would raise his eyes, seeking reassurance. Aragorn felt a twist of scalding anger against the father who was responsible for his uncertainty.
"Sire? I thought I heard someone shouting so I came to see if there was a problem." He surveyed the wreckage on the floor, and lifted one of the many rolled parchments. He read a few lines and then looked steadily at his King. "Ah, I see."
"I'm sorry, Faramir, but I cannot bear such rigid formality. Even in Rivendell and Lothlorien the protocol is minimal." He indicated another scroll. "I doubt even the Valar are so hide-bound."
"Oh, I agree, sire. My father unfortunately saw slights where none were intended and insisted on being shown what he deemed proper respect. It became increasingly important to him and he often felt people were laughing at him and mocking his dignity." A dark shadow crossed Faramir's face and Aragorn gave him an encouraging smile.
"Sit down and join me, and stop all the 'sire' nonsense, at least in private." He indicated the ale, meat and bread. "I'm thankful for a day or two of simple fare. If we have many more banquets I shall either explode or be able to outdo the Shire's Mayor, whose nickname, I gather, is 'Flourdumpling'!" He was relieved to hear Faramir laugh.
"The hobbits have been quite happy with banquets every night. Frodo does not eat as much as the others but Peregrin can eat for both of them - and often does!"
"One of their cousins is known as 'Fatty' Bolger, and I can't help wondering just how large someone has to be in the Shire to earn such a name."
"It sounds as though you learned a great deal about them during the time on the road." Faramir swallowed some of the ale and looked impressed.
"The hobbits place great store by their complicated family trees. I could probably trace a simple plan of the inter-related links between the various Bagginses, Tooks and Brandybucks, with another showing the Gamgee descent from Old Holman Greenhand and the Ropers of the Northfarthing, but I'm afraid I would miss out a great many second cousins three times removed." He topped up his tankard and drank deeply.
"I gather Sam is not related to the others?"
Aragorn smiled fondly. "No, he was employed at Bag End as Frodo's gardener, but they were always friends as well, and Sam is utterly devoted. Without him Frodo would never have reached Mount Doom and the Quest would have failed. He is a remarkable being, our Sam. A good cook too, even by hobbit standards. He did most of the camp cooking on the road and I must say that nothing Gimli and Legolas produced during our trek across Rohan ever came up to the Gamgee diet. Whatever their other gifts, catering is not their strong point."
"My men were terribly amused when he stood up to me, standing there with his arms folded, daring me to act in any way against his master. Anborn wondered later if the tactic was to bite me in the kneecaps,"
Aragorn laughed heartily at this. "Frodo described him as looking much as he would if some young hobbit had been caught scrumping apples from Bag End's orchard and was giving him 'sauce'."
"I find it difficult to believe anyone would offer 'sauce' to Samwise. Anyone who can face several of the Nine, battle the terror of Cirith Ungol and enter a tower full of orcs is a formidable opponent. Men and Elves would have thought long and hard about doing those things but he just charged in. His love for Frodo overrides all other considerations."
Aragorn was laughing again. "Do you know what Sam said when I told him some of the Haradrim were offering terms? I told him the outline of the treaty they were offering and he said, 'Hah! Them terms ain't worth a row of taters! I woudn't trust that ambassador as far as I could throw an oliphaunt. I'd say watch him, he's two faced, 'cept he wouldn't go round with that ugly one!'" Aragorn had slipped into an uncanny rendering of Sam's Shire accent.
Faramir was gasping for air. "He said that? Well, I might have phrased it a little more.....diplomatically, but I have to say I share his scepticism."
"So do I. We shall see what they come up with but I suspect we may have to fight a few more battles before they accept they can no longer carry out incursions into Gondor with impunity, and threaten ships not even in their waters. Perhaps trade will change their minds. I'd prefer trade to force, but the trick is to threaten the latter while offering the former. That way trade will look much more attractive."
His Steward looked at him in admiration. "You are getting to grips with this diplomacy!"
"Oh, it's just like being a Ranger and dealing with miscreants, except it is wrapped up in tactful language. An upbringing among the Elves is a good grounding for a diplomatic life. You've heard the saying, 'Go not to the Elves for answers, for they will say both no and yes.'? It's true, more or less."
"What of the Easterlings? They may be as big a problem as Harad."
"Yes, I may have to knock a few heads - but don't worry, I'll do it very tactfully." They exchanged glances.
Faramir watched the King place meat between two pieces of bread. "That's a good idea."
"Another hobbit invention. It is called a sandwich, I gather, and is very useful as rations on the road. Help yourself." He passed over the knife.
"Well this is certainly against all protocol," Faramir said lightly. "Eating - and sitting down - in the presence of the King. Even the old traditions were clear on that point." He made himself a sandwich.
Aragorn grinned, looking surprisingly boyish. "Perhaps it is time for a new broom to sweep clean, to quote Samwise Gamgee - or rather his old Gaffer, who seems to be full of native wisdom and sound common sense."
"It seems all the hobbits have a certain native wisdom, even young Peregrin. I gather they have no crime in the Shire - no murders, no burglary or highway robbery."
"I asked Gandalf about that while we were on the road. He said that most hobbits are extremely law-abiding, and the odd one or two who may not be learned the hard way that in an agricultural community robbers are often taught a lesson at the sharp end of a pitchfork! They're certainly no pushovers, and will fight if and when they have to, as you have realised. They just sensibly prefer more peaceful pursuits such as farming, eating, smoking, growing pipeweed and brewing ale, and the world would be a much safer place if we all thought like that."
"The Shire sounds idyllic, and yet those who would assume the hobbits to be an easy target should be warned. I imagine they would fight to retain their peace."
"I fear they may have to. Gandalf has been muttering darkly about Saruman's possible interference in the Shire. Even with Saruman himself locked up in Isengard I daresay his agents could cause trouble. The storerooms at Orthanc were full of Shire produce, including pipeweed, which makes me wonder what is going on." He waited for Faramir to finish eating and then re-lit his pipe. After a moment he pushed the small jar of pipeweed across the desk. "Do you smoke?"
"Mithrandir taught me - just one more irritation for my father." He lit a small taper in the brazier at the far end of the room and drew on his pipe, savouring the smell of pipeweed.
"Of course the hobbits will argue the merits of Old Toby and Longbottom Leaf, even in the middle of destruction." Aragorn picked up yet another scroll. "I wonder what the Lord Chamberlain will say when we tell him we're doing away with all this?"
"I suspect he will be partly relieved. He was always having to learn new rules, and he actually tried to protest about people having to abase themselves."
"Incidentally, which one is he? I've met so many officials lately that I can't always recall who they are. Is he the one with a beard big enough to hide a badger in?" Faramir almost choked but managed to nod before becoming solemn again.
"My father became obsessed with rank and etiquette. He invented most of this. Even I was not allowed to sit in his presence."
"I am truly sorry that you have had such a difficult relationship with your father. I lost mine when I was but two years old, but Lord Elrond took me in and treated me as his own. He was a loving Ada." He smiled fondly at the memory of the Elf lord. "I must have been a handful - I was always getting into mischief and leaving a trail of destruction all over Rivendell. It seems a miracle the place is still standing."
Faramir looked through another list of rules and regulations. "These relate to clothing - sumptuary laws. The types of material which may be worn by those above a certain rank. Ermine may only be worn by the King and Queen."
"Oh good," said the King with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. "I'm sure the ermine are thrilled about that! The Elves do not approve of draping oneself with bits of dead animal, particularly those who are only killed for their skins. I can see Legolas' expression of distaste at the idea."
"Even the types of food one may eat was laid down. Peacocks and swans are not to be eaten by just anybody apparently. I can scarcely believe my father thought such things important, particularly at a time when Mordor was gathering its strength."
Aragorn was unimpressed. "The beauty of a peacock is in its feathers. They served it once when I was here in the time of Ecthelion, and I have to say it was tough and stringy and quite disgusting. It was carried in wrapped in those feathers, as though it was still alive. Horrible!" He shuddered.
"I think I know what the hobbits mean about a new broom. You will be a breath of fresh air in these stuffy halls. Watching the older members of the aristocracy cope with it all should be......quite entertaining." Faramir's smile was growing more wicked by the minute.
Aragorn gathered up as many of the scrolls as he could. "I think you underestimate yourself, my friend. We shall make a fine team and I know I shall need your judgement and common sense. I meant what I said at the coronation - you will have a job to do. It is no longer a case of Steward or King, but of both. Come along, let's burn the wretched things. They can at least be useful in providing fuel." He marched to the other end of the chamber and his Steward followed, dropping one or two of the larger ones as he went.
When the hated things were burning merrily, the two men stepped out onto the balcony. The stars were sparkling in a clear sky, which meant a chilly night but boded well for a clear day ahead. From the next level of the city came the sound of slightly off-key singing as a group of friends wound their way from the inn.
"Ah! The hobbits have had a jolly evening," Aragorn chuckled. "I think we should join them next time. Dressed simply I find it is possible to walk through the city without being recognised. An evening with the hobbits will do us both good. They really know how to enjoy themselves."
The King's motives for this suggestion were not entirely selfish. Faramir had had very little fun in his life, suffering from the lack of his father's love, his mother's death, and too much responsibilty and grief. He wanted to see the tension leave those handsome features, and a night of drunken silliness with Merry and Pippin would be just the thing.
"Do you think we'll be singing words like that on the way home?" Faramir queried, trying to maintain a straight face and not quite succeeding.
Aragorn turned to face him and smiled. "Probably. But I daresay we'll be diplomatic about it."
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