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The more I saw of the King, the more I was reminded of another man, from long ago.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on what stirred the memories. Was it the way he walked, that catlike glide I glimpsed when he was strolling alone across the courtyard? Was it the way he bent his head to listen to the shy, hesitant soldiers or townsmen, unsure how to approach this creature of legend, the king? Or was it the way he rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly when he thought no one was watching?
I was sure I had seen all those gestures before. The memory seemed so close, as if I could just reach out and catch it. Like a firefly, like the dandelion fluff I remembered dancing on the breeze, when I was a girl in Lebennin. We had met before - I was certain of it.
But the king never said a word about his past; all that was known of him was that he was of the Dunedáin of the North, had traveled throughout the world, was friend to elves, wizards, periannath., all manner of odd creatures. Visitors to the White City, well-wishers, his own companions and kinsmen referred to him by many names: Strider, Aragorn, Estel, Elfstone. Never a name I recognized.
Then, one day, I remembered, and it all made such perfect sense.
Odd that it would be one small detail: the sharp Maguey spirits favored by Prince Imrahil and Captain Thorongil when a particular mood was upon them. There were certain rituals involved in its drinking, these rituals being a source of great debate between the two, when they were at their leisure (and slightly in their cups, if truth be known) – the relaxed quibbling between two good friends.
Lord Denethor liked it not, had choked and spat it out (so the story went) when first he tasted it. In revenge of this humiliation (so the story also went) Imrahil had introduced both Boromir and Faramir to the drink, sworn them to secrecy, and taught them the rituals. I had long had a bottle in my keeping; remembering this, I set – not a trap, exactly, but a test, yes, a test of my own memory, to determine if I was correct in what I thought I saw.
So one evening, late in the spring, when the evening air was warm enough for the fireflies to dance, I called across the twilit courtyard to the Steward and the King.
“My Lord Faramir – come see what I’ve found in my cupboard! It was your uncle Imrahil’s. Pity he’s not here to share it, though I suppose we could send word down to him. Look, I’ve set it as you and he and Boromir used to drink it.”
“Ohho,” Faramir said, whistling softly. “Oh yes, I remember this drink very well, and what it used to do to us. I’ve not tasted it in years – Uncle Imrahil was the only one who ever liked it. We drank it to please him, trying to appear as sophisticated and worldly as he was. We failed miserably, I think. Have you ever sampled it, my lord? Maguey, it’s called, made from a plant which grows far to the south. Traders brought it…”
The king smiled. “I have tasted it before, yes, indeed. A fiery drink, not soon forgotten.”
“Perhaps we should toast your kingship with it, since Mag has gone to all the trouble to set it out for us. Do you remember how we used to do it, Mag? First we’d rub the rim of the goblet with the lime, then dip the rim in salt. Then, we’d drink -”
The king startled Faramir with a more direct method. Not bothering with the salt, he took the goblet and tossed back the contents with one gulp. Then he took the lime and bit into it. As he bit, his eyes met mine. I was nearly quivering with glee: not to reveal his secret, but in my own delight in being correct.
Thorongil. Silently I mouthed the name; his eyes grew wide. Then, surprisingly, he grinned.
“The hands of the king…” I murmured; Thorongil–that-was, my king Elessar, burst out laughing.
“Where are my manners!” Faramir exclaimed. “Mag, you’ve gone through such trouble for us! You must join us in a toast. Let me go get you a goblet…” Happy to be the host, he headed off for the kitchen.
I felt suddenly shy in the presence of my king. “I did not mean, my lord, I mean, I would never…”
He smiled, the boyish, dimpled smile I remembered from so long ago. “You were always kind to me, Mag. It was ever a comfort to sit in your kitchen.”
I blushed, something I had not done in many years. Fortunately Faramir returned at that very moment. Carefully he prepared goblets for both of us, lime and salt. “To the King!”
“To the King!” I murmured. Aragorn laughed, nodding his head in acknowledgement of the toast, as I took my first taste in forty years of sharp Maguey.
A response to a plot bunny flung by EdorasLass and Kortirion.
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