The white light of the city died slowly to a glowing red as the sun set behind the distant hills. Somewhere in the city a bell tolled, announcing the arrival of the twelfth hour. Outside Borlin and Mellawyn could hear shop doors shut resolutely and guards in their iron-toed boots march to their messes as the whole city moved to dinner. A healer came in to give Mellawyn her evening meal, but Borlin rose to meet him, taking the tray and motioning for him to leave. Still Mellawyn sat stark still, not saying a word. Borlin sat the tray down on the table beside her, and returned to his chair.
Mellawyn shook her head and looked at him, as if waking up from a deep dream. “Brothers?”
Borlin sighed. “I can’t believe you lived your whole life in this city and never knew any of this. Maybe if you spent a little less time in libraries with that wandering wizard… but, all right. Let me start at the beginning. You eat; you need your strength.
“Where to start? I suppose no man knows the tale in full, but perhaps I know more than most. After mama died Kaäne would tell me bits and pieces, as we worked the fields, or when I helped him through the sleepless nights.
“Yes, they were brothers. They grew up together, right here in Minas Tirith. Of course he wasn’t called Kaänawe then; a son of Gondor must have a Gondorian name, their father always used to say. `I’ll have no elf for a son.’ He was called Calithor in those days. Calithor and Denethor studied under the same tutor, but for all purposes they might as well have been studying in different kingdoms, for what they got out of him. Denethor was very practical. He liked studying weapons and military tactics, and anything he could use to his advantage. But Kaäne, he loved history and lore, the roots he always called it. But he learned to wield a blade and draw a bow because it was expected, and when he turned fifteen he was named Captain of the Tower Guard.
“Now by rights that title should have gone to Denethor; Denethor was, after all, the older son, and that position held great honor, and was a relatively safe order to command. And that was important, because Denethor had been groomed for Steward since he was young, and what a waste for him to die before he assumed the role. But there was a fire in his blood, and Denethor could not sit still. Those were dangerous days, Mellawyn, and your father felt it was his duty not to hide behind strong walls but to strike while renown was at hand. So he took command of a corps of Rangers and led them in many great deeds. But those are a record of history, and you will have to read them yourself. It’s enough to say that when Calithor turned fifteen he took up the title of Captain of the Tower Guard. That suited him fine, because papa could never bring himself to strike without need: he would defend to his dying breath, but he refused to take a life, be it man or beast, if it could be helped.
Denethor found his adventure in the east, slaying orcs, and storming strongholds of Easterlings, gaining control of crucial river passes and headstreams. But Calithor turned to the west. I told you that he was interested in the roots, but not just of Gondor: he studied other people, too. Elves, especially, fascinated him, though I don’t know where he first learned of him. Not from his tutor, of course, nor from his father, your grandfather, or anyone else in the city. He might have come across some old book in some library and seen the strange letters. Kaäne always was fascinated by what he couldn’t know, and if such a book had been written in Gondorian script, he probably would have ignored it. But if he came across a book he couldn’t read, he would obsess until he found a way to understand. Perhaps finding a book in Elvish would have led him to learn the language, and from there, study the people. Who knows? Certainly not me.
At any rate he wanted with all his heart to see these people with his own eyes. His father of course refused, but then a curious thing happened. Denethor had to choose a wife, he knew, and he had heard of two rare beauties, the daughters of an important gentleman-farmer of Ithilien. The younger was named Deiwyn, and she was well-versed in all lore and sciences; her sister Mellaura could play the lyre beautifully and had the grace that comes only from an inner beauty that few now possess. But their father saw the way Denethor looked at his two daughters, and he knew he could demand as high a price as he wanted for the right to marry. And a high price he named: he wanted not one but two daughters wed. Denethor could marry either sister he desired, so long as papa married the other.
“Finally, Kaane had the bargaining power he needed. The two went back to their father. Denethor pleaded with him to force Calithor to marry one of the two daughters, but Calithor refused, unless his father would let him visit the elves. And that is how Kaane met the Lady of the Golden Wood.
“He never would say anything about what he saw there, but when he returned, something about him had changed. He walked with an inner grace, and spoke in a calming tone. And his skin, Mellawyn, it–I don’t know how to describe it, but it seemed to glow, in a way. Not like a fire but something far off. A soft blue color, but not cold and sickly-looking, just other-worldly. And Mellawyn, that’s what I saw, years later; I can’t imagine what it was life, first-off.
“He seemed somehow more resigned to being a Gondorian, and that summer he married Deiwyn, as you known, and Denethor of course married your mother. Nine months later I was born, but you were a while in coming. Your father always saw it as a shortfall on his part, this inability to produce a son and heir. He felt he had something to prove, and he threw himself with amazing vigor into his work as Captain of Ithilien and, when he came of age six months later, Captain of Gondor.
“The real trouble started when papa came back. He refused to answer to Calithor, but would only respond to the name the Elves had given him: Kaänawe*. He said he couldn’t stand the harsh glare of the city, didn’t understand how he ever stood it, and begged his father to let him resign his commission. That next fall when Kaane turned twenty himself, three days after I was born, his father gave him a mighty gift: a farm outside of Osgiliath, and a reprieve, but not a release, from active duty in the guard. So we moved out, Kaänawe, Deiwyn, and me–of course, I was only a baby at the time–“
“Away from the city?” Mellawyn interrupted.
“Yes, away, out into the country. This last week has been the first time since that I’ve really spent in Minas Tirith, least for longer than a day, and I have to say, it’s–different. But, yes, we all moved out to that farm outside Osgilliath, not long after I was born. If things would have stayed that way, everything would have been different, maybe.”
He looked longingly out the window, at the gardens. But then his eye caught the glimmer of the buildings beyond, tall and so serious, and he sighed.
“This is a beautiful city, Mellawyn. But it is still a city. You were out at our farm for a few short months, and think how much good it did you. I’ve been there my whole life. The city takes my breath away. It is impressive, yes, but it is more than that: it steals my breath. It’s too bright, too impressive. It burns the eyes.” With that he turned away from the window. “Mellawyn, you have to understand this. Your father meant Kaäne no harm, but times were hard. The Shadow was beginning to grow, and his forces were moving. I don’t know exactly what the details were–remember, I was only a tot!–but your father had to marshal any army, and he needed a lieutenant. So he called in Kaäne. Papa didn’t want to go, but he didn’t have a choice; remember, he was still a captain, at least on paper.
“It was late at night, and we were all asleep. Papa was away with Denethor. Suddenly I heard a shriek, and of course woke right up. There was some kind of pressure on my legs, and when I looked down I saw why: an orc, with his mean orc-blade, was laying across my legs. Dead, an arrow through his chest. Papa shot him through the window as he was coming home. But he had already done his damage.
“Of course I don’t *know*, Mellawyn–I was asleep–but as far as Papa and I could figure out the goblin snuck in somehow. He killed Mama, cracked her neck clean, and was moving on to me, about to carve a maggot-hole in my belly, as Kaäne put it. And then surely he would have finished off poor Farlin–just six months old, he couldn’t defend himself. The monster! But luckily papa got home in time, just in time, to save me. Another minute later, and I would’ve been dead.”
Suddenly the tears started to fall. He tried to wipe his cheek with his shirt, only to remember it was covered with mail–after he cut his cheek. Mellawyn handed him her kerchief.
“You’ll have to get that looked at. But at least you’re in the right place,” she said wryly.
He laughed grimly. “My Mellawyn. Of course you understand now–papa wouldn’t have anything to do with Minas Tirith or her wars, and least of all his brother. They had cost him his wife. Your father tried to reward us for papa’s service, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Blood money, he called it. And he was probably right, a bit.”
“But it wasn’t his fault. Papa’s.
“No, you’re right, it wasn’t your father’s fault. Men go to war, and sometimes they die–or suffer worse than death, in Kaäne’s case. But does that make it any better? I don’t know.”
He sighed, and we were silent for a long time. What can you say? Finally it was Borlin who broke the silence.
“Go to sleep, love. Tomorrow’s a big day.”
* Literally, “man of honor”