As the boys were not expected to return to the stable yard before the noon meal, their unforeseen release from Master Gemthir left them with time to call their own. Merrily, Rolfe and Estev raced their furry companion down the stone streets of the city; their passage drew smiles from more than one face and wistful looks from those not fortunate enough to escape from their labors to enjoy the pleasures of the spring day.
“Where can I get some crayfish?” Estev asked as they entered the second circle tunnel.
“In the river, I suppose. Why do you need crayfish?” Rolfe’s voice echoed within the confines of the passageway.
“Master Gemthir said that trout like them.”
“Really? I never knew that.”
“Neither did I. Why doesn’t he teach us important stuff like that instead of all that boring stuff? Like all that reading he makes us do.”
“Dunno. But some of it isn’t so bad. What about the story of Queen Beruthiel?”
“That one was good, but that’s just it. It’s a story. Why can’t they all be?”
Rolfe thought on that for a moment; and as they emerged from the tunnel, he said, “I guess `cause no one wrote the other stories down.”
“But you don’t have to write them down,” Estev said forcefully. “Writing them means someone’s got to read them. And reading’s hard work. It’s easier when you just tell `em or sing `em.”
Rolfe nodded. Since the death of his parents nearly a year ago and his subsequent adoption into the family of Esiwmas of Rohan, he had heard more than one skald recite the family lists at funerals and the namings of babies. At the Yule festivals, the song masters had sung countless verses of the stories of Eorl and of Helm Hammerhand. He knew hundreds of songs had been memorized; but somehow, it just made more sense to him if things were written down. Once Master Gemthir had taken them to the archives and Rolfe could still remember looking up at those shelves of books and rolls of scrolls and thinking, `Every one of them has something important to say.’
Glancing sideways at Estev, Rolfe knew he could never voice that opinion to his friend who cared most for riding and lessons in swordplay and archery. Estev was quick enough at figures, faster than himself if one were honest; yet, the other boy found no joy in reading of the past or studying far off lands.
`Someday,’ Rolfe thought. `I’ll go to all those places. Umbar and Linhir. Maybe even Rivendell and the Grey Havens.’
Waving a greeting at the men on duty at the first circle’s gate and calling Dog back from his inspection of a pie vendor’s wares, the boys began debating the merits of a trip to the docks. Estev, being filled only with thoughts of the enormous trout, was determined to at least locate the crayfish suggested by Master Gemthir as bait while Rolfe felt they would be better off reporting for chores before the noon meal in hopes of freeing up the entire afternoon. So engrossed in their argument were they that it was not until a stone skittered across the pavement before their feet that they noticed the handful of boys attempting to capture their attention.
“Hey!” shouted Estev as Dog growled menacingly at the source of the stone.
Bounding across the road in front of a man with a handcart filled with a load of firewood, the boy shouted, “You throwing rocks at us?”
Dog, to his disgust, found a firm hand prevented him from joining Estev in his confrontation with the rock thrower.
“Just getting your attention. Wasn’t trying to hit you with it,” replied a hefty boy with a wide grin.
Estev nodded. If the dark haired boy had meant to hit them, he and Rolfe would be nursing stone sized bruises. Curthan received regular practice using a sling to bring down small game birds in the fields outside the city. He then sold the feathers to the hat makers and the birds to the poulters.
Sooty faced Karston pointed towards the upper circles of the city. “You been up to Master Gemthir’s?”
Estev scowled. “Yes. A waste of a perfect morning.”
“Not quite,” said Rolfe quietly joining the group after ensuring that Dog understood these were friends, no matter how close the rock had come. “He did tell you about the crayfish.”
“That’s right, he did.” Turning eagerly to the other boys, Estev said, “Know anywhere to get some crayfish?”
“Depends on what you want them for,” answered the tallest of the group. Lanky, with a scattering of freckles across his nose, the boy possessed the confidant air of a leader. “You planning on eating them?”
“Nah, I need `em for bait,” Estev said and launched into an explanation of Master Gemthir’s theory that trout liked crayfish. “What do you think of that, Shaymur?”
“Don’t know for sure. Never seen anybody doing it,” the freckle faced boy admitted. “But it makes sense.”
“Ah, come on,” interrupted Curthan. “We got more important business than fishing. Don’t we, Shay?” Receiving a nod, Curthan nudged the boy next to him with a large elbow and demanded, “Show them, Ferlan.”
Ferlan, thin and dark with wild, shaggy hair, made a show of looking about carefully then reaching into his shirt to draw out a small object that he kept hidden in his clasped fist. “You’ve got to promise you won’t tell.”
Indignantly Estev complained, “We aren’t babble babies.”
After glancing around once more, Ferlan held out a grubby hand and slowly opened it to reveal a small golden medallion. The serpent engraved there appeared to twist in the morning sun and Estev reached out a tentative finger to stroke the gleaming gold. Dog, not having quite so many manners, gave Ferlan’s hand a slurp to test the taste of whatever it was the boy was holding.
Snatching his hand away, Ferlan closed his fist tightly. “You can’t touch it. I’m gonna trade it to the captain of the fourth circle gate. He always pays the best for what we find. My brother said I can keep all the money for this one for myself.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt it,” huffed Estev.
Karston rubbed his forehead with a sleeve, leaving a streak of whiter skin. “Go on, tell him the best part.”
Eyeing Dog with distaste, Ferlan tucked the medallion carefully into his shirt, then with a secretive expression said, “I know where there’s lots more.”
As Estev eagerly exclaimed, “Where?” Rolfe looked skeptically at Ferlan. Working in the fields with his brother, Ferlan had the best luck of all the boys finding relics from the battles, but it was seldom that he would consider revealing the location of his finds. And even more suspicious, to Rolfe’s mind, was that Ferlan’s brother, a notoriously tightfisted man, would allow Ferlan to keep all of the profit from this medallion.
Frowning, Rolfe called Dog to his side and said, “What’s the catch, Ferlan? Why are you so eager to share?”
Shaymur gave Rolfe an approving nod for the question and turned with arms folded across his chest toward Ferlan. “Yes, why are you so eager?”
Rolfe felt a flush of pride from Shaymur’s approval. The older boy was well respected by the group though lately he had been spending more and more of his time at the main gate offering to guide visitors safely through Minas Tirith’s bewildering pathways. Shaymur worked, not for pocket money as Curthan did, but to pay back the relatives who had taken in his family after his father’s death during the war.
Karston and Curthan looked from Rolfe to Shaymur, then turned to face Ferlan with questioning faces. It had not occurred to them that there might be more to this offer than met the eye, until Rolfe suggested it; but seeing that Shaymur, their recognized leader, obviously thought it a worthy idea, they would as well.
Estev, meanwhile, was completely disgusted with himself. Here he was, the son of a trader, and he had reached out to stroke that gold like a goodwife ran her hands along a coveted bolt of cloth. Hadn’t he learned anything? You never, ever, let the seller know how much you wanted something. It always drove the price up. Fixing Ferlan with a hard stare, Estev muttered imprecations in Rohirric at himself.
Ferlan sensing the anger behind the words, though completely at a loss to know what they meant, shuffled his feet. Nervously he looked from one boy to the next, and finally at the large grinning canine at Rolfe’s feet. He had told his brother it wouldn’t work, but Harlan had insisted.
“Uh well, uh; we don’t have the money to hire any workers so he said that if we would clear a new field we could keep half the relics we found.” Ferlan heaved a heavy sigh and waited for his friends’ reactions.
Karston shook his head and scrubbed his face again with a sleeve, once more leaving a trail of cleaner skin behind. “Half. We clear the field and only get half. Are you out of your mind?”
“Wait a minute, Karston. It all depends,” Shaymur said thoughtfully. “Ferlan, let me see that medallion again.”
After once again checking that no one was paying them any mind, Ferlan reluctantly passed his find to Shaymur.
“There’s more of them? You’re certain?”
“I found another like that and a lot of broken armor and things. Harlan took all that, but everywhere we walked this morning we kept finding stuff. Must have been the rain last week.”
All the boys nodded. With every rain, new items emerged from the Pelennor Fields. Rusty bits of blades and buckles were the most common finds, but now and then something better turned up. Karston had once found a carved set of dice, and Curthan was the proud owner of what he declared was the bone of an oliphaunt. But it had been many months since anything like the medallion had been found.
“What you have to understand,” Shaymur began in a voice that focused all eyes on him, “is that the Haradrim nobles use these as badges for their household soldiers. And if Ferlan found three, there’s probably more.”
“How many more?” Curthan asked. The thought of hauling cart loads of debris out of a field suddenly seemed more work than he wanted to do simply in hopes that they might find something worthwhile.
With a grin, Shaymur said, “The last noble from Harad had more than twenty household soldiers.”
“And Haradrim soldiers fight to the death if their noble is killed,” said Rolfe holding out his hand. Ferlan bit back his protest as Shaymur flipped the medallion to Rolfe.
“Look. See how the snake is coiled to the right. This was a captain’s badge. If it were coiling left, it would just be that of a common soldier”
“How do you know that?” Estev asked as Rolfe passed the gold piece back to Ferlan.
“It was in one of Master Gemthir’s books.”
“I don’t remember that one,” Estev said.
“It was during the last trip. When Esdav came,” Rolfe said offhandedly.
Estev gave a jerky nod. He had never before thought anything of the fact that he and his brother alternated trips to Minas Tirith while Rolfe came every time. Did that mean that Esdav had learned about the Haradrim soldiers as well? And neither one of them mentioned it at all. Filing the information away for later thought, Estev turned back to Ferlan.
“Do the others you found coil left or right?”
Ferlan lifted his hands in a gesture of uncertainty.
Karston blew out an exasperated breath. “You do at least know where you found them, don’t you?”
“I know. But,” Ferlan swallowed audibly, then finished in a rush. “Harlan won’t let us search for anything if we don’t pick out the broken bits and pieces. He’s wanting to run a flock there.”
The other boys exchanged glances. They all knew Harlan’s heavy hand with his brother.
“I dunno,” said Karston rubbing clean yet another portion of his face. “I’ve got to be back to load the ovens for the afternoon baking. I’ve only got `til the noon bell.”
Rolfe said, “Us too. We’ve got to be back at noon or we’ll catch it as well.”
Shaymur frowned. “It will go a lot easier with all of us working. What if we go check it out and if it looks good we’ll take turns at it tomorrow? We’ll share and share alike on whatever’s found.”
Ferlan’s face brightened as he looked anxiously from face to face. “I swear there’s more out there, honest.”
Curthan’s eyes narrowed and Karston frowned doubtfully; but after a long moment of silence, they shrugged and turned to Shaymur.
The lanky boy gave a smile of approval, then faced Rolfe. “Are you in or out, fellows?”
“We’re in,” Estev said loudly. Seeing the worry in Rolfe’s eye, he added, “At least to go check it out. But we do have to be back for the noon meal.”