The Serpent’s Lure
Spring 1422 Shire Reckoning
Fourth Age 1 Gondorian Reckoning
In answer to a request from King Elessar, the elves of the Greenwood had spent the past two years lovingly placing seed, root and cutting into every nook and cranny; thus, with the arrival of the gentle breath of spring in the third year of the reign of King Elessar, the City of Stone blossomed into a veritable garden. Besieged on every side by the sights and scents of growing greenery, the people of Minas Tirith found themselves caught up in an overwhelming sense of renewal. Smiles were the order of the day and many in the White City discovered themselves bursting into song for no apparent reason. However, there were still a few who found cause to be discontent.
“It isn’t fair,” grumbled the shorter of two boys making their way along the winding road to the upper circles. His attention was focused on the task of kicking a stone just beyond the reach of his companion while avoiding exuberant, if slightly unnecessary, assistance from a very large black and tan dog.
“No, but there’s no use whining about it,” said the taller, easily returning the rock.
“Don’t talk like that, Rolfe,” the other replied with the rolling accent the Rohirrim gave to the Common Tongue as he raced forward to give the stone a sideways kick before it could be snapped up by the jaws of the third player in this game of keep away. Triumphantly, he cried, “I got to it first, Dog!”
Dodging around a matron balancing a laundry basket against her hip, Rolfe managed to intercept the stone before it rolled beneath her feet. Picking it up and tossing it lightly, he frowned at his human companion.
“Like Esdav. Always lecturing me.” Stopping suddenly, his young face filling with puzzlement as he brushed a lock of pale blond hair from his eyes, the boy asked, “Why are big brothers so bossy?”
“Dunno, never had one.”
“You’ve got one now, and he’s the bossiest person I’ve ever known.”
Rolfe shrugged. “He doesn’t boss me around.”
“That’s cause you always do what you’re told. Don’t you ever get into trouble?”
Shoving the stone into his pocket, the dark haired boy’s face twisted momentarily with sorrow, and he muttered, “Sometimes.”
Responding to the sadness in the lad’s voice, Dog padded over to lean against his legs and give a soft whine.
Immediately the other boy regretted his words and exclaimed, “I’m sorry, Rolfe. Nmad, I can’t do anything right.”
“Never mind, Estev. You didn’t do anything.” Scratching behind Dog’s ear, Rolfe said, “Though if your dad catches you cursing, he’ll be mad as all get out.”
Estev punched Rolfe’s arm. “Told you to stop talking like that.”
Rolfe punched him back. “If Esdav is my older brother, then I’m yours.”
“You’re only a few months older.” Estev rubbed his arm thoughtfully. “Why don’t you be my twin instead?”
Grinning widely, and deciding not to insist that Estev show proper respect for the nine-month difference in their ages, Rolfe’s brown eyes lit up. “Good idea. But, you know, we’re going to be in big trouble if we keep Master Gemthir waiting.”
Estev’s smile vanished. “It just isn’t fair.”
Giving his foster brother a small shove, Rolfe laughed. “It’s only a few hours. We’ll be free at noon. Come on.”
Glumly, Estev nodded and followed Rolfe and Dog slowly up the cobblestone road, sorrowfully contemplating the injustice of having to spend a spring morning trapped within the stone walls of Master Gemthir’s hall, poring over the dullest text imaginable. Why for once, couldn’t they study something interesting? Like the siege of the City? Or the construction of the battlements? Every time he asked about something like that, the tutor got this line between his eyes and lectured for twenty minutes on the necessity of acquiring the skills essential for lifelong learning. What more did he need to know about reading and writing? He was going to become a Rider in the éored of Éomer King and would have no need to learn such useless stuff.
There is no doubt that the passage of time varies depending upon the task at hand. And of equal little doubt is the fact that time passes slowest when one is sitting next to an open window that allows one to see just what is being missed. Outside, the sunshine beamed on fields that needed to be run through, trees that begged to be climbed, secret places that simply must be explored by inquisitive boys – not to mention that huge trout waiting in a certain pool on the river. Estev would find the bait that drew that monster; it just needed a little patience, a little sitting in the sun with a pole and a line and a lazy afternoon.
With great difficulty, Estev forced his eyes back to the slate before him. At least today had turned out to be mathematics. He could see some use for that. Still, he already knew more figuring than most of the men working for his father as traders. Would this morning never end?
Sensing Master Gemthir’s watchful eye, Estev surreptitiously rubbed out the tiny drawing of a trout that had somehow appeared in the corner of his slate and focused upon the problem before him. Finishing his calculations with a flourish, he displayed his work for the approval of the tutor.
“Well done, Estev. Your grasp of mathematical processes is excellent.” Estev smiled broadly until the man reached out a bony finger to tap the corner of the slate and add blandly, “When you keep your mind on your studies.”
“Yes, sir,” Estev said with another longing glance out the window.
“Ah, well, I can sense that it would be counterproductive to continue our lessons today. You may go, boys; however, I will expect you to be prepared to study most diligently on the morrow.”
For a moment, Estev could do nothing but stare blankly at the man. Not until he heard Dog’s welcoming bark when Rolfe opened the door to leave did the boy allow himself to believe they were to be paroled.
In a rush, he said, “Oh, thank you, sir. And I will do better. I swear.”
Master Gemthir permitted a small smile to briefly cross his thin face. “I am certain of it, young man.” As Estev sketched a hasty bow and bounded toward the door, he called, “And Estev…”
“Are you aware that some trout are partial to crayfish?”
“Crayfish?” replied Estev balanced on the doorsill. “Oh, thank you, sir. I never thought of that.” Bobbing his head in farewell, he followed Rolfe out into the bright spring morning.
Shaking his head at the boy, Gemthir gathered the slates his young pupils had deserted so eagerly. Passing the window, his eye was drawn to the sparkling waters of the Anduin. It had been years since he had spent the afternoon on its bank.
Setting the slates in a haphazard pile upon a sideboard, Master Gemthir muttered, “Yes, crayfish, though some prefer dragonflies or grasshoppers. I wonder where I might… “