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Of Spices and Stewed Goat, by Rhymer

Author: rhymer23
Title: Of Spices and Stewed Goat
Rating: PG
Theme: January Potluck: Special Occasions - Recipe!Fic (September 2013)
Elements: Stew
Summary: Faramir receives an unexpected visitor in the wilds of Ithilien, leading to an afternoon of wine, cooking and memories.
Word Count: 4020 (excluding recipe at the end)

The harsh laugh of a green woodpecker rang out from the dense trees, followed by the grating cry of a jay. Together they signalled danger. Somebody was coming.

Faramir damped down the fire, and snatched up his sword. Bending low, he passed through the tangle of shrubs that covered the fallen archway. The smell of smoke followed him, but it could not be helped. He picked his way carefully through the wind-fallen apples. Lichen-covered branches clawed at his cloak, and when he paused to tug himself free, another apple fell. A blackbird shouted an alarm call, a real bird this time. Damp leaves brushed against his cheek.

The woodpecker laughter came again, high and fast. No jay call followed it. Faramir adjusted his path accordingly. He skirted the old coppice of oak trees, where acorns crunched beneath unwary feet. A thicket of hawthorn delayed him. By the time he had rounded the thorns, it was all over.

The intruder was hooded, wrapped against the light rain. His gloved hands were held up, claiming that he posed no threat. Half-hidden by the trees, Mablung and Damrod held him pinned between them, grey-feathered arrows aimed at his heart.

Then the hooded head moved in just such a way, a way that Faramir had never before realised that he recognised. Cold dread sheeted through him. Boromir. This was Boromir. Why would Boromir leave his command and come out here alone, unless he had devastating news? Was it...? Is it father? Faramir thought, and almost said it, too, his lips moving without a sound.

Faramir stepped forward. "Stand down!" His voice was crisp. Unseen, his hands were shaking.

Boromir pushed his hood back, showing a stony face with eyes that glinted. "Four times, now, have I been stopped and threatened with death along the way. Tell me, brother, why do your men keep trying to kill me?"

It was enough. Faramir hid his relief, although his heart was still racing. "They are acting on my orders. I am plotting to do away with you and usurp your position, of course."

Boromir was first to laugh; he always was. Rushing forward, he grabbed Faramir into a fierce one-armed embrace and slapped him repeatedly on the back. Faramir laughed too, but his laugh was quieter, and lasted less long. When it faded, he was quiet for a while, and then he asked, "But why are you here, Boromir?"

Boromir held him at arm's length, his hands gripping Faramir's upper arms. His mouth still quirked with the echo of his laughter, but his eyes were suddenly serious. "How could I be anywhere else?"

Things went badly in Osgiliath, and if this was an aching worry to Faramir, to Boromir it cut like a sword blade. Boromir liked to command from the front, and when his duties took him to quieter places, he chafed to return to the thick of the action. When he was wounded, he dragged himself to the guard house and the practice field, where he could recuperate in a place of clashing weapons and fierce, loud soldiery. No matter where he was spotted on the field of campaign, he was always surrounded by people, always at the heart of things.

"But the armies..." Faramir protested.

Boromir flapped a hand dismissively. "Others can hold the reins in my absence."

It was said lightly, but Faramir knew his brother too well to be deceived by it. All laughter drained from him. Fine rain seeped through his hood, cold against the back of his neck. "Why?" he asked quietly.

Boromir blinked. His brow furrowed in confusion, perhaps even hurt. "Because it is your thirtieth birthday. Did you think I would leave it unmarked?"

"Oh." Faramir let out a shaky breath. Time was marked differently in the wilds. Today was the sixth day of the northern ranging, and the fourth since the southern patrol had gone out. The wild apple trees would provide food for one more week, and the field mushrooms would be edible in a few more days. Such things mattered. The date did not. "Is it?" Faramir managed. "I forgot."

"Fancy forgetting!" cried Boromir, who had doubtless forgotten many of his own birthdays while out on campaign. "Just as well I came, then." He threw his arm across Faramir's shoulders. "But you are hard to find, buried out here in the wilds."

"That is rather the point," said Faramir with a smile.

It was lost, as such things often were, in the unstoppable rush of Boromir's good humour. "I was stopped four times, invisible men suddenly shouting at me from the trees. When they saw who I was, they apologised, but only grudgingly, I think, as if they privately thought I deserved anything I got for daring to enter Ithilien without your leave."

Mablung and Damrod had retreated back to their hiding places; Faramir could see them only because he knew where to look. He wondered if their arrows were still nocked to their bow strings. "They are..."

"Loyal to you," Boromir said. "As they should be. It gladdens my heart to see it, for it is no more than you deserve. My men would do the same if you came unannounced to the forward guard post outside Osgiliath."

My men. Boromir used the phrase unthinkingly, as if it was only right and proper, but surely they should all be first and foremost Gondor's men? Under a different sort of steward, perhaps they would be.

"But they told me where to find you," Boromir continued. "They said you were cooking for the scouting parties."

"I was," Faramir said, startled into laughter by the expression on Boromir's face. "I am, and I must return to it."

He headed back into the thicket. Habit made his steps silent, and there was no sound but the twittering of goldcrests in the branches and the gentle whisper of leaves. Was Boromir...? Faramir turned round, and there was Boromir, still behind him, moving as silently as a Ranger with twenty years in the wild. In public, Boromir was quick with loud laughter and quick, too, with shouted commands. He was more at home in a crowded barrack-room than a library; more suited for the loud clash of battle than the stealth and solitude of a Ranger's life. But he had a quiet side, too, and Faramir was the only one who ever saw it.

They passed beneath the apple trees, and pushed through the trailing shrubs. Once inside, Faramir prodded the fire to rouse the flames. The fat in the pan was still warm, but no longer sizzling.

"What is this place?" Boromir was peeling off his cloak, brushing away the fine raindrops. He had already removed a pack from his back, its leather surface dark with rain.

"An old smallholding, abandoned long ago." Picking up his knife, Faramir turned his attention to the onions. "Over the years, Rangers have kept an eye on it, and given the vegetable garden just enough tending to keep it from running completely wild. A man can get tired of eating foraged food when out in the wilds."

"A defensible location, too." Boromir went from one window to the next, and clapped his hand against the wall, sounding the thickness of the old stone. "Well hidden by the trees, and with a few guards in the woods, you can control the approaches."

Faramir's knife blade moved swiftly through the onions. He wiped his eyes with the heel of his hand. "I keep meaning to find out who used to live here, and when they left, and what happened to them. There might be something in the Archives to tell me. Or maybe not. So many people leave no trace - no name, no memories... just these, the fruit and vegetables that they planted, and cherished, and lost."

Boromir was aiming an imaginary bow from the back window. "Two dozen men could hole up here, if they had to."

"But we eat the fruits of their garden," Faramir said, "and so they are not entirely forgotten."

Boromir squatted down beside him. "Cooking!" he said with a chuckle. "Why?"

"We take turns when out on patrol." The fat was spitting. Faramir removed the pan from the heat, holding it carefully with both hands.

"But you are their Captain," Boromir protested.

"And you are Captain of the White Tower," said Faramir, "but you fight on the front lines and drink with the common soldiers and even do your own scouting, at times."

"But I do not clean latrines. I can cook up basic survival rations, if I have to, but cooking for all the men...?" Boromir shook his head from side to side, frowning.

Bent over his work, Faramir smiled to himself. "I enjoy it," he confessed.

He knew what he would see when he looked up, and sure enough, he saw it. Boromir wore the same expression he had worn long ago, when a seven year old Faramir had declared that he would rather stay inside and read than go out and fight with wooden swords. But Boromir was no longer a child, and this time he did not respond with harsh mockery. "But..." He shook his head again, but clearly decided to accept his brother's preference, strange as it might seem to him. "What are you cooking?"

"Stewed goat," Faramir said. "A feral descendant of the flocks that were once kept here."

Boromir dragged his pack towards him. "Remember that stew you used to love so much when we were children? You asked for it on your fifth birthday, I remember."

"Lamb and cinnamon, stewed in red wine." Faramir smiled. Onion juice pricked at his eyes.

"Served with... what was it called?" Boromir started to unfasten the buckles.

"Yogurt," Faramir said, "with crushed garlic."

"Yogurt." Boromir let out a breath. Faramir saw him close his eyes, just for a moment. "I had forgotten that. We used to have it quite often."

His intonation showed that he had not intended to end the sentence there. Before, it should have ended. Before mother died. Their mother had been a daughter of Dol Amroth, and even in those war-torn, faded years, ships had come to Dol Amroth with food and fabrics from distant places. Their mother had brought strange foods to the Citadel, things that had never been eaten there before. After she died, such foods were gone again. Boromir and Faramir quickly learned not to ask for them, or even to mention them.

"You should make it today," Boromir said. "Let us eat it, and remember the old days. I… find myself doing that more and more, as time goes by."

Faramir stirred the flames. Boromir's face was cast in fire and shadow. He almost responded to Boromir's last words, but decided not to; Boromir liked his reflective moments to pass by unremarked. "Do you have the recipe?"

"Recipe?" Boromir frowned in confusion.

Faramir laughed. "You cannot fool me, brother. You know little of cookery, but you are not as ignorant as all that. You know what a recipe is. You know that I cannot recreate from memory a meal that I last ate when I was five years old. Besides, I have none of the ingredients."

"You have goat," Boromir pointed out.

"True," Faramir agreed, "but the recipe, which I do not have, calls for lamb."

"Lamb. Goat." Boromir flapped his hand. "Does it matter? They both have cloven feet and go baa!"

"Goats go mehh!" Faramir corrected him, imitating the sound perfectly. He had to struggle to remain impassive in the face of Boromir's blatant astonishment. "It is a skill we Rangers have to possess. We send messages in bird calls and animal noises. I do the best goat in Gondor."

Boromir was as easy to bait as he had been as a child, and took it as a challenge, of course. His goat noise was sadly lacking. His sheep was little better. Faramir leant towards him, and nudged him conspiratorially. "I will tell no-one. Nobody will find out from me that the High Warden of the White Tower spends his day off making bad animal noises in Ithilien."

Boromir laughed heartily. He was easy to bait, but he bore no grudges if he was beaten. He could be caught making animal noises by the cream of Minas Tirith's nobility, and it would embarrass him not one whit. Faramir used to long to have even a fraction of his confidence. Sometimes he still did.

Faramir reached for a rag, wiping away onion juice from his hands. "But even if I use goat instead of lamb, I have no red wine or cinnamon."

"Really?" Boromir's eyes were dancing as he reached into his pack.

Faramir knew what to expect, but even so, his pleasure was unfeigned. "Red wine." He took the proffered flask, and uncorked it, putting it to his nose. "A fine vintage. Thank you."

"And this, too."

Boromir was holding out a second gift, a small jar full of brown powder. When Faramir opened it, long years fell away. He saw his mother's skirts, and her hands reaching down to pick him up and hold him close. He was tagging along behind his wonderful big brother, happily letting himself be tyrannised over and teased and loved and protected. He remembered the warmth of dinners in the nursery, when their mother had joined them, one of the few places where she had seemed truly happy. And wrapped through everything was the smell of spices brought from Dol Amroth, her lost home by the sea.

"Powdered cinnamon," he breathed. The onions had left eyes prone to weeping, and tears pricked at them now. "Where did you get it?"

"A raiding party from Harad," Boromir said. "They all died. I found this on one of the bodies, afterwards."

Faramir closed his eyes and inhaled. This time, instead of the old memories, he imagined what it would be like to be raiding far from home, sent into an enemy country to die. What was his name, the man who had brought these spices with him into war? What memories did the scent stir in him? "I… do not wish…" he murmured.

But Boromir was already speaking, as he pulled out a tankard from his pack. "Shame to waste all that wine on a stew."

Boromir would never waste his time wondering about the hopes and dreams of a dead enemy. Gondor was at war, their very survival resting on a knife edge. Perhaps Faramir should not be wasting his time on such things, either. But yet, he thought. But yet…

"A shame indeed," he said brightly. He reached for his own tankard, and poured them both some wine. The tankard were made for pints, but he stopped when he thought he had poured a normal glass full. They struck their tankards together, and each took a long, slow drink. It was good, better than anything Faramir had tasted since his last visit to Minas Tirith. He took another sip, then put the tankard down. "Time to get working," he said, "and since you are here, you can help me."

"Help cooking?" Boromir's expression of alarm was mostly feigned, but not entirely.

"Help with the heavy work." Faramir pointed at the trap door. "The goat meat is keeping cold in the cellar. Bring it up, will you?"

Boromir drained his tankard, then stood up, heading for the trap door. Faramir drained his own tankard, and headed outside. From his distant, five-year-old's memory, he thought the stew in question contained tomatoes. The tomatoes were well past their best now, but he managed to fill a bowl with the over-ripe mush that was all that was left on the vines.

When he returned, Boromir was pouring them another helping of red wine, surrounded by platters of diced goat. "What now?"

"I would imagine," said Faramir, swapping his bowl of pulped tomatoes for a mug of wine, "that we coat the meat in seasoned flour, and brown it in the pan."

"You have flour?" Boromir asked, then sighed in realisation. "In the cellar?"

"In the cellar," Faramir confirmed.

His wine in one hand, Faramir poured a small amount of cinnamon into a bowl. He had to put the wine down when Boromir returned, laden down with enough flour to feed half an army. Boromir's chest was heaving. Smiling cheerfully, Faramir relieved him of the smallest bag, and tipped it into a leather sack. He added salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon, then tipped in the meat. He shook it up until he thought the meat was coated, then passed it to Boromir to shake some more.

Some minutes later, he started to fry the coated meat, while Boromir watched him. There was flour in Boromir's hair and even on the surface of his wine. "Perhaps not quite so vigorously next time?" Faramir suggested mildly.

Boromir poured him another drink, the bottle clashing against the rim of the tankard. Outside, it stopped raining, and the sun came out, although the thick vegetation kept out all but pale slanting lines of sunlight. Firelight danced orange. Boromir's face was strangely intent, as with one hand he pushed back a hank of flour-speckled damp hair. The other hand held his tankard. Perhaps he, too, was transported to childhood happiness by the mere smell of cinnamon.

When the meat was browned to Faramir's liking, he transferred it to the cauldron, and tipped the tomatoes in on top. His eyes were still stinging from the aftermath of cutting the onions. He surveyed the piles of cut vegetables with some dismay. "I cannot remember there being any onions in the recipe," he said slowly.

"There were onions," Boromir declared. "You have merely forgotten them. You were, after all, just five."

There were not just piles of onions; there were mountains. "And you were ten," Faramir said, still not looking away from them. "I bow to your no doubt more accurate memory." He glanced round in time to catch Boromir's expression. He sighed, his hands falling down limp at his sides. "There were no onions."

"No," Boromir agreed, quite cheerful. He took a sip of wine, almost lowered his tankard, then took another. "But you worked so hard on them. It would be a shame to let them go to waste. As of today, the recipe has onions."

Faramir tipped them into the pan before anyone appeared with fresh evidence to the contrary. "But there was definitely garlic," he said, as he stirred them in the fat. "You will find some in a sack in the pantry. Crush me half a dozen cloves, will you?"

The onions started to soften. Faramir concentrated on stirring them, while Boromir moved around behind him. No sound came from outside but the gentle scrape of branch tips against the stonework. Instead of cooking alone, waiting for the scouts to return, he was cooking with his brother at his side, the first time they had seen each other for nigh on half a year. He reached blindly for his tankard, and took a long sip. He was wrapped in contentment, wreathed in spices and wine.

A sudden anxiety punctured his drifting thoughts, but by the time he looked up, he was already too late. Boromir smiled cheerfully at him as he scraped an enormous mass of pulped garlic from the flat of his dagger.

"But not with your dagger." Faramir said it anyway. "The smell takes days to go away. If you stab anyone in battle, they will die with the smell of garlic in their nostrils." He looked more closely at the fruit of his brother's labours. "Half a dozen cloves," he said. "Not half a dozen bulbs. "

Boromir shrugged. "I like garlic." Wiping his dagger on a cloth, he sheathed it, unconcerned. He poured himself some more wine. When he reached over to Faramir's tankard, Faramir caught wafts of garlic from his hands. "What next?" Boromir asked.

Faramir added the onions to the cauldron, and spooned up a small amount of Boromir's garlic, and dropped it in after the onions. "We add the liquid," he said. "The wine."

Boromir picked up the bottle, and tilted it slightly to one side. "Oh," he said.

"Oh," said Faramir, seeing sunlight slanting through the empty glass.

Boromir poured out the last few drops, sharing it between their tankards. "Not enough to cook with now," he said. "We may as well finish it up."

"My stew I had intended to make would have used ale," Faramir said. "You can find some…"

"In the cellar." Boromir stood up with exaggerated weariness, pretending to be incredibly put-upon. He swayed a little as he started to walk. Faramir frowned carefully, struggling to bring him into focus.

"Raisins!" Faramir declared, as a barrel appeared at the trapdoor. Unseen hands from below gave it a shove, sending it rolling across the floor. Boromir clambered out a moment later. "Raisins!" Faramir told him, holding up a revelatory finger. "There were raisins! Do you have raisins?"

"I have no raisins." Boromir began to close to trap door, then reconsidered, leaving it open.

"Be careful not to shake the barrel," Faramir remembered to say, a moment before it came to rest with a thump against the far wall.

"I like my ale lively," Boromir said. Faramir concentrated on the cauldron while Boromir tapped the barrel. The ale hissed explosively, and when Faramir dared turn around again, the inevitable had already happened. As a child, he would have laughed to see his brother so covered in frothy ale, but he was a grown man now, a Captain of the Rangers, generally seen as a quiet man, too solemn, and often sad. He was a grown man, and…

He laughed. Boromir laughed first, though; he always did.

Still chuckling, Faramir filled their tankards with ale, and poured the rest into the cauldron. "Now we leave it to stew," he said, "but first we add the cinnamon…" Boromir grabbed the jar of cinnamon and tipped it all in. "…sparingly, at first," Faramir said, "so we can taste it and add more later, if needed."

Boromir shrugged, and settled down with his ale. Faramir settled down beside him. They talked of childhood and memories. They spoke of places they had been, and places they would never go. Sometimes they said nothing at all. Faramir sang, once, fragments of a quiet song their mother used to sing. Boromir responded with a rousing soldier's song, and then a ribald one, which he claimed he had never sung before, merely heard the common soldiery sing it from far away.

Every now and then, one or other of them would stir the stew. The air turned warm, rich with the smell of smoke and cinnamon, of ale and garlic.

"Raisins," Faramir murmured once. "It does need raisins."

"And yogurt," Boromir said. "It was served with yogurt and garlic, and a dash of… What was it called?"

"Paprika," Faramir supplied, startled by his sudden feat of memory.

"Paprika," Boromir said. "Shame you couldn't provide the yogurt. I did my bit. I gave you garlic. Will goat's milk serve, do you think?"

"I am not milking a goat," Faramir told him, "and no, it would not." He scrambled to his feet, and made his way to the bubbling cauldron. He spooned up a ladleful of stew, and blew over it until it was cool enough to sample. "Lamb with red wine and cinnamon," he said, "with no lamb and no red wine and too much cinnamon. And no raisins," he said accusingly to Boromir.

"Or yogurt," Boromir reminded him. "You should milk that goat." He snatched the ladle from Faramir's hand, and ate what was left. "It tastes nothing at all like it used to taste," he said, wrinkling his nose.

"No." Faramir settled down beside his brother, and let out a contented sigh. For ever more, he thought, the smell of cinnamon would take him back not to the last happy days of his childhood, but to this moment, this small perfect moment in a world wrapped in shadow. "No," he said, "it tastes better."


The end


The recipe

Serves four to six, depending on appetites. Recipe written in typical UK style, mixing metric and imperial measurements with gay abandon. I have absolutely no idea how it works out in American style measurements. To be honest, I tend to chuck things in the general direction of the pot without measuring them, and wait and see what comes out.


2 tablespoons of plain flour
2 lbs of lean boneless lamb, cubed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced
300 ml of red wine
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
2 oz of raisins
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
a pinch of sugar
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper


150 ml of natural Greek yogurt
2 crushed garlic cloves
salt and pepper
paprika (for garnish)

Season the flour with the salt and pepper. Put in polythene bag with the lamb and shake until the lamb is coated.

Heat oil in a casserole. Cook onions and garlic for 5 minutes, or until softened.

Add lamb. Cook over a high heat, stirring, until browned all over.

Stir wine, vinegar and tomatoes unto casserole. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and add raisins, cinnamon, bay leaf and sugar. Cover and simmer for 2 hours or so.

To make topping, mix yogurt, garlic, salt and pepper together. Chill.

Serve stew (minus bay leaf) topped with yogurt and dusted with paprika.


Like Faramir, I consistently forget that this recipe doesn't include onions. My standard first step in making a stew is to chop onions, so I invariably start this one the same way, and then I get out the recipe and go "Oh." I still add them, though; I like onions.

Boromir's Too Much Garlic situation was also inspired by life. The first time I made this, for a variety of reasons (mostly summed up by the word "stupidity") I managed to put about ten times the amount of garlic in the yogurt topping than I should have done. I love garlic, but even I had to agree that this was Too Much.

Once, at a long-ago university Tolkien Society party, I attempted to pour myself modest wine-glass-sized portions of wine in a pint glass, which was, by the time I arrived, the only drinking vessel available. The only comment I have to make about this is: "Don't."


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2014 01:40 pm (UTC)
I love the idea of a cooking Faramir; and how nice that he got to spend with his brother.

(And the sign of a true cook--the ability to do the "out of this, substitute that" thing! And now I'm imagining Sam and Faramir trading recipes for stewed rabbit.)
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:39 pm (UTC)
*laughs* I like the idea of Sam and Faramir trading recipes, too. From now on, I'm definitely going to imagine that this is just what they did. :-D
Jan. 27th, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
This story is quite awesome! I love the contrast between the two brothers that only adds to their character and their closeness. The brief memories of their mother are very poignant! Yet for the most part, I had a grin on my face as Faramir and Boromir interacted -- I can totally believe that Boromir would throw off everything to be with his brother on his birthday, and that cooking with Boromir would be a true adventure!
Jan. 27th, 2014 07:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you liked it: I was a bit worried that people would feel I wasn't treating the characters with proper respect, what with them getting rather drunk on red wine, and Boromir getting himself covered with flour and beer - and not caring one little bit. But it was great fun to write. :-D
Jan. 28th, 2014 01:07 am (UTC)
I like the brotherly interplay, and Faramir's pride in doing 'the best goat in Gondor'. Also, recipe! Thank you.
Jan. 28th, 2014 10:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks! This was a definitely a fun one to write. It was fun to write a recipe fic in which the characters pretty much ignore the entire recipe. :-)
Jan. 28th, 2014 02:35 am (UTC)
I don't cook but i loved the way you portrayed the brothers here and the easy way they work rogether. Both funny and poignant.
Jan. 28th, 2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It was great fun to write. I've not made this particular stew for a few months, but I intend to make it this weekend, and think of Faramir and Boromir as I do so. :-)
Jan. 29th, 2014 01:29 am (UTC)
A wonderful, needed interlude between the two of them, and I will have to make this one up myself! I rejoice that their bastardization of the recipe worked for them.
Jan. 29th, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Hope you like the stew if you end up making it. I make a lot of stew - making it in bulk and freezing it in meal-sized portions - but this is one of my favourites.
Feb. 2nd, 2014 12:33 pm (UTC)
I love Boromir and Faramir in this and how they have brotherly affection. And how Faramir keeps getting Boromir to fetch things from the cellar!
Feb. 2nd, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It was very enjoyable to write. I particularly enjoyed trying to come up with reasons for Faramir to send Boromir down into the cellar yet again. Poor Boromir! :-D
Feb. 15th, 2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
This is by turns sweet and funny, a lovely extension on what we don't get to see in the books.
Feb. 16th, 2014 09:15 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I had doubts about the idea when it first came to me, and spent days sitting on it, sure that it wouldn't work. But as soon as I started writing it, it just wrote itself, and was a very enjoyable experience. :-D
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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