I woke suddenly from my dream, shaking, but there was no inhuman chill to this vision, just the all-too-human ache of loss, of chances failed and connections missed. And if dream memory spoke true, then all paths from my brother seemed to entwine with our sister’s fate – might I then uncover the truths of his life and death by investigating hers?
Lóriniel was as like to our mother as if they had been twins, so Boromir told me once. Tradition allowed no images of the Stewards’ consorts to stand among the statues of Stewards and Kings lining the Hall of the Tower, and if my father ever kept any likeness of his wife, then I had yet to find it. I myself barely recalled the appearance of the Lady Finduilas, who had passed away before my fifth summer, when my sister was but a babe in arms. Mother and daughter, I knew, both shared the pale golden hair that was almost unknown within the City, but flowered occasionally amongst the women of Prince Imrahil’s house. Mayhap a sign of the fabled Dol Amroth elven blood, some said, though others derided it as the taint of Rohan, and a voice whispered within me, What will they say in the City when the news of your betrothal is announced?
I shook my head, and sought to bury my fears for the future in recollections of Lóriniel – but the memories I sought proved elusive. Indeed, beyond the bare facts of birth and death, in truth, I knew scarce more about my sister than our mother. My father had evinced little interest in his youngest offspring – whether from grief or from inattention, even then, to anything or anyone not concerned directly with the welfare of our great City, I knew not. By the time Lóriniel was deemed old enough to leave her wet-nurse and join the Steward’s family, I myself was old enough to have learned to prefer those pursuits that pleased my father and would always be closed to my sister, or any nobly born lady of Gondor.
First watch was called as I dozed, and soon followed Galrennieth’s knock. I heard her enter the outer chamber, and then her shrill voice announcing, ‘Coffee, sir!’ She did not trouble to conceal her triumph: there had been no coffee to be had in the City since last winter. Coffee indeed, the rich aroma was already seeping beneath my door. I struggled into my robe and dragged my fingers through my hair.
Galrennieth grinned broadly as I joined her, adding deep creases to a face already as shrivelled and crinkled as a preserved peach. ‘I knew as that ’ud get you up, sir,’ she said. ‘I’ve made it just the way you like it.’
Knowing full well my part in this performance, I enquired, ‘How came you by the beans, mistress?’ and she commenced a lengthy tale of how her grand-niece, who worked a stall in the third-circle market – just till she married, I understood – had heard that they might be found at the corner of Ship Street on the second level, and so on, till the history of the coffee beans encompassed near a quarter hour and a fair proportion of Galrennieth’s extended family. I suspected that she must have spent the entire Steward’s household expenses for Lótessë on a single rapidly-chilling pot of coffee, which I could not even share with my benefactor – the one time I had persuaded her to try a cup, she had spat out her first sip, declaring it an ‘evil brew’.
At last her tale seemed to be nearing its natural end, and before she could start fussing about the shadows that no doubt lay beneath my eyes this morning, as so many others, I prompted, ‘My sister always loved her coffee.’
‘That she always did, sir, t’was the only thing that ’ud get her out of her bed some mornings. Just like you that way she was, may her soul rest in peace.’ She made a little gesture towards the West to honour the dead, then enquired, ‘Does your lady drink it?’
‘I must own that I have no idea whether the Lady Éowyn has ever tasted the stuff!’ I laughed aloud at the thought of her nose wrinkling up the way it always did when she found something distasteful and, of a sudden, I wished that we might be married tomorrow, and be damned what all the City gossips might say.
And after Galrennieth had left me in blessed silence to fetch boiling water for my toilet, I bethought myself of an expedient to take advantage of Prince Imrahil’s prolonged stay in the City to pursue word about my sister.
It was the Princess Nimwen, not my uncle, who rose to greet me as the pageboy announced my entrance, resplendent in a crimson velvet gown, heavily embroidered, with her plaits coiled upon her head in an elaborate style. The rich colour set off her dark hair well and brought out the faint rose blush of her cheeks, though I thought it perhaps a little over-ornate for receiving morning visitors in the Prince’s private apartments. My cousin, the Princess Lothíriel, bounded forward as if to embrace me, as was her custom, but her elder sister-in-law made a restraining gesture, and instead she curtsied, and took her seat in silence. Lothíriel was attired more modestly, as befitted her youth, but the simple white dress only highlighted a figure grown to womanhood in the months since I had seen her last.
‘The City is always so hot at this time of year,’ remarked Princess Nimwen, once we had repeated all those courteous enquiries that custom demanded. ‘My family always used to pass the summer months in the country.’
I recalled that, before her marriage to Prince Elphir, my uncle Imrahil’s heir, the Princess had belonged to a wealthy mercantile family in the City; her great-grandfather had traded in wines and sherries, and had been promoted to the High Council for some service to my grandfather.
‘The weather is very fine,’ I responded, and smiled in my cousin’s direction, as Lothíriel put her hand to her mouth and mimicked stifling a yawn.
‘If it had not been for the King coming, then I am sure we had best have stayed in Belfalas. Summer is such a bad time for travelling, always so dusty—and the roads! They were in a terrible state after we passed through Pelargir. You will hardly credit it, but there were one or two places where I actually thought we were going to have to get out of our carriage and walk!’
A servant brought cinnamon cakes and a flagon of spiced wine, and Princess Nimwen broke off her monologue to offer me a cup. ‘May your house prosper,’ she said.
I took a sip from the cup. ‘May your house prosper,’ I repeated, reflecting that the War must have passed lightly indeed over the Dol Amroth principality if its Princess had truly failed to anticipate that the roads beside the Anduin might be in poor condition—and then at last my uncle Imrahil entered.
‘I recognise this,’ he said, once we had exchanged greetings and I had brought out the brooch that formed my excuse for visiting. ‘It was my father’s gift to Finduilas on her betrothal to your father. See, the two swans face each other, beak to beak, signifying matrimonial love. It is a fine piece.’
‘I wondered if your craftsmen might be able to repair it,’ I said. ‘Or perhaps fashion a similar piece? I wish to give the Lady Éowyn a fitting gift to mark our betrothal.’
‘And you thought the style of Dol Amroth might be more pleasing to your lady than that of the City?’ My uncle smiled. ‘I will send to the workshops of Master Sarothos, he always keeps the choicest seed pearls. Though like all our silversmiths, he has no doubt turned his attentions to forging chain-mail of late.’
‘Sarothos fashioned an exceeding fine necklace for my wedding apparel,’ said Princess Nimwen. ‘Rows of pearls and diamonds set in silver, and the central stone was—’
‘Indeed, if I am not very much mistaken,’ continued my uncle, paying no heed to his daughter-in-law’s interruption, ‘I would swear his father crafted this piece.’ He turned the brooch over and examined the reverse minutely by the light flooding into the parlour from the arched east windows. ‘Yes, that looks like his mark. How came you by it? I did not think Denethor kept any tokens of my sister, after…’
‘King Elessar brought it from my brother,’ I said. ‘I know not how Boromir came by it, but Lóriniel oft used to wear it.’
‘Aye, I remember it was a favourite of hers,’ said Lothíriel softly. She had ever been a friend to my sister, despite the decade’s difference in years between them.
‘Do you recall aught of my sister’s mood when first she arrived with you, Cermië last?’ I asked.
‘So much has passed since then that it is hard to recall aright,’ replied my uncle. ‘But I am sure there was naught amiss then.’ He shook his head. ‘She was quiet as ever, and oft kept to her chambers, save when she assisted in the Houses of Healing.’
‘She always loved playing with little Alphor,’ added Princess Nimwen, bouncing the sturdy toddler so named upon her knee. ‘But who could not? He was such a beautiful baby, always so precocious—’
‘Who could not?’ exclaimed Lothíriel. ‘Perhaps one who worn out more summers than you have without ever a chance of either marriage or motherhood!’
‘Lothíriel!’ chided my uncle. ‘Remember to whom you speak.’
‘I just remarked that she enjoyed playing with Baby,’ repeated Nimwen placidly.
I edged my chair a fraction closer to Lothíriel: I was sure that there was more to her impassioned outburst than simple resentment of an elder sister-in-law who had, no doubt, been forced to take on a mother’s duties after the passing of Prince Imrahil’s wife. ‘What didst thou mean, little Daisy,’ I probed, using the nickname that Boromir had given our young cousin when first she visited the City, a lass of five or six summers. He had jested that, between her pale hair and her inclination for appearing in the most inappropriate of places, this Flower Maiden was more like unto a common daisy than any more august blossom.
‘Lóri was ever pale and quiet, but when she arrived last summer she scarce spoke a word to anyone, not even to me. At first I thought it was just being caged, year upon year, in that great tower of yours—’
‘Let her speak freely, uncle, I beg of you.’
‘—which would surely drive any maiden to silence. But then she took to taking long walks along the seashore during the night-watch hours, always alone, and never would she say a word about what grieved her.’
‘I knew not this,’ said my uncle.
‘But might you hazard as to what might be the root of her grief?’ I asked, unwilling to air my own barely formed thoughts about her estrangement from my brother before this company.
‘No, not really, though—’
But anything my cousin might have been about to add was interrupted by a howl, as the smallest Dol Amroth prince decided to announce his boredom to the room. Lothíriel was drafted into amusing her nephew and, when I saw no prospect of speaking in private with her, I took leave as soon as I might in politeness. As I crossed the courtyard beside Prince Imrahil’s apartments to regain the street, my head was full of thoughts of my sister – so much so that when I rounded a jasmine-wreathed pillar to find myself but a hand’s breadth from the King, I was at first at a loss.
‘Your Majesty,’ I said, sketching a bow to hide my confusion. It is not fit that the King should stay in this house, I thought.
‘I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime,’ said the King, ‘but I think "Your Majesty" may be my least favourite.’ Then with that swift switch to gravity that so oft characterised his words, he continued, ‘I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I would that you would call me so.’
I bowed deeply, and a sudden inspiration gave me a fitting response. ‘These past days… Aragorn… I have been clearing my brother’s rooms in the White Tower – they are not large, and very simply furnished, but they lie near the Steward’s chambers and command a fine view of the City. Would you prefer to stay there, until the refurbishment of the palace apartments is completed?’
‘Get me out from Imrahil’s feet, you mean? I should be honoured, Faramir.’ He grinned. ‘Especially as his daughters have just arrived in the City. Princess Nimwen could talk the hind-legs off a donkey, as they say in a certain tavern I used to frequent in Bree.’
My dearest Éowyn, I write, but then I stall. The words on the page look strange – whether because Westron is a language for servants and farmers, or simply from inexperience in penning words of love, I know not.
I grit my teeth, and write of riding upon the Pelennor plains in the shadow of Mount Mindoullin with my Dol Amroth cousins, and wonder what the White Lady of Rohan will make of a Gondorian lady’s side-saddle. I describe my old nurse Galrennieth, and pose her question about beverages. I mention the plans to honour King Théoden with a bronze statue in the sixth circle of the City, as no other King of the Mark save only Eorl the Young has been remembered in all the long history of Gondor. I tell of my frequent chance meetings with King Elessar upon the stairs of the White Tower, and relate some of his more tasteful anecdotes for my lady’s amusement. I write of the many official tasks that call upon my time, not least that coffee beans are not the only goods from Harad to have entered the City’s markets now that the trade routes via Pelargir have reopened, and reflect that it seems best to accustom my lady early to the minutiae of life for the Steward of the City and, no doubt, the Prince of Ithilien.
Ic lufie thé, I write, the result of more time than I care to own delving into yellowing Rohirric scrolls in the archives, though I am still unsure whether the verb I have chosen bears the right sense, and I have none to ask. I have heard the King – Aragorn – speaking with King Éomer in what sounds like fluent Rohirric, and I wonder how he came by his knowledge, for I did not think that the Rohirrim rode to the North. But I cannot ask him how to express my feelings to my betrothed lady – at least not without rather more wine than I care to consume after supper! Boromir oft travelled among the Rohirrim, and counted many Riders of the Mark among his friends – but him I cannot ask either.
My sister continues to elude my grasp – an inverse shadow, pale and silent, that ever flits around the edge, and never fills the centre.
I write not to my lady of her.
The meeting had started badly. Prince Imrahil moved to offer formal congratulations from the High Council to the Lord Steward and Prince of Ithilien upon the occasion of his betrothal to the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, and King Elessar added his own words of felicitation – but as I spoke the appropriate words of thanks, more than one Councillor chose to express their disapproval of the match by mutterings behind their hands as to why the news had not been formally announced earlier. Then Lord Valanthor – my father’s brother-in-law and one of his staunchest supporters – rose first, as was his right as the longest-serving Council member, and delivered a lengthy speech suggesting that ‘now the King is returned’ the Council discussions should surely proceed in Adûnic, as befitted the honour and glory of the descendants of Númenor at the dawn of this new age. Whether by chance or from years of practice, his high voice was perfectly pitched to resound around the vaulted Council chamber, so that each word, though soft-spoken, was distinctly audible. Valanthor was well aware that the King’s acquaintance with Adûnic had so far been academic in nature, of that I was sure, and his words could only be interpreted as a lightly-veiled attack on the King’s close alliances with Elves. Though it was but the second time that he had presided over the Council, Aragorn handled the situation smoothly, saying, his face inscrutable, that it was ‘full early to change customs that had endured many centuries.’ Then Lord Húrin, Warden of the Keys, and ever the peace-broker at our meetings, moved that we might translate the public records of Council business into Adûnic, as well as Westron, and when the Council vote fell with the compromise, sighs of relief were heard all round the table. Few Council members, save those from the City itself, were themselves fluent speakers of the ancient language of our forefathers.
I relaxed somewhat as we proceeded to the main Council business and Cenethion announced, to general applause, that the Rammas Echor again stood unbroken: good news always formed a welcome start to any Council meeting, and it had been in short supply these past weeks. He reported that the various rebuilding works within the City were running ahead of plans, and I rejoiced that my stern warning of a few days earlier seemed to have taken effect. I raised the problem of the black-market trade in Haradian opium, and we debated measures to control undesirable imports without preventing the renewed trade in coffee, fine teas, perfume oils, silks and hardwoods from the southern lands of Harad and Khand. Ormrod of Lebennin rose to his feet, a full head shorter than any other man in the Council chamber, and drew the Council’s attention to the urgent need to purchase adequate seed corn in advance of the autumn sowing, lest next year’s main harvest should fail, reporting that most of the stores outside the City had been torched by the invading armies. The Council moved to accept Prince Imrahil’s generous offer of seed from the Dol Amroth granaries after only desultory discussion about whether salt-adapted Belfalas grain might flourish in our more sheltered fields.
The resettlement of Ithilien and Emyn Arnen was the next head of discussion. ‘If adequate seed can be made available,’ I said, bowing to my uncle opposite, ‘then the first group of settlers might set out as early as Yavannië, if my Lord the King should agree?’ and I turned towards ebon chair of the King to my right, with its winged canopy, to find its occupant inattentive, his head slumped forwards. My uncle coughed sharply and Aragorn started to full consciousness, but I saw that Valanthor, Telendur and others of their set were laughing behind the cover of their sleeves.
‘Dol Amroth could readily provide seed for the first settlers of the Ithilien princedom by Yavannië, if that should be the King’s desire,’ my uncle interposed.
Aragorn responded at last, ‘Yavannië seems a propitious month for renewals’ – but over his words I heard from the direction of Valanthor, a hissed Thorongil was ever more alert on the battlefield than in the Council chamber.
‘I am sorry, my Lord Valanthor,’ said Aragorn. ‘I interrupted you – did you have aught to add?’
‘Given the other commitments of the City, at the present difficult time, perhaps the resettlement might be more expediently delayed until next spring?’ said Valanthor coolly, but I was certain that he had intended his earlier whisper to be overheard. I looked across at my uncle to find his face o’erspread with confusion as he stared at the King.
‘Perhaps we might leave the final decision to another occasion,’ I said, and the meeting continued – though I would have to consult the minutes to discover what other matters fell under discussion that afternoon.
Thorongil, Thorongil… Surely the Lord Valanthor could not mean the Captain Thorongil who had served under my grandfather, what… forty years ago, now? I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime. Valanthor, whatever his faults, was never one to make inaccurate or unfounded accusations, and my uncle Imrahil’s face was confirmation enough, if any further be needed.
Why had he not told me?
I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime.
I dragged my concentration back, with no little difficulty, to the dry words of the official transcript of yesterday’s High Council debates, which lay before me upon the broad oaken desk that I still called ‘my father’s’. I was supposed to be marking passages to be excised before they were copied for the public records, but my mind wandered so oft to the King whose true name I no longer rightly knew that my progress was slow.
My first wild thought yesterday had been of some strange conspiracy – that everyone knew the truth, save only I. But as we left the Council chamber side by side, the watch bell tolling high above our heads in the still evening air, my uncle Imrahil had sworn that he had never before realised. ‘I only met the man a few times,’ he had said. ‘Damn it, I had only just come of age at the Battle of Umbar! If it is Thorongil – which I doubt – then he has scarcely aged a day!’
And when the brisk knock resounded through the Steward’s chambers, I was certain that it could be none other than the King—then for one long moment, as the door swung open, I saw my sister in the opening wrapped in the midnight-blue robe with stars at the throat that oft she wore. Then my vision shifted, and in her place stood my young cousin.
‘Daisy! What chance brings you to the Steward’s chambers?’
‘Don’t look so disapproving, Fari,’ said Lothíriel, effortlessly reading in my countenance my doubts as to the propriety of a girl so young walking the City unattended – doubts that, experience had taught me, were fruitless to express to my cousin. ‘Mistress Hathil should be less interested in the lacework on display in the upper market and more attentive to her duties.’
I sighed. ‘You did not give your nurse the slip again?’ I rang the bell, and commissioned Turgil to deliver a message to Prince Imrahil that his daughter was safe, lest he should hear tales and set to worrying, and also to send Galrennieth to locate Mistress Hathil, and placate her if she could.
‘My – have we grown pompous now that we are the Lord Steward of the City!’ my visitor mocked, as soon as the door had closed behind Turgil. ‘You can save your lecture, it’s on your account that I’ve come.’
‘One day you will come to understand that behaviour that is charming in a young lass of ten is unseemly in a maiden of near one-and-twenty.’ And one whose hand would soon be as oft sought in marriage as any woman in Gondor. Long had I thought that Imrahil might consider my brother a suitable match – though Boromir’s journals gave the lie to any inclination on his side – and now I contemplated whether my uncle might be aiming yet higher for his only daughter.
‘I know, I know,’ she said. ‘But I have yet ten months till they come to affix my leg-shackles, and Papa has promised that I might go with them to Rohan to attend your wedding.’
She plumped down upon the cushions on the window ledge behind the desk, one of the few changes I had made to my father’s arrangements in all the weeks I had lodged in these apartments: I loved to read with the city spread out beneath me. She seemed entranced by the view, and sat for a while in silence. The sun was high, and the light streaming through the window panes made of her hair a coronet of gold. ‘Is she very beautiful, your Lady of Rohan?’ she asked at last, her voice wistful.
‘As proud and fair as the sunrise over the Anduin.’
‘And do you love her?’
None had dared ask me that question before, but then none else had called me Fari since I practised with a wooden baton in place of a sword and mixed up the order of my letters. ‘I love the Lady Éowyn with all my heart,’ I said, as gravely as she had spoken.
‘I am glad – so glad! Papa thought it might just be a political match – but I declared that you would never countenance such a thing.’
‘And nor would the Lady Éowyn!’ I said, and laughter bubbled up within my belly at the thought of any man disposing the Lady of the Shield-arm where her inclination lay not. ‘But did you subject your nurse to a nervous attack simply to quiz me about my lady?’
‘Nay,’ she said. ‘Though well she deserves it – she nags at me constantly about whether my fingernails might snag on my new silk—’ She broke off abruptly, rose from her window seat. ‘This room is stifling!’ she exclaimed. ‘I wonder that you can bear it! Might we walk out together? Or are the Steward’s duties too onerous?’
I shuffled the papers on the desk, mindful of the tasks piling up due to my inattention that morning. I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime. I got to my feet. ‘I am sure that they can wait,’ I said.
‘I have been pondering the question you asked about your poor sister all week,’ said Lothíriel, when we walked together beneath the rustling beeches of the gardens of the Houses of Healing, the air heavy with the scent of roses and peonies – for all the flowers of the garden seemed to have bloomed at once after that day when the Shadow had lifted. And so well did I remember walking here, time upon time, with two other maidens whose hair fell pale as wheat that almost they seemed to be walking alongside us upon this short-cropped turf that made no sound and bore no impressions, twin spectres of my past and my future.
‘Lóri never made any complaint, nor mentioned any name,’ continued Lóthiriel, recalling me to the present, ‘but I thought perhaps there might be another lover whose suit your father would not countenance.’
‘Another?’ I echoed. As far as I remembered, no man had ever offered formally for my sister. And, of a sudden, I wondered why the strangeness of that fact had never before struck me: though not titled a princess, the Lady Lóriniel in life was quite as eligible a maiden as my cousin. Though, as the good-wives of the City loved to repeat, Never do you see the jewel lying by your own hearthside.
‘Yes, after your father saw fit to turn poor Elphi away.’
‘Why, did you not know? Elphir offered for Lóri – at harvest time that long scorching summer when she stayed with us… oh, it must have been the year fourteen.’
‘In the name of all the Valar, what reason did my father give?’ I asked, for I could conjure none for myself – it would certainly have been a most unexceptionable match. Though Lothíriel was not the only one of my Dol Amroth cousins to exhibit a degree of youthful irresponsibility, Prince Elphir had always been considered the serious one of the family; he had commanded the Belfalas fleet since he had come of age, and I had never heard my father speak ill of his judgement.
‘That Elphi was far too young to consider marriage,’ my cousin replied. ‘I suppose he was but seven-and-twenty. But he married that… milch cow Nimwen – and don’t tut like that, Fari, I am sure you think her so too – only the next summer, though I’m sure his heart still inclined to your sister.’
Why had I not been told? I could invent no reason that made a scrap of sense. That had been the year when orcs and other foul beasts from Ephel Duáth had first crossed the Anduin by Cair Andros; I had taken on the Captaincy of the Rangers of Ithilien at my father’s bidding, and had oft been from the City. I wondered whether Boromir had known – why might he not tell me? – and recalled the missing pages scattered through his records for the last months of that year. Whether he had known or no, my brother had observed something that he – or someone else – did not wish other eyes to see.
‘Did you read aught of her feelings towards him?’ I asked, shame crimsoning my cheeks at having to frame such a question, even of my cousin. ‘If her heart lay elsewhere, then mayhap my father would have given such an evasive answer.’
‘To spare her blushes? Your father?’ Lothíriel did not trouble to conceal her sarcasm. ‘I don’t recall him ever acting with such consideration, not for anyone!’
True enough, whispered my heart – though, as I had discovered from my reading, the Lord Denethor had smoothed over one or two indiscretions of my brother’s that might have besmirched the honour of the Steward’s family.
‘Lóri ever kept her own counsel,’ she continued, ‘yet I thought she seemed to welcome Elphi’s company. Certainly she enjoyed learning to sail in the bay!’
‘Elphir took Lóriniel out in one of those flimsy cockle shells that he has the audacity to call a sailing boat?’ It was almost as surprising as the idea that he might have offered for her hand.
‘Yes—and she neither disgraced herself by taking a dip when the boom came about, as you did, nor by turning a most unbecoming shade of green when the wind picked up, as Bori did!’
‘Sir!’ exclaimed Galrennieth, emerging, as I entered, from beneath an expanse of white linen that seemed to dwarf her shrunken frame. I saw that she was embroidering stars in gold thread above the Tree of the City upon the border of the cloth, and guessed that it must be intended for the newly established palace linen stores. ‘I didn’t expect to welcome you here, sir, now that you are become the Lord Steward of the City, and are so busy.’
I realised with shame that I had not visited Galrennieth in her own chambers in all the years that I had been a Captain in Ithilien. The tiny cell on the ground floor of the women’s quarters in the Citadel had changed but little; it had always been almost as sparsely furnished as the barrack-rooms on the opposite face of the court – though at least this room boasted two or three colourful woollen rugs which covered the stone flags of the floor. Festooned over the top of the little looking-glass I noticed a delicate lady’s scarf, sea-green and tasselled, such as I recalled Lóriniel had wrapped about her neck sometimes on feast days, while from the washstand hung a quartz pebble, rudely polished and pierced through with a leather thong, that might once have belonged to my brother – as a child he had much treasured such baubles. I realised abruptly, and rather belatedly, that my sister and brother must have been akin to family to this woman, who had nursed them both from children, and vowed to go through the chest of personal effects from Boromir’s apartments once more, to see if I might turn up any more fitting keepsake. Lóriniel’s things I had not: my father must have disposed of them in the months since her passing.
As I pondered these matters, Galrennieth was bundling up her sewing, and starting to dig herself out of her armchair, and I realised that I had been far too long silent.
‘Do not trouble yourself, mistress,’ I said hastily. ‘And by no means let me interrupt your work! I have merely brought a little token of the Princess Lothíriel’s gratitude for your great kindness in looking after her nurse.’
I gave her the ornamental thimble, ivory chased with silver, that my cousin had picked out in the market. The stall-holder had said that it had been fashioned from the tusks of one of the great mûmak beasts of Harad that had been slain at Pelennor. Having observed what those tusks could do to a man, I thought it a rather gruesome memento, but Lothíriel had been much taken with it, and had purchased several to give to her own nurse and to others among the Dol Amroth servants.
‘T’was no trouble at all, sir,’ said Galrennieth. ‘It did my heart good to talk about old times together, though Mistress Hathil was but a child when I left the castle.’
Galrennieth had been a maidservant of my mother’s, I knew. She had come from Dol Amroth with the Lady Finduilas on her marriage and, as far as I was aware, she had never crossed the Rammas Echor in the forty or more years since that date – indeed I thought that she had scarce left the City precincts. I let her chatter on for some minutes, intermingling her gratitude for the little thimble with the sayings of good Mistress Hathil and with reminiscences about her own youth in Dol Amroth, before deciding to steer the conversation onto the subject that interested me – the evening drew on, and I had yet to finish checking the Council transcripts.
Seizing upon Mistress Hathil’s comment that my cousin had ‘grown into an uncontrollable little scamp,’ I ventured, ‘The Princess Lothíriel was telling me all about my sister’s suitors,’ for I was certain that Galrennieth would know all the gossip on that subject that there was to be gathered within the City.
‘With respect, sir, I’m sure as the Princess must’ve been mistaken,’ she said. ‘My lady never looked at a suitor in her life, sir, I don’t think, she was always too wrapped up in looking after your brother and the Lord Steward. Your brother, may his soul rest, was never any trouble, a kinder, more considerate soul never breathed, but the Lord Steward ’ud scarce let a servant into his chambers, ’cept for spring cleaning, he was that fussy, and your sister had to fetch and carry, and deal with all his linens. Some days she was up and down those Tower stairs till I thought her pretty little legs ’ud wear away.’
Was this, then, the reason behind the strange apology in my brother’s letter? I cursed the duties that had taken me from the City so often during the past years – perhaps together, Boromir and I might have prevailed upon our father to treat our sister more fittingly.
‘I thought it awful hard, sir,’ Galrennieth was continuing, with hardly a pause for breath. ‘Especially when your father, the Lord Steward, I mean, well, saving your presence, sir, but he was never an easy master, and he seemed to get more and more difficult as he got sicker and sicker.’
‘I had not known that the Lord Denethor had been ill?’ I exclaimed. My father had always looked upon sickness as a weakness barely tolerable in others, and certainly never in himself – it was perhaps no wonder, then, that he concealed his infirmity from his sons.
‘That he was, sir, though there ’ud be some in the household as ’ud call it a blacker name.’ Galrennieth lowered her voice to a harsh whisper, and I knelt close by her chair to hear her. ‘Oft of an evening, the Lord ’ud come charging down the Tower stairs as if the Dark Lord hi’self were behind him,’ she said. ‘I saw him up close once, I’ll remember the sight till the day I die, his face was grey as any corpse, and I swear as his eyes… well, they seemed to flash fire. He scarce seemed to recognise me – me who ’ud only served in his household these forty years! I made sure as never to be around the Tower in the evenings again if I could help it, I can tell you, I was that afeard he’d put the Evil Eye on me.’
Mithrandir had informed me about my father’s ill-advised use of the palantír of Anárion in his long and desperate search for counsel against the Enemy, and it was clear that the fell symptoms Galrennieth described must have their root there – though the wizard had been more than usually tight-lipped about the effects of using the Stone, saying only that ‘some matters were best left undisturbed.’ I had learned what little I knew from the youngest halfling, Peregrin, son of Paladin, who, strange though that fact seemed, had been the companion of my father’s last hours.
‘Turgil and the other men of the household used to have to restrain him sometimes,’ she continued, ‘and I durst not be in their places, not for a hundred silver pieces. But it was only my lady who could calm him, she could coax him back to his chambers, an’ make him sleep, sweet as a babe in arms – though what it was she did, no-one ever knew.’
Here Galrennieth’s flow of words sputtered to a stop, and so unusual an event was this that I searched her face for some explanation – but my old nurse would not meet my gaze.
‘But you had your suspicions, mistress?’ I prompted gently.
My companion was long silent; her fingers alighted on a skein of gold silk, and she began to unravel the end. ‘Most like she’d got some herbal draught from the healers that had the power to lull to sleep,’ she replied eventually. ‘Your lady sister often visited the Houses of Healing, as well you know, sir. She most kindly gave me some potion, of valerian root I think it was, sir, to drink before retiring – for I have terr’ble restless nights now and again, now I’m getting on…’
I allowed the good mistress to ramble from insomnia onto her aching joints and the many other symptoms of her increasing years, with which I was as familiar as with my own aches and pains – nay, more familiar, for I had still to grow accustomed to the weaknesses that lingered in my frame as an ever-present reminder that I had only survived this War, alone of all my family, by the grace and skills of my Lord the King. Yet not once would she meet my eyes, not even when I took my leave, and I knew in my heart that I had not got the truth from her this evening.
The tiny figure is dwarfed by the grand state-bed she lies in, and when I push aside the heavy crimson hangings, embroidered with ship and swan in silver thread, I scarce recognise my sister, so pale and thin has she grown.
I take one hand in both of mine. ‘Lóriniel, my dearest sister, I am come,’ I say, but she tosses from side to side, and makes no sign of hearing.
My father sits, head bowed, at the other side of the bed, and he greets me not.
Nimwen places a cool compress against her forehead, smoothes her sweat-darkened hair. ‘Hush now,’ she says. ‘Hush now, Lóri dear. Your brother is here.’
‘It is Faramir, your brother,’ I say. ‘I came as soon as I heard.’ Her hand lies hot and damp in mine, and in the corner of the chamber, Lothíriel sits weeping.
‘Father sent as soon as she took to her bed,’ whispers Nimwen. ‘But she has fallen so very fast.’
My sister coughs and coughs, and Nimwen holds a basin to her mouth. The spittle comes thick and red and evil-smelling, and the soldier in me knows that she is dying.
Our return is unexpected, our news unwelcome.
My brother goes ahead to break the ill tidings to our father, his duty as the eldest, while I wait below in Boromir’s chambers, and gaze out into the darkness that presses against the window pane, and my flesh remembers that other darkness, the darkness that pressed into my very spirit as my horse bolted from beneath me amidst the ruins – as the bridge cracked and swayed and broke behind me – as fear tore me from my duty and cast me into the Anduin’s chill embrace.
Raised voices come from the Steward’s chamber – a crash – a cry like that of a woman – doors slamming.
Father has taken the news of our defeat even worse than we expected, I think.
‘Father’s physician bled her this morning,’ whispers Nimwen. She soaks the linen cloth and places it again to her forehead. ‘But I fear it has done little good.’
The brother in me clings tight to her hand. ‘I came as soon as I could,’ I say.
Waves crash against the sea-wall below, but my sister hears them not.
She is running down the stairs of the Tower, running, running, her midnight-blue robe clutched tight about her throat, as if deathly afraid.
‘Lóriniel,’ I call after her. ‘We are back safely, Boromir and I – you need fret no more!’
But she neither stops nor turns.
They close the shutters, shut out the roar of the waves. The formal words have all been said, but still my father kneels beside the bed.
‘You said you’d never leave me, my love,’ keens a voice that bears little resemblance to his. ‘You said you’d never leave me, Finduilas, my love, my life,’ he repeats, and I wonder if his grief has turned his wits that he should so confuse the deathbeds of his wife and his daughter.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.