Son of Ecthelion

Hands of the King

31. Fate

Dol Amroth, November 1, 2976 T.A.

Finduilas rose and helped her grandfather inside. As they passed into the dark room, a shiver came over her, and she pulled her cloak more tightly around herself.

'What is wrong, child? Are you cold?'

'No, well, perhaps,' she hedged. It was like a chill, but inside of her, not on her skin, and left her with a lonely feeling in her heart. Smiling brightly, Finduilas said, 'Whatever it was, it is now gone.' The answer satisfied Angelimir. They walked across his room and went downstairs to the main hall, where all was in a condition of controlled chaos. Luinil was giving orders for where to take this box or that chest while simultaneously talking to Adrahil on one matter and Ivriniel on another. Finduilas and Angelimir paused and exchanged a grin at the performance.

'I have always maintained that your mother is the greatest battle commander in Gondor,' the old Prince chuckled.

Luinil saw them at the edge of the hall and waved them over. 'Father, are you…'

'Packed, ready, and on my way out the door, Captain,' Angelimir replied with a salute. 'My foot soldier stands by to march with me.'

Luinil laughed and kissed them both. 'Then I shall see you on the docks.' Finduilas looped an arm through her grandfather's and set out for the harbor. The autumn afternoon sky was grey, the light dim and diffuse. Luinil and Angelimir were to set sail on Seabird with the evening tide, bound for Minas Tirith. The ship would go slowly, hugging the coast, but would still arrive weeks before the rest of the Swan House. Luinil and Angelimir would prepare Vinyamar for Finduilas's arrival in mid-December with Adrahil and Ivriniel.

And most of the lords of southern Gondor. Finduilas suppressed a sigh at that thought. What should have been an easy three-week journey was now going to take almost six weeks. It appeared that every lord, major and minor, had decided that he and a good portion of his household needed to be in Minas Tirith for Yule, the wedding, and the Great Council. Denethor had sent a spare, and bitingly funny, letter about the sober assurances from the Outland lords that they would be in the City this season. Ah, friend, would that I could be there now. Finduilas felt a small pang of guilt at that thought, glancing about at the town. I should be sadder at leaving my birthplace, but I am not. Though she had wept for joy upon seeing Dol Amroth last winter, she had soon found herself impatient with its slow pace and bored by the lack of change. The dull reports of the Lord Steward's counselors became fascinating when compared to the even more dull reports of her father's counselors. The only exciting event of the entire year was Denethor's betrothal visit in the spring.

Finduilas shivered at that memory. When she saw him coming through the harbor gate that day, taller than tales, she saw the crown of stars shimmer on his head like the glint of light on the waves, and he was not Denethor but the King from her dreams, beautiful and terrible in equal measure. For a moment, she had been daunted by this vision and had wished to flee. He drew close enough that she could see into his eyes and recognized her love within the legend, turning her awe into joy. Mayhap it is fate that binds us, but it is love that guides us. She wished again that he had not departed so abruptly.

Ahead, the gateway arch was in shadow, the harbor a sullen grey beyond. Seabird was the center of activity, Captain Îbal calling out directions to prepare her to set sail. When he saw Finduilas and Angelimir come through the gate, Îbal waved and hurried to meet them. 'My Prince, your cabin is almost ready,' the captain said with a shallow bow.

'Good, good! I look forward to this, my last voyage,' Angelimir answered. 'I have not sailed in twenty-three years, since the death of Steward Turgon. I would feel the Sea once more.' The captain excused himself to attend to the ship. Angelimir tugged on Finduilas arm. 'Come, granddaughter. Let us walk upon the quay. It is too cold to stand still.'

Finduilas obeyed reluctantly. Since Denethor had told her of his meeting with the mariner, she had been loath to come too close to the Sea, even the harbor or the tame coves north of town. Her dreams in the spring and part of the summer were of Akallabêth; the eagle never came to rescue her. When her parents had discussed how they would travel to Minas Tirith, Finduilas was relieved that she would ride overland with her father. The portents of Denethor's arrival had slipped away as quickly as did the man himself, leaving doubt and discord behind, and Finduilas feared what might come to her out of the waters.

Only twice since Denethor's visit had she seen him through the waterfall. The first time was in mid-July. It had been difficult to sleep that night because of the heat and she had fallen into a fitful doze. The music of the waterfall woke her. She sat next to him, facing the silver falls. His shirt was open as it had been the night of the betrothal and his hair was loose on his shoulders. Denethor turned her ring with his thumb and gazed intently at the water. Finduilas reached out and gingerly touched his bare chest with her fingertips as she had wished to do that night. He looked at her, smiling, and did not push her away. Emboldened, Finduilas rested the flat of her hand on him. Still he smiled, and brought his face closer. Her lips and her hand moved upwards, and once again she felt his soft kiss. Her fingers, however, ran across something rough around his neck, and she jerked back. There was a half-healed wound like a thin, twisted rope around the base of his neck, and here and there stitches held the edges together. She tried to turn to see the injury more clearly, but merely woke up in her own bed. Finduilas had seen Denethor again at the beginning of November, but it was not so frightening. Then, she was waiting for him in her swan form. He walked out of the darkness, her book in one hand, and took his usual seat near the falls. She nestled next to him and he read to her as he stroked her feathers.

Angelimir walked twice the length of the quay with her before the captain called out that the cabin was ready. Her grandfather was chilled from their wait outside, so she stayed with him in the cabin until her parents arrived and it was time to set sail. Adrahil and Luinil embraced on deck and stood like that for some time, foreheads together, speaking quietly, before exchanging a farewell kiss. Finduilas and her father left Seabird and stood on the dock, watching the sailors cast off the moorings and row the ship out of the harbor. Just as the ship passed the seawall, the Prince waved, then turned to Finduilas, saying, 'If we hurry, we can see them from the tower.'

'Yes, let's go!' She took her father's hand and they ran back up the hill, having to pause a few times to allow Finduilas to cough and catch her breath. Ivriniel was waiting for them in the courtyard and climbed the winding stair with them up to the top of the tower. Evening was falling, but they could still make out Seabird's sails, white against the black water. All three waved and shouted farewells even though the ship was too far out for their calls to be heard. They stayed on the windy roof until distance and dark made Seabird vanish.

Adrahil sighed and put an arm over each daughter's shoulders and hugged them to him before descending to the courtyard. 'Supper, then sleep for us,' he said as they crossed the court, 'for we will need to depart early.' They ate in the small dining hall on the second floor. Ivriniel and Finduilas went over a list of things they would need on the journey while the Prince read over a few final reports. When the table was cleared, he kissed each of them good night and retired. Finduilas went to her own room and sat, looking around. There was little left. The hangings and the furniture would stay, for they were old, but all of her belongings had either been packed up and sent by ship to Aiavalë or else had been discarded, given away to whoever most needed it. All that remained were the travel clothes and odds and ends she would need for the ride. As with the town, Finduilas felt guilty for not being sadder over leaving her home.

It isn't home anymore. That was it, of course. It had not been home since she returned. The keep had become Hírilorn, and even as she loved it, she wished to escape. The worst part had been her parents' estrangement. They had said nothing from the announcement in Minas Tirith until the return to Dol Amroth, and then Luinil and Adrahil had argued. Ivriniel was all too willing to take their father's side, but Imrahil did so reluctantly. When her brother left with Denethor, Finduilas finally understood how terrible the Prince's argument with her beloved must have been, though she knew nothing beyond what Denethor had told her. Luinil moved to another room in the keep that day. When she found out, Ivriniel stormed into Finduilas's room and berated her for having defied their father and chosen such a blackguard to wed.

Angelimir watched the turmoil of his house. Finduilas came to him, sick from weeping, and he told her not to lose heart. 'My son is a stubborn man, and his wife no less firm in her resolve. They love you perhaps too much. Say nothing. They will find their way.' A few days later, Imrahil's first letters arrived, one for each of them. This made her mother cry once more, but that was the last time. In a month, Luinil and Adrahil were speaking to each other again, though never of the wedding. When autumn came, Luinil returned to her husband's bed. It was good to see them walking together, Adrahil's arm once more around Luinil's waist where it belonged. Angelimir smiled to himself when Finduilas rushed to his room with the news, but shrugged and grumbled that it was about time his foolish children came to their senses.

They have forgiven each other, but have they forgiven me? Finduilas bleakly wondered. The only time her father acknowledged she was to wed Denethor was if visitors offered their congratulations on the match. Her mother's calm, detached efficiency in overseeing the dower, sending belongings to Minas Tirith, and making all necessary arrangements for their respective journeys made Finduilas cringe. It was as though this were being done for a stranger. As a result, Finduilas spent most of her time with Angelimir, who was the only one who still voiced approval over her choice. They would sit and read or go for slow walks around the keep and the town, and he told her stories of his youth and of his own courtship of her grandmother. In truth, she was glad for this time with her grandfather.

The letters from Imrahil and Denethor were her only other pleasures. At first, Imrahil's letters were dutiful and short, listing a few things he had seen and done and saying how much he missed her. Soon enough, they were filled with real news. To her delight, he and Beregar had become close friends and he often sent tales of their escapades, along with reminders not to tell Mother what he was up to. It sounded harmless enough. What pleased her most was that Imrahil confessed he liked Denethor.

He is too much older than me, and too grave a man, that I would presume to name him friend. Even so, I think I see why you chose him. I shall be proud to claim him as a brother when that day comes. Until then, I am content to be his pupil.

Denethor's letters were terse, as she knew they would be, but carefully wrought. There was nothing in them that she could not have shown to her father, but in almost every line was a hint, an allusion, an oblique reference that brought to mind something they alone knew. The sheaf of them was stowed securely in a saddlebag.

With a sigh, Finduilas undressed and got in bed. She did need to rest before the journey tomorrow. Sleep came slowly and she slipped into a dream of the Sea. This time, it did not drown her. Instead, she stood upon Seabird's deck, looking west. Denethor stood behind her, though she could not move or turn to look upon him, but she felt his hands upon her. Ahead of them, in a mist, were the towers of Avallónë, but she felt no desire to see more of them. All she wanted was Denethor's touch.

***

Rain threatened in the morning. In the court before the keep, the household that was not to go to Minas Tirith lined up to bid Finduilas farewell, while stablehands readied the horses. It was impossible not to cry when there were so many good-byes to say, and her eyes ached when it came time to go. There were a dozen horsemen to escort them through Dol Amroth – the rest of the knights and the men-at-arms waited for them beyond the northern gate on the Edhellond road.

The captain of the horse called out for them to mount up. Finduilas checked the saddle girth and gave her pack a sharp tug to make sure it was firmly fastened behind the cantle before winging up on her grey gelding. The household cheered and called out farewells and blessings as they passed through the gates of the keep. Ahead, the street was lined on either side by the townsfolk. The captain began singing a common tune about the beauty of the shore of Dol Amroth, and the other horsemen joined in. Some of the townsfolk sang too, but most were silent. The gate on the far side of town stood open for them. As they passed under its arch, Finduilas had to cast her hood forward and hide her face, for she could not stop weeping. She felt Ivriniel's hand on her arm, and clutched at it. They had to stop and wait for the knights and men-at-arms to mount up or hoist their packs, and Ivriniel gently wiped Finduilas's tears away. Too soon, a shout went up and they had to go.

As last year, there were two hundred knights to accompany the Prince to Minas Tirith. The greatest reason they traveled slowly was the men-at-arms. A hundred of them had been pledged as part of her dower, and they would have to walk more than one hundred and eighty leagues to the City in winter's cold. The pace was faster than a traveler might choose to walk, but slower than the men would march in a campaign. There were four wagons, as well, to carry supplies and to provide a place for herself, Ivriniel, and their maids to sleep if there was no inn.

At each of the major stops along the way – Edhellond, Ethring, Linhir, and Pelargir – their procession would be joined by other lords and their companies, though Finduilas did not know how many people would be in each entourage. Lord Gundor of Langstrand would be the first to join them, meeting up in Edhellond. If Denethor's last letter was any indication, Minas Tirith would be filled by the end of December with people traveling from north and south to join in the celebrations.

The pace was slow under the low sky. Finduilas could not shake off her sorrow and said nothing all day. Carefully she made herself think of the name of every person in the keep and how she knew them and understood that she would probably never see them again. That night, the soldiers bedded down around fires in a field while Finduilas slept with Ivriniel in a low-ceilinged, cozy room in the farmhouse. Their maids shared a pallet on the floor. Before she lay down, Finduilas looked out the window at the small fires and hoped they would be enough to keep the men warm.

The rain came with the dawn, a little heavier than mist. Everything smelled of wet horse and damp wool. A wind came off the bay and the tide was high. Finduilas watched the whitecaps breaking on rocks as the company walked north. The sound of the surf was a soft rumble at the edge of her hearing. As she watched the water, Finduilas began to understand some of Denethor's foreboding over the visit of the mariner. Does the shore wish to be drowned under the wave? Does the water desire to be dashed out upon the earth? Yet so they meet. She hunched her shoulders against this thought even more than against the rain. We are thrown into this world, spray upon a shore. Finduilas grasped the stone from the secret place on its silver chain and wondered if Denethor could somehow know that she was thinking of him. Not all is tides and storms. He reaches into all places where water runs – is that not so? Is it by your grace that I may see my love in the waters, even as I am wrack upon a great flood, sometimes saved, sometimes drowned? Along the shore, gulls played games in the wind, turning into the breeze to hold one place in the air, then diving with a cry and swooping up again. Whose voice is it that speaks to me through my dreams? I think it yours. She searched the Sea, trying to pierce the dim curtain of rain that made the horizon so close. Why did you rise from the Sea and speak to my love, if all you gave were words of sorrow?

Through the morning Finduilas watched and tried to puzzle out this mystery. The rain lifted by dinner, though her mood did not. It was a fearsome thing to ponder. I am like a creature out of a poem; we both are. Had there been only her dreams, only his duty, then perhaps they could remain blind, but no longer. It is not mere deeds that lie before us. There was a role to be played, though not one of their choosing, a drama they could not help but inhabit, and thus were they the waves cast upon the shore. We come back once more to the same ground, eternally returning, retelling, remaking, that which came before. How to understand what was being asked of them? Finduilas thought back to the talk she had with Denethor, where he doubted the good will of wizards and, by extension, all of the powers. But they, too, were bound to this remaking. You cannot move us as simply as a shepherd herds his flock, or like a wave upon the Sea. Perhaps she was looking at this wrong. Perhaps those who seemed untouched were bound by fate to simply do. She could not believe that the mariner would be as the Enemy and coerce them to do his bidding. Why then appear and beseech if one could command? Because one cannot. It was a shocking idea. This was strength that could raise, then raze, continents, but dared not order a soul. You lay bare a path and dare us to walk upon it. That is all you may do. Our choices are our own.

Finduilas was lost in this thought for the rest of the afternoon. What of dreams? Do they not force me to choose? No more than Denethor's duty forced him. What mattered was that they chose each other, whatever fate had intended. "Remember your heart," the mariner said. Was it your intention that I should be seen by Thorongil or by Denethor when you drove me to Minas Tirith with wild dreams? It was not vanity to say that both men had been struck when first greeting her. Words came to Finduilas and she silently mouthed,

and gazed around the marble square,
where cunning craft and Elven skill
had crowned the noble, hidden hill;
yet low he heard dark words of doubt
within his heart. Tuor spoke out,
'Take heed, high lords, of counsel wise,
that spurns your works; do not despise
it.' His heart sank to see a glance,
a coveting, the fatal lance
that sealed the doom of Gondolin.
Tuor fell silent and with grim
face, turned toward an unseen fate,
and set free Maeglin's mortal hate;
there Idril sat…

There Idril sat. Finduilas pulled her cloak more tightly around herself, not certain whether to shiver at the comparison, or laugh at her own foolishness. Before the mariner, she would have laughed. And what was their part of the tale? They knew what could not be saved, the pride of the Noldor, and trusted to their hearts and what spoke there to them. What is our part?

Evening was near, as was their next camp. Some farmhands stood near a wide gate to a large field ringed with stone. Nearby was a wagon piled high with hay, and another carrying grain for the horses. This was Luinil's doing. Every day of the ride had been planned, each march was known, fuel, fodder, and provisions awaited them at each day's end. If the march went well, there was an inn or a farmhouse each night for her own warm bed. Almost nothing was left to chance. Finduilas ate her supper silently, thinking over this less grand example of planning. Arranging for travel supplies for soldiers might be less dire and noble than digging a secret tunnel for escaping the Great Enemy, but it was not an inconsiderable feat. Did not mother say I would need to know such things? As she brushed her hair before lying down, Finduilas begin to laugh at herself. This is the fate for which I was raised – to be helpmeet and counselor to a lord. I have chosen all that I can, which is to trust in love. I leave fate to those who think they may rule it. Again she dreamed that she and Denethor were upon Seabird. He stood at the bow, seaweed and shells his crown, his mail shimmering fish scales. Her feathers gleamed. All around them was a deep song.

***

When Finduilas went to collect her horse the next morning, the lieutenant in command of the men-at-arms was waiting for her.

'My lady?'

'Yes, Gethron, what is it?'

'The men, they…well, they have a request…no, no!' the man haltingly said. 'They are wondering if, since we are your soldiers, if there is, or if you had, perhaps considered a device for us…' The lieutenant's voice faded away and his cheeks were red. 'We would like to wear your badge,' he ended softly.

'I had not given thought to a device, but I will now,' Finduilas firmly replied. 'I shall need to come up with a fine device, of course, so it is something that may be worn proudly.'

The lieutenant smiled and bowed. 'Thank you, my lady. We want something to wear there in the City so they know we're your men, and not just some soldiers there by accident.'

'Of course, and you shall have it. Though you will be joined by men of my lord's choosing, who will also be of your troop. They, too, shall wear this device.' The lieutenant nodded and helped her onto her horse.

Thinking of a device was much more pleasant than pondering fate and dire endings. By the time they arrived in Edhellond at the end of the day, Finduilas knew what the device would be. What worried her was the idea of making so many badges between now and when they arrived in Minas Tirith. She hoped there would be somewhere in town where she could get thread for the embroidery and strong muslin for the badge itself. They were resting here a day and waiting for Lord Gundor of Langstrand to meet them, so there would be time to seek this out. At supper, Finduilas was trying to calculate how much stitching she could get done in an evening and whether that would be sufficient.

Ivriniel gave her a poke in the arm. 'What are you thinking? You are so serious!'

'The lieutenant, Gethron, asked me today if I would make a badge for them to wear, so they would not be common soldiers in Minas Tirith,' Finduilas replied quietly. 'I think I have come up with a good sign, but I know not how I shall make a hundred of them while we travel.'

'I could help,' Ivriniel replied diffidently.

'Would you?'

'What do you have in mind?' Finduilas eagerly described what she thought to do. Ivriniel listened, skeptical, then sighed. 'I can certainly do such stitching, and better than you, but I think you are being rather presumptuous.'

'But will you help me?'

'Yes! I said I would. Of course. Do you have the thread and cloth?'

'Some, but I will need to get more.'

'I think I saw a mercer on the way to the inn. We can go there tomorrow.'

To Finduilas's relief, the shop was well if simply stocked, and had both cloth and thread in sufficient quantities. They also had the company of Lady Beriel, Lord Gundor's wife, and her two daughters, Míriel and Dúnmir. Unfortunately, they also had the company of Golasgil, her son, who spent all of his time trying to flirt with Ivriniel, which made it difficult for Finduilas to keep her sister's attention on the badges. Beriel sent him off when they returned to the inn, and announced that she and her daughters wished to help with the badges as a gift to Finduilas. This was a great relief, as it meant they could go more slowly and carefully so that the work would be of finer quality. The afternoon was spent making a pattern for the design and cutting up the length of muslin into squares.

Lord Gundor's household numbered some eighteen people and a hundred russet-clad soldiers, plus a wagon with supplies for the men. His soldiers were well intentioned rather than well-trained. They were adequately armed, some of them carrying odd swords that must have been taken from Easterlings or Haradrim after the wars last summer, and they lined up well, but they could not compare to the men of Dol Amroth. The soldiers of Anfalas did not appear dismayed by this comparison and started the day's march with a loud and cheerful song. Within an hour, the sun peeked through the clouds, woken by the boisterous sound, and stayed the rest of the day. The Ringló flowed westwards, thick and brown, next to the road. Between the paved road and the river bank was a tow road for the barge horses to pull their burdens upriver or brake their passage down. The barges moved along the river between Edhellond and Ethring, collecting cargo in one town, dropping it off at another. Villages clustered along the road every few miles, neat stone houses sitting around a market square, and each had a dock upon the river for the barges to load and unload wares. When the company passed, the entire village would turn out to watch. Many people would wave blue strips of cloth or scarves in honor of Dol Amroth and some of the larger towns had musicians play. Beyond, the land was well kept; stone walls marked off fields and pasture, orchards showed bare, pruned branches, farmhouses sat under ancient trees, smoke rising from their chimneys.

Lady Beriel and her daughters were merry companions upon the road, quick with a song or a tale. Every night, the five women would sit together for an hour and stitch badges, which made the work go very quickly. Even so, Finduilas wished she could be riding ahead, with her father, Lord Gundor, and Golasgil, and talk about something besides weddings, if only for a little while each day, but did not dare presume upon her father's patience. As they journeyed, messenger riders would pull up briefly to see if there were messages to be collected and to hand out those they carried before continuing on their way. Finduilas kept meaning to write something – to her mother, her grandfather, to Denethor – but could never find the words to capture her scattered thoughts.

On the fifth night out from Edhellond, in a town that sat near the junction of the Ciril and the Ringló, Finduilas dreamed again. She walked along a high place, though whether it was a rampart or a cliff she could not tell, and behind her was the roar of soldiers shouting. She turned to see what the commotion was about. The soldiers ran in a circle inside of a stone courtyard that was ankle-deep in water, faster and faster, then leapt into the air and became swans. They circled around, crying out, while the water rose within the court and threatened to overflow the wall on which she stood. Before it swept her off, she saw the swan-soldiers turn west and fly away.

The dream woke Finduilas up and she had a difficult time getting back to sleep. Her mood the next day was somber, so she left the chatter to the other women and watched the river go past. You are speaking to me, again, aren't you? The river ignored her and continued its way to the Sea. In my dream, they flew west, but now they march east. That was the direction of danger and desolation. They follow me, as the dream floods follow me. She turned in the saddle and looked back at the men. Along the route, girls would gather at the side of the road and flirt with the passing soldiers. The men would call back, though they were careful to watch their tongues – Adrahil did not tolerate crudeness from his troops. None of them were married. Do you have sweethearts? Did any of you plan to wed? Did you weep to leave behind your homes and kin? Finduilas had not considered that so many lives would be turned upside-down on her account. With a guilty pang, she remembered a letter from Imrahil telling her Beregar had married in late September. Though her brother had joked about it, saying Beregar seemed much happier after the wedding than before, he had also said it had not been Beregar's wish to marry, but had done so at his family's insistence. She wondered if it had anything to do with her. Denethor had noticed Huan's affection for her; might he have ordered this match?

How many fates have been changed for my sake? She hoped not Beregar's, at least not in this way. Denethor's fate had, certainly. The match definitely reversed his political fortunes in Minas Tirith, salvaging the personal defeat of Osgiliath, but it also made him break his oaths to Gondor. Finduilas was not certain whether to count Thorongil or not. His own plans had come to naught, but they were never really for her sake. If anything, they had been made despite her, and it was not certain that his feet were set on a different path because of her refusal. It would be interesting to see what choices the captain would make now. The wizard did not think it an accident that we are here now together. Perhaps the eagle will depart. Perhaps it was he who was drawn by me, and not the other way around! Finduilas had to chuckle at her presumption. Her humor left at dinner when she watched the men resting. Most were talking and joking with their fellows, a few dozed, but some sat or stood looking back the way they had marched, and she wished she could tell all who did so that they could return home. She sought out Gethron and told him the badges were being sewn, but that the design was a secret until all were ready. He smiled, thanking her for her kindness.

Several things awaited them in Ethring when they marched in on the afternoon of the thirteenth. The first was Lord Morvorin who was lord of the town and the second was Lord Duinmir and his household, who had arrived the day before from his keep in Tarlang's Neck. Morvorin was displeased that his own hundred and fifty archers were outnumbered by Lord Duinmir's two hundred and fifty, but consoled himself by flirting with Ivriniel, Míriel, Dúnmir and Lord Duinmir's daughter, Handiriel, all at one time. Lord Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin was on the Calembel road and due to arrive by nightfall.

The third thing that awaited them were letters from Luinil. These were several days old, having been sent from Pelargir, and spoke of the voyage. The seas had been rough and the passage of the Ethir dangerous, so it had taken a full ten days to get to Pelargir. Luinil expected it would be three days to Minas Tirith. Angelimir also sent notes, and he spoke to Finduilas of how thrilling the Sea had been, even if rough, and how each morning he found exhausted birds resting on the deck. I am glad I have sailed once more, for there is nothing for me to fear and only joy in the reminder that I yet live. Finduilas wrote a short note in return, saying she wished she could have been with him so they could both laugh at the waves. There was no embroidery that night; they were all weary from riding and spent only a short while talking with Lord Hirgon's wife, Arluin, and Lord Duinmir's wife, Handeth, before retiring.

November fourteenth was a day of rest in Ethring for all the travelers. Lord Morvorin and his sister, Moraen, had barely room for all the other lords and their households in the great house near the stone bridge over the Ringló. As soon as the other women heard about the badges, they insisted on helping. 'We can finish them all today,' Lady Arluin said, 'and sew them onto the men's tunics while we travel.' Thirty badges were already done. Moraen, Handeth, Handeth's daughter Handiriel, Arluin, and Arluin's daughter Ivorwen, joined in and they made short work of the embroidery, giving Finduilas just over one hundred. Each of the wives took time to give Finduilas advice on being married, some of it quite frank, and all of them praised her in her choice of husband.

Lady Beriel was particularly complimentary. 'What spell did you cast,' Beriel asked, 'to capture the Warden? I had heard said that he was a valiant and noble man, but none had told me he was so handsome!' All of the women nodded in agreement, except Ivriniel, who scowled. 'When Lord Denethor came through last spring with your brother, I could only rejoice at your good fortune to have caught the eye of such a man.'

'I am curious,' Handeth casually said, examining her work, 'how this came about? The Warden's resistance to any match was notorious.' The woman's sharp glance was at odds with her tone.

'Oh, yes, please, Finduilas,' Ivorwen begged, 'Won't you tell us how you were wooed?'

'To be honest, there was not much wooing,' Finduilas began, wondering how much truth and how much fancy to put into the story. 'I was the guest of Lady Emeldir in the year before she died, and then stayed in the care of the Warden's sister until my lord father could come to fetch me, for it was too dangerous to travel.'

'Is she really the most beautiful woman in Gondor?' asked Moraen.

'Who? Oh, you mean Lady Maiaberiel, the younger sister,' Finduilas corrected the woman.

'No, Lord Denethor has but one sister, I thought,' Moraen insisted. 'Is there another?'

'There was another, but I was told she died when young,' added Handiriel. 'It is said she was twisted and deformed. Is she?'

'Lady Aiavalë is the Master Archivist of Minas Tirith. She was injured at birth, so she limps and has a scar on her face,' Finduilas replied as calmly as she could. She wanted to turn the talk away from Aiavalë. 'The lady was most kind to me, both of the Warden's sisters were, while I was in the City. It was in their company that I met Lord Denethor and came to count him as a friend. I will admit I found him very handsome,' she paused and looked down shyly while the others laughed and teased her, 'but did not think he had any fond regard of me. It was startling to hear that he had asked for me, but impossible to say no.' Ivriniel gave her a disbelieving stare. Please don't say anything. 'So, that is how it happened.'

'That's all?' Míriel and Dúnmir chorused. Finduilas nodded. 'He never sent you poetry or a love letter?' Dúnmir persisted.

'When I was ill last winter, he did send a book of poetry, but he also sent one on Gondorian history and another on ancient philosophy, so I don't think it counts.'

'So, a practical marriage,' Handeth said almost to herself. 'They are not bad, particularly if you like your intended. More to be counted on than simply romance.' The younger women sent up a cry of protest over this statement, and so started a half-hour of argument between the young and the old over love versus common sense. Finduilas smiled and said nothing. The lie was simple enough that all would believe it and none would wonder why she was pleased by the match. When the argument died down, Handeth persisted in her questions. 'Practical, but still very swift. It seems odd that the Warden would make such a quick choice after all these years.'

'And why should he not?' Ivriniel's voice was sharp. 'Warden or no, he could not hope for a better match. The good favor of Dol Amroth is not lightly to be set aside.'

'There was much decided last winter,' Handeth amiably agreed. Finduilas wondered what the woman really wanted to know, and hoped Ivriniel would not say something impolitic. 'My lord returned with amazing news – of battles and burning skies, of dire councils and unheralded announcements.'

'Yes, there was turmoil a year ago,' Finduilas interrupted, 'and much was contested. I think many realized that it would be a terrible thing should something happen to the Warden and he without an heir. There was great need for these things to be settled, so no time for a longer courtship.' She smiled sweetly at Handeth.

'There has never been a match between Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith before, has there?' the woman pressed.

'All the more reason to have one,' Finduilas countered. This time she did not smile. 'It was always to be, of course. The times called for haste.' She held the other woman's eyes until Handeth looked away. After a few moments of awkward silence, Arluin asked a question about supper which Moraen gratefully seized upon to turn the talk to something else. So, you wonder whether the match is simply to join the houses, and who was being countered. This woman bore watching, if only because she was interested in more than weddings.

***

It took eight days to travel from Ethring to Linhir. Throughout Dor-en-Ernil, the word of their peregrination spread, and people gathered along the road to watch them pass. Every town and village was filled with well-wishers. What surprised Finduilas was how many stood where the road passed through farmland or woods. There would often be wagons nearby, and people called out that they had come from this or that distant hamlet just to see their Lady. Men had children sitting on their shoulders so the small ones could see above the crowd, and mothers would hold up babes and ask for Finduilas's blessing on them. In the evenings, Gethron and a few men would bring a stack of tunics to the women so that the badges could be sewn onto them. Each morning, a new group of her men-at-arms would present themselves to her to show off their new device and thank her. She tried to learn all their names.

The melancholy that had washed over her on the first leg of the journey departed. With each village they rode through, with each group of soldiers wearing her badge, Finduilas began to see Gondor with different eyes. It is time to be a prince. The people who traveled through cold and rain to cheer were coming to see her, not because she was a noble, but because she was their Lady. I shall be responsible for them, even as Denethor is. They have not a king and queen, but a Warden and a Lady. Her musings so long ago about whether she had a duty to wed Thorongil seemed childish now. For the sake of Gondor… Dor-en-Ernil was the special charge of her parents, but it would be no less hers in just over a month. So, too, the soldiers who once were bound to her father, but now put their loyalty, honor, and fortune into her hands. "It is your duty to order it well. Many will rely on your forethought, and it is in your hands to make things a pleasure, or a misery." While thoughts of the mariner made her shiver and duck, hoping to elude whatever watched, these thoughts made her determined to meet whatever challenged her. Denethor's passion for Gondor was becoming clearer to her.

Finduilas was not surprised at how much the young lords and ladies flirted among themselves as they rode. Morvorin was the eldest, Golasgil and Dúnmir the youngest. Ivriniel was their queen – the men paid court and the women did not contest her. Golasgil and Hirluin were too young for their attentions to be taken seriously, but Duinhir, heir of Morthond, and Angbor, eldest son of Lord Angrist of Linhir, were almost of an age with Morvorin, and the three men made no secret of their attraction to Ivriniel. Finduilas rubbed her thumb against her betrothal ring through her glove and silently wished Ivriniel to find love even as she had. She did not feel wistful for the other youths' flirtation, for she had no doubt about her choice, but wished it had not caused so much discord in her family. To think I worried about what problems would come if I chose Thorongil! Ahead of her, she could see her father talking to Lord Duinmir. In all the days of the journey, her father had not spoken more than a few dozen times to her, and always pleasantries such as did she sleep well or if she liked a particular dish being served. There was no place to speak to him of more serious matters. Now she wished she had sought him out before they left Dol Amroth.

***

They arrived in Pelargir on the twenty-eighth, and would rest there two days before beginning the final leg of the journey to Minas Tirith. Finduilas had hoped to see Lark briefly, but the villa they were staying at was far from the city and she needed to rest. Finduilas napped most of the first day. In the afternoon, she made a few more badges with the last of the thread and muslin. It could not hurt to make some extras. She completed three more before it was time for supper. Lord Angrist and his family supped with them, and Finduilas found herself trapped for almost an hour afterwards with his wife, Lady Rían, and daughter, Andreth, as well as Ivriniel and their hostess and the woman's many daughters. It was more wedding chatter. She suspected she would enjoy speaking to Rían in another setting, and made a mental note to invite the lady to Vinyamar for a less frivolous meeting. The chatter left her tired; since the badges were finished, she rarely sat with the other women in the evening, preferring to retire early and sleep. Finduilas was on her way to bed when she noticed light showing under the door to her father's room. Not letting herself think better of it, she stopped and knocked firmly on the door.

'Come in.' Finduilas entered. Adrahil was sitting tailor-style on the bed, back against the headboard, reading something. He stared at her a moment before putting on a false smile and did not quite look at her. 'Have you come to give me a kiss good night?'

For a moment, her courage wavered and she almost said "yes." You must talk to him, and before you reach Minas Tirith. Clearing her throat, she replied, 'When I am done, yes. But first, we must speak.'

Adrahil's smile slipped a little and his eyes dropped to the paper in his hand. 'Of what?'

'Of your anger at me for my choice.'

'Don't be foolish, daughter. What do you mean?'

'You will not talk to me, you will not meet my eyes, you treat me like a stranger.' She could see his jaw clench. 'I did not fall in love to spite you, Father.'

When Adrahil did look up, Finduilas wished she had not come in. His expression was fierce, his words came sharp and venomous. 'No, I am not angry with you. I know that you cannot choose otherwise. It is not you who has angered me.'

'Denethor told me you accused him of acting dishonorably towards me. Did you say this to him?'

'Yes. You protect him, but he must have. The touches…' Her father struggled for words, then demanded, 'What did he do to bind you to him?'

'Nothing! He did nothing! He would offer his arm if I walked with him. We danced as I danced with others, where all could watch. There was no improper word, or glance, or touch between us. It was I who spoke first of love, not him.' Finduilas crossed the room and sat on the bed facing Adrahil. 'Whatever binds us, it is not any act of his. Father, listen to me! I saw him in my dreams – not some vague shape, but Denethor – before I ever set foot in Minas Tirith.'

Adrahil's eyes were suspicious. 'You have never said this before. Why did you hide this from me?'

'I did not know how to say it. It was too much like a girl's fancy. But these were true dreams, and I knew this when I saw him. For long, I was not certain whether it was Denethor or Thorongil in my dreams, for they are much alike. All whom I spoke with insisted I must love the captain, or at least be charmed by him. Even Denethor said this! But my heart said different things, and it chose Denethor before I even knew the choice was made.'

'In your dreams? True dreams, swan dreams?'

'Yes. Like grandfather's.'

His eyes closed and he shook his head. 'Then I have lost you completely. Your heart has been his for long.' Adrahil motioned her away. 'Go. I have heard enough. You are his.'

'I do not cease to love you or Mother because I have a husband. Will you be forever opposed? Can you take no joy…'

'How may I take joy in any of this?' her father raged. 'My haste and pride have made me lose you all the sooner, and my son is gone as well. My wife scorns me, my sire rebukes me, and now I find that you have spoken falsely! I see but loss. What joy is there for me?'

'You have lost nothing, father and lord, not yet, but you risk such if you will be not a prince,' Finduilas snapped in return.

'And now you would chastise your sire? Take your insolence elsewhere!'

'To a father, a daughter may speak only words of love, but to another lord, a lord may speak a harsh truth.' Finduilas opened the sewing pouch at her belt and pulled out one of the badges she stitched that afternoon. She laid the cloth between them. 'The Lady of the White Tower would like a word with you, Prince of Dol Amroth.'

Adrahil stared at the scrap of cloth, then touched it with a forefinger, tracing the device. Finduilas waited. Finally, her father looked up and into her eyes. His gaze bordered on hate. 'And what does the Lady say?' he softly mocked.

'Only the truth. The Warden will not return your son for so long as you remain in rebellion against him. You listened to rumors and plots when he needed allies, and your support of him was uncertain. You would have put your own plans for Thorongil ahead of his. You tried to break a public troth when he came to Dol Amroth. Should any lord permit such acts? It is right that he should distrust you. Not even a marriage will convince him of your sincerity now.'

'And what of the Warden's own rebellion? Or do you set at naught his opposition to the Steward, who is lord over us all?'

'Would you really pledge the honor of Dol Amroth to the support of a usurping bastard?'

'Is that what the captain is?'

'I have seen proof of what Thorongil is, as has Denethor. My dreams led me to the truth, the same dreams that led me to Denethor. Whatever Denethor plans, it is based on this proof, not the rumors of scheming lords. Or ladies.'

'What is the truth?'

'I do not have the Warden's leave to speak it, but I give you my word, as a lord of Gondor, that what he plans is right. Did you not once support him in his opposition to the Steward? I have studied the reports carefully.'

The rage had left her father's face, and now he was curious, though still angry. 'Then you know that I have reason to doubt both these lords, father and son.'

'So you think. But you do not know what guides the Warden's choices. You must choose to whom you will give your support. If it is the Warden, then amends must be made.'

'Amends? Have I not already begged his forgiveness upon my knees? Does he not have you and Imrahil in his power? What more would you ask? Would you have me shamed more? Will you strip away all of my dignity?' Adrahil snarled.

'No! Never! Not as daughter or lord could I bear to see that…'

'Then what?'

'I did not say these amends were yours to make.' Finduilas made herself look into the fury in the Prince's eyes and not be daunted. 'Prince, forgive your headstrong daughter who put herself in stubborn opposition to you, and brought you into disfavor with the Warden. I have grieved for a year for the turmoil set loose in our house. How many times I have wished unsaid my own proud words of last winter! I beg you, father, let me mend this break between you and Denethor. I would see an end to this battle between you.'

'Can you sway him? Upon an insult, he would have abandoned you last spring. Dream or not, he does not love you as you love him. He is a cold man.'

'What heart would you have left, living in that sepulcher? Yet there still is some, and it must be strengthened. Once, you two were in accord and I see that much mischief has been done to drive you apart. That must not happen.' Finduilas picked up the badge and put it back in the pouch, then held out her hands to her father. 'When I spoke to Denethor of my love, he tried to dissuade me. I asked him to trust my choice. Will you not do the same?'

Adrahil looked at her hands, then gently took them into his own. 'For you, yes.'

'I ask for nothing but that you believe me when I say that he has treated me with honor. Believe only that, and the rest will follow.'

'I will try.' He pulled on her hands until she was close enough to embrace. 'Forgive me, daughter? I wanted you to be happy.'

Finduilas could count the ways in which this was not very truthful, but knew it must suffice. 'I know. You only wished to protect me from a foolish choice.'

'With another foolish one.' He sighed and kissed her brow. 'And now it is happening again. What are we to do about your sister?'

Finduilas laughed and sat back. 'What do you mean?'

'What of all these boys besieging her?'

'The last thing to do is tell her who to pick, that much I know. Which one do you prefer?'

'None of them,' was her father's sour reply. 'Whom do you prefer?'

'I think them all acceptable, but mostly I think we had best leave it in Mother's hands.'

'I suppose so.' He caught her under the chin and searched her face. 'You love Denethor? He makes you happy?'

'Yes. And he does love me. If you had not conceded last spring, he would simply have walked off with me, dower or no.'

Adrahil sighed. 'No doubt.' They sat for a few minutes. Finduilas snuggled up against her father's side, glad to be a loved daughter once more. 'I like the badge. It is worthy of you. What will your husband think?'

'That he has a wife to reckon with.'

When it came time to leave Pelargir, Finduilas decided that she would ride next to her father. She did not want him alone and slipping back into dark thoughts on the twelve days it would take to reach the City. Adrahil smiled a real smile when she rode up and gestured for her to ride on his right. That is where she stayed the remaining days of the journey.

***

The last day was a very short ride. They had camped a league south of the Harlond so that they could approach the City in the daylight. The morning was spent getting ready to enter Minas Tirith. The soldiers brushed their uniforms, the knights groomed their horses, and the nobles adorned themselves. Finduilas abandoned her plain breeches and tunic for a special riding habit with full trousers that would mimic a skirt when she dismounted. She sat patiently while Ivriniel dressed her hair, braiding in a strand of tiny pearls and silver beads, and wore the black pearl and silver earrings she had not worn since yestarë. Her horse had also been prepared, sporting braids in his mane and tail.

Just as she began to ride forward to join the Prince, she was hailed by Lady Beriel. 'Finduilas! Come here, please.' Beriel and all of the ladies were gathered near one of the wagons.

Finduilas trotted over. 'Beriel, ladies, good morning.' "Good morning!" they chorused in return. She could not help but see the conspiratorial nudges and looks the others exchanged. 'What may I do for you?'

'We have one last present to give you,' Beriel said, eyes twinkling.

'We made it along the way,' Ivorwen eagerly volunteered.

'It was ever so hard to keep it a secret…' Míriel began.

'…because you were always about…' continued Dúnmir.

'…but then you were tired, so…' interjected Moraen.

'…we could work on it while you slept!' Rían triumphantly finished.

'Well, what is it?' Finduilas asked through her laughter. Andreth and Handiriel went around the corner of the wagon, and came back carrying a standard with a furled banner. They planted the foot of the pole in the ground. Arluin and Handeth went to either side and undid the lacings, releasing the banner. It was her device.

On the white ground of the Stewards stood a black wing of a swan, the colors of Gondor.

The women were silent, waiting for her approval. Finduilas wheeled her horse and looked for her soldiers, then whistled loudly and waved. The lieutenant looked up. 'Gethron, come here!' The man hurried over, pulling up short in astonishment at the sight of the banner. 'Is there a standard bearer for this?'

Gethron grinned. 'There will be a battle for who gets to carry it!'

'See that there is no fighting, and that it is carried behind me.'

The lieutenant left and returned a few minutes later with a man wearing a harness to hold the standard. When the banner was in place, Finduilas led the way to the head of her soldiers. They came to attention. At a nod from Gethron, she turned the gelding and rode to where her father sat under the banner of Dol Amroth. At first, there was silence while the camp studied the device, then soldiers began to cheer and pound shields, saddles, even each other to make clear their approval. The Swan Knights made room for the men-at-arms to march beside them. Adrahil looked a long time at the banner, a slow smile spreading across his face.

'To be reckoned with, indeed.'

In this last march, the lords and their retinues lined up behind Dol Amroth. There were almost fourteen hundreds in a long line. Every lord had his banner, and the soldiers marched proudly, most singing to keep their pace. In just over two hours, they passed the Harlond and saw Minas Tirith. As they rode the final mile to the City, they could hear horns and bells sound throughout the circles. A group of horsemen with banners cantered down the road towards them, led by the white banner of the Stewards. Finduilas kept her eyes trained on the horses, waiting for the moment when she could make out Denethor. She recognized Gaerhûl first, then her love, and it was all she could do not to race to meet him. The lords of the city cantered past, wheeling around to draw up next to Adrahil. To Finduilas's delight, Imrahil was right next to Denethor, grinning. Denethor and Adrahil nodded courteously to each other.

'Lord Denethor.'

'Prince Adrahil. Welcome to Minas Tirith.' Denethor motioned for Imrahil to take his place between his father and Finduilas. Adrahil clapped his son on the shoulder then turned back to Denethor. Finduilas risked falling off her horse to learn over and half embrace Imrahil. Ivriniel, who had been riding behind Finduilas, urged her horse forward and the three siblings talked the rest of the way to the City. They dismounted before the stables and stood to await the arrival of the other lords.

Imrahil said that Mother and Grandfather were waiting for them in Vinyamar. While he and his father talked quietly, Finduilas looked for Denethor. He was staring at her, then his eyes flicked up to the banner behind her and back to her face. An eyebrow went up. She smiled and shrugged. He edged closer and murmured, 'Where did that come from?'

'The same place as the badges on the soldiers.'

'Hmm.' He gave her an amused sideways look before nodding and stepping to Adrahil's side. The two spoke of inconsequential things while they waited for the rest of the lords to arrive. Finduilas watched them carefully, looking for signs of dislike. Someone who did not know these two very well would have missed the tension in their stance. When all of the lords were there, Denethor gestured for them to enter the City. He stepped towards her as though to offer his arm, but Finduilas shook her head slightly and took her father's arm.

The walk up the mountain was loud. The streets were lined with people cheering and making noise. It took a long time to walk up because of the crowds, though Finduilas was not certain she could have walked more quickly. The wear of the journey was taking its toll, and she leaned more and more heavily on her father's arm. As they passed the houses where the different lords were staying, they would stop for farewells. It was almost an hour later before she saw the familiar lane in the fifth circle come into sight. Denethor paused at the top of the lane.

'You are all weary from your travels, so I shall say good bye here. If I may pay a call tomorrow?'

Adrahil nodded crisply. 'Of course, Lord Denethor. Good day.' The Prince did not give Finduilas a moment in which to say her own farewell, making her walk quickly with him down the lane. In the moment they paused at the door before entering Vinyamar, she cast a look back to see Denethor, but he was gone.



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.

In Challenges

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Author: Anglachel

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 07/01/09

Original Post: 02/23/04

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