Courting the Lady
2. A Yestarë Ride
“So, I hear you are going riding with the daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth this afternoon, Thorongil. However did you manage that?” Gethron asked.
Thorongil sighed inwardly. A natural request to see the girl again, because he had enjoyed her company last night, and every guardhouse in the city was probably abuzz with the news. No way to stop the speculation now.
“I asked her,” he said simply.
“But you know the Steward asks us to be present at the mettarë feast so that we can reassure the lords that we work hard to guard Gondor’s borders, not to court their daughters. How did you even manage to sit by such a girl as that, much less dare to ask her to go riding? And why did she accept?” persisted Gethron.
“I dared because she seemed a pleasant girl and we were having an interesting conversation. I gave no thought to her rank, I assure you. We sat together by mere chance, because Prince Adrahil wished to speak to me and dining together was the most convenient way to do so. As to why she chose to accept the invitation, for the answer to that you will have to apply to the lady herself,” responded Thorongil. He inclined his head dismissively and applied himself to the last of his meal.
I hope I will not be asked by yet another half-dozen officers why and how I have arranged to spend an afternoon with Finduilas of Dol Amroth! I hardly know myself why I did so – I should have known it would spark such undue interest. I suppose it is just that I felt a comfort in her presence such as I have not felt in many years, almost as if I were among my kin.
When he arrived at her family’s town house in the sixth circle of the city shortly after the noon hour, Thorongil found Finduilas ready for their excursion. She was plainly dressed in a dark green riding habit, and had sensibly added a wide-brimmed hat to shield her eyes from the sun. The day being cool, she offered Thorongil a cup of warmed wine before they departed.
“I thank you, my lady, but I have just eaten,” he refused. “But do not refrain from having a cup yourself on that account.”
“Oh, I am warm enough, and am but new come from the day-meal myself,” Finduilas smiled. “And you need not call me ‘my lady.’ ‘Finduilas’ is quite sufficient; we need not stand on any greater formality. Have you had a good yestarë thus far, Captain Thorongil?”
“If I am to call you ‘Finduilas,’ you should call me simply ‘Thorongil.’ I spent this morning about my duties, so that I could be free for the rest of the festival day. One of the hazards of authority, I fear – with it comes greater responsibility, as I am sure you know.”
“Yes, my father can but rarely steal a few hours for himself. Mother, too. I understand perfectly, and am glad that you were able to arrange time to spend with me today,” said Finduilas. “I am looking forward to our ride. Where had you thought to go?”
“Do you prefer to ride on the roads, or across the fields?” Thorongil inquired.
Finduilas thought only a moment. “Across the country.”
“Good. A mile or two outside the city walls lie the meadows that were once held by the Kings of Gondor. These days it is the army that makes use of them, for pasturing its horses and for growing hay as well. I have ridden there before; there are some copses and a small stream or two to break the monotony of the fields. Would that suit you?” said Thorongil.
“Very well,” she replied.
They walked out of the courtyard and along the winding road that led through the city and out the Great Gate.
“I do wish that one did not have to go halfway around the city to descend each level,” Finduilas remarked after a time. “I can see that the slope is too steep for any direct roads upward, but surely this is excessive. Do you think that perhaps the merchants bribed the architects, to ensure more traffic past their stalls?”
Thorongil laughed. “I doubt it. Minas Anor was originally built simply for defensive purposes, and one would not wish to let the enemy have a straight path from gate to gate.” His face took on a serious expression as they passed through the gate between the fourth and third levels, and he laid a gentle hand on the great pile of masonry. “The white walls of Minas Tirith are beautiful to behold, but she is rightly named the Tower of Guard. No enemy has ever yet entered her to take possession.”
“I had never thought of that, though I suppose I should have,” Finduilas confessed.
At the stables near the Great Gate, they waited while their horses were brought to them. Finduilas held the reins of her grey gelding as Thorongil’s mount was led out. “That is a beautiful mare you have,” she commented. “Where did you find her?”
“Baranë? She was a gift from King Thengel of Rohan when I departed to take up service in Gondor.” Thorongil stroked the glossy brown neck. “He knew I would appreciate her and treat her well.” (1)
They began to thread their way through the crowds around the Gate.
“I did not know you came from Rohan, Thorongil. You have a look of Gondor about you; I would not have guessed you to be one of the Rohirrim,” said Finduilas.
“As to that, I was born in neither land, though rumor has placed my origins in both, I hear,” he said dryly. I need not tell her that rumor has even called me a bastard son of Ecthelion himself. I look like enough to Denethor, to begin with, and no doubt the Steward’s favor confirms the rumor for many. “Nay, my people have long lived in the north, and that is where I spent my youth. But when it came time for me to make my own way in the world, I chose to travel, to see new lands and learn of other peoples and other ways. Someday perhaps I will return to the land of my birth, but for now I am content to serve Gondor.”
“Have you no family to miss you? I would surely grieve if my brother Imrahil went off to Rohan for many years and did not return,” Finduilas said.
“My father died when I was but a babe. My mother has returned to her family, so she finds comfort there in my absence, I hope. And I have no sister to miss me fondly as your brother does,” said Thorongil.
Finduilas reached out an impulsive hand towards her companion.
“Well, as you have no sister of your own, then shall we pretend that I am she?” She blushed. “Not that I mean to intrude myself into your family, but I find you almost as comfortable to talk to as Imrahil, and since you have no one in Gondor whom you can claim as kin, I thought you might wish for such.”
Thorongil was taken aback by Finduilas’s suggestion. “If you wish, lady,” he said slowly.
Finduilas shook her finger at him in mock anger. “I have already said that you should call me by name. And if I am to be your adopted sister, even in play, it is silly for you to address me so formally.”
“As you will, Finduilas.” How odd, and how completely unexpected. I do not think I have so much charm as all that. Why would a woman like Finduilas judge me so quickly? Then again, did I not find her immediately comfortable to be with, too? So perhaps I should not be so surprised. He glanced at her, puzzled, but appreciative.
By now they had passed beyond the crowded environs of the Gate and mounted their horses. Finduilas looked inquiringly at Thorongil. “Do the fields of which you spoke lie to the north, east, or south? I am entirely in your hands for the direction we must take.”
Thorongil gestured to the northeast. “Our path lies that way. On the main road for a mile or so further to the north, and then we will turn off.”
“Good. I look forward to leaving this stony road behind, and the wagons that crowd it,” Finduilas said.
“You would regret it more if this road had not been paved in stone,” Thorongil pointed out. “The wains would be far slower, and the dust – mud in spring – far worse. Minas Tirith requires tens or hundreds of wagonloads of supplies daily to sustain her people, and much comes from the Pelennor itself, rather than from further afield.”
“I know, I know.” Finduilas waved his words airily away. “We have the same in Dol Amroth – but on a lesser scale, and with our harbor in the city, there is no great road needed for hauling goods brought by ship. I merely want to ride free, that is all.”
“We’re nearly there,” Thorongil promised. “Our turn is just beyond the next rise.”
Frost had turned most of the grass to dusty silver, though the occasional blade of green recalled the summer now long past. Likewise the chill of autumn had stripped the leaves from the trees that dotted the pasture. But the sun, though bright, did not beat fiercely enough at this season for either rider to think that shade was needed as they cantered down the lane.
Thorongil cast a judicious eye across the rock walls that marked the boundaries of the ancient fields, now become pasture for the breeding mares and studs of Gondor’s army. Not as fine as Rohan’s horses, but well enough. He sighed. Once the king’s lands would have all been planted to grain to feed the city – now her people are diminished, and the herds graze ever closer to her walls.
He turned in through a gate into an untenanted meadow, and gestured his companion on with a flourish.
Finduilas drew in a deep breath. “This is far better than the city,” she exclaimed, “if not so bracing as the winds off the sea. Have you been to the sea, Thorongil?”
“I have seen it,” he said, “but have never spent long by its shores.”
“Whereas I have never been long away,” Finduilas laughed. “A fine thing for a sister and brother, no? I have heard it said that the grass of a meadow can recall the sea, rippling like the waves as the wind blows, but I confess I do not see it so. Do you? Perhaps it takes a landsman to see it.”
“Not now, not at this time of the year. The grasses now are sere and dry, too sparse to give that effect. But in high summer when the seed is ripe – ah, then indeed can a meadow be an image of the sea, as the wind rustles along the grain. And the white umbels of wild carrot bring to mind the foam of the waves as they sway among the rippling green,” said Thorongil. He nodded towards the north. “On the broad plains of Calenardhon, where Thengel rules, yes, I think even a shore-bird such as yourself might agree that the plains can look like broad waters, bright in the sunlight and tossing with the breeze.”
“Why, Thorongil, I would not have expected you to have such a poetic turn. Do all Gondor’s warriors look about them as if with the eyes of the Elves?” teased Finduilas.
Thorongil smiled. “Hardly, Finduilas. For many, for most, the fighting we must do limits our vision. We look at the land around us and think only of how it may be used, for a camp, or an ambush, or a skirmish. But I learned to see the lands about me – forest, hill, and plain – before ever I came to fight. And so I see them still.”
“I hope that Imrahil may do the same,” said Finduilas quietly. “He is to join one of the companies soon – I do not know which, nor where he may go, nor indeed just when. But I will miss him very greatly. I only hope that he will be able to write to me on occasion, so that I can imagine him walking and talking with me again. That will be a comfort.”
Yes, the ties between siblings can be strong. That too have I seen – when my foster-brothers would return from errantry, and their sister greet them. No matter how often it happened, their delight in such reunion never lessened. Can such a bond ever be truly diminished or broken? Does it not become stronger the longer it endures? If so, that might bode me ill.
He replied to her, “Wherever Imrahil may be, he could write, certainly – the question would be how often he might be able to have his letters conveyed back to some town whence they could be sent to Dol Amroth. So I fear that how often you get news will depend entirely on where Imrahil happens to be stationed. You and he must be good friends as well as brother and sister, for you to worry so.”
“We are; and with our mother unwell we rely on each other to keep our spirits up. But tell me somewhat of your duties, if you will,” Finduilas requested. “I should like very much to know what sorts of things Imrahil might encounter.”
So Thorongil described for her the lands of Ithilien east of the Anduin, where he had spent much of his service to Gondor. He told her of the camps the men made, often on forlorn homesteads where until only a score or two of years before people had still lived and hoped to keep their fields safe from the Enemy. “But when the Dark Lord returned to his ancient strongholds, he sent out more and more Orcs to harry the land, and finally all had to retreat west across the river. Now only we who serve as Rangers dwell in Ithilien, and those who farmed there for centuries have been forced to seek new places to earn their livings,” he finished.
And the Stewards have let it happen. Not of their own will, I am sure, but still bit by bit the lands they have sworn to serve and protect diminish, and the people retreat.
Finduilas frowned. “Yes, I know of many families throughout Belfalas who came there from the east. But you have said little of the fighting that your company does. Tell me – I am not afraid to hear the truth.”
Thorongil demurred at first, and when Finduilas insisted, he told about the raids and skirmishes in terms as general as he felt she would be willing to accept. He refrained from describing the miseries of wounds untreated, of cold and hunger, and of the despair that could come to even the strongest-hearted at times. Instead he spoke of how the Dark Lord’s servants infested the lands between Anduin and Mordor.
“Orcs do not willingly plow or plant,” he explained. “Since the last inhabitants fled, the hills and fields there have served only as a place for them to hunt and despoil. Though they have some woodcraft, and are wary, their love of destruction at times waxes the greater, and then they are easy for us to find and hunt – but at a cost. League by league, slowly, the Orcs ravage the land and push us back. We can only guess at the Enemy’s motives – I would have expected greater numbers of the Men who are his allies to have appeared by now, to wrest the lands to more productive purposes. It is as well for Gondor that that has not yet happened, since the number of Rangers is few.”
Finduilas shuddered slightly. “I know I asked you to tell me all this,” she apologized, “but I find it more distressing than I had anticipated, to know something of what Imrahil will see. So. Let us now turn to some other subject. You spoke of the fields of Rohan with the tongue of a poet; you must have been acquainted with much verse in your younger days, in the north?”
Thorongil cocked his head at her. “From war to poetry in a single leap. Well, they are not so far apart, are they? Many of the great epics and lays describe ancient battles, after all. You guess aright, Finduilas, in my childhood I was taught by one who knew many verses of balladry as well as lore, and from whom I learned a great respect for the art. Was it the same for you?”
“I would not say that my teachers were so fond of poetry, but my parents were, especially my mother. It was at her knee that I first heard nearly every verse I now know,” said Finduilas. “If you would like I could recite something for you.”
“Certainly, it would be a pleasure,” said Thorongil. “But we have been riding for long, and a-horseback is not the best way to enjoy speaking or hearing verse. Shall we sit by one of these trees and let the horses graze for a little while, or would you prefer to return to your father’s house to recount your favorites?”
“Here is well enough,” Finduilas replied.
They dismounted and found a spot where the grass was short and the ground dry. Thorongil leaned back against a convenient tree trunk, stretching his legs out before him. Finduilas preferred to sit cross-legged, choosing a patch of sunshine for her seat.
“What verses do you like best, Finduilas? Say me one, and then I will recite one for you,” Thorongil requested.
“You speak the Elvish tongue, I hope? For my favorite is in that language, and though it has been rendered into Westron, I do not think that form conveys its full beauty,” Finduilas said.
“Sindarin, or the High-Elven?” asked Thorongil cautiously. I would prefer not to admit knowing Quenya – even the loremasters among Men rarely read it. But I have heard that the folk of Dol Amroth speak the Grey-Elven often, and perhaps the high tongue is preserved there as well.
“Oh, Sindarin, of course.”
Good, that is safe enough. Most of Gondor’s nobles speak it – and if I am not one of them, exactly, still I serve as one of her captains and it will not seem to Finduilas remarkable that I should know that language. “I do know it, yes, though I have not had much occasion to speak it of late. What verses will you say?” Thorongil said.
“The lay of Nimrodel.”
Finduilas composed herself, clasping her hands before her, and began the tale of the Elf-woman lost in the White Mountains, and of her lover Amroth who sprang from his ship to seek her and was also nevermore seen.
As Finduilas recited, Thorongil closed his eyes to concentrate on her words. Vagrant memory took him to a firelit hall, and another dark-haired maiden speaking the same lines. Evenstar. . . He wrenched his mind back to the present.
“A beautiful tale, is it not? But sad,” said Finduilas, concluding. “One of Nimrodel’s own attendants wed my many-times-great-grandfather, and their son was the first lord to rule Dol Amroth, soon after the Downfall.”
Of course. I heard once that the Prince had Elvish blood, but I had forgotten. I should have realized it is of my past that Finduilas reminds me. My past – and where does my future lie?
“It is a tragic story, and your recitation beautifully done,” Thorongil said. “Shall I tell you a poem now, in payment?”
Finduilas glanced at the sun, sinking in crimson splendor toward the western horizon. “We have not time, I fear, for you to do any verses justice,” she said regretfully. “But I know,” she added, brightening. “In place of a tale you can promise to write to me now and again. Even if Imrahil is not assigned to your company, hearing some news of the lands where my brother also fights would comfort me. And I would then have twice as many letters to look forward to. Come now, you cannot claim to be unable to wield pen as well as sword. A man who can speak in Elvish, and who must keep track of five score men or more at times, not to mention all their supplies, must have the ability to write the occasional missive.”
Thorongil held up a hand to stop the rush of persuasive words. “If you desire this so much, Finduilas, I will write to you when I can. But do not expect to hear too often from either of your brothers, blood kin or newly adopted. I know I have little time to spare and I am sure Imrahil will find the same.”
“I will endeavor to moderate my hopes, then. But I thank you for agreeing to write to me – it will set my mind more at ease.” Finduilas rose and brushed a few stray leaves from her habit. “If you will help me back onto my horse, we had better ride back to Minas Tirith before the sun sets, or my father and brother – my other brother,” she smiled, “will worry for me.”
“And I have duties I must see to this evening, since I stole the afternoon to spend with you. I return across the river in a day or so,” said Thorongil. “But it was time well spent.”
After they had returned their horses to the stables and he had seen Finduilas to her father’s door, begging excuse from dining with Adrahil and his family, Thorongil walked slowly back towards his quarters, thinking.
So, we are to be brother and sister? I do not know if that will prove good or ill, in the end. There is something very appealing about Finduilas – she has not the wisdom of long life, yet she may come to that in time. And friendship is not to be despised. Perhaps – someday – it may warm to something more. He exhaled deeply. What is the chance that I shall ever again see Undómiel? I cannot live alone to the end of my days – I have not the right to make that choice.
He passed out from the tunnel and walked through the Garden of the White Tree, pausing to gaze upon its withered branches. If there is no hope of new life there, should I not look elsewhere for it? Where does duty lead? How long can a love endure without sign of hope?
Setting his jaw, he moved on.
I do not wish to face the inquiries I am sure to get in the mess this evening; morning will be soon enough. I will just send the lad Rodnor for some bread and cheese to eat as I sort through the remainder of today’s work.
As he passed the White Tower, Denethor emerged from the doorway. The Steward’s Heir brushed past as if he could not even see the other man, though Thorongil spoke in greeting.
Now what could I have done to give offense? Thorongil watched Denethor walk away towards the armories. I have not even seen him today, and all seemed well yestereve. He shrugged and walked on, supposing all would be made clear soon enough.
Thorongil turned into his rooms, lighted a candle, and settled to his evening tasks. Determinedly he put from his mind both the sweet voice of Finduilas, and the yet lovelier voice that had dwelt so long in his memory.
(1) Baranë means “golden-brown one,” referring of course to the color of the mare’s coat.
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