Courting the Lady
6. Epistolary Seasons I
The letters that follow in this and later chapters self-evidently do not include all correspondence between the parties, but are rather merely a selection of their letters. On occasion individual letters have had digressive passages silently omitted as well.
16 Narvinyë 2974 (1)
My dear Imrahil,
As I am sure you could have guessed, Mother was very disappointed that you decided to take up your post immediately, rather than coming home to see her first. But Father reminded her that it made far more sense to send you with your new commander rather than doing all that extra traveling, and I think she has accepted the situation. You might want to write her just a short note though, when you have a chance, and apologize. She is not looking very well; I think while we were all gone she did not eat and sleep as she should have. But our return has cheered her up.
Being home without you seems very strange. I keep wanting to talk with you, and being unable. Mealtimes are most peculiar without you there to scrape the last remnants from each dish and look for more. I think we will find a great lessening of household expenses in the next quarterly accounts, in your absence. . .
It has been quite rainy and gloomy here, our usual winter weather. The tides are running exceptionally high and all the older folk of the city shake their heads and predict bad weather for the whole of the year. I do not believe them. We had even higher tides when I was a little girl – I think you were just two – and I remember that summer as being wonderful. I recall pulling you around the gardens on your little wheeled horse!
Lord Denethor has already sent me a letter; he must have written it only a day or two after we departed. Father encouraged me to respond quickly and so I wrote back to him even before writing to you. It was difficult, though. The letter was no less than kind, yet it was more formal than I would have expected from one who would be a suitor. I know that Father would be pleased if I were to decide that I would marry the Steward’s Heir, but he is not pressuring me except to tell me to be polite and answer without delay. I confess myself surprised at Denethor’s interest, given the disparity in our ages, but until he should speak openly I will not presume.
I miss you, brother. Write to me as soon as you may.
Your loving sister,
29 Narvinyë 2974
As you were most urgent that I should write soon and often, I am complying to the best of my abilities. Having been gone for some weeks from my company it was a little time before I was able to snatch a spare moment for myself to write to you.
You will want news of your brother. He was an excellent companion on the road with the several other new recruits: cheerful, carrying out his assigned tasks without complaint, keeping his gear in order. His skill with weapons is good for one of his age, although like all of us, he will improve further with practice. I do not think it likely that he will have difficulty finding his feet among the company, and I fully expect to be able to promote him on the field within two years. That may seem long to you, but believe me, it is rapid indeed.
Ithilien at this season is sad – the rains of winter strip the leaves from the trees and leave them blackened and barren, reaching for the sky as if longing for the return of the sun to warm them again to life. We move among the dells like cats, silently stalking. Luckily winter is a season when little fighting occurs, and both the enemy and we stay close to our camps and fires much of the time.
I meant this to be a longer and more cheerful letter, but I fear that I have not time to write further if I wish to send it with a messenger tomorrow. I hope that your journey home was safe and that all is well with you and your family.
11 Nénimë 2974
Your letter was most welcome to me. I am sorry to hear that your lady mother remains unwell, but I trust that with you and your father there she will take comfort. Please convey my best wishes for an amendment in her health soon.
I was reading the other day in the early records of the realm and was reminded that many of our great philosophers and thinkers wrote in Quenya instead of Sindarin. Do you read Quenya at all? I assume you know at least some Sindarin, since your father is fluent. If you would be interested I could have a copy of Aegnor’s treatise on moral metaphysics sent to you, either in the original Quenya, or translated into Sindarin or Westron, whichever you would prefer. (2)
You asked how it felt to be the Steward’s Heir. I am not certain how I can answer that; I have never known aught else. How do you feel as the daughter of your father? It is a great responsibility. It pleases me to ensure the safety and prosperity of Minas Tirith and Gondor. I feel it to be my foremost duty. Not all give such thought to our well-being. You will remember, for instance, Beleg’s refusal to become an armorer for the army. Such checks upon fulfilling my duties are burdensome. What are your thoughts on such matters? I am sure you would have sound advice on this.
Your humble servant,
24 Nénimë 2974
Your letter did cheer me, though it sounds like Ithilien is as dull in winter as anywhere else. Has my lazy brother not been able to find time to write, with all his practice at arms and scouting? Would you act on my behalf and encourage him to do so?
I have spent a few days nursing a cold. I have not been really ill, just have a touch of sore throat, so I am keeping mostly to my room and drinking linden tea. To amuse myself I have been trying my hand at a new translation of the “Lay of Nimrodel.” It is not as easy as one would like, to translate verse and keep both the form and the sense of it!
Despite the rainy weather of this season, the sea is beautiful. I wish that you could be here to see and enjoy it with me. Sometimes I think I love the waters best when the skies are cloudy, for then there is no glittering surface to distract from the complexity of its depths. There is a hill not far away – Imrahil knows of it – where I go to stand and watch the shifting greens and blues and greys of the water, and can almost believe that I swim among them. In warmer seasons I do swim in the sea, naturally. At times I have imagined that I have heard the Voices of the Sea. Have you ever thought that you have heard the call of one of the great Powers beyond humankind? Am I simply being a flighty girl? But truly, I have wondered if they care yet for mortals, or if they have turned their backs on us and all our woes. It is a lonely feeling, to think that we might be abandoned to our unknown fate. There may be a drop of Elven-blood yet in my veins, but I have never seen an Elf or Dwarf myself – I am told such creatures still live, but it is hard to believe. Have you ever met any?
I apologize for my ramblings today. I trust that all is well with your and your company.
3 Súlimë 2974
Please forgive your tardy brother. Since you laid such emphasis on the need for me to write to Mother as soon as I could, she got the first letter, and I have had little spare time since. Not that I had much news to tell her, but it is probably just as well that you receive this one since there is some news, and not all good. Maybe you can read it to her and omit what you think best.
Choosing to be anonymous was a wise move. I hear a lot of griping about how the officers are chosen half the time from among the young bloods, without much regard for their abilities, while some more worthy men are ignored because they haven’t the right family connections. Well, I can see that for myself in a few cases already. It is hard to know how to improve things, though. Not that I could do anything now, mind you, but someday if all goes well I’ll have a command of my own, and of course eventually I’ll rule in Belfalas – though I hope that is many years away! The tricky thing is that officers have a duty to help finance their company’s expenses, so the higher your rank, the greater your resources must be. If you have no family wealth, you must find a patron or sponsor to help out. I think Ecthelion is sponsoring this company – Thorongil doesn’t discuss it, but I’ve heard rumors, and certainly he doesn’t seem to have any significant funds of his own – his beautiful horse and his few fine clothes all seem to have been gifts.
Now that spring is near, and it’s easier to move about the country, we are starting to see some fighting. I was in my first real skirmish last week. There were eight of us on a doubled patrol, and we ran across a dozen Orcs. We took them by surprise and won handily – one of our fellows received a nasty wound in the leg, but the rest of us were hardly scratched (reassure Mother of that, please!), and we killed all the enemy. It wasn’t quite what I expected it would be like, though. I wasn’t scared while I was fighting, but afterwards, I threw up. Don’t tell that to Mother or Father, though.
I can see already that Ithilien must be glorious in other seasons. Even now, with the trees barren and the cold winds, the shape of the land is beautiful. The contours of the hills swell against the sky as if to touch the very stars themselves. When I am on watch at night, I think of the folk who lived here, and how it must have wrenched their hearts to leave. We come across abandoned farmsteads often, and though most have been long-pillaged by Orcs and such foul creatures, it is clear that their former owners had left them with great reluctance and care, storing what they could not take, in hopes of someday returning.
But most of the time I am far too busy for such sad thoughts. I was quite proud of my fighting skills before I arrived, but compared to many men here I’m not much. Thorongil, of course, outstrips all of us by far. I wonder where he learned to fight? Perhaps in Rohan, because he certainly has tricks no one else has ever seen. He has undertaken to give me and several of the other fellows extra training, which is generous of him considering the demands on his time. I’m glad that you suggested I ask to join his company – it’s been a good choice so far and I’m sure will continue to be.
There, now wasn’t that worth the wait? I’ve filled three leaves of parchment, and I’m afraid you’ll have to pay extra for the carriage of such a long letter. I’ll try to write sooner next time, honestly.
25 Súlimë 2974
Dear Lord Denethor,
I look forward to the treatise by Aegnor, whenever the translation is completed, but you need not apologize for the delay. The poem you sent me on the fall of Númenor in the meanwhile is lovely – I particularly like the image of the drowning queen with pearls in her hair. I believe I read that once before, many years ago. Have you ever considered writing your own verses?
Spring is fully upon us here in Belfalas. The blooms in the palace gardens – it grows almost wild, here, at least no one tends it, but I have been told that it flourishes nowhere else in all of Gondor save close to Dol Amroth. But all sorts of other flowers flourish – the apricot trees’ bloom is nearly over, but the lilies are reaching their peak. What is the spring like in Minas Tirith? I have seen her gardens only in winter, and had difficulty picturing those stone-walled spaces full of light and leaf and color. . .
As for your questions, I suppose it was a bit presumptuous of me to ask how it felt to be the Steward’s Heir when I cannot very well answer the same sort of question about myself. It is indeed a great responsibility, to feel that one has the well-being of all the people of this land in one’s control. When I find myself stymied by the stubbornness of others, I remind myself that each must bear the responsibility for his own choices. Just as a mother must let her child make mistakes in order to learn from them, so a wise ruler will behave towards his people, while being ready to step in if their errors will lead to harm to others. Would you not agree?
I remain, etc.
14 Víressë 2974
Spring in Minas Tirith is as fine as can be found anywhere in Gondor, or so I deem. She is of course a city built for defense, not beauty – though I see great loveliness in her proud white walls and sturdy gates and spacious streets. While the pale niphredil does not flourish here, our garden walls are graced with roses of many colors. Our greenswards and trees lie below us in the Pelennor, visible from any tower, and flowers of all sorts are sold in the streets in the lower circles.
Regarding which, we have recently made those streets safer than they were when you were here and had that unfortunate incident. The penalty for thievery has been changed. Now, those apprehended and convicted are set to hard labor, such as building defenses or repairing roads. If there are mitigating circumstances, such as a mother stealing a loaf to feed her child, a lesser punishment may be imposed. Further, we have increased the numbers of the City Watch, and they will henceforward patrol during daylight hours as well as after dark. I believe all of these changes will improve life in the city as well as preventing occurrences such as the one you experienced.
I do agree with you that a ruler should intervene when necessary, but I consider it better still to set up circumstances so that a mistake or misconduct is less likely to occur in the first place; hence the altered penalty, which I hope will deter many from petty theft.
With this letter I send Aegnor’s treatise, now translated for you. I hope you enjoy it. As you hinted strongly that I should try writing a bit of verse of my own, I have acceded to your will. I shall let you be the judge of my humble efforts.
Whither the lady
Wanders, there my road leads me.
My step falters not.
Hair dark as nightfall,
Moonlight her face, dawn-grey eyes.
Her smile is my sun.
Another time I may perhaps try a lengthier form, but for now this is my limit, I fear. It is a form that was popular in the twelfth century, when there was a fashion for poetry in the style of the Haradrim.
Your obedient servant,
8 Nárië 2974
I fear at least one letter you sent must have gone astray, as I just received your last in which you asked if I no longer have the time or inclination to correspond with you. Far from it! I greatly enjoy hearing from both Imrahil and you – though he is in your company and I imagine does many of the same things day to day, the two of you write very different sorts of letters. His say more about what is going on in camp and on patrol, while your poetic descriptions tell me much about where you are. And I must thank you for convincing Im to write more often, too. I read portions of his letters to our mother, who appreciates them no end.
How do I keep busy, you ask? I expect I am at least as busy as you are! Mother still does all she is able, but a good part of the supervision of the household is on my shoulders now. She keeps the account-books, but I must check them too, against daily expenses, for instance. Why, I get up at dawn, most days, and if I am lucky I can find a bit of time in the evening to write a letter, or read a story or a poem. What nonsense is my born brother trying to feed my adopted brother now, suggesting that I gad about all day?
I am afraid that I have not had time to continue my work on the “Lay of Nimrodel.” I have recently begun reading a treatise on moral philosophy – interesting, but difficult, so I progress slowly.
13 Nárië 2974
I can see why Thorongil’s men are so devoted to him now. Of course I have admired him since I joined this company, and before by reputation, but. . . well, let me tell you what happened last Aldëa.
The Rangers in Ithilien have a number of more-or-less permanent camps, but we don’t always stay at the same one. It’s thought to be good to shift the companies around occasionally so that we learn different parts of the country and don’t grow stale going over familiar territory all the time. Last week was the first time we had shifted since I arrived, though. It’s a fairly substantial undertaking and we had to borrow horses, mules, and wagons from several other companies to haul everything. Obviously moving makes us more vulnerable to attack as well, and the Orcs are clever enough spies to have discovered our procedures. They set an ambush for the wagons while we were all strung out along the trail, but you would have thought the captain expected it, because he brought the leading group back at just the right moment to catch the foul creatures in their own trap and kill them all. A very satisfying thing, that!
I find that I enjoy many things about this service – having friendships with other soldiers, seeing the beauty of these lands, knowing that what I do defends my home. But I cannot love the sword for its own sake. Many seem to do so. A few of my companions go into a kind of frenzy in battle, hardly seeming to know what they do, ignoring wounds in their lust to fight and kill. It’s effective, I suppose, but rather dreadful to witness. I think Thorongil feels as I do – glad to serve our people as he is most needed, but regretting that this must be the way of things.
But enough of these serious musings! There are lighter incidents as well. The fellow who generally dosses next to me is becoming known as a practical joker – one night he switched around every man’s boots, so that in the morning we all found they were too large or too small and had to scurry around trying on pair after pair to find our own again. Baldor was given four weeks on latrine duty, plus night watches, for that one, and a warning that if his jokes continued to endanger his comrades he could be dismissed in disgrace.
It grows warm, here, and I find I miss the sea-breezes and think enviously of you. Who do you go to swim with now, in the evenings? I wish I were there for it. A quick wash in a stream just isn’t the same.
2 Cermië 2974
I apologize most heartily for my unwarranted leap to the conclusion that your silence meant you no longer wished to write. Out here in lands rapidly returning to wilderness, I should have known better than to assume every letter written will be delivered to the intended recipient. To reach us here, yours go first to Minas Tirith and then travel by courier, if we are lucky, or with resupply trains if we are not. And the same applies in reverse; so there are plenty of opportunities for a message to go astray.
I thought you might enjoy this verse as a change from your moral metaphysics. My apologies for its old-fashioned air; the one or two volumes of poetry here in camp are quite elderly, having been salvaged from an abandoned farmhouse, and it appears that my own mode of expression has been influenced by those antiquated turns of phrase.
So is it not with me as with that muse
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who Aman itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth, and sea’s rich gems,
With tuilë’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven’s air.
Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell. (3)
There is little of note to report. Our celebration of loëndë here was, I am sure, nothing like yours. Save for those who by ill-luck must play guard to the camp, the men mostly indulge in drink and song. I believe Imrahil had a sore head yesterday in consequence, but you probably should not tell him I said so!
17 Cermië 2974
I fear I have ill-news for you this time. Mother is not at all well – even the kindly warmth of this season has done little to restore her health. There have even been days when she has been unable to leave her bed – and you know how unthinkable such a thing has always been for her. I really begin to fear that she may not live to this year’s end. I will write as often as I can to keep you informed of her condition. Do you think there is any chance that Thorongil might grant you leave to come home before the end of the year? Can you ask him, please?
One of the few unmitigated pleasures I now have is in receiving your letters, and others’. Denethor proves a surprisingly engaging correspondent, who has even sent along a few bits of verse, although he is not light-hearted as you are nor as lyrical as Captain Thorongil. I often take my letters outside to read and reread in the soft breezes of the evening, just before the sun sets.
As if it is trying to make up for the sadness within the walls, the garden is blooming as I have hardly seen it before – walking among the roses, more than once I have been dizzied by their fragrance. I have pressed several of the deepest red blooms to preserve them, and as you can see have enclosed one for you. A foolish thing, I know; you have little place for such frivolities as a Ranger. But bear it in memory of
your loving sister,
24 Urimë 2974
As my lady desires, so must I oblige.
Alone before, I saw you moving near –
All dressed in white like foam upon the shore,
When your enchanting voice I first did hear
I knew I’d love another nevermore.
My heart had long been shuttered, as a door
Does hinder light from entering a room;
Now opened through your kindness. I implore
You not to leave and resurrect my tomb.
The stars above are gleaming through the gloom
Of night, as your face outshone all the rest
When first I saw you, as it were a bloom
Of evermind in the undying West.
How can I end these words I say to you?
Except to say my love is always true.
Ever at your command,
(1) Regarding dates and seasons:
In the later Third Age, Gondor followed the Stewards’ Reckoning, in which each month had 30 days and there were five days of holiday (six in leap years) that were counted outside the months.
The names of the months, beginning in midwinter, were: Narvinyë, Nénimë, Súlimë, Víressë, Lótessë, Nárië, Cermië, Urimë, Yavannië, Narquelië, Hísimë, Ringarë.
The holidays were: yestarë (the day before Narvinyë), tuilérë (between Súlimë and Víressë), loëndë (between Nárië and Cermië – doubled in leap years, and then called the enderi or middle-days), yáviérë (between Yavannië and Narquelië), and mettarë (day after Ringarë).
The days of the week were: Elenya (Stars’ Day), Anarya (Sun’s Day), Isilya (Moon’s Day), Aldëa (White Tree’s Day), Menelya (Heavens’ Day), Eärenya (Sea’s Day), Valanya (Valar’s Day). Valanya was sometimes called Tárion, the Powers’ Day, and corresponds most nearly to modern Sunday, though it had no religious significance.
The seasons were: tuilë (spring), lairë (summer), yávië (autumn/harvest), hrívë (winter); two additional terms used for late autumn or early winter were quellë and lasselanta.
[All this information is from Appendix D in The Return of the King.]
(2) “Moral metaphysics”: shades of Immanuel Kant here, yes. I really do not know his philosophy well enough to discuss it, I have merely borrowed a phrase.
(3) This is really William Shakespeare, sonnet 21, with a couple of words modified. I fear I cannot write sonnets of sufficient quality for Thorongil, so I have had to borrow. With his early years having been spent among the Elves of Imladris, he would have had a keen sense of image, as well as rhythm and phrasing. (Denethor’s verse, on the other hand, is his own, and shows his limitations.)
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