Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Courting the Lady: 11. The Lady Reflects
Certainly it was pleasing, even flattering, to be sought by the Steward’s Heir. Finduilas had known from the beginning of their correspondence that this would be the likely end; Denethor was far too practical to be courting her interest for the sake of friendship alone, not when he remained unmarried at this late age. Moreover her father had intimated as much shortly after their last return from Minas Tirith.
“I understand that the Lord Denethor will be writing to you,” Adrahil had told her. “I would urge you to reciprocate kindly. It would be not unpleasing to me or your mother should our house be joined with the House of Húrin, though I shall leave matters to your discretion.”
She had, naturally, agreed to reply to Denethor’s letters, at first perhaps largely out of a sense of duty to her family, but soon because she enjoyed receiving them and wanted to respond for her own sake. Denethor was scarcely the warmest of men, but she rather thought that it was lack of practice, not lack of emotion, that made his missives seem stiff. She enjoyed their discussions of rulers’ obligations, and of poetry, and he had been kind and supportive of her sorrow throughout her mother’s illness and death.
But to set against that, of course, were other points. Finduilas was even now but twenty-five, and Denethor some twenty years her senior, far closer to her father’s age than hers. Marriage to him might well end in years of loneliness. Should she wed him, too, she would have to live in Minas Tirith; a great and proud city, but with her stony walls forbidding to one used to the gentler life of Dol Amroth. Leaving her home would be painful. Imrahil was no longer there, but her father was, and he was still recovering from Nimíril’s loss. Could she abandon him to his grief? Denethor was quite pressing that he wished to wed her as soon as she would be willing, a reasonable request after nearly two years of courtship, even if carried out by letter rather than in person.
Perhaps most to be considered was simply – did she love him as a wife should hope to love her husband? Finduilas watched the seagulls skimming the waves in the fading light of day and considered. Denethor. He seemed curiously vulnerable to her; the contrast between some of the remarks he made in his letters and then the verses he wrote suggested a man struggling to convey the unfamiliar.
She sometimes wondered just why it was that he loved her, as he so clearly did. She knew that she was beautiful, but he could have his choice of any beauty in the land. The political advantage of alliance with the greatest prince in Gondor went without saying, yet there were other, almost equally desirable connections: her friend Elerrína, the daughter of Forlong of Lossarnach, for instance. Finduilas shrugged. In the end it mattered little why Denethor had chosen her. It remained only to decide whether she should in turn choose him.
Perhaps I should consult Father, she concluded, turning her steps homeward. In any case he should know of this proposal. I wish I could talk with Im about it, but it would take too long to send letters back and forth. Maybe he will send a note with his thoughts before we leave, though.
In only a few days they planned to journey to Minas Tirith for the festival season, leaving the care of Belfalas in the hands of Adrahil’s steward, Vardil. Nimíril’s illness had prevented it the previous year, but Adrahil felt obliged to make the trip this season, to lend his voice to Ecthelion’s Council. Finduilas had been pleased at the idea even before Denethor’s proposal, and now had even greater reason to visit the White City.
Since I shall be there soon, she decided, I will write to Denethor and tell him that I will give my answer in person. I want to see him again, first.
Entering the hall, she gave her cloak to a maidservant and hastily prepared for the evening meal. She had been walking for longer than she had thought, and Adrahil seemed a little put out by her tardiness as she slipped into her seat. At least this evening they were dining privately rather than with the whole household, or the offense would have been worse.
“What kept you, Finduilas?” he inquired, forking a piece of fish onto his plate. “I asked, but you were nowhere in the house. Did you go down to the marketplace?”
“No, Father, I was walking on the hills, looking at the sea and thinking.” She passed him the dish of vegetables and added, “I have something to consult with you about, something quite important.”
“Yes? What is it, daughter?”
“Lord Denethor has asked me to wed him,” said Finduilas quietly. “That is what I have been considering all afternoon.”
“So he has come out to say it to you at last. He asked me for my permission when last we were in Minas Tirith, you know, and I told him that he had better convince you himself, for I would not order you to marry,” said Adrahil. “Since you are asking my advice, I presume you have not yet made up your mind?”
“No,” she sighed. “I am fond of him, certainly, but I do not know if what I feel is what a wife should feel.”
“Is there anyone else for whom you have such affection? I have never interfered with your correspondence, but I am aware that you have been writing to Imrahil’s captain, Thorongil, more often than just to inquire after your brother’s welfare. Is Thorongil a man more to your liking? I warn you, though, that I would be reluctant to see you wed him; we know nothing of his family, and I doubt he could support any wife, much less a woman of your station.”
“I do like Thorongil, but for him I feel much what I do for Imrahil – the affection of a sister, not a lover,” she said. “What I feel towards Denethor is different. I admire him very much, I am pleased and flattered by his attention – but I also find him stern and even intimidating at times; I am not certain I know him, if that makes any sense.”
“It does,” said Adrahil, picking up her hand and patting it. “But that need not prevent you from accepting him. I did not feel I knew your mother until we were many years wedded. To understand another simply takes time. I tell you, Finduilas, imagine how it would be to be married to Denethor – both the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, the rights and the responsibilities. You know enough of what they would be to be honest with yourself. Then imagine other possibilities for your life: marriage to another man, perhaps, or remaining unwed here and watching your brother with wife and children over the years. What would be best for you, yes, but also for him, and for our people? The decision is yours.”
He cleared his throat and stood up. “I will leave you to think about that. In the meantime, would you like to come to my study and play a game of draughts against your old father, or had you something else to do this evening?”
“I would be happy to play,” said Finduilas, rising and beckoning for the table to be cleared. “I will think about what you have said, too. This afternoon I decided to send a note to Denethor tomorrow to tell him that I would let him know of my decision sometime after we arrive in Minas Tirith.”
“Good girl,” Adrahil approved. He took her elbow and led her down the corridor.
“Now to serious business. Will you take black, or white?”
The letters arrived as she was choosing which gowns to take with her to the city: one from Imrahil, and one from Thorongil. For once Im had written promptly – he was an entertaining but sometimes dilatory correspondent. She opened his first, scanning the lines eagerly.
“Dear sister,” he began, “It sounds as if you have already made up your mind, since you are asking what I would think of you as Lady of Gondor. A silly question, as of course you know. You would grace any position – I say that as a man, rather than as your brother. As your brother I would hate to lose you to anyone, Denethor neither more nor less than any other.
“I am certain you would make him happy. You could make any man happy, I think. But will he do the same for you, and your children? We were lucky in our parents, you know, I’ve learned that hearing other men’s tales of their childhoods, even the officers’ on occasion. Don’t sell yourself short, that’s all I say. He has position and blood, right enough, but has he the heart you need and deserve?”
The rest of the letter turned to the latest news of the company, and Finduilas skimmed through quickly, laying it aside to reread later, and picking up Thorongil’s letter instead.
“My dear Fin, You see that I shall address you as an older brother to a beloved young sister. Since Estel must be far away, it is good to know that you have estel yet. (1) If hope for Denethor’s love pleases you, then I rejoice on your behalf. He is a worthy son of an excellent father, and if he and I do not always see eye-to-eye on some matters, well, nor do any two men, as well you know. I am sure that he will treat you with all honor. . .
“. . .I hope to be in Minas Tirith in the third or fourth week of Ringarë, and may be able to remain until the first of the year or a bit longer. I would very much like to spend some time with you, if we can manage it. I will send a note to your father’s house there when I arrive. With love, Thorongil”
Finduilas frowned a little, reading. Thorongil says nothing that is not praise, and yet somehow he conveys hesitation. Perhaps it is simply some small quarrel between the two – I know how that can happen, when one must balance different demands – perhaps Thorongil requested additional men or supplies and was denied, though for good reason. He does say he rejoices for me, after all. Im is more overt in his questioning, but he seems to think I have already made up my mind! Well, have I?
She piled the leaves of parchment together tidily and rose from her seat. She walked to the window and stood looking out into the garden, bleak at this season but glorious with color in her memory.
I do not know that I need a great romance to make me happy. If my affection is not as intense as Denethor’s, what matter? There is surely no one else who might stand as his rival. I could – I would – make him happy, and knowing I had done so would satisfy me too. Im thinks he lacks heart, but that is not so. At least he lacks none for me. If he is less giving to others, could I not help him there, teach him to transfer to them some of his love for me?
Perhaps I have decided. But I shall still wait a little, until we have spent more time in each other’s company. Letters may tell much, but they are not the same as a true conversation, together in one room. If I am lucky, I shall be able to see Thorongil and speak with him before I tell Denethor yea – I would like to hear his thoughts more precisely. Too bad Imrahil will not be coming to Minas Tirith as well, but I expect Thorongil would have mentioned it were there even a chance of that.
She returned to her packing, debating with herself about how many riding-gowns to bring, and whether the wine-colored silk would be better than the deep blue. With Nimíril’s death, she would not wear pale colors, but dark ones were acceptable after half a year. One item she checked and double-checked to ensure that it was in the pile of things to be taken: a lace collar with a moon-and-stars pattern. She hesitated over the contents of her writing-desk, but finally decided to bring along all her letters from the previous two years, and the book of verses that Denethor had sent. He had once hinted that he would like to hear her read from it, and this would be the first possible chance to do so and show her appreciation for the gift.
At last all was ready, her trunks closed and waiting to be put on shipboard. A tap sounded at the doorway.
“Yes, come in,” Finduilas said, pushing back her hair.
Her father entered. He held a flat box which he gave to her, saying, “This was your grandmother’s – my mother’s. Your mother wore it once or twice, but it did not really suit her, so she put it aside for you, someday. It is time that you had it.”
Finduilas undid the silver clasps that held the dark wood together, and drew in her breath. Inside lay a coronet of silver and pearls, fashioned to look like a pair of swan’s wings.
“I remember this,” she said, touching it gently with one finger. “Mother wore it one year at mettarë, the year before Imrahil was born, I suppose, because I don’t remember him there. I thought it was the most beautiful jewel I had ever seen. Thank you, Father.”
She hugged him tightly and tucked her head against his shoulder. Adrahil returned the embrace.
“As I said, Finduilas, your mother did not care for it, so I am glad that you do. It ought to suit you well, for you look much like your grandmother who had it made to her order. Would you care to try it on? I thought perhaps you would like to take it along to wear at the Lord Steward’s Feast.”
“My hair is hardly dressed for it, but. . .”
She set it on her head and faced Adrahil. “What do you think?”
“Lovely,” he said, kissing her cheek. “Now I had better go and finish getting ready myself – I see you are already done. I hope there is room to slip this in as well!”
“I am sure there is,” said Finduilas. “If you need any help. . .?”
“No, no, I am just slow. I will be done soon, and then we can have everything taken down to the ship. In an hour, perhaps,” and Adrahil left.
Finduilas went over to look in the mirror and see for herself. It will look better with my hair done properly, she thought, but it is truly a beautiful thing. Swan’s wings, too, to remind me of the family from which I come, whomever I marry.
She took the coronet off with careful fingers and replaced it in the padded box. The trunk on the right had not been quite full. She rearranged a few clothes to slip the box securely inside, then refastened the bindings. Calling to a servant, she asked that her baggage be taken down to the ship that would carry her to Minas Tirith.
(1) Estel: “hope.” “Estel” was the name that Aragorn used as a child in Elrond’s house.
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