Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
Playlist Navigation Bar
Courting the Lady: 12. Anticipation
Perhaps tonight, he thought, she will give me my answer. He knew that Adrahil and Finduilas had arrived in Minas Tirith yesterday and were expected to attend the gathering hosted by Eilinel, the lady dowager of Tolfalas, this evening. Surely I can steal a few moments alone with her.
The rooms were crowded already when Denethor entered them, and it took him a little time to find and greet his hostess, who introduced him to her daughter-in-law, Lalaith. He bowed courteously over the young woman’s hand, but as soon as he straightened his eyes were darting around the room, looking for her whom he was most anxious to greet. He moved about the room, smiling, though his jaw ached with it, and making pleasant conversation, mostly about the unseasonably warm weather. He had just achieved a position from which he could watch the entrance to the room, hoping to see her arrive, when Herion of Anfalas, the Langstrand of the south, came up to him.
“My lord Denethor,” said Herion, his white beard wagging. “Have you yet heard from my son Golasgil?”
“No, I have not seen him here. I did not realize either of you was in Minas Tirith this season, sir,” said Denethor.
“He is not here, in fact, he remained at home, but was to have sent word to you if there had been further attacks.”
“Yes, my lord. The Corsairs have been raiding our coasts these past two months, had you not heard? Only sporadically as yet, but our local defenses are insufficient. I fear I must call on the Steward for help against these pirates,” Herion said.
“That is unexpected news,” said Denethor. “And most worrisome. The Council will need to hear of that. I assume you will attend the meeting tomorrow? The Steward will doubtless wish to send one of our best commanders to assess the situation and attend to Gondor’s defense. I assure you that it will be looked into immediately.”
Talk then turned to lighter matters, and when at length they were joined by several other guests, Denethor was able to slip away. He had just taken a glass of wine from one of the servants circulating with trays of assorted liquors when he heard the voice of Adrahil behind him.
“A good evening to you, Lord Denethor.”
Denethor turned, the wine in his goblet nearly sloshing over the brim with the rapidity of his movement.
“My lord prince. I am delighted to see you; I trust you had a safe and pleasant journey up the river?”
“Indeed we did, thank you.”
“Lady Finduilas.” Denethor took her slender hand in his and bowed to brush it with his lips. She is even lovelier than I remembered, though she is thin and pale. “I trust the journey did not exhaust you, my lady?”
Finduilas shook her head. “Oh, no. It was really quite pleasant.”
“I am sorry you were unable to arrive earlier in the season,” said Denethor to them both, and to Adrahil he added, “You have been missed in the Council meetings. I have just learned from Herion that they have been having problems with raiding along the coasts of Anfalas. Have you had the same in Belfalas?”
“Yes, just within the last several weeks before I left,” said Adrahil, frowning. “Has the Steward been made aware of the situation?”
“Not yet,” Denethor answered. “I will speak to him of it early tomorrow, before the Council meets. We had had no reports until now.”
“Well enough,” Adrahil said. “Excuse me, I beg you – I see Forlong of Lossarnach trying to catch my eye.” He moved off through the crowd.
Denethor turned to Finduilas. “Would you like to step out into the courtyard for a breath of air?”
She hesitated for a moment, but agreed, laying her hand lightly on his arm and letting him guide her across the room to the doors which stood open to the evening air. It was cool but not chill, far more pleasant than was usual for this time of year. Some of the herbs planted along the stone walk had been deceived by the unseasonable warmth into putting out new growth; Denethor could smell the sharp scent of rosemary as Finduilas’s skirt brushed against the plants. He wasted no time, once they were far enough from the doors that they would not be overheard.
“My lady,” he said, “in my last letters I asked you a question. Do you have an answer to give me?”
Finduilas met his gaze in the light from the windows. “My lord – I have given it a great deal of thought, but I fear I cannot answer you tonight. Please, allow me a little more time before telling you my decision.”
He exhaled slowly a breath he had not realized he was holding, and in a steady voice replied, “I see. Very well, my lady.”
They continued walking for a short time, conversing about inconsequentialites, before he took her back inside and relinquished her to speak to some of her other acquaintances present. His attention was quickly claimed again by Eilinel, whose quick eyes had noted his brief absence, he was sure, but who spoke only of the news of Corsairs. She had had no word from Tolfalas of any trouble, but would be sure to let him know, she said.
For the next hour or so he drifted in and out of conversations, speaking pleasantly to all, aware of Finduilas’s troubled eyes on him. It was well into the evening when a stir near the entrance drew Denethor’s attention to a late-arriving guest.
“I do apologize, lady Eilinel,” Denethor could just make out Thorongil’s words over the hum of conversation in the room. “I arrived in Minas Tirith only at sunset. I hope you will forgive my tardiness – mettarë may be only a week away, but I could not leave my duties in Ithilien any sooner.”
She will forgive. Indeed, Eilinel was smiling fondly at the captain and gesturing to one of the servants to bring him a glass of wine. For Thorongil, any rudeness will be condoned.
Denethor continued to speak to the man before him, a petty lordling from the borders of the Mark, but half his attention was on Thorongil as the man made his way over to Finduilas and drew her into an unoccupied corner of the room.
She smiled up at Thorongil, and Denethor saw her put a hand on his arm, her expression eager and warm. They spoke for some minutes, laughing intimately together.
“What? I am sorry, Tarcil, my thoughts fled elsewhere for a moment,” Denethor had to say, realizing that he had not heard the question asked.
“Never mind, never mind. A gathering like this is not the place to be discussing serious matters such as road repairs, anyhow,” Tarcil said. “Better to ask you who you would recommend if I am looking for a fine lacemaker, for a gift for my wife at Year’s Turning.”
“There is a good shop on the second level of the city, near the gate to the first. The shopkeeper has a wide selection, as I recall,” said Denethor. As I recall all too well. He glanced back across the room. At last. Thorongil had moved apart from Finduilas, who was now making her way towards her father. “Her prices are reasonable, or so I found.”
“Thank you, my lord. I will be sure to look there tomorrow,” bowed Tarcil.
Denethor nodded to him, murmuring a farewell, and moved off to intercept Adrahil and Finduilas, who were about to depart. Adrahil was speaking his thanks and goodbyes to Eilinel, so Denethor drew Finduilas a little way off.
“May I hope to see you again soon, my lady? Perhaps tomorrow evening? I will be busy with Council business through the day.”
“I am glad you ask, lord Denethor. My father and I would be pleased to have you dine with us tomorrow, if you have no prior engagement,” she said.
“No, none,” said Denethor. He had been anticipating an evening free of obligations – a rare event at this season – but to give that up for time with Finduilas was no hardship at all.
The mood at the Council meeting the next morning was somber. Denethor had left word for the Steward regarding Herion’s and Adrahil’s reports of raids, and that was the first order of business when they convened.
“We need more information,” said Ecthelion, frowning. “Adrahil?”
“Just now I can tell you no more than I told your son last night,” said the Prince of Dol Amroth. “The Corsairs first appeared only a few weeks ago, and thus far have raided my shores only twice, to my knowledge. I left instructions with my steward Vardil that he should inquire to determine what has been observed: how many ships have been seen, where and when, and any other information that might be useful. He was to send whatever he learned north as soon as possible, and I hope to receive his message within a few days, a week at most.”
“Very good. Herion, what from you?”
“I made similar arrangements with my son Golasgil,” Herion told the Lord Steward, “before I left, since I was sure you would wish to have the fullest news possible. I expect to hear from him before mettarë.”
“Good. Until we know the nature and numbers of our enemy, we cannot decide how to respond to him. Let us set the particulars aside, then, until either Herion or Adrahil receives further information to bring before the Council. At least this unusually late winter will permit rapid travel for the messengers. As well as for our tax collectors. My lords, what have you to report? If we are to see fighting to the south once again, we will need to find a means to pay for it.”
Denethor listened to each lord speak in turn and jotted down their accounts in the fishhook scribble that he would decipher later if his father’s secretary was unable to do so. Galdor had been struck down by some fever – though the physician said he should recover quickly – and rather than use a man with no experience, Denethor preferred to take the notes himself. He found his thoughts drifting off in anticipation of that evening’s engagement, and wrenched them back only when the Steward’s foot nudged his ankle under the table. It had been another good harvest, and Denethor saw the stern lines of Ecthelion’s face soften beneath his greying beard as he listened to the favorable reports. At least there is something good to come from today’s meeting.
They paused when the sun was high overhead for a hasty meal, then reconvened. Towards midafternoon their number was increased when Thorongil came in to deliver the most recent news from Ithilien. Denethor had to admit that the man was a good speaker, conveying the dry data of numbers of men on duty, frequency and severity of skirmishes with the enemy, resources used, and all the rest in such a way that even the warm afternoon sun slanting in the windows brought only a few yawns to the assembled. For himself, he set down his pen – Thorongil would have provided all the information in his written reports – and let his thoughts stray briefly. He was called back to attention when Duinhavel of Morthond called on his fellows to join him in commending Thorongil’s successes in command, citing the low injury rate among his men and the high number of Orcs they had encountered.
Around the table, heads nodded vigorously, and a hum of approval seconded Duinhavel. Denethor was thankful for the excuse of making note of the fact to keep his head bent and his mouth closed. He glanced up to see Thorongil bowing thanks to the assembled lords. Catching the Steward’s eye, Denethor nodded toward the timepiece on the mantle over the fireplace. It was nearly time to adjourn; he had to go inspect the Guards of the Citadel, and others too had duties to fulfil yet before evening.
“Thank you, my lords, for your presence this day,” said Ecthelion. “We shall meet again tomorrow at the third hour after sunrise. Adrahil, Herion – should you receive word from your messengers tonight, send to me at once. The Council is adjourned.”
Tapping the ink-covered sheets together into a neat stack and stowing them safely in the oaken cabinet that stood in one corner, Denethor heard Thorongil accepting congratulations from the several lords as they departed. He busied himself with wiping his pens and securing the stopper on the ink-bottle.
His efforts at delay were wasted, however, for Thorongil had been detained by Ecthelion himself, who was speaking to him of the needs of his company for additional monies. As if they all did not. Had the Steward but chosen a man of means to captain that band, he would not need to provide so much support himself.
Dryly, he congratulated Thorongil on his commendation before making his escape to the corridor. He clattered hastily down the stone stairs and out into the courtyard.
His hands shook less this evening than last as he readied himself to dine with Dol Amroth. In deep green velvet embroidered with silver along the neck he walked down through the tunnel to the sixth circle and was greeted with great cordiality by the prince and his daughter. With an effort Denethor prevented himself from fixing his attention on Finduilas to the exclusion of her father, rather keeping the conversation on topics in which they could all take part.
Adrahil thanked his guest once again for the history of Gondor that he had sent earlier in the year. “Finduilas enjoyed reading it as well, did you not, my dear?”
“I did, very much. I believe you suggested that you might ask the man who wrote it – Golasgil, was that not his name? but a different man from the son of Herion of Anfalas, is he not? – to write an expanded version? That would be of great interest, I think. Or perhaps he might write histories of each district as supplements to it,” said Finduilas, her grey eyes shining with keen appreciation.
“At least I will be certain to tell him of your admiration for his work, and enthusiasm for more. Golasgil is working now as an under-archivist in the Citadel; I thought it wise to retain his services against future need,” Denethor said.
A servant appeared unobtrusively by the doorway. Adrahil said, “Ah, our meal is waiting. Come,” and led them in to dine.
The supper conversation was restricted to light topics. Neither Adrahil nor Finduilas seemed inclined to reminisce about winter seasons past – Well, that is only to be expected, with their recent loss – and instead chatted amiably about history, progressing naturally from there to literature, to poetry, and finally to music.
“Do you sing or play, my lord?” asked Finduilas, leaning forward to pass a dish of candied ginger and other small sweetmeats to Denethor at the end of the meal. “I have never thought to ask you, since letters are hardly a way to convey musical tastes and preferences.”
Denethor took a piece of ginger, but set it down on his plate in order to reply. “I do not sing, lady Finduilas; I fear I have rather a growling voice for song, and would bring little pleasure to my listeners. But I have been known to play the flute on occasion.”
“The flute? How wonderful. Would you care to play for us this evening? I would enjoy singing to your accompaniment, if you are willing.”
“I. . . would be willing,” said Denethor, “if your father cares for such entertainments?” He looked at Adrahil.
His host’s smile held a touch of sadness. “Certainly. Nimíril used to play the flute; one of her instruments is still here. I will have it brought for you.”
The silver flute was cool in Denethor’s fingers as he took it from the servant with appropriate reverence for its late owner. He blew experimentally and was delighted with the pure tones. “A beautiful instrument – I thank you for permitting me its use,” he told Adrahil. “My lady, what do you wish to sing?”
“Do you know ‘The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon’?” asked Finduilas, and blushed. (1) “A child’s song, to be sure, but it has always been one of my favorites.”
“It has been long since I played that, but yes, I believe I remember the tune.” Denethor lifted the flute and played the four introductory bars.
Finduilas began, “The Man in the Moon had silver shoon, / and his beard was of silver thread. . .” Her clear voice was more vibrant than a child’s but the echoes of girlhood yet lingered in it.
Denethor kept his eyes on hers. She is still so young. He could not smile at some of the merrier lines while playing, but as she ended gleefully, “. . .An unwary guest on a lunatic quest / from the Mountains of the Moon!” he lowered the flute with a broad grin. Adrahil applauded. “Well done, both of you. A fine rendition. Do go on.”
By mutual consent they continued to choose children’s songs, ending the evening with “The Last Ship.” (2)
“You would not need to refuse the Elves’ invitation to travel West with them,” said Denethor, low, as Finduilas led him out of the room to return the flute to its accustomed place. “Anyone who sees you can see you bear the blood of the Firstborn; your eyes reflect the stars.”
She blushed, but said nothing, opening the case and holding it for him to nestle the flute on its cushion.
When he took leave from them, he bowed to Adrahil but took Finduilas’s hand and bent to kiss it. Did I feel her tremble?
“Will you be at Forlong’s ball in two days’ time?” Adrahil asked.
“Of course,” Denethor said. “And you?”
“Indeed we will. It was his first question to me yestereve, and he was most pressing,” Adrahil replied.
“I look forward to seeing you then, my lord,” said Finduilas. “I know that your responsibilities will keep you busy in the meantime. Perhaps, though, you might find time to visit again, before mettarë?”
“If you wish it, my lady, I will gladly come to see you – you need only send word. Thank you both for a delightful evening.” Denethor bowed once more and departed.
It was with difficulty that he prevented himself from leaping along the streets. She wishes to speak to me before mettarë. Oh, that she may give the answer I long to hear!
(1) “The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon” is number six of the poems collected in the volume The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and other verses from The Red Book, which can also be found in The Tolkien Reader. According to Tolkien’s preface, this poem “must be derived ultimately from Gondor,” and so I have taken the liberty of using it here, though the version published may have been altered by Bilbo from that which Finduilas and Denethor would have known. The piece mentions both the Bay of Belfalas and the Seaward Tower, Tirith Aear of Dol Amroth. The Man in the Moon comes down in quest of holiday delights, but has arrived too early in the year and ends up by eating cold porridge rather than the plum pudding he longed for.
(2) “The Last Ship” is number sixteen of the same set of poems, again cited by Tolkien as having been a song of Gondor in origin. Fíriel is a mortal girl asked by the Elves to travel with them to Elvenhome; she refuses, being “born Earth’s daughter.”
Playlist Navigation Bar