Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Courting the Lady: 13. The Courtyard of the White Tree
Last evening’s dinner with Denethor had been more than pleasant, but she was still uncertain in her own mind about her decision. The better she knew the man, the more inclined she was to accept him, and yet – could she leave her father alone, to dwell in this stony northern city? I had better spend today making up my mind, since I told him that I would speak by mettarë. I know – I will go and walk around in the Citadel. If I wed Denethor, that will be my home.
She flung an old grey woolen cape around her shoulders, and was off.
Emerging from the tunnel into the seventh circle, Finduilas decided first to walk along the top of the walls and enjoy the view. The sun was bright in her eyes as she gazed across the city, seeing the farmlands and fields of the Pelennor in brown and tan patchwork beyond the outer walls. She could make out the sparkling thread of the Anduin in the distance, closest to the south and sweeping away north and east. She moved slowly along the walls, touching the heavy cold stonework here and there as she passed. Safety – yes, they ensure that. So why do I feel oppressed rather than reassured?
At length Finduilas reached one of the guard towers. She decided that she had had enough of walking along the parapets, and made her way down the steps and out into the broad space of the practice-ground. One of the guard units was drilling there, so she edged along the borders until she was safely out of the way. Where now? Her eyes fell on the King’s House. Is that not where the archives are kept? The idea of seeing the history of Gondor in its records appealed to her. If they allow me in. At least I might be able to thank Golasgil in person for his excellent work.
The room where she entered was surprisingly warm. A fire blazed in a large hearth on the wall to her right, and she wondered why it was necessary on a day such as today. A young man came up to her.
“May I help you, madam? Are you looking for something?”
“I was hoping that I might find Golasgil here,” she replied.
“Golasgil? I believe he is in one of the back rooms today. Shall I fetch him for you?”
“Could you take me to him instead?” Finduilas smiled winningly. “I have never been in the archives before and would enjoy seeing them.”
The man hesitated. “It’s quite dusty back there, you know. Disorderly. Not the place for a lady.”
“That doesn’t matter.” She flapped the edge of her cloak at him, saying, “I am not garbed for a ball, as you see.”
“Well – all right.” He picked up a shielded lamp and beckoned Finduilas to follow.
As he led her through the maze of rooms with their towering shelves and stacks, he told her in a chatty fashion that his name was Ulbar and that he had been working in the archives for several years. “The difficult thing is the lack of organization,” he confided. “I am hoping to convince the Master Archivist to let me undertake a revision of our entire system, to make it easier to find any given record when needed. Golasgil and I have discussed the possibilities on a number of occasions, in fact. I would like to make a catalogue, a list, of every item – that would be of immeasurable worth.” His eyes shone with scholarly fervor.
They passed through a narrow doorway and between a pair of shelves that seemed to lean over them. “Golasgil?” Ulbar called. “Are you back here?”
“I am,” came a voice that Finduilas could only think of as dusty. The man who emerged from the dim corner looked a few years older than Ulbar, his hair already beginning to recede. “What is it?”
“This lady wished to see you.” Ulbar bowed to Finduilas. “Golasgil can show you the way out again, if you need.” He vanished back around the shelves
“Thank you for your help,” Finduilas called after him. “Master Golasgil – ”
“Oh, I am no master,” Golasgil said. “Only an under-archivist.”
“Master I said, and master I meant,” Finduilas contradicted him. “I have read your History of Gondor, sir, and wished to compliment you on your work.”
Golasgil flushed. “Thank you, my lady. May I know whom I have the honor of addressing?”
“My apologies – I am Finduilas of Dol Amroth. Lord Denethor sent a copy of your book to my father, and when he had done reading it, I read it as well, to my very great pleasure. Since I was here in the city, I thought I would indulge myself by speaking to its author.”
Bowing, Golasgil said, “I am delighted, my lady. I hope that I may expand on it someday; there is much I was unable to include, owing to the constraints of time. The Lord Denethor was most insistent that I finish quickly, but now that I am working here in the archives I have found a great deal of additional information that I regret not having had access to before. My interpretation of the reign of Ondoher and the events that led to the choice of Eärnil as successor in 1945 would have been quite different.”
“Indeed? In what ways?”
“Well, doubtless you know that he was chosen primarily because he was the general who had defeated the Wainriders, though he had also a distant claim of blood through Telumehtar Umbardacil. But Arvedui of Arthedain laid claim to the kingship as well, being not only a descendant of Isildur but also the husband of Fíriel, Ondoher’s only living child, and a number of the great lords supported Arvedui. But Gondor had lost the breed of noble bloods – and noble bloods arose anew after Eärnil’s coronation, among them the lords of Anórien.” (1) Golasgil sighed. “I rather wonder what would have happened if Arvedui had been given the throne and reunited Elendil’s kingdom. For now that lineage is gone from Gondor, and the north too from all that I have read. Though the Stewards have ruled well,” he added hastily, “the Kings were descendants of Elros himself, in bright Númenor that is lost. ‘Ill fares the land without a king,’ so the saying goes. Perhaps we are misinformed and that House survives, but surely if it were so we would have heard it, even here. And yet – there have been prophecies that the royal line would never fail. What man can say is the truth of it?”
Finduilas was struck by his words. “Perhaps someday the king will return,” she said. “I would like, sometime, to speak with you more about Gondor and her history – but now is not the day. I fear I am keeping you from your work. If you will show me the way out?”
She blinked in the sunlight as she came up the steps and into the courtyard once again. An interesting man, this Golasgil. No wonder that Denethor chose him to write that History for the lords. A glance at the sky told her that the morning grew late. And what shall I do now? It is yet too early for luncheon.
Across the grounds she saw the lords emerging from the Tower of Ecthelion, speaking together in knots and moving slowly in their different directions, but most down towards the passageway to the sixth circle. I am not in the mood for that much company. Finduilas eased back around the corner of the King’s House, then walked briskly towards the Hall of Feasts where in a few days the mettarë celebrations would again be held. A glance in at the door showed this to be no safe refuge; a near-army of servants was at work cleaning the great hall in preparation. She noved on, circling the north side of the White Tower and coming into the Place of the Fountain.
Strolling the graveled paths, her eyes fixed on the barren Tree that dominated the garden, she startled at the sound of her name.
“Good morning, Finduilas.”
Thorongil sat on a bench next to the Tower, below a row of windows with their shutters flung open to catch the warmth of the eastern sunshine. He, too, was gazing at the withered boughs. “What brings you here this morning?”
“Good morning, Thorongil.” She gestured at the seat next to him. “May I?”
She settled herself, smoothing her skirts. “I was merely wandering around the Citadel, thinking. And you?”
“Ah, I was required to speak to the Council again this morning. Luckily for me it proved a short meeting. I have much else to do, but I cannot meet with the next man I must see until after the noon meal, so I decided to sit here and think in solitude. It seems that few wish to spend time in this garden.”
“If you wish to be alone. . .” Finduilas made as if to rise, but Thorongil stopped her.
“No, please stay. To be interrupted by you is no disturbance.” His expression, though, seemed to her to be withdrawn, even sorrowful.
“Do you find this season especially lonesome, so far from your family?” I should get him a gift for mettarë; I wonder what he might want, or need? She noticed his bare hands. Perhaps some fine leather riding gloves would be useful – it is not cold yet, but soon it will be, and he will be back in the wilds. Filing the thought away for later, she added aloud, “I am sure I would. I do.”
“I do miss them more at this time of year,” Thorongil admitted. “My foster-brothers used to take me out into the woods to gather greens to adorn our dwelling. Holly and bittersweet and boughs of spruce, we would collect, and twine them into garlands and wreaths. On mettarë we would go out just as dusk fell to see the stars appear. . .” his voice trailed off.
“That is not a custom I am familiar with,” Finduilas said.
Thorongil looked over at her. “Oh, well, customs differ. That was one that my foster-father’s family had long had; I do not know how common it is elsewhere.”
“We always exchange a gift or two, on mettarë or yestarë or both.” She sighed. “Last year I gave Imrahil a new pair of boots. I miss seeing him. We had not time to speak much of him the other evening at Lady Eilinel’s reception, so tell me again how my brother fares in your company. What will your men do, out in Ithilien, to celebrate the season?”
“More or less what they do for loëndë at midsummer, which I am sure Imrahil must have described for you. Games and contests – though there are fewer in winter, since even if there is no snow there is likely to be rain, and muddy ground – those are the most popular, but story-telling and singing competitions as well, and a good deal of drinking.” Thorongil chuckled. “And some dancing, too, though there are no beautiful women for partners.”
“He should enjoy that, then,” said Finduilas. “Im has always liked to dance. I taught him when he was very young, since I wanted someone with whom I could practice.”
Thorongil smiled. “You practiced to good effect indeed, as I remember from two years past. I was rather sorry when Lord Denethor claimed you from me, that night.” He paused, and continued in a different tone, “You wrote to me that he had asked you to wed him – have you yet answered him?”
“No, not yet. I cannot quite decide. There are many good reasons why I should accept him, of course, but I had never expected to make a decision so young. I only reached five-and-twenty this autumn, you know, and few women among the great families wed as early as that. Though I am not sorry that my father leaves me the choice, it is more difficult than I would have thought. Thorongil, my friend, my brother, what would you advise?”
“You wish for my advice? I hesitate to give any. There is a saying I often heard growing up, that ‘Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself,’ which was attributed in legend to Melian, Thingol’s queen in Doriath. (2) And she was known for her wisdom. But I will discuss the situation with you, if you like.” Thorongil looked at her gravely. “You say that there are good reasons to accept him, but you must also have reasons to decline, or you would have already made answer.”
With that expression – almost stern – he looks so very much like Denethor. “Some of my hesitation is for my family’s sake. My father has but just lost his wife – should I deprive him of the only child he still has present to comfort him, now that Imrahil is off in Ithilien? While of course I expect to wed someday, it seems unfitting to leave him so soon in his bereavement.”
Finduilas looked up as the light dimmed for a moment, and saw clouds drifting across the sun. She pulled her cape more closely about her shoulders. “It would also mean leaving my home, and the sea, for the cold stone of these mountains. The coastlines invite those who dwell there to be warm and open like themselves – here in the hills, will men not be harsh and unyielding as the rocks amongst which they live? I dread to be entrapped here.
“Moreover,” she continued, “I am uncertain that I would make a good Steward’s Lady. Oh, I know how to manage a great household – my mother saw to that – but to be helpmeet to a kingdom is a very different task.”
“Surely there is no comparison. Would you prefer, then, to be wife to some lesser man than the ruler of Gondor?” asked Thorongil, his eyes intent on hers.
“I do not know,” Finduilas confessed. She fidgeted with the cuff of her sleeve. “It would doubtless make my choice easier, were Denethor not the Steward’s Heir, with all that implies. Tell me, Thorongil, have you ever been in any such position? You are unmarried yourself, but have you never wished to wed?”
If Thorongil had looked less than cheerful before, now his expression of melancholy deepened, and his gaze became distant. “I have.”
“From my perspective, rather the opposite of your present situation. Her father thought the lady too far above me.”
Finduilas said, “But you are a great captain; surely he would not hold your lack of noble birth against you?”
“No, that was not all. He felt also that there was too great a disparity in our ages.”
“Foolishness. What should that matter?” He cannot possibly be talking about me, can he? Surely if my father told me of Denethor’s wish to court me, he would not have concealed it if Thorongil also sought my hand. He would have told me, if only to warn me of what reasons he had against such a match. “Was there no way you could change his mind?”
“We agreed that I must prove myself worthy before I could even speak to her of such matters; I do not know if the lady even returns my feelings.”
“How could any woman not hold you in high esteem?” said Finduilas fondly. “You are worthy of the love of any woman I know.” She leaned over to kiss his cheek. As she did so, from the corner of her eye she saw the shutters a few feet above their bench being drawn closed, now that the breeze had quickened and the shifting sun no longer carried its warmth to that side of the Tower. “Have you no hope?”
“At the moment, no.” Thorongil nodded towards the White Tree. “That is why I came here to think. Is the Withered Tree a sign of decline, or is it a symbol of hope, that one day the king will come again?”
“I never thought of it in quite that fashion, but I would prefer to take it as a sign of hope,” Finduilas replied. “Have you never spoken to the lady in question herself?”
“No, I have not, not of my love for her. I do not know if I will dare to say anything unless. . .” Thorongil broke off, but before Finduilas could speak he took her hand in his own. “You asked for my advice. If you still want it, I will repeat what I said in my last letter to you. Denethor is stern, certainly, at times, and he and I may not always agree, but he is a good man, an honorable one. There is no doubt in my mind that he loves you. That was clear enough at Eilinel’s – I saw how his eyes followed you. You have not spoken of your feelings for him, and that is your privilege. But if you return his at all, I urge you to accept him.”
(1) “Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!” William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. Act i, scene 2.
(2) I attribute this aphorism on advice to Melian, but in fact it originated with Cicero.
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