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Hands of the King: 16. Claims
Minas Tirith, Early October, 2975 T.A.
Much to Finduilas’s irritation, the healer bade her remain in the house for two more days after the cough went away. It was now almost a week since she had fallen ill, and she grew bored pent up within the walls of Vinyamar. Finduilas could not even wheedle a visit to the archives.
So, she had much more interest in Ivriniel’s party than she ordinarily would, if only to relieve her boredom. It was going to be a large affair in honor of Queen Morwen and her children; even the Steward had been invited. As a thank you for the hospitality they had received, Hilda and Aldwyn insisted on being Ivriniel and Finduilas’s maids to dress and ready them for the party.
Finduilas sat patiently while Aldwyn fussed over her hair and clucked disapprovingly at her plain dress. The dress had been a very deliberate choice – the fabric was rich and the dress well-made, but the color was somber and the dress itself modest and unadorned. It was what she had worn to Emeldir’s funeral the previous winter. The only ornament she allowed was a strand of black and white pearls in her hair.
Aldwyn sighed at the severity. ‘Cousin Finduilas, why do you go about like an old widow? You have much more beautiful dresses than this!’
‘And you are welcome to any of them, Aldwyn, if it pleases you,’ Finduilas replied with a smile. The Rohirric princesses had traveled with little finery and were nearly of a size with Ivriniel and Finduilas, so the elder cousins had cheerfully shared with the travelers. Aldwyn glanced at the open clothes press where the brighter gowns hung, began to speak, then bit her lip and blushed. ‘What is it?’ Finduilas prompted.
‘Are you certain you wish to be so grave in your dress, cousin?’
‘I am certain that I wish to wear this dress, Aldwyn.’
‘Then, you would not mind my wearing the wine dress with the gold flowers?’ Aldwyn’s voice was hesitant, knowing she had asked for the finest dress in the press.
Finduilas laughed and embraced the girl. ‘I insist you wear it! You will dazzle all the young fellows, and not a few of the older ones, I dare say,’ she said conspiratorially. Aldwyn’s face lit up with a grin. ‘Well? Go get it and put it on! We’ll have some basting to do on the hem to make it short enough for you.’
Leaning out the door, Finduilas called for Aerin to come help as her cousin began changing clothes. The dress was soon hemmed, a shout up the stair said that guests would arrive shortly, so please to hurry, and Finduilas fixed Aldwyn’s hair. It was a pleasure to make the youngster look pretty – not that it took much effort, for Aldwyn was near a twin to Morwen at the same age, or so Luinil said – and it took Finduilas’s mind off of why she had decided to be so plain herself. It was not long before the two went downstairs.
Ivriniel gave her sister a long look when she entered the parlor, then smiled one of Beruthiel’s smiles. Finduilas shivered at the sight.
‘Aldwyn, how lovely you look!’
‘Thank you, Ivriniel. Finduilas was terribly kind to give me this dress.’
‘Nonsense, my dear. You look far prettier in it than I do.’ Ivriniel excused herself and Finduilas from Aldwyn and led her sister into the next room.
‘Finduilas, are you well?’
‘Better than I have been the past week. Why?’
‘You are dressed strangely and you look pale.’
‘You disapprove? Shall I change? I felt chilled all day, and wished to wear something warm…’
Ivriniel’s face lost its brittle quality and she took Finduilas’s hands. ‘No, no! I am thoughtless. You are not well.’
‘Not completely, but I wish to be here for as long as I can.’
‘You must be careful not to over-tire yourself, sister.’
Finduilas said she would not and they exchanged a kiss. Luinil poked her head in the doorway to say guests were arriving, directing Ivriniel to accompany her at the door for greetings and Finduilas to join Morwen and her cousins in the parlor. The house was soon full of people and merry chatter. To Finduilas’s relief, Thorongil merely smiled and nodded to her across the room, then returned to his conversation with the queen. Ecthelion arrived with Maiaberiel and Brandir at the last. The only guest who did not appear was Denethor.
When Ivriniel came into the room with Luinil, their greeting duties done, she did not hesitate to take a place next to Thorongil. Soon Ivriniel, Morwen and the captain were involved in an animated exchange. Finduilas smiled to herself. This was an excellent start to the evening.
‘Finduilas, how are you?’
Finduilas smiled wearily and let herself droop a little. ‘Oh, I am well. You need not be concerned,’ she replied to Maiaberiel.
Brandir was there as well, and he shook his head, frowning. ‘I do not believe you are telling the truth,’ he said quietly.
‘Perhaps I am not fully recovered from my cough,’ she reassured him, ‘but nearly so.’
‘You had us all terribly worried, particularly the poor captain,’ Maiaberiel said, ‘when you rushed off like that.’
Finduilas looked at the floor, trying to figure out how to be rid of this woman. Brandir she did not mind, for his concern for her was honest. The answer arrived on its own. Across the room, Théoden had joined Thorongil, and the two were beginning to tell a story to a gathering audience. Finduilas smiled and looped an arm through Brandir’s.
‘The healer said I could attend the party if I did not talk too much and tire myself out. Why do we not listen to Thorongil’s tale? That will not tire me.’ Brandir and Beruthiel agreed this was an excellent idea. As she had hoped, Brandir offered his other arm to his wife, keeping Maiaberiel well away. They joined the edge of the listeners. Somewhere behind them, at the side of the room, Finduilas heard Luinil and Ecthelion’s voices, though they spoke too quietly for her to make out the words.
Thorongil and Théoden were telling the tale of Folca, who rid Rohan of Orcs, and the hunt of the Boar of Everholt. It was a stirring tale and well-told. Théoden would chant a part of the story, slow, deep and rolling, in the tongue of the Rohirrim, then Thorongil would repeat it, somehow making his words echo the poetry, slipping into the odd, beautiful cadences Finduilas had first noticed when he had spoken of Ered Nimrais in spring. The men’s faces were alight as they exchanged verses, as caught by their telling as the listeners were by the tale.
Behind her, Finduilas heard a new voice enter the conversation with Luinil and the Steward, and could not help smiling. Just then, Thorongil caught her eye as he told of the gathering of the hunt on a cold autumn morning. He smiled broadly back and for those few lines, he was speaking only to her. The telling moved back to Théoden, forcing Thorongil to look away from her. Carefully, she let go of Brandir’s arm, not wanting to distract him from the performance, then held her arm behind her back, fingers extended. A moment later, Finduilas smiled again as Denethor took her hand and gave it a small squeeze, which she returned. Too soon, his warm fingers let go. He took his place next to her, hands clasped behind him.
The story ended to a cheer of approval and much applause, Thorongil and Théoden both looking a bit embarrassed at the accolades. Denethor clapped politely, then leaned over and murmured, ‘I thought I warned you against standing so close to vipers.’
Though it made her giggle, it also reminded Finduilas of a certain accident Denethor had not seen fit to speak of. She thought of an impertinent reply, then decided this was not the place to make mention of such things. ‘What delayed you?’ she asked, instead.
In a voice so soft she could barely hear him, he replied, ‘Messages from the south.’
‘Hmm.’ That could not be discussed either. ‘I am glad you are here, though you do make a habit of arriving late.’
‘My apologies.’ Denethor spoke over her to his brother-in-law, ‘Brandir, good evening. Maiaberiel.’
‘Denethor, it is good to see you,’ Brandir returned with a smile.
Maiaberiel gave her brother a cold look. ‘Denethor.’ He smiled politely and bowed his head to her. She tugged on Brandir’s arm. ‘Come, Brandir, we should not leave Father alone.’
‘I am certain he greatly desires your company,’ Denethor said. The siblings stared at each other for a long moment, then Maiaberiel turned on her heel and walked out of the room, leaving Brandir gaping at her departure. Brandir excused himself and followed his wife out. Denethor watched, a ghost of a smile on his face and a very hard look to his eyes. When it became obvious that they were not returning, he turned back to the room.
‘What was all that about?’
‘I think something.’
‘Nothing. Just an old argument. Pay it no mind.’ Denethor gestured for Thorongil to come over, which the captain did at once, leaving Ivriniel behind with Morwen and Théoden. This did not please Ivriniel.
‘Good evening, captain.’
‘Good evening, my lord.’
‘That was a masterfully told tale. Quite enjoyable.’
‘I am curious about the story told. Was it your choice?’
‘A boar in the Firien Wood.’
‘You said I should pay mind to such things as pigs near Halifirien.’
‘True. What have you learned?’
‘A pig feeds on acorns as a fire feeds on oak.’ The smile that swiftly came and went on Denethor’s face this time held none of the malice of his earlier smile. Thorongil’s answer, however cryptic, had pleased him greatly. For her part, Finduilas could not make sense of the conversation.
‘You see the difficulty.’
‘Finduilas, I am a poor guest,’ Denethor turned to her. ‘How do you fare? Aiavalë has worried terribly the last week.’
‘And I have missed being in the archives. The healer will release me from my prison soon. And I am a poor host for failing to thank you for the loan of books!’
‘You liked them?’ The grim lines of his face softened, and an eagerness came into his voice. He cares that I would like what he gave me. A joyful feeling came over her that Denethor would give her such thought. With all his burdens, he considered you. She smiled and reached out to touch his arm.
‘Oh, very much! I hope you do not mind if I keep them a few days longer so I may finish them.’
‘You may keep them as long as you wish. Return them to Beregar when you are through.’ Denethor paused, then asked, ‘Did you like the philosophy? I know it is not to everyone’s taste.’
‘Yes, I did,’ she reassured him, ‘I enjoyed it and learned much from it. She is a master of politics. I was glad for the poetry, however. It was a nice contrast to the discourse.’
‘What poetry?’ Thorongil inquired.
‘Two collections. One from the late-Lindon poets, and another from the time of Hyarmendacil. The latter were all in the same form, and would have been rather wearing if I did not have the other books to turn to.’
‘Yes, it is best read in small amounts. I hoped the selection would be diverse enough to amuse you.’ It was hard to reconcile Denethor’s pleasant demeanor with the cold spite she had seen him show Maiaberiel but a few minutes before. Or even with the cryptic inquisitor asking of difficulties with pigs.
‘I do think I liked the philosophy best, though. Do you prefer philosophy or poetry, captain?’
‘Poetry, though I might prefer certain philosophy to a particular poem. What were you reading?’
‘One of the Discourses of Silmarien.’
‘You are familiar with them, are you not, captain?’ Denethor smoothly interjected, eyes once more keen and measuring. Thorongil could not completely mask a small look of annoyance at the questioning.
‘I have heard of them, my lord, but have not had occasion to read them.’
‘There are a number of copies of the full Discourses in the archive. Avail yourself of them. I am sure the Steward would instruct the Archivist to allow you to take a volume with you on your return to Anórien.’ Thorongil bowed his head and said he would. Denethor’s mention of Thorongil’s departure made Finduilas understand what Denethor had said to her but a moment before.
‘Denethor, you said I should return the books to Beregar. Does this mean you are leaving soon?’
‘On the morrow. I go to Pelargir. So give the books to Beregar and request whatever else you wish, or go to the Stewards House and select what you please. Anything in the library there is yours to use.’
‘You depart on the morrow, my lord? I did not think you left until…’ Thorongil’s words ended under Denethor’s coldly amused gaze.
‘My plans have changed, captain. If that is acceptable to you, of course.’
‘I was merely surprised, sir.’ Thorongil’s look back at Denethor was steady.
‘They have changed. I will have things for you before I depart in the morning, so do not stray far from the barracks until I see you.’ Denethor paused, then softly said, ‘There is uncertain news.’
As quickly as the words were said, Finduilas could see another change come over both men, their contest gone. Whatever Denethor referred to, it meant something to them both, and Thorongil was as pleased by this veiled remark as Denethor had been by the mention of pigs. She wanted to shake them both and demand to know what they meant.
‘Is tomorrow soon enough to speak?’ Thorongil murmured.
‘Yes.’ Denethor stepped back and gave the other two a slight bow. ‘I will see you in the morning, captain. Finduilas, if you will forgive this rude guest once more, I must prepare for my journey.’
‘Of course, Denethor. I will walk you out. If you will excuse us, captain.’ Finduilas slipped her hand through Denethor’s arm before he could get away, smiled at Thorongil, and escorted Denethor out of the room. When they neared the door, Finduilas pulled him to a stop, keeping her hand on his wrist. The tips of her fingers could just make out the scar above his wrist bone.
‘Perhaps you can wait until tomorrow to speak to the captain, but I will not wait so long.’
‘This business does not concern you, Alquallë.’
‘The last time you abruptly left the City on the strength of some news from the south, there was war, friend, which concerns us all. Is this such news?’
He shook his head. ‘No, nothing like that. The opposite, I hope. More I cannot say.’
‘When will you come back?’
‘Ten or twelve days.’
‘No. None but you and Thorongil know I am going tomorrow. And Beregar. I will inform the Steward tonight.’
Denethor gently extricated his wrist from her grasp and plucked his cloak from the pile near the door. ‘I am glad you are well before I leave, Alquallë.’ He hesitated a moment, then looked her in the eye. ‘I was worried with the news Beregar brought, how sick you were. Why did you not go to the Houses of Healing?’
Why did you not go there when you were kicked in the head? Finduilas did not wish to answer his kindness with impertinence, though she was sorely tempted. He does not deserve such tartness from you, goose. ‘It was not so terrible. I think my hound exaggerated. Mother was very concerned that it not become worse with the winter coming, so I was confined closely. But you should not worry about me, for you are the one who is always flying off into danger.’ Impulsively, she stood on tip-toe and kissed his cheek.
Denethor did not move, but just stared at her. Finduilas feared she had overstepped. Smiling to hide her dismay, she chattered, ‘I am just as bad as the Archivist, now, aren’t I? Thinking our dear brother cannot fend for himself. Be glad it is just me here, for Aiavalë would kiss you and give you a good cuffing to remind you to be careful!’
A sad smile came to his face, and he nodded. ‘Yes, I dare say she would. This brother appreciates your concern, but it is misplaced, Alquallë.’
‘I know, but I like not to see Father and Imrahil and now yourself going off to distant places where I cannot go, and where there is danger, deny it though you will.’
‘I will return as soon as I can, Alquallë. Good evening.’
After the door closed, Finduilas walked back to the party. When she heard the laughter from the room echoing down the hall, she started to cry. It made no sense, but she could not keep the tears at bay. She leaned against the wall and wiped her face with a kerchief.
‘What is wrong?’ Luinil asked as she approached. ‘Did you argue with the Warden?’
Finduilas shook her head. ‘No, not at all. He had to leave, I showed him out, I started to walk back and began weeping. I am very tired, I think.’
‘Yes. I think you need to go rest, and not return to the party.’ Luinil kissed her on the brow and walked her to the foot of the stairs. ‘Go up. I will send Aerin to help you.’
The party was a steady hum of sound in the background. Aerin insisted she drink a cup of brandy with some of the mint syrup in it. After the woman left, Finduilas let herself weep again. There were no sobs, just a trickle of salt-water from her eyes, as though the Sea were reaching through her. She wanted to go back to Dol Amroth, escape this City of stone and mystery and cruelty. Finduilas drifted off on dreams of the Sea’s caress.
The next morning, she did not ask permission to go out. Finduilas wrapped herself up warmly and hurried to the Archivist’s house. It was the usual day for archery practice, and she was determined to ride down and back up with Wren and Aiavalë. The two in question were already on their way to the messenger stables with Beregar when Finduilas caught up to them. She ignored their protests that she must not exert herself too much, and led the way to the stables. As luck would have it, there were three horses to be taken to the lower stables, so the women each had a steed. They were preparing to mount up in the stable yard when Denethor happened by, several packs slung over his shoulder. He immediately came over.
‘Where are you off to, brother?’
‘Pelargir.’ The siblings said no more, just looked at each other, until Aiavalë growled and shook her head. Denethor kissed her on the cheek through her veil, dropped his packs, and boosted her up onto her horse. Beregar did the same for Wren. Finduilas led her horse closer to Denethor and let him help her up.
‘Put your pack on the horse for the walk down.’
‘You should not be riding so soon.’ He gestured for Beregar to take his place near Aiavalë, then slung his packs over the pommel of Finduilas’s saddle.
‘I was wrong. She did not cuff you.’
‘There is still time.’
Aiavalë began riding out, Beregar at her side. Wren swung into place behind her, with Finduilas and Denethor bringing up the rear. The horses’ hooves clopped loudly upon the stone, the sounds as sharp as the crisp autumn air. There was a strong wind that whisked leaves and dust along the streets and made the edges of their cloaks snap.
‘Denethor, I did not get to ask you last night; do you prefer poetry or philosophy?’
He smiled briefly up at her. ‘Philosophical poetry. Or poetic philosophy.’
‘I can see why you like Silmarien, then.’
‘Yes. Though I prefer the great poems, for they say all that she does, and more beautifully. I am curious, what did you like best of her thoughts on rule?’
‘That the surest fortress of a prince is in the hearts of his people. I begin to see where most of father’s more obscure sayings come from.’
‘I would expect the Prince to be well acquainted with the writings.’
As they passed Vinyamar, Théoden hailed them, and asked to walk with them down to the stable. He was on his way to see to the Rohirric steeds. It was a cheerful band that descended the mountain, with Théoden trying to teach Wren and Beregar some Rohirric words, and Denethor and Finduilas arguing what Silmarien thought the proper role of a prince to be, using the Númenórean kings as examples.
When they reached the stables, Denethor asked for a horse to be prepared to take him to the Harlond. Stablehands led the messenger ponies away while Aiavalë, Wren and Beregar set out for the archery yards. Théoden hurried over to the paddock holding his horses. They whinnied when they heard his voice, and he returned their greeting.
A shout from the direction of the practice yards caught Finduilas’s attention. Thorongil was striding towards them. The man had been doing something strenuous, for his face and hair were damp, and his shirt collar was open above his jerkin. His neck was wet from sweat and a slender silver chain clung to it.
‘Captain. All is well with our swordsmen?’
The captain smiled and nodded. ‘Quite well. Your yard master is most thorough. When do you go?’
‘As soon as my horse is ready. If you will excuse us, Finduilas?’ Without waiting for her answer, Denethor and Thorongil walked off, talking quietly. As they waited for Denethor’s horse to be brought out, Finduilas saw Denethor give Thorongil a note of some kind, which the other man tucked into a pouch at his belt.
Finduilas sighed, wishing she could know what they said. The wind kept gusting, pulling at her hair, tearing leaves off the trees nearby. Wrapping her cloak more tightly around herself, she walked over to the paddock to watch Théoden tend the horses. He had slipped between the rails and walked among them, scratching their heads, checking their legs and hooves, all the while singing a song she did not understand. The horses appeared to understand it, though, listening attentively and nickering to get Théoden’s attention. The young man paid her no mind – his horses were all that concerned him. She leaned on a fence rail near the watering trough and watched. The wind blew and soon a deep-red leaf caught in her hair. She pulled it out and twirled the stem between her fingers, admiring the shape and color of the leaf.
Footsteps and a polite throat-clearing alerted her to someone behind her. Thorongil stood a few feet away. Beyond him, down the road, she could see Denethor riding away. Ten or twelve days… She felt lonely and longed for Dol Amroth or some place other than here. Giving herself a small mental shake, she smiled at the captain and gestured for him to join her near the fence.
‘I am surprised to see you here this morning. When you did not return to the party last night, I asked and your lady mother said you had taken ill again. Was she mistaken? I hope so!’
‘I began to cough again and decided I should rest at once. That is all.’
‘I am glad for that.’ Thorongil sounded both pleased and relieved at her words. He looked at her keenly, brow furrowing. ‘You look downcast, Finduilas. Is aught amiss?’
She shrugged. ‘Not really. I tire of this harsh place. I fear I do not have my sister’s love of parties and visiting.’
‘You have been in Minas Tirith for a long time,’ he replied quietly. ‘Is it so different from Dol Amroth?’
‘Oh, yes! Very much. That is a warm and gentle place, more simple than here. I miss it. I hope to leave here soon and return there.’
‘Not too soon, I hope!’ Thorongil said earnestly.
‘Not right away, no. When my family returns there.’
‘Promise me you will not leave without letting me know,’ he asked.
She smiled, saying, ‘I shall not, but why?’
Thorongil looked away, some red coming to his cheeks. ‘For I would like to bid you farewell myself.’
‘Very well. You do know that it is possible to send a letter from Minas Tirith to Dol Amroth. I am even certain a letter could travel all the way from Anórien without mishap,’ she gently teased him.
‘You would allow me to write to you?’
The look of happy amazement on his face made her laugh. ‘Yes! You may write to me as you wish. Tell me of what you see and make your poetry more lasting.’
Thorongil smiled broadly, and Finduilas did not think she had ever seen him look more handsome. ‘As you command, so shall I obey!’ Now that she knew the truth, she did not think he looked exactly like Denethor, but their faces were much alike. When they smiled, that was when they resembled each other most; when Denethor’s grimness and Thorongil’s wariness left, when they forgot their cares and some kind of pleasure entered their hearts, that was when they did look like brothers, noble and joyous princes.
‘I greatly enjoyed your tale last evening, Thorongil. I am glad my wretched cough waited until after you were through to make itself known.’
He looked away shyly at the praise and shrugged. ‘ ‘Tis something the Rohirrim do much of, mixing song and story.’
‘But you were mixing poetry and poetry! Almost were your own words verse to match Théoden’s. And you speak most beautifully, Thorongil, in a way I have never heard before. Is that how people of the north speak? Like poets? For then I must go there and hear them!’
He did not reply at once, but gazed at her with a look that saddened her, for it was itself full of sorrow. ‘Nay,’ was his soft reply, ‘that is not how the Men of the north speak.’
‘Then how is it you speak so?’
‘From a dream.’ Thorongil looked away and stared off into nothing.
Finduilas touched him lightly on the arm. ‘Forgive me, Thorongil. I have reminded you of something sad.’
He shook his head, trying to smile. ‘No, not sad. Well, perhaps a little, but much more beautiful than sad. Beautiful, like yourself.’ He glanced at her sideways.
‘Now, none of this flattery, sir!’ she mock-scolded, though she could feel her own cheeks warm and could not help but smile.
‘I speak only the truth,’ he protested, laying his own hand over hers where it lay upon the fence rail. The effect was not as strong as when he had taken her arm while she was coughing, but the touch made her stomach clench and threaten. The skin on her hand where his fingers lay itched the way it did when an insect crawled upon her. All of her resentment at the presumption of how she must feel about this man flooded into her. Finduilas pulled her hand away and tapped him on the nose with the dead leaf.
‘I think you are being rather presumptuous, captain. You are trying to flatter, and I have known you to say a falsehood, though with reason.’
‘I beg your pardon for both, my lady, yet I say it is naught but the truth that you are beautiful. I fear I have offended you once more.’ Thorongil looked quite contrite.
Do not blame the man for having too many eager to press his suit. It is no fault of his that others speak too strongly in his favor. Mithrandir said only to be as a friend, and a friend would not condemn a friend for the meddling of others. Finduilas regarded the captain for a while, then sighed. ‘I am trying not to take offense, Thorongil, but it is difficult when you mouth the same things that a girl hears from any number of men with questionable intentions. To some men, all girls are beautiful. For a little while. I tire of such importuning.’
‘But I said only what is true,’ he said softly, not looking up. ‘What else would you have me say?’
‘I would have you say something of yourself, so that I would know you are not of a kind with low-intentioned men.’
Thorongil’s expression shifted from contrite to suspicious. ‘What would you know?’ he asked, wary.
“But can you say you are a friend if you think to repeat what he would say in confidence?” Denethor’s stern words came back to her. He is sweet upon you – are you spy or friend? She knew there were any number of answers she could demand of him and he would answer, but what might she honorably ask? No matter what he says, may you repeat it to another? Finduilas cast about for an innocuous question. ‘I would know when you were born. What is your birthday?’
Wariness left, replaced with bemusement. ‘When was I born? I was born the first of March, 2931.’
‘So you were four and forty this last March.’
Finduilas smiled brightly at him. ‘Now, sir, that was not so horrible, was it? Disreputable men never wish you to know anything about them. What would you have me know about you?’
Thorongil turned away, staring off into nothing once more. ‘I am not sure.’
‘Then I shan’t pry, Thorongil. You are a private man, and I will honor that. And now you know my own concerns.’
‘I have only the most honorable of intentions, Finduilas.’
‘As do I, Thorongil. As do I.’ Do you? What is it you wish to do about this man?
Thorongil turned back to her, face grave, yet kind. ‘I thank thee, my lady, for speaking so. Your gentle chastisement is well done. You have given me much to consider.’
‘Not so much that you will cease to call me friend, I hope?’ To her delight, he smiled his wonderful, gentle smile, and shook his head.
‘No. I would be the greatest fool were I to do that.’
‘Then we are both pleased!’ Finduilas laughed and twirled the leaf stem between her fingers. A gust of wind caught at the leaf, pulled it from her hand and brought it to rest on the far edge of the horse trough, where it teetered, threatening to fall to the ground or into the water.
‘Oh, drat,’ she exclaimed, ‘I was going to take that back with me!’
‘I’ll get it,’ Thorongil assured her. He ducked between the rails of the paddock fence and reached for the leaf. Unfortunately, his hand brushed it the wrong way and it fell to the ground beyond the trough.
‘Oh, well, I’ll just have to find another leaf,’ Finduilas said.
‘I think I can still reach it,’ he replied, leaning further out between the fence rails. She began laughing at the ridiculousness of it all, and grabbed his belt so he would not fall into the water. He braced one hand on the far side of the trough and stretched the other far down, almost upside-down, trying to grab the leaf.
‘Got it!’ he triumphantly exclaimed. It took a few tries to extricate him from his awkward position, and he did get splashed from the trough. Finduilas was alternating giggles and coughs as she held onto his belt to keep him from going face-first into the horses’ water. Thorongil ended up sitting on the ground near the fence, brandishing the leaf, laughing with her.
It was then that Finduilas noticed the chain around his neck had slid outside his shirt, no doubt as a result of Thorongil nearly standing on his head, and that there was a ring on the chain. It was silver, like the chain, and there was a glint of green stone.
‘What is that?’ she asked as he pulled himself up. She slipped her hand under the ring, cupping it in her palm.
She glared up at him. ‘I think it a ring.’
‘Yes, just a ring.’ His hand strayed up as though to take the ring away. Finduilas took a closer look and a small tingle went up her spine. The band was fashioned as two snakes twined together, and their heads met at the widest part. Their eyes were set with emeralds that seemed to glow with their own light, and forever after Finduilas would think she had not known the true color green until she laid eyes on that ring. One snake ate a mass of golden flowers, each flower perfectly defined and so real she imagined she could smell their sweet scent, while the other snake bore the flowers like a crown. I know this, I have seen this before.
‘What a pretty ring,’ she babbled, deftly fending off his attempts to take it from her until she had committed every detail of it to memory. ‘It looks very old. Is it?’
‘I believe so, though I am not certain when it was made, or by whom,’ he replied.
‘The stones are lovely and I like the flowers, but I fear I do not care for snakes.’ With a shiver, Finduilas let the ring drop. Thorongil swiftly tucked it back inside his shirt. “I do not see how you can bear to keep it near you, with those snakes. They are evil creatures.’
‘They are not evil,’ he said, ‘though they can be deadly.’ He looked down at himself, thoroughly begrimed by his adventures with the horse trough. ‘I fear I must leave you, Finduilas. I am to report to the Steward soon, and must make myself presentable.’
‘If you hurry, you may walk back up the mountain with myself and the Archivist. She will soon finish her archery, and we will take messenger ponies back up.’
‘Then I will hurry.’ Soon, he returned, Théoden approached, done with tending his steeds, and the archers could be seen leaving the archery yards. Aiavalë and Thorongil eyed each other with some distaste. The trip up the mountain was mostly silent. When they stopped at Vinyamar, Finduilas dismounted, wanting to set down a sketch of Thorongil’s ring as soon as she could. Thorongil insisted on walking her and Théoden to the door. As they stood in the doorway saying farewells, Ivriniel appeared at the other end of the hall. She stared for a moment, then hurried away.
Finduilas went into Adrahil’s study and closed the door. Pulling out some paper, she took a charcoal stick from a cup and began sketching. The ring drew itself. She tried again, to see if she remembered it differently, but it turned out the same. Next she tried drawing it in ink, which took several tries before she figured out how to set it down without smearing the ink. She made two good copies, let them dry, then rolled them up and went upstairs to her room. Ivriniel was waiting for her.
‘You are a wretched little sneak, sister!’
‘What are you talking about?’
‘I am talking about you flirting with Captain Thorongil!’
‘Flirting with…? Oh, you are being ridiculous!’
‘I saw you not a quarter-hour past, fawning upon him in our doorway!’
‘I was bidding him good day.’
‘And pretending to be sick to get his attention!’
Finduilas threw up her hands in disgust and pushed past her sister. ‘You are jealous, Ivriniel, and for no reason.’ She set the roll of drawings down on her table before turning to face the other, anger growing. ‘I care nothing for the captain and you know it.’
‘Then why are you flirting with him and giving him cause?’ Ivriniel snapped back.
‘I am not!’ Finduilas retorted. ‘I cannot help his opinions of either of us.’
‘He will look at no one else when you are near!’
‘That is not my concern!’
‘You should stop it!’
‘It is not my fault if he does not much like you, sister!’ Finduilas snapped. ‘Perhaps if you were more likeable, he would pay attention to you.’
‘Why anyone should pay attention to you is a mystery to the rest of us,’ Ivriniel snarled in return. ‘No one would want you except to make some claim on Dol Amroth. Only some nasty old man, like the Warden, should bother with you! You’re nothing but a scrawny, too-tall, sickly wretch who is going to die soon!’
‘Better that than an ugly, stupid, whorish, cow like you!’ Finduilas almost screamed back. Ivriniel slapped her very hard, and Finduilas shoved Ivriniel away, right into Luinil who was trying to come into the room.
‘Stop it!’ Luinil ordered. The sisters glared. ‘What are you thinking? Fighting like fishwives when there are guests in this house? Ivriniel, go to your room and stay there until I come.’ Finduilas stuck her tongue out at Ivriniel’s back as her sister left. Luinil closed the door, then leaned on it. ‘That you two were fighting about the captain was apparent to the entire house, and probably several neighbors. Why?’
Finduilas sat on her bed and hugged a pillow to her chest. She could feel a familiar tightening and tried to relax to keep the coughs away. ‘Ivriniel is jealous because he pays attention to me. I swear, I am not trying to catch his eye! What am I to do, be rude to him? Order him away?’
‘No, daughter, you should not be rude. And I do believe that you have no interest in the captain.’
‘Why can he not see this?’ Finduilas demanded. Tears started to worm their way from her eyes. ‘Why cannot anyone see this? And not just him - any of them! I don’t want their attentions! To have them staring so at me, or trying to take my hand, it, it, … ugh!’ All she could do was make a sound of disgust and bury her face in the pillow. Coughs began. Luinil sat next to her, stroking her hair and saying soothing nonsense until Finduilas got them under control.
‘You have not said this before, lamb,’ Luinil quietly said, ‘that you are so upset at these flirtations.’
‘It has been growing, Mother. Since mid-summer, it has grown. I feel ill if I am touched.’
‘And it is not just Thorongil? Any man?’
‘Not all. Father or Imrahil, no. Lord Brandir, no. Just the unmarried men who look at me so. Or licentious married ones.’
‘So, the captain. The younger fellows Ivriniel invites to the parties.’ Finduilas nodded. ‘I think I know which married men you mean. And the Warden?’
‘Denethor? Oh, no, but he does not count. He does not… he is not… he is like a brother, like Imrahil, to be near.’ As soon as she said it, Finduilas knew it was not quite right, but was not sure how else to explain her ease near this man who set most others on edge.
‘Hmm.’ Luinil poured some water and gave it to her. ‘I wish you had spoken to me of this earlier, Finduilas. I like not that you have been made unwell.’ Her mother rose and walked to the window, deep in thought. ‘I think… I think that you should not attend parties and should not go about in the company of any of these men. I will speak to the captain myself. I like not that they come about when Adrahil is not here.’ Luinil glanced up sharply. ‘What of the young man who waits on the Archivist, Beregar? Does he offend you?’
‘No. He is very proper and never upsets me.’
‘Very well. I approve of the Warden or of Beregar to escort you if need be, but otherwise only a manservant of our house will be permitted near you until the Prince returns.’ Her mother sighed. ‘And I wish a promise from you, Finduilas, that you will not fight with your sister while Morwen and your cousins are here.’
Finduilas felt very sheepish. ‘I promise. I am sorry, I did not mean to make a scene.’
‘Just be certain there are no more.’ Luinil kissed her cheek and left the room.
To Finduilas’s relief, she was allowed to avoid all of the social events she so detested. She helped Luinil attend to Dol Amroth’s affairs and spent almost all the rest of her hours with Aiavalë, in the archives during the day and at the Archivist’s house on every evening when guests were present at Vinyamar. It was an excellent state of affairs as far as she was concerned. Ivriniel pointedly ignored her, which suited Finduilas as well.
Three days after her fight with Ivriniel, she received a note from Thorongil.
Your lady mother has directed me to refrain from seeing you, as I have given some offense. I will obey, but wish to offer you my humblest apology for whatever offense I have given. I would sooner suffer harm to myself than offend you.
She read the note several times, pondering whether to answer it. She finally replied,
I do not know what words my lady mother said to you. I know of no offense you have given, but ask that we both respect her wishes.
It seemed fair. He had not actually given offense, but it was true that his attentions to her were upsetting. Most certainly her mother could say who could see her. After she sent off the note, she lay on her bed and tried to think about Thorongil as she had done once before.
There could be no doubt what his intentions were. He wished to court her. And why should I not allow it? He is an honorable man. But it would cause much discord. Ivriniel would be angry, of course, but also Aiavalë and Denethor. Or would he? I think Denethor does not concern himself with such questions. Though it is clear the captain is a rival, still he treats the man with courtesy. As much as he treats any with courtesy.
If she were honest, Finduilas had to admit that she was flattered that Thorongil had chosen her. Men of such stature, like himself or Denethor or the other commanders and counselors of the realm, did not usually give attention to young, scrawny (she had to admit Ivriniel was right on that count), sickly gooses like herself. At best, she should expect a son of such a man to pay court, someone closer to Beregar than to Thorongil.
To be truly honest, I care more about the mystery surrounding the man than the man himself. There it was. If there were no mystery, would she still try to befriend him? Would she pay him any more mind than she paid to the other men who had done their best to flirt with her over the summer? Denethor warned you not to use the man’s affection to trap him or extract confidences from him. That would be dishonorable.
Finduilas sat up, resolved. I cannot befriend him, though I shall not be unkind. I am too young to court, anyway. She glanced at the sketches of the ring. What of these? It was not a confidence, precisely. The ring had been there for her to see. But he did not wish it seen. But you did not ask him about it, really, and there will be no more questions. This was more difficult to decide than she imagined. Finduilas took the sketches to the archives, but did not show them to Aiavalë. She left them neatly tucked next to a scroll on a rack, waiting to decide what to do.
One evening, as Finduilas supped with the Archivist, Aiavalë said that Denethor had returned from his journey to Pelargir, and hoped he would join them for supper the next day. The morning dawned wet and chilly, and Finduilas almost did not go to the archives. Knowing Mairen expected her to help with cataloguing harvest reports, she sighed and wrapped herself up warmly to brave the walk up to the next circle. Mairen was very glad to see her and the two women made short work of their task, finishing before dinner. The afternoon was for putting the reports away and neatening the racks generally.
When she walked into the sixth cavern, Finduilas could tell from the placement of a lantern that someone else was there. Knowing who she hoped it would be, she peeked around the end of one of the racks and was rewarded by the sight of Denethor looking for something. She tapped the frame of the rack to get his attention.
‘May I help you find something, my lord?’
He spared her a single glance. ‘Only if you promise not to catalog what I am looking for.’
‘The Archivist is quite insistent that we keep track of things.’
‘Then you will not be able to help me.’
‘Well, perhaps we could help each other. I am trying to find an answer to something.’
That got Denethor’s attention. ‘What is it?’
‘One moment, I will be right back!’ Finduilas dashed off and found her ring sketches. She brought only the best ink drawing. ‘I saw this…’ Finduilas paused, unsure of how to say she saw it. ‘I had a dream, and I saw this in my dream,’ she continued, ‘and it has stayed with me for long. I had to draw it. I keep thinking I have seen this before, but I cannot place it.’
Denethor held out his hand for the drawing and held it under the lantern light. Hardly pausing, he nodded, and said, ‘Yes, a good likeness. I know exactly where you saw it.’
‘You do?’ Of course, goose! He has been around Thorongil much more than you. No doubt he has seen it many times. Before she could say anything, Denethor spoke.
‘Yes. I will show you. Come along.’
This was not the answer she expected. Obediently, she followed him as he strode through the caverns to the second one, where histories were kept. As he walked down a row of books, Denethor fished a pair of thin gloves out of his pocket, slipping them on just as he came to a stop before a certain spot in the row. Finduilas had to backtrack to collect a pair of gloves from the basket near the door.
Denethor looked over one shelf very closely, then grunted as he found what he wanted. He pulled a large volume off the shelf and handed it to her.
‘You will find your dream in there,’ he pulled a second book out and gave it to her, ‘and in there,’ he carefully pulled an even larger and very old book out, but kept it to himself, ‘and the original is right here!’
Denethor led the way to a table under a lantern at the end of the row. The old book he laid down very carefully, with a gentle caress of its cover. The gold lettering on the cover read “Tales of Beleriand” in Sindarin. He motioned for her to put the other two books down, then arranged them next to the first.
‘This,’ he said, pointing at the book on the right, ‘is a common tongue translation of this,’ pointing to the next book in line, ‘which is an exact copy of this,’ pointing to the ancient book, ‘which was a gift from the High King Gil-galad to King Anárion upon the founding of Gondor.’ There was no hiding the pleasure he took in handling these ancient tomes, or in telling her about them. ‘The original book was written by Lord Elrond Halfelven.’ Denethor paused, thinking. ‘Though I do not know for certain, I would guess that the original is itself a copy of a yet older book. Even so, this copy was made afresh by the Elves for Anárion. Once it was here, the King commanded that copies be made and sent to each of the fiefs, most certainly including Dol Amroth.’
He took the right-most book and set it directly in front of them, then began to page through it carefully. Finduilas saw perfect lines with beautiful illustrations in the margins and knew she had seen its mate at some point in Dol Amroth. Some pages had large pictures on them in bright colors and touches of gold. Finally, Denethor turned the page, and there it was, her sketch.
Except that it was in silver and gold and glowing deep emerald green, and was much larger than her own drawing. She laid her pitiful, crude picture next to it. The details matched exactly – two snakes, the golden flowers, the emerald eyes. It was Thorongil’s ring. The hair on the back of her neck rose.
‘Surely you know it by now,’ Denethor prompted.
She shook her head. ‘No. I mean, yes, I have seen this drawing. This is what I drew myself.’
Denethor leaned over her shoulder and moved her own picture aside so he could read the text next to the glorious illustration.
“His words were proud, and all eyes looked upon the ring; for he held it now aloft, and the green jewels gleamed there that the Noldor had devised in Valinor. For this ring was like to twin serpents, whose eyes were emeralds, and their heads met beneath a crown of golden flowers, that the one upheld and the other devoured; that was the badge of Finarfin and his house.”
The words rolled off Denethor’s tongue with beauty and nobility, and no small pride. He looked at her when he finished, a small smile upon his face.
‘It is the Ring of Barahir, the oldest heirloom of the Dúnedain.’ Finduilas groped about for a chair. Denethor pulled one over and helped her sit. ‘Alquallë? What is it? Was this part of a terrible dream?’ She shook her head. ‘Then what?’
‘I lied. I did not dream it. I have seen it! Myself, with my own eyes, right here in Minas Tirith!’
To her amazement, Denethor crossed his arms over his chest and chuckled. ‘I do not doubt that you have, Alquallë.’
‘What do you mean? Have you seen it, too?’
‘I have seen it many times. My lady mother wore such a ring. Were the weather not so foul, we could walk down to the lane of the jewelers and find a half-dozen. Perhaps it is not done in Dol Amroth, but every jewel, gem, adornment, or thing sketched in this book has been remade a hundred times or more. This has been done for generations.’
Finduilas stared at the colorful painting. That is it. Thorongil has a copy of the ring, old, but a copy, one made for his family long ago. That must be it. She remembered the pull of the ring she had held, the brilliance of the gems in the snakes’ eyes, the perfection of the flowers, even greater than in this drawing. No.
She looked up at Denethor. He was watching her closely, concern and curiosity both present. It was a confidence. No, it was not. It showed itself to you. ‘Mayhap you are right, and what I saw was but a copy, a shadow of an image of the true ring. This drawing, how true is it?’
Denethor set the book to the side and brought forward the oldest book. With supreme delicacy, he turned the pages until he found the illustration of the ring. ‘This picture was done by the greatest Elven artist who yet lived on this side of the sundering sea. She made it while looking at the ring itself, for it sat upon the hand of Elendil, who was alive when this book was made. She rode from Lindon to Annúminas to view it.’
If the first drawing had been magnificent, this one made Finduilas wish to weep, it was so perfect. She felt that she could pluck the ring from the page. Even more than the first drawing, this one looked exactly like the ring Thorongil bore. Denethor’s hand came to rest over her own, and she clutched at it. Even through the gloves, she could feel its warmth. Her own body was cold and she shivered.
‘Alquallë, you saw this. In truth, you saw this ring.’ There was no question in Denethor’s voice.
‘Yes, friend, it was no dream, and it was no copy. I held it in my hand and looked upon it.’
His other hand caught her under the chin and made her look up at him. ‘Where?’
‘On a chain around Thorongil’s neck.’
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