Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Courting the Lady: 16. Again Mettarë
The departure of the family of Dol Amroth, though, meant that Denethor had no reason to remain. The hour was late enough that Forlong would not take offense if he left, and if he went now there was still a chance that Ecthelion might be awake when he returned to the Steward’s House. He wished to share his good news with his father as soon as he might.
His hope was thwarted. The Steward’s chambers were dark and still, and though Denethor ventured a soft knock on the door, thinking that perhaps Ecthelion might lie wakeful, there was no response from within. Sighing, Denethor went down the corridor to his own rooms. He was too restless to seek his bed yet. Finduilas has accepted me! He moved about the room, sitting for an instant on the chair and pulling off one stocking, then getting up and going to the window to throw open the shutters and gaze at the wall that separated the seventh and sixth levels of the city. Beyond it, Finduilas – he assumed – slept. Or perhaps she is as unable to sleep as I? His foot was cold. Removing the other stocking and putting them to be laundered, he slid his feet into a pair of comfortable, if worn, leather indoor shoes. He took them off again immediately to remove his hose, shrugged, and stripped off all his fine clothing. He had sweated through it, dancing with Finduilas, and everything needed to be washed. The soft robe he wore to sleep in hung from the bedpost, and he donned it hastily , resuming his shoes to keep his feet from the cold stone of the floor as he paced around the room.
I will tell Father first thing in the morning. Then we can announce it officially on mettarë – I should speak with Finduilas about that, too, and ask when she would like to have the wedding. As soon as possible, by my choice. Perhaps at the festival of tuilérë in the spring, certainly no later than loëndë at midsummer. I hope she does not wish to wait. There is no cause to do so, that I can see.
He imagined Finduilas dressed in the traditional red garments for a wedding. He had never seen her wear red, that he could remember, but it would suit her – her gaze at him earlier that night had promised a passion he would not have expected. His belly tightened at the thought. Denethor had never been one to make much of physical desires, preferring to turn those impulses elsewhere, and at forty-five he was somewhat surprised to find that his body still responded as it had when he was but a stripling.
Shaking his head at himself, he poured cold water from the ewer into the basin, and splashed his face with it. He groped for the towel to dry off. A comb through the hair and he knew he should try to sleep, even if that seemed the least probable thing he could do on this night of all nights. The smooth linens welcomed him, though, and he drifted quickly into dreams he would not recall.
Dawn’s light crept into the room, and Denethor woke with a start. Why – what – oh, yes! He flung back the covers and dressed hastily. Ecthelion customarily rose early; he always had done, and more so in the past few years. Denethor expected the Steward to be already down in the Great Hall, making himself accessible to any of the household who needed to speak to him before he went to the White Tower and began the day’s duties.
When Denethor was at last able to catch Ecthelion’s attention, he asked that the Steward spare him a few moments directly after he finished breaking fast. Ecthelion agreed, with a tilt of his head that told Denethor that he had probably guessed what the news would be – and so it proved.
“Finduilas has accepted me,” he said once they were in Ecthelion’s room in the Tower, with the door to the corridor shut behind them. “She has accepted me!” He could not keep the broad smile from his face, and did not try.
“My congratulations, my son,” said Ecthelion, clasping him by the shoulders and kissing him on either cheek. “I hoped and thought that might be so. She is a fine woman, from a worthy family, and I trust you will have as good a marriage as did your mother and I.” Denethor winced inwardly – he would not willingly have reminded his father of his mother’s death, but he supposed there was no helping it. Angwen had died young for one of her lineage, before her seventieth year, after a fall from a half-broken horse.
“I am sure we will, Father.” Denethor shook off the memory. “We would like to announce our betrothal to those of the great houses at the Steward’s Feast, if that is acceptable to you? Then the following day to the rest of the city. We would like just the next three days to keep it private, within our families.”
“Certainly. I shall make the announcement at the end of the feast, before the dancing, if that would suit you and your bride,” Ecthelion assured him. He sat down behind his desk, cocking his head. “I must admit, Denethor, that I wondered at your choice at first, and if Finduilas had not given you an affirmative answer this season, I would have deemed it necessary to choose your wife for you. I am relieved that will not be required.”
No more relieved than I, that is certain. Even thinking about the possibility of being forced to wed a woman other than Finduilas made Denethor shiver, and he missed the first of what Ecthelion was saying.
“. . .morning?”
“My apologies, sir, I was distracted. What did you say?” Denethor asked.
“I said, will you be here the rest of this morning? I may wish to consult you again about what shall be done in the south, for I must reach a final decision on that shortly.”
“Of course I will be here, what else? This is where my duty lies. If you are hinting that I would abandon it for Finduilas, she would neither expect nor imagine I would do so.”
“No, of course not.” Ecthelion shook his head. “I will call for you later, then, perhaps. I have other matters to settle before I look to the south.” He reached for the tasseled pull that would summon Galdor, his secretary.
Denethor bowed and left. My duty is indeed here, even today. The news of the Corsairs bodes ill for Gondor – will my father make the best decision? He seems likely to follow my ideas, but I think he may need more persuasion to implement them fully. To whom would he listen? Thorongil. He has always favored Thorongil, and deemed him an excellent commander. And whatever the captain’s words to me before, it would make me easier to have him stationed far from Finduilas.
As soon as he had returned to his own chambers on the first floor, Denethor sent a messenger to find Captain Thorongil and bring him thither. Within the hour he had Thorongil seated across the table and was talking to him earnestly.
“Tell me, Captain, what you thought of my suggestions to the Council as to how Gondor should conduct her defense.”
Thorongil blinked and leaned back, considering the matter. “The Council seemed happy with them,” he said finally.
“I am not asking you that. I want your opinion,” Denethor snapped. Moderating his tone, he said, “If you think that withdrawing troops from Ithilien is unwise, say so. But I do not know where else we may find them.”
“No. It is the only approach I can see, too.” Thorongil’s tone was judicious.
“I spoke with the Steward earlier this morning. He will be making a decision soon, perhaps even today, and may ask your advice or opinions again. When you and I spoke yesterday, you indicated that you have ambition to rise further in the service of Gondor. I would be pleased to suggest to Ecthelion that you would be the best man to take command of the southern defense, if it is conducted in the manner discussed before by the Council,” Denethor said.
“To command?” said Thorongil, drumming his fingers on the edge of the table. “I would not object to that, no. It is my wish to serve this land in whatever way seems best to the Steward, of course.”
“Of course,” Denethor assented. “But with my voice and yours joined. . .” We would both get what we wanted. My plan to be followed, and your ambition to be satisfied. He left the words unspoken, certain Thorongil would understand nevertheless.
“The Steward would be the more readily convinced of the rightness of this path,” Thorongil said.
“Very well. I will make the opportunity, and will do what is in my power to persuade him.”
“Thank you,” Denethor said, concealing any bitterness or begrudged feelings he might hold at having to work through Thorongil. If Ecthelion will not trust my judgment, however, I will use whomever is necessary to see that events take their necessary course.
Thorongil pushed back his chair as if to leave, then hesitated. “May I ask, Lord Denethor – are you to meet with Finduilas before the Steward’s Feast on mettarë?”
The question surprised Denethor, and he hedged, uncertain what Thorongil wished to learn by his inquiry. “I imagine we will, though we have no definite appointment to do so.”
“Oh.” Thorongil frowned. “I had understood her to say that she intended to ask you to visit her that day.”
“We spoke for some length last night, and she made no such invitation,” Denethor replied coolly. If he is trying to find out whether Finduilas gave an answer, and what it was, he will be disappointed. It is none of his concern. “If she has anything further to tell me, I am sure she will do so.”
“I see,” said Thorongil, but his keen glance at Denethor’s face was a trifle uncomfortable. Surely he cannot read it in my expression? “It is of no moment, I suppose. I had better go and see if the Steward will speak to me. Good day, my lord.”
“Good day, Captain Thorongil,” Denethor replied. Now, if he but does as we have agreed, and succeeds in persuading Ecthelion, all my worries will be resolved.
A shame that Merethrond is used so seldom. Denethor took a last look around the Hall of Feasts to assure himself that all the preparations were complete. The tables were spread with linens as white as the stone that gave Minas Tirith her epithet, and set with more china, glass, and cutlery than Denethor thought could possibly be needed, though he had been assured it was. In the days of the kings this hall was the heart of the land every day, not only at times of festival. It is unfortunate that the first Stewards let that custom lapse. Restoring it now would seem presumptuous, as if we aspired to kingship.
Green boughs and banners of all colors, representing every noble family in Gondor, adorned the walls. Denethor had ensured that the white swan of Dol Amroth hung next to the Steward’s own banner, as a subtle compliment to his lady – and his future father-in-law. Adrahil had greeted him as a son when he had called on them the day before, and he wished to show the prince every suitable courtesy.
Servants stood ready throughout the room, and the musicians at its end had begun a soft tune. All was prepared. Denethor let out his breath in a sigh, brushed a hand over his dark hair, and needlessly straightened the deep blue damask tunic he wore before retreating to the entrance where he and Ecthelion would wait to greet their guests.
The one Denethor most wished to see arrived when two-thirds of those invited had already passed through the doors, but when Finduilas entered the Hall of Feasts on Adrahil’s arm, she had never looked lovelier. Or so Denethor thought, complimenting her on the beautiful pearl-and-silver coronet she wore.
“It was my grandmother’s,” she responded. “Mother wore it once or twice, too. Father gave it to me this season, and I wanted to wear it to honor them.”
“A thoughtful thing to do,” Denethor approved. “It suits you well.” He lowered his voice. “Are you ready?”
“I am,” she said, in tones that matched his. “When will your father speak?”
“At the end of the feast, before the dancing. You are to be seated near me at the high table, and when he signals, I will come stand beside you.”
Finduilas nodded, and passed on into the hall. Denethor continued to meet and greet next to Ecthelion until the last straggler had entered. He stepped outside for a moment into the chill freshness of the evening air before he would have to enter the crowded hall. Clouds obscured the sky to the north, though the southern horizon still showed stars flaming against the dark fabric of the heavens. It is clear above my lady’s home, I’ll warrant. But no. From now, Minas Tirith shall be her home. And I will do my best to make her days – and nights – bright.
Breathing deeply, he returned inside and took his place at the high table for the Standing Silence. Finduilas was five places down to his right, next to her father. Denethor glanced around the room. At the near end of the closest table sat Thorongil, who caught Denethor’s eye and nodded before his gaze slipped over to Finduilas. Denethor fought to keep his face calm and made polite conversation with the lords seated on either side as the first dishes were brought to the table. He allowed himself to be helped to quail stuffed with mushrooms and a delicate salad of greens forced in the glasshouses, but refused a second glass of wine when it was offered him.
At length the meal was over. All that remained on the tables were the dishes of nuts and comfits for those who felt the need for assistance with their digestions. Denethor glanced at Ecthelion several seats away, wondering when he would speak. The Steward’s attention was engaged by Lady Eilinel, but finally he rose to claim the silence of the room.
“My ladies – my lords.” Ecthelion’s voice filled the great space without shouting. “Before we begin the dancing tonight, I have two announcements to make to you.”
“I know you are concerned for the safety and future of our lands, as I am, but what I have to say should set your minds at ease.” The Steward began to walk along the table, and Denethor felt the air move behind his chair; but Ecthelion did not stop, instead continuing until he reached the end of the dais and stepped down. “First, I should like to say that Captain Thorongil has been promoted. He will be transferred from Ithilien to command our forces in the south, both on land and sea, to repulse the Corsairs. Please join me in congratulating him.”
Applause burst out around the room. Denethor could see nods of approval from many. He leaned forward to look at Thorongil, but the man was turned slightly towards Ecthelion behind him, and all Denethor could see was the bright reflection of the silver star on Thorongil’s shoulder. Why? Why tonight? He could have waited. . .
Ecthelion was continuing. “War, however, is a sadly ever-present subject in these days, but not one we wish to emphasize at a time of festival. Therefore I conclude with an even more pleasant announcement.” He beckoned to Denethor to stand and join him, and retraced his steps along the table to lay a hand on Finduilas’s shoulder. “It is with great happiness that I make known to all of you the betrothal between my son, the lord Denethor, and the lady Finduilas of Dol Amroth.”
If the applause for Thorongil had been loud, now it was twice so, almost obscuring Ecthelion’s final remark, “They will wed at tuilérë.” The musicians struck up the traditional wedding melody – legend held that it dated back to the rule of Tar-Meneldur in Númenor – and played through it once before segueing into a more seasonal tune. Denethor took Finduilas’s hand and led her to the top of the room, as servants hastily cleared the few tables there and removed them for the dancing.
Denethor was thankful that the opening dance was far less energetic than that in which they had participated together at Forlong’s ball. He knew the steps well, and could watch Finduilas’s face instead. She smiled like the sun shining on the white peaks of the mountains, her head high and her bearing upright. The rich green of her gown set off her fair skin, and she blushed at some of the remarks made as they danced through the lines.
As soon as the first dance ended, both Finduilas and Denethor were surrounded by young men and women who wished the luck of dancing with the newly betrothed. A silly thing, like any superstition, but at any rate harmless, thought Denethor tolerantly as he gazed at the gaggle of girls and held out his hand at random. He had never felt so popular in his life, not even at the first ball he had attended after he had come of age, when every eligible girl in Gondor – and a few from Rohan – had been paraded in front of him. Absently he noticed that Thorongil was dancing little, but had a knot of lords and a few ladies clustered about him, intent on earnest conversation.
Five hours later, Denethor’s patience was running thin. He felt as if he must have danced with every woman present, but not with Finduilas since their opening promenade. At least now the crowd had thinned – the children had long since been taken off, most of the elderly had also gone, and it was the young and some of those of middling years who yet remained on the floor. Politely Denethor thanked the lady on his arm, whose name escaped him, giving her over to a young man who seemed delighted by the opportunity, and made his way to Finduilas. She had just finished dancing with Duinhir of Morthond.
“Would you care for another dance, my lady?” said Denethor from behind her. His heart lurched as he saw the joy in her face as she turned.
“Most certainly, my lord,” she said, the gravity of her voice belying the light in her eyes.
“How has your evening been, Finduilas?” Denethor allowed his hand to linger on her waist longer than courtesy usually permitted. “I am sorry that my father chose to spoil our news by speaking of Thorongil’s appointment first. You should have been the center of all attention tonight.”
Finduilas’s laugh rippled through the air. The dance parted them then, but when they were able to speak again she was still smiling. “You need not be concerned about that, Denethor.”
How my name sounds on her lips!
“Truly,” she continued, “had the Steward not done so, I imagine I should have had to dance with even more young men than was the case – we could have been here all night.” Her tone had been teasing thus far, but now she became serious. “I do not wed you so that I will be known to all. I would be perfectly happy to avoid this fame – but because it is necessary to your position, I accept it. It is the man Denethor who I wish to marry, not the Steward’s Heir.”
Denethor swallowed hard to hear her say such words. He could not reply as he would wish in the middle of the floor, where the music was once again separating them, but as soon as the dance ended, he took her hand and hurried them out of the hall, slipping along the shadowed edges of the corridor to a side door. It is cold. . . but we will only be here a moment.
The sky was dark with clouds, but enough light from the torches at the front of the hall escaped around the corner that Denethor could see Finduilas’s face as she looked up at him.
“Finduilas,” his voice was rough, and he bent so that his lips touched hers, his arms pressing her slight body against him.
“Denethor,” she said when the kiss ended, and turned her head to lean it against his shoulder. The blood surging in his veins prevented Denethor from feeling any chill himself, but at Finduilas’s shiver he drew her back inside.
“Our absence will be noticed, if we stay long,” he said, regretting the necessity.
“I know.” Finduilas squeezed his hand. “It will always be so. . . but after we are wedded, we will find time to be together, I have no doubt.”
How did a woman so sensible and so beautiful both ever agree to marry me, when she could have had her choice of any young man in Gondor? Denethor wondered as they returned to the great hall and the remainder of the mettarë celebrations. Why does she love me? For clearly she does – perhaps even as much as I love her. Perhaps it is one of the mysteries of life, and it would be better not to pursue it. He let her lead him into the light of the room.
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