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Hands of the King: 23. Betwixt
Minas Tirith, Late December, 2975 T.A.
The last week of the year was upon them. Finduilas sat at breakfast with Ivriniel and their father, trying to be interested in her food. Luinil soon joined them.
‘Remember, sister, you are not going anywhere today,’ Ivriniel warned.
‘I was not planning on being anywhere else…’
‘For once.’ Adrahil gave her a stern glance over the top of a letter he was reading. ‘You should not be going about so much in the cold. We will depart for home within a fortnight. You should be helping your lady mother get the household ready for the trip. In fact, you shall be staying in the house from now until we leave.’
‘Yes, sir,’ was her meek reply. Not that she wished to go about. The argument with Denethor last night had left her frightened and the nightmares that followed left her exhausted.
‘But she may go to the parties, Father? She will be with me,’ Ivriniel asked.
Adrahil bestowed an unsympathetic look upon his elder daughter. ‘I am beginning to doubt the wisdom of allowing either of you to attend any of them.’
Finduilas said nothing, secretly hoping Adrahil would forbid all of it. Let us leave. Now.
‘Do not argue with the Prince, Ivriniel,’ Luinil gently admonished her elder daughter. ‘We have much work to do and should not be distracted from needful tasks.’ Finduilas tapped Ivriniel’s shin under the table to warn her not to make any more fuss.
‘Yes Mother. Yes, Father,’ Ivriniel said somewhat less meekly than Finduilas.
‘Is the dressmaker going to be coming today?’ their mother went on with a smile.
‘If we are not to go to any parties, perhaps she should not bother,’ Ivriniel grumbled.
‘We have dresses that need finishing, so she had best be here,’ Luinil imperturbably replied. ‘Let me know when she arrives. Lamb, I will need your help with preparing reports for the Great Council. The Warden is requiring the lords to have their reports written this year, and copied for all.’
‘Only Lord Brandir did that last year. It was most helpful.’ This sounded like suitably useful work.
‘There will be a short meeting three days hence to discuss the southern defenses,’ Adrahil said to Luinil. ‘Langstrand and Lamedon arrive sometime today, and the Steward agreed with me that it should be treated outside of the Great Council.’ The Prince thought for a moment, then made a face. ‘We shall have to attend the gathering at Brandir’s tomorrow night. It is being given in honor of the falas lords.’
‘Ah, yes.’ Luinil frowned a moment, then nodded and shook a finger at Ivriniel. ‘Finish up quickly, then make sure the seamstress is here today. We are not appearing at that gathering wearing old gowns, not when the sea-fiefs are the guests. Dol Amroth must look its best.’
‘I know the Steward will be there,’ Adrahil added.
‘Prince, I wish I could have known sooner. This is almost as important as the yestarë feast,’ Luinil said to her husband.
He stood, tucking the letter in his pocket and looking sheepish. ‘I only found out last night! Now, be sure to make yourselves beautiful.’
‘As beautiful as the Sea itself, my prince,’ she replied, leaning back for a kiss as he passed. After he left, Luinil gave her daughters a sharp look, then winked broadly. When they had finished breakfast and headed upstairs, Ivriniel pulled Finduilas into her room and shut the door, glaring at her.
‘You have nearly ruined it all!’
‘Your misbehavior is angering Father, and he will punish us both because you are a hoyden!’
‘I have done nothing!’
‘You are out after dark, you go about the City as you please, you are always in the company of low people. You did not tell me that Lark was a whore’s daughter! I thought she was an orphan that the Archivist cared for.’
‘And who told you this?’
‘Ah.’ So, Beruthiel has not yet given up this battle. ‘And what else has she told you about Lark?’
‘I should think that quite enough.’
‘It is true that Lark was born to a mother of low character, but how can one help one’s parents? What is also true is that she and her sister were given to Lady Aiavalë’s care to ensure they did not fall into such shame themselves. Now Lark is respectably wed. Would you prefer that she followed her mother’s ways?’
‘No, of course not. But how did she end up with the Archivist?’ Ivriniel drew close, an ugly, gloating expression on her face. ‘It would seem that the righteous Warden has a reputation for frequenting certain places in the third circle. Who knows what his exact connection to those girls may be.’
‘If it would not dirty my hand by touching your filthy mouth, I would slap you!’ Finduilas hissed. ‘How can you believe anything that wicked woman says?’
‘Other have confirmed it,’ Ivriniel smirked, ‘and it is evidently a bit of an open secret that he regularly visits the Dark Madam’s house.’ Before Finduilas could decide whether to slap the smirk off of her sister’s face, Ivriniel remembered what their argument was really about. ‘The trouble is you, though! You go about with these people.’
‘They are no one you should be seen with.’
‘You did not think so a few weeks ago.’
‘That was before I spoke to…’
‘Lady Maiaberiel and she filled your ears with nonsense, yes I can see that.’ Finduilas sighed and turned to leave. ‘I have to attend Mother. Let me know when the dress…’
‘And just how far has your flirtation with that serving boy gone?’
‘The Monster’s servant, Bere-whatever. He is always hanging round, and you are always going off with him. That is what is displeasing Father most, if I am any judge.’
Finduilas did not bother to answer, but walked out. She could almost laugh. I am supposed to be in love with two men I care nothing about, and no one notices that I am in love with another. Not even the man himself. It was a relief to lose herself in the task of drawing up a report on Dol Amroth, paging through letters and notes, doing some figures, deciding what would and would not go into it. Luinil directed what they would look at next and dictated the wording. The morning went by swiftly.
When they stopped to rest and drink some tea, Luinil asked, ‘Lamb, I do not mean to pry, but you seem rather out of sorts today.’
‘I am afraid I squabbled with Ivriniel. She did not like that Father might keep us both from parties because he wished me to stay home.’
‘You have been oft away from Vinyamar,’ her mother noted quietly.
‘Only where and when you said I might go, Mother! I am in the archives, or at the Archivist’s house, or else running errands which you know about.’
‘It is the errands I do not know about that make me curious.’
‘I do not know what you mean. I scarce see how my visiting with Aiavalë is worse than Ivriniel visiting with Maiaberiel.’
Luinil’s eyebrows went up. ‘She has done this?’
‘So she claimed to me when we argued.’
‘I have told her I do not care for her to meet with that woman if I am not present.’ Luinil’s face became thoughtful. ‘I thought I heard you speaking to the Warden last night. I kept expecting that you would invite him in, but the door closed and I heard you go upstairs. Rather quickly. When I looked in the hall, no one was there and the door was locked.’
‘He had other business and could not tarry.’
‘Do you often see the Warden?’
Finduilas thought for a moment of speaking her heart to her mother. How can I explain this? That I am in love with someone besides whom my lord father has picked, who is almost twice my age, who is falling out of favor, and who does not love me in return? And that would be the simple part. ‘Well, yes, I see him quite often, as he dines with Aiavalë and makes use of the archives, but I rarely have a chance to speak to him. Denethor never seems to stay in one place long enough for a conversation.’
‘Denethor.’ Luinil waited for a minute, then said, ‘Your lord father and I disagree somewhat on how much influence the Warden shall continue to have given the elevation of Captain Thorongil and his own conflicts with the Steward. I think he will have more than Adrahil does, but only if his allies do not abandon him before he can put his plans into place. He does have plans, does he not?’
‘So perhaps you have managed one or two conversations with him.’
‘One or two.’
‘It will be important in the parties that we attend for it to be clear that the Warden has the confidence and support of the Swan House, just as much as the Steward or the new Captain-General has it.’
‘I understand. You should talk to Ivriniel about what Maiaberiel is up to. It sounds like the woman is spreading very wild tales to try to further undermine her brother.’
‘You can be certain I will.’
The dressmaker showed up after dinner and took up their time the remainder of the afternoon. Each had two dresses being made. Finduilas had chosen a rich russet for one dress, which would be ready for the party tomorrow, and had her second dress made of sable and silver, the colors of Gondor. That was for the yestarë feast. Ivriniel had golds and blues in her dresses. Luinil had chosen the silver and blue of Dol Amroth for one dress, but the one that was truly stunning was a deep crimson. Father would definitely approve of that dress.
The next day was given over to the reports, for Adrahil would need much of it for the small council to be held the following morning. The evening was Maiaberiel’s party. Finduilas had to admit that the party was reasonably decorous even judged by Luinil’s standards. The Steward stood at one end of the great room and greeted the falas lords grandly, playing herald to announce each lord to the other guests and extol their deeds over the last year. Lord Morvorin received applause when Ecthelion recounted how bravely he had led his archers in the Osgiliath attacks. Dol Amroth earned the greatest praise, bordering on unctuousness.
‘The deeds of the Swan in this season shall be sung for years to come,’ the Steward grandly concluded, a hand on Adrahil’s shoulder.
‘And deserve to be sung for twice that time.’
Denethor’s voice could be heard in every corner of the great room though it did not seem that he had raised it. All eyes moved to him as he crossed the room, Thorongil just off his left shoulder. The two looked almost identical, and there was a noticeable muttering that followed them as they passed through the crowd. When they reached the Steward, both bowed to Ecthelion and then Thorongil bowed to Adrahil. Denethor merely nodded his head to the Prince. Adrahil bowed very slightly to Denethor and spared Thorongil a genial smile before turning back to talk to Denethor.
‘Very good,’ Finduilas heard her mother murmur next to her. She herself could hardly suppress a grin at the excellence of the entrance. The rumor that they were brothers would gain strength after this appearance, but so too would the understanding that Thorongil was no lord. A rumor of bastardy deserves treatment as one. If the rest of Ecthelion’s bastards are servants, so shall you be, presumptuous eagle. Finduilas and Luinil exchanged a knowing smile, then set about mingling with the other guests.
Very quickly Finduilas remembered why she did not like such parties. Every time she turned around it seemed that there was another forward young fellow trying to command her attention. She could see Ivriniel was reveling in such attention on the other side of the room, talking to a few of the young men at once, flirting quite openly. At least the young men were keeping their hands to themselves, though Finduilas suspected that would change as the evening went on and wine took effect.
‘Finduilas, dear girl, it is so good to see you!’ Maiaberiel swooped down on her like a vulture. ‘Where have you been hiding? I do not think I have seen you since, since…’
‘Since Queen Morwen was here,’ Finduilas thoughtfully supplied.
‘Has it been that long?’
‘Yes, I do think so.’
‘Well, that is far too long. What has kept you away?’
Your own loathsome self. ‘I fear that I have been ill quite a bit this winter, and Mother wished to keep me from becoming worse before we leave for home. It will be a long trip.’
‘That is right, we are to lose our flock of swans too soon!’
‘Have you spoken to Mother yet? She is around here somewhere.’
‘Not yet, but it is you whom I wish to see.’ Maiaberiel looped an arm through Finduilas’s and began to stroll through the guests. To Finduilas’s curiosity, the other did not appear to wish to talk to her, but rather to be seen with her. Beruthiel kept her close while she greeted and chatted, always being certain to introduce Finduilas to whomever they met and include her in the chatter. It turned out to be a very effective way to work through the guests and even more effective at keeping presumptuous young men away. Unfortunately, it appeared to attract the more licentious married men, most of whom tried to handle both of them in some way. Beruthiel simply laughed and gave them little slaps, but Finduilas was feeling ill. She looked around to find her parents or even Ivriniel to rescue her from this woman’s claws, but could not find them. As she searched the room again, she saw Denethor. She stared at the back of his head, willing him to turn around. When he did and saw her, he excused himself from the person he was speaking to and walked over.
‘Good evening ladies.’
‘You were not invited.’
‘A terrible oversight on your part, sister. I promise not to tell anyone.’
Finduilas had to bite her lip to keep from laughing. That entrance and he was not even invited! Very carefully, she edged away from Maiaberiel, hoping the woman would drop her arm.
‘I cannot believe you had the nerve to come here.’
‘Sometimes I wonder the same of you.’ Maiaberiel finally let go. Finduilas took a full step away.
‘Parade around all you like, Denethor. It is but more of your childish antics.’
‘Speaking of which, my condolences on the loss of your favorite pet. You should know better than to allow them to wander. It is not just accidents that happen.’
Maiaberiel’s face turned pale and she had a difficult time speaking. ‘You cannot be serious.’ Denethor smiled in a way that made the hair on the back of Finduilas’s neck stand up. Maiaberiel turned to Finduilas. ‘Would you excuse us?’
‘Of course.’ With a nod, Finduilas scurried away. Seeing Adrahil’s silver hair, she made her way to her father’s side. The Prince was talking to Lord Morvorin and paused long enough to give her a kiss before continuing on about irrigation techniques. As far as she was concerned, she would stay here the rest of the evening. What favorite pet? She did not think Maiaberiel had any animals besides a horse, and that was not quite what one could call a pet. Finduilas also could not imagine Denethor harming an animal for no reason, even if it did belong to Beruthiel.
For the better part of an hour, she stood with her father and listened to the concerns of various lords and ladies. Most wanted to know Adrahil’s estimation of the new Captain-General. His answer was the same to all. ‘Thorongil? A most excellent choice. The Warden was wise to select this captain as his second. I am sure Thorongil will be up to the task.’ At some point, the object of all of this attention came over. Thorongil bowed to each of them. There was something about his appearance that was odd, yet familiar, though she could not say what it was.
‘My Prince, Lady Finduilas. How do you find the evening?’
‘I think it quite nice. What do you say on it, daughter?’
‘Indeed! It is good to see you, captain. Until you appeared, I was wondering where you and Lord Denethor were. It would not be a proper celebration without you in attendance.’ From his smile, she knew her father was pleased by her greeting.
Thorongil smiled and bowed again to acknowledge the compliment. ‘You very kindly refrain from scolding us for being tardy, my lady, but I shall admit to being late. I can only beg forgiveness. Lord Denethor and I were preparing for the council on the morrow, and lost track of time.’ Now she knew what was familiar. He was wearing a tunic that belonged to Denethor.
‘You may be excused in that case, captain,’ Adrahil replied. ‘Will you give me a hint of what you will be presenting tomorrow?’
‘I think I will leave that for Lord Denethor to discuss,’ was the politic reply. The men turned to another topic. Across the room, some musicians were taking their places, preparing to play for dancing. It was not long before couples were whirling about. Finduilas saw Ivriniel dancing with a man she did not recognize. Somehow, she caught her sister’s eye and signaled she should come over. When the dance finished, Ivriniel strolled over.
‘Ivriniel, you must help me! These two are going to talk each other’s ear off, forgetting they are at a party!’ Finduilas cheerfully said, taking Adrahil’s arm.
Ivriniel smiled and took Thorongil’s arm. ‘This cannot be allowed. I fear the only cure for this affliction is a dance.’
‘I think we are out-maneuvered, captain,’ sighed Adrahil.
‘Surrender is the only option in this circumstance, my prince,’ Thorongil replied with great seriousness.
Finduilas danced with Adrahil for one dance, then changed to dance with Thorongil. Ivriniel seemed reluctant to change, but neither was she glaring. As Finduilas began the dance with Thorongil, she was glad it was fairly simple so he would not step on her toes.
‘If you do not wish to dance with me, Finduilas, you need not,’ Thorongil said quietly.
‘Of course I do. If I did not, I would say so.’
‘Peace in my house, sir.’
The touch of his hands on her did not make her ill this time, but they felt wrong, just as when his steps would go awry. When the tune ended, he walked her back to Adrahil. Finduilas relinquished him, excusing herself to get something to drink. At the table she saw Brandir. He waved her over and embraced her warmly. They exchanged pleasantries as they wandered back to watch the dancing. Brandir had a number of interesting stories to tell about his trip to Rohan. At some point, Finduilas saw Luinmir dancing, though not with her husband, Isilmo. This seemed strange, as she had never seen the woman dance with anyone except her husband or with Brandir.
‘Brandir, where is Isilmo?’
‘You have not heard?’ She shook her head. ‘He was killed in Osgiliath.’
‘Yes, I fear it is so.’ Brandir looked sadly at the woman. ‘She is better off without him, though it may not seem that way for her yet.’
‘Brandir!’ Finduilas had never heard him speak ill of anyone, particularly not of someone newly dead. He shrugged.
‘It is true. Isilmo was not a kind man to her. She is still young enough that she may remarry.’ He watched the woman dance a bit longer and sighed, then smiled brightly at Finduilas. ‘You have made a friend of mine very happy!’
‘You know quite well,’ he teased.
‘Perhaps I do, perhaps I do not, but I would know what you know.’
‘A certain person known to us both dined with me the other day and was much happier than I have seen him in a while. When I asked him the reason for his mirth, he told me a lady fair had said she would hear his words.’
‘Was anyone else there?’
‘Maiaberiel, that is all.’
More than enough. The knowledge of Finduilas’s consent would embolden Beruthiel in her plots against Denethor. She gave Brandir a stern look. ‘Do not read more into this than is truly there, Brandir. There is no agreement or pledge. I have merely said that I will read his letters and allow him to explain himself.’
‘But you are listening to him, Finduilas,’ was Brandir’s gentle reply. ‘If you do but that, I know what will happen. Perhaps not all at once, but your heart cannot help but be moved by this man. Where that may lead, only fate can tell.’
‘I am not so certain.’
‘And why should you be? You are yet very young. You can be sure I have counseled him on that. He must learn patience.’
‘You are right on one thing, and all are in agreement on this – I am too young to make such choices. So, we shall see how patient the gentleman can be.’
‘While we wait upon his patience, perhaps you may help me with another match.’
‘I think I would prefer to play match-maker than the one to be matched!’
‘Good! I am trying to convince my stubborn brother-in-law that it is time for him to wed.’
‘You mean Denethor.’
‘Yes, exactly. You have been about him and Aiavalë more than anyone. Do you know if he has mentioned any girl by name, or shown some kind of interest, however slight?’
‘No. He is wed to Gondor.’
Brandir sighed again and shook his head. ‘I feared as much. Sometimes I think that Aiavalë has drummed duty so strongly into him that he knows not any joy or pleasure of his own. Gondor is a most jealous mistress.’
‘If you will pardon me Brandir, I must…’
‘Of course. Let me take your cup.’
Finduilas went to the privy but did not throw up as she thought she would. When she returned, she stayed away from the dancers and tried to find a quiet spot where she would be let alone, wondering if she should find Luinil and ask to go home. An obnoxious young man would not let her be.
‘Surely you will not say no to a short dance?’
‘Surely I will.’
He stood closer than she liked, smiling in a way that reminded her of a rat. ‘Perhaps then a walk in the courtyard?’
‘It is freezing cold. But go take a walk if you like.’
‘Why are you so unfriendly?’ He sidled up to her and put a hand in the small of her back. Her stomach lurched.
‘I am not unfriendly. You are most forward!’
‘I cannot help but be drawn to your beauty.’
‘I want you to go away.’
‘You would be so cruel…’
‘The lady said to leave. Do so.’ The boy took one look at Denethor’s face and hurried off. ‘I appear to be your rescuer tonight.’
‘Vipers and rats. Thank you for saving me from them, friend.’
‘You look pale.’
‘Their touches sicken me.’
‘What mean you?’
‘Since mid-summer, the touch of any importuning man makes me ill…’ Since I have loved you. Since I danced with you and you were joyful. She looked up at him and met Denethor’s clear grey eyes. He was studying her curiously. ‘Have you ever heard of such a thing, friend?’
‘Perhaps. I cannot remember.’ His eyes kept looking into her. ‘We parted rather… abruptly… the other night.’ She did not reply. ‘Are you angry with me?’ She shook her head. I love you. ‘I did not want you to see.’
‘I always see. If you are there, I can see.’
‘I cannot promise I will never go there.’ The grey eyes were worried.
‘I know.’ She held out her hand. ‘Will you dance?’ Denethor took her hand and walked to the edge of the dancers, waiting for the next tune. It did not last long enough, so she danced again with him, but had to stop after that because of coughing. Finduilas did not wish to let go of him, so kept her hand tucked in his. ‘I was a swan, a small one.’ The words just came out, softly, for their own ears.
‘I felt… something.’
‘The water froze about you like armor, but the flame was greedy. I do not regret the destruction of the book.’
‘The ink smothered the flame. The souls of the story mixed with the water and the diamonds and covered the flame in loam. And you were crowned with stars.’ He did not answer, but squeezed her hand, then let it drop. They stood together until Luinil came over to take her home.
Ivriniel was more than capable of readying Vinyamar to be closed when they left after yestarë, so Luinil spent her time visiting each of the great families, giving Yule gifts and understanding the mood of each house. Adrahil and Imrahil were in small councils or private meetings with different lords over these days as well. Finduilas stayed in the house helping Ivriniel. Her elder sister appeared to have forgotten their argument of but a few days before, humming to herself and directing the servants with cheerful efficiency. Thorongil had danced thrice with her at the party, more than with any other girl, leaving her extremely happy.
The sisters exchanged Yule gifts with each other the day before mettarë and laughed greatly when they saw what was given. Where Finduilas had picked white pearl earrings set in gold, Ivriniel had chosen earrings of black pearls in silver.
‘I saw them and thought of the dress you were having made for yestarë, and of the strand you like to wear in your hair,’ Ivriniel said, ‘and knew you needed them.’
‘They are truly beautiful, Ivriniel, thank you!’ It was good not to be fighting. Finduilas had been careful to say and do nothing that would rouse the ire, or suspicion, of anyone in the house.
‘What did you get Mother and Father?’
Finduilas turned very red. All of her coin had gone to Golasgil for the book, and she had nothing left for presents for Imrahil or her parents. The serving women had received their gifts that morning.
‘I could not find anything and then Father bade me stay in the house.’
‘You need to learn to plan better, sister!’ Ivriniel scolded. ‘You should have seen to them before the servants.’ Finduilas hung her head and did not argue. After a bit of grumbling, Ivriniel said Finduilas could share in her gifts so that they came from both daughters. Finduilas thanked her and slunk away to her room.
Once there, she cast herself on her bed with a great sigh. She both dreaded and longed for when they would leave and return to the Sea. Perhaps then she could think clearly, even if it meant leaving Denethor. Always she came back to the tangle of what she felt and what was expected of her.
Denethor was fond of her, of that Finduilas was certain. But his love is Gondor. To be in love with him was folly, for it would not be returned, yet neither could she help her heart. At least Thorongil can see that I do not love him, even if all of his friends are blind. Yet he was clear that he wished to win her heart. Was that not a good thing? Perhaps I can reconcile my heart to another. And every time she thought this, she remembered the brush of Denethor’s lips on her temple or her fingers, the times when he held her so near she could hear his heart, how he stroked her swan’s feathers and knew she watched over him.
She picked at the blanket covering the bed, trying to make herself think like a prince, as Denethor or her father would do. There is more than love to consider. I said so myself. Denethor’s concerns about Thorongil were not about the man himself, but what the captain could do for, or to, Gondor, in his rise. Father believes he will bring unity when we most need it. But what then of the Lost? Is it the fault of their stewards that they are dwindled to naught? How should we take such a one as our own? The Ring. If the Ring was properly Thorongil’s own, and Denethor believed it was, then he could claim the kingship by right. But then again there was always Silmarien’s warning that a throne without a sword was but a chair. Thorongil pleased the lords with his victories and his manners. That made him no less a mercenary, dependent upon the coin and good will of whomever hired him.
Finduilas frowned, a new idea teasing at the edges of her thoughts. Thorongil has patrons. The Lord Steward favors him. But what if that favor should flag? Then the captain had nothing. Should he displease the Steward, he would be dismissed. In a moment, the calculation turned inside out. She wondered at her own obtuseness for not seeing it so starkly before. Thorongil is not a captain who will be king. He is a mercenary who needs to wed a queen. All the meddling and matchmaking, which she had ascribed to other people wanting for her to wed a powerful man, was set on its head. Thorongil needed to wed into a powerful family if he aspired to be king. Just as Arvedui needed Fíriel. Even though he was already an acknowledged king, he needed the southern claim. Anyone who would wish to rule Gondor would need lands, lieges, kin in key places in the army and among the lords, wealth to distribute, and so on. Denethor out of favor with the Steward was still a powerful man, while Thorongil under the Steward’s approval still walked a pace behind the other.
But Thorongil loves. He can love and think, just as you can. If all he wished was a queen, he would rightly pursue Ivriniel, who is the elder daughter. That he does not proves little. He may love you and still think of how to further his own ambition. It was Thorongil’s luck that both of his desires should lie in the same act – love and rule together. Her path would be more difficult. Her mother’s words of the summer came back to her: “I train you for what you will need to know, for someday you will be the lady of a great house or manor or perhaps a keep. It is your duty to order it well. Many will rely on your forethought, and it is in your hands to make things a pleasure, or a misery.” Only this choice was not for the ordering of a keep, but for the fortune of a kingdom. If this match would make a king for Gondor, and would give him a queen who would bring the support of the falas, could she in good conscience say no to it? Even if Denethor would consider a living wife, and not just his oaths to Gondor, did that free her of her duty to Gondor? Can I learn to love this man? The wizard thought it not chance that we should meet. I have been brought here by the dreams in a time of doom…
‘I am not from a poem!’ she whispered fiercely. ‘I would have my love, then.’ It simply was not fair. If she was supposed to be for Thorongil, why could not fate at least allow her to love him? If you would be not so stubborn, perhaps you shall. Just as her father believed Ivriniel’s infatuation with Thorongil would fade with distance and time, perhaps too would her own with Denethor. Perhaps Brandir is right. If I read the captain’s words with an open heart, perhaps my heart can be swayed.
Finduilas rose from the bed and went to stare glumly out the window. The day was clear, though the light was weak in the winter afternoon. It was tempting to go out and climb to the Citadel to walk upon its wall and look out. But she had promised she would stay in Vinyamar. Down in the lane, she saw Beregar turn the corner, holding a basket. Huan’s gift! Finduilas fumbled in a drawer for the pin wrapped in its scrap of velvet, then hurried downstairs to be in the kitchen to meet him. They arrived at almost the same moment, both smiling.
‘My lady, it is good to see you! I bring you some Yule gifts.’
‘And I have one for you, dear hound.’ She held out the velvet to him. He took it and unwrapped it, eyes going large when he saw the pin. ‘My lady,’ he breathed, ‘it is beautiful.’
‘Well, put it on your cloak, silly!’
Handing her the basket, Beregar did as he was bid. He looked at it in admiration, fingers caressing the dog’s head. Then he looked up at her, face serious and determined. He dropped to one knee before her, took her hand and kissed it. ‘May I be as loyal and true to you, Lady Finduilas, as the Hound was to his lady. May I die before I fail my duty to you.’
‘Get up!’ Finduilas said, flustered at the young man’s oath. After Beregar scrambled to his feet, she scolded, ‘What kind of nonsense is this, Beregar? You are not my servant. You are Denethor’s!’
Beregar shrugged, cheeks going a little pink. ‘But my heart is yours, and he always bids me watch over you. That is what I am for.’
‘Brave Huan, I will leave soon,’ she argued, ‘and I will not be here for you to shepherd.’
‘Then tell me what you wish for me to do.’
‘I have asked your lord to release you from your service to him. If he does so, then I wish you to go into the Tower Guard and become the finest soldier in it. If he shall refuse, then you must tend him as you have me, with all your true heart.’
‘I will. I promise.’ He pointed at the basket in her hands. ‘There are gifts in here for you. From the Archivist’s house and from my lord.’
‘How does he fare? Did you see him this day?’
‘Yes. There are many councils to attend. When they are joined, I run errands and try to make sure all is ready for him. I do make sure that he eats. When he is not in councils, he sits in his study and reads the book you gave him. He is very quiet and seems sad, to be honest.’
In the house, Finduilas heard Adrahil’s voice echo down the hall. He would be displeased to see her talking to Beregar. She held up a hand to interrupt the young man’s account. ‘Get yourself something to eat or drink if you wish, Beregar. I must go help Ivriniel.’
‘Thank you, my lady.’ Finduilas smiled and quickly left the kitchen. She put the basket upstairs, then came down and greeted her father. She made herself sit chatting with him and with Imrahil for an hour, curbing her impatience. Only when Adrahil said he needed to write letters did she hurry back upstairs to look in the basket. She did not look at any of the gifts, only for letters.
Dearest Little Sister,
Here are a few things for you. The pin belonged to my mother. You made her very happy in her last days, so I think she would wish for you to have it.
I already miss you so much I think my heart will break. Will you not come see me before you leave? That would be the finest gift I could receive.
Your loving sister,
There were notes from Wren and Lark that Finduilas set aside. Denethor’s note was like all of his others.
Golasgil says you have not been in to select a book yet. Please do so before you leave. He knows to expect you. These are for you as well.
In the basket was a small bundle of books, tied neatly with string. I wonder if these are his own or from the archives? Also in the basket was a small wooden box with a beautiful carving on the lid. Inside sat a swan-shaped pin of mother-of-pearl with a sapphire eye and jet beak. Lark and Wren had given her some lace and an embroidered kerchief respectively, and their notes begged her to come visit once more. Finduilas penned replies to the women, saying she would ask for permission.
Minas Tirith, Mettarë, 2975 T.A.
The mettarë feast in the Citadel that evening was the smaller of the two year-end celebrations. Even so, only Merethrond was large enough to hold it. Tomorrow’s celebration, the yestarë feast, was for all of the City, while this one was for those who lived in the Citadel and for the invited guests of the Lord Steward, which meant all of the visiting lords and several of the great houses of the City. This may have been several hundred people, yet it left the great hall more than half empty.
To signify the year-end, everything worn was to be something old. Finduilas had intended to wear her dark dress with the pin from Aiavalë until Adrahil had told her to change into something brighter. Wishing she had thought to pretend to be ill, Finduilas pulled on her wine and gold dress, then had to laugh. It was still hemmed for Aldwyn and came barely to the tops of her calves. She called Ivriniel to come help and the sisters giggled together, teasing each other that perhaps Finduilas could set a new fashion.
The feast was merry. To one side long tables had been laid and one could take a seat at them as one chose, lords and soldiers, cooks and ladies sitting mixed together, rank set aside for this night. Most women were crowned with holly and evergreens, while men wore berry clusters or sprigs of pine pinned to their shirts. To the other side of the hall was dancing, with many musicians taking turns. Minstrels strolled among the tables, singing cheerful songs, often bordering on the ribald.
The Lord Steward wore a collar of pine and laurel like a great chain of office. As was the custom at this feast, he served people at the tables, putting meat on plates or filling cups, greeting each person. It was not too onerous as he often sat and shared a cup and a tale or a song. Every baby was handed to him to hold and kiss, bestowing a blessing upon them, and small children followed him, for Ecthelion seemed to have an inexhaustible stock of sweets in a pouch at his waist and he delighted in handing them out.
Denethor and Brandir were also acting as servants and Maiaberiel walked about visiting, though Finduilas never saw her serve. The woman was dressed in scarlet and gold, and the wreath of holly in her hair looked very much like a crown. You think yourself the queen of Gondor already, Beruthiel. You order the Steward and you presume you will order Thorongil and myself as well. You are mistaken. It would not be a simple task, but were she wed to the captain, Finduilas knew she could act to limit this woman’s influence. Just as Mother does with Father, I could guide him. Would he listen to me, though? He seems to wish only words of flowers and poetry from me. That would have to change.
Finduilas watched Denethor working the tables, greeting lord and messenger boy alike with the same grave reserve, looking noble even in worn soldier’s garb. Denethor listens to me. Sometimes. As she had during the visit to Osgiliath, Finduilas simply observed him, entranced by the beauty of his movements. There was nothing awkward or ungainly about him, as tall men often were. Why does no one else see your beauty, friend? Perhaps they have and you have spurned them.
At some point, Denethor served the section of the tables where the Swan House sat. ‘Good mettarë to you Denethor!’ the Prince greeted him heartily, sliding over on the bench to make room and gesturing for Denethor to take a seat.
He politely shook his head at the offer. ‘Good mettarë to you, Adrahil, and to all of your house. Unfortunately, my duties tonight keep me from sitting and conversing, Prince.’
‘Would you come by for breakfast with me tomorrow, Denethor? I would like to speak with you.’
‘That would be most agreeable, though it must be early.’
‘In the second hour?’
‘In the second hour. Good evening.’ With a polite bow, Denethor moved down the table. Finduilas watched him until he disappeared behind the crowd. With a sigh, she turned back to picking at her plate.
‘Finduilas, are you feeling well?’ Imrahil quietly said into her ear.
‘Perfectly well! Why do you ask?’
‘Because you have not eaten a bite of your supper and you do not look very cheerful. You look like you would rather be home.’
‘I am not hungry, is all. But I will eat, so you need not worry!’ She ate a few bites of meat and made a silly face at her brother, then tickled him. The two began teasing each other until Luinil scolded them to stop.
‘Why don’t you three go dance?’ Adrahil suggested. The siblings agreed this was an excellent idea. The dancing here was much more fun than at Maiaberiel’s party. People were dancing simply for the joy of it, and all danced with all. Finduilas forgot her dreary worries and threw herself into the festivities. A scullery boy, a lord, an old cook, a young soldier – dancing this night was like it had been before she fell in love.
Finduilas turned to Thorongil with a bright smile and a sinking heart. He was dressed like Denethor, in plain soldier’s clothes. The captain was smiling at her the way she wished Denethor would do. Why can I not love this man? I shall have to make my heart glad to see him. She held out her hand in greeting. When he took it, she was glad she had not eaten very much.
‘Thorongil, how nice to see you. Have you feasted?’
‘Yes, though I am beginning to feel a fatted-calf, so many celebrations are held this week.’ His hand held hers quite firmly.
‘Only one more, and then you are done,’ she cheerfully teased.
‘When is it that you leave for Dol Amroth?’
‘Seven days from tomorrow.’
‘I would that it were longer,’ he said softly. His eyes on her became intent.
‘I do not, I fear. I miss my home by the Sea, and wish to see my grandfather again.’
‘Forgive my selfishness. I thought only of my own wishes,’ was his embarrassed reply.
‘Forgiven, sir. Do you not miss your home and kin?’
‘Very much.’ His gaze turned inward and became sad. ‘Someday, perhaps, I may bring them here.’
Who do you mean? Close kin or all of the Lost? There was another thing to consider. Would the Lost follow him here, reuniting a sundered folk? Thorongil’s sadness moved her heart and she squeezed his hand. ‘When you write to me, I would hear of them, if you care to speak so.’
‘Yes, I think I will.’ The sadness retreated from his face and he smiled. ‘I think they would like you a great deal.’
‘Here is not the place to speak of such things, though.’
‘Indeed you are right, Finduilas. It is a time for merriment for the good fortune that has come to us this year. Will you dance?’
‘Of course.’ They danced and then she excused herself. Thorongil looked disappointed, but bowed politely and did not argue. Finduilas walked out into a corridor at the side of the hall and leaned against a wall, trying not to cry. The longer she had danced, the worse she felt. You like the captain. You know he is a good man. Even Denethor insists on that point. Think not of your own selfish wants, for something greater is at stake.
Servants and guests passed her in the hallway, heading for the kitchens or a privy or a door out, and some paused to ask her if she needed anything. Finduilas assured them that she was simply resting away from the noise and sent them on their way. Her heart jumped when she saw Denethor enter the corridor, his cloak over his arm. He walked directly over to her.
‘Alquallë, your lady mother is concerned at your absence.’
‘What is it, girl? Are you…’
‘Unwell, no, thank you for asking, I am just resting and will return to the feast shortly, good evening.’
‘Alquallë, you are behaving most oddly. Has something happened?’
‘Yes, though I do not care to discuss it in a kitchen corridor.’
‘No. Thorongil. Nothing he has done, not really, but, just him.’
‘Come with me.’ Denethor led them into a side hall, then up a long, winding staircase that opened onto the roof of Merethrond and the walkway that led from the Tower to the Citadel wall. He paused and threw his cloak about her before going several yards further towards the wall. ‘We may speak privately here. What is the matter?’
‘Everything and nothing.’ She sighed, gathering her thoughts. ‘The day before Lark’s wedding, the captain came to Vinyamar and met with the Prince.’
‘He bespoke you.’ Denethor’s voice was flat.
‘Not exactly. Thorongil and Father spoke, and Father told the captain that he would not permit any true courtship because I am too young. He gave Thorongil permission to write to me until such time as I was old enough to consider these matters. The captain told me this, and made it clear that his intention is to ask as soon as my father will permit it.’
‘I see.’ Under the starlight, Denethor’s face appeared a statue, still and white.
‘I spoke afterwards to the Prince. He would not have me wed against my wishes, but let me know that the captain is who would most please him.’
‘So it is decided. Congratulations.’
‘But I care nothing for Thorongil!’ she snapped.
‘That is difficult to believe, given your friendliness to him.’
‘Will no one believe me when I say I do not love him!’ Finduilas crossed her arms, glaring. ‘If kindness and courtesy make up love, then I am in love with any number of men. Must I strike him or deride him in front of all before I will be believed? Perhaps I should hire a crier to walk the streets calling out what I think.’ Denethor chuckled at that, which made her laugh as well. When it passed, she sighed and said, ‘Even so, love or not, I fear that this will happen.’
‘Your father would not force you to wed unwilling, would he?’
‘No, he would not. He was quite emphatic on that, for he knew how strongly I would consider his wishes.’
‘As you should. But I do not see how then you must wed if your heart does not wish it and the Prince will not command it.’
‘I must think as you have bade me, as a prince, and consider things that are not just of my own heart.’
Denethor cocked his head, curious. ‘What do you think of?’
‘We know about the captain, what he bears. We both know what Beruthiel intends. In our speech together, I have learned much of rule and right ordering, though it is but a sliver of your wisdom. And I have considered my own dreams.’
She gathered up the heavy cloak so she would not trip on it while she walked. Denethor did not question her, but fell into step beside her as she went to the Citadel wall. There, Finduilas stared out into the darkness. At the edge of her senses, she imagined she could feel the taint of the east, like a trace of a smell, the lightest of touches. ‘Perhaps I am something from a poem.’
‘Poem or not, you see what others cannot. What do you know from your dreams?’
‘What you have said. What the wizard has said. There is a choice before me, and I would fain not make it. And I now know the choice is about the captain.’
‘To wed him.’
‘Yes. I do not wish to, I do not love him, but I think it shall be my duty to do so.’
‘Duty can be unkind.’
‘I know, friend. I have watched it treat you most unkindly.’
‘You have not yet chosen?’
‘I need you to help me choose. Give me your wisdom.’
‘I am not perhaps the best counselor. My judgment has gone astray much recently.’
‘Still I would have it.’
‘So you shall, prince.’
‘What matters most is that.’ She pointed east. ‘The Enemy has returned and we are assailed. So, we must decide what is our part in opposing him. Some think nothing of that, like Beruthiel. They have already chosen the Shadow and they cannot be allowed to win.’
‘Yes, I think you right.’
‘There is one who might unite Gondor and bring back hope. Do you think the Steward knows the full truth of Thorongil?’
Denethor shook his head. ‘No, though I am not certain. Mayhap the wizard has let slip something.’
‘Then there is a reason that we alone know this. His secrets have been shown to us for some purpose.’
‘We are to prepare a king.’ Denethor’s voice was calm and firm.
‘You believe this.’
‘I have known this since mid-summer. When you told me of the Ring, my decision was confirmed.’ Once more he was looking at her with his unreadable stare. ‘I have been waiting for you to understand your role.’
‘Waiting for me…?’ Finduilas’s heart fell completely. He has intended this, too, just as all of the others have. Anger rose suddenly and she balled up her fists, wishing she dared strike him. ‘And why have you said nothing? Why did you not take me into your counsels?’
‘You had to understand it for yourself, for it is your choice to make. Now you understand it. Now you may chose.’
‘What of yourself?’ she challenged. ‘To choose Thorongil is to take yourself out of power and give all that you love to him.’
‘Why do this, then?’
‘For Gondor. What other reason can there be?’ Denethor finally looked away, shrugging. ‘Even if there is a king, it may not go poorly for me. A steward may not need a king, but a king shall always have need of a steward.’
‘Could you serve him?’
Denethor shrugged again, began to nod, then stopped. ‘No. I could not. I could not bear to watch her in the hands of another.’ He kept his eyes trained eastwards.
‘But what then would become of you, friend?’
‘I do not know. Perhaps I will change places with him, go north as a mercenary.’ Denethor smiled wryly, but would not meet her eyes. ‘Perhaps they will require a steward if their own has left.’
‘You would leave me and Aiavalë to deal with Beruthiel on our own?’
‘Of course not! Aiavalë would go with me. I would not leave her here.’ Finally, he looked at her. There was nothing to be read in his expression. ‘You would have a new protector.’
‘So, prince, you say I should wed Thorongil.’
‘I say that it would be best for Gondor in the face of the Enemy that we should be united behind a great king. And his queen.’
‘For the sake of Gondor?’
‘For the sake of Gondor.’
But I love you, not Gondor, not Thorongil. Even as she bowed her head in defeat, a small rebellious flame flared up in her heart. This is not right. She thought of one more thing to ask.
‘I thank you for your counsel, Warden and prince.’
‘You are welcome. Shall we go in from the cold? Your mother will be most worried by now.’
‘In a moment. You have given me one part of your thought, and now I ask for the other.’
‘What is that?’
‘You have given me wise and princely advice. Now I would hear the words of a friend. With no thought to Gondor or grander things, what do you think I should do, friend? My father and other wise folk counsel me to make a match with a good man whom I do not love. He seems kind enough, and mayhap I can make my heart be silent. I have seen marriages made of worse. What say you to this?’
Denethor dropped his eyes, thinking. ‘I think… I think first that you must decide if you do not love him yet, or you do not love him at all and shall never do so.’
‘And when I have come to that decision, there is another to be made.’
He smiled a little and gathered up her hands in his own. ‘Alquallë, as a friend and as one who cares for you as the dearest of sisters, I say to you this: You must wed for love, whatever fate demands of you. Fate will always find a tool to hand. Listen to your heart, and give yourself only in love.’
‘Well, friend, you have set me a worse conundrum than before.’
‘How is that?’
‘Well, I do not love the captain and shall not ever. I know this because I already love, but it is a most unsuitable love.’
‘Unsuitable?’ Denethor’s brow wrinkled up, then he gave her a stern glare. ‘You are not in love with Beregar, are you?’ He stepped back and shook a finger at her. ‘That would be most unsuitable!’
Finduilas broke out in a gale of laughter. ‘Beregar? Why would you think that?’
‘You always seem to be thinking of him. Your request to me, the, the pin you just now gave him, how you talk to him. He is quite besotted with you, you know! And he is a handsome young man, and your own age, and…’ Finduilas stifled her giggles and laid a hand on Denethor’s wrist. Her fingers sought the scar through his shirt.
‘No! I assure you, I am no more in love with my sweet hound than I am with the captain.’
‘Then…who? A married man?’ Denethor seemed quite confused.
‘In a manner of speaking.’ She looked in his eyes and grasped his wrist firmly. ‘The one I love has sworn to me he will never marry.’ Her heart beat three times before a look of comprehension came over his face.
‘I beg thee, Alquallë, toy not with my heart!’ His voice was ragged and he tried to pull out of her grasp.
‘I would not do so to thee, friend! Thou art my love and no other.’
‘No, you cannot!’ He finally pulled his hand free and backed away. ‘You cannot choose this. Not me.’
‘Yes I may, for it is my choice to make! I have loved thee since I first looked into thine eyes, Denethor, though my heart has been hidden from me for long.’
‘Then thou art a fool! Thou knowest what I have said.’
‘Thy oath never to wed? Most certainly, and it has kept me silent until now.’
‘Wouldst that thou had held thy tongue!’ he snapped.
‘More is the better that I have not! My silence has led too many into presumptions that should not have been made.’
‘They were made for reason, Alquallë.’ Denethor came closer once more, voice pleading. ‘Thou hast tricked me into saying what thine ears wished to hear. Duty, it crushes, it drowns, yes, but be thou a prince and do what needs be done.’
‘I tricked thee not! Thou spoke truly from thy heart. Thou wouldst bid me be a grim and cruel woman, even as fate has shaped thee? That is thy wish for me?’
‘No! I would not curse any with such, but thou art not for a simple fate. Thy dreams show this!’
‘I am as Tuor and have given word of my dreams to those who should hear them, to thyself and to Mithrandir, the wisest beings I know. And now I shall follow the counsel of the Lord of Waters, and shall do as my heart and valor lead me. My heart has led me to thee.’
‘Then let thy valor take thee elsewhere! Why wouldst thou wish for a darkened creature like myself? The heir of Elendil loves thee, and thou wouldst be queen!’
‘What care I for the hands of a king? In my dreams, I have seen thee crowned with stars, and know what king rules my heart. I wish only for thy hands upon me.’
‘But it is not my fate to have thee!’
‘Heed thine own words, friend! Fate will find her instrument, whether we mortals say yea or nay to her desires.’
‘And thou wouldst choose this thing before thee? Grim and cruel, as thou hast said?’
‘Kind and brave, as I have seen. Argue not with me, friend, for I have already chosen.’
‘Then thou hast chosen solitude.’
‘Then I have chosen solitude, for I will accept suit from no other save thee. If thou wilt not wed, ne’er shall I. But this answer I shall have from thee: What is in thine own heart?’
Denethor did not answer. His face was terrible to look upon. Finduilas touched his hand and he seized hers in a grip that hurt. He raised her hand up and brushed his cheek against it, eyes closed.
‘I love thee.’ His mouth formed the words that were scarce to be heard.
‘Then I am content.’
‘Thou must here choose twixt love and oath.’ Denethor’s eyes opened and he stepped back, letting go her hand. ‘Have pity on me, Alquallë! Thou asks too much of me.’
‘I ask nothing of thee, friend, save the honesty of thy heart. I would not have thee break troth. Thou need not choose, for I have chosen and nothing shall move my heart. It is thee that I dream of, it is thee that I touch in the waters. From this moment forward, I call myself thy wife. I want no other.’
‘Thou wilt be alone.’
‘Then that is the fate I choose for myself. Not what is given to me in a dream.’ Finduilas turned and began to walk off, nearly tripping on the long cloak. She slipped out of it and held it out. ‘This is thine. As am I.’ He silently took the cloak. Finduilas walked to the staircase to Merethrond. When she looked back, Denethor was not there. Swiftly, she returned to the hall.
Luinil’s expression was wrathful, and the Prince looked little less angered.
‘You were told not to wander,’ was all her mother said.
Finduilas tried to look abashed. She did not feel the slightest bit guilty. He loves me! All her doubts were gone and she wanted to laugh and dance about. My love loves me! She would be a maid forever, like Lady Lore, and she did not care. Denethor loved her. Thorongil could find himself another to be his queen.
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