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Hands of the King: 28. Vows
'Pear Hollow - where is that?' Adrahil asked as he looked at the dower scroll, reading off the list of farmlands that would belong to Finduilas upon her marriage.
'Anórien. North of Calenhad, just south of the Entwash,' Denethor answered. 'Half orchards, half oats, with a walnut grove. Pasturage as well.' Pear Hollow was a farm he had inherited from Emeldir. Cherries and apples grew there along with the pears. One of Brandir's cousins held the land next to it and tended both farms, so Denethor was not surprised to see it among the properties. This and another farm in Anórien, a few fine crofts on the Pelennor, and vineyards near the Sirith in Lebennin would be hers. You have an odd sense of double, Brandir. In truth, the Steward's dower gifted to Finduilas was at least three times what the Prince was providing, and Adrahil had not stinted his daughter. All would be her own property, to do with as she pleased, so that she would not stand beholden to her husband's kin. Finduilas would be given coin, metals, fabric, livestock, fishing boats, lands, buildings, and rents. There were two weaving halls, a smithy, and a potter, though Denethor hazarded a guess she would count the paper-making shop most dear. It would be interesting to see where he would obtain the two-hundred men-at-arms Brandir had promised in match for the one-hundred offered by Adrahil. It was by far the richest dower Denethor knew of since the wedding of Míriel and Pelendur.
Adrahil continued to read, occasionally asking for a clarification or details on Denethor's gifts, sometimes offering explanations of his own, until all was named. Adrahil sat, giving the scroll a sour look, before sighing and meeting Denethor's eyes. 'All is in order,' he said in a grudging tone.
'Yes, all is in order. I have no complaint or objection, though I have one emendation.' Denethor glanced at the parchment. Time to be yet more generous. 'I would like this to say that one-half of the Steward's gifts shall be granted to Lady Finduilas at once, so that she may use them as she pleases in preparing for the wedding.'
Adrahil stared, then shrugged, holding out his hand for Denethor's copy. 'That is most generous.'
'It is no more than is due her.' Adrahil did not answer, but quickly wrote the additional stipulation at the foot of each scroll. Denethor rose and came to the desk to sign and seal the agreement. As Adrahil did not look inclined to offer his hand, Denethor contented himself with a respectful bow.
'Have you found any more affection for her?' Adrahil's voice was clipped and his frame tense. 'You cared nothing last winter, or so you said.'
'My affection has grown in proportion to what is honorable and decent, Prince.' Denethor made his own tone mild. 'To have entertained greater thoughts while the lady was a guest in my care would have been presumptuous.'
'My wife and my daughter both claim you bear her some love, but I find that difficult to believe.'
'I have never seen sign in you of tender feelings for anything, only calculation. You forget I have watched the Steward's house for many years. Ambition is the only true desire I have seen in the hearts of that line, though some dissemble more cleverly than others.'
Denethor had to take several breaths before he could ensure his voice would remain even. 'You do not see everything, Prince…'
'No, I do not. In particular, I do not see why Finduilas's heart should so incline.' To this, Denethor had no civil or direct answer, so he bowed again and turned to leave. He was halfway across the room when Adrahil spoke. 'And once more Eöl ensnares Aredhel.'
Denethor heeled about and strode over to the other, staring down at the man. Adrahil's cheeks reddened, but he refused to look away. 'What mean you by these harsh words, Prince?' Denethor said softly.
'I mean that you have cast some glamour upon her, and her thoughts are not her own. A maid bereft of kin and guard has had her heart swayed by your subtle arts.' The intensity of Adrahil's gaze left no doubt that he believed what he spoke. 'You are a man of heartless lusts, even as your sire, and this is but one more of your games of power.'
'I did not know you thought me so foul, Prince. Not so long ago, I heard you say I was a man of honor, when there was war to be fought and your fief to be protected. But in truth you believe I am a man to beguile an innocent to further some dark scheme?'
'Yes! You have misled and entrapped her, binding her heart to you in some wicked way. How else would she be so defiant and resist my will in this matter?'
Denethor stared down at Adrahil until the man swallowed and looked away. 'I see. You are wrong in every way.' It was she who enchanted me. 'You need not trouble yourself any longer on this point.' Denethor raised the dower scroll and crumpled it, then dropped it to the floor. 'I withdraw my suit. Good day.' He turned and tried once again to leave.
'Denethor! You can't do that!'
'To the contrary, I may do as I please. I have more than enough kin who speak foully of me and conspire to do me harm when I thwart their own selfish folly. I do not need to add to that number. If you are so opposed to an alliance with me, then make whichever one pleases you. I have done nothing to earn such insolence from you, as your daughter can attest.' Denethor paused before opening the door. 'I leave it to you to inform the ladies of this unfortunate outcome.'
Denethor refused to let himself think about what he had done until he was back in his quarters. The hewed stone walls weighed upon him and he retreated to the balcony to brood. I love thee, but I could not accept that dishonor. Thou should not bind thy fate to mine. Something wishes this not to be. Far out on the water, he could just discern a sail. As he watched it slowly move upon the horizon, some of the mariner's words returned - that yet endures, and will not fail nor yield. The dread in his heart retreated at this thought, and he let himself hope that there might yet be something for them. I should tell her what I have done. Then we can plan what next we shall do. Denethor considered that he would rather face an Uruk than bring this news to Finduilas's ears, then sighed and began walking to the door. Before he was halfway across the room, Luinil entered without knocking, marched over, and back-handed him.
'You will not do this to my daughter!'
Denethor definitely would have preferred to face a company of Uruks to facing Luinil at this moment. Rubbing his stinging cheek, he said 'I did nothing to your daughter. The Prince has impugned my honor, and …'
'I do not care about your honor!' she snarled. 'It is hers that will be harmed beyond repair by this! Come along.' Luinil led him to a corridor he had not seen before and into a small, bright room that reminded him of Aiavalë's parlor – comfortable chairs, baskets of needlework, small stacks of books, and the scent of women. Adrahil was already there, looking miserable. On the table next to the Prince were the dower scrolls, one pristine, one crumpled. She motioned for Denethor to stand beside Adrahil and faced them both, arms crossed. 'What idiocy has possessed you two?'
'I have been offered grave insult by the Prince when I have treated with his house in good faith. Prince, you derided me as heartless and false for having treated the women of your house with honor and discretion. You ascribe base acts to me. You have insulted the honor of my house and my person. I think that you are succumbing to the ancient arrogance of your own house, believing that you have bound me to silence with this pledge. I must ask; if you would do this act of rebellion for so little cause, what else are you emboldened to do? What other words will you speak against me or the Steward if I allow this to stand?'
Adrahil did not speak but simply looked at Luinil. She approached him and rested her hands on his. As she looked at him, the anger in her face became softened by sorrow. 'Husband, I thought we were agreed.' He nodded. She leaned her forehead against his for a moment before sighing and backing away.
Adrahil cleared his throat. He met Denethor's eyes and said, 'Lord Denethor, I spoke meanly when you offered beneficence, and the honor harmed is my own. You have shown restraint and generosity, and I have met this with insult. Pray forgive me, my lord, and punish not an innocent child for my folly.' The Prince knelt. 'Exact your vengeance on the one who has wronged you, my lord. Spare her.'
'No. Your word is not to be trusted, Prince.'
Luinil turned to Denethor. 'Will you destroy my child's honor for the sake of your pride, Warden? Are there no amends to be made?'
'Perhaps. You will surrender what you would withhold. There shall be a wedding, not a betrothal, tonight. Surely there are two gold rings to be found in the fortress?'
'That will be a scandal as well!' Luinil protested.
'I will not wait two years. Not now.'
'Mettarë. On mettarë this year,' she pleaded. 'Do my child no harm!'
'On mettarë, then, out of respect for Finduilas, but I am not satisfied.'
Luinil also knelt. 'Name what you will, Warden.'
Denethor cast about for what he could demand that would teach Adrahil his place but not do harm to Finduilas. Suddenly, he had it. 'I had thought to return to Minas Tirith once the betrothal was confirmed. I now think I need to see what discontent Dol Amroth has been spreading in the sea-fiefs. Imrahil will accompany me and will return with me afterwards to Minas Tirith to do his duty to the Steward. I would not have the son fall into the same folly as the sire. We leave tomorrow morning.' Adrahil closed his eyes and bowed his head in acquiescence. Luinil did not look away. 'Is this acceptable to you, Princess? I bear no ill-will towards your children.'
'I have never doubted your honor, Warden.' She hesitated, then said in a sad voice, 'Be careful of him and make him write.'
He offered Luinil his hand to help her rise, though he left Adrahil kneeling. 'Imrahil is to be my brother, Princess. I will treat him as such.' Bowing slightly to her, Denethor left and returned to his rooms. He took a chair out to the balcony and sat through the day watching the Sea. The swift reversals of the morning required careful thought.
It sounded as though Adrahil wished to reject all claims on Finduilas, Thorongil's as well as his own, thinking the captain to be but another son of Ecthelion and the contest over Finduilas's hand a political battle within the house. That was good, for it was unlikely that the Prince would continue to support the captain's ambitions. It also appeared that Adrahil had been on the cusp of rebellion against the Stewards – or at least against himself. Perhaps you had thoughts of repeating your forefather's proud claims, and would presume upon kinship to excuse your faction. Even so, he would have to tread carefully for some time with Dol Amroth. Adrahil's pride would be deeply hurt by the loss of both son and daughter. Denethor recalled Finduilas's words that Imrahil had been stirred against him in the betrothal, but also remembered the way the young man had tried to avoid argument the night before. To the degree he could form any opinion of the boy, Denethor thought him an affable but incurious fellow. He is too young to be in the Steward's service. That no longer mattered. Imrahil would be of service, if only by living in Minas Tirith.
An hour before sunset, Denethor heard the door to the rooms open and close, and recognized Beregar's footsteps on the floor. 'My lord?'
'It is time to prepare for the feast.' As he had aboard Seabird, Beregar saw to making his lord presentable. When changing into a clean shirt, one of linen thread spun by Emeldir, Denethor took the chain from around his neck and removed the ring. Unwrapping it, he admired the silver band for a moment before placing it in his pocket. This time, Beregar did wash Denethor's hands and face for him. The sun had set before Beregar was satisfied with his handiwork. Hardly had he finished when there was a knock at the door. Brandir and Maiaberiel came in.
'Denethor, you look magnificent!' Brandir pronounced, beaming. The men embraced, then Denethor turned to his sister. To his surprise, she gave him a kiss and a pleasant smile.
'Brandir is right. You are impressive.'
Denethor could not detect any slyness or insincerity in her words. 'Thank you, though you should praise Beregar. This is his doing.' The Hound smiled shyly and studied his toes.
'Well, whoever is responsible for making you look civilized is to be praised,' she replied in a more usual tone. 'We're here to collect you. The betrothal is to be conducted shortly, followed by the feast. It would be impolite for you to be late, as you usually are.'
'Where is the ring, Denethor?' Brandir asked. Denethor handed it over. Brandir examined it, then whistled in appreciation. 'Perfect!'
Maiaberiel held out her hand for it and also exclaimed at its beauty. Reluctantly, she gave it back to Brandir. 'Who did this work?'
'I shall have to speak to her when we return.'
'She would probably prefer that you did not.' The siblings eyed each other.
Brandir cleared his throat to break up the staring contest. 'I will go tell them you are ready, yes?'
'Yes. Beregar, go with Lord Brandir.' The two bowed and left. Beruthiel crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows. 'You surprise me, sister.'
'I expected some chicanery from you to try to prevent this.'
'I was going to, but Brandir asked me to refrain.'
'Brandir asked…?' Denethor was truly confused now. 'And you obeyed?'
'He asked me to bring this about as you brought about our own marriage,' she replied plainly. 'He bade me bend my will to his and trust his heart in this matter.' Maiaberiel laughed merrily at the disbelief on his face. 'I told you before, Denethor. You know nothing of love.' Her face hardened and she lifted a warning finger, 'And if you do not treat this sweet child with love, I will know, and I will…'
'Save your threats, Beruthiel. I think we both know which of us holds the upper hand. I will do as I please and you will behave yourself.' Denethor smiled and let his eyes run over her. 'Though I do have to thank you for your kissing lesson. There is some of your misbehavior I shall miss.' He offered his arm. 'Shall we go? It would be rude to be late.'
'You aren't married yet,' Beruthiel lazily replied as she took his arm. As she touched him, Denethor was very glad he had not eaten at midday. When they paused as he opened the door, she stood on tiptoe and flicked his ear with her tongue, laughing as he shoved her away. 'You are not half so bold as you pretend, brother. I have always known this about you.'
'And you are more vile than anyone could imagine. What love would your husband bear you if he saw that?'
'You are the one who brought up kissing, Denethor. Who was it who put himself in my bed one night? You did not reveal yourself for some time nor were you disinterested, as I recall. Do not fault me for your own failed nerve.' Maiaberiel deliberately brushed against him as she walked out of the room. When he caught up with her down the corridor, Denethor did not offer his arm. She chuckled but said nothing as they walked to the great hall.
Beregar and Brandir were waiting for them. 'Denethor, come here! They are almost ready. Can you see?' Brandir asked. The hall was filled as it had been the first evening. Angelimir sat in a chair before the dais. 'When Angelimir stands, then we enter. Beregar, be a good lad and tell the Prince we are ready.' Soon, the Hound returned and Angelimir stood. When Maiaberiel would have taken his hand, Denethor yanked it away. He walked slowly towards the elder Prince, Brandir and Maiaberiel flanking him. When they reached Angelimir, all three bowed. After a short pause, Finduilas approached with Imrahil and Ivriniel as escort. Her dark hair was crowned with a garland of flowers and her sea-blue dress was embroidered with shells and swans. It took all his will not to pull her into his arms when she stopped before her grandfather.
Angelimir looked at them both, then laughed and raised his hands up in the air. 'Kinsfolk and townsfolk, dear friends and kindly strangers, people of this house and all who are guests here, be joyous! This noble man begs leave to ask for the hand of my granddaughter. Denethor, High Warden of the White Tower, son of Ecthelion, do you ask for Finduilas with full heart, and offer her your pledge of marriage?'
'Yes, Prince, I do.' Angelimir held out his hand and Denethor placed his own within it, palm up.
'Finduilas, Lady of Dol Amroth, daughter of Adrahil, do you hear Denethor's suit with full heart, and accept his pledge of marriage?'
'Yes, Grandf.. Prince, I do!'
Angelimir laughed once more and leaned to kiss her cheek before holding out his other hand for hers. 'Lord Brandir and Lady Maiaberiel, Lord Imrahil and Lady Ivriniel, do you hear the pledges of these two, your brother and your sister, and say that they are true?'
'We do,' the four chorused.
Angelimir lifted Finduilas's hand and placed it atop Denethor's. This time, when she caught his eyes and smiled, Denethor could not help but smile in return. 'Then do I declare before all, and before those who watch from afar, that Denethor and Finduilas are handfasted. Where now are the signs of your pledge, so that all may know and not only those who stand here witness?' Ivriniel and Brandir each stepped forward, holding out silver rings. Without relinquishing his hold of Finduilas's hand, Denethor plucked the ring from Brandir's palm and slipped it onto her forefinger. It fit perfectly. With no less dexterity, she placed her ring on his finger. There was a murmur of excitement in the hall – they all seemed to be waiting for something. Denethor gave Finduilas a quizzical look. She giggled, then turned her face up to his. He leaned down and gingerly brushed her lips with his own. The hall erupted in cheers.
'You'll never win a girl's heart that way, lad!' Angelimir joked, then held out an arm for an embrace. Denethor did so carefully, mindful of the Prince's pained bones. 'I may not make it to the wedding, but at least I saw this.'
'Grandfather, don't say such things!' Finduilas scolded as she hugged him. People began pressing close, eager to give their blessings and good wishes to the betrothed pair. Imrahil shook Denethor's hand and seemed pleased, though Ivriniel spared him only a single cold kiss on the cheek. Brandir was shaking hands all around as though he were the one betrothed. Denethor could not see Adrahil or Luinil anywhere. His stomach lurched as an all-too familiar hand slipped across his back and around his waist.
'Let me see your ring,' Beruthiel cooed, taking his hand and pressing herself against him. 'Oh, it is lovely!' Her fingers on his hand made his skin crawl and Denethor wished there was a decorous way to escape her. She leaned her head on his shoulder, looking up at him with a sweet smile and malicious eyes. 'I am so happy for you, brother, finally betrothed after all this time.' She kissed his cheek, flicking it with her tongue as she did, and murmured, 'You can kiss better than that.' More people came up to give their good wishes, but Maiaberiel would not leave. She chattered cheerfully about how happy the Steward's house was with the match, how dear Finduilas was to her, how long she had looked for the day her beloved little brother would chose a wife, all the while keeping her hand on his lower back and pressing her breast against his arm. Denethor wondered how long he could hold out before he would have to excuse himself to spew.
A hand on his left wrist was his salvation. He turned and met Finduilas's eyes, which were full of concern. She smiled brightly and took his other hand, pulling him from Maiaberiel's grasp. 'Come along, Denethor! The feast may not start until we are seated. Forgive me sister, for stealing him from you.' Finduilas tucked her arm into his and firmly marched them both around the dais. Adrahil and Luinil were already standing near their chairs, though Denethor could not remember them entering the room. He bowed to them. They smiled and nodded in return, though neither looked him in the face. Adrahil signaled for all to go to their places for the standing silence. Denethor held one hand behind him and was rewarded by Finduilas's touch. As their fingers entwined, their rings clicked soundlessly against each other.
Once the feast got underway, Finduilas asked 'What shall we do tomorrow, friend? Now that the formalities are through, perhaps we may take some time to speak.'
'I fear not. I will be departing tomorrow in the morning.'
She did not reply for more than a minute. 'Why?'
'I journey to the other fiefs. I go soon so that I may return to Minas Tirith without delay.'
'I see.' Finduilas turned away from him and gave her attention to her plate. Without looking up, she murmured, 'Or have you been asked to leave?'
'I thought it wise not to tarry,' Denethor softly replied. He picked at his meal and ate a few bites, but could not stomach more. He looked at his ring, smooth and heavy on his forefinger. It was somewhat loose, for his finger was slender, and he could turn it easily with his thumb.
'I wish you would stay, friend.'
'I wish I could.'
'Tell me what is wrong.' Denethor did not answer. Finduilas touched his hand lightly, then turned to Brandir on her other side and began to chatter at him. Denethor toyed with his ring and tried not to drink too much.
'Denethor!' Adrahil called out his name in a cheerful voice. The Prince was smiling and waving him over. Imrahil stood near his father's chair.
'Yes, Prince?' Denethor was wary of being too familiar, no matter Adrahil's demeanor.
'Imrahil,' Adrahil addressed his son, 'you are being honored by the Warden.' Luinil turned to listen, though she did not raise her eyes. 'Lord Denethor is to make a circuit of the sea-fiefs, and has asked that you accompany him.' Imrahil was thoroughly startled, gaping and looking back and forth between his father and Denethor.
So, this is how you will cast it. Very well, there is no harm. 'Yes, Imrahil. Your lord father has graciously allowed me to claim your company for this journey.'
'You have?' Imrahil asked the Prince, a mix of excitement and confusion on his face.
'Yes! And more than that; you are to continue to Minas Tirith. It is right that one of our house should be there to help prepare for your sister becoming its Lady, and she will need your mother and Ivriniel here.' Adrahil said this all with a broad smile, though he would not look directly at either Imrahil or Denethor.
'Oh.' This news did not please the young man so much. Imrahil cast a quick glance at Denethor who summoned what he hoped was a friendly smile. 'But that is a long time.'
'Not at all. The date has been changed. The wedding is set for mettarë,' Luinil answered, as cheerful as Adrahil. She finally looked up at Denethor and he could see her eyes were red, as from tears. Even so she laughed easily and added, 'We have so much to do in so short a time! You must make yourself useful to the Warden, Imrahil, and you'd best expect many letters from me and your sisters.'
'Yes, mother,' was Imrahil's dutiful reply.
'Minas Tirith! I envy you, grandson,' Angelimir said, giving Denethor a poke to make him step out of the way.
'I have been there before!' Imrahil protested.
'Under your mother's watchful eye,' his grandfather shot back, with a good-natured grin and a wink. 'It is a much more interesting place when…'
'He will be under the Warden's watchful eye, which I expect to be no less stern than my own, Father,' Luinil replied sharply, then shook an admonitory finger at her son, 'and I expect you to conduct yourself as befits a man of this house!'
'Yes, mother,' Imrahil meekly said. Adrahil and Luinil were looking at each other with odd expressions, then Luinil deliberately turned her back on them all and began speaking to the woman on the other side of her. 'Warden, when do we leave?' the youth asked.
'In the morning, I fear. I am sorry you have not much time to prepare, but the Steward is impatient for news of the realm. We will leave at the third bell.' With a polite nod, Denethor returned to his seat. Finduilas glanced at him, then ignored him for the remainder of the feast. It was not long before Adrahil rose and thanked the guests for attending, bringing the feast to a close. Denethor barely had time to bid Finduilas good night before Luinil swept her daughter away. Beregar was waiting for him in the corridor and trailed behind as Denethor slowly walked back to his rooms.
He stood for some minutes staring at the ring, turning it this way and that. It is near done. To break this troth now would mean war between the houses, for too much honor was at stake. Denethor slowly pulled off his finery, handing garments to Beregar to hang up. You called me a man of heartless lusts. Those particular words from Adrahil had not concerned him so much this morning, but now, after Maiaberiel's wanton touches and wicked words, he could not ignore them. I am not like that. I did not do that. I simply… He had expected Maiaberiel would light a lamp or candle and see him waiting for her and then they would argue. When she kissed him instead, not knowing who he was, he had been too shocked at first, and then too curious, to object. It was only when she started undoing his belt that he spoke her name. But I did not do anything. It was her. He most certainly had not seduced or beguiled Finduilas. Denethor called for Beregar to bring him a basin and water. Pulling off his shirt, he scrubbed his hands and arms, wherever Maiaberiel had touched him. He wished he had sand to scour away her taint. He was washing his face and ears, and trying to figure out how to clean his back, when there was a knock at the door. Denethor shrugged into his shirt while Beregar answered it.
It was Finduilas, still dressed from the feast and impossibly beautiful. She said something to Beregar, who grinned and slipped out the door to play sentry in the hall. She walked towards Denethor slowly, blushing, a small smile on her lips. He could feel his heart race while a languid warmth crept over him.
'I do not mean to keep you from your rest, but I could not come sooner.'
'You should not have come at all.'
'I know, but I could not bear not speaking to you.' She glanced at his open shirt, then dropped her eyes, blushing and smiling more than ever. 'The ring is beautiful. Thank you.'
'Primrose made it for you.' Denethor wanted to reach out and touch Finduilas's cheek, take her beringed hand into his own, pull her closer, very close, and… and… He clasped his sullied hands behind him so they would not befoul her. 'You should go, my lady. It is not right you are here.'
The smile vanished from Finduilas's face and she caught his eyes. 'What is that you call me? "My lady?" There is scarce fondness in that. What is wrong, friend?'
'Nothing, save that you should not be here. You should go.'
'Mother has been weeping today. What happened? What did you do?'
'The Prince and I argued. Luinil made us both see sense. I fear this upset her.'
Finduilas threw up her hands in aggravation. 'On what did you argue? Grandfather said all was properly done!'
'I did not pick the quarrel.'
'What was said?' she demanded, stepping closer. Her scent was strong, this close, and he could pick out every strand of hair on her head, knew how silken it would be against his cheek. Denethor circled one wrist with the other hand behind his back and gripped it firmly so he would not reach out.
'Denethor! Wilt thou not trust me, thy love?'
'We quarreled over whether I had beguiled you and compromised your honor, for he could not see another reason you would agree to this. Go. Please.'
She stared at him in disbelief, then her face fell into sorrow. 'Oh, friend! That is too cruel. Thou wouldst do no such thing.' Finduilas laid a hand on his arm, and moved as to embrace him.
'Get out!' he barked, taking a step back. The table prevented him from retreating further. Finduilas shrank away. 'Please, Alquallë, do not give your lord father any more reasons to be wroth with either of us.'
'You are right. Forgive my foolishness, friend. It is just that I miss thee so, and it is hard to see thee and not be near thee.'
'Soon enough, Alquallë. Until then, gladden thy mother's heart and soothe the Prince's ire.'
'Yes, my lord, I will do this.' Swift and light as a little bird, Finduilas stepped forward and placed a kiss on his cheek, then hurried across the room. Beregar answered the tap on the door, slipping in and saying the hallway was clear. With a last glance, she was gone.
'Do not allow another person to enter this room without my permission.'
Denethor went to the bedchamber, finished undressing and lay down. It felt as if all of his weight had pooled just behind and below his navel. His chest and neck were very warm to the touch. He took the edge of the sheet and roughly wiped at his lower back, but the memory of his sister's hand would not go away. It was like little spiders crawling back and forth. Rolling over onto his stomach, Denethor tried to sleep, but his mind refused to rest. He kept feeling kisses upon him – Finduilas's sweet touches on his cheek, the barest brush of their lips at the betrothal, Aiavalë's loving buss on his temple, Beruthiel's eager mouth on his. It was several hours before he finally drifted off into a fitful rest.
The next morning, he helped Beregar sort their belongings into what they would carry on the ride and what would be sent back with Brandir and Maiaberiel by ship. There was not much to send, mostly the fine clothes that he had worn here. Beregar did not question the sudden change of plans and seemed cheered by the idea of the journey.
'I have a task for you on our expedition. You know that the young lord, Imrahil, accompanies us?'
'Yes, sir, I do.'
Beregar grinned and shrugged. 'That is not much of a task, my lord. Lord Imrahil and I have exchanged kind courtesies before. He is an open-hearted fellow.'
'Perhaps not so much now. I fear the Prince is not greatly pleased by this match, and has tutored his heir in this displeasure.'
The young man paused and studied the pack in front of him for a minute, then nodded. His expression was determined instead of happy when he looked up. 'I think I understand, my lord. I will be careful.'
'That is why I have entrusted him to you.' Denethor returned to his own pack. They were soon ready and went to the stable yard. Horses were being saddled in preparation for the ride. Adrahil had assigned ten knights to accompany them on the trip all the way to Minas Tirith and then return. Beregar went to claim their horses and get the packs in place. Steeling himself, Denethor walked over to the flock of Swans. The entire family was there, as well as Brandir and Maiaberiel. Luinil greeted him first. 'Warden, how far do you ride today?'
'Will you go north to Pinnath Gelin?' Adrahil asked.
'I thought to follow the Langstrand. Am I better off to go north?'
'Not really. It is a further ride for you will have to skirt the coast hills, but it is beautiful.'
'Then we shall take the southern road. Are you ready, Imrahil?'
The youth nodded, looking gloomy. 'Yes, Lord Denethor.'
'I do envy you your adventure, Imrahil,' Finduilas said brightly, giving her brother an embrace. 'I will see that things are sent for you on Seabird. They will be waiting when you get to the City.'
'And you'd best not wait until you reach the City before writing,' Luinil scolded. All the women teased him until they finally coaxed a smile from him. A shout from the horse master let them know the steeds were ready. Feeling daring, Denethor took one of Finduilas's hands and kissed it.
'Until this winter, my lady.'
She smiled and squeezed his hand. 'Until this winter, Denethor.' The way she said his name gladdened his heart. Bowing farewell to the rest, he strode over to his horse. Instead of going through the town, the company went out a gate in the eastern wall near the fortress and followed the wall to the Edhellond road. The day was overcast with a brisk breeze, but the road was dry. Denethor noted that Beregar had put himself next to Imrahil, though the two were not speaking. Trusting Beregar to handle that, Denethor gave his attention to the lieutenant in charge of the knights, asking the man about the area they were riding through. The man was knowledgeable, and the two spoke for most of the day. When they arrived in Edhellond, they went to the garrison for the night. Denethor noted that, though Imrahil still was not speaking, he deliberately sat next to Beregar in the mess. Before he retired, Denethor composed a letter to the Steward explaining that he thought it wise to conduct a tour of southern Gondor while in the area.
It was three days of easy travel before they reached the keep of Gundor, lord of Langstrand. They were greeted effusively by the lord and his lady, and made very comfortable. The day after they arrived, it began to rain, and continued raining fitfully for a week. When the weather allowed, Denethor rode out with Gundor and his son, Golasgil, Imrahil, and Beregar in attendance, to look at farms and fishing villages and discuss prospects for the year. Gundor was relieved to hear news that Umbar was still considered weak. His lady asked only about Denethor's betrothal. The entire household, from the lord to the stable boys, was happy over the news.
Each evening after supper, Denethor would ask Imrahil what the young man had seen that day and what he thought of it. By the third day, Imrahil actually had some answers, though they were not as insightful as what Denethor was used to hearing from Finduilas. On the fourth night, Denethor began writing a message to the Steward. He indicated a chair across the table from him and told Imrahil to sit, then passed him some paper.
'You had best report to the Prince what you have seen, and you shall write your lady mother. I do not wish her hunting me down for lack of letters on your part.' Imrahil smirked even as he blushed and Beregar chuckled from his seat near the door where he was cleaning his master's boots. The young man wrote his letters, then handed them to Denethor.
'Why are you showing me these?'
'So you may read them, sir.'
'In private, you know you may address me by my name. I should not read these.' Imrahil looked at him quizzically. Denethor pointed to the Prince's letter. 'This is a message to your lord. I have no business reading that. And, I assure you, I have no interest in the tall tales you are telling Luinil. I think it best I not know.'
Imrahil shrugged. 'They aren't that tall.' Beregar guffawed. 'Only a little. Denethor.' The young prince glanced away when using the other's name. It was a start. Denethor bade them both to get some rest.
By the time the sky cleared and they set out for Pinnath Gelin, Imrahil and Beregar were fast friends. When Beregar would have tended Imrahil, the other refused and insisted on sharing the duty of caring for Denethor. The young prince had Finduilas's generous heart and forgiving nature. Denethor tried talking to Imrahil a few times of the concerns of a ruler, but soon gave up; Imrahil simply was not mature enough to discuss such things. It was better to leave him to Beregar's lessons. Denethor listened to the youths' eager discussions of everything, trying not to interrupt and correct their wilder flights of fancy. One night, as they settled into a small room at a rude inn on the border between Anfalas and Pinnath Gelin, Beregar was indignant.
'They call that ale?'
'They might, I wouldn't,' Imrahil replied.
'My father would sooner close his tavern than serve swill like that!' Beregar grumbled. 'Have they no pride? Or even taste?'
'You family runs a tavern?' Imrahil was looking at Beregar with keen interest.
'The best in Minas Tirith! When we get back, I will take you there. Though Mother will put you to work.'
'For good ale? A fair trade!' Imrahil smiled, but there was a certain look in his eye that Denethor knew from Finduilas and Adrahil when they were trying to find out something. 'They must miss your help.'
Beregar shrugged. 'I guess. I've not much interest in running a tavern. My eldest sister likes it better.'
'Ah, older sisters.' Imrahil sighed in commiseration.
'No, just the eldest of my sisters. I'm the oldest.'
'Tell me of them. Of all your family.'
'I have four sisters, all younger, and they are all wonderful cooks, just like Mother. My father is from Lossarnach, where his father tends a vineyard. He was a soldier when he was young, and then helped out his uncle with the tavern in Minas Tirith. The uncle only had daughters and their husbands had other trades, so he left the tavern to Father. Mother is from Anórien, though her mother's kin are weavers from Minas Tirith. Her father was a soldier in the time of Steward Túrin and I think Grandmother was his second wife. My eldest sister, …'
Denethor cleared his throat. 'You may continue this conversation on the morrow.' The young men sheepishly apologized for keeping him awake and lay down on a pallet near the door. They were soon asleep. Denethor lay on the low, narrow bed, too short for his tall frame, and thought. But for an accident of birth, you would be the grandson of a steward, not a soldier. A widower who had been a lieutenant of Turgon's had agreed to wed the first woman Ecthelion had left ruined, giving her unborn bastard a father. Aiavalë said there were true children of the match afterwards. Then again, there should not have been any accident. As he drifted off, Denethor wondered if Beregar knew.
On the sixth day after leaving Langstrand, the company arrived at the manor of Hirgon, lord of Pinnath Gelin. It had a low wall around it, but no fortifications to speak of. The manor itself was old and very well kept, and the lands around it were bountiful. Orchards could be seen across the wide valley to the north, just beginning to flower. Lord Hirgon was as dull as Denethor remembered.
Hirluin, the heir, took charge of Imrahil and Beregar. 'Come now, my lords, let us leave our elders to their business,' he said when introductions were over, gesturing for the others to follow.
'Please, sir, I am no lord,' Beregar politely protested.
'Indeed not!' Imrahil chimed in, throwing an arm over Beregar's shoulders. 'This is Sir Hound, an expert in all things to do with ale.'
'Ah, a valuable fellow,' Hirluin sagely replied. 'Then you are even more welcome, Sir Hound.' The young men quickly disappeared and did not return until supper. The next four days were spent riding to look at the lands in the mornings, with afternoons given over to discussing roads, taxes, levies, trade, and other business of the realm. Hirgon was dull, but he was no fool when it came to caring for his lands. As with Gundor, Denethor was assured that the lord and his household would be in Minas Tirith for the wedding come mettarë.
The day after they set out for Morthond, the skies turned dark, and their journey was slowed by rain. There were no inns or villages of any size save at the Ford of Morthond just before the river turned east and south for Edhellond, but the farms were bountiful and there was always a snug hayloft in a large barn for a night's shelter. Denethor always politely refused the offer of a bed in the farmhouse, preferring to stay with the knights.
Duinmir of Morthond greeted them gravely when they appeared from the gloom and the rain at the gate to the lord's stone keep overlooking the road passing through Tarlang's Neck. The weather turned yet more foul, but Denethor did not mind. He needed no greater excuse to remain a few extra days and explore the keep's small but interesting library. One day Lord Duinmir, carrying a flask of wine, asked to join him. The two sat and drank and discussed the previous summer's war while rain pounded on the small window. One of Duinmir's deerhounds snored in front of the fireplace.
'I am curious, Warden, so I'll ask,' Duinmir slowly said when Denethor finished describing the defeat of Morgul in the summer. 'Why is the young Swan with you?'
'Why should he not be with me?'
'He's too young.' Denethor said nothing, sipping the wine. 'The Prince came here last summer after the fighting was done. He may order the falas, but the vales belong to hawks, not swans.'
'What did he want?'
'For the Blackroot to find its interests downriver and not along the mountains.'
'What do you want?'
'We share an interest.'
'Why the younger daughter?'
'Because the elder is an idiot.'
'I should not marry Duinhir to her?'
'No. Unless you want all your trade to go through Edhellond.'
Duinmir shrugged. 'Not really. But the young prince, is he with you at Adrahil's behest, or your own?'
What are you asking? Duinmir had been in Minas Tirith for Yule, had said little, but watched everything carefully. He would not have missed the favor Adrahil showed to Thorongil up until the betrothal. You want to know which of us has the upper hand. Which answer would be most clear? 'Adrahil insisted, though the boy is not at an age for any serious tutoring.'
'Why send him, then?'
'I think the Prince very concerned that Dol Amroth have a presence in Minas Tirith. He has come to learn that unity is in his interests, as well.'
'Perhaps the other daughter should marry north.' Duinmir's eyes belied his casual tone.
Duinhir or Thorongil? 'Perhaps she should.'
The rains turned the roads to mud and the single day's ride from Tarlang's Neck to Ethring took three days. Morvorin gave them a warm welcome. They rested there only two days, for Morvorin said he would ride with them to Linhir and they could speak along the way. In truth, the young lord spent more time talking with Beregar and Imrahil than he did with Denethor, but it was an enjoyable ride. The storms of spring seemed over and the mid-May sun dried the roads and brightened the flowers. The villages were larger than in western Gondor and there were true towns with good inns. Children would wave at the company passing by. When they parted in Linhir, Morvorin promised to be in Minas Tirith for the wedding that winter.
Denethor picked up the pace now that they had good roads and little to see. They covered the route from Linhir to Pelargir in two days. He spent a day in Pelargir in conference with Baragund. There was no news to speak of. Denethor did not dare to visit the archive or Marach, though he did slip out in the night to walk the rooftops. It felt good to touch stone that recognized him. He sat in the southernmost tower of the Haven Wall and listened to the murmur of Anduin as she sped to the Sea.
When they turned north towards the City the next morning, it was all Denethor could do to keep from urging his horse into a full gallop home. Every building along the way was familiar to him, every bend of the road, every tree, every stone. In the evening of the second day, as they drew close to the fortress of the Lord of Lossarnach, Imrahil moved his horse up next to Denethor.
'What do you intend for me to do?'
'What do you mean?'
'I am here to do my duty to the Steward. Father and Grandfather both said this means serving the Warden. How do you intend me to serve?'
'I am not wholly decided on that matter. Have you much arms training?'
'Some. I can hold my own with a sword.'
'Bow?' Imrahil shook his head. 'Spear? Mace? A knife?'
'None of these,' the young man admitted.
'Then you will join the Hound in training with the Tower Guard. You are both quite deficient. Aside from that, you will attend the general councils with me each week, and perhaps some of the privy councils. How is your hand?'
'My tutor says it is very good.'
'Then you will be a scribe so that you learn. You will not be allowed to do anything dangerous. I do not care to answer to the Princess should something happen to you.'
'Yes, sir.' Imrahil mulled over what he had been told. 'And after the wedding? Do I stay?'
'That has not been determined.' Imrahil did not ask any more questions.
Lord Farlong was as large and imposing a man as his son, Forlong. As soon as his heir was old enough to see to business with the Steward, Farlong had ceased coming to Minas Tirith. He and Ecthelion had a falling out in their youth, and each pretended the other did not exist. Luckily for the weary travelers, Farlong's antipathy did not extend to Denethor. The company was greeted with much ceremony and even the knights were provided rooms rather than being shown to the garrison. The lords kept Denethor in conversation until far in the night about the state of southern Gondor. To Denethor's surprise, Farlong assured him that he would come to Minas Tirith for the wedding.
Coming around the curve of Mindolluin in the late afternoon of the next day, Denethor thought he would weep for the beauty and majesty of Minas Tirith. The Tower caught the spring sun fully, while rays of light played upon this wall, that roof, and turned it all into a shimmering gem set upon the mountain's knee. The knights started singing when they drew near the stable before the City and the garrison soldiers came out to greet their lord's return. The knights were soon settled into quarters where they would stay for a week while their mounts rested for the journey back to Dol Amroth. Halfway up the mountain, in the fourth circle, Denethor saw Brandir walking towards them. The two embraced.
'Denethor, I thought we were going to have to send Rangers after you, you have been gone so long,' Brandir teased, walking with them as they continued.
'No need. We are back now.'
'Will you join us for supper?'
'A generous offer, but I think we need to see if the Steward wishes to see us first.'
'Yes, of course. Well, there is news! You are not the only one to wed this year. I received word from King Thengel that Théoden shall wed at midsummer.'
'I shall have to go. What other news is there?' Brandir filled his ears full of all the doings of the City, which were many and trivial. Borondir will have better answers... Denethor caught himself. Brandir probably had more information, just not for the street. When they passed the archive, Denethor almost turned aside to let Aiavalë know he was back, but decided that he would rather speak to her when he had no audience. As it turned out, there was no need to send a note to the Steward to announce their arrival. Sador was holding a message from Ecthelion requesting their presence for supper just after sunset. Beregar hurried to the kitchen to fetch warm water for washing, while Denethor showed Imrahil to the rooms Finduilas had used. They were already furnished with things sent from Dol Amroth. Denethor told him to come upstairs when he was cleaned up.
Borondir was sitting on the couch in the front room, reading a book, Telperien in his lap. The cat leapt to the floor and trotted over, meowing and doing her best to trip her master.
'What are you doing here?' Denethor asked.
'I was here reading something and preparing a few reports when I heard you had returned, so I decided to stay and give you a proper greeting,' Borondir replied.
'Good.' Denethor got an idea. 'The Steward has asked us to supper as soon as we are presentable. Why don't you, both of you, join us? I cannot imagine he would object.' Actually, he was reasonably certain the Steward would object, but not in front of guests and kin. All agreed this was a good idea and proper courtesy for welcoming the young prince to Minas Tirith. If Ecthelion was perturbed by the sight of Brandir and Borondir, he did not show it. The meal was extremely amiable. Too amiable. There was not even a veiled reference to the fact that the Warden had undertaken a visit to major lords without the Steward's knowledge or approval. Denethor did not like the way Ecthelion smiled to himself but did not offer a single jibe. It was just as well – a good night's rest would prepare him for whatever mischief was to be thrown at him.
Before retiring, Denethor looked through the stack of reports in the basket on his desk. Most were from Borondir; the older ones well crumpled from Telperien using them as her bed. Her majesty sat on the desk, demanding his attention, so he had to sort through the papers with one hand while scratching her ears with the other. There was a tap at his door.
Beregar poked his head into the room. 'Do you need anything, my lord?'
'Your opinion.' The young man came in, closing the door behind him. 'What of Imrahil?'
'He is too young to be here.' Beregar's bluntness surprised Denethor. 'The lord is a good man and no dullard, but he does not yet know his own mind. He can be cozened, for he does not look for deceit. There are those in the City who would take advantage of his tender heart.'
'Lady Maiaberiel's faction.'
'You sound rather certain of that.'
Beregar shrugged. 'All troubles lead back to her.'
Denethor nodded. 'Perhaps not all, but many. Imrahil should not be allowed near those people unless I am there.'
'I will see to it. Good night, sir.'
His own bed felt very good, though Denethor had to shake out the excess cat hair before he could lie down. Telperien herself wasted no time jumping up next to him, purring, rubbing her face in his beard, and kneading him before curling up into a small ball in the crook of his arm. 'Your mistress will return, too, kitten. I promise. Then you may go claw her before retiring.' The cat purred louder at the sound of his voice. 'I miss her, too.' He would have to be careful, but he needed to slip into the Tower and try to see Finduilas in the palantír.
The next morning, Denethor broke his fast with Imrahil, then took him to the practice yard for the Tower Guards. The yardmaster sent Imrahil off to get his practice gear before asking Denethor for instructions. 'Keep him paired with the other one you are training for me, and work them both hard. I want them too tired to get into trouble.' The yardmaster grinned in understanding. Denethor returned to the Stewards House to prepare for the meeting with Ecthelion that afternoon. While he had sent some reports ahead with messengers that passed on the road, the more detailed notes he had not entrusted to others. At the appointed hour, Denethor went to the Tower. The Steward kept him standing only a few minutes, not even long enough to be discourteous.
'I did not expect you to be gone for so long, Warden.' Ecthelion held out his hand for the case of papers, motioning for Denethor to take a seat.
'I am sorry, my Lord Steward, for having changed my plans so abruptly.' Ecthelion shot him a disbelieving glance before returning to the reports. 'After what I saw in Dol Amroth, I did not think it wise to write down my true concerns, nor to delay a review of the Outlands until I could return here.'
That piqued the Steward's interest. 'What?'
'It appears that Adrahil has been attempting to encourage the lords to look to Dol Amroth for more than guidance. The falas has always been too obedient to the Swans, but then they owe much protection to the Prince. The vale lords are less pleased at Adrahil's interference.' Denethor tried to calculate the Steward's mood. 'The Prince was arrogant in the dower, ungrateful for the generosity of our house, and tried to repudiate the word he gave here to you before the gathered lords of Gondor.'
Ecthelion's expression grew thoughtful. 'Repudiate in what way?'
'He would not conduct the dower himself, as is his duty, but gave it to Prince Angelimir. He offered insult to our house, calling it base and dishonorable, once the agreement was made. In all things he tried to incite argument to force us to break our word of mettarë last.' Denethor paused to carefully craft his next words. 'It is as though he agreed to the suit so that he could sow dissension later. It did seem odd to me last winter that he so easily agreed. Indeed, he insisted that it be done at once. I had not expected an answer for at least a year.'
'It was…hasty,' the Steward said. 'But you accepted his insults?'
'No. His wife made him recognize his folly. Adrahil abased himself and begged forgiveness.'
'And sent Imrahil here as proof of his good intentions.'
'Yes. To shame him further, our house's dower gift was made yet more generous. The Prince can say nothing without looking a churl.'
'And the lords?'
'I spoke to them just in time. They now understand that the Swan house seeks to ally with us, not the other way around. It is all detailed in my notes.'
The Steward eyed the roll of reports and sighed. 'It appears I shall have some reading to do.'
'There is more to report than this disagreement, my Lord Steward. Whatever sparked my visit, there was much to be learned. There does appear to be a problem with roads beyond the Ringló.'
'Those are for Dol Amroth to oversee,' Ecthelion sourly answered before motioning for Denethor to leave. 'Thank you, Warden. Please confer with Brandir so you are ready for tomorrow's council. No, the day after tomorrow. I will need time to think on this.' Denethor bowed and left, pleased with the outcome. As he walked out, he remembered the palantír and decided to walk past the stairway. Even if there was not a guard, it would be too dangerous for him to go up the Tower and possibly attract notice. Turning the corner, he was pleased to see that no one sat near the stairway arch. Denethor walked briskly down the hall, past the arch, and pulled up short.
There was now a door barring the archway. He glanced around to see if anyone was watching, then tried the door. As expected, it was locked. This was why the Steward had been so pleased with himself at supper the night before. Denethor left at once to avoid being seen, cursing his own lack of caution. There was no way to know who held the key, whether the Steward himself or the Warden of the Keys, and asking would be disastrous. He returned to the Stewards House in a foul temper and snapped at Beregar to summon Brandir. Denethor had himself under control by the time Brandir arrived. He also had a question.
'The Lord Steward has postponed tomorrow's council until the day after. He said I should speak to you so I am informed. Have you told me everything of concern?'
'I believe so, Denethor.'
'There is one concern no one had spoken of to me yet.' Denethor pulled out a few short missives from Marlong from the stack of cat-crumpled reports and tossed them in front of Brandir. 'These are from Henneth Annûn. Why are they still coming to me? This is a matter for the Captain-General.'
Brandir stared at the notes before sighing, 'He would not swear.'
'Nothing. Thorongil said he was not free to promise more than he had already sworn. The Steward was wroth and demanded to know whom else he served. The captain said he was not so sworn, but could give no more promise to the Lord Steward than he had already. The Steward is very angry and cares not much for the captain's counsel anymore.' Brandir shook his head mournfully. 'You were right, as usual, brother.'
'I wish I were not. He cannot be removed from his post now without great harm to the Steward's wisdom, and he cannot be made privy to the great secrets, which hobbles him as Captain-General. Worst, it means he will probably leave at some point.'
'Would that not please you, to lose a rival?'
'If he is a rival, it is because he allows himself to be used as such.' Denethor stared coldly at Brandir until the other looked away. 'I have no quarrel with the man if he stays within his proper bounds, and I do not care to lose an officer as talented as Thorongil. The choice has always been his to make. He is Lost.'
Denethor walked to the archives the next morning. He needed to speak to Aiavalë, then work uninterrupted. His sister greeted him cheerfully and they exchanged some loving insults. Nothing would do but that he tell her every detail of the betrothal. She immediately began putting together a list of things that would have to be done for the wedding, most important readying the Stewards House.
'It is months away!'
'And thank goodness for that!' was Aiavalë's retort. 'The entire building must be cleaned, repairs made, rooms opened and readied, Alquallë's belongings moved in. It is nearly June already!'
'Very well. If you think…'
'Yes, I do. Which floor shall you take?'
Aiavalë sighed at his obtuseness. 'Which set of rooms will you and your wife use?'
'What is wrong with where I am now?'
'The rooms have been closed up.'
'Then open them.' Denethor hesitated before saying, 'Which rooms will you want?'
'What do you mean?'
'Alquallë is back. The house is no longer empty. You will be coming back, won't you?'
'No. I have told you that, brother.'
'Why not?' he demanded. 'It is not right you should be taking rooms from a stranger. You should be home!'
'I have no wish to return to the place of my humiliation.'
'I am sorry, Aiavalë! I shall be sorry to my dying day. Will you never forgive me for my cruelty?'
She rose and came around her desk, taking his hands in hers. Laying a kiss on his brow, she said, 'I forgave you that a long time ago, little brother. Yours is not the only humiliation I have suffered in that house, nor nearly the worst. This, the archive, it is my home. I care little for what lies beyond these caverns. Besides, it is not right that I should be there. Alquallë must be the undisputed mistress of her house and order all according to her wishes. You, included!'
With another kiss, Aiavalë shooed him out and told him to go about his own business. He tried to work, but spent most of his time daydreaming about Finduilas and wondering how he could get his hands on the key to the stairway door. Imrahil and Beregar clattered in at noon bringing dinner and stories of their morning training with the Guard. When they left, Beregar said he was taking Imrahil to The Messengers Rest for the remainder of the day. Denethor made himself concentrate on the reports. It would not do to be unprepared for the morrow's council. He was collecting his work to return home when Adanel entered the room.
'Beregar brought Lord Imrahil to the tavern today,' she said without preamble.
'Yes, he said he was going to. Is there a problem?'
'With the visit, no. The young lord is welcome at all times and will be shown proper courtesy. What brings me here is what Beregar said as concerns his duties. He said he was to be the Lady's Hound. Is this true?'
'Yes. Do you object?'
'No. I merely wish to understand what this means.'
'I have assigned him to be my lady's guard, to serve and protect her.'
'I see. Thank you, my lord. You need not worry. I will see honor is defended.'
'I do not understand you.'
'He cannot be allowed to attend our Lady unless he is wed himself. I will see it done.' Denethor had no answer and could only stare at Adanel, astounded. 'She must have her guard and he must be wed,' Adanel repeated in a gentler tone. 'If he is not, there will be scandal. It must be done.' With a crisp nod, Adanel left.
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