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Hands of the King: 35. State
Minas Tirith, Early January, 2977 T.A.
'You must read this one yourself, Finduilas. There is a picture for you.'
Wren handed over letter. It was a note in a child's hand, thanking her for the Yule sweets and the gift of food. The girl had drawn a smiling figure in a bright red dress underneath the words. There was no end to the letters; each day brought a greater number. The nobles of Minas Tirith sent notes of congratulation, as was only prudent to do upon the marriage of their lord, but even more were from the ordinary folk of the lower circles and the Pelennor, and these were as often thanks for her gifts as well-wishes for her wedding.
'This is delightful, Wren,' Finduilas answered, touched by the child's return gift.
'Here, let me find more like that.' Wren quickly sorted through the stack, picking out a dozen or so. After handing them to Finduilas, she poured them both some tea. It was the fourth day since the wedding, her cough was almost gone, and she could feel the lassitude of her illness slipping away. By the Grand Council in two days, she was certain she would be well.
All day there had been a constant stream of callers at the house, there to see Denethor over Council matters. In the morning, Finduilas had been slightly jealous that she was not part of these conversations, but she found herself becoming concerned for Denethor as the day passed. He did not break for dinner at midday. Beregar told her and Wren that Forlong of Lossarnach and Angrist of Linhir had joined some lesser nobles of Pelargir and Ethir Anduin and were intent on discussing southern defenses. Finduilas was curious as to why they did not solicit her father's help in presenting their case.
A soft tap at the door caught the women's attention. Wren answered it, letting in Borondir. Finduilas rose and held out her hands to the Quartermaster. 'Cousin, how kind you are to look in on me.'
'I hope I am not disturbing your rest, Finduilas,' he replied, leaning down so she could kiss his cheek. 'Your matron warned that you were still tired from the festivities. Send me away if you would prefer quiet to reports.'
'Reports? Then you are not here to speak to Denethor?'
'No. I met with him and Brandir yesterday. I came here to tell you how your city fares.'
Finduilas was pleased that Borondir had come to the house specifically to see her. She cleared the desk so he could lay out all his documents and ledgers. Wren tried to learn, but soon laughed and said such figures were beyond her, retreating with her walking desk and a basket of letters to a chair near the fire.
Borondir's reports were meticulous, as was to be expected, and clearly showed that there was a significant number of people in and around the City who needed to ask for food and other things. Finduilas tapped the report, saying, 'Why is there so much want? I have asked you before where there were shortfalls, but I also know that harvests and trade were good this year. It is odd to me that there should be both bounty and need in great amounts.'
'Too many widows,' he sighed. 'The wars of last summer made most of them, but the winter battles created more. There were goodwives who lost husband and son both, and too many children born without their father to see them.'
'I see.' Finduilas looked sorrowfully on the pages. 'But what of their families? Surely they care for their daughters and grandchildren?'
Borondir shrugged. 'Too many do not. There are some who will not care for their daughter-in-law, particularly if there is no child, and it is not always possible for them to return to their father's house. Others take advantage of a widow's ignorance of her husband's trade and rob her of her property. It shames me to admit that there are such greedy hearts and wicked minds.' He took a sip of tea, staring sourly into the mug. 'Those kind increase, as well.'
She nodded as she studied the pages. 'I do not imagine that Maiaberiel's stinting has helped.'
'No, it has not.'
'Does she know about the Lady's Yule gifts?'
'I doubt it. She pays little attention to the affairs of the lower circles. Those who have known grief, they know what you have done. Already those who wear your badge are looked upon with kindness.'
Finduilas again fell silent, pondering this news. Breaking Beruthiel's hold on the City would have to be done carefully. The Yule gifts were well done and in keeping with the year-end festivals, but that degree of liberality needed to be used sparingly. It will not do to be a spendthrift, nor to try too crudely to gain people's loyalty. These widows have their pride. 'There is much work to be done, cousin. My Grace, and my provisions, will only go so far.'
'Both will be used wisely,' he promised. They spent another half hour reviewing his reports until the light dimmed. They arranged that he would report to her every week on matters large and small. When she asked him to stay to supper, Borondir refused.
'I think Denethor will have had quite enough of officials today, and wish only to see his beautiful new wife,' he cheerfully replied.
Not long after Borondir left, Finduilas heard many feet descending the stairs from Denethor's study. The men spoke but she could not make out distinct voices. Sounds of them departing floated up the stairwell from the downstairs hall, ended by the solid thud of the front door. It was difficult to make herself remain sitting when she heard Denethor coming back upstairs. Just like Borondir, he tapped lightly on the door, though he let himself in. Wren immediately excused herself, murmuring something about checking on supper. When Denethor did not come into the room any further, Finduilas went to him. He looked both uncertain and tired. She slipped her arms around him, resting her head against his chest. He did not return her embrace at once, but eventually brought his arms up and held her firmly, nuzzling her hair. They stood this way for several minutes before he kissed the top of her head and pulled away.
'How is your cough?'
'Almost gone. Let us sit by the fire until supper, shall we?'
Finduilas was rewarded with a small sweet smile that was mostly in his eyes. 'Yes.' She fetched them wine before sitting. Denethor sighed and took a long sip of wine, slouching in the chair with his feet almost in the fire. 'That is the last.'
'The last meeting before the Council.'
'Good. Perhaps you may take your own advice and rest soon,' she gently chided him, smiling to take away any sting. He shrugged in reply. 'You have been in many meetings, friend, and upon the road much and that is only since I came to the City. Beregar said you traveled most of the summer and fall as well.'
'The Hound needs to stop spying on his master,' Denethor groused, but there was no force to his words.
'What did they want today?'
The directness of the question made Denethor look at her. As with his embrace, he hesitated a moment before responding, 'They worry over news from the south. They know that Umbar rebuilds its fleet.' His face hardened. 'Two years ago this season, we heard that they had suffered a grievous harm and nothing has been done since then, save to wonder at our good fortune. We cannot put our trust in another storm.'
'What good is there, if any?'
'That they build slowly, for there was pestilence in the region for just over a year, and their deaths have been many. They sought to keep it secret, which is good, for it did not spread north. Pestilence and pyres.' Denethor fell silent, staring grimly into the fire. Finduilas waited patiently. He drained the rest of his wine in a gulp and rose to pour himself more. 'They also have had trouble obtaining the wood they need for the ships. There are no trees left in Umbar suitable for timber. The pestilence has affected their trade and reduced their coffers. They must wait for wood to be brought to them, which slows their building. That is the sum of our advantage, and none of it due to our own acts.'
'I can see why the Anduin lords would be displeased at this news,' Finduilas said with a sigh of her own. 'What do they want?'
'Thorongil returned to Pelargir,' Denethor absently replied, attention once more on the fire. 'They want our defenses to be turned from north and east to the south. They wanted to know if they would have my support for this argument.' His eyes snapped to her face, bright and measuring. 'What is your counsel on this, prince? You know the concerns of the sea-fiefs.'
'I think they are foolish to speak to you without the Prince present, for Pelargir alone cannot defend the falas. Moving strength south means relying on the Rohirrim for protection in the north, and there will eventually be a new king whose opinions may not be as solicitous of Gondor's needs as their present lord.' A ghost of a smile came to Denethor's face and he nodded once. 'So the question is where is Thorongil best used?'
'Would that these lords had your insight, Alquallë. It has taken me most of the day to make them understand the obvious.' He laughed sharply. 'Not that it will prevent them from arguing it again in Council, nor prevent the Steward from agreeing with them.'
'It would also be difficult to prepare Thorongil if he is distant.' Finduilas hoped she sounded calm when she said that. 'Perhaps this is not the time, friend, for our council, but we must think on how we are to teach him, and of what.'
'To stay, first of all,' was Denethor's sour reply, 'and to know his loyalty is to Gondor.'
'Did you tell him to bring his kin here to Gondor?'
That got Denethor's attention. 'Why do you ask?'
'I said something to him at Beruthiel's party several weeks past, and he said you had directed me to convince him to do so.'
'No, I did not say that. I let him know there was a place for the Lost in Gondor, a place of honor where they might do more than skulk in shadows.'
Finduilas remembered the wistful expression on Thorongil's face when he spoke of his distant kin. Why do you not bring them near? Denethor wishes them here, and with honor. Though, are they not better off in the Wild, away from the dangers here? She shook off this thought, saying, 'It would answer certain questions about him.'
'Perhaps.' Denethor sighed again. 'I am not certain how to prepare him save to have him watch how Gondor is ruled and hope he will learn. He will need to be oft in the City. Halmir is more than capable of commanding the garrison.'
Denethor's words reminded Finduilas of another lord who needed teaching. 'Denethor, at the wedding feast I had a – peculiar – conversation with Imrahil and our grandfather. My brother wishes to stay here in Minas…'
'No. It is not wise.'
'I said as much to both of them.' Finduilas wondered if she should tell Denethor about Imrahil's dreams, and decided it was not necessary. 'Grandfather approves. He said he wishes for you and Imrahil to be friends.'
'Not if it means making an enemy of the Prince. Adrahil will not permit this.'
'They have already asked him. Father did not forbid it, but neither did he consent.'
'Then Imrahil returns to Dol Amroth.'
'As I counseled them! I said that my brother should wait until he is of proper age. However, if the Prince should give his consent, then we must be ready to have Imrahil here.'
Aeluin knocked on the door and said that supper was ready. Denethor did not appear to wish for more conversation, so they ate in silence. Afterwards, Finduilas settled into the large chair in his study to sew until bedtime. Denethor did not sit at his desk, but stood behind it, looking through a stack of papers and glancing at her. She wondered if he wished her to leave. When he finally spoke she could not have been more surprised.
'Would you care to read over this report that is for the Council? Not if it would be too wearying for you,' Denethor hastily emended.
'Let me see it.' He brought it over, along with a charcoal stick for notes. 'It is not too long. Let me begin it. If I weary, I will finish it tomorrow.' Denethor brought another chair near the fire and sat, watching her read the pages. Telperien came in from her own business of the day, whiskers tipped with cobwebs, and helped herself to her master's lap. For the next hour, they sat and talked, while Finduilas made small notes on the report and Denethor scratched the cat's ears. They stopped when Finduilas could not stifle her yawns. She did not remember if she dreamed that night.
At breakfast, Denethor had the annotated report with him and wished to discuss a few points before creating a clean version. They had barely started when Finduilas heard the door downstairs open and close, some women's voices, then feet rapidly ascending the stair. Dread gripped her heart when she saw the visitor was her mother, and both she and Denethor came to their feet. Luinil went directly to Finduilas, taking her hands.
'I am sorry, Lamb. Your grandfather died in the night.' Finduilas allowed herself to be pulled into an embrace, not wanting to understand the words. 'Imrahil discovered it,' Luinil continued. 'He took Angelimir his morning tea, and could not wake him.' Finduilas pulled away and looked at her mother. Luinil's eyes were red-rimmed from weeping, her face drawn. Her hair was haphazardly pulled back in a clasp and looked scarcely brushed. 'I came to tell you before word got out.'
Denethor cleared his throat to get their attention. 'Luinil, I am deeply saddened by this news.'
'Thank you, Denethor.'
'Has word been sent to the Steward?'
'No, not yet. I was going to, after this…' Luinil's words trailed off.
'If it acceptable to you, I will take word to him now,' Denethor gently answered, 'and to Thengel, yes?'
'Even more to Thengel. If you would do that, Denethor, please.'
'I will rejoin you in Vinyamar,' he assured them before kissing each on the cheek and leaving the room.
Finduilas led Luinil upstairs to her bedroom, Aeluin trailing. 'Wren? Wren! Come here.' When the woman appeared, Finduilas gave both her and Aeluin instructions on what to do in her absence while trying to change into a warmer dress for braving the damp chill. The buttons refused to cooperate and she felt her face grow red in frustration. Wren's hands enclosed her own.
'Peace, my lady,' she murmured, 'let me do that.' Wren got her into a new dress and put Finduilas's hair into a simple loose braid. Beregar waited for them in the entry hall, cloaks over his arm. They left the Citadel in silence, passing down the long, dark ramp. Beregar and several Swan Knights followed at a respectful distance.
Emerging into the wan morning light, Luinil hugged Finduilas. 'I am sorry daughter. I have been so caught in my grief, I have not asked of you. How do you fare?'
'Very well, Mother,' Finduilas replied firmly with a smile.
Luinil searched her daughter's face. 'Truly?'
Finduilas wondered what sign her mother sought. 'Truly.'
'You were not well but four days ago,' Luinil answered doubtfully.
'I have rested and am recovered.'
'Of course.' Finduilas could tell her answer had not satisfied Luinil, but her mother did not press her on it. When they entered Vinyamar, Finduilas felt her throat tighten. Ivriniel waited for them in a chair in the hall and flung herself upon her sister with a sob. It was a relief to weep. Ivriniel's arms were replaced by Imrahil's at some point, and then by their father's.
Adrahil mopped her face with his kerchief, ignoring his own tears. 'You're here, daughter.'
'How could I not be here?'
'I didn't know if he would let you.'
Anger flared up suddenly at this unjust thought, making Finduilas clench her teeth to keep from scolding her father. 'Denethor did not wish me to be unaccompanied, but Mother asked him to inform the Steward. He will be along shortly.'
'Good,' was her father's distracted reply, the harsh words of a moment before seemingly forgotten.
'Was grandfather ill? Why did no one send for me before?' she asked.
'There was no sign! Father was gaining strength,' her father protested, while her siblings nodded vigorously.
'Grandfather was well last night,' Imrahil interjected. 'He sat through supper, and told stories afterwards. He was in great cheer!'
Luinil tugged her arm. 'Come with me.' Her mother put an arm around her and guided her to the stairs. 'If you cannot, I will not press you now, but you should look upon your grandfather.' Finduilas allowed herself to be led to the next floor. Pausing outside Angelimir's door, Luinil said, 'You will see, it is not so terrible. It was time and his heart was glad for it.'
Angelimir was more pale than usual, but little else was different. He lay on his back under many blankets, head turned slightly towards the door. His left arm lay upon the covers, gnarled fingers grasping a fold of cloth. The corners of his mouth turned up just a bit, enough to be the hint of a smile, as though his last thoughts pleased him. Finduilas edged closer until she could kneel beside the bed. Her grandfather certainly would not have protested were she to sit on the bed, but it felt presumptuous. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her folded hands, and cast her mind back to the last time she and her grandfather had spoken in Dol Amroth, walking upon the quay before Seabird set sail. The sound of the waves upon the Sea wall were all she could hear and ahead of them an old man in a tattered grey cloak cast his line into the water.
'Alquallë?' Finduilas started at the sound of her nickname. Denethor stood in the doorway. She wondered how long she had been kneeling at the bedside. 'Luinil sent me up.' He glanced at Angelimir, then back at her, sorrowful. 'Shall I stay?' Finduilas did not answer but held out her hand. Denethor knelt beside her, an arm around her. He kissed her temple and touched his head to hers. Sighing, she leaned into his warmth, letting him hold her up while she looked at her grandfather. He doesn't look cold now, as he was on the quay. It was all Finduilas could think and it pleased her though it made no sense. Did you know, last night, that you would leave us? She could not decide if it was better that he knew and left them in happiness, or that he, too, was taken unawares by this ending. Denethor said nothing, but hummed something very softly at the edge of hearing, twining the fingers of his right hand into hers. With her free hand, she reached out and brushed her fingertips across the back of Angelimir's hand. The skin was cool and very soft.
This time, she heard the footsteps on the stair. Adrahil entered, followed by Ecthelion and Thengel. Denethor helped her to rise, keeping his arm around her. The steward and the king kissed her, murmuring words of condolence. Her father said nothing, simply nodding to her and Denethor as they left the room. Morwen embraced her strongly when they entered the parlor. Aldwyn and Hilda stood with Ivriniel and Imrahil.
'Luinil, what else may I do?' Denethor asked.
After a moment's thought, Luinil sighed. 'We must call for embalmers. We cannot leave before the Council, but the Prince will wish to return as soon thereafter as he can.' The princess paused, then added, 'There will be many who will wish to come here once the news is out.'
'I will take care of everything. Give it no more thought.' With a nod, Denethor turned to leave the room. Finduilas followed. Beregar was waiting in the hallway and came over. Denethor motioned for all of them to head towards the kitchens. 'Are they here yet, Beregar?'
'Those from the Citadel, yes. The others are on their way up from the first circle.'
In the kitchens they found the six guardsmen from the Stewards House waiting. Wren was also there. Vinyamar's own servants moved about their tasks slowly, deep in grief. Before Denethor could speak, Finduilas stepped ahead of him, lightly clapping her hands to get people's attention.
'Though sorrow weighs upon us, there is much to do,' she addressed the servants. 'The Warden has been charged by your mistress to order things as are fit so she need not be tasked with them in her grief. Please obey him as you would your own lord.' Several of the servants bowed shallowly to Denethor for his service. 'The servants of the Stewards House will help smooth the way in this strange city.' Denethor asked the matron to accompany Beregar and half the guardsmen to the embalmers at the back of the circle and bring them to the house to collect Angelimir. While he did that, Finduilas took the cook and some of the servants aside, and told them to be ready for many noble visitors for several days, and to plan to offer food and drink to all. The cook was soon ordering people about, checking the pantry, and planning what to prepare. Finduilas took Wren and another girl to the parlor to speak to Ivriniel about preparing the house for visitors. This news did as Finduilas had hoped it would; Ivriniel's tears stopped and she attacked the task, the Rohirric girls gladly offering their help.
Denethor soon appeared, bearing a tray of tea, wine and sweet bread. He insisted on serving Luinil and Morwen himself, refusing to allow them to do anything. Calling Imrahil over, Denethor told the young man to take charge of the Swan Knights in Vinyamar and have them keep the lane to the main road clear. Finduilas heard their soft exchange at the door, 'Let no discord come to your lord father's ears. His burden is great enough.' 'No, Denethor, I won't.'
By the time Adrahil, Ecthelion and Thengel came downstairs, all that was needful was underway. Finduilas served each of the elder men tea or wine as they preferred before pouring tea for herself and Denethor. Adrahil sipped his wine, then sighed, scrubbing at his hair with his free hand. 'Sorrow or no, there is much to attend to. Denethor, where is…'
'Denethor has already seen to that, at my request,' Luinil interrupted. 'He has seen to everything.'
Adrahil wore a puzzled expression for a moment, then rose and bowed to Denethor. 'My thanks and those of my house.'
'Prince Angelimir named me kinsman. I would be worthy of that gift,' was Denethor's plain reply. He hesitated before asking, 'May I be so bold as to ask a gift in return?'
'What is it?'
'There are many in the City who will desire to pay their respects to the prince and to give condolence to your house. Vinyamar will be filled to overflowing by so many. Would you allow Prince Angelimir to lie in state in the Hall of the Kings, in splendor befitting one who has served Gondor so nobly and who is beloved throughout the realm?'
'No less an honor is great enough for the prince,' Thengel said approvingly. 'Say yes, Adrahil. There will be mourners still to come to Vinyamar, but all the City should bid this noble man farewell.'
'Yes. Yes, please, Denethor, I wish it done,' Adrahil said.
Ecthelion rose. 'Forgive me, Prince, Princess, for departing so soon. I will return when it is time for the procession to the Citadel.' Denethor and Finduilas escorted him out. In the hall, the Steward turned sharply on Denethor, face hard. 'You overstep.'
Denethor looked unconcerned. 'How so?'
'That was for the Steward to offer.'
'A pity the Steward did not do so.'
The two stared at each other, wills contesting. Ecthelion withdrew first, snorting in derision before turning to Finduilas. 'I fear you have a great task before you, girl, to teach this arrogant churl some manners.' The Steward collected his cloak and left. Finduilas crossed her arms and looked askance at Denethor. He tried to keep from smirking.
'I thought we were not going to anger our sires,' she said.
'Only until the wedding was done,' he answered in an innocent tone. Finduilas tried and failed to hold in her giggles. Denethor let his smirk grow into a sly smile, but that softened. Touching her cheek, he spoke in a more sober tone, 'Angelimir showed me great kindness in Dol Amroth and has given me the respect of a kinsman. I do this to honor him.'
'I know, friend. I am amazed at the Steward's anger, though.'
'He dislikes the sway Dol Amroth has over the falas, and has not forgotten the slights the Swans have visited upon him over time. Ecthelion had ne'er so much regard from Turgon as Angelimir garnered, nor was he pleased by Adrahil's overly short tutelage when it came his own turn to guide the heir of Dol Amroth.'
'Would the Steward move the Captain to Pelargir if he thought that would displease the Prince?'
Denethor became thoughtful. 'I do not know,' was his slow reply, 'I shall have to consider it.' There was no more time for discussion, however, as the embalmers arrived. Denethor excused himself to see to arrangements in the Citadel. Finduilas fetched Luinil and the two of them led the chief embalmer to Angelimir's room. The woman bowed to the prince and stood in silent respect for several minutes. Finduilas explained that her grandfather would be lying in state in the Citadel.
'There will be a journey home to Dol Amroth, too, will there not, or is he to be placed in the Hallows?' the embalmer asked.
'Dol Amroth,' was Luinil's firm reply.
'In that case, my ladies, I will need to remove the good man to our hall, so that corruption is kept at bay.'
'For how long?'
'We will be ready just after sundown, my lady.' Luinil agreed so the embalmer fetched the others. They brought with them a sturdy, shallow wicker basket, narrow but long enough to hold a grown man. It was lined with cloth and one of the embalmers laid a large drape across it. The chief removed the blankets from the bed, folding each one with care and stacking them neatly to the side. When she came to the last blanket, she rolled it down slowly, being sure that Angelimir's bedclothes were properly arranged before exposing more of the prince. The men picked Angelimir up as gently as one might lift a baby, placing him in the wicker basket and folding the drape over him. The embalmers carried him from the house, placing him in a small covered cart near the front door. The chief asked that finery be selected for the prince and sent to their hall by noon-tide.
The rest of the day was lost in a flurry of messengers, tasks, notes of condolence, and other preparations for the evening. A dozen guardsmen came from the first circle, accompanied by twice that many Swan Knights. Thengel and Morwen remained all day, comforting Adrahil and Luinil in their grief. In late afternoon, Aeluin arrived with attire for the procession and ceremony, and stayed to help Finduilas wash and dress. Finduilas did not remember asking for the woman, and realized Denethor must have sent her. Just before sundown, he returned to Vinyamar with the Steward. They walked to the embalmers' hall as soon as word came that all was ready.
Angelimir lay on a decorated bier on an open cart before the hall. The Knights took their places before and behind the cart, taking hold of bars with which to push it through the streets. Directly behind the bier walked Adrahil and Luinil, then Denethor and Finduilas, then Imrahil and Ivriniel. The Steward came next, in the company of Thengel and Morwen, and then the rest of the household. As they began to walk, a bell was rung near the door of the hall. Soon, other bells in the city tolled the sad news. People came out of their houses in the fifth and sixth circles, even though it was dark and cold, to watch the procession, and many followed as it passed.
In the Citadel, two lines of Tower Guards stood at attention, marking the path from the tunnel to the Tower. The denizens of the seventh circle filled the courtyard behind them. At the doors to the Tower, the Knights lifted the bier from the cart and carried it down the long passage to the Hall of the Kings.
The vast room was ablaze with light. Nothing shone as brightly as the gem-studded tree behind the empty throne. As the stones shimmered, reflecting lamp and torch, Finduilas once again thought she saw the branches move from a wind no one could feel. The Knights set the bier on a stand draped in the blue of Dol Amroth and a cloth of silver was laid over Angelimir. The Sea roared in her ears. She did not dare look at Denethor for fear she would see pearls and blood in his hair.
Adrahil and Luinil approached the bier. Denethor kissed Finduilas's hand briefly, before letting go and stepping aside for Ivriniel and Imrahil. There was no hymn sung, for this was not the funeral, but all of Angelimir's house knelt in honor of their departed lord. They stood to the side as mourners filed by. Denethor resumed his place next to Finduilas after he paid his respects.
Despite the late hour, there were many who came to see; it was nearly two hours before all had passed the bier and bowed to the Swans. When the last mourners left the hall, the Knights took up their places around the bier. They would stand watch from now until it was time to return to Dol Amroth. Finduilas dully followed her parents out into the court where they said farewell to Thengel and Morwen. At the far end of the court, where she and Denethor should have turned aside to go to the Stewards House, Denethor stopped.
'Alquallë, do you wish to spend the night at Vinyamar?' he quietly asked.
'Yes. I would, but I don't wish you to be alone.'
He smiled wryly. 'The cat is company enough for tonight. I have a report to finish.' Luinil in particular was glad to hear that Finduilas would stay with them. Denethor escorted them back to Vinyamar, declining to come inside. 'Shall I come fetch you in the morning?'
'No. I shall spend the day with Mother and Ivriniel, for all of our men will be at the Council.'
'Send Beregar if you need me for anything,' Denethor admonished. He kissed her cheek, bowed to her parents, and departed. It was only when she went to her room that Finduilas realized she had nothing of her own save what she now wore and the dress she had worn that morning. She went to Ivriniel's room. Finduilas had never seen her sister look so worn as she did now.
'Have you a nightdress to spare? I have nothing with me.'
'Of course I do! How stupid of me, I should have been thinking…' To Finduilas's alarm, Ivriniel began to cry as she rummaged through a chest of drawers. 'I must have one. I know there was one!'
'Ivriniel, dearest sister, it is of no matter!' Finduilas entreated her, pulling her into an embrace. Ivriniel cried even more.
'I'm such a wretch! Such a stupid cow, just like you said!' Ivriniel sobbed. Finduilas did not try to argue, but held her weeping sister and rubbed her back making soothing noises, not letting go until Ivriniel was calmer. 'Can you forgive me, Finduilas?'
'Forgive you? Whatever for?'
'For being so horrible to you,' Ivriniel whispered. 'I have been a miserable, jealous cow to you for, for, since… last summer, the war summer.' Ivriniel finally met Finduilas's eyes. 'I was jealous and I made you unhappy, and then I was a beast to Denethor and believed wicked things of him.' She stopped to wipe her eyes, gulping for a breath. 'And Grandfather was right, Denethor is an honorable man, and, oh, how I wished I had listened to him and not that terrible woman!'
'But now you know,' Finduilas answered, 'and I forgive you.' They hugged again and Ivriniel wept a little more. 'We must promise never to left such foolishness come between us again.'
'But I do need a nightdress.' That made them both giggle. Finduilas helped search the mussed drawers until one was found, and then stayed the night, sleeping next to Ivriniel as they used to when they were little girls.
In the morning, after Adrahil and Imrahil left for the Council, Luinil looked through the letters of condolence that had been sent to Vinyamar. There were many. Finduilas sent one of her guardsmen to collect Wren to help with the letters and Aeluin to bring her fresh clothes. While they waited, Luinil said, 'This morning, we shall go to the Citadel and receive our visitors there.' Wren assured them, after she arrived, that she would take care of the letters; Aeluin let Finduilas know that all was in order in the Stewards House. Guardsmen and Knights were told to escort any visitors to Vinyamar up to the Citadel. Beregar went ahead to prepare a room for them in the Tower near the Hall. To Finduilas's pleasure, Lady Beriel of Langstrand and her daughters, Míriel and Dúnmir, waited at the end of the lane and asked if they could accompany the Swans to the Citadel. It was a happy accident, for Míriel's and Dúnmir's cheer brightened the cold walk.
They went first to the Hall. There were few torches, leaving the room darker than the night before, and the solemnity quieted even Míriel's chatter. Finduilas studied her grandfather's face in the dim light and could not find the hint of a smile he had worn the day before. A number of people were there, some bearing greens and holly to lay near the bier. Some stood with bowed heads and clasped hands, others knelt.
A very old man approached Luinil and bowed, then said he had served under the prince when he was a young man and Angelimir had been one of Warden Turgon's captains . 'My grandson, he's one of the Lady's men now,' the old man added with a smile and a bow to Finduilas.
Beregar led the way to a room along the same corridor where they had waited for the wedding to begin. The room they used today was larger than the other. Beregar had seen to a fire, comfortable chairs, and a servant of the Tower to fetch anything from the kitchens they might wish. Luinil decided that they would take turns every hour with one of them sitting in the Hall near the bier and the other two in this room receiving visitors. It would not do to be talking in the Hall. She said she would take the first watch; Lady Beriel would hear of nothing but that she would sit with the princess. The young women stayed and chatted. It was not long before Hilda and Aldwyn appeared.
Nobles of Minas Tirith, mostly ladies but also some lords, stopped in the room to pay their respects, and several asked when it would be acceptable to pay a call upon the Lady of the White Tower. Finduilas marked carefully who asked this and in what way, making a list of who would get the first invitations. They must all come to you. That is what Mother said. You are now the Lady of the City, not a visitor to it. They wish to know what kind of Lady you shall be – like Emeldir or like Andreth. This made Finduilas consider the one face she had yet to see among the mourners – Maiaberiel. It was most unlike the woman to miss any opportunity in which to be seen.
Luinil returned with Beriel and Lady Rían of Linhir. Rían said her daughter would be there presently. Ivriniel was deep in conversation with an elderly lady from the fifth circle, a widow of some distant relation to Brandir it seemed, so Finduilas took the next watch. A chair had been placed near the stone seat of the Steward. Someday, Denethor will sit there, in that unyielding place. She could not help the shiver that went up her spine. Finduilas was glad to see her chair was of wood with a cushioned seat.
It was interesting to see who came to the Hall. More people from the lower circles were here now, having finished their morning chores. A good number of them wore a feather badge, three white feathers behind one black one. Some who carried green to lay near the bier reconsidered and gave them instead to Finduilas until her chair was surrounded by them. At the end of her hour, Beregar helped her place the gifts near Angelimir.
There was no true break for dinner. Adrahil and Imrahil came to the room when the Council broke at midday. With so many people present, it was not possible to ask about Council business. Adrahil drew Finduilas aside. 'Denethor sends his greetings and asks you to forgive him for not coming to see you. He is speaking privately with the Steward during dinner.'
'I thought as much. I am glad you and Imrahil could escape for a time,' she replied with a smile.
For the first time in a day, her father's face lost its sorrow. 'So am I!' She stayed near him until he and Imrahil had to return for the afternoon's debates.
By the time it was again Finduilas's turn to sit near the bier, there were almost no mourners. Towards the end of the hour she left her chair and stood next to the bier, studying Angelimir's face. This was not his face. It was set and stern, almost forbidding. There was nothing here of her grandfather that she recognized. Gone was his bright gaze, his sharp wit, his deep wisdom. They would not walk together anymore. She would not read a new letter from him, or write one to him. Where there once was this man, there now was naught. Only a shell as one might find on a beach. Finduilas's throat clenched. Her legs did not wish to bear her weight. She sank to her knees, gripping the edge of the bier and trying to keep from swooning. The Sea dashed her against the stones, crushing her heart, greedily washing away the part of her that was her grandfather, leaving emptiness behind. Gone, gone, there is no more…
'My lady?' She was roused from her grief by Lady Moraen of Ringló Vale. The young woman knelt next to her, face full of concern. 'Finduilas? You are overcome!'
'I need to walk. It is too…'
'Of course. Let me help you up.' Moraen walked her back to the room. The noise made her recoil. She wished to rage at them for not attending to the hole in the world. Instead, she told Ivriniel it was her turn to watch and said she herself wished to get some fresh air before the evening fell, firmly refusing any company.
'I shall be gone but a few minutes. It is too cold to stay long outside!' Finduilas hurried out of the Tower and up a stair to the top of the wall. Clouds were low and she could not see far across the plain. She walked south, past the Stewards House, and gazed down Anduin towards the sea. Something in her wanted to follow the river and sail far from here. She wished an eagle would stoop down and bear her away.
Behind her, Finduilas heard voices. She turned to see Beregar blocking Thorongil's path. The captain gestured. Beregar shook his head. The captain tried to step around him. Beregar moved to prevent it. 'Beregar, let him pass.' The Hound grudgingly allowed the captain to approach.
Thorongil stopped before her and bowed, holding out a folded note. 'Forgive me for intruding, my lady, but Lord Denethor charged me to deliver this to your hand directly.' Finduilas eagerly took the proffered missive and read it.
I fear I shall not be through with the Council until late. I ask you to return to Vinyamar tonight, for I do not wish you to be alone. If I can, I will fetch you after supper.
Please give my regards to your lady mother.
This was a disappointment, but not a surprise. With a sigh, Finduilas slipped the note into her pocket. 'Thank you, Thorongil.'
'Have you any message in return that I may deliver?'
'No. You may return to the Council.'
Thorongil shrugged. 'My part of Council business is done.' He hesitated before adding, 'If you care not for company, then I will return to the garrison.'
'I would not mind your company, Captain.' Finduilas motioned for them to walk north. Beregar let them pass, then trailed behind, glowering at Thorongil. 'I did not see you at the wedding.'
'I am not surprised. There were many people and I was in the back,' he quickly answered.
'Even at the feast?'
'Ah…that I did not attend.'
'I am sorry you did not. Perhaps you would have seen things.'
They walked slowly for several steps. Thorongil stared intently at the ground before them. In a soft voice, he said 'Though you think it strange, I do hope…' He did not finish.
'I find you a strange man, Thorongil, but I do not think it strange that you wish me well. I have never doubted your intentions.'
'Only my heart.'
'Not even that.'
'You have found yours?'
'You will have to watch and come to your own conclusions.'
The captain did not answer, but he nodded. When they descended to the shadowed courtyard, Finduilas walked towards the Tower. She expected Thorongil to leave for the garrison, but he stayed with her. Finduilas stopped opposite the White Tree. The skeleton of the tree was like the empty frame of her grandfather. That is missing, too. Another hole in the world. Sadness filled her heart once more and she feared she would weep. A gentle touch on her arm made her look at Thorongil.
'My… Finduilas? Forgive me. In my gladness at seeing you, I forgot your grief. I am sorry for your loss.'
'There is not grief enough in the world,' she raggedly replied. 'All the sorrow of my house is not enough to mend the wound made by his passing. Though it may fade, it cannot be undone.'
'Your affliction tears my heart!' he exclaimed, 'Please, Finduilas, dear friend, do not succumb to such misery. Think – has not the prince earned this respite from the trials of this world? Did he not live long and well, as noble a life as could be lived?'
Finduilas turned on Thorongil, fury surging in her heart. Pointing at the tortured remains of the White Tree, she spat, 'And has that not also had a long and noble life? Shall we take joy in its passing? It is gone and shall not be again! What else would you see pass away, ne'er to return?'
'No, Finduilas, you misunderstand me,' the captain pleaded, catching hold of her hands. 'There must be sorrow, yes, but can there be no relief in knowing that he did not leave untimely?'
'But he is no more! Timely, untimely, what do I care? My grandfather is torn from me. I will not show him my children…'
'But only for now,' was Thorongil's gentle reply. 'There is no healing within this world for such. Beyond it, though, there is hope.'
Finduilas stared at him until he let go her hands. 'Tell me, Thorongil, who lives so far from his kin and hides from himself, who have you loved and lost? Who has held you, kissed you, tickled you until you laughed, soothed your fears, listened to your weeping – who among them who have done this have you seen dead?'
'None. You think me ignorant, Captain, or simple, heedless of what the philosophers say befalls us after death. I speak of what lives on.' He made no answer. 'Would you like to pay your respects?' A nod. She gestured for him to follow. Inside the Hall, Ivriniel sat with Andreth of Linhir while the Knights stood at attention around the bier. No one else was there. Thorongil crossed the floor and looked upon Angelimir. Finduilas waited until the captain bowed his head, then left.
'Where have you been, Lamb? I was worried,' Luinil scolded as Finduilas entered the room. Moraen was still there.
'I walked further than I knew. I am back now.' Finduilas motioned for her mother to join her and showed her Denethor's note. 'This is what delayed me.' Finduilas tried to decide if it was true that Denethor was delayed or if he was simply finding another reason for her to remain in Vinyamar. That she could even think it made her cross. When the hour was through, Andreth and Moraen returned home with them. Both women were very solicitous of Ivriniel, making Finduilas wonder if they felt at all ashamed of using the death of the prince to further their own kinsmen's suits with her sister, and then was herself ashamed of her own uncharitable thoughts.
The last of the afternoon and the early evening passed quickly. Wren and Luinil went over the condolences and replies while Finduilas listened to the other women talk of when they would be leaving to return to their homes. It made her sad to think that she would be left alone. You are not alone, goose! You are married. This did not lighten her gloom.
Adrahil and Imrahil came home an hour past sundown. They had not stayed for the Steward's supper. Adrahil insisted that the visitors remain for the meal. It vexed Finduilas that there was no talk of Council matters at the meal, but only travel plans. Everyone was to leave within the next three days, it appeared. Lord Morvorin arrived not long after supper was finished to collect his sister Moraen and to flirt with Ivriniel. Andreth left with them. Another half hour passed and Finduilas had almost given up hope that Denethor would fetch her when there was a knock on the door and he was ushered into the parlor.
Denethor gratefully accepted a glass of brandy from Luinil as he sat down next to Finduilas. Adrahil raised his own glass. 'To another Council, done.'
'Done,' Denethor agreed.
'And what…' Luinil began.
'… was done?' the Prince, Imrahil, and Finduilas all chorused, before dissolving into giggles. Luinil heaved an exaggerated sigh, though a smile tugged at her lips.
'A great deal of talking,' Imrahil volunteered with a quick grin.
'The usual concerns; what is Umbar doing, do we control Ithilien, what are the conditions of roads, how shall we pay for our soldiers, who has good harvests,' Adrahil said after wagging an admonitory finger at his son. 'It will give us something to talk about on the journey back to Dol Amroth.'
'When will you be going?' asked Denethor.
'The day after tomorrow, possibly the next day,' Luinil replied.
'Overland or by sea?'
'Overland. Though Angelimir will be taken by Seabird. We will have much company upon the road,' she said with a wry smile, obviously thinking of Ivriniel's suitors.
'Denethor.' There was something in the tone of Adrahil's voice that made everyone look at the Prince. 'In the last two weeks, Angelimir counseled me on several matters, as he had not done in years. One thing he particularly wished was for Imrahil to begin his service to the Steward at once. I argued that he was too young to take up such duties, and had best return to Dol Amroth, but my lord father insisted it was wise. It was the last thing we spoke of when I helped him to bed…' Adrahil paused, sipping his brandy. 'If it should please you, Warden, I wish to follow Prince Angelimir's advice and leave Imrahil in your care.'
Denethor bowed his head to Adrahil. 'Imrahil is my brother now and is always welcome in the Stewards House, service or not. Yes, he is young, but has distinguished himself in arms training and as my scribe. I would be honored to guide him in fulfilling his service to the Steward.' Finduilas glanced at Imrahil, who looked very pleased.
'However,' all attention returned to Denethor, 'I am loathe to take him away from his house in a time of grief.' Denethor looked directly at Imrahil. 'It is right that you should be a solace to your parents, but there are greater duties. Dol Amroth has lost a prince, and will look to you to serve there first. You know of the dangers and challenges that face the realm, presented in Council today, and how important Dol Amroth is in the Steward's plans. You must fulfill your service here at some point, of course, and your lord has given his consent. I leave it to you, Prince Imrahil, to decide when that will be.' Finduilas resisted kissing her husband for his brilliance. She willed her little brother to be sensible.
Imrahil stood, bowing first to Adrahil. 'Thank you, Father, for your indulgence.' He gave a second bow to Denethor. 'If I may presume to call you such, thank you, brother, for your welcome. I fear I cannot do my duty to the Lord Steward nor to you, Warden, until my duty to Dol Amroth is done. When I can, I will come.' All agreed this was a wise decision. From the look of relief on her mother's face, Finduilas realized that Luinil had assumed Imrahil would remain. Talk soon turned towards preparing to return to Dol Amroth.
While the Swans spoke of their impending journey, Denethor murmured into Finduilas's ear, 'Here or there, tonight?'
'There, home.' She rose and began making their farewells. It took some minutes and some tears as she refused Ivriniel's entreaties to stay, but they were soon on their way up the mountain, Beregar, Wren and the guardsmen following. When they were upon the main road, Finduilas squeezed Denethor's hand, which he returned. 'That was well done, Denethor.'
'Not really. I simply turned the choice over to him.'
'You made Mother very happy, which will make Father think better of you.'
'Good.' He did not seem inclined to say more. When they left the tunnel, she looked across the long court towards the light streaming out the open Tower doors. Sadness slipped back into her heart. Denethor placed his arm around her shoulders, turning her away from the Tower and toward the lane along the wall. 'Enough.' Finduilas held on to him as she had the year before and once again allowed him to guide her to the Stewards House. She was soon sitting in her chair before the fire in his study, a robe over her lap, warmed wine at hand. Denethor took his own seat and waited, scratching the cat's ears. It was good to sit in silence after the turmoil of the last two days. Denethor asked nothing and showed no sign of impatience. The hiss and pop of burning wood, the low rumble of Telperien's purr, the whisper of Denethor's breath; these were proper companions to her mood. The confusion of the day was like the tide, ebbing away and exposing strange stones and scuttling creatures. Half a dozen questions came to mind and departed as swiftly, too frivolous, too odd, too unclear to voice. She wanted to know what he wanted when he sent Thorongil, why he was so kind in the face of death, where he had hidden his mockery, how he could love her yet wish her elsewhere. One question remained.
'Tell me, friend, how did you feel when your grandfather died?'
It was a long time before he answered. 'As though the lodestar had fallen from the sky.' Finduilas met his eyes. Denethor's face was unguarded, his sorrow clear to see. 'I miss his counsel. There are few, now, who know it. Angelimir did. Thengel. First Turgon died, then Thengel left. Too soon after, I lost Belemir and Boromir. In so short a time, all the best men of Gondor were taken away.'
'Not the best. He is here.'
Denethor ducked his head, embarrassed at the compliment. 'Perhaps. I think not,' he muttered.
'I know so,' she teased in return. This won a shy smile.
'You should rest, Alquallë. Both of us. If I am weary, then I know you are.'
'I will not argue. I am very tired. Mother will need me tomorrow.'
Denethor stood and offered his hand to help Finduilas stand. 'She will need you until they depart.'
'Yes.' Finduilas embraced him tightly before kissing his cheek and leaving. The sound of the sea in her dreams became the soft thunder of a waterfall, but the mantle held off any chill they might feel.
The next two days went by in a rush. Imrahil collected a few more things from his rooms in the Stewards House, but most remained behind. Finduilas and Denethor supped at Vinyamar both nights. Duinmir of Morthond and Hirgon of Pinnath Gelin set out the first day, though Hirgon would rejoin then at Linhir. Most of the minor lords from Lebennin and around Pelargir departed the first day.
The Rohirrim left the second day, though Thengel did not wish to depart before paying his last respects to Angelimir. In the morning, the Knights pulled the cart bearing the old prince down the stone streets, followed by the remaining lords. Just past the Great Gate, a wagon draped in black stood, a solid wooden casket upon it. Angelimir was carefully wrapped in his shroud before being placed in the coffin. The various entourages gathered and made ready for the day's ride.
Finduilas walked with Denethor to the stables to get her horse. They were to ride with the wagon to the Harlond and watch Seabird depart with Angelimir. Thengel and Morwen would also ride the league south to bid farewell before setting out to Rohan. The king and Denethor were in deep discussion of when a new company of Rohirrim would come to Gondor, and whether the wizard Curunír was still protecting the Dunlendings who raided Westfold. When they reached the stable, Riders led saddled mounts to them. To her delight, Finduilas saw one of the Riders leading Gull.
The dapple-grey mare whinnied when she saw Thengel and nosed her handler sharply. The man laughed and let her go. Gull trotted over to the king, nuzzling his face. He chuckled and nickered at her in return. After they exchanged greetings, Thengel held out a hand to Finduilas.
'There are several girls from the Riddermark who would stay with you in Mundburg, but only one of them is old enough to be parted from her mother. Gull agreed to remain behind when we leave. Her tack is a gift from us to you, Finduilas. I ask only that you always ask her if she is happy here, and allow her to find her way home if she is not.'
'I will, be sure of it!' Finduilas promised. 'Mistress Gull, I am honored that you will remain my guest in Minas Tirith. Tell me if you tire of it, and I will take you home myself.' The mare nuzzled Finduilas as she had Thengel.
'You'll learn her tongue soon enough,' Thengel laughed, and Finduilas was not sure if he meant she would learn Gull's speech or that Gull would learn hers. The king boosted her up on the mare.
When all were mounted, the wagon set out for the Harlond. It was a slow trip. The king's éored sang a mournful song when they left the city walls and again when they approached the docks. The other southern lords did not pause as the Swans and the White Horse turned aside to go to the village, but called that they would meet up again that evening. Seabird was ready for her passenger. Imrahil also took the ship to escort the old prince home. Farewells were not tearful; all were too tired. Quiet words and fierce embraces sufficed. The main body of the Rohirrim were drawn up in ranks, ready to depart when Thengel and Morwen returned. The horns of the Horse-lords blew, banners snapped in the breeze of their passing, and then they were gone, a river of green heading north while brown Anduin carried Angelimir south.
Minas Tirith, Mid-January, 2977 T.A.
After the outland lords departed, Minas Tirith felt empty. Looking down upon the City from the Citadel, Finduilas thought the stone way was lonely, missing the tread of feet in numbers not seen for a generation. Celebration had departed and the dreary round of the ordinary was all that was left.
She had to consider her own ordinary life or, rather, what was not ordinary. Denethor had not visited her bed, nor so much as indicated that he might wish to. Several days passed as she considered how to broach this topic. What do I say? she fretted, putting away her sewing one evening. Denethor sat nearby, lost in a report. Nothing to be done save to speak. The words will come. Gathering her courage, Finduilas said, 'Friend, I am remiss.'
Denethor looked at her intently, report forgotten. 'How so?'
Finduilas knew her cheeks were flaming. 'You have been very patient with me. I think it time, however, that I properly be your wife.'
Denethor stared a moment, then retreated to his desk. 'Nonsense. You are properly my wife. I recall you being ill and then in grief. That is hardly being remiss.'
'Those are in the past.'
'Yes, but barely,' Denethor replied calmly, 'and you could do with more rest. You still cough.'
Finduilas did not like speaking half way across the length of the room, so she came nearer. 'This is not right. It is not consummated. A wife, like a prince, has duties…'
'I did not marry you out of duty!' The change from calm to fierce made her start backwards. 'Quite the opposite. I have seen marriages based on naught but duty, and I abhor them. I have told you, I never wish to hear you say such a thing.'
Her embarrassment turned to dismay. 'Do you rue this marriage, friend? Marriage is love and oath. Is this another claim you shall abhor?'
As swiftly as the anger had flared up, remorse took its place. 'No, Alquallë. How can I rue being wed to thee?'
'Then, what? I have given myself only for love, even as you counseled. You cannot still doubt that!'
'No, I do not.' Denethor met her eyes. 'Never can I doubt thee, but I may doubt myself. Marriage is not my proper fate. I abjured it, but you came and unmoored me. And upon that sea the mariner's warning came; that fate holds no passage for me. I rue not binding myself to you, but rather binding you to that fate.' He smiled crookedly, lightly brushing his fingers against her hair. 'You are a queen, not for a wretch. All of Gondor knows this. Love has confounded me.'
Finduilas had no answer. Friend, what have I asked of you? No, I am not here to ask, but to give, and I will give him a fate besides ruin. Denethor took her right hand and kissed it, then looked sadly at the rings on their fingers. This was too soon. He is not reconciled. Should we have waited as had been planned? Determination seized her. This was meant from the hour in which we met. Had we wed then, it would not have been too soon.
Denethor shrugged. 'So, I have exchanged one oath for another, and neither should be broken.' He cleared his throat and spoke briskly, dropping her hand, 'The burden of marriage is upon the wife, thus it is for her to say yea or nay. If you say yea, then it is for me to do.'
As though he bears up under a punishment. Finduilas's sympathy mixed with anger, and she spoke sharply, 'And I abhor such claims as well, for you are not a beast to be ordered, but my love. Neither husband nor wife should be ordered, unwilling. I think it is not time.'
Finduilas expected him to be incensed at the rebuke, but Denethor merely ducked his head. 'I know not what to say… except … you may not wish to hear it, but you are too young to be made wife. Do not belittle my concern, nor that I think you are not fully well.'
It was enough of an excuse on which to end the argument. Finduilas made herself smile brightly. 'I will listen to your wisdom, Denethor, and be not so hurried. It is right that things done in a rush should be made to wait.' She kissed him on the cheek, then lightly on the lips. 'Good night, friend.'
After a sleepless night of anger and doubt, Finduilas rose determined to conquer Denethor's heart completely. She knew it would be no small task to win him away from his oaths. I shall bring down the battlements around your heart and I shall share your fate. When I am through, you will not doubt and you will not regret.
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