Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Courting the Lady: 4. The Steward's Heir Consults
He nodded to the men sweating on the practice field as he passed by. There was not time enough before the evening meal for him to join them; instead, he decided, he would go to his rooms and finish the work he had left undone in order to spend the afternoon with Finduilas. Ecthelion was almost certainly either still in council or carrying out his own administrative duties, and though Denethor needed to speak with his father, he wished to do so privately.
Upon entering his room in the White Tower he wrote a note to Ecthelion to say as much, and added that he hoped they could discuss matters that evening. He despatched a servant with the message and settled in to work.
The high table in the Great Hall was crowded that evening. Denethor reached it somewhat late, after the Standing Silence. He performed the ritual on his own, then caught Ecthelion’s eye as he seated himself at the very end of the board. The Steward nodded and inclined his head towards the family apartment upstairs, indicating that he had received the note and would meet with his son there sometime after dinner. The younger man breathed a silent sigh of relief.
Now that I have made my decision, I would prefer not to delay in executing it. With the assurance that he would be able to speak with his father that very evening and declare his intention to wed Finduilas, Denethor relaxed slightly and attacked his food with relish until his hunger was somewhat assuaged. He glanced down the board and across the great room, pleased to note the absence of Captain Thorongil. Whether the man ate with his company in the soldiers’ mess or had already departed with them back to Ithilien mattered little to Denethor, so long as Thorongil was out of his sight.
The lady did speak of him with apparent affection. I hope that does not mean he has already laid some claim to her heart. Ah, well, if he is gone back to his post in the wilds where he belongs, it will be of no concern.
Buoyed by that thought, he lost interest in his meal and finished quickly, slipping away back to his room to pace restlessly as he considered how to approach Ecthelion with the news that he wished to marry. To be straightforward, he concluded, would be best, given that it had been his father’s command that had precipitated the whole business. The Steward would no doubt be pleased that he had acted so quickly, and surely Finduilas of Dol Amroth would be an acceptable choice as his bride.
The summons to Ecthelion’s chamber came about an hour later. Denethor rapped smartly on the door, and at his father’s bidding entered and seated himself on one of the high and heavy carved wooden chairs.
“What is it you wished to discuss?” asked the Steward formally.
His son leaned forward. “Some weeks ago you told me that this season I must choose a bride to marry. I have found the woman I wish to wed, and with your approval I will speak to her father tomorrow. She is Finduilas, the daughter of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth.”
Ecthelion stroked his beard thoughtfully and said, “What made you determine on this girl? She is beautiful, but still quite young, and I do not recall you had ever met her until this winter. I would have expected you to choose a woman of more mature years, perhaps one whom you already knew well.”
The question gave Denethor pause. Why have I chosen Finduilas? I have spent only a handful of hours in her company, after all. She does remind me of Lotheluin in my youth – perhaps now I have a chance to make good what my hesitation then denied me? And yet it is different from how I felt for Lotheluin – when Finduilas was robbed, I wanted to find the knave who did it and see his thieving hand cut off, then and there, for having dared such an assault while the lady was under my protection. She seems not so young, either – she took an intelligent interest in the trade of the city, her head is not filled with clothes and gossip like so many of the lords’ daughters. It is not for just her pretty face that I consider her; she would be able to take up the burdens of a Steward’s lady. That is how I can put it to Father. He will expect me to have thought in practical terms, not to have been swept away by feeling.
Aloud he said, “Her blood is noble enough to make her more than eligible, despite her youth. And she is not so very young, either; I believe she is about six-and-twenty. As the daughter of Dol Amroth, she is accustomed to the kind of life that a ruler must lead, with all of its restrictions and limitations. Moreover since her mother has been lately unwell she will have had to take on some of the cares of supervising a large household, and thus have experience useful to a Steward’s lady. From conversing with her today I found her to be as educated and well-read as any lady of her age I have met, and very sweet-tempered withal; altogether I think she would make an admirable wife.”
Ecthelion raised his brows at this recital of Finduilas’s virtues. He said, “All you say of the girl is no doubt true. But though there are many pressing reasons for you to marry, and this would be an excellent match politically, I do not want you to marry a woman with whom you would be unable to live for the rest of both your lives. Tell me, Denethor, will that be so for you? Do you find the girl attractive enough in both mind and body that you believe your marriage to her will endure? For it would be unacceptable in the Steward to fail to set an example in this matter as in others. My son, do you love her, or will you grow to love her? Love need not precede the union of man and woman, but if it come not after, then your life will be harder than it should. I would not see that happen to you.”
Denethor flushed at his father’s open questioning. Do I love Finduilas? He thought of her appealing sweetness, her lovely voice, her graceful carriage. He felt no urgent desire to bed her, but the idea did warm his mind. And more than any physical attraction, the beauty of her nature appealed to him. He could imagine being able to converse with her – not about all the details of the present government of Gondor, perhaps, rather about the lore he studied in his spare time. The thought of hearing her speak in her soft tones of such old matters, of the heroism and bravery of past ages, attracted him. Is this love? I am not sure.
“I have no doubt that this match will be a good one for me,” he replied evasively, uncomfortable.
“No, Denethor, this is too important to turn aside. You know Finduilas only slightly – can you know yet if you love her, or will learn to love her? Though I wish to see you wed, I do not want you to choose hastily, only to repent of your choice later. There are considerations beyond political alliance, my son.”
First he tells me I must marry, and now he bids me to pause and consider? I wish my father would make up his mind.
“Yes, Father. I understand your concerns, but there is no need. Finduilas is the woman I know I wish to marry,” said Denethor, his chin lifted.
Ecthelion eyed him narrowly, saying, “Very well, then. I will be pleased to see you wedded, and with an heir to continue the line of Húrin of Emyn Arnen. The line of the Kings may have ended in Gondor, so that of the Stewards must endure in its stead. Seek Adrahil’s permission to wed his daughter as soon as you will. If he wishes to know if I approve, you may assure him on that point. He is expected in council tomorrow, but not until late morning.”
Denethor rose and bowed to his father. “Thank you, sir. I will seek the Prince early in the day and ask his leave.”
He turned to depart, but Ecthelion’s voice stopped him.
“I wish you all happiness, my son,” said his father quietly. “It is not something I think you have yet found as I would have hoped; I trust your judgment that this marriage will bring it to you.”
The remark so surprised Denethor that he could not answer; he merely bowed again and escaped into the passage, closing the heavy door noiselessly behind him.
I would not have expected him to be so concerned about my happiness, after all he said before. He did seem pleased at my choice despite that reservation – well, I shall have to show him that his doubts are misplaced.
He strode away back to his own rooms, there to work until his eyes would no longer serve him in the flickering light of the candles, and he must needs sleep.
In the morning he ate a hasty breakfast and walked briskly down through the city to see if Adrahil was free. The message Denethor had left with Finduilas had reached the Prince, who was thus unsurprised to see the Steward’s Heir appear even at this early hour. Adrahil offered refreshment of wine or hot tea to his guest, and Denethor accepted the latter politely.
“So, concerning what did you wish to consult me?” inquired Adrahil, setting his cup aside. “I am to be in the Citadel later today in any case, so I presume this has nothing to do with the Council discussions?”
“You are right, sir. As you of course know, I am yet unmarried, but the Steward has told me that I must alter that state. Of all the women in Minas Tirith this season, I have met none to tempt me to do so except for your daughter – so I am here to ask for your permission to wed her,” said Denethor, the firm tones of his voice somewhat belied by the tension in his posture.
Adrahil looked at him sharply. “That is a quick decision. You are aware that Finduilas is only three-and-twenty, not yet of the usual age for marriage?”
“I had not known that, no. I thought her somewhat older, from her ease and poise at the feast three nights past,” Denethor said, chagrined. And from her behavior yesterday – but I do not know if she will have told her father of that incident.
The implied compliment to Finduilas did not alter Adrahil’s purpose, and he continued, “I would not urge her to wed so young, nor where her heart is not inclined. Now,” he held up a hand to still Denethor’s movement of protest, “I do not know for whom she might feel the affection proper for an intended spouse. She may indeed have such feelings for you, even on such short acquaintance, but she has not told me. Therefore what I say is this. I am more than pleased to allow you to court her, and I will encourage her to think well of you, for my part. But I will not command her; I love her too well to bid her wed someone for whom she does not believe she has the appropriate affection. Moreover, too soon she will be the only living memory in Dol Amroth of my wife. You would not deprive me of that comfort, would you?”
Denethor could only shake his head mutely. This was not going at all as he had hoped, though he did feel some relief that Adrahil had not rejected his suit altogether on grounds of age and told him to seek elsewhere for his bride.
“I thought not. Shall I call Finduilas now and put this to her? Or would you prefer that I speak to her privately later?” said Adrahil.
I would most like to speak alone to her myself of my intentions, but clearly the Prince is not going to allow that, for some reason. I hope it is not that he thinks she would react badly. Clearing his throat, Denethor replied, “Whichever you think the lady herself would prefer.”
“That is thoughtful of you, to consider her wishes,” approved Adrahil. “Do you think your suit will be a surprise to her, as it was to me?”
“I imagine so,” acknowledged Denethor. “Though we spoke much together yesterday as we walked through the city, I said nothing then of my wish to wed her. I would not speak of such matters without your knowledge and consent, nor where we could be easily overheard.”
“In that case, I believe it would be best if I spoke with her alone. We will be departing Minas Tirith in only a few days; my wife Nimíril will be looking for our return. Would you agree to carry out your courtship by letter, until either my family can come back to the city or you may be able to travel to Dol Amroth yourself?” Adrahil asked.
“That would be acceptable to me; of course I would prefer to see the lady Finduilas in person, but I am more than willing to write rather than to have no contact at all. I thank you for your understanding, lord Adrahil,” said Denethor.
He rose. “Would it be possible for me to greet her, at least, before I must return to my duties this morning?”
“Certainly. Ask one of the servants to find her, if she has not yet left; she was planning to visit with what’s-her-name, Forlong’s girl, this morning. You may speak with her in this room, if you wish. I must collect a few things and then I will be off to the Council. I will wait for you that we may walk up together,” said Adrahil, standing up himself.
A word with the servant waiting in the hall unfortunately failed to bring the desired result; it appeared that Finduilas had already gone off to meet Elerrína for a walk through some of the gardens of the city, cold and barren though they mostly were at this season. Disappointed, Denethor walked with Adrahil back to the Citadel.
To assuage his disappointment, he began to ponder how he might contrive to see Finduilas another time before she departed, and speak to her about corresponding once she was back in Dol Amroth.
Such a correspondence may take a good many hours of each month, but I imagine that courting the lady in person, were she present, might occupy me as much or more. Though it would be time well spent, indeed, and I would not begrudge such hours if given to her. I wonder if it would be untoward to talk with Father about inviting the Prince and his family to share the evening meal before they leave? I do wish to speak to her once again. It was my fear and failure to speak timely that lost me any chance with Lotheluin; I could not bear to repeat that.
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