Stewards of Gondor: Genverse Arc
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Love Sweet As Poison : 4. Lay to Rest Uneasy Love
The bells pealed out their sad tale as they marked another hour that drew Minas Tirith towards dawn. The Steward is dead, long live the Steward! It had been some two hours since Ecthelion had passed away, and for the first half an hour, the bells had rung almost continuously, alerting all within the walls and even those far below upon the field of Pelennor of the end of his reign. Woken from her sleep by the clamor, Finduilas had sat still in bed, weeping silently for a long while, and listening to the voices that drifted up from the streets: men calling to each other as they ran, plans and contingencies set in motion with the ringing of those fatal bells, all of them the sounds of Gondor scrambling in the wake of tragedy.
At last, though, she had arisen, pulling her sash tight to seal her robe against chill, and gone quietly out into the outer chamber that served as a second study and gathering space for Denethor and herself. Ecthelion is gone, and I was not there to say farewell. She bowed her head. I should have remained with him tonight! He was so very weak this evening, scarcely able to speak.... Why did I not stay? Shame suffused her, not least because she knew that she had been afraid to remain, and that Ecthelion had sensed that when he had sent her away.
But Ecthelion's motives were not in question, and the more she brooded upon the matter, the darker her emotions grew, until she was uncertain whether she needed to throw up or weep in angry hurt, so strong was her reaction to the thought of her husband. For she knew that he must have been at Ecthelion's side when the old steward had died, and that he had not sent for her. More, he had doubtless ordered others to leave her in ignorance until it was too late. And I know him too well to believe that he thought of my feelings when he did so! That he had deliberately shut her out at such a time burned like acid in her veins, and she leaned heavily against a table as her knees suddenly gave out. The world began to spin before her eyes, and it seemed that the room began to shrink....
No! Finduilas shivered convulsively and forced herself to remain unbowed, fighting the impending fit. I must not weaken! I will not! If I do, then I shall never have another chance…! A chance at what, she was not wholly certain, but she knew that she had come here to wait, and she refused to greet the unknown or half-known event in a state of collapse. She did sit down, however, and grim thoughts, shot through with wrath, flowed and ebbed within her.
When will Denethor come? The question remained, solid as a rocky isle alone in a tempest, and she let her anger collect upon that tardiness. Why does he wait? Or does he think to stay out all night? That was a possibility, but though he had the habit of working through the night when crises arose, she thought that he was unlikely to do so tonight. Nay, for he will want time alone, and that means he will come here. To him, I am no more than a furnishing for this room, a statue I supppose, though still he pushes me away. But tonight the statue will speak!
And oh, how she longed to flay him to the quick with her pain! If only she could retain that rage that had gone so long without expression, if she could but harness the frustration of seven years' silence, then she might at least make him aware that she bled, too, in her grief. But it was difficult, for frustration was bound fast with fear, and rage with crushing disappointment, and she struggled against undermining herself. If she let her emotions play freely, she risked inciting one of her strange fits. Yet without their raw force, she doubted she would find the strength to give voice to her complaints.
And so she sat perfectly still, hands laid precisely upon the chair's arms and she fought to maintain that precarious balance between feeling and folly, clinging to her brittle composure. In the sea-swell of emotion, her heightened senses took in minutely detailed observations, threatening to overwhelm her with a wealth of information: the air itself seemed to press against her skin; the thick, acrid scent of the wood as it burned in the fireplace was almost cloying; and the very silence grew to be loud in and of itself to her ears. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, and each heart beat seemed to stretch itself out, unfolding in time rather than punctuating it. At last, however, she heard someone approaching in the hall outside, and she felt tension draw tight as a wire within her as fearful anticipation gripped her.
The door opened and in stalked Denethor, and the atmosphere in the room changed radically. The silence seemed to freeze and harden, and Finduilas felt a chill sweep through her, as if he had trailed a winter's storm in his wake. He did not seem to notice her at first, and was halfway across the room ere she finally spoke: "Did you pass a sweet hour with your father?" He stopped in his tracks, but did not turn, and she sensed that he was loath to face her. That gave her courage, feeding her newborn fury, and she rose. "Have you wept your last, my lord, or do you come here to cry again where no other will see you?" she demanded sharply as she crossed to stand before him, trembling slightly.
"I do not wish to speak of it, Finduilas!" he responded wearily, sounding vaguely irritated by her, and he brushed past her, continuing on to their sleeping chambers. But having found the strength to speak at last, she was not about to grant him peace enough to regain himself, and she followed him doggedly.
"Did you think of me at all when you went to his side? Or did you remember that you have a wife—and one who loved your father well!—only after he had passed on? Did you remember only when you walked through that door?" she demanded harshly, feeling anger and grief come boiling up with such force she could barely contain them. Her vision started to blur, and she shook her head violently, struggling with herself. "Have you no shame at all?!"
"Finduilas!" Denethor snapped, turning on her with darkly glittering eyes. A moment she quailed before the sense of threat he conveyed, and then her wrath flared white hot. Ere she knew what she did, she strode quickly up to him and slapped him—hard!—across the face. Shock held both of them immobile for several moments, and Finduilas heard her own ragged breathing fall harshly into the stunned silence. What have I done? She shook her head as if in denial, unable to comprehend her own action, yet unable to rescind it either. As Denethor blinked and rocked back on his heels, she could feel her rage drain steadily away, as if she had invested all of it in that slap and had exhausted it in an instant. Grief and hurt still remained, though, and as shock began to ease back, those twin emotions filled the void and she felt herself dragged down by them.
With a groan on the edge of a sob, she buried her face in her hands, feeling the tears burn her eyes. What followed seemed to her almost unreal: for on the one hand, she was utterly at the mercy of her emotions, and on the other, she felt oddly separated from herself, as if a part of her watched her own evolution in disbelieving horror. As she began to recoil, Denethor caught her biceps in a tight grip and she fairly threw herself against him, in need of physical support as much as in frustrated grief. Startled by this unexpected shift, he staggered, stumbling against the edge of the bed. "What madness is this?" he demanded, sounding bewildered as well as angry, and as she clawed at his shirt, tearing the flesh beneath, he caught both wrists in an attempt to restrain her. But Finduilas, rather unaccountably, now struggled against him, her mood changing once again in an instant as she was struck by a sudden loathing of his touch.
"Leave me be! Will you never cease to torment me?!" she shrieked hysterically, writhing and twisting in his grasp. With an oath, Denethor pulled her against him, trying to get a firm grip on her, and her frenzy increased. Instinctively, she threw an elbow back into his ribs, and he swore again as she lunged, throwing all her weight against his arms in a desperate attempt to escape him.
But in the end, his strength was vastly greater than her own and he had the advantage of his training as well. She gasped as he shifted his grip to grab her one-armed about the waist and lifted her bodily off the ground. Her squirming threw his balance off, but she still ended up lying on her back on the bed with him leaning hard over her, using his body as well as his arms to hold her down. Finduilas felt the last of her manic strength give way as grief wholly consumed her, and she went completely limp. Denethor's breathing grated harsh in her ears, and his weight seemed to crush the breath from her body, but he said nothing—not a word in either rebuke or anger, and perversely that only hurt the worse. I am so little to him that I cannot even earn his open contempt!
A half-strangled whimper escaped her, and Denethor hissed, then eased back slightly, as if he had realized in that instant that he was suffocating her. But Finduilas clutched at him convulsively now, fearing now to lose him entirely. "Finduilas…" he began, exasperated, but sounding oddly desperate himself now, and she blinked til she could see him clearly again. His expression bespoke utter confusion and a mixture of anger, frustration, grief.... And shame? He tried to speak again, paused, shook his head as if rejecting whatever he had been about to say. "Tell me what you want!" he said at last. It was a simple enough request, and one that she had longed to hear from his lips ever since she had come to live with him. And yet....
"I do not know!" she murmured pathetically, and he closed his eyes in resignation, bowing his head. For a moment, they remained thus, and Denethor seemed certain to withdraw into that deeply shrouded place within his soul. Finduilas hated the very thought that he would leave her alone again, but she knew that there was nothing she could say to prevent it. Words always fail me! Desperate, she reached out and laid a hand upon his chest, then hesitated. Wisdom might have dictated a different course, but she had passed beyond the pale of wisdom long ago, and so she drew her hand down his chest and then began to unbuckle his belt.
Denethor tensed, and if she had thought him confused before, she knew better now. In point of fact, she was not certain that she did right, for it was a rare night when both came away from coitus satisfied. Sometimes there was pain; often, there was awkwardness, but despite the drawbacks, sex was all she could think of that might hold him here with her tonight.
For his part, Denethor stared down at his wife, baffled by her behavior, feeling badly out of his depth for perhaps the first time in his life. His chest smarted where her nails had raked him, grief ran bitter through his veins, and the turmoil that roiled within him was more than unaccustomed–it was wholly alien to him. Had he been just a step closer to rational, perhaps he would have listened to that part of his mind that warned against responding to her obvious intentions. But he, like she, could no longer stomach rationality. Not in this moment, when impulse seemed the only guide he had left. Besides, his body had long ago proved that it cared little for logic!
With a soft groan, he reached down and quickly untied the sash that held her robe closed, slipping the garment from her shoulders. Heat flared pleasantly deep within him at the sight of her, and he drew a shaky breath that had as much to do with nervousness as with arousal. At the same time, Finduilas dropped the belt over the side of the bed, then slid his trousers off over narrow hips, trailing a caress down his thigh as she did so and her touch seemed to burn…!
Finduilas felt her heart pounding, and as she drew Denethor's shirt off over his head, she sought to banish the butterflies that flitted nervously in her belly. A shiver crept up her spine as smooth skin, kissed with gold firelight, slid warm against her as he drew her into a fierce embrace. Lips sought her mouth, eager, hungry, desperately needy, and then trailed bruising kisses down her neck to her breast. Her hands on his arms tightened their grip, nails digging into iron biceps when he bit slightly too hard. Dark hair, worn at shoulder length, tumbled close about his face, and as his mouth moved over her body, she caught her breath. The silky strands brushed against her bare skin, their softness a sharp contrast to the body she stroked.
Tangling her fingers in his hair, she closed her eyes and hoped that she could keep up with him. For Denethor could be a very impatient lover, and she sensed that he was in no mood now to restrain himself. And though it had been she who had begun this, her doubts made it difficult for her to focus, especially given how rough his caresses were tonight. Still, she responded to his touch, endeavoring to simply abandon herself to physical sensation, to the feel of his body under her hands, to the delicious friction as they moved against each other.
But pain jarred her too often for her to truly surrender: a nip became a bite, or he gripped her too hard, forcing her to fight him somewhat until she became accustomed to the pressure. "Mmf… Denethor…stop!" she gasped as he pushed her legs apart firmly. Her back arched in pain as his fingers dug into her lower back, just to one side of her spine. He caught her in a smothering embrace, holding her down as he thrust against and into her, and Finduilas, still unready, bit her lip so hard against an outcry that she tasted blood. Her vision blurred with tears of pain and she shut her eyes, willing herself to last in silence until he was done at least.
But some tears will not hold—because the wound has been prodded too often or runs too deep, and she felt them slide hot from beneath her lashes and down her cheeks as the sobs escaped quietly from her lips. She felt his crotch hard against hers, felt him inside her as he moved, and the hand he slipped down to her hip was bruising. Finduilas choked on her pain, but he was too strong for her, almost savagely crushing her down, and she felt something hot and wet spatter on her breast. Confusion surfaced, but only briefly ere she pushed it aside, intent upon trying to outlast her husband's attentions.
Denethor gave a soft, explosive gasp that modulated to a low moan as he reached his climax, and she felt his full weight upon her of a sudden. For a while, they lay thus, he with his head upon her breast, seeming exhausted, and she struggling to calm herself, to let the hurt run off of her like water… like her own tears. Preoccupied with her own pathetic condition, it needed some minutes for her to realize that she did not weep alone. She could feel her husband's sobs, silent and restrained, rack him and Finduilas caught her breath in surprise. "Denethor?" she managed thickly, and felt him go rigid in her arms. He began to draw away from her, but she tightened her grip now. "Do not you dare to turn away now! Is it not enough that the Stewa… that Ecthelion is gone?" she demanded. "Do not shut me out after… after…." Unwilling to worsen matters with an ill-chosen word, Finduilas trailed off, but he finished for her.
"After I raped you?" he demanded harshly, fairly sick with shame.
In the flickering light, she stared at him and responses crowded thickly on her tongue til she felt that she would burst if she did not speak. But none of them would change this night, nor any of the nights that had come before, nor indeed the years that had comprised their bitter marriage, and she grimaced. "Oh, speak no more of it!" she entreated in a low voice. "Only for once, do not let me sleep alone in this bed, I beg you!"
"You might have said that in the first place!" Denethor sighed softly, but that was all. And somewhat to her surprise, he obeyed. Rather than turning away from her, he simply eased to one side, leaving one arm draped lightly about her waist and she felt his breath gust against her neck.
It was not a comfortable night that they passed by any means, but when at last Finduilas did sleep, it was the first time in years that she did not dream.
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