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Stardust - Book I: 4. The Truth Will Out, Part 1
Much which happened in the two weeks before the armies returned to Minis Tirith dramatically altered the present and future of Middle Earth, but little of it involved the one who termed herself Torrey before Legolas. She continued on as she had, only experiencing one moment of disquiet on the day that the armies marched for the Enemy's stronghold. Late to the Houses of Healing, she was subjected to Ioreth's sharp stare and sharper tongue. "Lord Hiranion was here," said the old dame. "He has only just arrived from his lands. When he found his brother's house shut up, he sought him and you here."
"What did you say to him?"
"That he had better not be such a laggard as to miss this next battle as well."
That brought a smile to her lips. The stretching of her skin felt so odd she wondered when she had last smiled.
Although the weather was fair and the sun shone bright in Gondor, the residents of Minas Tirith went about as if gripped in endless sleep, for even with their new King leading the armies few held out any hope of success for the strange mission that the Captains of the West embraced. She busied herself by tending the needs of the remaining wounded in her ward under Ioreth's direction, until the first winged messengers arrived from the battle fields of Mordor, crying that the Dark Lord had been overthrown for all time and the victory belonged to the returned King of Gondor. There was much rejoicing in the City, but with the realization that life, not death, was to be their fate subtle changes began to occur among the people. She first became aware of it the day after the victory was proclaimed, when she arrived at the Houses of Healing and was addressed as "my lady" by those who had no trouble with her name before. The day after that, Ioreth met her as she came in the door, and told her to set aside her pails and potions. "It is not suitable for you to be here, my lady," said the old dame who had spent most of the previous month calling her 'missy'. "Lord Faramir is much recovered. He has heard you are here, and is asking for you. Shall I let him know when you will be ready to attend him?"
She was affronted at this dismissal, and it showed in her sharp reply. "If you have no more use for me, then I am ready now."
"They say that beauty is as beauty does, my lady, and it may well be true, but you need to make yourself presentable before you go into the Steward's presence."
She stared at Ioreth in disbelief for a moment before exploding into protests, but whatever else may have been true about Ioreth, she was one who knew everyone's proper place in Middle Earth, and the old dame would not relent. So she was forced to realize barriers knocked down by the urgency of wartime were quick to rebuild. Fuming she turned from the Houses of Healing; fuming she went to her rooms in the officers' quarters, fearing that soon she would be politely evicted from there as well. She threw off her work clothes and pulled out stiff brocades that she never wore except at court, flinching at the harsh texture against her skin. Well, perhaps being dependent upon her brother-in-law would not be so different, she thought grimly. It was simply the exchange of one form of cage for another.
And are you prepared for the sort of duties he may require of you in return for your bed and board?
She shivered, and readied for her audience with Faramir.
When she descended from her husband's quarters she was astounded further to find Hurin, the Tower officer who held the keys to Minas Tirith, waiting for her with a small escort. He bowed low when he saw her. "Lady, forgive my neglect as late, but the times have been difficult. I am to escort you to the Steward."
"Hurin, I can escort myself. I've only been doing so every day for the past month."
"The times have changed, Lady," he said, as primly as if Ioreth herself spoke through him.
She was speechless. Which was fortunate; what words she might have formed at that moment would not have done much honor to her husband's house, although he, personally, would have convulsed with mirth. She bit her lip; he was no longer here to forestall any criticism of her hoydenish ways with a casual drop of his hand to his sword hilt. There is a good reason we both hated this place so much, and I am now well reminded of it. She suffered a further indignity when she was handed up onto the broad back of an old mare meant only to ease the ride of city ladies between gates. Even in her heavy, stiff formal dress, she would have arrived faster if she walked to the Houses of Healing. But she grit her teeth and bore the affront in silence, knowing any bid for independence had to be carefully played, and this was neither the place nor the players who needed to be involved.
Faramir, they told her, was in the tiered gardens of the Houses of Healing, a place where ambulatory patients sometimes took their ease as they recovered spirit and strength. She was shown to the entryway with all courtesy, something she was hard put to respond to with anything other than a snarl. The Steward of Gondor sat underneath a shade tree with a book in his hand, and near him was a fair woman with long golden hair. It was obvious from her pallor that she was but freshly risen from a sick bed herself, but Faramir appeared hale despite his recent wounds and, upon sighting her, sprang to his feet with a glad cry.
"Terisda! I hope I find you well."
His answer was a glare. It would have been much more than a glare, but she was unsure of the unknown lady and did not want the stranger to think it was common to begin a conversation with the Lord Steward by suggesting he was a blind dunderhead.
Faramir grinned at her. "I see Minas Tirith agrees with you as well as ever." His expression became somber, and when he spoke, it was on a subject she had sought long to avoid. "They tell me they know nothing of Hirgon, my kinsman and good friend, but that his lady has performed valiantly in the Houses of Healing, doing the work of ten and staying long into the night."
Terisda still did not wish to speak of her husband. She shrugged, which made her dress crackle in alarming ways, and tried to say what she could to turn the subject. "I am unskilled in arms, my Lord Faramir, so I sought to be useful where I could."
"I never thought you to be that skilled in healing." His tone was dry and she found herself smiling for perhaps the second time since her husband's departure. "I took an orc blade to the scalp near your lands once, as I recall, and you were anything but gentle in binding it up."
"Most of my patients squirmed less than you did," she retorted. "I wasn't much use at first, but I could hold a bucket where need be, and when it was found I didn't swoon so easily as others I was given such tasks as could be quickly learned. I will never be a healer, but I can now patch up a wounded man well enough so he will survive until a healer get to him, and a man already tended to is not very likely to die because of my care."
"I am glad to hear it. The only reason I do not bear a scar is because Hirgon redressed the wound as soon as we were out of sight." He smiled again at her, and although his next words were gentle, they were to her as a dagger. "Terisda, where is my cousin?"
Her throat closed so tightly she could not speak at first, but Faramir took her hand and looked at her with pity, and that brought her out of her silence for pity was something she could not abide. "I do not know, Faramir. He was sent with the Red Arrow to bring the Rohirrim to our aid, and I have heard naught of him since."
At that, the woman who sat silent turned her head and spoke in the accent of the Horseriders. "I did not remember the name, but an errand rider of Gondor did come before Theoden-King with the Red Arrow in his hand." She stood, and Terisda saw she had one arm bound with many bandages, held in a linen sling. "Well met Terisda, lady of Minas Tirith. I am Eowyn, a shield maiden of Rohan, although for now I am forced to lay here and let the men fight without me."
"I am of Ithilien rather than Minas Tirith, Lady, which is why my manners are sometimes rough. I remember when they brought you in. I may have set your arm, although in truth I don't recall. I worked on many both during and after the battle, and it all blurs together."
"Much of the battle is the same in my mind, and yet that which I would rather forget is the clearest memory of all." The Lady regarded her with a steadfast eye that held a spark of irony. "I wish you had tended me these last few days. I am surrounded by women who are definitely swooners." She spoke then in a practical tone that eschewed pity. "If your Hirgon is the bearer of the Red Arrow that came to our court, then I can give you this much. He did not stay the night as Theoden-King bade him, but took a fresh horse and rode at once to tell Gondor of our coming. After that, I know not his fate."
"There are still messengers straggling in," Faramir said. "There are even some troops from the outlands who are only now arriving despite answering our call with all possible speed."
"He was sent to Rohan, lord." She glanced toward Eowyn, hoping that her gaze lacked accusation. "And the Riders came."
"Finding the way blocked, he may have turned aside." Despite the words, the knowledge was in his eyes.
"Aye, Lord," said Terisda, but she did not pretend to be hopeful. And while she felt again the resurgent anger at unkind fate, she also thought of Hirgon and what he loved in life.
"Faramir," she said, "there is one more thing I must speak of with you."
She was subdued as Hurin and his men led the gentle mare through the streets, although they did not mark it as any different than the furious silence she maintained on the way to meet Faramir in the Houses of Healing. She stirred to speech only once, when the road branched to the noble houses and they appeared ready to turn toward them. "I will not open the house until my husband's return, or until the King's." They looked at her with pity that she had to grit her teeth to endure, and bore her back to the barracks of the officers. So Terisda bought herself some little time.
Once in her quarters, she stripped off the brocade gown, leaving it stiff and upright in the middle of the floor, as if it needed no wearer to fill it out. She stood before the glass in the outer quarters, the one Hirgon would check himself in as he walked out the door, to make sure his doublet was regulation length and that his sword was buckled aright, details his frontier upbringing made it easy for him to forget. She placed her hands on the polished surface, her hands positioned so that her pale visage was framed between fingers and thumb, and stared at the reflection she saw there.
So this is what the face of a faithless liar looks like.
Hirgon would not have wanted either his lands or her person to fall into the dubious care of his brother, she told herself, but the reflection's expression soured into one of skepticism and she turned from it. She did know well enough what Hirgon wanted in life, she insisted to herself defiantly.
He wanted to see Ithilien cleansed of fell things. He wanted children, his own, just not until the land was free. He did not want to die, even for duty's sake. But he was ever a poor gambler. Did he not leave half his purse with you when he went out with Faramir's warriors? He knew he would lose it all the first night by the campfire. He gambled that duty and honor would offer its own protection. The only thing 'honored' now is his memory.
And she would betray the memory of a worthy man by foisting the babe of another into his line. Indeed, all the honor of Hirgon's house had died with him.
It may yet be that she was not with child. She felt no different, although she was uncertain of when the changes would start. Terisda put her hands across her stomach, but perceived no alteration under her hands. Even if her body was now quickening, it would be a while before it was obvious. Perhaps she could stall until she returned to their lands in Ithilien. Once there, child or no, she would be difficult to evict.
Deceit on deceit, Terisda. Hirgon would not recognize you.
Perchance she should speak frankly with Faramir. He was also a kinsman, albeit more by marriage than blood, and although it would be unusual, she could seek succor in his house. Yet he was unmarried, and while that would have been no great problem if he still led the frontier forces, with the death of both Boromir and Denethor he was tied to the City and the rules which now bound him were tighter. And she would have to tell him the truth, which, after their recent conversation, would be a hard thing. She had hedged her words with simple cautions, saying she had never been with child before and therefore could not be sure, but Faramir brushed that aside and was sincere with his hopes and goods wishes. All the while Eowyn watched her with those deep blue eyes, and Terisda was sure there was a woman's understanding of her game there. At that moment she would have gladly thrown herself off the highest wall of Minas Tirith, but the falsehood was in place, and she must see it through.
All of Minas Tirith turned out for the ceremony that celebrated the return of the King. Great tents covered the Fields. Streamers flew from every high point, and the White Tower shone in the sun. It was, by all accounts, one of the finest and most profound events ever witnessed in all of Gondor, as Hurin surrendered his keys, as Faramir tried to yield his office but was told to remain, as Gandalf took the ancient crown and placed on the dark locks of Elendil's heir.
Terisda did not witness it, even though Faramir came to her rooms and entreated her to attend. She pleaded weariness, and conscious of her supposed condition, Faramir patted her hand and told her that he would bring her a full report later. She did not really need it; the racket made by the townspeople kept her well informed of the proceedings, although there were moments when the hullabaloo was so great she was sure the battle of the Fields had been rejoined. Faramir was as good as his word and presented himself at her door a few hours later. She was a little surprised when he brought with him several ladies of the court for decorum's sake. Being forced to curb her rebellious tongue around one who used to not mind her plain speech did not make her uncertain mood any easier, and their conversation was awkward. He kissed her fingers in parting. "You will have to re-open your house now," he told her, not having any idea how her mind rebelled at that pronouncement. "With the King's return, many of the noble people are back as well. It will seem odd to them if you remain alone in the barracks."
Terisda was glad to close the door after him. She stood in the middle of the antechamber with clenched fists, and her thoughts of the new Steward were not entirely kind. She did not remember him as so pompous when he and his men camped on their lands between orc raids, but the City changed people. She could not wait to be gone.
But she would have to meet with the King before she left, and buy herself the time needed to get to her lands. And, if she was not with child, she would have to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation. That thought filled her with a repugnance she had not felt in the numbness that consumed her after the battle. I should have gone for quantity rather than quality, she told herself with a shred of black humor. It might be more difficult to find strangers interested in a quick tumble now. Even the most base of soldiers felt new stirrings of chivalry that the dark threat of Mordor had long buried in their hearts; if she striped naked in the street, they would be most likely to pat her on the head and offer to escort her home.
The day after the crowning of the King, Hurin came to her door to inform her that Lord Hiranion awaited her convenience below, and so Terisda was made aware that her brother-in-law had finally tracked her down. She told Hurin she was too over-wrought for a meeting, and as she hoped Hiranion, whom she was sure acquitted himself well before the black gate of Mordor, quailed at the thought of a hysterical woman and left without argument. There were tokens from him delivered the next morning, and a letter she stared at long before opening. The words within were fair and courteous, assurances both that he would do all he could to find news of the missing Hirgon ... and that she need not worry herself overmuch, for he understood well his duty toward all of his brother's subjects should he find that he was the new head of his family's house.
She burned the letter and sent word to Faramir that she was ready to meet with the King.
The obligations of Stewardship kept Faramir from her for a little while, but too soon a missive arrived. In it, Faramir wrote that he had explained her situation to the King, and Elessar the First was so anxious to talk with her that he had made time between other meetings that very evening. Sighing, Terisda dragged out the dress finery she loathed, braided and pinned up her hair, and applied the paints typical of court ladies to her face. The image that stared back at her was as foreign to her as her first sighting of the sons of Elrond. She screwed up her eyes and stuck out her tongue at her reflection, and although she then had to spend several minutes repairing the creases in the paint around her lids, she felt the better for her self-mocking moment.
Faramir himself arrived to escort her, and handed her up to a gelding with considerably more spirit than Huron's fat mare. Terisda enjoyed the slight battle of wills as the gelding continually tried to take the bit into its mouth while Faramir spoke to her of the upcoming meeting. "It will be informal. I've told the King that you are too wearied to be around many people, but you must speak with him. I've seen Hiranion as well. I wasn't sure what you had told him, so I kept silent."
"I've only just received a letter from him," Terisda said, and her dislike of the subject made her tone very flat
Faramir cocked his head at her, and spoke with mild rebuke. "He is looking hard for news of his brother, and he is in a quandary of uncertainty as to his role. He must be told both the good and the bad, Terisda."
And I wonder which news he will consider 'good', Terisda thought viciously, but she schooled her expression into polite acceptance. Indeed, she acknowledged to herself that the thoughts were unworthy. Neither Faramir nor Hirgon himself understood her antipathy towards Hirgon's brother, although Hirgon respected it and made sure their contacts were brief. And, with his precise sense of what was proper, she did not doubt for one moment that Hiranion would be true to his word and support his brother's heir. If there were no heir, she did not doubt he would do his duty by her as well.
But she also had no doubt he would expect her to behave like a proper lady in his house, and would take steps to ... discipline her if she did not. Becoming the silent, mousy, proper creature her mother had been, that Hiranion's own wife became after their marriage, would be worse than death. She had been very fortunate in her husband, for she had been given the pick of the brothers and without knowing much about either she had chosen Hirgon as much for the lands he held near her father's in Ithilien as the warm light in his eyes when he looked at her. It was only once wed that she discovered his good humor and his tolerance, so that both her speech and manner grew more free after her marriage than they had ever been before. After years of living unfettered, to go back to what was expected of a woman of genteel upbringing was not to be endured.
She was within the walls of the King's dwelling when Faramir thought to tell her that Hiranion would also be present at this meeting. Even with the layers of paint upon her face, her surprise was clear to the Steward. "This does concern each of you," Faramir reminded her, "and the King is overwhelmed with delegations from near and far. 'Tis better for him to deal with all the details of this matter at the same time." He smiled, and for a moment she could see in the courtier the field commander who sometimes bivouacked on their lands. "You can't possibly fear Hiranion!" he said lightly. "You are worth ten of him, Terisda."
Though he spoke in jest, the words made her straighten her shoulders and lift her chin high. "Very true," she responded, and the Steward laughed as he ushered her into one of the council chambers of the King.
So that when the King beheld the Lady Terisda for the first time, with the light of determination in her eye and the pride in her carriage, he thought of the Queens of old who once ruled as men ruled, and knew that, in one Gondorian line at least, the ancient blood ran true. For her part, as Terisda dropped into a court curtsy she surreptitiously swept her gaze across the room to see who else was there, so that she noticed, among others, the sons of Elrond sitting at a table in one corner and in another a small form that she knew was, at last, a Halfling. As she raised her face, she saw Hiranion was indeed there, standing tall before the King as he turned to greet her, his expression as well-schooled as ever. But her gaze only fell upon him for an instance before her eyes went elsewhere and her blood ran cold.
For behind the King stood Legolas.
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