A Writer Reads
Playlist Navigation Bar
Hands of the King: 55. Compromised
Minas Tirith, 25 December, 2978 T.A.
'That's a good baby,' Ivrin, the nurse, crooned to the newborn as he finally let go of Finduilas's breast. 'And you eat so well!' The woman picked the baby up and held him against her, rubbing his back. Finduilas sighed, then grimaced as Luinil patted her breast dry.
'Sore?' her mother asked sympathetically.
'It goes away in a few days, lamb.' Luinil reassured her while Finduilas pulled her robe to cover her chest. Across the room, Ivrin was busy tending to the baby. Finduilas sighed again, closing her eyes. If only she did not feel so tired. It was midafternoon and everything was perfect, or so people kept telling her. Lhûn swore that the birth had gone quickly for such a large first-born, and that she could not see, feel, or smell anything amiss. Her mother had said the babe was bigger and stronger than any of her own children had been. The midwives and the nurse exclaimed over his size, his thatch of dark hair, how well he sucked, and how much he moved. Herself, she ached and oozed, and wished she could go back several months in time and not have this mewling thing near. You were much nicer when you were inside.
Luinil helped her get settled on the birthing cot. It was a miserable thing - a thin pad of cloth and straw held by an unyielding frame, on which she could not get comfortable. Stop it, goose! Would you bleed on your bed and ruin it? Finduilas spared one longing glance at the large feather bed in the alcove. Just a few days. Why do you complain? Denethor sleeps on dirt and rocks when he goes across the river. In a moment, her eyes brimmed with tears and she grasped her mother's hand. 'Denethor! Get him for me.'
With a quick kiss on Finduilas's brow, Luinil hurried out of the room. Denethor was at her side in just a few heartbeats, taking her hand. 'I am here.' He leaned close and rested his cheek against her own, pulling her into an embrace.
'I ache.' She hated how weak and weepy she sounded. Denethor began rubbing her back, getting tight muscles to relax. He paused only to pull a kerchief from his pocket and wipe her face, then continued massaging her shoulders, arms, even her hands, humming something at the edge of hearing. The urge to cry subsided as she relaxed into his warm touch. Too many people had been touching her, handling her with kindness and care, but it felt wrong. When Denethor touched her, it gave her strength and drove away shadowy thoughts. Looking into his face, Finduilas thought she had never seen the light within him illuminate him more completely. There was no hint of sorrow or grimness in him, and he was the most beautiful man she had ever seen, more beautiful even than a silver-crowned face she had seen in her dreams...
'Finduilas? You're shivering!'
'Just a chill. Is there a blanket?' Denethor hastily pulled one over her. 'It's because I am tired, friend.'
'All you need to do now is rest,' he said softly.
'I am. Bring the rocking chair closer so you do not sit on the floor.'
Ivrin approached. 'My lady? The little prince here is burped and ready to sleep. Do you wish to hold him or shall I put him in the cradle?'
Finduilas did not really want to hold it, but knew Denethor would not like his son set down. 'My arms are tired. Leave him here next to me.' The woman did so and excused herself, saying she would be right outside the door. They all already knew that when Denethor was present, he did not like anyone else in the room. Luinil and Lhûn were the only ones he tolerated for more than a few minutes.
'Do you want me to be quiet so you may sleep, or some conversation?'
'Talk, but not of the baby.' Denethor looked at her curiously. 'I have him right here,' Finduilas quickly added, patting the bundle, 'so I can watch him and listen to other things. Speak of dull things so you bore me and put me to sleep,' she teased.
'I could speak of taxation in Tumladen Vale...'
'I said bore me to sleep, not to death.'
'The Great Council, then?' he said with a sly grin.
'Yes! That will do,' Finduilas happily replied.
'You look more awake. I should speak of Tumladen,' he grumbled, but smiled and took her hand. 'The Council will be large this year, as you know...'
'Who will you be meeting with beforehand?'
'Borondir and Thorongil will hold the meetings. I will be here.'
'That is not wise. You were not at the Council last year...'
'Are you going to sleep?'
'Not as long as you keep saying foolish things, no,' Finduilas grinned. The surprising thing was that she did not feel tired anymore. 'Do as I say and I'll sleep as peacefully as this little fellow.'
Denethor tried to remain stern, but failed. 'Pay close attention, young man,' he said to the sleeping babe, 'for you are in the presence of the greatest, most crafty prince in Gondor. You will learn much from her tuition.'
'Is Duinmir still refusing to come? Mother said the Prince had invited Morthond to Dol Amroth for Yule, and he would not, not even to see his daughter. I trust him little since his words last year in Linhir.'
'I think it good that he spend this season in the high vales and consider what he is about. Three years now he has been apart from his own folk at year-end.' Denethor fell silent, thinking. Finduilas was content to twine her fingers in his and wait. 'Thorongil spent a long time with Duinmir this fall. We both thought it good that he should see if quiet words without an audience would soften Morthond's opposition.'
Finduilas realized it had been a long time since she had seen the captain and felt a pang of guilt that she had not thought of him at all. She hoped he would come see her and tell her of his journey. 'And did he succeed?'
'He said it was begun. They rode together to Pinnath Gelin to speak to Hirgon.'
'Father would not have liked that, if he heard of it.'
'I assume he did and I know that he would not.' Denethor shrugged. 'Dol Amroth will have Thorongil's ear next year, if the marches allow.'
'And Imrahil will go with him?'
'Thorongil is in the City now?'
'He returned from Anórien the day before yesterday. He is meeting Borondir today...'
'Has he met with you yet?'
'I have had other concerns the last few days...'
'If he and Borondir are to be your lieutenants, you had best meet with them each day.'
Denethor gave her a wry look. 'Shall I have you approve my schedule each morning?'
'If you are wise, yes.' Finduilas stared at the child, brow furrowed, then exclaimed, 'Oh, I almost forgot! We must have a naming ceremony. Soon. Tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow evening.' She tugged Denethor's hand. 'Get Mother. We need to decide who will come and send notes. Moraen and Hilda will help, and...' He was shaking his head, trying to keep from laughing. 'What? We must! And Thorongil and Borondir will both be there so you may speak...'
'Alquallë!' Denethor gestured at the babe. 'Perhaps we should chose a name first?'
'Oh.' Finduilas fussed with the blanket wrapping the infant. 'I...I have not thought of a name. Have you?'
Now was Denethor's turn to look embarrassed. 'Only girl names,' he confessed, 'and I don't think those will do.' He leaned over and gingerly picked up the child, holding him so the two looked each other in the face. A minute went by, then another, and still Denethor intently examined his son. 'Boromir. You are Boromir.'
Something made her skin crawl, and Finduilas shook her head. 'No! Not that.'
'Why not?' Denethor cradled the baby against his chest, a stubborn expression on his face.
'It is a poor name... ill-omened!' Her shoulders began to ache again.
'Nonsense! It was my cousin's name, and I would honor him. It is a good name for a great leader. The last Steward to bear it retook Ithilien, and he, too, was the son of Denethor.'
'And died too soon, as did your cousin!' Finduilas glared at Denethor. For the first time in more than a year, a familiar tightness came to her chest, like a cold knot drawing warmth away from the rest, and the sound of the Sea filled her ears. In front of her eyes, the City took shape, falling away below her, an army blackening the land beyond. He is going to die. I have born a child to die. Why have I a son? The cough tore its way up her throat. She hung over the side of the bed coughing and gasping.
'Luinil! Luinil!' Denethor called. Her mother hurried in and took the baby, the nurse hovering near the door. Denethor knelt near, holding Finduilas's shoulders. The coughs eased as she clung to him, his warmth driving away the cold knot. 'Alquallë, are you all right?' he murmured in her ear.
Finduilas nodded, feeling more foolish than before. 'Water, please.' A cup was fetched. After she drank, Denethor helped her lie down. He and Luinil had a low conversation, she handed him the child and left. Denethor retook his seat next to the cot.
'Forgive me, Finduilas. I did not mean to upset you. We can choose a better name. Perhaps Angelimir, after your grandfather?'
She shook her head. 'No, friend. I am being silly. I have just so wished for a girl, that I think all boy names are wrong.'
'There must be one that you will think right. Here, look at him closely.' Denethor laid the baby next to her once more.
With a finger, she traced the arch of the child's eyebrow, the soft curve of his cheek. Finduilas tried to think of another name, but it was impossible. Boromir. 'He is named. You called him what he is.' She worked one of his hands loose of the swaddling. It was like a fat paw, all pad and tiny toes. Boromir. She did not want him grown and going to war. 'It is too big a name for him, though. I will think of something else for me to call him.' Weariness overcame her. 'I need to sleep now.'
It was dark when Denethor woke her. 'Time for supper,' he said, 'for both of you.' He had a fussing Boromir tucked in one arm. Motioning to the baby with his chin, Denethor asked, 'Do you want me to call the nurse or Luinil?'
'Neither. I am not an invalid,' Finduilas firmly replied, sitting up. Enough weakness. I am well, my babe is strong, and my husband is pleased. She motioned for Denethor to get out of the rocking chair, then took that seat, loosening her robe to free her breasts. No more lying down. 'Give him to me.' She felt stronger, sitting up to care for him. Boromir was soon feeding greedily. Denethor tucked a blanket loosely around them both. 'Tell Aeluin that I am ready for more than broth and bread. Have a table laid in the front room so I may eat with you and Mother.' Reluctantly, Denethor left, returning soon to say all was being readied. It pleased Finduilas that she was being obeyed rather than being the one ordered about, so she made Denethor scurry, warming water for her to wash with, laying out clean clothes, checking on supper, and so forth. Through it all, Boromir nursed with admirable single-mindedness. Well, that trait you share with your father, Finduilas thought to herself with a smirk.
In just over an hour, the child was fed and in Ivrin's care, Finduilas was washed and in a fresh, though old, dress and Denethor was filling a plate with the choicest bits from each dish. She knew she would never finish all of the food he gave her, but had no heart to tell him to stop. Through the open door to her room, Finduilas could watch Ivrin sitting near the fireplace, holding Boromir. A touch on her arm made her look at Luinil.
'It is good to see you moving about, daughter.'
'It was time for me to stop lazing.'
'Lazing?' Luinil laughed. 'You only bore your son this morning!'
'So I shall set a good example for him,' Finduilas teased in return. Her stomach growled, demanding to be filled. Now, to follow his example, and eat well! 'Tell me what you have been doing,' she asked Luinil before digging in.
'I have spent most of the day here, sewing, writing and waiting to be of use. Moraen and Hilda have taken over your solar and have been handling the notes of congratulations. You have actually had a few guests, though they knew better than to ask for you. There are gifts awaiting you. I wish Wren was still here - she would be a great help.'
'The best way to learn is by doing. I am sure Hilda and Moraen are handling things well.'
'I wrote your sister and father with the news. I hope you do not mind.'
'Of course not! And you remind me. I shall need your help, and probably that of the girls and Aiavalë. I want to hold a naming ceremony tomorrow...'
Luinil shook her head. 'Too soon. The day after.'
Finduilas opened her mouth to protest, but Denethor interrupted. 'Sound advice, Luinil. The evening after next, yes?'
'Yes. We will need all day tomorrow just to let everyone know. Have you chosen a name for him yet?'
'Yes, this afternoon. We are going to call...' Denethor began.
'Don't tell me!' Luinil scolded. 'Let it be a surprise to me as well!' Finduilas was relieved that the name was not spoken. She wanted to try to come up with her own name for the child before then. 'Do you know who you wish invited?'
'For the most part. All of the household, of course.' Finduilas paused and ate while she mentally counted people off. 'Aiavalë, not that you could keep her away. Mairen for the other archivists. Moraen, Hilda and Morvorin.' She paused again to eat. There was surprisingly little food left on her plate and she still did not feel full. 'Gethron, of course, for the guardsmen. One of the pups to stand for the rest of them. Borthand would be best.'
'Warden Lhûn?' Denethor prompted, spearing slices of meat from the platter and putting them on her plate.
'Yes, and Master Laanga.' Finduilas pointed to the mashed parsnips as she gobbled down the last bite, indicating she wanted more. 'Borondir and Thorongil.' Luinil raised her eyebrows at the last name. 'Oh, Luinmir and Anna! They must be here. And Brandir.'
'Adanel and Primrose,' Denethor added.
'Yes, if Luinmir is here, they must, too. I wish Imrahil was already here. Who at Vinyamar should be here, Mother?'
Luinil's gaze was keen. 'Just Aerin for the naming. The rest will come later, after yestarë.'
'I wish Father was here,' Finduilas sighed. Her mother said nothing, but shifted her sharp look to Denethor. He stared back at her stonily. Luinil's eyebrows went up and Denethor shook his head.
'Denethor, you cannot do that.'
'Yes, I can.'
'It cannot be kept secret. Brandir will tell him.' Finduilas stared, confused at the exchange, then understood. The Steward. Denethor shrugged. 'Do you think he will not know this has happened? Or that others will not speak of it?'
'No, Luinil,' Denethor sternly replied, 'neither he nor Maiaberiel are allowed to set foot in my house.'
Throwing up her hands in frustration, Luinil demanded, 'Why not? You have made peace with one foolish sire. Can you not make peace with the other? Denethor, you said you have resolved the rivalry between yourself and Thorongil. What can remain of your division with Ecthelion?'
'That has naught to do with his banishment from here. He knows better than to ask.' Luinil and Denethor exchanged stares for a few moments, then she shook her head and muttered something under her breath.
The rest of the meal passed in silence. When it was done, Finduilas tried to stand, but her legs turned to water. Denethor helped her back to the cot, collected Boromir and dismissed Ivrin for the night. He knelt beside the cot and kissed her tenderly. 'Thank you for the gift, Alquallë.'
'Gift? I am confused, friend.'
'This,' he said shyly, touching the baby's head. 'I cannot think of a better birthday present.' With another kiss, he took a seat in the rocking chair. 'Sleep. I'll watch you both.'
Minas Tirith, 27 December, 2978 T.A.
Finduilas sat still and allowed Aeluin to brush and braid her hair. She knew that Beregar waited upon Denethor in his room, getting him dressed for the naming. Her mother had been right; it was best they had waited an extra day. Finduilas was not bleeding so heavily, only as much as during her moon flux, and she was more rested. She had only cried once today. To her frustration, she still has not come up with a less fateful name for Boromir. That is what had made her cry.
Aeluin and Beregar had been allowed to come into the rooms, though neither knew the baby's name. Beregar had been tasked with making Denethor leave the house and go to the men's baths. When the men were safely away, Finduilas had Aeluin sit in the rocking chair and hold the baby while Ivrin helped get water warmed for Finduilas's own ablution. Aeluin cooed and cried, and said she hoped her own baby would be so strong.
Denethor called from the front that all was ready. Finduilas came out with Boromir. Luinil was also there, and took the baby from Finduilas. 'There is time to collect one more guest, Warden,' she said quietly to Denethor. He shook his head, and told Aeluin to go tell everyone they were coming. Denethor gave Finduilas his arm while Beregar stayed near Luinil to be sure she did not trip on the steps, and they went to Finduilas's study. The voices all quieted when they walked in and those in the back craned for a view. For a moment, Finduilas felt both an urge to weep and throw herself into the arms of her friends and a desire to snatch her infant away from Luinil, flee from these many eyes and hide in the darkest corner of the house. She took a deep breath and smiled, walking to a chair set beside the hearth. Denethor stood next to her. He took the baby from Luinil and held the infant up so all could see.
'Friends, I introduce to you our son, Boromir.'
There was a moment of silence, then a burst of voices, a few cheers and some clapping, making the baby squint and twitch in response. Denethor put him into Finduilas's arms. Aiavalë was the first to approach. She cried in joy and hugged Denethor and Finduilas, before turning her attention to her nephew. 'Now there, little one, say hello to your Auntie Monster.' Denethor made a sound of exasperation, and Finduilas knew Aiavalë was grinning behind her veil at having annoyed him. 'There are many who wish to greet you, Boromir, so I will not take up all your time.'
Borondir and Brandir were next. Both had red eyes from tears. Borondir grabbed Denethor's shoulder. 'Boromir? You have named him such?'
'In honor a great steward and in honor of the man we both lost too soon,' Denethor replied. They embraced strongly, Borondir openly weeping. 'You do not object, cousin?'
'No! Never! I am honored. All my house is honored,' Borondir assured Denethor. He knelt, gazing at his father's namesake. 'All is well with him and with you, Finduilas?'
'Everything is perfect,' she assured him. 'You are to come often and visit your cousin.'
'I will, be certain of that!' Borondir moved so Brandir could exclaim over the baby, then both retreated.
One by one, everyone came up to greet Boromir. The buzz of voices and the warmth of the room soon put him to sleep. Moraen and Hilda giggled over his chubby cheeks and assured Finduilas that they had all of the notes and gifts in hand, ready for her when she wished for them. Lhûn kissed Finduilas and rested a hand on her shoulder. 'I will come tomorrow for a proper visit.'
'I look forward to that. Where is Master Laanga?'
'He said it was too cold for his old bones to venture out, and that he will see you in the garden.'
Adanel and Primrose were full of cheer and much advice, most of it in conflict with each other. They agreed only that Boromir was a fine name for a huge baby. Aeluin and Beregar shepherded the household in a line of greeting, each bowing to the lord and lady and taking a peek at their new prince. Finduilas noticed that Hunthor had become a permanent guardsman for the house, and that Dúlin barely let go his arm. She and Aeluin exchanged a knowing glance. There would be a marriage soon by the look of this.
When Luinmir brought Anna closer, the little girl could not stop staring at the sleeping Boromir. She climbed half into Finduilas's lap, peering intently at the small face peeking from the swaddling clothes. She whirled around to Luinmir and shrieked 'Baby! It's a baby!'
'Shh! Hush!' Luinmir laughed, pulling Anna away. 'Be quiet or you'll wake him up! I am sorry, Finduilas,' she said ruefully. 'Anna knows better than to screech.'
'I do not mind. I had the same reaction the first time I met him, only louder,' Finduilas wryly said. All the women in the room roared in laughter, while the men winced. Anna took the opportunity to shriek a few more times before Morvorin distracted her with some sweets.
'Denethor, Finduilas, my congratulations.' Thorongil was smiling his wonderful smile, making Finduilas happier. 'And it is very nice to make your acquaintance, Master Boromir,' the Lost said to the baby, kneeling down so he was at eye-level with the baby. Boromir slept, unaware of his admirer, his lips pursed in a perfect "o".
'Thank you for coming, Thorongil,' Finduilas said, holding out a hand which he took. His brow creased for a moment, his smile slipping at the touch, and his eyes looked into hers with concern. 'I have missed your company these last few months. After yestarë, you are to come and tell me stories of your travels.'
'As you command, my lady. I would like nothing better.' His smile restored, Thorongil nodded and stepped aside for the next well-wisher.
Gethron stood there and Borondir was back. They chatted happily with Denethor. Finduilas caught Denethor's eye and motioned with her head that he should walk among their guests. He allowed himself to be guided away
The final visitor was Borthand. Someone had taken the young man aside and had cleaned him up well, giving him some nice, if second-hand, clothes. He was less scrawny than lean now, and she could see that he would soon leave childhood behind. Finduilas smiled and gestured for him to come closer. 'Come see the newest pup.'
'Oh, no, my lady, don't call him that,' Borthand said seriously. 'he's not one of us.'
'Yes he is. You are all my pups, now, so you are like him. Now take a look so you can tell the Hunt all about him.' Borthand looked carefully, though he kept his hands behind his back. 'When he grows up, I expect you and the other boys will keep an eye on him and keep him out of too much mischief.'
'We will,' Borthand assured her with a grin.
The rest of the evening went smoothly. Denethor was always watching her and Boromir no matter who spoke to him. Across the room, Finduilas heard cups clinking and things being poured. Beregar brought a chair and set it next to hers for people to sit when they spoke to her. Brandir plopped himself down in it and planted a loud kiss on her cheek, making her giggle.
'My dear, sweet sister, I am so happy!'
'I can see! It is wonderful, isn't it?'
'And with more joy to come, I hope.' Brandir smiled and leaned closer. His smile was wide but his voice dropped. 'I am surprised at the absence of a particular person.'
'The guest of honor's grandfather.' Brandir laughed as though something funny had been said and caressed his nephew's cheek. 'I told Denethor, once, that this would mend the rift in their house. It was a fool's council, of course'
Finduilas touched his arm. 'I think your council is very wise, Master Fool. We would all be better to pay you more heed. My husband is a stubborn man, but be certain that I have heard your advice and find it sound.' A hopeful look came to Brandir's eyes. 'You watch. Much will be mended.'
Minas Tirith, Mettarë, 2978 T.A.
'Are you certain, Finduilas?' Hilda asked with a frown.
'Yes, quite certain. You are all to go to the feast, and you are to eat, sing, dance, and make merry the whole evening through, and then you are to amuse me on the morrow with your stories.' Finduilas looked around at the people in the front room. Please, go and leave me some peace! Boromir was a week old and the visitors were driving her mad. Imrahil was the worst. He had arrived near sundown three days before and had been a pest ever since, arguing with their mother, distracting Beregar, teasing Hilda and Moraen, and earning dark looks from Denethor. Even sending him off to drink with Gethron and Morvorin did not dampen his exuberance, though at least it got him out of the house. Now he was lying on the couch, babbling silly things at his new nephew, trying to get the babe to smile. You are a bigger baby than Boromir! The young women had moved back in, sharing Moraen's rooms upstairs, and it seemed to Finduilas that they spent most of the day thundering up and down the stairs. Borondir had been adding to the confusion, for he did not wish to go over reports, but only wished to hold his newborn cousin, leaving Finduilas cross; she wished to know the condition of the City. She had squabbled with Aiavalë earlier that day, leading Lady Lore to go off in a huff. Even Denethor had earned the rough side of her tongue with his hovering.
'We need not all leave at once,' Luinil helpfully offered.
'No, really, you should go,' Finduilas hastily countered. 'There is too much excitement and Boromir won't settle down and eat.'
'Oh yes he will,' Moraen laughed. 'I have never seen such a greedy gullet!'
Luinil must have seen something in Finduilas's face, for she shook her head. 'Yes, but it will not stay down if Imrahil keeps jiggling him. Finduilas is right. Let us give her and the baby some quiet. And what is wrong with you girls? Don't you want to dance?' Within a few minutes, Luinil had rescued Boromir from Imrahil's clutches and returned the baby to Ivrin, sent the young women upstairs to get their cloaks, and called for Beregar to have an escort of guardsmen readied. She kissed Finduilas lightly on the cheek. 'Forgive us for being so trying, lamb.'
'One evening of quiet, that is all I need.' With a laugh and another kiss, Luinil left, calling for the youngsters to hurry. In all of this, Denethor had not moved from his chair near the hearth. He was still glowering from their spat the previous evening. Finduilas glanced at the fading light coming through the window. 'You will be late.'
'There is no need for me to go.'
This was going to be more difficult. 'No need, but much to be gained.' With a sigh, she dropped onto the couch, not having to feign being tired. 'I wish I could go, but I am not up to this evening. Too much walking about.' She sighed again. Denethor was next to her at once, concern on his face.
'I think you are not resting enough. Why do you wish to go?'
'To be seen so people know that all is truly well. I know how rumors run in this city,' she ended darkly, staring at the fire.
'You rest after birthing a large child.'
Finduilas scowled and shook her head. 'It is not the truth but what is believed that matters. Until we appear, the child and me, there will be whispers, but I dare not risk the cold, let alone take him out into it.'
'You will take no risk,' Denethor said sternly, pulling her into his arms. Finduilas did not mind this and let herself relax in the embrace. 'What must I do since you cannot be there?'
'Expansive and proud. Even be a little foolish, but do not drink overly much! Keep your wits about you. Be sure everyone at the feast knows how large, strong and perfectly formed your son is. That is the question all will have until they can see Boromir with their own eyes.'
Denethor sighed. 'Is this what you think will be said, or have you already heard rumors?'
'It is being voiced in The King's Cup that the Steward has not been allowed to see the child, and they wonder why that should be.'
'If I had my way, he would never come close to my son.'
Finduilas did not answer that, but said, 'I think at the supper after the Great Council, I will need to make a brief appearance with Boromir so the lords may see him and be reassured. Until then, they will watch you.'
'I will not stay long.' He rose and disappeared into his study, returning with his cloak. 'You will be...'
'...fine! Aeluin and Beregar are staying. I intend to retire as soon as his majesty's hunger will allow.' With a final look at Boromir, Denethor finally left. Finduilas fed the baby, then retreated to the fire in the front room. It was full dark. The feast was undoubtedly underway by now. She gazed into the fire, thinking. Two years ago this day, we were wed. How could she have forgotten? Last year, they did not celebrate their anniversary for she had been with Ivriniel. A year ago, I carried our daughter. Finduilas bit her lip, but could not help a tear that stole from the corner of he eye. Denethor's insistence that the first child of his house was always a girl made her think about the child that was not. Laanga said it wasn't the poison, but the ride. It was hard to accept she had a boy. Luinmir had come to the house almost every day to see her, bringing Anna, and she envied the woman her daughter.
A light tap on the door roused her from her melancholy thoughts. Beregar opened it a fraction, but did not step in. 'My Lady?'
'Captain Thorongil and his lieutenant have stopped by on their way to the feast. They wish to offer their regards. I told them you were tired.'
'Lieutenant? You mean Halmir?'
'Yes. He insists I ask.' Beregar was obviously displeased at the request. Finduilas, however, was intrigued.
'Show them up.' Beregar looked at her in surprise. 'I will see them, but no other visitors.' Finduilas stood and neatened her clothes and hair. Footsteps on the stair and then another light rap on the door. 'Come in.'
Halmir led them in. Thorongil gave her a sweet smile and a shrug before they both bowed. Halmir's idea, then. 'Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for your company.'
'Thank you, my lady, for seeing us,' Halmir replied. 'We have a small gift to deliver.'
'The news of your joy has traveled to Osgiliath,' Thorongil chimed in, 'and the men asked that we present you a Yule gift they gathered for their new lord.' Halmir nodded, reaching for a pouch at his belt. It jingled, but there was something in it besides coins. Working loose the ties, Halmir pulled out a small knife in a leather sheath, handing it to Finduilas. She moved under a lamp the better to see it. It was beautifully wrought, obviously the work of a skilled smith, with a white stone set in the hilt and a feather etched in black upon the blade. Even as she admired its excellence, it made her sad. His first gift, a weapon, an edge with which to cut and harm. A girl would get a doll to cherish.
Halmir placed the pouch upon the sideboard. 'The men gave a few coins each, and Cair Andros sent some as well, and I used them to buy that. What is left over is in the pouch.'
Finduilas placed the knife next to the pouch. 'Thank you. It will be given to him when he is old enough.'
The Lost bowed his head in acknowledgement. He fidgeted for a moment, then said, 'May we see him? If he is awake, of course.'
The look on Halmir's face was as when they had spoken before the tourney near loëndë, unsure and searching. 'Wait a moment. I will see.' Finduilas hurried to the next room and collected the baby. He was drowsy from his meal, but not asleep. Halmir and Thorongil both craned eagerly when she returned. 'Here he is. This is Boromir.'
Halmir gazed at the baby, expression softening, making him more like to Thorongil. He touched Boromir's cheek, then looked at Finduilas, eyes alight. 'May I hold him? Please?' Finduilas could not resist the entreaty, and handed Boromir over. From the moment Halmir slid his arm under the babe, it was clear that this was a man who had practice holding a child. 'You are a big lad. Good even, son,' Halmir murmured, 'and how do you find this world?' Boromir's eyes were locked on Halmir's face. The Lost gently rocked the babe, said nonsense to him, leaned to touch Boromir's nose with his own, kissed his forehead, touched the fat tiny hands with a long forefinger. 'Need you a minstrel, little man? Here is a song for you,'
Sleep little child,
Fly away fear,
Heed not the wild,
For Papa is near.
Safe is thy bed,
No danger lurks here.
Rest thy sweet head,
Your Papa is near.
Come now the night,
The stars shine so clear.
Arms hold you tight,
And Papa is near.
She had never heard this lullaby before. It was not one of the falas. Thorongil touched her hand and offered her a kerchief. It was only then she realized she was weeping. His own eyes were bright and he looked not at Boromir, but at Halmir. The elder never took his eyes off the baby. 'Are you amused? Are you ready to sleep, little one? Promise me that you will be good and not be a trial to your mother. Yes? Good lad.' Halmir kissed Boromir's brow once more and reluctantly handed him back. 'Thank you for your indulgence, my lady. You are too kind to wanderers.' With a bow, he turned and left. Thorongil lingered for a moment, looking at her and the child, then brushed a hand across his eyes and hurried after Halmir.
Minas Tirith, 2 January, 2979 T.A.
The year-end feasts were done and now attention turned to the Great Council. The Council itself was set for the fifth, three days hence. Imrahil had ceased being so juvenile and was acting as Denethor's secretary, accompanying him at all meetings and drawing up notes and reports. Luinil insisted that the house be kept quiet for Finduilas, so most of Denethor's meetings took place in Borondir's house in the sixth circle. Only close kin and those who had been invited to the naming were allowed to enter the Stewards House. Moraen had ceased to be so silly and was going around to the great houses and the visiting lords in Finduilas's stead, meeting with ladies and their daughters, listening to the gossip, and assuring all of the health and soundness of the new heir. Those who were visitors to the City over Yule begged for a chance to get a glimpse of Boromir before they had to return home. Finduilas had decided that the day of the Council would be when she would receive the ladies. She sat in the front room drawing up a list of who should come when.
It was difficult because Boromir demanded to be fed every two hours and he needed to sleep, not that anyone seemed to care if he was sleeping when they saw him. When he is not eating, I am! Her stomach emptied as soon as she filled it and she disliked eating so gluttonously. Ivrin and Aeluin were tending Boromir in her bedroom. Finduilas tried not to feel guilty that she would rather be sitting out here than minding the baby. At least she had come up with a better name for him. Two mornings ago, Ivrin had wrapped Boromir up in a brown blanket before bringing him over for his feeding. He had given Finduilas a quizzical look, his eyes small and squinting, and she thought he looked like a little bear cub. Denethor had liked the name and now called the babe Morcollë.
Finduilas heard footsteps on the stair and watched the doorway expectantly. She knew Denethor would be back soon from his meeting with Anduin lords, and was eager to hear what he had uncovered. It was not Denethor and Imrahil, however, but Beregar and Morvorin.
'Finduilas, good afternoon,' Morvorin said crossing the room to give her a kiss on the cheek. 'I shan't bother you! I know Denethor has yet to return, and I will wait downstairs for him, but I had to say hello.'
'You shall do no such thing, friend Morvorin!' she scolded. 'I require you to sit with me while we both wait for my lord's return. Beregar, have one of the girls bring us tea.' Beregar nodded and did her bidding, but not before straying to the bedroom door to look in on Aeluin. One of the kitchen maids was soon there with a guardsman and refreshments enough for all. Aeluin closed the door between the rooms for privacy.
At first, Morvorin amused Finduilas with tales of adventures in the City, but lapsed into thoughtful silence ere long. She waited, wondering what could be causing the frown on the gay lord's face. 'If I may presume upon you patience, Finduilas, I have a... delicate matter on which I need a friend's advice.'
Finduilas had no doubt what he wished to speak of. A wife. Moraen and Hilda had been full of stories about who was flirting with Morvorin at the parties. Both thought he had been paying much attention to Andreth of Linhir. It would be a good match. Since Andreth was now Finduilas's sister-in-law (or close enough), it made sense that he would speak to her about the lady. 'I will give what advice I can, and you can trust to my discretion.'
'I know that it is time and perhaps past time for me to take a wife,' Morvorin began. Finduilas smiled gently, pleased that her guess was right. 'And I have not been a laggard, but my choices have chosen others. My heart has been left sore as a result, and I would fain save it more punishment. I have questions about a fair and caring woman I think you know well. Oh, and say nothing to my sister of this! If a breathe a name, she is off to make a match.' The last was said ruefully.
'I shall say nothing to anyone else. Of whom would you know?'
'Luinmir.' Finduilas stared at Morvorin dumbly. 'She has a child, but wears no ring. What of that?'
'I see.' Finduilas tried to gather her thoughts. 'There is no scandal. Luinmir is a widow. Her husband was slain in the battle in Osgiliath three years past, and their daughter born a few months later.'
'Ah, for pity!' Morvorin exclaimed. 'That is sorrowful. Was their great love between them, that she would not think of another?'
'I think it was an advantageous marriage for each, though with little affection,' she cautiously answered.
Morvorin looked away. He kept his eyes trained on the opposite wall, and his voice was low. 'I have noticed that Luinmir is oft in the company of Lord Borondir. It there an... understanding between them? An affection that should be left alone?'
Is there? In two years, Finduilas had never considered such a thing. They are close, and there is comfort in their converse. 'I... do not know for certain, but I think not.'
'But, perhaps, might be? I do not wish to intrude upon others' happiness, particularly of two I call friends.'
'No, there will not be. They are of too close kin.' Finduilas stopped abruptly. What does Morvorin know of Luinmir's parentage? Probably nothing, given his other questions.
'Of kin? How?'
'Cousins.' She could see Morvorin thinking over Borondir's family.
'Is she... then... of kin also... to Lord Denethor?'
'Close?' Finduilas nodded, waiting for the next, obvious question. It did not come. Morvorin rose and walked the length of the room, halting before her once more. 'You are indeed a friend, and I see why she loves you.'
'You should know that she said to me once she would never again wed. She is devoted to Anna.'
'As are all who meet the girl! Anna captured my heart a year ago.' Morvorin took Finduilas's hands. 'Thank you for your trust.'
'What do you think?'
'That Lord Borondir is more likely to argue for good roads if he must ride to Ethring to see Anna.' Morvorin cocked his head and smiled. 'Remember, not a word to Moraen!'
Minas Tirith, 4 January, 2979 T.A.
Each day it was easier to get Denethor to leave the house and stay away. He always returned for dinner and would not leave after supper, but during daylight he, Thorongil and Borondir met at Borondir's house and talked with this lord, that minister, or a captain so-and-so, preparing for the Council. Every evening Borondir returned with Denethor to go over the day and cuddle the baby. He was quite proud of his ability to hold Boromir with only one arm. Finduilas was happy to relinquish the child to them and listen to their accounts of the meetings. She was disappointed that Thorongil did not accompany them back to the Stewards House.
Finduilas kissed Denethor farewell at the Wall Door as he left for the afternoon, and even stepped out upon the wall to wave as he walked out of sight. It was the easiest way to tell how chilly it was outside. For mid-winter, the weather was mild. Clouds dimmed the light but kept the air warm and Mindolluin was not blowing wind down frozen flanks to make the City shiver. Finduilas walked into her study and sat at her desk for a few minutes, gathering her wits. And her courage. She kept her eyes on her banner. A prince. You are a prince. You treat with others on matters of power and rule. You do what is needful for your lord and your land. You vanquish your enemies with weapons other than steel and poison. You are a prince.
When enough time had passed that she was certain Denethor would not return, Finduilas went upstairs and rang the bell to summon Beregar. Ivrin knelt before the fire in the bedroom, changing Boromir's diaper. 'How is he?'
'Fat and pooping!' Ivrin happily replied. 'I swear I can see him grow before my very eyes.'
Finduilas smiled. He is strong. There is no risk if you are swift. 'Yes, I think he is. I know he is heavier each day when I hold him.' She took a deep breath and said, 'Since he is doing so well, it is time for his first adventure.'
'Adventure, my lady?' Ivrin asked quizzically.
'Yes. It is time he met his grandfather. We are going to the Tower.'
Ivrin's brow furrowed and she swiftly finished tucking the diaper ends in to hold it secure. 'But... wouldn't it make more sense... I do not mean to be impertinent, but, I think the Lord Steward...'
'Would come to see Boromir, if asked? Yes, but he should not be summoned like a servant. That demeans him. The Steward is never summoned, save by the King, so we will go to him.' Finduilas smiled cheerfully, hoping her face was not too red. She heard Beregar enter the front room. 'Get a basket ready for carrying the baby, and wrap him warmly.' Quickly, she left the room.
Beregar stood near the doorway, waiting. For the first time, Finduilas wondered if her Hound would be loyal. If he will not help, than I shall do without him. 'Beregar, I need you to accompany me on an errand. No other guard will do.'
Concern crossed his face. 'Is something wrong, my lady? I can fetch a healer. Even Master Laanga would not refuse your call.'
'No, Huan, there is nothing amiss.' Not that a healer can tend, that is. 'I am taking Boromir to the Tower.'
For a minute, Beregar did not speak or move, but looked straight into her eyes, trying to understand what she was doing. 'If you will wait, my lady, I will get Lord Denethor. He should be with you if you go to the Tower.'
'I do not want him to be there, or to know I have gone there.'
'It is not right that he should be deceived in this.'
'He is not deceived. He is simply in ignorance. I forbid you to tell him, even if he asks you directly.'
Now Beregar looked away. 'Do not order me so, please.'
'Yet I do, Beregar, and you are my Hound. If you will not swear, I will leave you here, for I am going to meet the Lord Steward.' Finduilas nodded and returned to see if Ivrin had the baby bundled. The woman was moving slowly, obviously displeased by the plan, so Finduilas took over. She had already dressed herself carefully that morning, anticipating that she would have no time to waste. Boromir snug in the basket, Finduilas collected her mantle and pulled it on. 'We will not be gone long. I tire easily and the baby should not be in the cold,' she said briskly, slipping an arm under the basket handle. Beregar held out his hand wordlessly when she emerged, taking the baby. She led them out upon the wall and to the upper walk around the court. Though Finduilas hated being exposed to the east, she feared being spied in the street even more. They walked swiftly to the Tower and went directly to the Steward's chambers. A startled servant bowed her in.
'My lady, why are you...' he began.
'I am here to see the Lord Steward,' she replied brightly. 'Please tell him I am here.'
'He is in a meeting, and...'
'Well, interrupt him and tell him to come here.'
'I dare not. It is...'
Finduilas walked over to a small desk, took a report of some kind from it, turned it over, wrote, "Ecthelion, I have come to visit and await you in your chambers. Finduilas" in a large hand, and gave it to the man. 'Take that and hand it to him. Now.' With a bow, the man scurried off.
Ecthelion burst into the room within minutes, pulling up short at the sight of the basket. The Steward collected himself, and bowed to Finduilas. 'Daughter, how happy I am to see you. Pray, come with me to where it is warmer.' He opened a door to an inner room and motioned for her to enter. Finduilas took the basket from Beregar. When he would have followed, she shook her head and pointed to a chair near the door. For a moment, she knew he considered disobeying, but he finally relented. Ecthelion told the servant to have food and drink brought to them. Finduilas took a seat near the fire, her legs unsteady with exertion and nervousness, setting the basket at her feet. Ecthelion sat opposite, wary. 'To what do I owe this visit, Finduilas?'
'To this little gentleman, here.' She peeled back the blanket covering Boromir. 'The day was not too cold, and I was finally shed of my weariness, so it was time to come see you.'
'I would have come.' His eyes never left the baby's face.
'But you need not, for we are here. Come say hello.'
Ecthelion was kneeling next to the basket as soon as the words were out of her mouth. He did not ask, but scooped Boromir into his arms, cradling the child to him. When Ecthelion looked fully into his grandson's face, he smiled and never before had Finduilas seen the resemblance between him and Denethor so clearly - they looked at Boromir the same way. He stared in wonder at the babe and soon wept for joy. She knew she could have left the room, recited poetry, jumped atop a table and danced, and none of it would have made Ecthelion pay her the slightest mind. He stood and retreated to a window, murmuring things to Boromir. Finduilas smiled to herself and settled in to wait.
The door opened and Beregar entered, carrying a tray with wine and cakes. Finduilas allowed him to serve her, then motioned for him to leave. He watched the Steward holding Boromir for a minute before he left. She nibbled on a cake, and then a second, and another, then decided she would eat them all as it was obvious that the Steward did not hunger for food. When she was done, she settled into her chair and watched the fire. The murmurs ended and the man began singing lullabies. The warmth and the glowing embers and the gentle voice lulled her, and Finduilas dozed off. The songs ran together and she thought someone was playing a flute. Words formed, swirled, became naught but sound, then took shape again. Something familiar sounded,
Songs of the deep,
Too vast to hear,
Run through thy blood,
And fate draws near.
Finduilas struggled awake peering through sleep-fogged eyes, and saw an old man in tattered grey robes reeling something to him. She came to her feet, needing to snatch back her child, and the vision resolved into Ecthelion holding Boromir up, singing "Arms hold you tight, and Papa is near." He turned at the sound of her standing up. 'Finduilas? Are you well?'
'How do you know that song?'
'It is what was sung to me, and what I sang to my children. All sing it here in the City. Do you not know it?'
'No. It is not a tune of the coast.'
Ecthelion nodded, then looked sadly at the baby. 'You have been here long. I suppose you must go now, yes?'
'Yes. I am more tired than I thought.'
'That will not do!' he replied with a laugh. 'You need to rest.' He brought Boromir back and tucked him into the basket, fussing over the blankets to wrap him just so. He picked the basket up and handed it to her. 'Thank you. You do not know how much this visit means to me.' Ecthelion brushed Boromir's cheek tenderly. 'When... might you pay another call?'
'That depends on you.'
'On me? How so?'
Finduilas pulled the basket closer, placing an arm around it. 'I have a bargain for you, my Lord Steward.'
'If you wish to see or touch your grandson again, then you will make yourself... agreeable... to Denethor.'
Ecthelion stepped back. 'What?'
'You heard me,' Finduilas stonily replied. 'You are a vile man, without honor or worth. You have sullied your house in every possible way. I have watched you treat my husband with cruelty, and I know you wish for him to come to grief. Never are you to pass the threshold of my house.'
'How dare you speak to me so, you impertinent chit! That is my grandson,' he snarled, reaching to seize the basket from her. Finduilas stepped out of reach, crying, 'Huan!' Beregar was through the door and in between her and the Steward instantly, knife in his hand.
'Touch me or this child, and my man will kill you.' Ecthelion backed away. She pointed to a chair and he sat. Finduilas gave Beregar the basket. 'Take Morcollë to the next room and stay there. Let no one approach,' she whispered
'No! Leave now. Do not remain near him,' Beregar hissed, staring hatefully at the Steward.
'I have one more thing to say. He will behave himself.' Beregar withdrew. Finduilas walked a little closer so she did not have to shout, but far enough that she could beat Ecthelion to the door should he lunge at her. She remembered the gash he had put on Denethor's face the summer before. Ecthelion smiled and steepled his fingers, waiting for her to speak. His eyes were like Maiaberiel's.
'Tell me, Ecthelion, do you want your youngest grandson to hate you as much as your eldest does?' His eyes widened and flicked to the door. 'I don't think you do.'
'Get out of here.'
'In a moment. You have not heard the bargain. You will treat Denethor with the respect due him as High Warden and your heir. You will stop your conspiracy with Maiaberiel against him. You will stop sending him into danger. If you do, I will continue to bring Boromir to see you. He will hear no harsh word about you from me. Your grandson will love you. If not, then not. The Great Council is tomorrow. There can be your first proof to me that you intend to honor the bargain.'
Finduilas did not wait for an answer, turning on her heel and striding out. She did not stop in the outer room to pull on her mantle, but shrugged into it as she walked, Beregar right behind her with the baby. Her knees gave way after turning the lock shut on the Wall Door and she sank to the hallway floor, shaking.
Beregar crouched down. 'My lady? Finduilas?'
'I must be stronger yet.'
He shook his head. 'Say not such things! You frighten me with your words.'
'Take the baby to Ivrin. It is drafty here.' She pulled herself to her feet, chiding herself for being weak and womanish. You are a prince! Those who do not love you must fear you. Beruthiel would mock you could she see you now. Finduilas did not refuse Beregar's assistance when he came back, however, leaning heavily on his arm as they climbed the stair. Aeluin was with Ivrin, and both looked frightened.
'Please, my lady,' Beregar begged after he helped her to the rocking chair in her room, 'let me fetch Lord Denethor.'
'No, don't be silly!' Finduilas said with a laugh. 'I walked too far and my legs are weak. All I need is to sit. It was worth it to see the Lord Steward's face when he saw Morcollë.'
'Was he pleased?' Aeluin asked. Beregar was closer to Finduilas than the women were, his back to them. His expression was incredulous.
'Pleased? He wept for joy and sang, he was so happy!' Finduilas assured the other two. 'I am glad I did not wait until tomorrow, for it would not have been good for the Steward to be under so many eyes for their first meeting. He did not wish for us to leave, did he, Huan?'
Beregar shook his head. 'No, the Lord Steward wished us to stay for the rest of the day,' he flatly replied. With a bow, he left. Boromir began fussing, wishing to be fed and the rest of the afternoon passed taking care of him. Ivrin and Aeluin agreed it was kind of her to take the baby to the Steward, but that she had to think of her own health. When Ivrin left to collect tea from downstairs, Aeluin came close.
'My lady, why? I know how much opposition there is between the Tower and this house.'
'To lessen that opposition. This little boy will humble the hearts of two very proud men. For his sake, they will be reconciled.' Aeluin smiled and nodded.
Finduilas was on tenterhooks when Denethor returned that evening, but he paid no attention, discussing with Imrahil the Council reports they and the others had worked on all day. It was with great relief that Finduilas dismissed Ivrin for the night and retired to her bedroom to nurse Boromir one last time before going to sleep herself. Denethor said he would be in later and not to wait up. As she sat and rocked as Boromir nursed, she heard Denethor and Imrahil talking. After a while, Denethor tapped on the door, opening it a crack to say he was fetching some tea and was there anything she wished from the kitchen? She said no, and he and Imrahil went downstairs. She was nearly through nursing the babe when she heard swift steps on the stairs. An instant later, the bedroom door crashed open, and Denethor stood there, glowering. He kicked the door shut behind him.
Finduilas made herself sit calmly in the chair, holding the nursing child, and refused to look at Denethor. Boromir had flinched at the loud noise, but had not let go her teat. A hand grabbed her roughly by the chin, forcing her face up. Her robe slipped from her shoulder, leaving her exposed.
'What are you up to?' His voice was icy.
'Let go of me!'
He gripped her jaw more tightly, fingers digging into her cheeks. 'You took Boromir to the Tower. Don't deny it.'
Finduilas twisted her head until she could nip the base of his thumb and make him let go. 'I deny nothing. I took Boromir to see Ecthelion.'
'Because it had to happen at some point and it was best done before...'
Denethor twisted a hank of her hair in his fingers, yanking her head back, pulling so hard that she gasped. When he spoke, his words were like a serpent, smooth, and deadly, sliding towards its prey. 'No. It did not have to happen. And you thought to deceive me on it.' She shook her head. He yanked her hair again. 'You said nothing to me.'
'You would have forbidden...'
'Yes. I don't want him touching my son any more than I want him touching you. You know what he can do.'
'I'm not a fool. I had Beregar with me...' Finduilas had to clench her teeth to suppress a cry as Denethor twisted the hank of hair more tightly.
'You twisted his heart to make him conspire with you in this.'
'Beregar is mine to order!'
'Not any longer. He goes. Tonight.'
With a snarl, Finduilas kicked out at Denethor, hitting his shin, but her foot was bare and made little impression on his booted leg. 'You will do nothing! You stupid man! I have secured your power with that visit.'
'I have a bargain. Ecthelion will treat you with honor and cease trying to harm you. If he does, he will be allowed to see the child.'
'That bargain was not for you to make!'
'You did not protect me from poison. I seek my own safety.'
Denethor stared at her, then down at their son who still suckled, unmindful of their argument, and his grip on her hair loosened. Before she could wriggle from his grasp, Denethor kissed her, mouth hungry like Boromir's, and his other hand caressed her bare shoulder before sliding to her breast. Lust for him coursed through her, making her wet with something besides blood and milk, but his touch also sickened her. The baby squirmed, finally letting go her teat, and cried, and she joined in his protest, shoving Denethor back.
'Ugh! Do not touch me so,' she spat, yanking her robe to cover herself. 'Do you so easily demean your child's dam before him? Your hands now are no less foul to me than his would be. You give me a protector, then rob me of him as it pleases you, leaving me without my Hound. If I fail to please you, shall you send me off as well?'
His face twisted and he ducked his head. 'No! No, never.'
'Then cease your threats! You sound like Beruthiel. Do your worst, or be silent.' Finduilas turned her attention to Boromir, hoping she could keep him from crying. Denethor sank to his knees next to the chair, face in his hands. With some cajoling and jiggling, she got the baby to burp and calm down. She ignored Denethor and got ready for bed. Not the cot. She was tired of the wretched thing and she had not bled heavily at night in a few days. Briskly, she turned down the covers her bed, set Boromir on it, and folded a pad for under her hips. In all this time, Denethor had not stirred. Finduilas climbed into her bed, sighing contentedly at the soft tick, and pulled Boromir into her arms.
It was several minutes before Denethor moved. For a time, he looked at his hands, then stiffly stood, as though his bones had become as ancient as Laanga's. He blew out the lamps. In the darkness, she heard him walk to the door, put his hand on the latch.
'You will leave me unguarded again?' Denethor made a sound she had never heard before, like an animal in pain. He came to her bed and lay down upon the floor before it.
Playlist Navigation Bar