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Hands of the King: 57. Confessions
Minas Tirith, Late May, 2979 T.A.
Denethor put Boromir in his cradle before turning to Finduilas. He kissed her cheek. 'I must leave the City and will be gone...'
'...all day,' she finished for him, making herself smile. He and Borondir were going to test the Dragon Fire. She could no more stop him from crafting this weapon than she could keep him away from the palantír. Her dreams were always terrible when he readied a new batch to be tested.
She crouched upon the spire in the waste, trying to keep from being torn from it by the storm winds. Next to her, the silver demon stood, shouting defiance at the Lords of the West. The armies gathered below. From ships tied to the quays upon the river, smoke rose, shadow towers. Eagles took shape in the tempest, formed when the dark columns reached the steel-grey sky, and stooped down upon the teeming hordes before the spire. Once, the eagles had cast bolts of lightning upon the King's Men of Númenor. Now, their talons grabbed ribbons of smoke from the ship-borne fires, and the dark streamers would ignite, filling their claws with fire. They dropped the white-hot fires upon the demon's minions, and they were consumed.
'I will return today,' Denethor assured her and bent to kiss her cheek once more. Finduilas turned her head and kissed his mouth. For a second, Denethor tensed and began to pull away. Will you deny me even this? A kiss? Finduilas slipped a hand behind his head so he could not escape and deepened her kiss. He gave a low growl and opened his mouth to hers, pulling her against him. When they parted, Denethor's face was flushed and his breath came more heavily. He shook a warning finger at her. 'Vixen.'
Finduilas replied with a smirk and a light kiss on his cheek. A few more embraces like that, along with other touches and strategic timing, and she would overcome his resolve. 'I will give you what pleasures I may, husband,' she airily said as she walked to the front room, 'and encourage you not to dawdle on your return home.' And make you think of greater pleasures. Denethor's glance as he put on his cloak was hungry. 'Give my regards to Borondir.'
'Of course.' He turned to leave.
A shiver of fear, not desire, went up Finduilas's spine and she seized his hand. Embracing him again, she whispered, 'Please, friend, beware of what you touch.'
'I will, Alquallë. I will be careful,' he promised. Their parting kiss was tender. Finduilas remained where she stood for several minutes after Denethor left. She sighed and returned to her room where Boromir lay in his cradle.
He looked at her curiously, then looked away and waved a fat paw, gurgling to himself. You never look away from Denethor. If Denethor was near and Boromir awake, the baby was not content until his father picked him up. He recognized Denethor's voice and smell and would make a racket until he was in Denethor's arms. Not that you are ever quiet, Finduilas crossly thought. Boromir might not cry very much, but he did not seem capable of being awake without making some kind of noise. Burbling, gurgling, shrieking, laughing, repeating sounds over and over - only sleep or nursing interrupted the perpetual clamor. When he did wail, she was certain it could be heard all the way in the first circle. When I no longer feed you, will you pay me any mind at all? She knew it was petty and wrong to think such things about her own child, but she could not help it.
For weeks, Finduilas had waited, patiently feeding and holding Boromir, hoping for the moment when their eyes would meet and he would capture her heart the way he had ensnared Denethor's. It never happened. Everyone in the house seemed caught in the child's spell save herself, and she hated it. When Finiel, Aeluin and Beregar's daughter, had been born, Finduilas cried in jealousy of Aeluin's good fortune, then cried again several days later when she realized that her heart was more tender to another woman's child than to her own. It was all wrong.
Finduilas touched Boromir's cheek, making him jerk his head around to look at her. If only you were not so greedy. That was the cause. It had to be. She knew she had lost all of the fat she had gained during the pregnancy, and then some, to his prodigious hunger. There was little to her now save breasts and bones. You take so much milk, there is naught else left of me to give to you. Boromir's eyes wandered away again. Finduilas sighed. And Denethor only has eyes for you. Who would not prefer a fat, giggling baby to a scrawny, weary wife? The sound of someone coming up the stair made her turn.
Aeluin appeared in the doorway, Finiel in a sling before her. At the sight of the woman's happy face, Finduilas could not remain in a sour mood. 'Are we for the garden or the greensward today?' Aeluin asked.
'The green,' Finduilas firmly replied. 'I need to eat something first, though.' Beregar brought the women a tray of food and took charge of Finiel while they ate. That was a sight that made Finduilas happy. The delicate love that had taken root between Aeluin and Beregar was in full flower, brought to completion with their daughter's birth.
Huan's hostility to Denethor had abated somewhat since Finiel's birth, as well. She knew that Beregar had been enraged at Denethor's treatment of her after the first trip to see Ecthelion, and had regarded his master with suspicion afterwards. Perhaps the Hound was more forgiving now that he had his own child to protect.
Lack of love made some things easier. Finduilas had no qualms about placing Boromir in Ecthelion's arms each week. She knew the man would do no harm to the child, not after he had lost his heart to the babe. There was something satisfying in watching Ecthelion fuss over Boromir, knowing that the Steward was bound by unbreakable chains to his promise, for he could no more undo this bond of love than he could stop breathing. To this love, he would be true.
Finduilas was not so certain that Maiaberiel could be captured the same way. She knew she did not wish to face Denethor's wrath if he knew she had deliberately allowed his sister to come close to Boromir. Brandir had shown up a month before, flatly told her that Denethor had injured Maiaberiel when she had approached him to see Boromir, and said he would not return until Denethor had made amends for the harm he had inflicted upon her. Finduilas had not seen Brandir since that day.
The meal over, it was time to go enjoy the warm spring sun upon the greensward before the White Tree. Whenever Denethor left the City to experiment with the Fire, Finduilas spent the morning in the court. She and Aeluin would take their babes to sit upon the grass. More often than not, other women of the Citadel with infants would come join them. They would while away the morning, their hands busy with sewing or knitting, their voices busy with advice or gossip. Mostly gossip. People passing by would call out cheerful greetings.
Ecthelion always showed up. At some point in the morning, he would stroll from the Tower to where the women sat and offer his own salutations. Though it was Boromir he most wanted to see, the Steward did not stint his attention to any of the babies, cuddling them, singing songs and kissing chubby cheeks. Finduilas never objected, for many watched and all would approve. After he was done visiting, he would bid them a cheery farewell and return to his business.
Finduilas found herself liking the man despite herself. After some initial formality, Ecthelion treated her as though there had never been a harsh or cruel word between them. He was unfailingly kind and agreeable, pleasant to all whom she brought on her visits, save Beregar. The Steward steadfastly ignored the glowering young man at the edge of the room, giving the Hound no more mind than he would a piece of furniture. As the weeks passed and Finduilas studied Ecthelion, it grew on her how similar he was to Denethor. Their eyes and smiles were the same. Certain gestures, expressions, turns of phrase they had in common. Though no one she knew, save perhaps Mithrandir, was as wise as Denethor, she grew to admire the subtlety of the Steward's thought and believed his concern for the welfare of the realm unfeigned. Like his son, he did not care to have his judgments questioned, though he was more likely to change the subject than to argue the other into submission. And they loved Boromir in a way she did not.
About an hour after they sat today, the Steward appeared, offering warm greetings to all the women. He knew every child on sight and dandled each one for a few minutes while he talked to the child's mother as he always did. Today, however, Ecthelion looked a long time at Finiel, his expression thoughtful. When he finished speaking to each woman, he did not leave, but gestured for Finduilas to walk with him around the court. She waited for him to speak, curious at what he wanted.
Ecthelion's voice was gentle, though he did not look at her as he spoke. 'I have an odd question for you, Finduilas. I ask only that if it offends, you will smile and walk away.'
'I agree to that.'
'The girl-child, Finiel, is she...' His voice trailed off. They walked a few more paces in silence. 'You said... Perhaps I have misunderstood. You said that my eldest grandson hates me.' He glanced at her sharply.
'Yes, I said that.'
'Am I correct that the eldest grandson you refer to is the stern young man who offered to kill me that day?'
'I have heard he is also called the Hound.'
'So I named him, for he is loyal and fierce.'
'I see. And the little girl, she is my great-granddaughter?'
'Hmm.' Ecthelion stared at the ground, brow furrowed as they walked. 'And why does Beregar the Hound hate me?'
'Because he saw you give me a fright and because you have offered harm to my husband.'
'Not because I am his grandfather?'
'Perhaps for that as well. I do not ask.'
They walked further in silence. 'I am... a poor father,' Ecthelion said quietly. 'And there is no one to blame save myself for that failing. But please believe that I love every one of my children. Even Denethor.'
'Why do you tell me this?'
'I have a boon to ask of you, my lady. I deserve nothing, and you would be within your rights to deny me, but still I shall ask.' Ecthelion stopped, hands clasped behind his back. Finduilas found it difficult to look at his face, for there was nothing there to hide his heart. 'Tell me of my children. I do not know them.'
'What would you have me tell?'
'That they live.' His laugh was sharp and bitter. 'I don't know how many I have. How old? How do they fare? Have they children of their own?' He paused. 'Do they all hate me? I would know this before I die.'
Finduilas nodded. 'What I may say without breaking a confidence, I will say. I do not know everything.'
'Thank you.' With a small bow, he left.
Adanel, she is the eldest after Aiavalë. She and her husband own The Messenger's Rest. Yes, that tavern. They serve the best ale in the City. A stern woman, and well respected. Beregar's mother, yes. He is her eldest, the only boy. The daughters are Rose, Lily and Iris. Rose, she wed a man of Lossarnach, Baranor, three years ago, and they have a little boy. The other girls have not yet wed. Finiel is Beregar's first. Denethor made him my guard when I stayed with Aiavalë, and he asked leave to remain so after I became the Lady. Aeluin? A weaver by trade, but my Matron now.
Minas Tirith, Early June, 2979 T.A.
It was a dreary day, the last hard rain of spring before summer baked the land. It made her cough worse. Denethor was to meet with the Steward and Minister Hallas all day in the Tower, but said he would try to come back to the house for dinner. Finduilas took advantage of Boromir's nap to attend to the Lady's business. Very slowly, she was regaining her strength and could do more than eat, sleep and receive the occasional guest. She was eager for the day when the baby was weaned - then she would recover completely. With a contented smile, Finduilas took up one of Borondir's reports. Hers was not the only child she cared for in Minas Tirith.
The sound of the Wall Door opening and closing interrupted her work, and Finduilas realized that she had been almost two hours at her desk. Denethor was already back for dinner and Boromir would soon be crying for his meal. She hurried to the study door and started down the hall to greet Denethor, but pulled up short. It was Beregar, not Denethor, and he had obviously been in some kind of fight. His clothes were dirty and in disarray, there was a bruise near one of his eyes, signs of blood near his nose, and his lower lip was swollen. He looked at her in dismay.
'Beregar! What happened?'
'Nothing, my lady. Nothing to worry about. There was a scuffle near The King's Cup.'
'A melee, not a scuffle, from the looks of you.'
'I didn't get the worst of it. The pups helped until a few guardsmen showed up.' Finduilas dumbly nodded. 'If I may go? I need to clean up.' She gestured for him to leave. Not long afterwards, the Wall Door opened again and Denethor was back. He stayed for dinner and Boromir's feeding before returning to his business. The grey day made Boromir sleepy and he soon settled in for another nap. Finduilas left him with Ivrin, went to her study, and summoned Beregar. His lip was no longer so swollen, but there was no hiding the bruise near his eye. He waited patiently before her desk, as though he did not know why he had been called, eyes fixed on a spot somewhere above and beyond her head.
'Beregar, what caused this fight?'
Red came to his cheeks. 'It was King's Men, my lady. They were looking for a squabble.'
'So you passed by and they set upon you?' His cheeks reddened further and he shrugged. 'They said something and you were baited into a fight?' Another maddening shrug. No more questions. Just orders. 'Repeat to me what they said to goad you into fighting, Huan.'
'It is not fit for you to...'
'...hear. I doubt it was fit for anyone to hear, but it was said and I will know what set one of my men brawling in the street.'
'Filth, my lady. Please,' he pleaded.
He took a deep breath and said flatly, ' "Let us buy you some ale, Master Hound. It's not often a man gets a son and daughter in the same year." '
The lie was gross, but nothing less than Finduilas expected Beruthiel to spread. 'Was aught else said? Let me hear it now from you, and not in a week from gossip.'
In the same flat voice, Beregar said, ' "Or maybe it's your brother, not your son? An ale in either case." He may have had more words, but I broke his nose just then.'
Finduilas sighed. 'Yes, I can see you had little choice. Such insult could not be left unanswered. I am sorry, Huan, that such wicked lies came to your ears.'
Beregar finally met her eyes, and his gaze was like Denethor's, steely and suspicious. 'And what of wicked truths, my lady?'
Finduilas guessed he was speaking of his kinship to the Steward's house, but did not know how to answer. 'What truths do you speak of?'
'That Boromir is not Lord Denethor's only child.'
For a moment, she could not speak. You goose! Why did you not expect this? Her mother had once thought it was so, but she had never thought Beregar himself would believe such a thing. 'And where did you learn this wicked truth?'
'From you.' Her look made him glance away. 'In the Tower, when you spoke to the Steward, I heard you say I was his grandson.'
'You believe yourself to be the child of Denethor and Adanel?' Beregar nodded once. 'Did you think so before my words?' He nodded again, but kept his head ducked. 'Why?'
Beregar's shoulders hunched. 'I know I was born too soon after my parents wed. My aunts said so. I'm not much like him. Then, all the attention from the Master Archivist to educate a tavern keep's son?' He shook his head. 'In Rohan, when we went there, several men asked, for the look is that strong.' So softly she could barely hear it, 'And it is what Prince Imrahil believes. I thought he learned it from you. When you spoke, my doubt was gone.'
'The only person who can tell you the truth is Adanel. You should ask your mother.'
'I can't!' he cried, aghast. 'To give voice to it would shame her. And you know! Or else your words were lies. Say the whole truth!'
'Here is the truth, Beregar. Mistress Adanel is a woman of honor. If you look not like your sire, it is because you favor her, just as your sisters do. You are children of the same sire and dam. The Steward is your grandfather.'
'Nay, for I know their parents.'
'Your mother is a daughter of the Steward. Denethor and Aiavalë told me that. Whatever Imrahil believes, he is wrong and did not learn it from me.'
'You swear that what you said right now is true? That I am Lord Denethor's nephew, not his son?'
'I swear, Beregar, that I tell you what I have been told and believe to be true. If you will not ask Adanel, you may ask him. You may have no choice once he sees your face.'
Primrose, the goldsmi... Yes, Guildmaster Urgon's wife. The finest in Gondor. She made my wedding band and my betrothal ring. Oh, and the spyglass in the Tower, that also is her handicraft. Gold, silver, gems, crystals - all are tamed by her touch. When there is a problem in the second circle, it is brought to her to decide, just as Adanel rules the third. Her daughters I have met in passing, but do not know the way I know Adanel's girls. A son? No, I don't... wait, yes. A young man, Targon. He is Aiavalë's doorward, or he was. I do not know anymore. I will ask.
Minas Tirith, 29 June, 2979 T.A.
Boromir sat in Denethor's lap and squealed, reaching for his father's hand. 'Calm down, Morcollë,' Denethor scolded with a chuckle, 'or you will be wearing this!' He carefully guided a spoon holding mashed roots diluted with a little broth into Boromir's mouth. Most of it ended up on the baby's chin anyway, but neither father or son seemed to mind. Finduilas kissed the top of each head as she walked past to fetch her own breakfast. The moment Boromir showed the slightest interest in food, Denethor began feeding him small bits of mashed up things. It pleased him to feed his son, so Finduilas was more than happy to let him take on that task under Ivrin's watchful eye. Boromir still nursed as much as ever, but soon...
'I will meet Luinmir this morning to go over the feast details,' she said over her shoulder while fixing bread and jam.
'Make sure that...'
'Luinmir is doing all the work, she and Moraen,' Finduilas blandly cut him off, 'so you needn't be such a broody hen, friend. And what they cannot do, others will. I intend to enjoy this feast.' It was going to be another special feast. Morvorin had arrived a few days before and had told Finduilas that his wooing had gone well.
'Since the Great Council we have written every week, though never was I able to come here until now. I met her yesterday,' he had said, his voice dropping almost to a whisper, 'and we walked upon the walls. I asked her for her hand and swore to be husband to her and father to Anna, if she would permit me that honor. Luinmir smiled and said she was inclined, but had something to do first. She promised an answer to me ere loëndë.'
Finduilas finished her meal while Ivrin cleaned up the mess Denethor and Boromir had made, then nursed the baby. Soon. Soon she could have her body back. Soon, the meal she ate would be for her ribs, not his. Soon, she would be able to go about the City as she pleased, and no longer chained to his empty gullet. Soon, she could return to her archery or go riding with Moraen and Aiavalë. Soon, she would not need to keep him in bed with her and could sleep undisturbed through the night. Soon, there would not be a lump in the bed between her and Denethor, and they could embrace once more.
His feeding done, Finduilas gratefully handed Boromir to Ivrin, washed, and went to her study. She took care of some letters while she waited for Luinmir to arrive. As soon as the woman walked in, Finduilas could tell something was wrong. Though she was neatly dressed, her bearing was tired and her eyes red, with deep shadows under them. Finduilas hurried over and closed the door, taking Luinmir's arm. 'What is the matter?'
'All is well with the feast.'
'But not with you?'
'It is of no matter.'
'It most certainly is! You are grieved.'
Luinmir sighed and let Finduilas embrace her. 'You know that Lord Morvorin has been wooing me.'
'Yes. He swore me to secrecy, though, and I have said naught to anyone.'
'Good. Then he will not be shamed.' Finduilas led them to the couch. 'I cannot accept his suit. No, nothing he has done,' she hastily added. 'It is her wickedness at work again!'
'Beruthiel?' Was there no end to her mischief? Finduilas's eyes narrowed. 'Tell me what she has done and I will see it stopped!'
'There is no remedy, for it is law. After Morvorin bespoke me, I went to my father-in-law, Anardil, to tell him what I intended. I expected he would demand that I leave all my belongings and coin with him, for he is avaricious. He disliked my news and bade me wait a day. Yesterday, I know he met with her. He summoned me and was all smiles, so I knew he was up to no good. Anardil said he was sad that I would leave, but knew Lord Morvorin to be a good man and wished me well. Then he said I could visit Anna whenever I came to the City.'
'He said I could not take my daughter!' Luinmir raged. 'Anardil said she was the blood of his house and belonged to her father and to himself, not to me, and that I could not take her!'
'That does not seem possible,' Finduilas said. 'She is your child.'
'I went to Borondir yestereve and asked for his wisdom. All through the night he read the law and tried to find what was true. He said this morning that Anardil was within his rights, particularly as Isilmo had no other child.' Luinmir wiped her eyes. 'So I shall turn away Morvorin's suit and remain a widow. I cannot leave Anna. Anardil would simply hand her over to Beruthiel.'
Finduilas tried to protest, but Luinmir would not discuss it further, demanding that they give attention to the feast. After the woman left, Finduilas felt sick at Anardil and Maiaberiel's cruelty, but did not know what else could be done. If Borondir said that the law supported Anardil, then it was so. When she nursed Boromir, she stroked his cheek and knew she would battle anyone who tried to take him from her. Perhaps you are not the dearest in my heart, but still you are mine and no other's. She held him in her arms when he took his nap and thought foul things of Maiaberiel.
The next day, Luinmir said she had told Morvorin of her choice and said it was not to be mentioned again. She refused all sympathy and Finduilas found herself silently cursing the stiff necks of the House of Húrin. Boromir fussed all day and, for once, could not be quieted save by Finduilas's touch. He clung to her and screeched if anyone tried to take him away. Finduilas was oddly pleased by this strange turn of events, and kept him in a sling across her chest. In the afternoon, she took him with her to view the preparations in Merethrond. She sighed as she looked at the decorations being set in place. This was to have been a grand feast, with a betrothal.
'Finduilas?' Ecthelion walked up and nodded to her. 'I have not seen you in many days. I hope you do not mind my company.' She shook her head. 'The hall is magnificent.'
'Will there be a children's parade, as there was last year?'
'Yes, but I will not lead it. I am not strong enough to walk down and back, so I will wait here.' She summoned a smile. 'I did not ask, but will you be master of ceremonies for the children?'
'Of course I will!' he assured her.
'I need to sit where it is not so noisy. Will you come?' Finduilas led them to a stone bench near the White Tree. The tree gave no shade, but there was a cool breeze and no one could overhear them without being seen. Boromir snoozed contentedly in his cocoon, face pillowed on her breast, a chubby hand clutching a fold of her dress. 'I have another daughter to tell you of, though I think perhaps you know her already.'
'I know who she is, but know not much of her.'
'She was married off by Maiaberiel too young to a man who cared nothing for her and treated her with dishonor. He lay with other women, stole her dower, was cruel to her, and denied her children.'
'He is dead now, is he not?'
'Good.' It could have been Denethor sitting next to her, so perfectly did Ecthelion match his son's tone and expression in that one word.
'He did get a child on her just before he died. Perhaps you have seen the girl. Anna.'
'I don't remember. I will look.'
'Luinmir has been of great service to me since being widowed. She is as smart as Aiavalë, and has as good a sense of money as Hallas. The Lady's Grace goes far under her command. I have come to know and cherish her greatly.'
Ecthelion smiled. 'I am glad.'
'She is grieved now, however. She wishes to remarry, but her father-in-law, Anardil, will not allow her to keep Anna, insisting that the child remain in her father's house.'
Ecthelion's expression lost its warmth. 'That is just. A child belongs to his father and his house.'
'It is a marriage that is of great advantage to Gondor. She is bespoken by Lord Morvorin. She will not agree to it, however, unless she may take Anna. She does not trust Anardil's intentions.'
Ecthelion lightly touched Boromir's shoulder. 'As you do not trust mine. Luinmir is free to marry as it pleases her, but having one thing you desire may demand that you relinquish another.'
'It is cruel, for it not done for any love of Anna, but to thwart Luinmir's love!'
'And how are you so certain that Anardil does not love his granddaughter?' was his soft reply. 'If she weds, will she not have other children, while he has only this one child? Why should I wish for my granddaughter to be sent to Ethring?' Finduilas stared at him, having no answer. 'I am sorry for Morvorin and Luinmir, but you may not always have the wife you wish or keep beside you the children you love. Some choices cannot be undone, though a dozen hearts would be the gladder for it.' He stood and offered his hand to help her up. 'Have Luinmir come with you and sit on the grass. Bring Anna. I would like to meet my granddaughter.'
There are two who no longer live, Hareth and Miraen,...
Minas Tirith, Late July, 2979 T.A.
The baby's bad temper increased with the summer heat. He cried and threw tantrums from dawn until dusk and often late into the night. Boromir's waste stank as he ate more food, and it was nigh impossible to keep him clean. Finduilas insisted that he sleep in the cradle next to the bed, lest his nighttime voiding ruin the tick. This made him howl all the more. Denethor lay on the edge of the bed and let an arm hang over the side so his hand rested on the baby in the cradle.
Luinmir would not look upon Ecthelion, but she allowed Anna to go with Finduilas and Aeluin to the green where she could play with other children. The women now brought a few youngsters, as well as the swiftly growing infants, and they played their games upon the grass and in the arcades that ringed the court. The Steward learned all of their names, too. Morvorin had left the morning after loëndë, and Moraen thought that she should return to Ethring, for he would not explain his dark mood. Finduilas convinced her to remain until yáviérë, hoping that something could be done to sway Anardil's decision. If Moraen returned home, there was little that would make her brother come to Minas Tirith.
At midday, even Laanga's garden was too warm, so Finduilas sought the cool air in the archives. Outside, the air was humid as well as hot, and she could not breathe easily. Boromir fussed less in the caverns, too. Finduilas could count on him dozing in a basket next to Denethor after he was fed, often with one of the archive mousers curled up next to him, leaving her free to read council reports, check scrolls for damage, or receive spies. Thus she knew that Khand and Harad warred, that a tax collector in Pelargir thieved, and that Thorongil was meeting with falas lords after his unexplained absence in the spring.
One afternoon, she carried a basket of scrolls for reshelving to the third cavern. Boromir had kept her up most of the night, and she was exhausted and surly. Denethor had sat up with their son in the rocking chair, trying to lull the babe to sleep. He would not allow Ivrin to take the child. Why not? Finduilas scowled, trying to find the right location on the rack for a scroll. Is that not what a nurse and a nursery are for? The implicit rebuke of her coldness in Denethor's patient rocking left her both guilty and resentful, though he himself had not said a word.
Finduilas heard a stealthy footstep behind her and began to turn, but two hands clapped over her eyes, making her drop the basket. 'Who is it?' she demanded, grabbing at the long fingers. A soft chuckle gave the attacker away. 'Aiavalë!'
'Yes!' Finduilas whirled and grabbed the Archivist in a bear hug. 'I'm home!'
'Why didn't you send word!' Finduilas scolded.
'I came as swiftly as a messenger, Alquallë, so there was no time. I could not bear another minute away from you!' As she always did now in the caverns, Aiavalë had let her veil drop. There was something odd about her face. Aiavalë's eyes sparkled, and her crooked grin had never been brighter. Across her cheeks...
'Lady Lore! You are sunburned!' Finduilas peered in astonishment. Aiavalë's skin on her face was slightly browned, her cheeks and forehead sporting redder patches.
'Yes, I am,' was Aiavalë's smug reply. 'I have done everything I wanted to do, and a few things I didn't know I wanted until they were done.'
'I can sail!' Aiavalë grabbed Finduilas and pulled her forward. 'And if you aren't careful, you'll step on those scrolls! I came back just in time, I see' The older woman began gathering the spilled parchments. Finduilas stooped to help. 'Luinil is near as dear to me now as you are, Alquallë. She and the girls - Hilda, Handiriel and Ivorwen - decided I needed to learn to sail. So we took to the waves. I can swim, now, too.'
'It was not just you out on a boat, was it?'
'No, no, Adrahil would not allow it, so Îbal was roped in as our deck hand. Poor fellow, a fox trapped in a coop of cackling hens!' As she spoke, Aiavalë was efficiently returning the scrolls to their proper places. She finished quickly and strode away towards the front of the caverns, her lurch pronounced.
'Aiavalë, you are limping again.'
'I just wore out my shoe. Next time, I will need to take a spare. Oh, stupid woman!' The Archivist spun around and grabbed Finduilas's shoulders. 'Forgive me, sister! I almost forgot the most important news and why I hurried. Ivriniel delivered a baby girl a ten-day ago, and Luinil charged me to bring you the news.'
Finduilas let out a whoop and the two embraced. 'A big girl? A small one? Ivriniel is well?'
'Tiny, but strong, and a set of lungs on her to shame a glassblower! She is named Eärwen. Ivriniel does well. I have letters for you from all of your family.'
Sea-maiden. Finduilas could not help a shiver at the name. Some wind whistled through the doorway of the cavern, and she fancied she heard a pipe playing a mournful tune. She also could not help feeling jealous. A girl, and small, too. Finduilas grabbed Aiavalë's hand. 'You have arrived just in time. Denethor is here with Boromir. Come see them!'
Denethor's face lit up when he saw Aiavalë come through the door, and he picked her up in a hug until she kicked his shin to make him let go. 'Let me see my nephew.' Denethor handed her Boromir, who was grubby, sleepy, and had cat hair stuck to his face. Aiavalë beamed. 'Your Auntie Monster is back, Morcollë...'
'Stop calling yourself that!'
'..and she has stories for you! Rhar! She's going to eat you all up! The big, bad, monster is going to eat the little bear!' Boromir screeched and smacked at her face, not recognizing the looming stranger. Aiavalë handed him back to Denethor. 'I am sorry. I forgot he would not remember me.' Boromir's wail turned into a ear-splitting scream, his face going beet red. Aiavalë grimaced and backed away while Denethor tried to soothe the baby. 'I'd best go.'
'I'll go with you,' Finduilas quickly said. When they could speak in normal tones, Finduilas touched Aiavalë's arm. 'Do not be too sorry. The heat has made him cross with everyone.'
Some of the other archivists had come to see what had made the baby shriek, and soon they were surrounded by a group of well-wishers. Mairen and Mallor tried to tell Aiavalë what they had done to keep the archive, while Hador teased his mistress at being as brown as a beggar boy, earning himself an affectionate but powerful cuff. As she watched, Finduilas found herself missing Wren and Lark and the carefree days they had spent her in the archives. The memory seemed less real than her dreams. With a sigh, she turned away and went back to help Denethor with the baby.
Lark, she is now in Pelargir. Her husband is Bard, a soldier in the garrison. Their daughter, Merilin, was a year old near loëndë. She is very like Aiavalë, stern and serious, and like her she is a Master Archivist. Yes, the one in Pelargir. No more! I have seen it. Lark is a careful mistress of her charges, and it is being restored to its ancient grandeur. How old? Uh, thirty and five, I believe, or close to it. Yes. Violet.
Minas Tirith, Early August, 2979 T.A.
The seduction was not going well. Though she had tried, Finduilas had not been able to lure Denethor into breaking his chastity. Between her exhaustion, their business, the constant stream of visitors, ministers, counselors and others through the Stewards House, and Boromir's ill-timed demands, there had been little opportunity to engage in the touches and caresses she knew would be necessary to overcome his resolve. At night, sleep was too precious to waste a moment, and she was glad for the nights when she had him lying beside her instead of sitting in the rocking chair trying to soothe a crabby child.
It was still early, and the room was dim. Through open windows, she could hear the faint sounds of the City beginning to stir. The air already was warm. Finduilas looked at Denethor lying on his back, eyes closed, and arm dropped over the side of the bed to the cradle. He was beautiful, sleep having removed most of the care from his face. The sheet had been kicked aside in the night, leaving him bare. She let her gaze travel over him, and desire returned. A glance at herself made her grimace. Her belly was shriveled and had marks on it, her hip bones jutted, and her joints were knobby. It was difficult to go to the baths, so she had not had a good scrubbing in a few days and her hair was lank.
Finduilas fixed her eyes on Denethor and touched his arm. His eyes snapped open, making her start. He smiled and raised his hand to touch her cheek. Letting her hand slide over his chest, Finduilas kissed him slowly, drawing out the touch of lip and tongue. While he did not refuse her touch, neither was there eagerness on his part. She pulled closer, letting her hands become more familiar, sliding one down to cup him. He rumbled and finally brought his other hand up to pull her against him. For a few minutes they slowly kissed and stroked and Finduilas felt happy. Denethor rolled her over on her back and scooted down between her legs. 'You have to be quiet,' he whispered, a roguish grin on his face, before he bestowed a long and wet stroke with his tongue. She buried her face in a pillow to muffle her cries. Too quickly, though, she shuddered to an end.
Denethor crawled up to lie next to her, waiting for her to breathe easily once again. When she tried to tug him to lie on top of her, he shook his head. 'No. Remember what Lhûn said.' Finduilas shook her head, wishing away the healing warden's words, and reached between his legs while trying to wiggle partly under him. Denethor was not roused - his cock was full but still soft. He pulled her hand away. 'Finduilas, I can't. Not when you're like this.'
'You're not well,' he said, 'too thin. You shouldn't...'
Finduilas jabbed him in the ribs, making Denethor recoil and almost fall out of bed. 'And whose fault is that?' she hissed. After a second teetering on the edge, Denethor stood. Any fullness was certainly gone now. Finduilas snatched up the sheet, pulling it over her pitiful frame. 'Go away!' Denethor made an exasperated face and looked around for his robe. 'And stay away.'
'Stay away?' he asked over his shoulder.
'Keep to your own bed.'
'Who will help...'
'Ivrin. It's time she earned her keep. When I have need of you again, I'll find you.' He gave her a look of tired annoyance and walked off. When he reached the door, she spat, 'It may be a few years!' The door clicked quietly shut behind him. Let him go! If he does not find me appealing, he can fill his hands with fire and stone.
By the time she rose and fed Boromir, Denethor was gone. Finduilas left Boromir with Ivrin and went to the baths with Moraen to indulge in a good scrub and a long soak. Already she regretted throwing Denethor out. Other wives wish for a husband who is so tender. He but tries to keep you from bearing again. But... years! The prospect of having at best his mouth on her for so long was not pleasant. Finduilas toweled herself off and regarded her form with disgust. Who would look with lust on this? He didn't even want to mate me. When they returned to the house, Finduilas curtly told Aeluin she was going to see Master Laanga and did not want company.
The black herbalist was gathering leaves from bushes in the garden. 'Good morrow, daughter,' he greeted her, smiling, but not looking up from his task. Finduilas was content to watch him work. When he was done with gathering, she followed him around the garden, watching him tend the plants. Old Crone Apple rested a comforting branch on Finduilas's shoulder when she stood near. Most of the morning was gone before they were through and standing before the potting bench. Laanga began sorting the leaves he had plucked earlier. 'And what grieves you so, daughter?'
'That it is difficult to tend a new life, and I am poor at it.'
'Your cub is growing well.'
'I wither. Other things recede.'
'Only for a season.'
'I want you to mix me a tea.'
'With Widow's Wort.'
Laanga's hands stilled. 'Why?'
'So I will not conceive again.'
'No. It is poison. It is not good for living things. Your child will drink it in your milk.'
'Then when he is weaned. I can wait that long.'
'It will do you harm, make you bleed too much. It could make you barren.'
'All the better.'
Laanga turned to face her, eyes sharp as obsidian. 'Those are foolish words.'
'I have provided an heir,' she irritably replied.
'Do you not want a daughter?'
'I had a daughter!' Finduilas shouted. 'I want her! I want the one who died, not this little monster!' She started crying. 'He's a smelly, squalling brat! He doesn't love me! And he made me into this.' The sobs made her cough and she ended up kneeling before the bench, gagging and gasping until a dark clot came up, her back aching from the force of the coughs. 'I am too wretched for my husband to touch.'
Laanga did not offer a hand to help her stand or a word of solace. 'The season has not ended,' he said coldly. 'Growing, harvest, and then a fallow time ere sowing may be done. To do other is defiance and rebellion, setting aside the order that should be. Resisting is what withers you. You do not need more poison on top of that.' Turning on his heel, he disappeared beyond Old Crone Apple.
That night, Denethor went to his own bed. Boromir decided to sleep, but Finduilas lay awake until late. When sleep came, she dreamed of cowering upon the spire, feeling the sea maiden the demon had placed within her tumble and writhe. From the heavens, a spot of fire fell and pierced her, boring through her chest and tearing her asunder. Blood spread upon the floor, the waves bearing up the divine child upon them and carrying her away.
And the youngest is Wren. Almost a year ago. Captain Marlong. Now? In Anórien. She is unmatched... As you wish.
Minas Tirith, Late August, 2979 T.A.
Weeks had passed and Denethor had not indicated by word or gesture that he wished to return to her bed. It was as when they had first wed, save she never caught him in any surreptitious glances. There were no words of reproof, only a deliberate distance. Finduilas had been too ashamed to summon Ivrin when Boromir cried at night, preferring to sit up herself and rock in the chair, sometimes joining her son in his sobs.
Since she was no more a wife and had no wish to be a mother, she threw herself into being a prince. Every day was filled with the Lady's business. Moraen and Luinmir were her constant companions from breakfast until supper, and Borondir was as oft in council with her as with the Steward. Aeluin and Ivrin were charged with caring for Boromir and Anna. The mornings were for meetings with lords and ladies who wished to curry favor with her. They asked for her intervention in certain matters of property or appointments; the luckiest ones were allowed a few minutes to visit with Boromir. The afternoons were for meeting with her lieutenants. Aiavalë brought news from the spies every week. Boromir was no longer startled by his aunt and the two played peek-a-boo with Aiavalë's veil. Gethron spoke of the guardsmen and their welfare - who had wed, who was being sent to a garrison, who had been injured. When it came time for the Hunt's report, Finduilas always had Borthand, not Beregar, present it. Even Scratch brought her news of the docks and back alleys, though Beregar would not allow him to be alone in any room. Either he or Hunthor escorted the ruffian from his arrival until his departure. Scratch took it all with equanimity.
At supper, she discussed whatever she had learned with Denethor. They decided which petitions would reach the Steward's ears, where to station the guardsmen, what to do with the news from the spies, and so forth. Denethor gave her a picture of the world beyond the City walls. Their converse was polite and political, the exchange of princes. Never did she bother him with her own plaints. Those were kept for her pillow or to be whispered in Boromir's ear while she waited for him to fall asleep. Somehow, there was never time to sit in the garden or visit Lhûn.
One afternoon each week she reserved for herself, for writing letters, reading reports, or other work that needed concentration. Today she was going over the accounts of her vineyards in Lebennin. The harvest was going to be good again, and there would be more wine to sell than to keep. There was a tap at the door, and Aeluin peeked around the edge. 'My lady, Captain Thorongil is here and...'
'Send him up!' Finduilas quickly put away her ledgers and neatened her hair. The door creaked open and Thorongil came in, smiling broadly. She hurried over and embraced him. 'Thorongil! How glad I am you are back! When did you return?'
'Today. I came to see Lord Denethor and paused only long enough to make myself presentable.' He stepped back, his smile gone. 'But what of you? You are not well...'
'Nonsense! I'm perfectly well!' she interrupted. 'Denethor is at the Tower. Stay here with me until he is done and then you may speak privately.' Not letting him refuse, she marched the captain over to the couch and made him sit, then brought them both wine.
When she sat, Thorongil took her hand and looked at her with a piercing gaze for a long minute. 'Finduilas, I have eyes. You are thin and weary.'
'I have a large and hungry son and can scarce eat enough to feed us both. Warden Lhûn says when he is weaned - and that has begun! - I will regain my flesh.'
Thorongil shook his head. 'There is more. I will wait until you are ready to tell it.' Before she could protest, he smiled again. 'I have stories of Dol Amroth for you, and letters from the Prince. Which do you wish first?'
'Stories! The letters can wait for when you meet with Denethor.'
'As you command. The Prince took me out upon the bay, which I got to know very well...' The captain launched into a merry tale of how her father had taught him to sail, followed by another of a ride he took up the valley beyond the town, and then another of exploring the keep. Finduilas tucked her feet underneath her and let herself be lost in the stories, loving how his voice changed and flowed, using words and rhythms she did not know but which tugged at her heart and made her birthplace come alive before her. His own face changed, like a spring rivulet breaking free of an icy winter coat, learning again how to leap and laugh over a stony bed, and a few times he actually broke out in song when plain words could not convey his heart. She did not know how much of the afternoon had passed while she sat under his enchantment, and sighed when the stories drew to an end.
Thorongil sighed as well, and took her hand again. 'It is good that I saw the falas, but I am glad to be back.' His eyes held hers a moment, then dropped. 'I missed you,' he said softly. 'I missed Denethor. And Brandir, and Gethron, and even Borondir with his infernal ledgers...' Finduilas giggled. His face became wistful. 'So many to miss. Still I am a borrower.'
'What do you mean? Are you in want?'
'In a way. This,' he gestured at his shirt, 'this is mine, and a few belongings, even a building of stone. I have coin in my purse.'
'I don't understand. What is borrowed?'
'I am nowhere.'
'I think you to be here.'
'I am caught between what never can be and what has yet to come about. Your kindness is my only home.'
Finduilas took his hand, moved by the sadness in his voice. 'Thorongil, you have said no, but can you not bring your kinsfolk here?' He sighed and shook his head. She began to speak of his mother, but could not remember if she had learned of the woman from Thorongil or from Denethor. Make him speak the truth. 'Does not your father rue his son's absence?'
'My father died before I was old enough to remember him.'
'I am sorrowed for thee, friend. But your mother yet lives, yes? You should not leave a widowed mother in hardship.'
'She wants for nothing!' he snapped and his eyes were fierce.
Finduilas refused to be daunted. 'Save her son.'
'Her son.' His voice turned bitter, like Denethor's. 'May Boromir be a better son to you than I have been to mine.' His gaze was inward and harsh, giving himself no quarter. 'I am a borrower, and a mean one. For the blessing of your friendship, all I return is faction and strife.' Thorongil lunged to his feet and began pacing. 'You were right to refuse me. I am everything you called me and worse - a shabby, presumptuous beggar. To care for a mule-train would be more honest trade. You asked a simple question, and here is your answer. I cannot return. It is barred to me and by my own foolishness.' Finduilas sat very still, not wishing to distract him from this tale. Now she would learn the true state of affairs in the north. 'A widowed woman and a small child need a protector, and there was one. Indeed, I grew up in near indolence, for our warden cared for us with tenderness. Then, in my arrogance, I set my heart upon a beautiful maid, the daughter of our warden, and I presumed greatly. Her father spurned my claim, as did your own, laying bare the truth of my ragged house.' Thorongil stopped pacing and faced her. 'Twice I have sought the hand of a maid far above me, and would have reduced her to my own pitiful station. Is that not a great jest?'
Perhaps it was the wine on an empty stomach, or the spell he had cast with his earlier tales, but memories piled upon each other in a waking dream, and through it all she heard a wooden flute. The words he spoke, near to poetry. His odd letters. The strange steps in a dance. The Elves gave shelter to the Queen and her daughters... Why have you come down here?... with whom or what did you confuse me?... Again! Again! Stupid...
'At least I am not an Elf.'
For a moment, Thorongil stared at her stupidly, then his face went white, and his legs buckled. Barely he caught himself from hitting the floor. Finduilas rose and offered a hand to help him stand. He seized her wrist tightly, making her wince. 'What else did he tell you?' he demanded.
Finduilas remembered something Denethor had said to her in passing. Let me see how much truth I can get from you. 'Your uncle, Halmir?'
'In words, very little. His silences spoke more, but less than you have given away on your own. You betrayed yourself.' She pulled on him, making him stand. When they were seated again, she let him finish his wine.
'What have you told Denethor? Does he know all this, too?'
'I do not know. Before, when he thought I loved you and was going to accept your suit, he said he would not ask me to betray any confidence between you and me. He has never asked what I know of you and he never will. ' Though I have told him much. 'He waits for you to tell him yourself.' There, that was a seed planted. Trust your Steward, my King. Thorongil nodded numbly, and rose to pour himself more wine. 'What does she call you?' Finduilas asked.
Finduilas's heart began beating harder. There was something at work here she did not like, yet could not resist, like a spring tide. 'How much do I resemble her?'
'You are more like to her than to your own sister. Almost a twin. When I first saw you...' Thorongil stopped abruptly, his face going red under the sun-browned skin. 'Oh! Idiot!' He slumped to the floor before her. 'Just hit me. Every word I say to you is an insult.'
'No, Estel, I'll not strike thee for the truth.'
Setting aside his wine cup, he took her hands. It was a strange sensation, not sickening, but fearsome. She shivered at the king's touch. How is my fate entwined in yours? Almost, almost... 'My suit was true and for your sake, Finduilas. I meant it. Please, let your heart understand me aright when I say I love you still and always shall. She caught my heart, but you broke it. And made it anew.'
'My heart sees yours and takes no offense, and is glad for your love.' He sighed and bowed his head to kiss her fingers, then laid his cheek upon her hands. 'Do you see, now? This is why my heart could not accept yours, Estel, for yours had already been given.'
'Then I am hope without hope, for I am bound to one who wishes not for me, and I can choose no other.'
Finduilas shook her head and made him look up at her. 'No. I do not think that is so. If you can be reconciled to me and my choice, then your heart will be able to relinquish that claim as well. Does it not now know how to let go? To love without wanting? To simply love and be content?'
'It hurt so much when you denied me,' he whispered.
'And will again, if she does not return your love, but the pain may be borne, for you know its cut. You need to return to the north and look upon her again, so your heart may be at peace.'
'I may not. I cannot abandon Denethor now that Umbar draws close.'
'True, but afterwards, you must go.'
Thorongil's expression was doubtful. 'Or perhaps I should set aside my folly at once. Halmir said...' He stopped and hid his face against her hands once more. It was several heartbeats before he mastered himself. 'He said I am unworthy of either of you. He said that I have harmed the safety of the Dúnedain throughout Middle-earth with my desires, sowing discord in the north and the south.'
'And you will continue to do so until your heart is satisfied, Estel, for only then will your own will be known, most importantly to yourself. When you can speak your true heart, discord will be gone.' Finduilas leaned forward and kissed his brow, earning a sweet smile. 'I did not think you unworthy, no matter how ragged, and it pained me to say you nay. And even though you think the way barred, I say your kin miss you greatly and will forgive you much so they may see you again.'
He considered her words and began to nod. 'Elves, they see more clearly than mortals. Her father said that something lay before me, and I would rise to a great height or vanish into darkness, taking my people with me, and warned me to make no troth until it was known, victory or darkness. I have feared this fate, not for myself, but for any bound to me. I think... it is Umbar. If I survive that peril, and am victorious, I shall ask leave to return to my kin.' His eyes were bright, and almost Finduilas could see an illumination within him, as though just the thought of love could change his heart. He is already changed, even as Denethor was, and she will follow. We are twinned; each of us, north and south, a Steward and Lady, a king and queen. Thus are our fates set. Never was I for you.
With a laugh, Thorongil bounded to his feet and kissed her cheek. 'You are the dearest, wisest friend I have ever had, Finduilas! Where all has been a fog, you have cleared the path. When I return, one way or the other, with a love complete or a love ended, I will speak my name.'
'Yes. You will.' Beyond, Finduilas heard the Wall Door open and close, and Denethor's footsteps. Thorongil stepped away from her and straightened his clothes. Denethor did not enter, however, but continued upstairs. In a few minutes, they heard Denethor's tread again on the stair. He came in with Boromir in his arms. Thorongil bowed. Denethor smiled and nodded. 'Captain, it is good to see you home safe.'
'It is very good to be home, my lord.'
'You did not call upon the Steward.'
'No. Not yet.'
'Tomorrow. He is most curious about your trip south.'
'I will be ready.' Thorongil turned his attention to Boromir. 'My lady, you misspoke. Your son is not large, he is a giant! Good afternoon, Master Boromir!'
The baby looked at Thorongil intently, brow furrowed, then looked quickly up at Denethor, back to the captain, up at his father, then cried out and buried his face in Denethor's collar.
'I am sorry,' the captain said apologetically, 'I did not mean to dismay him.'
No, you do not mean to, but we all are dismayed by you. Finduilas walked over to Denethor. 'He is shy sometimes. Morcollë? It's all right.'
Boromir turned and reached for her. 'Ma!' he exclaimed. 'Mama! Ma!' She held out her arms to take him. 'Mama! Mamamamama,' the baby babbled, burrowing into her arms.
Denethor was beaming. 'He called you "Mama".'
'Oh, I think he was just...'
'No, he said "Mama." His first word!' There was no hiding Denethor's pride.
'I distinctly heard him say that,' the captain swiftly added.
'I distinctly heard him babble,' Finduilas laughed, but she found herself liking the idea that his first word was for her. 'If you two wish to call it a word, go ahead.' She kissed Denethor's cheek lightly. 'I go to feed the cub. Captain, please stay for supper.' Boromir was very hungry and emptied both of her teats. She dandled him in her lap afterwards and got him to say "Mama" several more times while she waited for the men to finish their conversation. Thorongil left immediately after supper, for he had things to prepare for meeting the Steward the next day.
They sat in Denethor's study, Denethor playing tickling games with the baby while Finduilas sewed. It was not long before Boromir fell asleep, his long, thick lashes dark smudges on his plump cheeks. When she would have taken him to bed, Denethor told her to sit, that he would put Boromir in the cradle. When he returned, he stood in the doorway, hesitant, as shy as his son.
'Friend?' Finduilas came over to him. 'What is it?'
Denethor took one of her hands and kissed it. 'Would...you stay?'
She considered this. 'If you cannot sleep and wish to lie next to me, then we should go to my bed. It is larger.' He shook his head. Taking her face in his hands, he kissed her delicately, then with more ardor. Finduilas began to return the kiss, then pulled away. 'Denethor? What do you want?'
'You.' His hands felt perfect upon her, warm and firm. Denethor nuzzled the curve of her jaw and a hand cupped her breast. She let him pull her against him. Step by step, he walked her into the alcove, never stopping his touches. When he started to undo the laces on her blouse, she grabbed his wrists.
'What do you intend, husband?'
Denethor sat on the bed. 'I don't know. I cannot rest without you.' He ran a hand over her hip. 'But I am unmanned. I can't do that. I am no husband.'
Finduilas sat next to him, taking his hand in her own. 'And I feel no wife. You don't find me pleasing. That unmans you.'
In a heartbeat, Denethor had her on her back, his weight pinning her down, his kiss almost frantic in its urgency. She arched against him, her hands pulling at his clothes. He pressed his hips into her, but she could not feel him harden. Eventually he broke the kiss, shaking his head. 'No, Alquallë, I could not want you more. I can't do something that would harm you. My soul rebels at the thought and gelds me.' With a sigh, he rolled off.
Finduilas kissed him and stood up. She brought a single lit candle back to the alcove, then snuffed the lanterns in his study. While he watched, she brushed out her braid and gathered her hair up, exposing her neck. She slipped off her skirt and then removed her stockings. Turning her back, she pulled off her shirt. She pivoted slowly, letting him look at her in the candlelight. She sauntered over to the bed and undressed him, slapping his hands when he tried to touch her. When he was bare, she lay down and took her time touching him, making him shiver. He tried to keep her from touching his crotch, but she persisted. As he said, he could not harden, but he was no less sensitive.
When she finished, Denethor reached for her. She grabbed his wrist and smiled wolfishly. 'No hands until I say so.' He started with her ears and worked his way down her body. Just as he reached her furrow, she hooked a finger under his chin. 'Your fingers are allowed now.'
A slow smile spread across his face. 'As you command, my queen.'
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