A Writer Reads
Playlist Navigation Bar
Hands of the King: 6. Promise
Minas Tirith, Mid March, 2975 T.A.
Finduilas woke slowly, mind slightly fuddled. A dry sensation to her mouth and throat let her know that she had taken a draught for her cough, which she hated to do for the medicine left her sleepy. She rolled over onto her stomach, head hanging over the side of her bed, and waited for the coughing to start again. It was racking when it came, but she did bring up a few good-sized gobs of yellowy phlegm. That would make her breathing easier for several days to come. It also alerted Aerin that her mistress was awake.
At least there had been no dreams in the night. For the first time in more than a week, she felt rested. Finduilas was not greatly surprised to hear that the morning was half-gone, and decided that she would not go to the archives this day. Today, I shall walk about. I need to not see Aiavalë or Denethor, or any of the Steward’s children. She decided she would walk down to Vinyamar, her family’s house in the fifth circle, and take inventory of it in anticipation of their arrival. Finduilas paused to pen a note to the Archivist, as she did not want the woman to worry. She did not bother to inform Denethor. He has his own messenger for such things. With a sigh, Finduilas knew she would need to speak to Beregar.
‘Aerin, please send Beregar in. I need to speak with him privately for a moment.’ Soon, the quiet young man was there, looking at her questioningly. Finduilas wondered if Denethor had looked like this when he was young, or if he had always had sad eyes and a grim face.
‘Beregar, I had a talk with your master, Lord Denethor, yesterday. He told me that he had set you to spy upon me.’ The man’s face went red as an apple and he stared at the ground, hands held rigidly beside him. ‘Do you contest his word?’ He shook his head, biting his lip. ‘You must know I would not approve.’ A small, quick nod. ‘Have you anything to say?’
‘I am sorry my lady. I must do as my lord commands.’ Beregar’s voice was almost too soft to hear, and he would not look up.
‘I know. You must not disobey him. But that does not mean I am pleased by this news. I have never had reason to disapprove of your service until now, and I am pained that your lord has set you to this task.’ The man sneaked a quick look at her, then snapped his eyes to the ground once more. ‘I shall not forbid you to make your reports to Lord Denethor, for I will not have you break bond with him. What you will do is report to me first, and say to me what you intend to say to him. You will also never come within earshot of any conversation I am having. Do you understand me?’
‘Yes, my lady. I understand, and I shall obey.’ He gave her a grateful look.
‘Then shall you be my loyal watchdog?’ she gently teased. She could not remain angry with the servant, though she was not sure she was yet ready to forgive the master.
‘Yes, my lady, of course!’ Beregar replied most earnestly, ‘I shall be your Huan and mind you and defend you! And I would not that you think poorly of Lord Denethor. He is only concerned for your well-being. He does not mean to interfere with you, but to know if any approach or bother you who should not. Not all are of good heart in the City.’ Beregar crossed his arms and nodded decisively. ‘Not good at all!’
Oh, I imagine your lord does wish to interfere when it suits him, she wryly thought, but smiled brightly and said, ‘I am grateful for the care both you and Lord Denethor have shown me. That is why I am merely displeased and not angry – I know you both meant well, though I think you are both a bit foolish.’
Beregar shook his head, stubbornness coming over his face, increasing his resemblance to Denethor. ‘No, my lady, begging your pardon, we are not being foolish. But do not worry yourself over it. I will do my duty.’ There was such pride in these words Finduilas could not bear to correct him any more. Instead, she motioned to a basket of things she needed for investigating the condition of Vinyamar.
‘Well, I shall make a dray dog of you this day, I fear, not a war mastiff, my dear Huan. I need you to carry this for me and to accompany Aerin and myself to Vinyamar. My family is journeying to Minas Tirith next month and all must be made ready for their arrival!’ This was a cheerful thought, and Finduilas decided that it was all that needed her attention today. Soon, the three of them were walking down the circles, the spring sun shining brightly in honor of their good mood. The day was bright and clear, with no sign of the low, grey clouds that had blanketed the sky almost every day since yestarë.
The key turned easily in the lock when they arrived. There was dust and some dirt on the floor. Aerin and Finduilas opened shutters while Beregar quickly searched the house for any damage or intruders. As expected, all was well. Soon, the windows were open, allowing the fresh spring air to sweeten stale, dusty rooms. The valuables of the house were in a storehouse further along the circle, leaving only some large furniture and a few clothes presses, but this was quite enough. Finduilas and Aerin worked slowly through each room, checking the furniture, seeing that glazing on windows had not been damaged, looking for signs of water leaks and small, four-footed visitors. Beregar moved some things, measured others, and proudly preceded them into any dark room. Finduilas began to think more of Imrahil than Denethor as she watched the young man fulfill his tasks. As they surveyed the kitchen, all three realized they were well past the dinner hour. Beregar’s stomach protested the deprivation quite loudly, much to his chagrin and the women’s amusement.
‘Pray you, Huan, hurry up to the kitchen and bring back a basket of dinner for us all to share,’ Finduilas directed him. ‘Aerin and I are going to sit on the roof-top until you return.’ When she and Aerin reached the roof-top, Finduilas coughed for a minute. Dust stirred-up by the cleaning had undone much of the good from her rest of the previous night. She walked slowly around the edge of the roof behind the low wall that ringed it, letting her breathing steady and looking at the buildings of the City.
Even after a year in Minas Tirith, the antiquity of the city awed her. The tower of Dol Amroth was as old as anything in the City, and the harbor was a masterpiece of Númenórean engineering, but they simply did not command the senses as the White City did. She sat on the low wall and studied the great wall that divided the fifth circle from the fourth, just a few roof-tops away from her house. Denethor had explained to her last fall, when they were walking upon the seventh wall together, how the walls themselves delved deep, down into the mountain side, and held fast the terraced circle behind them. Each was sheathed in white granite and carved along the top with designs, faces and beasts. Every house above the second circle was hewn of stone, and had stood for thousands of years. She enjoyed speaking with him about the City for his knowledge of it was immense. He was also least reserved when speaking of Minas Tirith.
Finduilas caressed the parapet on which she sat. Vinyamar has stood for longer than the Princes of Dol Amroth have been. We are newcomers to our home. The City is older than its own name. This stone has seen the rule of kings and stewards, times of plague and times of peace. And now, another time of war. Her eyes left the stone and sought out the dark mountains to the east, straining to glimpse the fume of a dreadful peak, the spire of a cursed fortress. But that tower has stood longer, and its cruel master longer still. This battle has been waged across the ages of Arda, longer than all craft of stone, all lives of men, and is gathering force once again. Minas Tirith – you are named for another great tower that opposed a Dark Lord. Do my dreams mean you share that tower’s fate, as well? She shivered, though she sat in the sun, and wrapped her cloak more tightly around herself. Does he see it as I do when I dream of Barad-dûr? Does he stand upon the pinnacle and look at the White City? Is he thinking of that other tower, long past, where he was once before defeated? For year upon year, he keeps to his stronghold and thinks of naught but our destruction.
The young woman shuddered again and turned her back to the vista, unable to bear the sight of the ancient stone below or the brooding mountains across the plain. For a moment, she knew the cold grip on her heart that Denethor must feel for Minas Tirith and the fate of those who defy the Shadow. Does Denethor dream of evil waves, black armies gleaming in fell light, crashing upon the walls of his city, tearing them down? This is not merely an enemy; this is a demon who exists to destroy us. Finduilas cast the hood of her cloak over her head, knowing it futile to think she could ward off the lurking malice with mere cloth. She hunched slightly and thought to go back inside and hide behind ancient stone.
‘My lady? Is aught amiss?’ Aerin’s worried voice cut through her dark fears.
‘No, no, I am just a bit chilled, even in the sun,’ Finduilas lied. ‘I think I am still unwell. Shall we go inside and await Beregar?’ The two women left the roof for the shelter of the house. Dinner soon arrived in a very large basket, allowing them to dine well at the bare table in the dining room.
It did not take long to finish surveying the house and making notes on what would need be done in the next few weeks to make it welcoming for her family. Upon returning to the Stewards House, Finduilas wrote a letter to her mother saying what she had found and asking what Luinil wished her to do. A letter from Maiaberiel confirmed that there would be a supper party the next night, and would she please attend? She sent Beregar with her acceptance of Maiaberiel’s invitation, and a request for more sweets from his mother.
Finduilas idled away the rest of the late afternoon teasing Telperien with some yarn. From an argument with Denethor to a supper with Maiaberiel, from grimness to gaiety. But not really. The cat grabbed the thread and dashed under the couch, then burst out again, batting and pouncing. Both are grim, though the one smiles and the other glowers. She had to laugh at the cat rolling on her back, wrestling furiously with the yarn. They are like the walls, digging deep into the heart of the City, holding it up, giving it form. And Aiavalë stays buried under the stone in her caverns, a memory always marred by the touch of the East. Has there ever been joy in this white fortress? Melancholy and home-sick for the gentle dignity of Dol Amroth, Finduilas scooped up the cat, wanting the comfort of this small, warm beast. Telperien permitted it for a few heartbeats, then wiggled free to continue her hunt of the yarn.
Near to supper, Aiavalë tapped on the door before letting herself in.
‘Alquallë? Are you feeling better?’
‘Somewhat. My coughing has lessened, but my throat is sore and my back aches. I think another night’s sound sleep is in order.’
Aiavalë took a seat near the couch, dark eyes sharp over the top of her veil. ‘What did you and Denethor quarrel over, sister?’
‘Nothing I care to discuss.’ She did not need Aiavalë’s disapproval over the visit to Mithrandir. Denethor’s was quite enough. The Archivist shook her head and let out a great sigh.
‘It pains me to know the two of you are at odds.’ Finduilas did not answer, not wishing to risk letting slip a word about the wizard. After a moment of silence, Aiavalë asked, ‘Will you be attending Beruthiel tomorrow?’
‘Yes, unless I start to cough again.’
‘You would be better off to be angry with her than with Denethor.’
‘But who then would spy on her for you?’ Finduilas calmly replied.
‘Will you sup with me tonight?’
‘I think I shall eat alone and retire early.’ She refused to look away from Aiavalë’s sharp eyes. The Archivist searched her face, looking for a sign of what Finduilas knew not. A sharp nod and Aiavalë was gone, door thumping closed in a decisive manner.
Finduilas slept late again the following morning, though not as much as the day before. All night she dreamt of the city walls crumbling under a dark flood. She watched from the highest wall, feeling the mountain shake under her feet as the deep foundations were torn out of stone sockets and cast down, ruining all they fell upon. A heavy crown sat on her head and she was clad in mail. Beside her a familiar voice called out commands, but she was weighted too heavily to turn and see the caller. The wave was water, the same tidal wave that took the life of Númenor, and it sought out the last of the Númenóreans assiduously.
Today was not a day for the archives. To be under the ground, encased in stone, frightened her after her dreams. As soon as she had broken her fast, she gathered Aerin and Beregar and set out into the City.
Slowly, they walked from the Citadel down to the Great Gate. Finduilas gazed in wonder at the buildings and the walls, often going down small lanes and side streets to get a good look at something glimpsed in passing. Something she had not noticed before was how often ships and the sea appeared in carvings, tiles, and decorations. Here she could see tiles with seahorses adorning the underside of a balcony. There would be a gate post shaped like a ship’s mast. A fleet of stone ships graced the City, sails furled and unfurled, in profile or from the front, riding marble waves or safely docked. Even the wall in front of her own house showed the Prince’s standard of a swan-prowed ship riding above foaming waves, though these tiles must be counted a recent addition, having been placed less than a thousand years before. Waves framed every tunnel entrance in the pier of stone, and the bottom of the great height of rock was carved into a tumble of sea, water parting before the prow.
Children climbed and played on ancient stone, good-wives stood in the doorways of centuries-old houses, chattering with their neighbors, market men casually laid out their wares upon marble tables that fronted granite stalls, all uncaring of the magnificence surrounding them. Statues she touched with reverence were used as a handy post to lean on. Can you not see your ancestry here, she wished to cry out, Have you no care for the glory in which you live? But, to them, it was merely home. It was where ordinary things happened in ordinary ways, not the history of their entire people.
The three stopped on the climb back up at The Messenger’s Rest, the tavern run by Beregar’s parents, to have their dinner. It was a noisy, cheerful place, full of workmen from the second circle. One of Beregar’s sisters, a plainer version of Wren, served their table. His father carried large platters of beer to the workmen, while his mother minded the taps and took the money. The food was plain, tasty, and filling, a nice change from the more refined dishes of the Stewards House. Other girls, some Beregar’s sisters, some hired help, bustled between tables and the kitchen, keeping a steady supply of the hearty fare on the tables. Finduilas’s odd mood lifted considerably in this happy place, and she left extra coins as thanks.
The mood came back, however, in the climb to the Citadel. Once back, she did not go in at once, but stood upon the wall. Slowly she walked along the southern curve, seeking out the exact point where she stood in her dreams, but could not find it. A sudden determination seized her, and Finduilas walked out to the point of the great stone keel. There, she found her vantage point. Finduilas started shivering. Never, in the year she had been a guest of the Steward, had she stood in this place, and yet she knew the sights precisely. This is where she stood in her dreams.
All of this crumbled, like sticks and sand, before the flood. How can it claim to be the Tower of the Guard? What promise is there here, save decline, withering, forgetting? It is all a story of Akallabêth. The height of glory was reached in the first thousand years, and we have been falling, crumbling, for two millennia. It is a permanent fall. She began to understand the sadness in Denethor’s eyes. He stood steward to a realm that had known more grief than joy, where each success was drained away and all there was left was a shell. The fleet was in Umbar, or made of stone, remnants of a yet greater past. Where should there be hope, then? Finduilas made herself look east, towards the Enemy. As she looked, a strange thought filled her. What if there is no end? What if this struggle goes on forever? The Edain never fully defeated, the Enemy never completely victorious, only a long, drawn-out fight that reduces us to shadows of what once was?
The thought left her more shaken than before. She fled back to the relative safety of the Stewards House. The afternoon was almost fully gone by this time, and she had to get ready for the supper tonight. Finduilas and Aerin set off to the women’s baths at the back of the circle to begin their preparations for the evening.
When they arrived at Maiaberiel’s house just after sunset, Brandir himself opened the door.
‘Come in! Come in! My dearest Finduilas, how good it is to see you! And Mistress Aerin, you look well. There’s a good man, Beregar, hand over the ladies’ cloaks and get yourself back to the kitchens. There’s a cook who wants her wares appreciated by a young man with an appetite.’ This last was said with a wink and grin. Finduilas could not help but laugh at Brandir’s good-natured ribaldry, even as Beregar blushed.
Brandir quickly had her arm tucked into his own and escorted her to the parlor, bestowing sweet compliments upon her the entire way. It was good to laugh. Maiaberiel embraced her warmly after they entered, then introduced her to the two other guests – Luinmir, a tall, dark-haired woman who had the Steward’s look about her, and her husband, Isilmo. The husband was the eldest son of a minor lord of the City, and an officer with the Osgiliath garrison. Finduilas smiled and greeted them warmly. It was simple to be simple, for none looked deeper than her pleasing demeanor. The most difficult part of such suppers was not to answer questions with enough detail to indicate true thinking.
Brandir poured wine all around. They stood and chatted about the fine weather, the new goods in the markets, and the doings of various families. Finduilas paid close attention to that gossip. In less than a half-hour, a servant quietly told his master that supper was laid upon the table. Brandir insisted on escorting she and Maiaberiel both, one on each arm, which lead to more laughter as they tried to negotiate the doorway. Soon, they were eating a very delicious meal, though as different from the tavern food as could be imagined.
‘I am so glad to finally meet you in a quiet setting,’ Luinmir said. ‘I believe we have met at a few parties, but those are never quite the place for getting to know a person.’
‘Yes, I do recall seeing you a few times at some of Maiaberiel’s wonderful parties, but we have never had the opportunity to speak,’ Finduilas confirmed. On those other occasions, she had not noticed the woman’s resemblance, not having had enough practice to discern Ecthelion’s stamp. It was clear enough to her now. It was strange to see a woman who looked like this dressed so finely, though. Aside from Maiaberiel, all of Ecthelion’s children she had met dressed soberly, even somberly. Then again, all whom you have met are under Aiavalë and Denethor’s influence. Those two would not approve of ostentation. Luinmir’s dress was nearly as fine as Beruthiel’s, obviously made by the same seamstress, and she wore a large blue sapphire on a silver chain around her neck.
‘I wish you would come out more, my dear,’ Luinmir went on, ‘for you would be a wonderful addition to any of the lady’s events.’ The dark eyes on her were measuring, a look Finduilas had come to know well from Aiavalë.
‘Oh, I wish I could. I fear I must rest a great deal in the winter,’ she earnestly exaggerated, ‘lest I come down with an ague! Mother strictly warned me not to exert myself.’
‘Of course you must not, Finduilas,’ Maiaberiel smoothly interrupted. ‘I could not bear the thought of sending word to Princess Luinil that we had let you take ill while in our care. Even so, I fear that I have neglected you greatly. Not everything I do involves a party!’
‘But you have me as your guest every week, dear friend,’ Finduilas graciously countered, ‘and you introduce me to the kindest, most interesting people of the City.’ Luinmir and Isilmo beamed at the compliment. You also introduce me to stultifying boors, Beruthiel, though I think it is more the case that you are letting them see me, and not the other way around. It struck her suddenly, that Maiaberiel never had any unmarried man present at these suppers, nor an unmarried woman besides herself. All were couples.
‘Even so, after Mother’s passing, I should have insisted you be brought here. I cannot think that your lady mother will be pleased with me for having left you in the Monster’s care all this time.’
Finduilas swallowed down her anger at the insult to the Archivist. ‘I have no complaints for the Lady Aiavalë’s care,’ she meekly replied, ‘and my lord father was very insistent that I remain in the Stewards House until he could come to fetch me.’ If you had wished me to be here, you would have asked, Finduilas thought to herself, but that might have interfered with your more important assignations. She wondered if Brandir knew of his wife’s cuckoldry.
‘How can you bear to be around that hideous creature?’ Isilmo asked, face drawn in disgust at the thought of Aiavalë.
Finduilas felt her own face start to redden as her indignation rose. ‘It is not difficult at all to be around the Master Archivist. She is a solemn lady, and we have little to say. We each attend to our own affairs.’
‘Then it must be a appallingly dull time, Finduilas,’ Brandir interjected, ‘for Aiavalë is somber, Denethor is forbidding, and the Lord Steward has his business to attend to, though he holds you terribly dear. He has said so to me!’
‘You spend most of your time in the archives, do you not?’ Maiaberiel casually asked.
‘Yes, that is true,’ Finduilas answered with a smile, wondering where this questioning would lead.
‘A pretty young thing like yourself tucked away with all the dusty books? How silly!’ Luinmir declared, shaking her head before taking a sip of wine. ‘You really must quit that dreary company and come here, or come to stay with us. You would not mind that, would you, my love?’ This last question was directed to Isilmo, who nodded and smiled.
‘We would be deeply honored for the daughter of the Prince Dol Amroth to be our guest,’ he grandly pronounced. And I am certain you would make sure the entire City knew you were doing so.
‘There is no need for that,’ Maiaberiel said firmly. ‘Whatever are you doing all day in the caverns?’
‘Not very much, to tell the truth,’ Finduilas sighed. ‘I try to help as I can, but the cataloguing is terribly complicated, and I do not understand it. The air in the caverns is good for my cough, I do believe, for it is dry and neither too cold nor too hot. Mostly, I read or embroider.’
‘I heard that you were researching something,’ the older woman pressed. Finduilas took her time finishing a bite of food, thinking of how to answer Maiaberiel.
‘Yes, I was,’ she said agreeably. ‘I wished to know if there were any records about the building of the harbor at Dol Amroth. There are none at home, if you can imagine that! So, I decided that I would look for some. If there were any, I was going to have them copied and give them to Grandfather. He does so love histories!’ She beamed at Beruthiel, and decided to change the subject. ‘But enough talk about old books and grave people. I have the most wonderful news! All of my family shall be journeying here to Minas Tirith in less than a month.’ This news was greeted with great enthusiasm all around the table.
‘I shall throw a party in their honor, after they have recovered from their sojourn,’ Maiaberiel assured Finduilas. ‘It shall be the grandest affair of the spring!’
For the next few minutes, the women gaily chattered about how wonderful it would be when the Prince and Princess arrived. Finduilas gladly joined in. She did not have to feign any pleasure at this news, and it was pleasant to talk about her kin. The men talked quietly to each other. When the burst of chatter died down, Brandir leaned forward and tapped the table to get the women’s attention. He wore a wide grin.
‘Your esteemed kin are not the only newcomers to the City this spring,’ he said with relish. Finduilas glanced at Beruthiel. To her curiosity, the woman was watching her keenly, just as Aiavalë would do. She decided to play along.
‘Well, do not keep us in suspense, Brandir,’ Finduilas cajoled, ‘Who else is arriving?’
‘How splendid!’ Isilmo sat forward with a grin to match Brandir’s.
‘Indeed, how splendid,’ Finduilas agreed, ‘but, why? I thought he was to remain in Pelargir.’
‘It is perfectly obvious, girl,’ Isilmo said impatiently. ‘It’s high time we brought the captain north where he can do more good. He has settled the south and we need him in the north. Is he come to take over Osgiliath?’ Brandir shook his head.
‘No. He is bound for Anórien, as the Steward planned.’ Does Denethor know about this? Finduilas kept a pleased expression on her face as she listened. ‘He and I will be working with the Rohirrim for guarding the northern borders.’
‘Though there can be no doubt that goal will be reached in short order, under the captain’s excellent guidance.’ Maiaberiel added. ‘After that, well, perhaps Father will give a thought to the proper ordering of Osgiliath. I fear Denethor’s jealousy of Thorongil makes him blind to what is best for the City. It is time someone who knows how to lead is put in charge. Is something wrong, Finduilas? You look startled.’
‘I, I…’ Finduilas tried to cover up her shock at hearing Denethor’s efforts so callously dismissed. She put truth to use. ‘I am startled, Maiaberiel. I was not aware of any problem.’ Isilmo let out a barking laugh.
‘In Osgiliath, we all dream of the day we can be rid of the dour Captain-General and have a true leader! Someone who will, perhaps, lead to greater things.’ His tone became conspiratorial, and he smiled slyly at Maiaberiel, who returned the smile. ‘It is a good idea to support those who are the best leaders, after all. One never knows what fortune may follow upon success.’ The two raised their glasses in a silent toast, and the rest followed suit.
It was difficult to hide her shock at the crudeness of Isilmo’s ambition. You want to follow who you think will rule, not who will lead, and you think to profit by this change of lords. She had never heard Maiaberiel’s plans to raise up Thorongil expressed so openly before. Denethor would have to be warned about Isilmo.
‘Now, do not be so harsh upon my brother-in-law,’ Brandir chided the other man, ‘for he has done as well as he can. He approves of bringing Thorongil north! That is what we discussed with the Steward just the other day.’ So Denethor does know of this. That was a relief. ‘The Lord Steward told us he sent word south with Mithrandir to summon Thorongil to Minas Tirith for discussing these things. Indeed, the man was supposed to have arrived yesterday. I hope no ill has befallen him upon the road.’
‘That would be most terrible, but we should not think dire things. No doubt there was a delay in setting out. Though it did ruin my plans for this evening!’ Maiaberiel leaned over and brushed Finduilas’s hand lightly. ‘I had sent an invitation along with Father’s summons, telling the captain that he should come to sup with us this night.’ The older woman’s eyes glinted knowingly. ‘I told him that you always attended table with me on Thursdays. I know he would be most glad to have such company.’
There was no disguising the bright red blush that came over Finduilas’s face. The other women laughed at her embarrassment and the men exchanged grins.
‘That was very impertinent of you to say such a thing,’ Finduilas protested to Maiaberiel, who laughed more.
‘Impertinent? Girl, the whole City knows that you have caught the captain’s eye!’
‘Well, I know no such thing!’ Finduilas retorted with some heat. ‘And I think it most improper for you to arrange for such a meeting, particularly when I am without my family!’ Her throat clenched and she began to cough. Maiaberiel put on a contrite expression.
‘My dear, oh, I am so sorry! Please forgive my thoughtlessness. You are quite right; that was impertinent of me to do this when you are a guest. Do not be angry with me!’ Finduilas drank some water and concentrated on breathing evenly. The older woman stroked her arm and said soothing things. Perhaps this is an opportunity, not an imposition. I could use these suppers as a way to get to know the captain, to be a friend. It felt like manipulation, though. Everything concerning the captain began to feel like a conspiracy against her, even her own dreams. But it was an interesting opportunity…
‘No, no, Maiaberiel, I am not angry, just startled,’ Finduilas assured her. ‘Of course I forgive you. I cannot meet the captain by arrangement without my parents’ approval and without them here. It would not be right.’
‘There is no hurry, dear girl. The captain is not here, and he will only be in the City for a few days when he does arrive,’ Brandir assured her. ‘The command cannot be changed until late April at the soonest, and then your lord father will be in the City, and may say yea or nay to the captain’s company.’
‘It is true that more than a few have noted the captain seems only to have eyes for you, Finduilas. Most girls would be giddy at the thought.’ Luinmir smirked at Finduilas, then bestowed a fawning look upon her elder half-sister. ‘The lady helped me find my love and you should be grateful she would do the same for you. Surely you cannot be too upset that Lady Maiaberiel has been thinking of your future happiness?’
‘How could I be upset? But I am startled, and I think I would like not to discuss this any more, if you please.’ Finduilas started coughing again.
‘We shall not speak of this again tonight,’ was Maiaberiel’s firm reply. But I dare say we shall speak of this another evening, yes, Beruthiel? The conversation quickly shifted to the conditions of the border in Anórien, and how pleased Brandir was to have Thorongil’s help in setting things right. Finduilas toyed with her food, listening carefully. No more criticisms of Denethor were offered, and none of the information sounded terribly important, but she wished to be able to give a full account to Aiavalë. There might be details that meant nothing to her but would be significant to the Archivist.
The meal dragged on for too long. It was with a sigh of relief that she bid her hosts good evening, collected Beregar and Aerin, and began the climb home. They had just passed through the gate of the sixth circle when they heard footsteps behind them. Beregar put himself between the woman and the person still hidden in the gate’s shadow. Finduilas both was and was not surprised when the man who came into view was Thorongil. She patiently waited for him to approach. He stopped a yard away and bowed.
‘Good evening, my lady.’
‘Good evening, Captain. What are you doing in the City?’
‘I received a summons from the Steward. I am on my way to the Citadel to inform him I am here and to know when he wishes to see me. Would you permit me to escort you there, if that is where you are going? I take no offense if you care not for company.’
In the light of stars and a far-off street-lantern, his face was softer, more gentle than she was used to seeing. If I am to be a friend, why not start now? ‘I would not mind at all if you were to walk with us.’ Still, she felt shy, and did not offer her arm.
A motion across the street on top of a house caught her eye and she looked. There was nothing, though a moment later she heard the hiss and snarl of a prowling cat from that direction. Does Beruthiel set cats upon me as spies? She almost laughed at the thought. Thorongil bowed again and gestured for them to walk. Finduilas asked him how his journey from Pelargir had been, and contented herself with hearing his account. It was not long before they were at the door of the Stewards House, where Thorongil politely bid her good evening. Just before she went to sleep, she heard the wall door on the floor above creak open and closed. She did not dream that night.
In the morning, Aiavalë did not wish to hear about the supper with Beruthiel. ‘You may tell it to me tonight, over supper. Denethor will be there and the two of you will make your apologies and be friends once more!’ Lady Lore said little more than that over their breakfast. The day passed swiftly in the archives for there had been many requests the previous two days and there was a great deal to catalogue and reshelf. To Finduilas’s surprise, Wren greeted her with an embrace and words of relief that she was feeling better.
‘Lady Finduilas, all the archivists were terribly concerned when the Mistress said you were not well,’ Wren confided as they set off for the fifth cavern with trays full of scrolls. ‘Mallor feared you had been injured more than you would admit to when that dreadful wizard knocked you down!’
‘No, that was not it, and he did not knock me down! Well, yes, he did, but we knocked each other down. I was not hurt. My cough was worse the last few days, so I was resting lest it turn into a fever. I am quite well now!’ The young woman embraced her again before they set to work in earnest. It was good to be away from the heights and sights of the City and to think of no more than placing a document in the right location. Finduilas tried not to think of collapsing stone.
When she arrived at Aiavalë’s door for supper, the other woman did not invite her in. Instead, Aiavalë limped out, face veiled, and gestured towards the stair. ‘We sup in Denethor’s rooms tonight, as they are larger,’ the other explained over her shoulder while climbing the stairs. To Finduilas’s amusement, Telperien followed them up the stairs. The cat meowed insistently, wishing for treats from supper. A table was laid in the front room of Denethor’s quarters, though he was no where to be seen. Aiavalë called his name. A moment later, he appeared at the door of his study, looking tired and wary.
‘Ah, it is time. Good evening Aiavalë, Finduilas. Shall we dine?’
‘You two shall do so,’ Aiavalë sternly said, ‘and I shall leave. It is sheer foolishness that you are at odds! I do not care to have my brother and the only sister I like to be squabbling. So finish your argument without me hanging over you and then have a civil meal. Alquallë, you may tell me all about Beruthiel’s conniving in the morning.’ Before either Denethor or Finduilas could protest, Aiavalë had limped out of the room. The cat, attracted by the smells coming from the table, sat primly in the doorway.
Finduilas could see from Denethor’s face that he was greatly displeased by Aiavalë’s acts. He stood a moment, watching where his sister had been standing, then let out a growling sigh. He looked at her and shook his head slightly. ‘I apologize for my sister’s intemperance. Please, do not feel obliged to spend any time in my company that you do not wish to.’ Finduilas did not reply, but watched his face, waiting for him to meet her eyes. After a moment, he did. There was sadness in his eyes and a sense of something worn-down. She felt her displeasure with him fade away. It is foolish to fight with this friend. Even more than the captain, this man deserves the kindness of a friend. He seeks naught else.
She smiled and came closer. ‘If you are willing to rest from your work and give some of your time to a fanciful and a bit prideful girl, I would be honored to have supper with you, Denethor. Will you forgive me for being such a scold the other day?’
A faint smile touched his face, then left, but took with it a good deal of the hardness. ‘Yes, of course. And the honor is mine.’ He held a chair for her after the standing silence and served her before seating himself. Telperien moved from the doorway to under the table in case anything fell her way. They ate in silence. Finduilas wanted the edge taken off of her hunger before she began to speak. She was not certain exactly what she was going to say, and hoped she would not muddle things.
‘I had a talk with Beregar.’ Denethor said nothing, but motioned her to continue. ‘I told him that I knew you required him to report on my doings, and said I would not forbid him to do so. I require him to tell me what it is he will say to you, and to refrain from trying to hear my conversations.’
‘Why do you not forbid him?’
‘You are his master and he must obey you. Also, you must care for the City and beware of those who are unfriendly to it. Thus, he serves you as is right. But I shall not be spied upon as though I am an enemy, even if I speak to one whom you consider such.’
‘But you acknowledge that I have a legitimate concern in such matters.’
‘As you should acknowledge mine.’
‘Very well, I shall, though I will not pretend to be pleased or satisfied.’
‘I require only not to be treated in an unfriendly manner.’ She busied herself with her plate. After a few bites, she said in a less serious tone, ‘I did promise to tell you if my dreams had changed. They have, though not greatly. They began again suddenly a little over a week ago. I have scarcely been able to sleep because of them.’
‘This is what has been ailing you? These new dreams?’ Finduilas pushed aside her plate, and turned her chair slightly so she could look at Denethor directly. The mention of dreams removed the coolness that marked their first exchange.
‘Yes, they are. They are not so terrible the last few days. This is how they have changed.’ She told him what she had told Mithrandir, how the choices were more detailed, how the armies and the Sea were one, how they were seeking for her, and how the eagle would set her where she wished. He listened attentively, occasionally asking a question about a detail or why she was certain she saw this rather than that. Afterwards, like the wizard, he sat quietly, thinking over her words.
‘The changes to my dreams, they have created yet more questions. I thought they would drive me mad.’ Denethor looked up, concerned. Now, goose, it is time to show yourself a true friend. ‘And that is why I went to speak to Mithrandir.’ One of his eyebrows rose and his look became more intent. ‘No one else I have spoken to has been able to help me puzzle this out. No books or scrolls I have read have provided me with answers. So, when I ran into him in the archives, I asked to see him and talk to him of my dreams.’
‘And what wisdom could he impart?’
‘None!’ she said with an indignant huff. ‘He was of no help; indeed, he was worse than no help. I must agree with you – I do not like this wizard at all. I know he figured something out from my dreams, but he would not tell it to me!’ Denethor chuckled at her words. ‘You think this is amusing?’ He nodded and began to laugh in earnest. ‘Stop that!’ She was starting to laugh, too. ‘It is not polite to laugh at a lady in distress.’
‘Perhaps the lady will believe me, next time, when I tell her someone is not to be trusted,’ he replied with a smirk. She tried to glare at him, but dissolved into snickers.
‘Very well, lesson learned! I shall pay more heed in the future.’ Denethor’s expression became more sober.
‘Can you determine what it is he is hiding?’
‘Perhaps, but before I discuss that, I think you should know about Beruthiel’s supper party last night.’ He nodded. ‘She and Brandir were there, as were a man named Isilmo and his wife, Luinmir. I believe he is one of your officers in Osgiliath.’
Denethor nodded. ‘He is assigned to Osgiliath, at the Steward’s command.’
‘Brandir announced that Thorongil was reassigned to Anórien. He said that you, he, and the Steward had discussed this.’
She waited for him to say more. His face had taken on a familiar, grim cast, and his eyes were narrowed.
‘I thought the agreement of the High Council was that Thorongil would remain in Pelargir. That is what I reported to the Prince.’
‘That was a temporary decision to placate the southern lords, Alquallë. The Steward has always intended for Thorongil to be moved to Anórien.’
‘It is not where he should be. The Prince will be most displeased.’
‘Yes, I imagine so. There is a council planned in Pelargir next month with the lords, the captain, and the Prince, to announce this.’
‘That is not what the Prince thought the council would be for. He trusts that Thorongil will remain in the south to counter the threat of Umbar.’
‘Until they rebuild their fleet, the Corsairs are not a great threat. Thus, Thorongil comes north until such time as he is needed again in the south.’
‘The Prince will be coming to Minas Tirith after that council.’
‘As will the captain, to take up his new command.’
‘Hmm. Well, the Prince will make his thoughts known at the proper time.’ She coughed a little and paused to sip some wine. ‘The news of interest to yourself, Denethor, is that Beruthiel is beginning to show her plans more clearly. She and Isilmo explicitly said that they are waiting for the Steward to assign Thorongil to Osgiliath and replace you there.’
‘I have always been aware of my dear sister’s interest in replacing me.’ His tone was mocking. ‘I have seen the effect of her wheedling on the Lord Steward all my life.’
‘Yes, but that was not my point. What is of interest is that she spoke this clearly in front of me and her guests. In almost a year, I have heard her be unkind in speaking of you, I have heard her praise the captain, but I have never heard her say that she wished for him to replace you. They also spoke of how they expected to be rewarded for having supported Thorongil.’
Denethor nodded, thinking. ‘And Brandir?’
‘He neither approved nor disapproved of what they said. He seemed only to care what happened in Anórien.’
‘His family is from there.’
‘So he has said to me.’
‘He became a friend of Thorongil’s while the captain served King Thengel, before coming to Gondor.’ A thought occurred to Finduilas.
‘If Brandir knows the captain, and is his friend, why do you not ask him about Thorongil? Lord Brandir is your brother-in-law. Would he not be truthful with you?’
‘Of course he would be. And then he would tell his wife what he had said to me, and I prefer she not know what I know. Also, though Brandir is an honest man, he is not very clever. I have asked him a few general questions, and have not received useful answers. I learn no more from Brandir than what Thorongil himself says. I doubt my brother-in-law knows anything more.’ Denethor subsided into thought.
Or perhaps Lord Brandir is not as simple as he appears. You are a bit too proud of your own knowledge, Lord Denethor. She thought that she should have a talk with Beruthiel’s husband. My questions about the captain would seem reasonable, given her plans. Whom else should I speak with, who might know something unknown to the Warden? Finduilas almost laughed aloud when she recalled all who might have knowledge of Thorongil.
‘Denethor, did you know that King Thengel’s wife, Queen Morwen, is my cousin?’ Denethor was roused out of his thoughts, looking surprised.
‘No, I did not know that. How is she your cousin?’
‘Several ways. Her mother is my maternal grandmother’s sister, so she and Mother are first cousins, and I am her first cousin once removed. Her father is the great-great-great grandson of Amdír, the sixteenth Prince of Dol Amroth. That is how Mother and Father met. Father paid visits to his kinsman while in service to Steward Turgon, and Mother was often visiting her cousin.’
‘Are you close? Do you know the queen well?’
‘No. I have never met her, though she and Mother were close as young women. They have not seen each other at all since the queen removed to Rohan.’ Though perhaps it is now time to renew family relations. Finduilas made a note to herself to write a letter on the morrow.
‘Interesting.’ Denethor sank into his thoughts again. ‘And what of the wizard’s words? You said that you thought you could determine what he was hiding.’
‘The one thing that bound this supper and that meeting together was that both Maiaberiel and Mithrandir would wish for me to befriend the captain. The wizard insisted that it is no accident that I and the captain are both drawn to Minas Tirith at the same time, and that we should be acquainted.’
Denethor’s expression was unreadable. He stared unblinking at her, then gave a great snort of derision. ‘And what do you think they intend when they ask you to befriend the captain?’
‘I think they believe me to be my sister, all aflutter at the thought of Thorongil.’
‘And you are not?’
‘As I tell any who ask, I think the man a boor.’
‘He’s not that.’
Finduilas broke into laughter. ‘Will even you defend him? I begin to think Aiavalë and I are alone in all Gondor in not seeing much to praise in the man.’
‘There is much to praise in him. There is much to question as well. But the wizard thinks there is a reason for you both to be here, and he found that reason in your dreams?’
‘I am not certain that my dreams gave him the reason, for he would not say what he thought. Oh, I did ask the wizard how it is that he knows Thorongil. Mithrandir said he met the captain on a road in Rohan and struck up a conversation. They have been friends since.’ Denethor shrugged.
‘I can believe that.’ His gaze was still intent. ‘So what do you intend to do?’
‘I think perhaps I should befriend Thorongil.’
‘To see what I may find out about him.’
Denethor dropped his eyes to the table, steepling his fingers. ‘You said that you are not attracted to the captain, but what of his attentions to you? If he should believe that you are, as you said, aflutter, does that not mean you are misleading him?’
‘If I am simply a friend to him as I am to you, how does that mislead him? I make no promise I do not or cannot honorably uphold.’ He looked up at her once more, and his eyes were curious.
‘Simply a friend,’ he said quietly, then nodded as though answering a question asked of himself. ‘But can you say you are a friend if you think to repeat what he would say in confidence?’
‘I would not repeat a confidence. Do you think I should not do this?’
‘I think that there is no honorable way that I could encourage a young woman to befriend a man of unknown past while she is in my care,’ Denethor replied, voice still quiet. ‘I say that you should do nothing until you may gain the counsel of your parents.’
‘That is much the same as I said to Beruthiel. It appears she had tried to get the captain to come to supper last night by telling him I would be there and implying that I wished to see him. He was delayed on his journey, else it might have been a very uncomfortable meal. I do intend to wait until Mother and Father are here, but I also value your advice as anything that touches on the captain looks to affect you. And you are much my greater friend!’
To her delight, a small, shy smile crept onto his lips and his eyes were neither hard nor sad. ‘I am flattered, Alquallë. I hope that I shall continue to deserve to be called friend.’
‘I did have one other dream. I dreamed again of you standing in front of the light. The fire turned color from the sunset into a fall of silver, like fish scales. Your face was so pale, I would have thought you dead save that your eyes blinked. You reached into the silver and pulled out three pearls in your hand. You saw me and showed me the pearls, then let them drop back into the silver fire. Then, as before, you walked into the darkness beyond.’
‘When? When did you dream this?’
‘Sunday of last week, just at sunset.’ She watched him count out the days. ‘You were looking at such a light on that day.’ He nodded, watching her. ‘What am I seeing?’
‘I cannot tell you. Prince, did you tell the wizard of this dream?’
‘No! I have not spoken of this dream, nor of the other in which I saw you, to anyone save yourself.’
‘Then I ask you to never speak of them to anyone. It is a true dream. You are seeing something that is real, but may not be spoken of. This is why I believe your other dreams are also true, though I know not how. What little you have seen could betray this place, and take the lives of hundreds. I wonder if the same may be true of your other dreams.’
Finduilas gaped for a moment, then started coughing, her chest in a vice. It had never occurred to her that others might be endangered by simply telling of her dreams. Denethor brought her water and sat next to her, a gentle hand on her arm, just as he had stayed near her in the stairwell two days before. The clutching sensation soon passed.
‘I had never thought such things, friend. Oh, why did I speak to that dratted wizard?’
‘Shh, Alquallë, do not upset yourself again. He is secretive. If he found meaning in the dreams, he would hoard it. But I think it best you speak to no one besides myself and Aiavalë. Perhaps the Prince or Luinil, if you must speak to someone else.’
‘I think that good advice, Denethor, and I shall follow it.’
They both jumped when the cat meowed loudly right at their feet. ‘Oh, pardon me, your highness, I did not mean to neglect you!’ Finduilas picked a few shreds of meat off her plate and dropped them to the floor for Telperien. The cat sniffed, batted at them, and quickly gobbled it down. She looked up expectantly. Denethor plucked a small shred and tossed it to her, which she ate with great relish.
‘What do you think?’ Finduilas asked.
He glanced at her. ‘What do I think of what, Alquallë?’
‘Of any of this.’
‘I think that Maiaberiel is doing exactly what I thought she would do. I think you have learned a good lesson about wizards. As for the rest,’ he shrugged, ‘I can guess, but no more.’
‘What do you think my dreams mean?’
‘I think… I think that that you dream of the fate of Minas Tirith, and not just of yourself.’ He would not look at her, but reached down and scratched the cat’s ears.
‘I do not wish for such dreams, such fates.’
‘Who would? And, I am probably wrong. I know nothing of reading dreams. But you did ask what I thought.’
‘I know I did.’ Finduilas felt very tired and her back ached from the coughing. ‘I think I should retire.’ He rose and offered her a hand. Denethor insisted on escorting her downstairs to the door of her rooms.
‘Aiavalë shall happy to know we are no longer cross with each other,’ he said.
‘Yes, she will. I am happy about that as well.’
Denethor nodded and turned to go, then paused. ‘I will not ask Beregar to report anymore, unless he thinks there is trouble.’
‘You will not need to. Good night, Denethor.’
‘Good night, Alquallë.’
Characters introduced in this chapter, in order of appearance:
Luinmir – OC. Half-sister to Denethor, 39 years
Isilmo – OC. Nobleman of minor house, officer in Osgiliath, husband to Luinmir, 41 years
Playlist Navigation Bar