Fairer Than Ivory, Silver, or Pearls
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Courting the Lady: 8. Epistolary Seasons II
You may have heard – I hope you have heard – from my brother the sad news of our mother’s rapid decline. I am sorry that you did not meet her before, for it certainly seems unlikely that you will now have the chance, and I believe you would have liked her, and she you. I hesitate to ask, for I realize that your company’s need must prevail, but do you suppose that it might be possible for Imrahil to get leave sometime this autumn to come home to see his mother one last time? Certainly I will understand if with his junior status it is not, and my mother and father will as well, but I know that she would dearly love to see her son again.
I sent to Imrahil last month a rose from our garden here, and it occurs to me that you might like one as well, a token of affection to carry perhaps. A few nights ago I read an old poem about a rose that I thought you might enjoy as much I did the verses you sent me recently. The author is by tradition supposed to have lived in the reign of Atanatar II, and to have written in vain to the king’s niece.
Take thou this rose, O Rose,
Since Love’s own flower it is,
And by that rose
Thy lover captive is.
Smell thou this rose, O Rose,
And know thyself as sweet
As dawn is sweet.
Look on this rose, O Rose,
And looking, laugh on me,
And in thy laughter’s ring
The nightingale shall sing.
Kiss thou this rose, O Rose,
That it may know the scarlet of thy mouth.
O Rose, this painted rose
Is not the whole,
Who paints the flower
Paints not its fragrant soul. (1)
I may hope that the pressed rose that I give to you contains the fragrant soul, still! It seemed to me that I ought not to show favoritism between my two correspondents out in Ithilien.
17 Yavannië 2974
The nights grow chill again here, and I notice the days shorten more quickly than in the south. Our enemies begin to withdraw to the east, to their lairs and strongholds there, and Thorongil tells us that soon we will reduce our patrolling somewhat for the season. We will be changing camps again, too, and perhaps joining up with another company into a larger camp for the winter. Lasmir, our sergeant, says that is always enjoyable when it happens; there are usually contests between the men of the different companies, at archery and wrestling and swordplay and so on, not for money directly (though I’m sure some betting goes on) but more for the honor of their company. He says that since Thorongil has been a captain, his men have nearly always been victorious in such matches. So I look forward to the move.
But tell me, sister, is the mighty lord Denethor’s wooing actually succeeding with you? From your accounts of his letters it sounds to me as if you enjoy them and even look forward to them. Now that surprises me. He seemed not a bad fellow, both when we dined with the Steward last winter and when he came here on inspection last month, but old and rather harsh, even secretive in a way. Not really a man to my taste, and I would not have thought to yours, either. I should have thought you’d like Thorongil better. I know you have been writing to the captain too. What are you playing at? If I’m granted leave to come home to visit Mother, you can be sure I’ll make you tell me.
Oh, bother. I forgot I’m supposed to go on patrol today, so I have to end this. Give Mother my especial love, and love to Father too.
9 Narquelië 2974
I know you don’t care for Denethor all that much, but he is really not as stuffy as you think. He has been very attentive and solicitous all year, sending me little gifts, asking after Mother, even writing poems for me, as I’ve mentioned before. They may not always be the match of the greats of the past – he is no Daeron – but he tries so hard, that they are charming despite being sometimes awkward. (2) And he very clearly means what he says. I do believe he wishes to wed me, for Father has intimated as much, but he has said nothing directly to me as yet. Which is as well, for though I enjoy his letters, my heart is yet unsure.
But I have had little to delight in this year with Mother unwell and Father either busy with all the cares of Belfalas or else distraught. It is the letters I exchange with you, with Thorongil, and with Denethor that bring me such pleasure as I can find. I do hope that you will be able to come home, at least for a little while; I miss you so.
13 Narquelië 2974
The Guard of the Citadel has been training hard of late. As you are no doubt aware, my command has mostly ceremonial and guard duties, but in consultation with the Steward I have decided that they should be able to hold their own with any other company in Gondor. Should the fighting on our borders increase – and Umbar again seems a rising threat – we might need every man. So amid much grumbling I have instituted a new training program. With my other duties, much of its implementation falls to my second-in-command, but I participate whenever possible.
I thank you for your kind words about my limping lines. I have not had the time lately to write another poem of such length, but perhaps you will like this couplet:
Seabird wandering northward – hearken now to my calling.
Will you rest in my dovecote, now that autumn is falling?
Do you yet know if you will be able to make the journey to Minas Tirith this winter season? I should very much like to see you again in person, delightful though our correspondence has been. My father adds his voice to mine to urge your presence. But if your responsibilities to land and family hold you in Dol Amroth, of course I understand.
Yours with all respect,
17 Hísimë 2974
I do apologize, very much indeed, for the delay in my answer to your last two letters. Please do not think that I had any thought of slighting you; my mother’s health has taken a very serious turn and I have hardly been able to leave her side except for the most pressing matters of the household.
This sad circumstance does mean, I fear, that I will not be able to come to Minas Tirith this Ringarë. I am sorry, for I would have liked to come to the Steward’s Feast and dance again with you. But it will not be possible for me to leave Dol Amroth and my mother. My father has not yet decided if he will be able to make the journey north either; I believe he will wait until the very week he would travel before he decides, for though he would not want to be negligent in his duties, if he were absent at the moment of crisis he would find it hard to forgive himself. I look forward to the chance that Imrahil may be granted leave to come home briefly to visit our mother. So though I cannot leave, at least I may see my brother in recompense.
The sorrow in our household cannot be inflicted on all our people, naturally. We have held festival as usual, and the celebrations of yáviérë were carried out in great style. All the houses were bedecked with boughs and the last of the autumn flowers, and we had our traditional dance here in the great hall, to which many in the city come. So you see, even in the midst of our unhappiness there are moments of cheer.
With kind regards,
5 Ringarë 2974
Of course I will do all I can to get Imrahil back to Dol Amroth, especially now that you have warned me that it may be a matter of weeks only. He is to take leave on Eärenya next, and will travel with the returning supply wagon to Osgiliath, and thence down Anduin. He must return by early Narvinyë, of course, but unless something goes wrong he should be able to spend rather more than a week with his mother and the rest of your family. A long journey for a short visit, but better than none, I hope.
I shall not be going to Minas Tirith myself this season; not every captain of the rangers may do so every year! So instead we shall celebrate mettarë and yestarë here as men invariably seem to do in such circumstances, by eating too much roast meat and drinking too much ale and wine. Generally the officers manage to organize some competitions to keep the men occupied, as well, most often of one sort of combat or another but also storytelling and singing. I hope that you can enjoy the season despite your troubles. . .
In return for the charming verses about the Rose that you sent me – and I keep the rose itself safe, you may be sure – let me offer you this one:
She stood in her scarlet gown,
If anyone touched her
The gown rustled.
She stood, her face like a rose,
Shining she stood
And her mouth was a flower.
She stood by the branch of a tree,
And writ her love on a leaf. (3)
This, I must confess, is not a poem of my own devising. I learned it many years ago in my foster-father’s house. The original is in an extremely antiquated form of Grey-elven, so I have translated it, though I was not successful in keeping the form the same – you know how difficult that can be.
20 Ringarë 2974
I anticipate that this will reach you just in time for mettarë; I certainly hope so. In the accompanying parcel you should have found two books; one is the History of Gondor that I spoke of to you last year, that I had commissioned from a young scholar. Golasgil tells me that he has discovered a great deal more information that warrants inclusion, and would like to continue working to improve it, but I insisted that he must create an acceptable version by this month so that it could be distributed among all the lords of the land for their use. So that volume is for Adrahil, though you may also wish to read it, and I hope you do.
The other, as you see, is a copy of the collection of poems and stories that you saw in Angrim’s shop and liked so well. Since you were not able to visit the city this year to buy it for yourself, as I know you wished to do, I trust that you will accept this as a humble gift from me. Someday, perhaps, you might read to me your favorite verses from it.
Ecthelion sends his best wishes for the season, and hopes that your mother may recover some strength with the sight of her son, as of course do I.
With best wishes for the new year,
(1) This poem is translated from the anonymous late 12th century Latin work known as the Carmina Burana. The last verse is a personal favorite of mine, and it seemed like something Finduilas would have liked too.
(2) Daeron was the legendary minstrel at Thingol’s court in Doriath, who composed songs to Lúthien.
(3) Another poem from the Carmina Burana.
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