7. Rumours (part 3)
Boromir fell asleep before we reached the nursery, and did not stir when I lay him in his crib. I stayed awake for a short while longer, thinking over what Mag had said to me, and decided that I had been quite silly for being so worried. All I had to do was keep my composure, explain what Olleth had accused me of, and look suitably chastised if necessary. I knew before I spoke to Mag that Lady Finduilas was not a flighty, high-strung woman; I had just gotten carried away by my own anxiety.However, knowing all this did not make me less nervous when I awoke the next day. Boromir was in high spirits as I prepared a bath for him - he had been very restless the previous night, and I had been too troubled to argue with him about it - but now he happily splashed in the tub, chattering away in half-intelligible sentences. As my skirt was soaked by a spray of water, I wondered, with some amusement, how two people as quiet and restrained as Lord Denethor and Lady Finduilas had managed to produce such a boisterous little boy. Then the little boy in question grinned at me, and I could not help but be grateful that Boromir was not a meek, delicate child. "Are you nearly finished, duckling?" I asked, grinning back.
"No," he replied, shaking his head and sending droplets of water all over me. "No, I like water!" And he began quacking, which never failed to make me laugh.
I let him play; he was much easier to handle when confined to the tub, and I used the time to think and prepare myself for his mother's visit. I was willing to do or say most anything that was necessary to in order to keep my position; I did not know what I would do without Boromir to look after. Though I sincerely hoped Lady Finduilas did not want me to apologize to Olleth. I did not think she deserved an apology.
The morning seemed to drag on forever. I was ready to have this talk with the Lady Finduilas over and done with, so I could stop fretting about what she might have to say to me.
Boromir kept me distracted from my worries, asking me over and over if we were going to the kitchens again. I had already decided to take him to see Mag more often - she had seemed to enjoy his presence. I could not tell if Boromir wanted to see Mag, or if he simply wanted to explore an unfamiliar place, but when I told him that sometime we would indeed go visit the kitchens again, he clapped his hands in glee. "Now, we go now?"
"Later," I promised, knowing that at this age he had no concept of when "later" might be. This satisfied him, and he went back to his toys, singing a song of his own making that consisted solely of the words "rusks and tea".
Finally it was time for luncheon, though I could not manage more than a few bites. That sick feeling was back in the pit of my stomach, and no amount of scolding myself did anything to banish it. Boromir, as usual, ate anything placed in front of him, but he was not yet adept at using a spoon, and I ended up with mashed carrots on the front of my dress. Sighing inwardly, I washed his face and hands, and put him down for his nap. For once, he did not protest, only asked for his stuffed pony, and was asleep within moments.
I hurried to make certain that I was presentable - it would not do to receive the Lady Finduilas with flyaway hair and food all over my clothing. I was just dabbing at the turnip-stain when a knock came at the door, and my stomach lurched. I took a deep breath, which did little to steady me, and went to greet her.
Lady Finduilas was followed by one of the kitchen girls, who was carrying a large tray that bore a teapot, cups, and several small plates of biscuits and breads. The kitchen girl set these on the table as I managed a smile and a curtsey. "Good afternoon, my lady," I said, hoping I did not look as apprehensive as I felt. I also felt rather like a street urchin next to Lady Finduilas- my drab gown was wrinkled and not entirely clean, hers was a brocade of emerald green, pressed and spotless; my hair was pulled back in an almost severe, yet haphazard braid, hers was a charming creation of artful curls, nary a hair out of place. It only increased my tension to appear so unkempt when Lady Finduilas was so polished.
She did not seem to notice the differences in our appearances. "Good afternoon," she replied with a warm smile that did much to relax me. "Come, sit here with me, and we shall talk." She moved toward the table, making me envious of the graceful way she walked.
The kitchen girl threw me a glance and, to my surprise, flashed a smile. "Shall you need anything else, my lady?" she asked, bobbing a quick curtsey.
"No, this is quite enough," Lady Finduilas said. "Please convey my thanks to Mag."
I reached for the pot, asking, "How do you like your tea, my lady?" and jumped when Lady Finduilas laid her hand on my wrist. Her skin was cool, and very smooth.
"I can see that you are nervous," she said, not unkindly. "I wish to discuss this ..situation with you, but before we begin, I would like to put your mind at ease, and tell you that there is no need for you to worry."
I was too startled to speak. She took advantage of my confusion by taking the pot from my hands
, and pouring the tea for both of us herself, as if it were normal for a woman of her position to serve a woman of mine.
Lady Finduilas gave me a moment to prepare my tea and select a bit of the food provided -- I had time to wonder how Mag knew I liked gingersnaps, and to note that she had sent rusks as well. Then my lady said, "I would like you to tell me what happened with Olleth. I have heard other people's versions of the story; now I should like to hear it from you."
I did not look at Lady Finduilas -- this was difficult enough for me. "She…Olleth, that is…she made accusations that were insulting, both to me and to my lady's family." I was not foolish to think that was enough of an explanation, but I wanted to make certain I phrased my words carefully.
There was a silence, then Lady Finduilas said, "What type of accusations?"
I dared to look up at her, and saw neither anger nor impatience in her eyes. She was serene, and that horrible twisting in my stomach eased just a bit.
"She…made certain implications concerning…um…the Lord Denethor .." my face was growing hot, and I had to force the words out, "…and improprieties …." I floundered, losing any of the words I had prepared, and took refuge in my teacup.
"With you?" Lady Finduilas' voice was gentle, and when I looked at her, I saw compassion on her face.
"Yes," I nodded, my voice no more than a whisper.
Lady Finduilas took a sip of her tea. "I had thought it might be something like that," she revealed, "though I had not heard this in so many words."
I wondered how she had heard at all - surely no-one would be stupid enough to spread gossip within Lady Finduilas' hearing. I was also astonished at her easy acceptance of Olleth's words. Was that her entire reaction? Only understanding?
"And your response was to throw her out of the nursery?"
I nodded again. "Yes, my lady," I replied. "I -- I lost my temper, and told her that she was not to set foot in the nursery again. I should not have -- it was very ill-done."
I was taken aback when Lady Finduilas gave a wry smile, an expression that was very out of place on her delicate face. "I would beg to differ."
"My -- my lady?" I was puzzled. "I am sorry, but I do not understand."
She nibbled at a frosted biscuit, and with a start, I realized that she was giving herself time to gather her thoughts, as if she were as concerned about her words as I was about mine. "You have not had many dealings with gossip about yourself, have you?"
"No," I admitted. "We are not a highly-placed family, my lady, and I am only the eldest daughter. There are many people more interesting than me in Dol Amroth."
Lady Finduilas nodded.. "I thought as much," she said, leaning towards me. "I am afraid, my dear, that you will have to learn to ignore such gossip, now that you are in my lord husband's employ. Many women -- women with far more experience and higher connections -- were resentful that I chose you, rather than one of them. Resentful women are often spiteful women, and I daresay that some will continue to try to tarnish your reputation."
A thought occurred to me. "Was -- did Olleth want this position?"
"Oh, yes," Lady Finduilas said, a small smile on her lips, "she was certain that she would be the one to care for my children."
I pondered this, then said, "Your pardon, my lady -- but I still do not understand why you are not…angry with me for losing my temper, and in front of Boromir and his playmate, as well! Was I not overstepping my bounds, to have her escorted out?"
"It is regrettable that the children had to witness the scene," Lady Finduilas said, "and if you are so determined to be scolded, I can certainly rebuke you. However --" I breathed a sigh of relief, "--you were well within your bounds."
I must have had a very odd look on my face, for Lady Finduilas laughed. "The insult Olleth delivered was quite beyond bearing," she told me, and for the first time, I saw a flash of anger in my lady's eyes, "and if she was foolish enough to say such things to your face, then she should have expected you to respond.. She will not be coming back to the nursery - you may trust me in that."
"Thank you, my lady," I said, though those words did little to convey my full gratitude. "I am sorry that Boromir and Culas had to see it, but she ---" unexpectedly, my temper was rising, and it was with an effort that I held it in check. "I will learn to pay no attention to vile talk in the future."
"You will hear yourself maligned again," she said, now solemn."It is something you will not be able to avoid, as you are now part of a noble household, in a highly sought after position. You must not only disregard these slurs against your character-- you must not let it affect you. I do believe that you acted properly in confronting Olleth as you did on this occasion; however --" she grew stern and I shrank back a bit in my chair,
"you cannot respond so vehemently to anyone who insults you. You are a bright girl - I trust that you know the difference between a true insult, and wagging tongues that are only trying to bait you into reacting?"
I had to swallow before I could say, "Yes, my lady. I do. And I will find a way to keep my composure."
She reached for her teacup, looking pleased at my answer. "After hearing Olleth's tale -- and people will hear it, mark my words -- I do not think that anyone will dare speak slander in your presence again. It will be much easier to ignore those who whisper behind your back. And do not worry," she smiled so warmly that I could not help but smile back, "those who are aquainted with you know malicious gossip when they hear it. It will not be believed by those with a shred of common sense."
It was somehow comforting to hear Mag's words echoed by the Lady Finduilas, and I was preparing to thank my lady yet again when a noise caught my ear. Surely he could not be awake already?
"Your pardon, my lady," I said, standing. "I think I hear Boromir stirring."
It did not occur to me to wait until she granted me leave; I simply hurried into Boromir's room. He was not awake - he still lay under his blanket, clutching his pony - but he was tossing and fretful. I knew this meant he would soon wake in a fussy mood. The only way to soothe him when he was like this was to walk with him, so I picked him up, and he subsided when I cradled him against my shoulder.
"Is he awake?" Lady Finduilas' low voice made me start.
"Not quite," I said, turning so she could see his face. He then proved me a liar by lifting his head, and looking around the room groggily.
I thought it odd that my lady did not immediately take him from me. I did notice that she was watching Boromir with a look in her eyes that I could not interpret. Somehow, that gaze also made her seem more approachable, so I took a chance, and asked her the question that had been bothering me for months.
"My lady," I said hesitantly, "if ..if I may ….why did you chose me, rather than one of those other women?" I had been shocked to discover that my lady even knew who I was -- I had never met her before I arrived in Minas Tirith, and we were related only peripherally by a tangle of marriages so convoluted that no-one but a scholar (or my mother) could trace the relation.
Lady Finduilas smiled. "You were child-tending at a banquet some years ago, and you were so patient and kind to the little ones and managed them so easily that I thought, 'That is the kind of woman I want to care for my children.'" She laughed softly, and Boromir looked up at the sound, reaching for her. Now she took him from me, and held him close, murmuring into his ear.
I did not remember any particular banquet -- my mother was so enamored of her connections to Dol Amroth's ruling family, no matter how distant, that she dragged us to any banquet we could feasibly attend, and, with five younger siblings, I was always child-tending. Of course I did not say this.
She continued, as Boromir played with her curls, "But why should I have gotten a woman like you, when I could just as easily get you yourself?" Her smile faded. "And I did not want a woman of Minas Tirith tending my son -- he will be consumed by this City soon enough. I wanted a woman of my own land."
For an instant, Lady Finduilas' tone was somewhere between bitter and resigned, but in the next moment, she was smiling again, running her fingers through Boromir's sleep-tousled hair. "I did not want a woman who looked at my little one as just another in a long line of children," she said, attention fixed on her son, "I wanted someone who would truly care for him and keep him safe." She gave me an appraising glance. "I believe I chose well."
I was blushing again - compliments tended to make me very uncomfortable - and managed, "Thank you, my lady. You have done me a great service."
Lady Finduilas smiled, and for the first time, I saw that Boromir had his mother's smile. "Must he go back to sleep?" she asked, and I was as startled by her wistful voice as I was by the fact that she was deferring to me, in regards to his care.
"He will not go back to sleep now," I said, perhaps a bit too ruefully, for my lady laughed quietly, and Boromir giggled in reply. "Once he is awake, he is awake 'til bedtime."
"Not bedtime!" Boromir scowled. "Time for snack?"
"Yes, duckling, it is time for a snack," I said, laughing at his fierce expression. "And there is a special treat for you today."
"Rusks?" he gasped, starting to squirm in his mother's arms. "Down, please!"
Lady Finduilas set him on his feet -- reluctantly, I noted -- and Boromir tugged at her hand. "Rusks, Mama -- come!"
Her face lit up at his persistence, and she allowed him to pull her toward the playroom. I followed, smiling at his excitement.
I set him in his chair, and was beginning to prepare a plate for him when I realized that Lady Finduilas was hesitating. "My lady?" I asked. "Is something amiss?"
"I should like to stay," she said, and again I was taken aback by how she seemed to be asking me for permission.
"He is your son, my lady," I pointed out, hoping I did not sound impertinent, "and this is your household."
Lady Finduilas looked at me, and that indefinable expression was back in her eyes. She made as if to speak, but Boromir piped up, "Sit, Mama! Sit here!"
She laughed in delight, and obeyed, and Boromir began talking so rapidly that even I could not make out most of the words.
I did not try to involve myself in the conversation, unless Boromir spoke to me, or Lady Finduilas asked for a translation. She had little enough time with him, and he was overjoyed to have his mother with him for even a short while. I watched them, smiling into my cup, and tried not to think on why she occasionally seemed so far away.
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