1. From Sand to Stone
Stars sang in a chorus of light against the night sky. Since she had been a child, she'd believed that they must glitter more brightly here than anywhere else in the world, brought to their brilliance by listening to the harpists of the city. Ivriniel had told her that was nonsense, that stars weren't people even if some of the old legends indicated otherwise. Finduilas had outgrown the belief that stars might be sentient beings, but a part of her remained captivated by their beauty, the figures they formed across night's mantle. As she unrolled her parchment, weighing down the edges with rocks from the beach below, she thought of the star-watcher king on his remote island and smiled.
"We could have been kin," she mused into the empty room, lighting several candles and arranging her inks. "Though I wonder if your skies were different than mine. Mayhaps you saw charging wolves, rather than a swan. Or other animals I cannot even dream of."
She examined her drawing of the constellations, quite pleased at her efforts. True, far more ancient scrolls of similar design existed in the great library of Gondor— she'd seen them herself. But she had no desire to copy someone else's diagram. As she'd explained this to the Steward's son, she'd seen the quality to Denethor's eyes change, though it had been subtle. They'd softened somehow, his expression shifting from curiosity to approval. Even now, weeks later, Finduilas struggled to understand what had flickered through his thoughts in that moment, and why she continued to think about that interaction at all. He had seemed pleased that she was interested in exploring more of the library. When she and her father had taken their leave of the Steward and his son, Denethor told her expressly that she was welcome to return and avail herself of the library at any time. What she had heard unspoken was, 'Please return.'
Finduilas brought her thoughts back to her drawing, looking first into the sky and then down at her scroll. Her intention was to embroider a set of cushions, each with a particular image from the heavens. This pleased the royal embroiderer, since until this project, Finduilas had not been particularly enthusiastic about the sewing arts. Her mind wandered back to Denethor, wondering how old he was, and why he wasn't already married. He was handsome enough, and appeared to have a fine form under his shirt and cloak. She knew that her own time of unbounded freedom would come to a close in the coming years, but this did not trouble her overmuch. Her father and mother would never parade her out in front of suitors like a horse to be inspected and purchased.
"Are you up here again?"
The voice came from behind her and she started at the intrusion.
"Imrahil! Goodness! Don't you know it's impolite to sneak up on somebody like that?"
His impish grin banished any irritation she had toward her younger brother and she shook her head.
"I do. Don't you know it's slightly odd to have such a fixation on lights in the sky?"
"It isn't odd," Finduilas insisted. "Mariners use them to plot their courses."
"So— are you planning to become a mariner?" he cajoled, biting into a plum.
"You know I'm not."
She rose and walked to him, taking the plum out of his hand to bite into the juicy flesh. It was unnerving how quickly he was growing. They nearly stood eye to eye now.
"To marry one, then?" he asked, raising an eyebrow and taking back his fruit.
Finduilas shrugged, nonchalant.
"You wouldn't!" Imrahil insisted, strolling past her to the table on which her project lay. "Oh, Fin, this is extraordinary," he went on. "The detail you've put into it!" He turned around to face her, admiration beaming in his expression. "Forget the silly cushions. This map of the sky should be put in a gilt frame and hung in the library!"
"You're too kind." She stood beside him, gazing at her handiwork. "It is quite accurate. Careful! Mind you don't get plum juice on it."
"Sorry." Imrahil backed up a couple of steps. "I came up here for a reason, actually."
Finduilas drummed her third and fourth fingers on the table. "And that reason was?"
"Gwaerenor and Hithiel invited us to a nighttime picnic on the beach. Surprisingly, mother said we could join them."
Finduilas was torn. The picnic did sound like fun, but she hadn't yet been able to work on her scroll.
"Let me stay just for a little while— until that candle goes out," she said, pointing at a thin taper about a palm's height.
"All right. I'll let them know."
With a jaunty nod, Imrahil turned on his heel and left the room, closing the door behind him. Finduilas gazed at the door for a moment, then turned back to the table. Humming a tune under her breath, she placed her quill on the parchment, then set her sights on the panoply of stars.
"Are you absolutely certain that there's no etiquette I should know about?" Finduilas asked, giving herself a final appraisal in the looking glass and tucking a stray hair behind her ear. "I'll be hard pressed to forgive you if you fail to warn me and I make an unforgivable gaffe."
Bronweneth smiled warmly at her. "You need not worry about a thing, cousin. This is not an overly formal occasion. Only dinner and some dancing."
"If it's not overly formal, why did you instruct me to wear the finest gown I brought?"
Her cousin appeared to ignore her question, gesturing toward the door.
"You've already made a favorable impression. Some of the captains of the guard will be in attendance, as well as the Steward and his family."
"Yes," Finduilas said, willing the peevishness out of her voice. "This is why I'm particularly intent to represent my own house to the best of my ability."
Bronweneth turned and gave her a keen look. "So this unexpected flustering has to do with being a reflection of Dol Amroth, not how you're perceived by the Steward?"
"Well, yes, I suppose so."
Finduilas smiled at the chambermaid who stood at the door.
"Have a lovely evening," the girl said with a short curtsey.
"I'm certain we will," Bronweneth replied, her skirts swishing as she made her way into the corridor.
The two young women walked along the stone walkway at a pace Finduilas found more stately than necessary, but during the week she'd spent with her cousin, she'd learned simply to adapt to any eccentricities.
"The relationship between Dol Amroth and Gondor is a strong one," Finduilas noted as they descended a wide stair. "The Steward and Denethor seem to respect father."
"Oh yes. But the link between the two could be even closer."
Bronweneth gazed meaningfully at Finduilas.
With a small sigh, Bronweneth paused at the bottom of the stair.
"Do you really not follow my meaning?"
Finduilas opened her mouth to say no, but then comprehension dawned. Her brow furrowed.
"Surely you don't think—"
A pair of courtiers walked past and Finduilas waited to resume speaking until they were out of earshot.
"Why not?" Bronweneth asked.
Finduilas shook her head quickly, and began walking in the direction of the large dining hall.
"Surely Denethor has set his eye on someone. Someone older," she emphasized.
"Would it be such a bad thing to be noticed by him?"
"No, of course not. But it would be…" She thought for a moment. "Unexpected."
She felt Bronweneth's hand on her arm, stopping her.
"There's no need to be so naïve."
Indignation flared hotly in Finduilas' chest.
"I'm not naïve. I would never pretend to be anything other than who I am."
Bronweneth's stern expression slowly changed to one of satisfaction.
"And that is why only men of quality will be drawn to you. Come! I know from one of the maids that a particularly fine red wine will be poured tonight. We'll be served and then I'll introduce you to some gentlemen I'm sure you will find," she paused, her light eyes dancing merrily, "unexpectedly charming."
The wine was quite flavorful, and any irritation Finduilas harbored soon dissipated like mist in sunshine. While Gondor felt more structured, and its people more sheltered than those in her own city, the lord and ladies of this event seemed more relaxed than she had heretofore experienced. At her cousin's side, she met and spoke with several captains before the bell rang for dinner. After her conversation with Bronweneth, Finduilas' senses were heightened to Denethor's presence, and she noted that she had been placed across the table and two seats down from him. Conversation flowed as easily and plentiful as the wine, though Finduilas merely sipped on hers. She'd overindulged at home on occasion, and now was not a time to find herself being silly. Once the dinner had concluded, the guests rose and most began walking toward the adjoining hall where musicians had already set up their instruments.
"As we were talking about the line of the Stewards, I wondered if you would like to see the portraits of my forebears?"
Denethor stood at her side, an expectant look on his refined features.
"Certainly! We have no such paintings in Dol Amroth, though we do have a very old book with written descriptions of each king."
The comment evidently piqued his interest, as he said, "Some day I should like to visit your father's realm and spend some time reading that book. Shall we?"
He gestured toward a door across the room, but did not take her arm. She felt comfortable in his presence, and was grateful to hear no trace of triumph in his voice. She didn't know whether or not she could have a friendship with him that did not have overtones of a more personal bond, but for now, his overtures bespoke of nothing more than companionship. Marriages had been arranged and executed with far less, she knew, but she pushed such thoughts away and enjoyed their informal banter. She'd just begun to share a story about her great-grandfather and some fireworks gone awry when she slipped on the hem of her dress and went crashing to the floor, twisting her ankle as she fell. She let out a cry of pain and rubbed at her ankle, a flush rising to her cheeks as she realized she was sprawled quite ungracefully on the floor. Denethor crouched on one knee at her side.
"My lady!" he exclaimed, concern etched on his face. "Are you hurt? I'll call for a healer."
"I don't think it's broken," Finduilas said quickly. "But a compress would be welcome."
He nodded, his demeanor businesslike but kind, much like her father. Denethor called out down the corridor, and an unarmed guard came swiftly toward them.
"The lady Finduilas has fallen. She will hold on to me until you can return with a wheeled chair from the infirmary. Make haste."
"Yes, lord Denethor."
The man rushed off, leaving Finduilas in her heap on the floor, in the center of an increasing number of curious and concerned onlookers.
"I'm fine, I truly am," she insisted when Bronweneth appeared, resembling nothing so much as a mother hen. Denethor had stood up, holding out his arms, giving Finduilas an encouraging smile as she grasped his strong but narrow hands. He helped her to her one good foot and she stood at his side, her arm threaded through his.
"This was not how I expected to repay your kindness!" Finduilas said weakly.
He patted her hand, a warm smile in his eyes.
"That you are here in Gondor is kindness enough," he declared. "It is our slick and unforgiving stone which has done you a disservice."
Finduilas continued to protest, but Denethor gently hushed her and encouraged the other revelers to go dance. A woman healer soon arrived with the rolling chair, and Denethor eased her into it.
"I need to return to the guests, but I'll come by the healing houses in an hour or so," he promised, placing a warm palm on her shoulder and squeezing it.
"I'd like that."
"I'll come with you," Bronweneth insisted, but Finduilas shooed her away, watching Denethor's back recede.
"There's nothing you can do. I'm certain it's only a sprain. Go and enjoy yourself. Just be certain to watch your feet!"
Bronweneth gave her a sympathetic look then made the briefest shrug with her shoulders, turning around and following in Denethor's wake. The healer rolled Finduilas away and to the rooms of healing. Her ankle was examined and determined indeed to be sprained. It was wrapped in linen cloth with a compress on the sore ankle. She was also given a chalice of mulled wine with healing herbs, which she drank slowly. It seemed that she had just been placed in a bed with a pillow under her foot to elevate it when Denethor appeared in the doorway. He strode in, nodding to the healers as he passed.
"What did they determine?" he asked her, pulling over a chair to sit at her bedside.
"A sprain, nothing more serious than that. It will heal, but they've suggested that I use a crutch for a day or two." She gave him a reassuring smile. "It's happened before, when I was younger. Oh— but I was to return to Dol Amroth tomorrow. Would you be able to send a message for me so that my father doesn't worry?"
"Of course. I'll have parchment and ink brought to you immediately."
He stood up and walked over to the man who had dressed her ankle, consulted with him, and then returned to her side.
"You will be able to write to your father shortly."
She thanked him, and belatedly stifled a yawn with her hand.
"I'm so sorry!" she said, appalled at herself. "I was given an herbal draught."
"I'm sure they want you to sleep soundly. I would be pleased to write to Prince Adrahil on your behalf. Would that be satisfactory?"
To her surprise, Finduilas found herself placing her hand gently on his for a moment, and nodding.
"Yes. I would appreciate that. And..." She paused, but then taking comfort in the inner warmth that she felt, continued, "thank you for not laughing at me."
Denethor's pleasant face darkened. Finduilas suddenly wished a hole would appear under her bed and swallow her.
"Laugh, my lady? You could easily have broken a bone. It was no laughing matter."
Finduilas cringed. She'd done it now; her ability to follow even common courtesy was evidently as tenuous as a spider's thread.
"I'm a protector of this city and this realm. You are temporarily, then, in a sense, in my charge."
Before he could say anything else, Finduilas threw caution to the wind and spoke her heart.
"Lord Denethor, will you be my friend? That's what I need the most now. The rest sounds far too serious given my condition."
Silence hung, heavy as velvet. She looked into his eyes, slightly hooded, and gratefully saw the brief storm clear. As the healer paused at the threshold of the room, Denethor placed his arm across his chest and allowed a wisp of a smile to settle on his lips.
"Finduilas of Dol Amroth, I shall always be your friend."
She was swept along, guided as gently and assuredly as a seasoned mariner with his ship. This was indeed a helpful thing, seeing as how she was in the midst of a great throng of people, all dancing in the great hall.
"You needn't be dancing with me, you know," Imrahil said.
"Oh, hush. You're one of the best dancers here. I couldn't possibly be in better hands."
She smiled innocently into her brother's face.
"Flattery could get you nearly anywhere, but since you're my sister, that doesn't at all count."
"I'm not trying to improve my standing in your eyes, and you know that."
The dance required that they move apart until they held hands, beginning a stately walk in two lines, women to the right and men on the left. They loosed hands, paused, and as one, the women walked forward three steps before turning back toward the center to find their new partner. Quiet joy fluttered in Finduilas' heart as she saw Denethor standing across from her. While decorum discouraged too much of a change in expression on his face, she knew he was as pleased as she was finally to be paired together.
The dance patterns brought them together, then apart, and together again, Denethor's warm hands returning to entwine with hers with the surety of the tide. Before they were set to move on to new partners, the music came to an end. Everyone applauded, and then the great hall swelled with conversations.
"My lady, I'd like you to come with me to the gardens."
Denethor's statement seemed rather formal. Finduilas had more than an inkling as to why he desired some time alone, or at least away from spying eyes, and her pulse quickened.
"Yes, of course."
She drew her arm through his, glancing over at his face, marveling anew at the intensity in his light eyes. Denethor was many things, and much of his demeanor could be summarized in words equally appropriate for the city of Gondor itself: sturdy, brave, hard¾ but as the years had passed and their friendship had blossomed into something altogether different, Finduilas now thought of him with other descriptors: protective, confident, stalwart. Keen. Attentive. And just as there were secretive passageways in this city of stone to which only the elite few had access, Finduilas knew there were similar elusive spaces held in her beloved's heart.
They kept a comfortable silence up to the sixth level to her favorite place in the city, the gardens and trees not far from the Houses of Healing. Not long ago she had joyfully offered her body to this man she'd grown to cherish. Coming to terms with committing herself to him was not the challenge. The Steward's son shared his dreams and aspirations with her, and was a ferocious supporter of her love of learning. He would be a true partner, of that Finduilas had no doubt
But to be so far from the sea, the sounds of the waves, the salt spray in her hair and on her face... She doubted that love alone could ever salve that ache of separation.
They passed a few citizens and soldiers at the citadel-gate, all who bowed or nodded as Denethor passed. At last her feet were on the softer stone of the garden path. She untwined her arm to be able to hold his hand, smiling to herself.
"Your brother has turned a stern eye on me," Denethor said as he guided her toward the trees. "If I didn't know any better, I'd think he disapproved of me."
"Not of you, my lord." Finduilas shook her head, shivering as an autumn breeze ghosted across her exposed collarbones. "But he knows me well, and knows of my intentions toward you. I suppose he's somewhat agitated in that he wants to ask questions that aren't his to ask."
She quirked her lips to the side, moving closing to Denethor as they ambled in the darker space of the trees. It was much cooler out here than in the torch-lit corridors, and she shivered again.
"He's less than half my age, but Imrahil is an heir in his own right," Denethor said, patting her hand and then gesturing toward a stone bench in a clearing. Two iron torch-holders flanked the bench and burned brightly. "Otherwise I might just tell him to keep his nose out of my business."
"Oh, not to worry. I've told him that dozens of times already!"
Finduilas laughed softly and arranged her skirts, crossing her arms at the waist for warmth. Denethor appeared to be rummaging behind a nearby tree. Doing what, Finduilas couldn't even guess. Memories of their lovemaking sprang to mind. A wild thought that he'd brought her to this spot for carnal adventure frissoned through her. Excited, but anxious, she leaned forward, turning her head to see what on earth he was doing.
"Close your eyes, my lady," Denethor said in a voice roughened with what, exactly, Finduilas couldn't guess.
"I-- Yes. They're closed."
Finduilas' fingers trembled and she found she was taking short breaths. What was he doing? Denethor was staid, not at all prone to capricious behavior. Had he been drinking more than usual? A warm heaviness lay softly on her shoulders as Denethor kissed the top of her head. Her hands flew up to her throat where he clasped a cloak together, and she rested her head against his chest.
"Please stand up. And open your eyes," he said, coming to move around the front of the bench. Finduilas did so, temporarily losing the power of speech as she took in the richness of the mantle, and the inset gems at the neck and hem.
"Oh, my beloved. It's... it's beautiful," she murmured, twisting slowly side to side as she took in the patterns of a constellation here and there hidden amongst the larger silver stars. "I never... This, of all things, is not what I expected," she said, stumbling over her words.
"You've always had such a fondness for the night sky," Denethor said, walking to stand in front of her, cupping her face in his slightly damp palms. "This is not a customary betrothal gift but you, my joy, deserve much more than a ring or circlet of gold. Those will come as well, rest assured, but¾"
"Nothing compares to this," Finduilas interrupted, silencing any more talk of jewelry with a possessive kiss.
"There is one more surprise," Denethor said later, once they'd slaked their desires with kisses and private vows.
"You cannot be serious!" Finduilas exclaimed, still heady with Denethor's extravagant gesture.
"When have you known me not to be serious?" Denethor said in a mostly-officious voice.
"Well, not often," she admitted, reaching out a hand to play at the loose curls at his neck.
"I know I'm asking much of you to be my wife and live here in Gondor. And I know you will bear up under that with the strength you've shown me, over and again."
Finduilas swallowed and chose her words carefully.
"Gondor will be my home, because you will be her Steward."
"I love you all the more for saying that aloud." Denethor placed a chaste, lingering kiss on her lips. "But I don't ever want you to feel that Dol Amroth is far from you. There's a pocket just inside the left panel, around..."
He took her fingers so the backs brushed down the lining. A small hard casing was sewn in, and she looked at him, puzzled.
"Reach in," he said. "It's a deep pocket, but narrow."
With her thumbs, Finduilas nudged the cylinder upwards until it emerged from the pocket. She held it in her palm, confused until she rolled it around. Only then did tears come to her eyes.
"Sand," she said thickly, watching the grains held there in the glass tube, safely under a wax-sealed cork.
"From the beaches of Dol Amroth. You'll be here, but part of your home is always with you. My Finduilas, let me hold you."
Finduilas knew it would not always be this simple, Denethor's arms wrapped securely around her, her wet face pressed against his tunic. In this moment, she knew her heart's choice had been the right one, no matter the price. Right now she was enfolded in warmth and security, stars dancing overhead and glinting on her cloak.
"I'm so happy," she said at last, wiping her damp eyes on the kerchief Denethor had produced.
His expression was distressingly somber.
"It's my fervent hope you always will be. None of us can see what the future holds, though I often wish I could."
"If we knew the future, it might be too much to bear."
Denethor nodded, his expression inscrutable, but then a smile warmed his features.
"I choose to treasure this present moment," he stated.
Finduilas felt his unwavering devotion settle on her, as comforting a weight as the cloak she wore.
"I can't promise a life of happiness," Denethor went on, "as you know. But Finduilas, you are the dearest friend and companion to me. I will strive to give you joy whenever possible. I trust that will suffice."
He moved to stand at her side, placing an arm behind her waist. He guided them along the path back through the gardens and toward the imposing walls of the city. A few moments later Finduilas paused, looking up at the multitude of stars, and ran her fingers against the secret vial of sand. Only then she uttered the words she knew to be true.
"It will suffice."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.