Denethor stood on the cliff overlooking the beach and the sea beyond, twisting a flower stem between his fingers. He had been looking forward to this hour all day, the one hour when no one but she could claim his attention. The council chamber had been sweltering that afternoon and more than once he had glanced out the window, tracking the sun's slow progress as it snaked across the sky. Now, finally, he was free – free of guilt over neglected duty, and free to run to her.
These daily trysts had begun simply enough. Ten days ago he had seen her dancing with some minor lord's son, at the banquet thrown for him when he had first arrived in Dol Amroth. He would hardly have recognized her if not for her eyes, and when she smiled across the room at him he could not help but smile back. He'd met her some ten years earlier, and they'd become fast friends despite their difference in ages, for she had a sharp mind to rival his own and a laugh that lightened his heart like little else.
But she had been a girl when she'd last come to Minas Tirith; no more. Her hips had grown wide, and her chest fuller, speaking of a hidden ability to bring forth life and sustain it. But underneath that all she was still Finduilas. Her green eyes still blazed with an indomitable curiosity, and her voice still reminded him of long conversations they had shared. There was nothing so remarkable about her new appearance, but they spoke to Denethor of a possibility.
Denethor realized, then, that he had been looking for her wit and good humor in the lord's daughters paraded before him as potential wives. He had been looking for her in those ladies old enough to help him rule the realm, and he had not found her. That night he had looked at Finduilas, newly blossomed into maturity, and he could not look away. Adrahil had noticed his interest, and the next day he had hinted that Finduilas liked to walk along a certain beach at dusk, so when the council broke later that afternoon, he went to find her. On a whim, he had told himself. He was not so foolish to fall in love that quickly. But he came back day after day, and even in the council chamber he could think of little else.
A gull cawed overhead, pulling Denethor from his memories. Shaking his head at his delay, Denethor quickly ran down the stairs cut into the cliff's face. Finduilas hurried over to meet him and pulled him into an embrace at once. She glanced over to the copse of trees where they both knew swan knights stood just out of sight, guarding their safety and her virtue, but she did not step back.
"I have missed you," Denethor said.
"You saw me at breakfast," Finduilas laughed. "That is not so long."
"Perhaps," Denethor admitted, "but you sat at the other end of the table. And at breakfast I could hardly do this." He ran his hand through her hair, lifting it away from her face, and tucked his flower behind her ear. He knew it was forward of him to touch her so intimately, but he could not help himself. Indeed, he had purchased the flower at the marketplace for this precise purpose.
Finduilas ran her forefinger along his jaw. "I would not have stopped you," she said.
"Your brother would have," Denethor replied. "He would have leapt across the table, if I had been this bold in your father's hall."
Finduilas rolled her eyes at that, and Denethor found himself grinning. He never smiled so foolishly at home, but the feel of her so close made it an effort not to laugh out loud. She dropped her hand from his face and reached for his free hand, weaving her fingers between his. "Imrahil would do the same if you were the king returned. If you were Elros himself from across the sea."
Denethor let Finduilas's hair fall, and they began walking down the beach. "Elros was happily wed," he said after a moment.
"Even were he not. Did you not glare at your sister's suitors?"
"I was too young," Denethor laughed. "Celebwen married when I was only ten, and she was the youngest." Did she see him that way, as a suitor? He had not sorted their new relationship into words, and had not approached her father for permission to court her formally, but they had surely moved past the kind of friendship where they could walk together unescorted.
They walked in silence along the beach, watching the sun set over the water. After a while Finduilas said, "I found a new poem today in the libraries." Denethor glanced at her with renewed interest – such discoveries always piqued his curiosity – but he did not interrupt her. "It's a folk song out of Harad, from the days when their traders sometimes travelled to Dol Amroth. About Mithrellas."
Denethor thought he had heard the name somewhere but could not quite place it. "Who is that?" he asked.
Finduilas's ever-present smile slipped into a smirk. Denethor knew that smirk, for he'd worn it himself when he knew something another loremaster didn't. "Every schoolchild in Dol Amroth learns that name," she said. "She was an elf out of Lothlórien, a companion of Nimrodel. She married my forefather."
"Ah," Denethor replied. "I read an account of the tale some years ago, but had forgotten the name." Feeling a need to redeem his scholarly reputation, he added, "I could tell you tales of my city, and you would find them just as foreign."
"No doubt," Finduilas replied, "but I would learn them." She squeezed his hand more seriously and turned so she fully faced him. "I would like to learn all your city's stories, Denethor son of Ecthelion. I long to make them my own."
Denethor barely remembered to breathe. There was no doubt in his mind just what she was offering – the kind of thing a man usually offered a woman after obtaining her father's permission, and accompanied with a silver ring. "You would cleave yourself to me? But I have not spoken – "
"Father likes you," Finduilas interrupted him. "And he would not deny me the future steward of all Gondor. As for me, you have already proven yourself a true friend, and that is a bond rarer than marriage. But do not jump so far ahead of me. I said only that I longed to make your stories my own, not that I would." She eased her grasp on Denethor's hand and caressed the tender skin between his thumb and forefinger.
"You smile so easily here, and you even laugh from time to time. Which is for the good. But before I bind my life to yours, I must know that I can love you in your city of stone as I do here. Approach my father now, if you wish, but know this: I will not publish the banns until you laugh as easily in Minas Tirith as you do here. And if I marry you, it will only be on condition that you dance to Mithrellas's song at our wedding feast – barefoot."
Denethor felt his heart race at that. Her brideprice was high indeed, so high he feared he would never be able to meet her terms. It seemed beyond his reach, to be so carefree and heedless of all propriety. How could he manage it? But looking into her eyes, somehow, it seemed possible.
"I will need a tutor," he said softly.
Finduilas moved her free hand to Denethor's back and pulled him to her until they could hardly stand any closer. Rising on the balls of her feet, she pressed her lips to his and smiled so he felt it. For the briefest of seconds Denethor thought that she kissed him, but it was a tantalizing glimpse of the future, more a promise than a lover's embrace. "Gladly," she said without stepping back. "With my last breath."