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Courting the Lady

Chapter Text

T.A. 2973

He stood that evening next to his father Ecthelion at the great doors of Merethrond, the Hall of Feasts. As he had done for a score of years and more, saving only those times when duty had kept him in the field, Denethor smiled courteously and greeted each entering guest to the Steward’s Feast.

Every mettarë night, the nobles of Gondor gathered here to celebrate the eve of midwinter and the last day of the year. The tradition had begun centuries before, as a way to encourage all the greater and lesser landholders to come to Minas Tirith once in the year. Though the season was chill, snow rarely fell this early save in the Ered Nimrais, and while they might not make the journey every year, many of the distant lords did enjoy the excuse to travel regularly to the capital. Most arrived early in the month of Ringarë and spent the weeks before mettarë meeting with the Steward and their fellow nobles. Their families, meanwhile, explored the city, searched for bargains at the tradesmen’s stalls, danced and dined together; Ringarë was traditionally the month when betrothals were made between the sons and daughters of the great houses of Gondor. (1)

Indeed, the Steward had spoken to his son at the beginning of the season, reminding Denethor once again that it was time and past time that he marry.

“The House of Húrin must have an heir,” Ecthelion had declared, fixing his son with a firm gaze. He had leaned back in his chair and rested his elbows on the carved arms, steepling his fingers in front of him.

“It has one. I am your heir,” Denethor had replied stubbornly.

Ecthelion had dismissed that with a wave. “And after you? Your sisters are long wedded, but they have borne only daughters. You must marry, and soon. I wish to see a grandson before I die.”

“Die? You?” Denethor had scoffed. “You are as tough as the hide of a mûmak, Father, and not like to die.”

“Life is chancy, my son, and the staff of the Stewards is no lighter weight than the Wingèd Crown must have been – as you will one day learn,” Ecthelion had said.

“Long may that day be in coming,” Denethor had murmured politely.

“Indeed. But you seek to change the subject. I have given you many years, my son, to find your own bride, and you have not. Now must I command your obedience in this matter. You will marry, and soon. If you do not choose for yourself this winter, I will find a woman for you.”

And there it stood. Denethor had no wish to explain to Ecthelion just why he had never sought a wife. As he continued to mouth the pleasantries appropriate to the occasion, bowing to or clasping hands with each guest, his mind drifted back to his twentieth year.

Lotheluin had been his eldest sister Sellas’s closest friend, some six years his senior, and he had cherished a passion for her that none other had since inspired. She had the dark hair and fair skin common among those of Dúnadan blood, but remarkably blue eyes rather than the usual gray. Denethor had first noticed her at a riding-party; she chose to ride garbed like a lad, rather than wearing the divided skirts usual for young noblewomen. He had been greatly taken by the freedom with which she moved, so unlike most girls of his acquaintance. But he had not yet summoned the courage to tell her of his feelings when her betrothal to the heir of Ethring was announced and his hopes were dashed.

She was here tonight with Baran, of course. They had been among the first to arrive. He had seen her in passing over the years and she had never ceased to take his breath away, though she showed no sign of realizing her effect on him, being clearly content with her husband and children. Her presence at the earlier dinner-parties and dances of the season had held his attention nonetheless, so that despite Ecthelion’s command, he had found himself scarcely able to look at other women.

I wonder, had I but spoken all those years ago, might she not have been mine?

This evening his hand had trembled as he had lifted hers to his lips, but he had passed it off with a laugh and a quip about the chill of the air in the doorway

But to tell Ecthelion of his feelings would have made him weak in his own eyes. Therefore Denethor resigned himself to the inevitable: he would have to wed some woman, and Lotheluin was no longer free. He must take this last opportunity before Ecthelion would choose his bride for him; that would be humiliating indeed.

So although Denethor stood now with his father as he had done many times before, this year was different. Now he forced himself to attend closely to the sisters and daughters of each lord he greeted, evaluating them as suitable partners, rather than simply dismissing them from his thoughts as soon as they had passed.

“Good mettarë to you, Forlong,” he greeted the lord of Lossarnach.

“And to you, lord Denethor. How fares the Captain of the White Tower?” came the rumbled reply.

“Well enough; glad to have the holiday to celebrate. And you and your family?” said Denethor courteously.

“We are all well, though not all present in Minas Tirith this year. You recall my wife Caradhwen, I am sure. Our son Derlong is now sailing with the fleet in the Bay of Belfalas, and could not obtain leave. But our daughter Elerrína comes tonight to the feast and will join the dancing for the first time,” said Forlong.

Denethor took the girl’s hand and bowed politely over it.

“Welcome, my lady,” he said.

She giggled, and blushed, and looked back at Denethor as her parents shepherded her into the hall.

Not that one. He shuddered. She is far too young, and I have not the patience to rear a child bride.

He felt Ecthelion’s gaze upon him and turned to the next guest.

“Duinhavel of Morthond, greetings. And your son Duinhir. How pleasant to see you both again. How fares it in the Blackroot Vale?”

“All is well there. My lady wife remains at home with our younger children this season. It seemed like to be rough traveling for a woman expecting, so I brought only my eldest lad,” answered Duinhavel gravely.

“I am pleased that you felt able to make the journey, then. Good mettarë,” said Denethor, and the men of Morthond continued on.

Next in line was one of Denethor’s fellow captains. Dark-haired Thorongil was one of the few men the Steward’s Heir had ever met who matched him in height; truth be told, the other man was a shade taller. They even resembled each other in appearance, with the set of eye and jaw that usually marked only the greatest kindreds of Númenórean descent, though Thorongil claimed no such connection. He had taken service bearing a recommendation from King Thengel of Rohan, and had quickly risen to lead his own troops in Ithilien across the Anduin River. Gondor still claimed the region. None of her folk had lived there, however, since the Enemy had returned to the fastness of Mordor just to the east nearly twenty years before.

Ecthelion thought highly of Thorongil’s abilities as a leader of the Rangers in Ithilien, but Denethor was not so easily disposed to trust a man concerning whose history he knew nothing. Thorongil was notoriously tight-lipped about his past, saying only that he had grown up in the northlands before joining Thengel’s éored.

A bastard, I make no doubt. But surely there can be no truth in the rumors that he is also my father’s son? I know that my father has at times patronized the houses on Nightingale Street, but I did not think he did so before my mother’s death – and Thorongil is my own age, near enough.

Denethor clenched fist against thigh, remembering his own single abortive visit to those houses. The lushly decorated rooms, the careful poses of the waiting women – though he knew they were meant to invite, he had instead been repelled, leaving in haste, thankful that he had tried the venture alone. At least there is no chance such rumors will ever attach to me. No. They cannot be true. As Steward to Heir, Father would have told me, warned me. Our resemblance is pure chance, the fellow is just some northerner, perhaps once an outlaw as well. But at least unlike some of the other captains of dubious birth, he has manners fit for these feasts, thought Denethor grudgingly as he gave the man a perfunctory greeting.

Thorongil appeared not to notice his chilly reception by Denethor. He spoke for a few moments to Ecthelion before bowing respectfully to both the Steward and his heir and disappearing into the increasingly crowded hall.

Denethor continued to meet and greet the guests, careful to personalize his remarks to each. Ecthelion had often reminded him that without the support of the lords great and small, the authority of the Stewards could scarce be maintained. Seeing that all felt themselves to be well-known and appreciated by the ruler helped to ensure their continued loyalty.

Half an hour later, the line was nearly at an end, much to Denethor’s relief. He had had no time for the noon meal, with all the preparations to oversee, and the smells of roasted meats were beginning to make his stomach clench in anticipation. He glanced at the next family party, preparing to say one of the usual pleasantries, and thought for an instant that Lotheluin again stood before him.

“My lord,” said Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth to Ecthelion. (2) “May I present my son and heir, Imrahil.”

The Steward inclined his head as the young man bowed. Denethor shook Imrahil’s hand absentmindedly. He had eyes only for the young woman who stood by Adrahil’s side.

“And of course I remember your daughter Finduilas,” said Ecthelion gallantly. “Could your mother not join the rest of the family this year, my dear girl?”

She shook her head, and answered, “No, my lord, I fear she is unwell this season and was unable to make the journey.”

Of course. Adrahil’s daughter. How did I not see her before? Because you looked only at Lotheluin, Denethor. Well. She would serve, would she not? The daughter of Dol Amroth would be more than suitable as the bride of the Steward’s Heir. His mind played with the ramifications of such an alliance even as Finduilas turned to him and curtsied gracefully.

“Good mettarë to you, lord Denethor,” she said.

He recollected himself, speaking a few appropriate words and bowing, before the family moved on and he turned to receive the next person in line.

At last all the guests had entered, and the Steward gave the command to let the banquet begin. Normally Denethor enjoyed the feast, but despite his hunger on this night he ignored a plate of his favorite roasted quail as his eyes roamed along the tables set throughout the hall, searching until he saw Finduilas again.

She sat next to her young brother Imrahil among the other young folk and lesser lords halfway down the great room. Though on mettarë night considerations of rank were set aside, Denethor was surprised to see the Prince of Dol Amroth and his family seated so far from the high table. Finduilas leaned forward to hand a silver saltcellar to her father across the board, and he saw that the man seated on her other side was Captain Thorongil. He was speaking intently to Adrahil, and the latter nodded thoughtfully as he cut a slice of roast pork. Denethor could see him offer it in courtesy first to his daughter, who waved it away, and next to Thorongil, who evidently accepted. Adrahil carved another slice for himself and leaned forward to reply to Thorongil.

Nodding at the Prince’s remarks, Thorongil then turned to Finduilas and spoke again; her head turned slightly to show her lovely profile clearly to Denethor as she laughed at Thorongil’s remark.

Denethor felt a pang of apprehension, remembering his delay with Lotheluin. So Thorongil amuses her? I hope that is all. The man wins hearts all too easily – the men of his company, the other officers, even the Steward himself. May he not find the heart of Finduilas so quickly swayed. She has the look of a woman who knows her own mind, as Lotheluin did.

The rest of the meal passed in a haze, as he considered how he might follow his father’s demand and pay court to the lady. He ate and conversed with the lords and princes seated at the high table, but afterward had no idea of what he might have eaten or said. He looked forward to the dancing that would follow the feast as he had never done before. Dancing had always seemed to him a foolish pastime, something to be mastered for the sake of courtesy to women. Now for the first time he was glad of his skill.

He would have liked to approach the girl during the meal and ask her to give him the first dance, but decorum forbade it. He would simply have to maneuver towards her through the crowd and hope to claim her hand for a dance before the evening was out.

As ill-chance would have it, Denethor was doomed to begin with Elerrína, Forlong’s giggling daughter. He replied civilly but absently to her awkwardly flirtatious remarks, apologized for his clumsiness though it was she who trod on his foot, and relinquished her gratefully to young Duinhir of Morthond when the opening dance came to an end. He glanced around, but Finduilas was nowhere in sight. Reluctantly he turned to choose another partner and bowed to Eilinel, the widowed Lady of Tolfalas, leading her into the newly forming line.

As they danced, Eilinel chatted of the fish runs of the past year and other such local matters. The biggest excitement on the island, or so she said, had been her son’s wedding at midsummer. He had been but a weakly child when her husband was drowned in a winter storm, and their folk had dreaded lest they lose their ruling family altogether.

“But he lived, and throve, and now is safe wedded and a babe expected already,” she said cozily. Then she gave Denethor a wink. “And when can we hope to hear the same of you, my lord?”

Denethor cleared his throat. He had always rather liked Lady Eilinel – she was a third cousin on his mother’s side, and he thought of her as an aunt – and so he did not take offense at the question. “Oh, perhaps sooner than you might think,” he said, as lightly as he could.

“Ah,” she said knowingly. “Some girl here tonight has caught your eye, I suppose. I hope not the one you danced with last. She is pretty enough, but she would never make a good Steward’s helpmeet.”

Denethor mumbled a negative. He had no wish to insult Forlong – it was not the man’s fault that he had a foolish daughter – but he certainly did not want Eilinel that he had such poor taste in women.

“Well, I’ll not press you to say who. I’ll merely hope to find out at your wedding within the twelvemonth,” she said, and swept a beautiful if slightly mocking curtsey as the dance ended.

He took the opportunity of a pause in the music to resume his duties as a host, hoping that he might also be able to find Finduilas in the crowd as he circulated and made certain that all present were having a pleasurable evening. He reached one end of the room and turned back to move along the other wall when he saw her.

She was dancing more gracefully than any other maiden in the room, as if the music of pipe and viol were in her made flesh. Compared with her even Lotheluin was awkward. It will be no hardship to dance with Finduilas, no, nor to pay her court. Denethor felt his own face break into a smile as he stepped forward, intending when the music stopped to ask her if he might have the pleasure of the next dance, but his expression became fixed as he noted the partner in whom she apparently found such delight: Thorongil.

Of course. A rival for command, why should I not expect him as a rival here as well? He dined with her, and now they dance together. But no matter. He can hardly have met her before this evening, and for all his successes on the field, he has no home or lands to offer any woman, as far as I or anyone has ever heard tell. And I am certain he would have too much pride to beg a place at his bride’s table.

He shook his head slightly, and bowed.

“My lady Finduilas,” he said. “If you have not already promised away the next dance, might I have the honor?”

Finduilas replied, breathless, “Why, certainly, my lord Denethor. I would be delighted.”

She turned to her previous partner. “Thank you, Captain Thorongil, for a most enjoyable dance.”

“My pleasure, lady. I hope we may repeat it soon.” Thorongil bowed to Finduilas, bowed again to Denethor, and departed, making his way through the press towards the tables on which flagons of spiced wine and other refreshments stood waiting to slake the dancers’ thirst.

Too bad Thorongil is too conscious of his responsibilities to overindulge in the wine. Denethor dismissed the thought as unworthy. Finduilas’s station is far above such a man, and I would imagine she is wise enough to know it. No daughter of Dol Amroth could be unaware of the necessity of making a suitable alliance.

He was resolved not to waste this chance, and after they had exchanged a few commonplaces about the weather and the city, he asked, “May I see you tomorrow, lady?” He realized with mild astonishment that he was waiting anxiously for her reply.

His request surprised her, and a slight flush stained her pale cheek. The steps of the dance drew them apart just then, and when again they were close enough to speak, she answered, “I regret, my lord, that I have already promised to ride tomorrow afternoon with Captain Thorongil.”

So he has beaten me twice already. I could wish that tomorrow were not yestarë, for he would not be able to find so many free hours were it not a holiday, thought Denethor a trifle grimly. But third time pays for all, they say.

He pressed, “The following day, perhaps?”

“Why, certainly, if you will. When may I expect to see you?”

Denethor thought quickly. Normally he was busy throughout the daylight hours, but if he worked on First Day instead of taking the holiday. . .

“An hour after noon, if that will suit you. I thought I might show you the city, if you would like and the weather holds fair?”

“That would be very much to my liking, sir,” Finduilas said in her sweet voice. “I have visited Minas Tirith before, but I do not know the city well at all. I should enjoy having you show it to me. I thank you for the dance,” she added, as the melody and their steps came to a halt.

Imrahil stood close, waiting to step out with his sister. He was younger than most of those present – the children had been taken away by their nursemaids after the meal – and shy about asking strange girls for a dance, it would seem.

Denethor felt himself curiously reluctant to part, taking Finduilas’s slender hand and bowing over it. He raised his head to say, “Thank you. I have rarely had such a fine partner. I will come to your father’s house two afternoons from now.” He turned away, exulting in his success. How foolish I am, to be so happy over such a small thing. But where is the harm in it, after all?

For the rest of the night, Denethor wore a small and unaccustomed smile. Ecthelion noted it at once, and nodded to himself, but held his tongue until his son should speak.

The music and merriment in the Hall of Feasts lasted until the early morning hours, when slowly the celebrants trickled out into the chill night, mingling as they left the Citadel with the lesser folk of the city, who had held their own festivities that evening. High above in the sky, Menelvagor swung to the west, his sword gleaming through thin wisps of cloud. Denethor glanced out of his window as he prepared to retire, and gave the heavenly swordsman a friendly wave.

“Good mettarë to you,” he murmured, then looked down, as if through the wall of the seventh circle he might see the town house of the Prince of Dol Amroth. “And to you also.” The smile lingered on his lips as he drew the shutters closed and stepped to his bed.

*******

Footnotes:

(1) Mettarë was the last day of the year, a day of festival that fell outside the months. Ringarë was the last month of the year, equivalent to December. Yestarë, another festival day, was the first day of the calendar year.

(2) In point of fact, Adrahil was not yet the Prince of Dol Amroth at this time. His father Angelimir was still living, and survived until 2977. (HoMe, vol. 12.) For the purposes of this story, I postulate that Angelimir’s health would have been failing, however, and that he had effectively retired so that Adrahil was ruler in fact if not in name. Thus for simplicity’s sake I refer to Adrahil as the Prince.

Chapter Text

Thorongil sat in the mess hall of the northern tower at noon, finishing a slice of spice cake. He braced himself for the inevitable question as Captain Gethron slid along the bench beside him.

“So, I hear you are going riding with the daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth this afternoon, Thorongil. However did you manage that?” Gethron asked.

Thorongil sighed inwardly. A natural request to see the girl again, because he had enjoyed her company last night, and every guardhouse in the city was probably abuzz with the news. No way to stop the speculation now.

“I asked her,” he said simply.

“But you know the Steward asks us to be present at the mettarë feast so that we can reassure the lords that we work hard to guard Gondor’s borders, not to court their daughters. How did you even manage to sit by such a girl as that, much less dare to ask her to go riding? And why did she accept?” persisted Gethron.

“I dared because she seemed a pleasant girl and we were having an interesting conversation. I gave no thought to her rank, I assure you. We sat together by mere chance, because Prince Adrahil wished to speak to me and dining together was the most convenient way to do so. As to why she chose to accept the invitation, for the answer to that you will have to apply to the lady herself,” responded Thorongil. He inclined his head dismissively and applied himself to the last of his meal.

I hope I will not be asked by yet another half-dozen officers why and how I have arranged to spend an afternoon with Finduilas of Dol Amroth! I hardly know myself why I did so – I should have known it would spark such undue interest. I suppose it is just that I felt a comfort in her presence such as I have not felt in many years, almost as if I were among my kin.

When he arrived at her family’s town house in the sixth circle of the city shortly after the noon hour, Thorongil found Finduilas ready for their excursion. She was plainly dressed in a dark green riding habit, and had sensibly added a wide-brimmed hat to shield her eyes from the sun. The day being cool, she offered Thorongil a cup of warmed wine before they departed.

“I thank you, my lady, but I have just eaten,” he refused. “But do not refrain from having a cup yourself on that account.”

“Oh, I am warm enough, and am but new come from the day-meal myself,” Finduilas smiled. “And you need not call me ‘my lady.’ ‘Finduilas’ is quite sufficient; we need not stand on any greater formality. Have you had a good yestarë thus far, Captain Thorongil?”

“If I am to call you ‘Finduilas,’ you should call me simply ‘Thorongil.’ I spent this morning about my duties, so that I could be free for the rest of the festival day. One of the hazards of authority, I fear – with it comes greater responsibility, as I am sure you know.”

“Yes, my father can but rarely steal a few hours for himself. Mother, too. I understand perfectly, and am glad that you were able to arrange time to spend with me today,” said Finduilas. “I am looking forward to our ride. Where had you thought to go?”

“Do you prefer to ride on the roads, or across the fields?” Thorongil inquired.

Finduilas thought only a moment. “Across the country.”

“Good. A mile or two outside the city walls lie the meadows that were once held by the Kings of Gondor. These days it is the army that makes use of them, for pasturing its horses and for growing hay as well. I have ridden there before; there are some copses and a small stream or two to break the monotony of the fields. Would that suit you?” said Thorongil.

“Very well,” she replied.

They walked out of the courtyard and along the winding road that led through the city and out the Great Gate.

“I do wish that one did not have to go halfway around the city to descend each level,” Finduilas remarked after a time. “I can see that the slope is too steep for any direct roads upward, but surely this is excessive. Do you think that perhaps the merchants bribed the architects, to ensure more traffic past their stalls?”

Thorongil laughed. “I doubt it. Minas Anor was originally built simply for defensive purposes, and one would not wish to let the enemy have a straight path from gate to gate.” His face took on a serious expression as they passed through the gate between the fourth and third levels, and he laid a gentle hand on the great pile of masonry. “The white walls of Minas Tirith are beautiful to behold, but she is rightly named the Tower of Guard. No enemy has ever yet entered her to take possession.”

“I had never thought of that, though I suppose I should have,” Finduilas confessed.

At the stables near the Great Gate, they waited while their horses were brought to them. Finduilas held the reins of her grey gelding as Thorongil’s mount was led out. “That is a beautiful mare you have,” she commented. “Where did you find her?”

“Baranë? She was a gift from King Thengel of Rohan when I departed to take up service in Gondor.” Thorongil stroked the glossy brown neck. “He knew I would appreciate her and treat her well.” (1)

They began to thread their way through the crowds around the Gate.

“I did not know you came from Rohan, Thorongil. You have a look of Gondor about you; I would not have guessed you to be one of the Rohirrim,” said Finduilas.

“As to that, I was born in neither land, though rumor has placed my origins in both, I hear,” he said dryly. I need not tell her that rumor has even called me a bastard son of Ecthelion himself. I look like enough to Denethor, to begin with, and no doubt the Steward’s favor confirms the rumor for many. “Nay, my people have long lived in the north, and that is where I spent my youth. But when it came time for me to make my own way in the world, I chose to travel, to see new lands and learn of other peoples and other ways. Someday perhaps I will return to the land of my birth, but for now I am content to serve Gondor.”

“Have you no family to miss you? I would surely grieve if my brother Imrahil went off to Rohan for many years and did not return,” Finduilas said.

“My father died when I was but a babe. My mother has returned to her family, so she finds comfort there in my absence, I hope. And I have no sister to miss me fondly as your brother does,” said Thorongil.

Finduilas reached out an impulsive hand towards her companion.

“Well, as you have no sister of your own, then shall we pretend that I am she?” She blushed. “Not that I mean to intrude myself into your family, but I find you almost as comfortable to talk to as Imrahil, and since you have no one in Gondor whom you can claim as kin, I thought you might wish for such.”

Thorongil was taken aback by Finduilas’s suggestion. “If you wish, lady,” he said slowly.

Finduilas shook her finger at him in mock anger. “I have already said that you should call me by name. And if I am to be your adopted sister, even in play, it is silly for you to address me so formally.”

“As you will, Finduilas.” How odd, and how completely unexpected. I do not think I have so much charm as all that. Why would a woman like Finduilas judge me so quickly? Then again, did I not find her immediately comfortable to be with, too? So perhaps I should not be so surprised. He glanced at her, puzzled, but appreciative.

By now they had passed beyond the crowded environs of the Gate and mounted their horses. Finduilas looked inquiringly at Thorongil. “Do the fields of which you spoke lie to the north, east, or south? I am entirely in your hands for the direction we must take.”

Thorongil gestured to the northeast. “Our path lies that way. On the main road for a mile or so further to the north, and then we will turn off.”

“Good. I look forward to leaving this stony road behind, and the wagons that crowd it,” Finduilas said.

“You would regret it more if this road had not been paved in stone,” Thorongil pointed out. “The wains would be far slower, and the dust – mud in spring – far worse. Minas Tirith requires tens or hundreds of wagonloads of supplies daily to sustain her people, and much comes from the Pelennor itself, rather than from further afield.”

“I know, I know.” Finduilas waved his words airily away. “We have the same in Dol Amroth – but on a lesser scale, and with our harbor in the city, there is no great road needed for hauling goods brought by ship. I merely want to ride free, that is all.”

“We’re nearly there,” Thorongil promised. “Our turn is just beyond the next rise.”

Frost had turned most of the grass to dusty silver, though the occasional blade of green recalled the summer now long past. Likewise the chill of autumn had stripped the leaves from the trees that dotted the pasture. But the sun, though bright, did not beat fiercely enough at this season for either rider to think that shade was needed as they cantered down the lane.

Thorongil cast a judicious eye across the rock walls that marked the boundaries of the ancient fields, now become pasture for the breeding mares and studs of Gondor’s army. Not as fine as Rohan’s horses, but well enough. He sighed. Once the king’s lands would have all been planted to grain to feed the city – now her people are diminished, and the herds graze ever closer to her walls.

He turned in through a gate into an untenanted meadow, and gestured his companion on with a flourish.

Finduilas drew in a deep breath. “This is far better than the city,” she exclaimed, “if not so bracing as the winds off the sea. Have you been to the sea, Thorongil?”

“I have seen it,” he said, “but have never spent long by its shores.”

“Whereas I have never been long away,” Finduilas laughed. “A fine thing for a sister and brother, no? I have heard it said that the grass of a meadow can recall the sea, rippling like the waves as the wind blows, but I confess I do not see it so. Do you? Perhaps it takes a landsman to see it.”

“Not now, not at this time of the year. The grasses now are sere and dry, too sparse to give that effect. But in high summer when the seed is ripe – ah, then indeed can a meadow be an image of the sea, as the wind rustles along the grain. And the white umbels of wild carrot bring to mind the foam of the waves as they sway among the rippling green,” said Thorongil. He nodded towards the north. “On the broad plains of Calenardhon, where Thengel rules, yes, I think even a shore-bird such as yourself might agree that the plains can look like broad waters, bright in the sunlight and tossing with the breeze.”

“Why, Thorongil, I would not have expected you to have such a poetic turn. Do all Gondor’s warriors look about them as if with the eyes of the Elves?” teased Finduilas.

Thorongil smiled. “Hardly, Finduilas. For many, for most, the fighting we must do limits our vision. We look at the land around us and think only of how it may be used, for a camp, or an ambush, or a skirmish. But I learned to see the lands about me – forest, hill, and plain – before ever I came to fight. And so I see them still.”

“I hope that Imrahil may do the same,” said Finduilas quietly. “He is to join one of the companies soon – I do not know which, nor where he may go, nor indeed just when. But I will miss him very greatly. I only hope that he will be able to write to me on occasion, so that I can imagine him walking and talking with me again. That will be a comfort.”

Yes, the ties between siblings can be strong. That too have I seen – when my foster-brothers would return from errantry, and their sister greet them. No matter how often it happened, their delight in such reunion never lessened. Can such a bond ever be truly diminished or broken? Does it not become stronger the longer it endures? If so, that might bode me ill.

He replied to her, “Wherever Imrahil may be, he could write, certainly – the question would be how often he might be able to have his letters conveyed back to some town whence they could be sent to Dol Amroth. So I fear that how often you get news will depend entirely on where Imrahil happens to be stationed. You and he must be good friends as well as brother and sister, for you to worry so.”

“We are; and with our mother unwell we rely on each other to keep our spirits up. But tell me somewhat of your duties, if you will,” Finduilas requested. “I should like very much to know what sorts of things Imrahil might encounter.”

So Thorongil described for her the lands of Ithilien east of the Anduin, where he had spent much of his service to Gondor. He told her of the camps the men made, often on forlorn homesteads where until only a score or two of years before people had still lived and hoped to keep their fields safe from the Enemy. “But when the Dark Lord returned to his ancient strongholds, he sent out more and more Orcs to harry the land, and finally all had to retreat west across the river. Now only we who serve as Rangers dwell in Ithilien, and those who farmed there for centuries have been forced to seek new places to earn their livings,” he finished.

And the Stewards have let it happen. Not of their own will, I am sure, but still bit by bit the lands they have sworn to serve and protect diminish, and the people retreat.

Finduilas frowned. “Yes, I know of many families throughout Belfalas who came there from the east. But you have said little of the fighting that your company does. Tell me – I am not afraid to hear the truth.”

Thorongil demurred at first, and when Finduilas insisted, he told about the raids and skirmishes in terms as general as he felt she would be willing to accept. He refrained from describing the miseries of wounds untreated, of cold and hunger, and of the despair that could come to even the strongest-hearted at times. Instead he spoke of how the Dark Lord’s servants infested the lands between Anduin and Mordor.

“Orcs do not willingly plow or plant,” he explained. “Since the last inhabitants fled, the hills and fields there have served only as a place for them to hunt and despoil. Though they have some woodcraft, and are wary, their love of destruction at times waxes the greater, and then they are easy for us to find and hunt – but at a cost. League by league, slowly, the Orcs ravage the land and push us back. We can only guess at the Enemy’s motives – I would have expected greater numbers of the Men who are his allies to have appeared by now, to wrest the lands to more productive purposes. It is as well for Gondor that that has not yet happened, since the number of Rangers is few.”

Finduilas shuddered slightly. “I know I asked you to tell me all this,” she apologized, “but I find it more distressing than I had anticipated, to know something of what Imrahil will see. So. Let us now turn to some other subject. You spoke of the fields of Rohan with the tongue of a poet; you must have been acquainted with much verse in your younger days, in the north?”

Thorongil cocked his head at her. “From war to poetry in a single leap. Well, they are not so far apart, are they? Many of the great epics and lays describe ancient battles, after all. You guess aright, Finduilas, in my childhood I was taught by one who knew many verses of balladry as well as lore, and from whom I learned a great respect for the art. Was it the same for you?”

“I would not say that my teachers were so fond of poetry, but my parents were, especially my mother. It was at her knee that I first heard nearly every verse I now know,” said Finduilas. “If you would like I could recite something for you.”

“Certainly, it would be a pleasure,” said Thorongil. “But we have been riding for long, and a-horseback is not the best way to enjoy speaking or hearing verse. Shall we sit by one of these trees and let the horses graze for a little while, or would you prefer to return to your father’s house to recount your favorites?”

“Here is well enough,” Finduilas replied.

They dismounted and found a spot where the grass was short and the ground dry. Thorongil leaned back against a convenient tree trunk, stretching his legs out before him. Finduilas preferred to sit cross-legged, choosing a patch of sunshine for her seat.

“What verses do you like best, Finduilas? Say me one, and then I will recite one for you,” Thorongil requested.

“You speak the Elvish tongue, I hope? For my favorite is in that language, and though it has been rendered into Westron, I do not think that form conveys its full beauty,” Finduilas said.

“Sindarin, or the High-Elven?” asked Thorongil cautiously. I would prefer not to admit knowing Quenya – even the loremasters among Men rarely read it. But I have heard that the folk of Dol Amroth speak the Grey-Elven often, and perhaps the high tongue is preserved there as well.

“Oh, Sindarin, of course.”

Good, that is safe enough. Most of Gondor’s nobles speak it – and if I am not one of them, exactly, still I serve as one of her captains and it will not seem to Finduilas remarkable that I should know that language. “I do know it, yes, though I have not had much occasion to speak it of late. What verses will you say?” Thorongil said.

“The lay of Nimrodel.”

Finduilas composed herself, clasping her hands before her, and began the tale of the Elf-woman lost in the White Mountains, and of her lover Amroth who sprang from his ship to seek her and was also nevermore seen.

As Finduilas recited, Thorongil closed his eyes to concentrate on her words. Vagrant memory took him to a firelit hall, and another dark-haired maiden speaking the same lines. Evenstar. . . He wrenched his mind back to the present.

“A beautiful tale, is it not? But sad,” said Finduilas, concluding. “One of Nimrodel’s own attendants wed my many-times-great-grandfather, and their son was the first lord to rule Dol Amroth, soon after the Downfall.”

Of course. I heard once that the Prince had Elvish blood, but I had forgotten. I should have realized it is of my past that Finduilas reminds me. My past – and where does my future lie?

“It is a tragic story, and your recitation beautifully done,” Thorongil said. “Shall I tell you a poem now, in payment?”

Finduilas glanced at the sun, sinking in crimson splendor toward the western horizon. “We have not time, I fear, for you to do any verses justice,” she said regretfully. “But I know,” she added, brightening. “In place of a tale you can promise to write to me now and again. Even if Imrahil is not assigned to your company, hearing some news of the lands where my brother also fights would comfort me. And I would then have twice as many letters to look forward to. Come now, you cannot claim to be unable to wield pen as well as sword. A man who can speak in Elvish, and who must keep track of five score men or more at times, not to mention all their supplies, must have the ability to write the occasional missive.”

Thorongil held up a hand to stop the rush of persuasive words. “If you desire this so much, Finduilas, I will write to you when I can. But do not expect to hear too often from either of your brothers, blood kin or newly adopted. I know I have little time to spare and I am sure Imrahil will find the same.”

“I will endeavor to moderate my hopes, then. But I thank you for agreeing to write to me – it will set my mind more at ease.” Finduilas rose and brushed a few stray leaves from her habit. “If you will help me back onto my horse, we had better ride back to Minas Tirith before the sun sets, or my father and brother – my other brother,” she smiled, “will worry for me.”

“And I have duties I must see to this evening, since I stole the afternoon to spend with you. I return across the river in a day or so,” said Thorongil. “But it was time well spent.”

After they had returned their horses to the stables and he had seen Finduilas to her father’s door, begging excuse from dining with Adrahil and his family, Thorongil walked slowly back towards his quarters, thinking.

So, we are to be brother and sister? I do not know if that will prove good or ill, in the end. There is something very appealing about Finduilas – she has not the wisdom of long life, yet she may come to that in time. And friendship is not to be despised. Perhaps – someday – it may warm to something more. He exhaled deeply. What is the chance that I shall ever again see Undómiel? I cannot live alone to the end of my days – I have not the right to make that choice.

He passed out from the tunnel and walked through the Garden of the White Tree, pausing to gaze upon its withered branches. If there is no hope of new life there, should I not look elsewhere for it? Where does duty lead? How long can a love endure without sign of hope?

Setting his jaw, he moved on.

I do not wish to face the inquiries I am sure to get in the mess this evening; morning will be soon enough. I will just send the lad Rodnor for some bread and cheese to eat as I sort through the remainder of today’s work.

As he passed the White Tower, Denethor emerged from the doorway. The Steward’s Heir brushed past as if he could not even see the other man, though Thorongil spoke in greeting.

Now what could I have done to give offense? Thorongil watched Denethor walk away towards the armories. I have not even seen him today, and all seemed well yestereve. He shrugged and walked on, supposing all would be made clear soon enough.

Thorongil turned into his rooms, lighted a candle, and settled to his evening tasks. Determinedly he put from his mind both the sweet voice of Finduilas, and the yet lovelier voice that had dwelt so long in his memory.

*******

Footnote:

(1) Baranë means “golden-brown one,” referring of course to the color of the mare’s coat.

Chapter Text

None of her gowns seemed quite right to wear on the occasion of a walk around Minas Tirith. She had several dresses suitable for dances, suppers, and other such indoor events, but they were all of thin delicate material, and she would be chilly and uncomfortable on the stony streets, even with a cloak. Her riding habits, while warm, and sufficient for a private ride with a reputable captain, were not fine enough for a walk through the city in the company of the Steward’s Heir. What to do? Finduilas bit her lip, momentarily stymied. Then she remembered that her mother had left some clothes in the city the last time the family had come to spend the holiday season there.

A quick search through the clothes-press in Nimíril’s room yielded a soft and warm gown of wine-colored velvet, perfect for a winter walk. Luckily Finduilas was very nearly the same size as her mother, and no last-minute alterations were needed to make the dress fit well enough to wear. The servants who looked after the town house had aired all the garments before the family arrived, not knowing that Nimíril would not be visiting the city this year, so the gown was clean and pressed, smelling faintly of lavender. She added her own favorite collar of white lace to soften its stern lines, and was satisfied with the effect.

As long as I don’t spill anything on myself at lunch! she thought, and decided to wait to change until after the meal.

Her father Adrahil was away this day, up in the Citadel consulting with the Steward, so she and Imrahil dined together.

“Tell me, sister, where is the lordly Denethor taking you today? Not going riding again, are you?” Imrahil asked.

“He suggested showing me around the city, if the weather was fine. And since it is, I expect that is what we will do,” Finduilas answered.

“I suppose you will walk through all the dull neighborhoods, and see the Gate, and so on. You’ve seen all that before; sounds like a tedious afternoon. And he’s old, too. Why did you accept the invitation, Finduilas?”

She had wondered that herself. It was certainly flattering to be asked by the heir to the Steward of Gondor if he might spend time with her, but Denethor was not the sort of man she had ever imagined wanting to keep company with; nor could she think that he would consider her seriously as a possible bride, given the difference in their ages. Adrahil had often commented favorably on his knowledge of lore beyond the usual for a captain or even one of the Stewards, though, and like other members of the house of Dol Amroth she had always placed a high value on learning. Not that Denethor had spoken aught out of the common way on mettarë night. Still, with her father’s commendation, Finduilas was willing to give up an afternoon to him. While in Thorongil’s company the day before she had seen much of Minas Tirith in passing, but Denethor would know the city far better; a few hours spent with him ought at least to prove more interesting than waiting at home to receive any chance visitor.

To Imrahil she simply said, “I do not wish to judge anyone without first knowing him. You are right, though, that what Denethor is likely to plan to show me in the city are all the places I already am familiar with. So – I will ask him to show me something else, and see what that may be.”

Imrahil shrugged. “It is your choice, of course. But I am going to go riding with some friends today, and I doubt not but that my afternoon will be far more pleasant than yours!”

“Perhaps so,” said Finduilas peaceably, and bent to finish her meal.

She was changed and ready well before Denethor arrived, later than he had said he would. His first words were an apology for his tardiness – the Council meeting had lasted longer than he had anticipated, or he would have found a reason to escape it altogether – and both speech and expression were so obviously sincere that Finduilas was touched despite her irritation with the delay. She smiled at him.

“You proposed to show me Minas Tirith, my lord,” she said. “I have spent little time in the city, of course, but I have seen many of its common attractions. I should like to see places other than those.”

Denethor looked slightly bemused by her request. “Are you sure, my lady? There are some parts of the city that are not entirely suitable for a woman of noble birth such as yourself.”

“But I am no sheltered vine, to be protected from every bitter wind. With you as my escort, I am certain I will be safe enough, and I have no fear of seeing disagreeable things,” she told him, putting from her mind her discomfort with some of what Thorongil had told her about Ithilien the previous day.

Although his expression indicated that he still doubted the propriety of Finduilas’s suggestion, Denethor agreed to it. They set out on foot, walking down towards the lowest and largest level of the city. As they passed along the cobbled streets, Denethor explained that in the first and second circles dwelt many of the laborers and minor craftsmen whose toil helped to keep all of Minas Tirith functioning smoothly. At first the Steward’s Heir outdistanced her frequently, his height and long stride causing him to set a swifter pace than she could decorously match. The third time that he had to check himself to allow her to catch up, he gave Finduilas an apologetic look and offered her his arm. It was tense when she took it, and she wondered if perhaps he was unused to walking with a companion to whom he might owe such a courtesy. They continued at a more moderate pace.

Finduilas was accustomed to governing any social situation in which she found herself, or at least being at ease in it, but in Denethor’s company she found herself unexpectedly bashful. He suggested this meeting, she scolded herself. You have no cause to be uncomfortable in his presence. Moreover he looks almost like Thorongil, with whom you had no trouble conversing yesterday. Treat him as you did Thorongil, silly girl – smile, and speak. Nevertheless she seemed unable to meet the intense gaze from his grey eyes.

“I am not used to so great a city, and all built in stone. Dol Amroth is more open to the green lands about,” she finally said, as they passed through the gate to the third level. “What is your favorite part of Minas Tirith, my lord?”

“Why, when I have only myself for company, I most like the parapets of the Citadel, from which one can see the whole city below. When I am in better company than mine own, I prefer whichever place in that city where my companions stand.” A slight smile came over his face, and he looked down. “I would favor this spot at the moment, my lady.”

She flushed. “You flatter me, my lord.” But she did not really believe that his words were simple courtliness; he was not a man to speak unmeaning, and that set her to wondering again what his intentions could be.

As they passed into the bustle of the lowest level of the city, Denethor laid his free hand over hers where she held his arm and drew her closer so that they would not become separated by the crowd. Finduilas noted that he seemed less stiff than before, which pleased her, and she began also to feel more relaxed in his company. If I am awkward with the Steward’s Heir, and I of a rank nearly his equal, perhaps he too feels similarly, that his position calls for a formality that he might not wish always to hold? She saw, though, that if he seemed not to mind their increased proximity, he continued to hold himself apart from other passers-by, as if there were some invisible shield that kept him in isolation. Perhaps it was the fineness of his dress that so marked him out, or his lordly bearing, but Denethor seemed accustomed to, even pleased with, this separation from others.

He guided her slowly through the narrow streets of the artisans’ quarter, commenting as they passed some of the establishments with which he was especially familiar.

“Beleg, here, is the best armorer in the city,” Denethor said, nodding to the laboring smith, who was stripped to the waist and sweating in the heat from his forge despite the coolness of the day. “I have often tried to convince him to work for the army, but he says that he prefers the freedom of his own workshop.”

“Would not you, in his position?” asked Finduilas, pausing to look at a display of silver filigree in the next window. The woman inside – no doubt the wife of the craftsman – motioned to Finduilas to step into the shop, but she shook her head and walked on with Denethor. “I think I would choose to work for myself, and be able to say yea or nay as I pleased, rather than toil for another even for the highest of wages.”

“Oh, I can see his reasons, right enough,” admitted Denethor, “but we are chronically short of good smiths in the army, and armorers most among them. Though I cannot order Beleg to do as I should like, and as would benefit many, I may regret his decision, may I not? Now, here we are come to Potters’ Row. I warn you that it can be even warmer here than among the smiths’ forges, if they are firing the great kilns. But since the past two days have been festival, I think they will not be built up to a great heat again yet.”

It was warm, but not uncomfortably so, and Finduilas enjoyed watching the skilled hands of the potters as they drew the clay on their wheels up into graceful shapes. The finished wares were decorated in patterns quite different from those popular in southern Gondor, and she thought that she would like, someday, to buy some of these.

“There are good clay deposits near the river,” Denethor remarked. “I am told that the local earthenware is unusually sturdy.”

Finduilas glanced at him. So practical, all the time it would seem. I wonder, does he ever think about anything, or do anything, simply for the enjoyment of it? She decided it would do no harm to ask. “But is it not more pleasant to look upon beautiful cups or bowls? Of course the more durable they are, the better for everyday use, but would you not be willing to take especial care of a more fragile piece if its lines pleased you greatly?” she inquired.

Denethor mulled over her question for a moment. “Yes, I would, I imagine. But I have rarely seen any artifact which would command my heart in that way.”

Finduilas shrugged to herself, thinking, At least he admits to the possibility. Perhaps he is not quite as stern and reserved as he would wish to appear.

They moved on. One lane Denethor would not take, and when she queried him, he demurred that no well-bred woman would wish to know what occurred in the establishments on Nightingale Street. She realized that the women she saw lounging about the street must be those who had been forced to sell their own bodies to earn their keep. A sad state of affairs, but she was as glad not to travel that road. She wondered for an instant if Denethor himself had ever been there as a patron, and flushed at the impertinence of the thought.

It surprised her to learn that the scriveners occupied an entire block. Most of them took any commission that fell their way, but some specialized in a particular type of writing. Denethor led her into one of the shops, saying that since they were here, he hoped she would not mind if he spoke for a moment with the owner.

“Not at all,” Finduilas said, and began to look at one of the several volumes that were on display. The lettering, she noted, was fine and even, and the illuminations carefully done. Clearly this scribe had great skill. She turned the leaves carefully and was delighted to see that one of the poems included was the lay of Nimrodel.

“Thank you for your patience,” said Denethor, returning. “I have commissioned a history of Gondor to be written, you see, and was inquiring to see if Golasgil had yet completed the work so that Angrim could begin copying it. I am hoping to ensure that each of the great lords has his own copy, once all is complete. But it seems that the scholar is still at work, and as yet uncertain when he will be finished.”

“That sounds a wise idea, my lord,” said Finduilas. “My father certainly has some volumes that treat of the history of our own lands, but none, I think, that includes the complete history of the whole kingdom. He would be most grateful for such a gift, I know.” She laid the book she had been examining aside with some reluctance. “Just a moment, if you will. I wish to inquire the price of this.” The sum that Angrim named was more than Finduilas could manage on this visit to Minas Tirith, but she determined to save and see if she could purchase it next year.

“Was there something particular in that book that you liked?” asked Denethor as they left the shop. “Angrim is usually willing to accept commissions for smaller volumes, with fewer poems or tales included. There is no need to buy what you have no use for.”

“Nearly everything in the volume I would like, but in particular one poem, which is my favorite.” Finduilas laughed. “It is quite a coincidence, really. I recited it to Captain Thorongil yesterday; how odd that I should see it again today.”

“Indeed,” said Denethor in a remote tone. “A strange chance to be sure.” She saw that his expression had become closed, but he drew her arm once again within his own, and looking intently at her, added, “Would you like to rest for a little, my lady Finduilas? There is a tavern not far, the Black Swan, that is respectable enough for you to sit and be refreshed there.”

“That sounds a fine idea,” Finduilas agreed.

The crowds had become thicker now, folk carrying out their errands while the sun was still well up. As Denethor led the way towards the tavern even the space that he seemed able to maintain around him was diminished, and Finduilas was jostled so that she nearly fell into him.

“I beg your pardon, my lord,” she said.

“No matt. . .” he began to reply, then said sharply, “Did you not have on a collar?”

She reached up to her neck to find that the piece of lace had disappeared. She gazed at him, too shocked to speak. Someone put his hands on me, and I did not even notice.

“Stolen. I am sorry, my lady. I should not have brought you here.”

“No, I asked you to,” she managed to say.

“You have gone white. Here, here is the Black Swan; please sit down and let me get you something to drink.” He waved a serving-girl over and ordered two cups of hot wine. When it was brought, steaming in its green-glazed cups, Denethor folded Finduilas’s fingers around one and urged her to sip.

If she could have imagined apprehension on the face of the next Steward of Gondor, she would have thought she saw it then, but he only laid a gentle hand upon her other arm. “I fear there will be no way to find the thief,” he said in quiet tones, so quiet she shivered. “Not in such a crowd.”

“Naturally not,” she said, the color returning to her face as she drank a little. “I am so sorry, my lord, I do not know what came over me. I should not have been so surprised that this could happen.”

“As you said, you are not used to a large city, that is all. Though Dol Amroth is the largest in Belfalas, since it is your home it is not the same.” He gave a crooked smile and continued, “But this is why I was astonished that you would wish to see these parts of town, you know. I did not doubt your fearlessness, only your caution.”

Finduilas blushed and looked down, tracing her finger through a puddle on the table. “I know, my lord, my mother has often chided me for my lack of prudence. Though this event was rather less damaging to either mind or body than the time when I was trapped on a cliff for several hours while hunting birds’ eggs because my brother had dared me to! There was a sudden rain squall, and I could not see to climb either up or down. Both Imrahil and I were in trouble after that escapade.” She shook her head at the memory.

“Still, since you were in my company when it happened, I wish to make such amends as I can. May I buy you a replacement? The lacemakers’ stalls are in the second level of the city, and we shall have to pass them by on our return,” Denethor said.

To that Finduilas agreed. She spent some little time looking over what was available before choosing several collars that she found particularly attractive to try on. “You will have to help me, my lord,” she told Denethor. “All three of these I like, so you choose which you think suits me the best.”

He watched carefully as she held up first one, and then the others. The first had a floral motif, another was patterned with crescent moons and stars, and the third incorporated a complex geometric pattern. How he looks at the lace, as if a wrong decision would cause the walls of the city to come to ruin.

“If I must choose, lady, then I would choose the second,” he said. “But to tell you true, I like the simplicity of your gown without any addition. Your beauty outshines them all, and a plain setting enhances the gem more than an ornate one.”

A second compliment, one that sounds less rehearsed than the first he gave, she thought. And this is the dour Steward’s Heir, against whom Imrahil warned me? She laughed lightly in response, and said, “Well, I will take the one with the stars, then, my lord. But to please you I will not wear it now.”

Denethor’s response to her very mild flirtation was as practical and straightforward as she might have expected, for he said, “Please, do not call me ‘my lord’ any longer. I would have you speak my name.”

“As you wish, my lord Denethor,” Finduilas said playfully. She was not yet quite comfortable with the idea of calling him by simply his name with no title, nor was she ready to respond by asking him to reciprocate and use her name alone. He is too old to think of me as a woman to court, but I am too old to pretend to be a child with him. Taking the wrapped package that the woman handed to her, she said, “Shall we return, then?”

He nodded, reverting to his usual grave expression, and set a slower pace back through the gathering shadows. Once again he took her arm, a gesture that reassured her in the dusk after her misadventure and began to seem quite pleasant. Finduilas felt half-sorry that the evening had come on so soon, though the chill of the air made her glad to be returning to the light and warmth of her home. Upon reaching the house, Denethor inquired if the Prince were yet returned. It appeared he had not.

Denethor said to Finduilas, “I am sorry not to be able to speak to your father. Perhaps I will see him in the Citadel, but could you give him a message for me as well? Tell him that I would like to speak with him tomorrow, if that is convenient, or certainly before your family returns to the south.”

“I will do so,” promised Finduilas. She curtsied deeply. “Thank you, my lord Denethor, for a most enjoyable afternoon. That – mishap – was none of your fault, so please, do not hold yourself responsible. And your assistance in choosing a replacement collar was invaluable.”

“You are most welcome, my lady. I look forward to our next meeting,” and he bowed and departed.

Finduilas walked up to her room. She had had a rather better time than she had anticipated, and although she was sorry to have lost her favorite piece of lace, still, it was not that important a matter. Denethor had been companionable beyond her expectations, if nowhere near as comfortable as Imrahil or Thorongil. And she was pleased to have seen more of the city than she would have ever thought likely. But I think I will not walk the streets of Minas Tirith alone! was her reflection, as she began to change for dinner.

Chapter Text

Walking through the tunnel that linked the sixth and seventh circles of the city, Denethor reflected on the afternoon’s events. The theft of Finduilas’s collar had shaken him. I imagine that no such unfortunate occurrence happened when she spent yesterday with Thorongil. I hope she does not blame me? At least she seemed to take the loss well, after the initial shock. It did give me the opportunity to present her with a replacement as an impromptu gift, of course, but to have had such a thing happen in my presence reflected ill on me and on the Steward’s rule.

He nodded to the men sweating on the practice field as he passed by. There was not time enough before the evening meal for him to join them; instead, he decided, he would go to his rooms and finish the work he had left undone in order to spend the afternoon with Finduilas. Ecthelion was almost certainly either still in council or carrying out his own administrative duties, and though Denethor needed to speak with his father, he wished to do so privately.

Upon entering his room in the White Tower he wrote a note to Ecthelion to say as much, and added that he hoped they could discuss matters that evening. He despatched a servant with the message and settled in to work.

The high table in the Great Hall was crowded that evening. Denethor reached it somewhat late, after the Standing Silence. He performed the ritual on his own, then caught Ecthelion’s eye as he seated himself at the very end of the board. The Steward nodded and inclined his head towards the family apartment upstairs, indicating that he had received the note and would meet with his son there sometime after dinner. The younger man breathed a silent sigh of relief.

Now that I have made my decision, I would prefer not to delay in executing it. With the assurance that he would be able to speak with his father that very evening and declare his intention to wed Finduilas, Denethor relaxed slightly and attacked his food with relish until his hunger was somewhat assuaged. He glanced down the board and across the great room, pleased to note the absence of Captain Thorongil. Whether the man ate with his company in the soldiers’ mess or had already departed with them back to Ithilien mattered little to Denethor, so long as Thorongil was out of his sight.

The lady did speak of him with apparent affection. I hope that does not mean he has already laid some claim to her heart. Ah, well, if he is gone back to his post in the wilds where he belongs, it will be of no concern.

Buoyed by that thought, he lost interest in his meal and finished quickly, slipping away back to his room to pace restlessly as he considered how to approach Ecthelion with the news that he wished to marry. To be straightforward, he concluded, would be best, given that it had been his father’s command that had precipitated the whole business. The Steward would no doubt be pleased that he had acted so quickly, and surely Finduilas of Dol Amroth would be an acceptable choice as his bride.

The summons to Ecthelion’s chamber came about an hour later. Denethor rapped smartly on the door, and at his father’s bidding entered and seated himself on one of the high and heavy carved wooden chairs.

“What is it you wished to discuss?” asked the Steward formally.

His son leaned forward. “Some weeks ago you told me that this season I must choose a bride to marry. I have found the woman I wish to wed, and with your approval I will speak to her father tomorrow. She is Finduilas, the daughter of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth.”

Ecthelion stroked his beard thoughtfully and said, “What made you determine on this girl? She is beautiful, but still quite young, and I do not recall you had ever met her until this winter. I would have expected you to choose a woman of more mature years, perhaps one whom you already knew well.”

The question gave Denethor pause. Why have I chosen Finduilas? I have spent only a handful of hours in her company, after all. She does remind me of Lotheluin in my youth – perhaps now I have a chance to make good what my hesitation then denied me? And yet it is different from how I felt for Lotheluin – when Finduilas was robbed, I wanted to find the knave who did it and see his thieving hand cut off, then and there, for having dared such an assault while the lady was under my protection. She seems not so young, either – she took an intelligent interest in the trade of the city, her head is not filled with clothes and gossip like so many of the lords’ daughters. It is not for just her pretty face that I consider her; she would be able to take up the burdens of a Steward’s lady. That is how I can put it to Father. He will expect me to have thought in practical terms, not to have been swept away by feeling.

Aloud he said, “Her blood is noble enough to make her more than eligible, despite her youth. And she is not so very young, either; I believe she is about six-and-twenty. As the daughter of Dol Amroth, she is accustomed to the kind of life that a ruler must lead, with all of its restrictions and limitations. Moreover since her mother has been lately unwell she will have had to take on some of the cares of supervising a large household, and thus have experience useful to a Steward’s lady. From conversing with her today I found her to be as educated and well-read as any lady of her age I have met, and very sweet-tempered withal; altogether I think she would make an admirable wife.”

Ecthelion raised his brows at this recital of Finduilas’s virtues. He said, “All you say of the girl is no doubt true. But though there are many pressing reasons for you to marry, and this would be an excellent match politically, I do not want you to marry a woman with whom you would be unable to live for the rest of both your lives. Tell me, Denethor, will that be so for you? Do you find the girl attractive enough in both mind and body that you believe your marriage to her will endure? For it would be unacceptable in the Steward to fail to set an example in this matter as in others. My son, do you love her, or will you grow to love her? Love need not precede the union of man and woman, but if it come not after, then your life will be harder than it should. I would not see that happen to you.”

Denethor flushed at his father’s open questioning. Do I love Finduilas? He thought of her appealing sweetness, her lovely voice, her graceful carriage. He felt no urgent desire to bed her, but the idea did warm his mind. And more than any physical attraction, the beauty of her nature appealed to him. He could imagine being able to converse with her – not about all the details of the present government of Gondor, perhaps, rather about the lore he studied in his spare time. The thought of hearing her speak in her soft tones of such old matters, of the heroism and bravery of past ages, attracted him. Is this love? I am not sure.

“I have no doubt that this match will be a good one for me,” he replied evasively, uncomfortable.

“No, Denethor, this is too important to turn aside. You know Finduilas only slightly – can you know yet if you love her, or will learn to love her? Though I wish to see you wed, I do not want you to choose hastily, only to repent of your choice later. There are considerations beyond political alliance, my son.”

First he tells me I must marry, and now he bids me to pause and consider? I wish my father would make up his mind.

“Yes, Father. I understand your concerns, but there is no need. Finduilas is the woman I know I wish to marry,” said Denethor, his chin lifted.

Ecthelion eyed him narrowly, saying, “Very well, then. I will be pleased to see you wedded, and with an heir to continue the line of Húrin of Emyn Arnen. The line of the Kings may have ended in Gondor, so that of the Stewards must endure in its stead. Seek Adrahil’s permission to wed his daughter as soon as you will. If he wishes to know if I approve, you may assure him on that point. He is expected in council tomorrow, but not until late morning.”

Denethor rose and bowed to his father. “Thank you, sir. I will seek the Prince early in the day and ask his leave.”

He turned to depart, but Ecthelion’s voice stopped him.

“I wish you all happiness, my son,” said his father quietly. “It is not something I think you have yet found as I would have hoped; I trust your judgment that this marriage will bring it to you.”

The remark so surprised Denethor that he could not answer; he merely bowed again and escaped into the passage, closing the heavy door noiselessly behind him.

I would not have expected him to be so concerned about my happiness, after all he said before. He did seem pleased at my choice despite that reservation – well, I shall have to show him that his doubts are misplaced.

He strode away back to his own rooms, there to work until his eyes would no longer serve him in the flickering light of the candles, and he must needs sleep.

In the morning he ate a hasty breakfast and walked briskly down through the city to see if Adrahil was free. The message Denethor had left with Finduilas had reached the Prince, who was thus unsurprised to see the Steward’s Heir appear even at this early hour. Adrahil offered refreshment of wine or hot tea to his guest, and Denethor accepted the latter politely.

“So, concerning what did you wish to consult me?” inquired Adrahil, setting his cup aside. “I am to be in the Citadel later today in any case, so I presume this has nothing to do with the Council discussions?”

“You are right, sir. As you of course know, I am yet unmarried, but the Steward has told me that I must alter that state. Of all the women in Minas Tirith this season, I have met none to tempt me to do so except for your daughter – so I am here to ask for your permission to wed her,” said Denethor, the firm tones of his voice somewhat belied by the tension in his posture.

Adrahil looked at him sharply. “That is a quick decision. You are aware that Finduilas is only three-and-twenty, not yet of the usual age for marriage?”

“I had not known that, no. I thought her somewhat older, from her ease and poise at the feast three nights past,” Denethor said, chagrined. And from her behavior yesterday – but I do not know if she will have told her father of that incident.

The implied compliment to Finduilas did not alter Adrahil’s purpose, and he continued, “I would not urge her to wed so young, nor where her heart is not inclined. Now,” he held up a hand to still Denethor’s movement of protest, “I do not know for whom she might feel the affection proper for an intended spouse. She may indeed have such feelings for you, even on such short acquaintance, but she has not told me. Therefore what I say is this. I am more than pleased to allow you to court her, and I will encourage her to think well of you, for my part. But I will not command her; I love her too well to bid her wed someone for whom she does not believe she has the appropriate affection. Moreover, too soon she will be the only living memory in Dol Amroth of my wife. You would not deprive me of that comfort, would you?”

Denethor could only shake his head mutely. This was not going at all as he had hoped, though he did feel some relief that Adrahil had not rejected his suit altogether on grounds of age and told him to seek elsewhere for his bride.

“I thought not. Shall I call Finduilas now and put this to her? Or would you prefer that I speak to her privately later?” said Adrahil.

I would most like to speak alone to her myself of my intentions, but clearly the Prince is not going to allow that, for some reason. I hope it is not that he thinks she would react badly. Clearing his throat, Denethor replied, “Whichever you think the lady herself would prefer.”

“That is thoughtful of you, to consider her wishes,” approved Adrahil. “Do you think your suit will be a surprise to her, as it was to me?”

“I imagine so,” acknowledged Denethor. “Though we spoke much together yesterday as we walked through the city, I said nothing then of my wish to wed her. I would not speak of such matters without your knowledge and consent, nor where we could be easily overheard.”

“In that case, I believe it would be best if I spoke with her alone. We will be departing Minas Tirith in only a few days; my wife Nimíril will be looking for our return. Would you agree to carry out your courtship by letter, until either my family can come back to the city or you may be able to travel to Dol Amroth yourself?” Adrahil asked.

“That would be acceptable to me; of course I would prefer to see the lady Finduilas in person, but I am more than willing to write rather than to have no contact at all. I thank you for your understanding, lord Adrahil,” said Denethor.

He rose. “Would it be possible for me to greet her, at least, before I must return to my duties this morning?”

“Certainly. Ask one of the servants to find her, if she has not yet left; she was planning to visit with what’s-her-name, Forlong’s girl, this morning. You may speak with her in this room, if you wish. I must collect a few things and then I will be off to the Council. I will wait for you that we may walk up together,” said Adrahil, standing up himself.

A word with the servant waiting in the hall unfortunately failed to bring the desired result; it appeared that Finduilas had already gone off to meet Elerrína for a walk through some of the gardens of the city, cold and barren though they mostly were at this season. Disappointed, Denethor walked with Adrahil back to the Citadel.

To assuage his disappointment, he began to ponder how he might contrive to see Finduilas another time before she departed, and speak to her about corresponding once she was back in Dol Amroth.

Such a correspondence may take a good many hours of each month, but I imagine that courting the lady in person, were she present, might occupy me as much or more. Though it would be time well spent, indeed, and I would not begrudge such hours if given to her. I wonder if it would be untoward to talk with Father about inviting the Prince and his family to share the evening meal before they leave? I do wish to speak to her once again. It was my fear and failure to speak timely that lost me any chance with Lotheluin; I could not bear to repeat that.

Chapter Text

Thorongil swore under his breath as he stared at the piece of parchment in disbelief. Sealed as it had been with the plain white wax of the Steward, he had assumed it was some last-minute order before he left the next day to return to Ithilien. Instead it was an invitation to dine that night with the Steward, his Heir, and the Prince of Dol Amroth and his children.

What purpose will my presence serve, in that group? He shook his head. But I shall have to attend.

Gesturing to the messenger to wait, he quickly wrote out a polite note of acceptance, letting none of the surprise he felt show through in the formal phrases. He sealed it with a hasty drop of red wax and thrust it into the man’s hands with a small coin.

“To the Steward, of course, and thank you.”

I could wish that Denethor would not be present – Adrahil’s children will be good company, and it could be a pleasure to discuss military or political matters. But Denethor. . . Is he not right to look on me askance, if he but knew it? Am I ready to lay bare all my heart and mind and will with respect to Gondor?

Thorongil rose and paced about the chamber. I could play an honored role as Thorongil. The rumors of kinship with the Steward would be enough to secure trust, and explain why I do not speak of my heritage. But to become king – that would mean confiding in Ecthelion, and inevitably in Denethor. He rubbed at his cheek. Ecthelion is a good Steward of this land, and his son well-trained to follow him. There would be no purpose at this time in my stepping forward. Gondor has endured kingless for centuries – would she accept a king again, especially if her Steward did not? Would I risk a civil war for the sake of kingship? He stared out the window without seeing anything for several minutes before recollecting himself and turning to finish packing his things for departure.

At the appointed hour that evening, Thorongil presented himself at the Steward’s private quarters and was shown to a richly furnished room, lit in part by the last rays of the setting sun and in part by great white tapers. Ecthelion and Denethor were already present, and from the set look on the latter’s face, it appeared that father and son had been having words. Thorongil ignored the tension and greeted them.

“Ah, Thorongil. A pleasure to have you here,” said Ecthelion. Denethor echoed him with a similar phrase of welcome.

“I asked you here,” said Ecthelion, “because. . . well, as soon as Adrahil and his family arrive, we will discuss it. In the meantime, would you care for a glass of wine? From Dorwinion – a rare vintage, I think it very fine.”

Thorongil accepted a goblet from the unobtrusive servant hovering nearby. Tasting the rich flavor, he complimented the Steward on his choice.

Ecthelion waved him to a seat. “Yes, the pressings of Dorwinion’s vineyards produce headier draughts than any in this country. One must be careful with them – they are not for ordinary occasions. But at times one wishes to be extravagant, and tonight there is ample justification. Ah, I think I hear the Prince now.”

All three men rose, and Denethor and Thorongil bowed, as the door opened and Adrahil entered, followed by his daughter and son.

Ecthelion held out his hand in greeting. “Welcome, my old friend. Come in, be seated. Take a glass of wine. Finduilas, Imrahil, do not be shy – come and take a chair.”

Amid the bustle of service Thorongil noted that Denethor’s eyes lingered on Finduilas as she spread her skirts to sit, and that when she glanced back, she had visibly to compose herself, her hand rising to the piece of white lace at her neck. What is this, then? He intended to change his first seat for one nearer the lady, but Ecthelion beckoned him. Perforce he had to leave Finduilas to the company of Denethor alone, the two men of Dol Amroth being already in close conversation with the Steward.

“I had not expected this so soon, my lord,” Adrahil was saying. “His mother will be distressed not to see him again before he takes up his post.”

Imrahil’s face was eager. “Yes, Father,” he said, “but it is far more sensible for me to leave directly from Minas Tirith than to journey home and then turn around and leave again immediately. Captain Thorongil,” he looked over, “it would seem that I am to join your company.”

This came as a surprise; usually Ecthelion would have given some warning that a new officer was to be appointed. “I see,” said Thorongil. “Well, I shall certainly be pleased to have you. What rank will you hold?”

Ecthelion intervened. “He will begin without any rank, Thorongil. This is by his own choice and request; he wants to see how the common Rangers experience their duties. So if you can, do not treat him out of the ordinary way. I do not believe any of the men presently in your company are from Belfalas, much less Dol Amroth?”

“No.”

“Good. Then Imrahil can remain anonymous to them for the time being. If and when you need an additional junior officer, and assuming that you think him up to the task, then promote him, of course.”

Imrahil grinned. “I know I have not the experience, yet, to justify placing me in command. Better to learn things from the bottom up, don’t you think?”

Thorongil smiled back. “If that is what you prefer, I am happy to accommodate you. I have no need for an extra officer at the moment, in point of fact, but we can always use more men on patrol. I will talk to you about your skills and abilities as we travel; no need to do so tonight. Are you prepared to leave tomorrow? I am already a day delayed from my intended departure, and I would rather not wait any longer.”

Imrahil nodded firmly. “All my fine things are packed up, ready to be taken back to Dol Amroth; I have kept out only what would be practical for my new duties.” He laughed and plucked at the blue silk of his sleeve. “Except for tonight’s attire, of course.”

Adrahil sighed. “Had I known your intention, I might not have brought you to meet with Lord Ecthelion this morning. Well, since you are determined, Imrahil, I shall have to let you do this. But do write a message to your mother that I can take. You know she will be worrying about you.”

“Of course,” said Imrahil with mild indignation. “I have already done so; Finduilas has the letter.”

“It is all settled, then,” said Ecthelion. “Let me interrupt the pair over in the corner, and we may dine.”

Dinner was an elaborate affair, punctuated with conversation mostly about the events of the past month of Ringarë: which families had been in Minas Tirith, what parties and balls had been held, what alliances and contracts concluded. Thorongil listened with only half an ear, as the niceties of social engagements held little of immediate interest to him. He would have liked to speak with Finduilas, but she was seated at Ecthelion’s right hand, cornerwise across the table and half-concealed behind a great silver epergne, while he sat between her father and brother.

“Why did you decide to take up your post so soon?” Thorongil quietly inquired of Imrahil when the latter paused from narrating the outcome of a race he had run the past week against Duinhir of Morthond.

Imrahil looked uncomfortable, speaking in an undertone. “Two reasons, really, one that I would prefer not to discuss just now.” More audibly, he continued, “In part because it was a chance to serve under you, sir, and I have heard you spoken of very highly as a captain. They say that you use every man to his best advantage and yet hardly lose one even in the worst situations. And they say that training under your supervision is as good as training under any other three – well, nearly,” he added with a glance at Denethor across the table, who was looking grim at the compliment to Thorongil.

I wonder what the other reason could be? On the journey, perhaps, he will be willing to speak more freely. If he is trying to avoid the consequences of some scrape, I want to know. “Well, for whatever reason, I am pleased to have you. Have no fear that I will coddle you; there is no room for that among the ranging companies. Each man must bear his full share of duty out in Ithilien.”

The Steward’s Heir listened to his words. Thorongil tried not to mind the cool stare, and was glad when the man returned his attention to Finduilas for the rest of the meal.

When the table had been cleared and they were once again mingling more freely, Thorongil was able to snatch a moment to speak with Finduilas. “Did you encourage your brother to join my company?” he asked.

She blushed and admitted it. “But he was bound to join one of them, sooner or later,” she pointed out. “All I did was speak highly of you as a friend; he made his own decision. Though I am glad of his choice.”

“You will probably receive less interesting letters this way, you realize,” he warned. “We shall undoubtedly have similar things to tell you.”

“Oh, I do not worry about that,” Finduilas replied, “so long as I hear from you both to know that all is well – or as well as can be expected. Moreover I shall certainly feel less concern over my brother’s welfare knowing that you will look out for him – and the other way around, as well,” she said, looking Thorongil in the eyes. “I would be devastated to lose both of you at once.”

“Both your brothers?” jested Thorongil.

“Yes, both of you,” she said.

Both, she says, but says not “brother.” No, do not read into that more than she might mean. Remember what Gethron said – I am a stranger here, and for all her kindness Finduilas will not have forgotten our respective positions. She could not think of me as anything more than a brother – it is remarkable that she would consider me as highly as that to begin with.

At that moment Imrahil came up to them and claimed his sister’s attention, dragging her off to answer a question that Denethor wished to ask her.

Thorongil murmured to the servant to refill his cup with water, not wine, and moved to speak to Ecthelion and Adrahil.

“I hope to hear good news of my son,” said Adrahil, “once he has had a chance to prove himself.”

“Oh, I doubt not that he will turn to good account, sir; you are known as an excellent swordsman yourself, and I am sure that you have seen that Imrahil has had all the proper training. Granted, practice and reality are far different, yet I would expect him to do well,” Thorongil said politely.

Adrahil nodded.

The Steward added, “Though he is a bit young yet, that will make little difference since he starts among the ranks rather than taking an officer’s post. I remember that I had difficulties with that, being younger than any man I commanded when I first held an appointment. Your son is wise, Adrahil, to choose the path he has.”

The three of them turned to look at Imrahil, gaily recounting a story to his sister and Denethor. Finduilas was laughing and even Denethor smiled.

“Though this has been a most pleasant evening, I fear the hour begins to grow late,” said Thorongil. “If you will excuse me, my lords, I would like to oversee my last preparations for departure and enjoy a last night in a soft bed.”

“Certainly,” said Ecthelion genially. “Have you told young Imrahil when and where to meet you in the morning?”

“I will do so now, and then go,” Thorongil replied. “I thank you, my lord Steward, for asking me to be in your company tonight. Lord Adrahil, it was a pleasure to see you again. Please convey my best regards to your lady; I understand she is not well at present, and I am sorry not to have met her this season.”

“Thank you,” said Adrahil gravely. “I appreciate your kind thoughts.”

Thorongil moved over to the younger party and waited for a break in their conversation. “Imrahil,” he said, “I will come by your father’s house to meet you shortly after dawn tomorrow. Have you your own horse here? If not I can assign you one.”

“I do,” said Imrahil. “She is stabled at the Great Gate. I will be ready to meet you as you say, and will send word to have her saddled and waiting.”

“Lady Finduilas, it was my pleasure to see you again. May your journey home be swift and safe,” and he bowed over her hand.

“Thank you, Captain Thorongil,” she said. “May yours be so as well.”

“Lord Denethor.”

“Captain Thorongil.”

They bowed stiffly. Rising, Thorongil nodded once more to the company and departed.

So I am to have her brother with me, then. I will have no excuse not to write often. He sighed. This may prove more tangled than I had anticipated when I first agreed to Finduilas’s proposals. What can she be thinking? She calls me brother, sometimes, but is that indeed how she sees me? Do I think of her as sister, or friend, or something else entirely? As Thorongil I can have no greater aspirations than my present circumstances. But if I were to claim my true name and heritage? My foster-father once said that I must prove myself worthy before I could betroth myself to any man’s child. . .

Chapter Text

Author’s note:

The letters that follow in this and later chapters self-evidently do not include all correspondence between the parties, but are rather merely a selection of their letters. On occasion individual letters have had digressive passages silently omitted as well.

*******

16 Narvinyë 2974 (1)

My dear Imrahil,

As I am sure you could have guessed, Mother was very disappointed that you decided to take up your post immediately, rather than coming home to see her first. But Father reminded her that it made far more sense to send you with your new commander rather than doing all that extra traveling, and I think she has accepted the situation. You might want to write her just a short note though, when you have a chance, and apologize. She is not looking very well; I think while we were all gone she did not eat and sleep as she should have. But our return has cheered her up.

Being home without you seems very strange. I keep wanting to talk with you, and being unable. Mealtimes are most peculiar without you there to scrape the last remnants from each dish and look for more. I think we will find a great lessening of household expenses in the next quarterly accounts, in your absence. . .

It has been quite rainy and gloomy here, our usual winter weather. The tides are running exceptionally high and all the older folk of the city shake their heads and predict bad weather for the whole of the year. I do not believe them. We had even higher tides when I was a little girl – I think you were just two – and I remember that summer as being wonderful. I recall pulling you around the gardens on your little wheeled horse!

Lord Denethor has already sent me a letter; he must have written it only a day or two after we departed. Father encouraged me to respond quickly and so I wrote back to him even before writing to you. It was difficult, though. The letter was no less than kind, yet it was more formal than I would have expected from one who would be a suitor. I know that Father would be pleased if I were to decide that I would marry the Steward’s Heir, but he is not pressuring me except to tell me to be polite and answer without delay. I confess myself surprised at Denethor’s interest, given the disparity in our ages, but until he should speak openly I will not presume.

I miss you, brother. Write to me as soon as you may.

Your loving sister,
Finduilas

 

29 Narvinyë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

As you were most urgent that I should write soon and often, I am complying to the best of my abilities. Having been gone for some weeks from my company it was a little time before I was able to snatch a spare moment for myself to write to you.

You will want news of your brother. He was an excellent companion on the road with the several other new recruits: cheerful, carrying out his assigned tasks without complaint, keeping his gear in order. His skill with weapons is good for one of his age, although like all of us, he will improve further with practice. I do not think it likely that he will have difficulty finding his feet among the company, and I fully expect to be able to promote him on the field within two years. That may seem long to you, but believe me, it is rapid indeed.

Ithilien at this season is sad – the rains of winter strip the leaves from the trees and leave them blackened and barren, reaching for the sky as if longing for the return of the sun to warm them again to life. We move among the dells like cats, silently stalking. Luckily winter is a season when little fighting occurs, and both the enemy and we stay close to our camps and fires much of the time.

I meant this to be a longer and more cheerful letter, but I fear that I have not time to write further if I wish to send it with a messenger tomorrow. I hope that your journey home was safe and that all is well with you and your family.

Kindest regards,
Thorongil

 

11 Nénimë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

Your letter was most welcome to me. I am sorry to hear that your lady mother remains unwell, but I trust that with you and your father there she will take comfort. Please convey my best wishes for an amendment in her health soon.

I was reading the other day in the early records of the realm and was reminded that many of our great philosophers and thinkers wrote in Quenya instead of Sindarin. Do you read Quenya at all? I assume you know at least some Sindarin, since your father is fluent. If you would be interested I could have a copy of Aegnor’s treatise on moral metaphysics sent to you, either in the original Quenya, or translated into Sindarin or Westron, whichever you would prefer. (2)

You asked how it felt to be the Steward’s Heir. I am not certain how I can answer that; I have never known aught else. How do you feel as the daughter of your father? It is a great responsibility. It pleases me to ensure the safety and prosperity of Minas Tirith and Gondor. I feel it to be my foremost duty. Not all give such thought to our well-being. You will remember, for instance, Beleg’s refusal to become an armorer for the army. Such checks upon fulfilling my duties are burdensome. What are your thoughts on such matters? I am sure you would have sound advice on this.

Your humble servant,
Denethor

 

24 Nénimë 2974

Dear Thorongil,

Your letter did cheer me, though it sounds like Ithilien is as dull in winter as anywhere else. Has my lazy brother not been able to find time to write, with all his practice at arms and scouting? Would you act on my behalf and encourage him to do so?

I have spent a few days nursing a cold. I have not been really ill, just have a touch of sore throat, so I am keeping mostly to my room and drinking linden tea. To amuse myself I have been trying my hand at a new translation of the “Lay of Nimrodel.” It is not as easy as one would like, to translate verse and keep both the form and the sense of it!

Despite the rainy weather of this season, the sea is beautiful. I wish that you could be here to see and enjoy it with me. Sometimes I think I love the waters best when the skies are cloudy, for then there is no glittering surface to distract from the complexity of its depths. There is a hill not far away – Imrahil knows of it – where I go to stand and watch the shifting greens and blues and greys of the water, and can almost believe that I swim among them. In warmer seasons I do swim in the sea, naturally. At times I have imagined that I have heard the Voices of the Sea. Have you ever thought that you have heard the call of one of the great Powers beyond humankind? Am I simply being a flighty girl? But truly, I have wondered if they care yet for mortals, or if they have turned their backs on us and all our woes. It is a lonely feeling, to think that we might be abandoned to our unknown fate. There may be a drop of Elven-blood yet in my veins, but I have never seen an Elf or Dwarf myself – I am told such creatures still live, but it is hard to believe. Have you ever met any?

I apologize for my ramblings today. I trust that all is well with your and your company.

Fondly,
Finduilas

 

3 Súlimë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

Please forgive your tardy brother. Since you laid such emphasis on the need for me to write to Mother as soon as I could, she got the first letter, and I have had little spare time since. Not that I had much news to tell her, but it is probably just as well that you receive this one since there is some news, and not all good. Maybe you can read it to her and omit what you think best.

Choosing to be anonymous was a wise move. I hear a lot of griping about how the officers are chosen half the time from among the young bloods, without much regard for their abilities, while some more worthy men are ignored because they haven’t the right family connections. Well, I can see that for myself in a few cases already. It is hard to know how to improve things, though. Not that I could do anything now, mind you, but someday if all goes well I’ll have a command of my own, and of course eventually I’ll rule in Belfalas – though I hope that is many years away! The tricky thing is that officers have a duty to help finance their company’s expenses, so the higher your rank, the greater your resources must be. If you have no family wealth, you must find a patron or sponsor to help out. I think Ecthelion is sponsoring this company – Thorongil doesn’t discuss it, but I’ve heard rumors, and certainly he doesn’t seem to have any significant funds of his own – his beautiful horse and his few fine clothes all seem to have been gifts.

Now that spring is near, and it’s easier to move about the country, we are starting to see some fighting. I was in my first real skirmish last week. There were eight of us on a doubled patrol, and we ran across a dozen Orcs. We took them by surprise and won handily – one of our fellows received a nasty wound in the leg, but the rest of us were hardly scratched (reassure Mother of that, please!), and we killed all the enemy. It wasn’t quite what I expected it would be like, though. I wasn’t scared while I was fighting, but afterwards, I threw up. Don’t tell that to Mother or Father, though.

I can see already that Ithilien must be glorious in other seasons. Even now, with the trees barren and the cold winds, the shape of the land is beautiful. The contours of the hills swell against the sky as if to touch the very stars themselves. When I am on watch at night, I think of the folk who lived here, and how it must have wrenched their hearts to leave. We come across abandoned farmsteads often, and though most have been long-pillaged by Orcs and such foul creatures, it is clear that their former owners had left them with great reluctance and care, storing what they could not take, in hopes of someday returning.

But most of the time I am far too busy for such sad thoughts. I was quite proud of my fighting skills before I arrived, but compared to many men here I’m not much. Thorongil, of course, outstrips all of us by far. I wonder where he learned to fight? Perhaps in Rohan, because he certainly has tricks no one else has ever seen. He has undertaken to give me and several of the other fellows extra training, which is generous of him considering the demands on his time. I’m glad that you suggested I ask to join his company – it’s been a good choice so far and I’m sure will continue to be.

There, now wasn’t that worth the wait? I’ve filled three leaves of parchment, and I’m afraid you’ll have to pay extra for the carriage of such a long letter. I’ll try to write sooner next time, honestly.

Love,
Imrahil

 

25 Súlimë 2974

Dear Lord Denethor,

I look forward to the treatise by Aegnor, whenever the translation is completed, but you need not apologize for the delay. The poem you sent me on the fall of Númenor in the meanwhile is lovely – I particularly like the image of the drowning queen with pearls in her hair. I believe I read that once before, many years ago. Have you ever considered writing your own verses?

Spring is fully upon us here in Belfalas. The blooms in the palace gardens – it grows almost wild, here, at least no one tends it, but I have been told that it flourishes nowhere else in all of Gondor save close to Dol Amroth. But all sorts of other flowers flourish – the apricot trees’ bloom is nearly over, but the lilies are reaching their peak. What is the spring like in Minas Tirith? I have seen her gardens only in winter, and had difficulty picturing those stone-walled spaces full of light and leaf and color. . .

As for your questions, I suppose it was a bit presumptuous of me to ask how it felt to be the Steward’s Heir when I cannot very well answer the same sort of question about myself. It is indeed a great responsibility, to feel that one has the well-being of all the people of this land in one’s control. When I find myself stymied by the stubbornness of others, I remind myself that each must bear the responsibility for his own choices. Just as a mother must let her child make mistakes in order to learn from them, so a wise ruler will behave towards his people, while being ready to step in if their errors will lead to harm to others. Would you not agree?

I remain, etc.
Finduilas

 

14 Víressë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

Spring in Minas Tirith is as fine as can be found anywhere in Gondor, or so I deem. She is of course a city built for defense, not beauty – though I see great loveliness in her proud white walls and sturdy gates and spacious streets. While the pale niphredil does not flourish here, our garden walls are graced with roses of many colors. Our greenswards and trees lie below us in the Pelennor, visible from any tower, and flowers of all sorts are sold in the streets in the lower circles.

Regarding which, we have recently made those streets safer than they were when you were here and had that unfortunate incident. The penalty for thievery has been changed. Now, those apprehended and convicted are set to hard labor, such as building defenses or repairing roads. If there are mitigating circumstances, such as a mother stealing a loaf to feed her child, a lesser punishment may be imposed. Further, we have increased the numbers of the City Watch, and they will henceforward patrol during daylight hours as well as after dark. I believe all of these changes will improve life in the city as well as preventing occurrences such as the one you experienced.

I do agree with you that a ruler should intervene when necessary, but I consider it better still to set up circumstances so that a mistake or misconduct is less likely to occur in the first place; hence the altered penalty, which I hope will deter many from petty theft.

With this letter I send Aegnor’s treatise, now translated for you. I hope you enjoy it. As you hinted strongly that I should try writing a bit of verse of my own, I have acceded to your will. I shall let you be the judge of my humble efforts.

Whither the lady
Wanders, there my road leads me.
My step falters not.

Hair dark as nightfall,
Moonlight her face, dawn-grey eyes.
Her smile is my sun.

Another time I may perhaps try a lengthier form, but for now this is my limit, I fear. It is a form that was popular in the twelfth century, when there was a fashion for poetry in the style of the Haradrim.

Your obedient servant,
Denethor

 

8 Nárië 2974

Dear Thorongil,

I fear at least one letter you sent must have gone astray, as I just received your last in which you asked if I no longer have the time or inclination to correspond with you. Far from it! I greatly enjoy hearing from both Imrahil and you – though he is in your company and I imagine does many of the same things day to day, the two of you write very different sorts of letters. His say more about what is going on in camp and on patrol, while your poetic descriptions tell me much about where you are. And I must thank you for convincing Im to write more often, too. I read portions of his letters to our mother, who appreciates them no end.

How do I keep busy, you ask? I expect I am at least as busy as you are! Mother still does all she is able, but a good part of the supervision of the household is on my shoulders now. She keeps the account-books, but I must check them too, against daily expenses, for instance. Why, I get up at dawn, most days, and if I am lucky I can find a bit of time in the evening to write a letter, or read a story or a poem. What nonsense is my born brother trying to feed my adopted brother now, suggesting that I gad about all day?

I am afraid that I have not had time to continue my work on the “Lay of Nimrodel.” I have recently begun reading a treatise on moral philosophy – interesting, but difficult, so I progress slowly.

Love,
Finduilas

 

13 Nárië 2974

Dearest sister,

I can see why Thorongil’s men are so devoted to him now. Of course I have admired him since I joined this company, and before by reputation, but. . . well, let me tell you what happened last Aldëa.

The Rangers in Ithilien have a number of more-or-less permanent camps, but we don’t always stay at the same one. It’s thought to be good to shift the companies around occasionally so that we learn different parts of the country and don’t grow stale going over familiar territory all the time. Last week was the first time we had shifted since I arrived, though. It’s a fairly substantial undertaking and we had to borrow horses, mules, and wagons from several other companies to haul everything. Obviously moving makes us more vulnerable to attack as well, and the Orcs are clever enough spies to have discovered our procedures. They set an ambush for the wagons while we were all strung out along the trail, but you would have thought the captain expected it, because he brought the leading group back at just the right moment to catch the foul creatures in their own trap and kill them all. A very satisfying thing, that!

I find that I enjoy many things about this service – having friendships with other soldiers, seeing the beauty of these lands, knowing that what I do defends my home. But I cannot love the sword for its own sake. Many seem to do so. A few of my companions go into a kind of frenzy in battle, hardly seeming to know what they do, ignoring wounds in their lust to fight and kill. It’s effective, I suppose, but rather dreadful to witness. I think Thorongil feels as I do – glad to serve our people as he is most needed, but regretting that this must be the way of things.

But enough of these serious musings! There are lighter incidents as well. The fellow who generally dosses next to me is becoming known as a practical joker – one night he switched around every man’s boots, so that in the morning we all found they were too large or too small and had to scurry around trying on pair after pair to find our own again. Baldor was given four weeks on latrine duty, plus night watches, for that one, and a warning that if his jokes continued to endanger his comrades he could be dismissed in disgrace.

It grows warm, here, and I find I miss the sea-breezes and think enviously of you. Who do you go to swim with now, in the evenings? I wish I were there for it. A quick wash in a stream just isn’t the same.

With love,
Imrahil

 

2 Cermië 2974

Dear Finduilas,

I apologize most heartily for my unwarranted leap to the conclusion that your silence meant you no longer wished to write. Out here in lands rapidly returning to wilderness, I should have known better than to assume every letter written will be delivered to the intended recipient. To reach us here, yours go first to Minas Tirith and then travel by courier, if we are lucky, or with resupply trains if we are not. And the same applies in reverse; so there are plenty of opportunities for a message to go astray.

I thought you might enjoy this verse as a change from your moral metaphysics. My apologies for its old-fashioned air; the one or two volumes of poetry here in camp are quite elderly, having been salvaged from an abandoned farmhouse, and it appears that my own mode of expression has been influenced by those antiquated turns of phrase.

So is it not with me as with that muse
Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse,
Who Aman itself for ornament doth use
And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,
Making a couplement of proud compare
With sun and moon, with earth, and sea’s rich gems,
With tuilë
’s first-born flowers, and all things rare
That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.
O let me, true in love, but truly write,
And then believe me my love is as fair
As any mother’s child, though not so bright
As those gold candles fixed in heaven’s air.
Let them say more that like of hearsay well;
I will not praise that purpose not to sell. (3)

 

There is little of note to report. Our celebration of loëndë here was, I am sure, nothing like yours. Save for those who by ill-luck must play guard to the camp, the men mostly indulge in drink and song. I believe Imrahil had a sore head yesterday in consequence, but you probably should not tell him I said so!

Fraternally yours,
Thorongil

 

17 Cermië 2974

Dearest Im,

I fear I have ill-news for you this time. Mother is not at all well – even the kindly warmth of this season has done little to restore her health. There have even been days when she has been unable to leave her bed – and you know how unthinkable such a thing has always been for her. I really begin to fear that she may not live to this year’s end. I will write as often as I can to keep you informed of her condition. Do you think there is any chance that Thorongil might grant you leave to come home before the end of the year? Can you ask him, please?

One of the few unmitigated pleasures I now have is in receiving your letters, and others’. Denethor proves a surprisingly engaging correspondent, who has even sent along a few bits of verse, although he is not light-hearted as you are nor as lyrical as Captain Thorongil. I often take my letters outside to read and reread in the soft breezes of the evening, just before the sun sets.

As if it is trying to make up for the sadness within the walls, the garden is blooming as I have hardly seen it before – walking among the roses, more than once I have been dizzied by their fragrance. I have pressed several of the deepest red blooms to preserve them, and as you can see have enclosed one for you. A foolish thing, I know; you have little place for such frivolities as a Ranger. But bear it in memory of

your loving sister,

Finduilas

 

24 Urimë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

As my lady desires, so must I oblige.

Alone before, I saw you moving near –
All dressed in white like foam upon the shore,
When your enchanting voice I first did hear
I knew I’d love another nevermore.
My heart had long been shuttered, as a door
Does hinder light from entering a room;
Now opened through your kindness. I implore
You not to leave and resurrect my tomb.
The stars above are gleaming through the gloom
Of night, as your face outshone all the rest
When first I saw you, as it were a bloom
Of evermind in the undying West.
How can I end these words I say to you?
Except to say my love is always true.

Ever at your command,
Denethor

*******

Footnotes:

(1) Regarding dates and seasons:

In the later Third Age, Gondor followed the Stewards’ Reckoning, in which each month had 30 days and there were five days of holiday (six in leap years) that were counted outside the months.

The names of the months, beginning in midwinter, were: Narvinyë, Nénimë, Súlimë, Víressë, Lótessë, Nárië, Cermië, Urimë, Yavannië, Narquelië, Hísimë, Ringarë.

The holidays were: yestarë (the day before Narvinyë), tuilérë (between Súlimë and Víressë), loëndë (between Nárië and Cermië – doubled in leap years, and then called the enderi or middle-days), yáviérë (between Yavannië and Narquelië), and mettarë (day after Ringarë).

The days of the week were: Elenya (Stars’ Day), Anarya (Sun’s Day), Isilya (Moon’s Day), Aldëa (White Tree’s Day), Menelya (Heavens’ Day), Eärenya (Sea’s Day), Valanya (Valar’s Day). Valanya was sometimes called Tárion, the Powers’ Day, and corresponds most nearly to modern Sunday, though it had no religious significance.

The seasons were: tuilë (spring), lairë (summer), yávië (autumn/harvest), hrívë (winter); two additional terms used for late autumn or early winter were quellë and lasselanta.

[All this information is from Appendix D in The Return of the King.]

(2) “Moral metaphysics”: shades of Immanuel Kant here, yes. I really do not know his philosophy well enough to discuss it, I have merely borrowed a phrase.

(3) This is really William Shakespeare, sonnet 21, with a couple of words modified. I fear I cannot write sonnets of sufficient quality for Thorongil, so I have had to borrow. With his early years having been spent among the Elves of Imladris, he would have had a keen sense of image, as well as rhythm and phrasing. (Denethor’s verse, on the other hand, is his own, and shows his limitations.)

Chapter Text

26 Urimë 2974

Dear Thorongil,

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.

With love,
Finduilas

 

17 Yavannië 2974

Dear Fin,

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.

Always,
Im

 

9 Narquelië 2974

Dear Imrahil,

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.

With love,
Fin

 

13 Narquelië 2974

Dear Finduilas,

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,
Denethor

 

17 Hísimë 2974

Dear Denethor,

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,
Finduilas

 

5 Ringarë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

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.
Eia.
She stood, her face like a rose,
Shining she stood
And her mouth was a flower.
Eia.
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.

Fondest regards,
Thorongil

 

20 Ringarë 2974

Dear Finduilas,

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,
Denethor

*******

Footnotes:

(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.

Chapter Text

11 Narvinyë 2975

Dear Thorongil,

Having Imrahil home was wonderful; I cannot thank you enough for permitting it, and I hope what he hinted about his comrades being jealous of his special treatment is not true. He seemed so pleased overall with his accomplishments this past year, and especially that he stood on his own merits and did not trade on his name and blood for respect. It would be a shame if his love and loyalty to his mother were rewarded so. But I am sure that there is nothing you can do if this is the case; it is simply human nature to resent a distinction that appears undeserved.

Mother was so overjoyed to see him that it almost seemed she was not ill – for a little while. Now that he is gone she withers daily, though physically more resilient than I or the healers would ever have imagined. Though two months ago they gave her only a few weeks to live, now they shrug their shoulders and will make no guesses. But she is in great pain much of the time and reluctant to take the syrup of poppy that they recommend for it. I can hardly bear to see her agony, yet what can I do else? Comfort me, my friend and brother! I need your support. . .

Love,
Finduilas

 

11 Nénimë 2975

Dear Finduilas,

You know you have my greatest sympathy and respect for your endurance of this trial. I speak with Imrahil on occasion, to try to give him encouragement, but he is reluctant to discuss the matter. I know not whether he fears that my notice will break his anonymity, or if he simply does not want to think of such troubles. But it speaks well of you that you maintain your adherence to all your responsibilities; that is easy to do so when all else runs smooth, yet to do so in adversity shows true character. To that end I have another verse to send you:

They that have the power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who moving others are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow –
They rightly do inherit Varda’s graces,
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet
The basest weed outbraves his dignity;
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. (1)

You are no such lily, Finduilas, but a rose, upright and sturdy, perhaps a bit prickly at times but none the worse for that. I shall write again as soon as may be – I am called now to arms. Do not be troubled, it is only an ordinary sighting of Orcs, but we must needs deal with them promptly.

With love,
Thorongil

 

5 Súlimë 2975

Dear sister,

It dismays me to hear from you that Mother is once again losing ground to her illness. She seemed so much better than I had expected, while I was there, that I did hope for a time that all the healers’ predictions would prove mistaken. How is Father? Not that I expect him to be cheerful, in the circumstances, but he always used to say that the first hints of spring were his favorite time of the year, with the green shoots peeping above the ground and out of the bark, and the first flowers brightening the ground.

Here to the north the season is not yet so advanced, but waterlogged winter appears to be nearly over at last. Once again we will be changing camps. Thorongil is having us relocate far earlier this year, perhaps to avoid Orc-attacks like the one last spring. It certainly will not make it easier to move, going so early; all the trails and tracks are muddy and sodden with the remnants of last fall’s leaves.

Rumor has it that I’m going to be promoted soon. I doubt it – when I was traveling with Thorongil to join the company last year, he told me in private that since I had chosen to be anonymous among his men, he would not single me out in any way, and that I should not expect fast promotion. I think he was testing my resolve, really, and giving me a last chance to claim the position to which my blood might entitle me. But I declined. So it would be surprising if I were to be advanced now; there are plenty of good, competent men, at least as skilled as I, who have years more seniority. . .

Of course I still have the rose you sent me, you need hardly ask that. I keep it in a little leather pouch, and carry it with me on a thong around my neck whenever I am sent out on patrol, for luck. Do write back soon and tell me how Mother is, please?

With love,
Imrahil

 

30 Súlimë 2975

Dearest Imrahil,

The best that can be said is that Mother seems not to have declined much since I last wrote, but truly it pains me to see her. Father sits by her bedside every evening after the meal, holding her hand. They speak little, simply looking into each other’s eyes, but when she has fallen to sleep – and to my great relief she is at last willing to take the syrup of poppy that brings her some ease – he goes down to his study and shuts himself in. Once or twice he has been slow to rouse in the mornings, and I think he has been drinking too much wine. Thankfully everyone in the household understands and bears the additional burdens well.

Of course I avoided answering your questions about Denethor. The privilege of an older sister. As I have said before, I am pleased that he thinks so well of me, and I do believe he would like to wed me, but he has not asked me. Speaking with Father is not enough. In any case I am still not certain of my feelings. There is much to admire in him, but he is nearly old enough to be our father, so were I to wed him, I might look forward to many years as a widow. Besides, if and when he does ask, and I decide, you are too far away to hear my decision before I tell it to him. Hazards of your present occupation, brother mine, and by your own choice.

Speaking of that, even if you are not promoted, I think you should be proud that apparently your comrades consider you likely to be so. Why did you choose to be anonymous, again? Was it simply to prove yourself without any extra advantages? I was thinking the other day that it seemed rather odd that no one has recognized you; there are certainly plenty of local men who join the army in one capacity or another. Or are you using some other name to help prevent that? Or is there simply no one from Belfalas in your company? Please pardon your inquisitive sister, if you haven’t the inclination to answer. . .

love,
Finduilas

 

14 Víressë 2975

Dear Finduilas,

I am glad that both you and your father have enjoyed the History of Gondor and that Adrahil says that it is accurate for the lands of Belfalas as far as his knowledge extends. Perhaps I will acquiesce to young Golasgil’s suggestion that I commission an enlarged version of the work. Do you think Adrahil would find it worthwhile?

With the coming of spring, the pace of life in the city quickens as always. The Steward and I have been discussing the state of the walls and gates and at last we will begin to make some improvements to the Rammas Echor that encircles the Pelennor. The wall was built only twenty years ago, but it was put up in haste when Ithilien was deserted at last by all her folk, and the stonework was not always as well-wrought as it should have been. Since last harvest was remarkably fruitful through all the land, for once there are funds enough to do what is needed, there at any rate.

Busy though I am, I think of you often, and in spare moments continue to try my hand at verses for your amusement. Here is one humble specimen:

Her smile it was that first brought me to bliss.
Alone so long, I never thought I’d miss
Her face, her voice, and all she is to me.
I’d give up all my duties for her kiss.

Perhaps not to be taken quite literally, but I might be tempted, I confess. My regards to your parents, and deep sympathy and respect for you at this difficult time.

Yours,
Denethor

 

10 Lótessë 2975
Dear Thorongil,

Is there no name you would rather I called you? “Thorongil” seems so formal and distant for the address of a friend and sister. Choose you something else, and I will use that. Imrahil calls me “Fin,” you know, and if you like you are welcome to do so as well.

Your last letter was delightful, with the stories of your men and all their little quirks. Exactly what I needed to cheer me up. I grow weary sometimes, sitting up night after night with Mother, though neither she nor I would wish another to take my place. I look at her and it is as if her flesh has grown transparent, so thin and frail she has become. Simple existence draws nearer and nearer to agony, and yet she clings to life; I never thought to see my mother afraid, but it must be fear that holds her here, fear of what may come after. Is it just that I am young and strong, that I cannot understand that fear in her? For when I imagine myself in her position, dying far too soon for one of our blood, I do not dread death as she does. Reluctance to leave all that she loves, that I understand. I would not wish to leave my family either. Oh, I do not know what I mean.

I read a poem not long ago, in which the author complains that pity is dead. It is too long to give in whole here, but I shall enclose the first verse; if you like it I shall copy it the whole out to send to you some other time.

Pity, whom I have sought so long ago
With heart so sore and full of pain
That in this world was never one so full of woe
Without dying – and I shall not feign
My purpose was to Pity to complain
About the cruelty and tyranny
Of Love, that indeed shall make me die. (2)

I should also include another bit of verse by the same author, which suggests that he managed to get over his pique:

Since I, escaped from Love, am so fat
I never think to be in his prison lean;
Since I am free, I count him not a bean. (3)

The habit this poet had of personifying the concepts he discusses I find most unusual; do you know of any other poets who wrote similarly? I think perhaps he was not from Gondor, judging by his name, Marhari, which sounds rather like a name from Rohan. His odd verse forms also suggest a foreign origin. I have not translated them; this is the original wording as far as I am aware.

Ah, much as I would enjoy musing on poetry for longer, I must end this letter, for the candle burns low and I should snatch such rest as I may, before my mother wakes and calls for me. Soon I know I shall have to write to Imrahil with sad news; please, look after him if you can.

With love,
Finduilas

 

1 Nárië 2975

Dearest Im,

It is over. Mother is gone. Father and I are both thankful that she died in peace at the last, her spirit following the tide out in the early morning. I feel numb – she had been so ill for so long that her death is a relief, and yet how can I not mourn my mother?

But I have been awake now since yestermorn, and I can hardly put pen to paper and hope you may decipher my words. I will send this now and try to write to no one else at present. I love you, my brother. I wish you were here with me now to share our grief and lessen it.

Finduilas

 

27 Nárië 2975

Dear Finduilas,

My sincerest condolences on Nimíril’s death. I know that you were close to your mother and must be distressed by the event, long-expected though it has been. The few times I met her, I found her charming. Your father must also be feeling great loss. Please convey to him my personal sympathies, though of course he will also receive a formal letter from the Steward.

If there is aught I might do for you or for your father from here in Minas Tirith, please do not hesitate to call upon my willing services. I will not impose further on your time now, but will write again soon.

Always at your command,
Denethor

 

6 Cermië 2975

My dear Finduilas,

I cannot tell you how my heart goes out to you at the news of your loss. Though I, too, have lost a parent, my father died before I was old enough to have known and missed him, and my foster-father was all that a father could have been to me. So I have not experienced the same sense of loss that you must now feel. All I can say is that I wish I could be there for your comfort, or that I could send Imrahil to you – I know that it would be what you would want, and he too, to be able to be with his beloved sister, but it is not possible at this time. Midsummer is the worst season for raids, and I cannot spare a man; nor would he be willing to go and leave us shorthanded.

Be sure that you are often in my thoughts. Some time ago you asked if there was another name by which you might call me. If you wish, you may call me Estel – it was a pet name given me in my youth, and at this time it might remind you that whatever may happen, there is yet hope in the world.

Your loving brother,
Thorongil

 

12 Cermië 2975

Oh Fin,

I knew before I opened your letter what it must contain. I’m sorry that I haven’t written back to you sooner; unfair of me, I know, when you are the one who was there at the end and whose grief must be greater than anyone else’s except Father’s. But I put off and put off opening it, hoping that if I did not read the words it would not be real. Finally Captain Thorongil asked me how I was, and it was clear that you had written the news to him as well. I had to admit that I had not yet read your letter – shameful, that. And then it was my turn at patrol and I had no chance to respond for a bit. Please forgive me.

How is Father? And how are you? I wake in the morning and from habit wonder how Mother is – and then I remember, and my heart turns cold despite the heat of the season. I cannot believe I will never see her again. I shall write soon again, I promise. I love you.

Im

 

8 Yavannië 2975

Dear Denethor,

I have not thanked you properly for all your kind letters, and indeed I am several behind in answering. I do hope that you will understand. The verses in your last were delightful; I especially liked the lines

And should we come to be as one, I know
True union will our inspiration be.
Together we shall stand up to each blow
In life, as shelter from the roaring sea.

This is one of your own compositions, is it not? I did not recognize it from elsewhere.

It seems hard that life must continue as always, but slowly things are returning to their usual pattern. Harvest is nearly in and soon we shall have the autumn festival to celebrate the end of a fruitful season. And if I am more grieved than last yáviérë, still I have less to worry me, and so I shall take part as always.

My father seems likely to come to Minas Tirith this winter, and I shall probably accompany him, having no wish to stay here alone. I would certainly look forward to seeing you again and perhaps taking another tour of the city in your company? I would be more prudent in how I dress. . .

Very truly yours,
Finduilas

 

9 Narquelië 2975

My dear Finduilas,

I would be delighted to see you again this Ringarë. Unless you tell me otherwise, I shall dare to assume that it will be so. Do not worry about strolling through the city; the new patrols have done well at reducing theft and crime of all sorts. You might without fear wear anything you choose.

A few days ago I thought of you and wrote these lines:

Her hair like netted darkness, set with pearls
Above a neck of alabaster white;
Her skirts about her slender figure swirled –
These were the things that caught me at first sight.
But later ’twas her gentle dulcet tone –
A lómelindë’s voice I must it call –
That wrenched from my poor heart a muffled moan;
All lost amid the bustle in that Hall.
Her willingness to chance an unknown road
Drew forth my admiration and my pride.
Acceptance of her loss – to me that showed
Great virtue. Now, can I make her my bride?
I never thought to feel a love like this –
Acceptance by her would bring me to bliss.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Your Denethor

 

26 Narquelië 2975

Dear Denethor,

I hope I do not presume, but I must be certain that I do not misunderstand. The poem in your last letter – did you ask me to wed you?

Awaiting your reply,
Finduilas

 

27 Narquelië 2975

Dear Im,

I am in a bit of a shock. Well, perhaps not entirely a shock, but a surprise. I think that Denethor has finally asked me to marry him, as I have long presumed was his intention but had begun to doubt with the delay. I could not be quite sure as he sent me a verse, rather than an explicit proposal. So I have written back to make sure I did not misunderstand.

How would you feel if your sister were the Lady of Gondor, Im?

Love,
Finduilas

 

27 Narquelië 2975

Dear Estel,

An appropriate name to call you, in the circumstances, for I am holding onto hope as if onto a branch in a stormy sea. I thought this might happen, and I was never certain whether I willed it or no, but now that I think it has I cannot rest until I know. You are wondering what your adopted sister babbles about. Lord Denethor – I think – has asked me to wed him. He put it in a poem and so I have had to ask if that is indeed what he intended. Soon I shall hear. And then I shall have to determine whether I will accept his proposal.

I hope, though, that should it come to pass that I wed him that it will make no difference in our friendship. These last two years I have greatly appreciated being able to confide in you and speak freely with you, albeit by letter. Rest assured that I will retain all my affection for you!

With love,
Finduilas

 

11 Hísimë 2975

My dearest Finduilas,

Indeed, yes, my lady. I love you and I wish to wed you as soon as you would be willing. What say you then? Please, do not keep me waiting for your reply. I am,

ever at your bidding,
Denethor

*******

Footnotes:

(1) Thorongil is anachronistically channeling William Shakespeare again. This is sonnet 94, with a word or two modified.

(2) This is my translation of the first verse of one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s lesser-known poems, “The Complaint Unto Pity.”

(3) Part of another Chaucerian poem, “Merciles Beaute,” again my translation.

Chapter Text

Finduilas pulled her cloak around her as the wind struck across the bare hill. She had come here to watch the sea and reread her last letter from Denethor, in which the Heir to the Steward of Gondor had asked her to wed him. The midafternoon sun dropped into a belt of cloud, only an occasional bright gleam escaping.

Certainly it was pleasing, even flattering, to be sought by the Steward’s Heir. Finduilas had known from the beginning of their correspondence that this would be the likely end; Denethor was far too practical to be courting her interest for the sake of friendship alone, not when he remained unmarried at this late age. Moreover her father had intimated as much shortly after their last return from Minas Tirith.

“I understand that the Lord Denethor will be writing to you,” Adrahil had told her. “I would urge you to reciprocate kindly. It would be not unpleasing to me or your mother should our house be joined with the House of Húrin, though I shall leave matters to your discretion.”

She had, naturally, agreed to reply to Denethor’s letters, at first perhaps largely out of a sense of duty to her family, but soon because she enjoyed receiving them and wanted to respond for her own sake. Denethor was scarcely the warmest of men, but she rather thought that it was lack of practice, not lack of emotion, that made his missives seem stiff. She enjoyed their discussions of rulers’ obligations, and of poetry, and he had been kind and supportive of her sorrow throughout her mother’s illness and death.

But to set against that, of course, were other points. Finduilas was even now but twenty-five, and Denethor some twenty years her senior, far closer to her father’s age than hers. Marriage to him might well end in years of loneliness. Should she wed him, too, she would have to live in Minas Tirith; a great and proud city, but with her stony walls forbidding to one used to the gentler life of Dol Amroth. Leaving her home would be painful. Imrahil was no longer there, but her father was, and he was still recovering from Nimíril’s loss. Could she abandon him to his grief? Denethor was quite pressing that he wished to wed her as soon as she would be willing, a reasonable request after nearly two years of courtship, even if carried out by letter rather than in person.

Perhaps most to be considered was simply – did she love him as a wife should hope to love her husband? Finduilas watched the seagulls skimming the waves in the fading light of day and considered. Denethor. He seemed curiously vulnerable to her; the contrast between some of the remarks he made in his letters and then the verses he wrote suggested a man struggling to convey the unfamiliar.

She sometimes wondered just why it was that he loved her, as he so clearly did. She knew that she was beautiful, but he could have his choice of any beauty in the land. The political advantage of alliance with the greatest prince in Gondor went without saying, yet there were other, almost equally desirable connections: her friend Elerrína, the daughter of Forlong of Lossarnach, for instance. Finduilas shrugged. In the end it mattered little why Denethor had chosen her. It remained only to decide whether she should in turn choose him.

Perhaps I should consult Father, she concluded, turning her steps homeward. In any case he should know of this proposal. I wish I could talk with Im about it, but it would take too long to send letters back and forth. Maybe he will send a note with his thoughts before we leave, though.

In only a few days they planned to journey to Minas Tirith for the festival season, leaving the care of Belfalas in the hands of Adrahil’s steward, Vardil. Nimíril’s illness had prevented it the previous year, but Adrahil felt obliged to make the trip this season, to lend his voice to Ecthelion’s Council. Finduilas had been pleased at the idea even before Denethor’s proposal, and now had even greater reason to visit the White City.

Since I shall be there soon, she decided, I will write to Denethor and tell him that I will give my answer in person. I want to see him again, first.

Entering the hall, she gave her cloak to a maidservant and hastily prepared for the evening meal. She had been walking for longer than she had thought, and Adrahil seemed a little put out by her tardiness as she slipped into her seat. At least this evening they were dining privately rather than with the whole household, or the offense would have been worse.

“What kept you, Finduilas?” he inquired, forking a piece of fish onto his plate. “I asked, but you were nowhere in the house. Did you go down to the marketplace?”

“No, Father, I was walking on the hills, looking at the sea and thinking.” She passed him the dish of vegetables and added, “I have something to consult with you about, something quite important.”

“Yes? What is it, daughter?”

“Lord Denethor has asked me to wed him,” said Finduilas quietly. “That is what I have been considering all afternoon.”

“So he has come out to say it to you at last. He asked me for my permission when last we were in Minas Tirith, you know, and I told him that he had better convince you himself, for I would not order you to marry,” said Adrahil. “Since you are asking my advice, I presume you have not yet made up your mind?”

“No,” she sighed. “I am fond of him, certainly, but I do not know if what I feel is what a wife should feel.”

“Is there anyone else for whom you have such affection? I have never interfered with your correspondence, but I am aware that you have been writing to Imrahil’s captain, Thorongil, more often than just to inquire after your brother’s welfare. Is Thorongil a man more to your liking? I warn you, though, that I would be reluctant to see you wed him; we know nothing of his family, and I doubt he could support any wife, much less a woman of your station.”

“I do like Thorongil, but for him I feel much what I do for Imrahil – the affection of a sister, not a lover,” she said. “What I feel towards Denethor is different. I admire him very much, I am pleased and flattered by his attention – but I also find him stern and even intimidating at times; I am not certain I know him, if that makes any sense.”

“It does,” said Adrahil, picking up her hand and patting it. “But that need not prevent you from accepting him. I did not feel I knew your mother until we were many years wedded. To understand another simply takes time. I tell you, Finduilas, imagine how it would be to be married to Denethor – both the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, the rights and the responsibilities. You know enough of what they would be to be honest with yourself. Then imagine other possibilities for your life: marriage to another man, perhaps, or remaining unwed here and watching your brother with wife and children over the years. What would be best for you, yes, but also for him, and for our people? The decision is yours.”

He cleared his throat and stood up. “I will leave you to think about that. In the meantime, would you like to come to my study and play a game of draughts against your old father, or had you something else to do this evening?”

“I would be happy to play,” said Finduilas, rising and beckoning for the table to be cleared. “I will think about what you have said, too. This afternoon I decided to send a note to Denethor tomorrow to tell him that I would let him know of my decision sometime after we arrive in Minas Tirith.”

“Good girl,” Adrahil approved. He took her elbow and led her down the corridor.

“Now to serious business. Will you take black, or white?”

***

The letters arrived as she was choosing which gowns to take with her to the city: one from Imrahil, and one from Thorongil. For once Im had written promptly – he was an entertaining but sometimes dilatory correspondent. She opened his first, scanning the lines eagerly.

“Dear sister,” he began, “It sounds as if you have already made up your mind, since you are asking what I would think of you as Lady of Gondor. A silly question, as of course you know. You would grace any position – I say that as a man, rather than as your brother. As your brother I would hate to lose you to anyone, Denethor neither more nor less than any other.

“I am certain you would make him happy. You could make any man happy, I think. But will he do the same for you, and your children? We were lucky in our parents, you know, I’ve learned that hearing other men’s tales of their childhoods, even the officers’ on occasion. Don’t sell yourself short, that’s all I say. He has position and blood, right enough, but has he the heart you need and deserve?”

The rest of the letter turned to the latest news of the company, and Finduilas skimmed through quickly, laying it aside to reread later, and picking up Thorongil’s letter instead.

“My dear Fin, You see that I shall address you as an older brother to a beloved young sister. Since Estel must be far away, it is good to know that you have estel yet. (1) If hope for Denethor’s love pleases you, then I rejoice on your behalf. He is a worthy son of an excellent father, and if he and I do not always see eye-to-eye on some matters, well, nor do any two men, as well you know. I am sure that he will treat you with all honor. . .

“. . .I hope to be in Minas Tirith in the third or fourth week of Ringarë, and may be able to remain until the first of the year or a bit longer. I would very much like to spend some time with you, if we can manage it. I will send a note to your father’s house there when I arrive. With love, Thorongil”

Finduilas frowned a little, reading. Thorongil says nothing that is not praise, and yet somehow he conveys hesitation. Perhaps it is simply some small quarrel between the two – I know how that can happen, when one must balance different demands – perhaps Thorongil requested additional men or supplies and was denied, though for good reason. He does say he rejoices for me, after all. Im is more overt in his questioning, but he seems to think I have already made up my mind! Well, have I?

She piled the leaves of parchment together tidily and rose from her seat. She walked to the window and stood looking out into the garden, bleak at this season but glorious with color in her memory.

I do not know that I need a great romance to make me happy. If my affection is not as intense as Denethor’s, what matter? There is surely no one else who might stand as his rival. I could – I would – make him happy, and knowing I had done so would satisfy me too. Im thinks he lacks heart, but that is not so. At least he lacks none for me. If he is less giving to others, could I not help him there, teach him to transfer to them some of his love for me?

Perhaps I have decided. But I shall still wait a little, until we have spent more time in each other’s company. Letters may tell much, but they are not the same as a true conversation, together in one room. If I am lucky, I shall be able to see Thorongil and speak with him before I tell Denethor yea – I would like to hear his thoughts more precisely. Too bad Imrahil will not be coming to Minas Tirith as well, but I expect Thorongil would have mentioned it were there even a chance of that.

She returned to her packing, debating with herself about how many riding-gowns to bring, and whether the wine-colored silk would be better than the deep blue. With Nimíril’s death, she would not wear pale colors, but dark ones were acceptable after half a year. One item she checked and double-checked to ensure that it was in the pile of things to be taken: a lace collar with a moon-and-stars pattern. She hesitated over the contents of her writing-desk, but finally decided to bring along all her letters from the previous two years, and the book of verses that Denethor had sent. He had once hinted that he would like to hear her read from it, and this would be the first possible chance to do so and show her appreciation for the gift.

At last all was ready, her trunks closed and waiting to be put on shipboard. A tap sounded at the doorway.

“Yes, come in,” Finduilas said, pushing back her hair.

Her father entered. He held a flat box which he gave to her, saying, “This was your grandmother’s – my mother’s. Your mother wore it once or twice, but it did not really suit her, so she put it aside for you, someday. It is time that you had it.”

Finduilas undid the silver clasps that held the dark wood together, and drew in her breath. Inside lay a coronet of silver and pearls, fashioned to look like a pair of swan’s wings.

“I remember this,” she said, touching it gently with one finger. “Mother wore it one year at mettarë, the year before Imrahil was born, I suppose, because I don’t remember him there. I thought it was the most beautiful jewel I had ever seen. Thank you, Father.”

She hugged him tightly and tucked her head against his shoulder. Adrahil returned the embrace.

“As I said, Finduilas, your mother did not care for it, so I am glad that you do. It ought to suit you well, for you look much like your grandmother who had it made to her order. Would you care to try it on? I thought perhaps you would like to take it along to wear at the Lord Steward’s Feast.”

“My hair is hardly dressed for it, but. . .”

She set it on her head and faced Adrahil. “What do you think?”

“Lovely,” he said, kissing her cheek. “Now I had better go and finish getting ready myself – I see you are already done. I hope there is room to slip this in as well!”

“I am sure there is,” said Finduilas. “If you need any help. . .?”

“No, no, I am just slow. I will be done soon, and then we can have everything taken down to the ship. In an hour, perhaps,” and Adrahil left.

Finduilas went over to look in the mirror and see for herself. It will look better with my hair done properly, she thought, but it is truly a beautiful thing. Swan’s wings, too, to remind me of the family from which I come, whomever I marry.

She took the coronet off with careful fingers and replaced it in the padded box. The trunk on the right had not been quite full. She rearranged a few clothes to slip the box securely inside, then refastened the bindings. Calling to a servant, she asked that her baggage be taken down to the ship that would carry her to Minas Tirith.

*******

Footnote:

(1) Estel: “hope.” “Estel” was the name that Aragorn used as a child in Elrond’s house.

Chapter Text

The hot sun of early Urimë beat down on the flattened pale grasses of the practice field. Thorongil could see sweat beading on the faces and necks of his men as they paused at the end of the exercise. “Again,” he said.

The five junior recruits pulled faces of varying dismay, but obediently raised their weapons and ran through the drill once more. Thorongil had paired Imrahil with himself; the scion of Dol Amroth strained to block his captain’s moves, but this was the most effective way for him to learn as quickly as possible. Though Thorongil had made no undertaking to promote Imrahil quickly, he intended to do so if he could, and so far the lad showed great promise.

As they finished, young Arthad gave a shout. “Supply train!”

Sure enough, three wagons were creaking along the rough trail that led from the great Harad Road to the site of the company’s camp in the forests of North Ithilien. Thorongil wondered if there would be a letter from Finduilas either for himself or for Imrahil; the lady was a faithful correspondent, and nearly every courier brought some missive from the south for either her birth-brother or her adopted one.

Then he caught sight of the outriders accompanying the wagons. What in Arda is the Lord Denethor doing here? He told the recruits to go back to camp, put away their gear, and clean themselves up, asking Imrahil in addition to tell the officers that they had a high-ranking visitor arriving.

Hurrying forward, he wished that he had had warning of this visit. Not that he feared that Denethor would find aught amiss, but an extra inspection would have done no harm.

“My lord,” he bowed. “What brings the Captain of the White Tower here to Ithilien? What may we do for you?”

Denethor dismounted and handed his reins over, telling the man to be sure to check over his horse’s feet before placing it on the picket lines or in the stables. “I come not as the Captain of the White Tower, but rather in the stead of the Steward. He has asked me to survey all of the camps and companies of Ithilien with an eye to determining their best disposition.”

“I see. Do you begin with us, or end?”

“Yours is the second company of Rangers that I will visit. I expect to spend two or three days here before moving on. I would like to look around the camp, of course, and probably accompany some of your men on patrol as well,” said Denethor.

“Of course, as you choose. Come, I will have a tent readied for you.” Thorongil glanced at the sun. “The evening meal will be served in less than two hours. I generally eat with my officers and with several of the men in rotation; I find that it helps morale to give the men a chance to speak more freely. Will you join me?”

“Certainly. I am sure you will first wish to supervise the unloading of your supplies, however.”

“I do, so I will send one of the lads to fetch you when it is time.” He paused before a large tent and gestured at it. “You may sleep here; normally it is used as the infirmary, but at present we have no men wounded so gravely as to need it, and it is the largest available. There is even a table within; I imagine you may wish to write down your impressions of what you see here. One of the men will be here shortly to see if you need anything else,” said Thorongil.

“Thank you, Captain Thorongil. I am sure it will suit well.” Denethor sketched a bow and entered the tent.

Watching the unloading of the bags of flour and beans into storage, Thorongil still wondered why the Steward had chosen to send Denethor rather than coming himself, as was his wont. I hope this does not mean that Ecthelion is not well. Perhaps he simply finds himself too busy this year; he has always seemed to enjoy traveling around the lands of Gondor. Had he been born into another family, I think he would have made an excellent merchant!

“Here’s the post, captain.” Aldadil, his second, handed him the leather pouch. “A fair few letters this time, it seems.”

Thorongil quickly sorted through them. Mostly personal messages to the men, one or two official communications for himself – though he rather thought that Denethor might have more to give him – and, yes, a letter from Finduilas to Imrahil. Taking his own, he handed the rest back to Aldadil.

“See that these reach the men this evening. I wouldn’t want anyone to be delayed in hearing from his sweetheart or family! Those to the men currently on patrol, you can leave with their tentmates or bring back to me to keep for their return, as you think best. Oh, and make sure that there is an extra place at my table tonight; Captain Denethor will be joining us.”

Aldadil’s eyes widened. “Do you want the men on rota to sit there, then, or not?”

“Whose turn is it?”

“It’s all youngsters today: Imrahil, Arthad, and Baldor. Well, Baldor isn’t that young, I suppose, but he’s from Pinnath Gelin and a bit of a cut-up, so I think of him as one of the lads. I’ll be there, of course, and Dagnir, and sergeant Lasmir, but Ostoher is out on patrol. Suits you?”

“That will be fine. I told Captain Denethor that I normally eat with some of the men as well as my officers, so he’ll be expecting that. Just make sure that Denethor sits next to me, and perhaps place Imrahil to his other side. Put Baldor at the other end of the table, I think,” Thorongil instructed.

Aldadil winked, saying, “Your reputation for wisdom is once again proved accurate! Don’t worry, I’ll make sure that Baldor is as far from the Lord Captain as possible.”

Thorongil went to his own tent to splash water on his face and change into fresh clothing for the meal, something he rarely bothered to do out in the wilds. Whatever Denethor is looking for, we’ll show him our best.

***

Denethor nodded politely, if rather stiffly, at both officers and enlisted men as he moved to sit next to Thorongil’s side at the table.

“I fear that we have only standard camp fare to offer you,” said Thorongil lightly. “The supply wagons came too late today for anything more.”

A wave of Denethor’s hand dismissed the matter. “I would expect nothing else. I do not require special treatment; in fact I prefer to share what your men eat.” He looked down at his plate. “Indeed, I see they dine quite well.”

“The advantage of the season; there are still enough abandoned farms nearby that it is quite easy to get the men to gather a few fruits and so on, as they return from their patrols. They know it will improve their meals, at least for the time being.”

“I see.” Denethor turned toward his right.

Oh, no. I forgot to warn Denethor that Imrahil was maintaining anonymity here. An ordinary recruit would not be known to the Steward’s Heir!

Luckily Denethor did not address the young man by name, merely inquiring, “And how do you feel about acting as half-farmer, then? Was this what you expected when you joined Captain Thorongil’s company?”

“Not what I expected, no sir, but I don’t mind it. I would willingly pick a few plums, and even dig a few carrots, rather than live on dried beans and bread all the time,” Imrahil responded.

Thorongil added quickly, “Young Imrahil is one of our best new recruits this year, Captain Denethor. I believe you are scheduled to go out on patrol tomorrow, are you not, Imrahil?” At the boy’s nod, he continued, “Since you wished to join one of the patrols, I would recommend that one. They will be sweeping southward as far as the waterfall of Henneth Annûn, and then returning the next day.”

Denethor raised a forkful of beans to his mouth. “That would suit. I will wish to speak with you and your officers privately as well, tonight or later.”

“We are at your command, sir,” said Thorongil, inclining his head in respect.

The other man gazed at him a moment, plainly suspecting mockery, but there was nothing to be said. The conversation at table then became general, about the state of the roads and the weather – Lasmir claimed it was the worst year for thunderstorms he had seen in twenty-three years’ service in Ithilien. Denethor listened carefully to what both officers and men had to say; Thorongil was relieved that Aldadil was sitting next to Baldor, ready to intervene if the latter began some unfortunate story.

At the end of the meal he offered Denethor another mug of ale and a pipe in his tent. The Steward’s Heir accepted the first, but remarked that he saw the pipe as a filthy habit.

“Perhaps so,” Thorongil admitted, “but one I learned in my youth. I have shared many a pipe with a companion.”

“Such as?” Denethor lifted an eyebrow.

“The lord Mithrandir, for one. He visited Rohan while I was in Thengel-King’s service.” True so far as it goes, if not the entire truth of the matter.

“Ah. So you know Mithrandir. And what drew you to Gondor? I do not believe I have ever heard your reasons.”

Careful, now. I do not know why he enquires thus, but I mislike the gleam in his eye. “I found life among the Rohirrim too limiting. I wished to see more of the world, to find a place where I could hone my skills and put them to good use,” said Thorongil.

“Do you not find captaining a band of Ithilien Rangers too limiting as well, a man of your evident abilities? I know the Steward sponsors this company; I am surprised you have not asked him for more. No doubt he would grant whatever you wished,” Denethor shut his lips tightly.

Now we come to it. He fears my ambition, and is surely aware of the rumors of my parentage. No wonder, then, that he sees me as a threat to his position as both son and commander.

“I have no immediate wish to leave this station,” he answered mildly. “The Steward assigned me to serve in Ithilien, and here I will remain until he chooses otherwise. I swore oath to serve faithfully, obey willingly, and advise wisely; and should he ask my advice, I would say to strengthen the forces here, yes, but also to look to the south. When last I was in Minas Tirith I heard rumors that Umbar prepared for war. I imagine you have heard them as well.”

Denethor favored him with a long look, then raised his ale to his lips. Setting the emptied cup aside, he replied, “Umbar may be a distant threat, but Gondor’s true enemy is the Dark Lord to the east. I would support adding to the defense of Ithilien, but not diverting our strength southward at this time, not until and unless we are more immediately threatened there. Since I speak for the Steward, what would your advice be to him there – to enlarge the present companies, or add more of them? I am inclined to the latter.”

Thorongil frowned, pondering the implications of the different possibilities. “It depends on the number of good, reliable officers available,” he said. “More smaller companies would perhaps serve the purpose better, but only if led by competent men.”

“True,” conceded Denethor, “though I think that need not be seen as a grave difficulty. Many of our present lower officers might be worthy of promotion, though their captains would doubtless regret the loss to their companies. Would not your own second – Aldadil, is that not his name? – make a fine captain?”

“He would,” Thorongil agreed. “But the hour grows late. Shall we discuss this further upon your return, two days hence?”

Denethor nodded, but remained seated.

“Was there something else you wished, my lord?” inquired Thorongil.

The Captain of the White Tower hesitated. “No – no – nothing. That is – young Imrahil is one of those who will go out on patrol tomorrow, is he not?”

“He is,” said Thorongil, puzzled.

“Very well.” Denethor nodded curtly and rose, bidding the other a good night.

The next morning Thorongil beckoned Imrahil to him as the lad was packing his gear to leave.

“Captain Denethor was inquiring about you last night. He wanted to be sure that you were one of the men on today’s patrol. Would you happen to know why his interest?”

Imrahil grinned. “I can only imagine that he wishes to speak to me of my sister.”

“Finduilas? Why?”

“Why, because they have been corresponding since Narvinyë. She says – and I expect she is right – that Denethor would like to wed her. Though he has not yet said so to her in so many words, I believe he may have spoken to our father. I received a letter from Finduilas last night, you know, and while Denethor is probably not aware of that, he may well hope I have fresher news of her than he.”

“I see,” said Thorongil thoughtfully. That would explain what I saw at the Steward’s dinner, last winter; though I am rather surprised that Finduilas has made no mention of this to me. He clapped Imrahil on the shoulder. “Ready to go? A two-day patrol should be no trouble to you.”

“Indeed not.” Imrahil patted the breast of his tunic. “And I have a charm for luck, now; Fin has sent me a rose from the gardens at Dol Amroth, with the injunction to bear her in mind as I carry it.”

“A kind thought.” Thorongil paused for a moment, then added, “It might be wise of you not to mention that your sister corresponds with me as well as yourself, should the subject arise. Though she calls me a second brother, I do not know but that Denethor might misconstrue her affection.”

“True enough,” said Imrahil. “He seems not to be a warm man, himself, and might not understand the emotions of others. I shall be discreet, I promise.” He looked over and said, “It seems that the others are all now ready; so I will see you in a couple of days, captain.”

Thorongil spoke a few words with Dagnir, who was in charge of the detachment, and watched them depart. Denethor asks for no special treatment, he thought, which is as well since we have little ability here to provide such! I will be curious to know how he fares. Commanding the Guards of the Citadel and acting as his father’s assistant is an honorable position, but not the best preparation for an excursion into the back country of Ithilien.

***

Two evenings later the patrol returned, without incident. It seemed that the drowsy heat was keeping even the Orcs denned up in their caves in the Ephel Dúath. Thorongil was relieved; he had not seriously worried that some harm would come to Denethor, but accidents could always happen and it would not look well to have the man injured while – in a sense – under his authority.

Denethor immediately went to his tent to write up his impressions of the patrol and the company. Thorongil was in the midst of another practice with his recruits, and was pleased to see Imrahil drop his gear in his tent and come to join them.

“How fared you with the captain?” Thorongil asked in an undertone as he showed the lad what he had missed.

“He is well enough as a soldier,” shrugged Imrahil. “He made no complaint at the pace nor the discomfort.”

“And did he speak with you of your sister?”

Imrahil shook his head. “Hardly at all. He watched me a good deal, but we spoke little. He did ask if she was well, the last I had heard, and I assured him that she was, although distressed by our mother’s health.” After a moment he continued, “Speaking of which, sir, Finduilas begged me to ask if there would be any chance of my obtaining leave to go home to visit before the end of this year; it seems unlikely that my mother will live much longer.” His face tightened and he bit his lip.

“I will see what may be possible. I will certainly oblige you, if I can; though it might cost you your anonymity, to have special consideration given,” said Thorongil. “We will speak of this again. Now, take the stance as I showed you, and let us have at it.”

His attention divided between his defense against Imrahil and the actions of the other four recruits, Thorongil was nonetheless startled when the heir of Dol Amroth managed a touch on his wrist.

“Well done,” he congratulated the panting lad. “Especially coming at the end of a long day! All right, now,” he called to the others. “Put up your weapons. We will practice again tomorrow, those of you who are here. But now it’s time for the evening mess, so off to your tents to stow your things first.”

The young men jogged off towards the line of flapping canvas, and Thorongil followed more slowly. He saw Denethor standing, speaking with Aldadil, but the men broke off their conversation as he approached.

“Did you enjoy your two days out in the hills?” he asked the other captain.

“Well enough,” said Denethor indifferently. “I was more interested in seeing how your officer and men conducted their business, and the lay of the land. I was just speaking with Aldadil here,” he laid a hand on the other’s arm, “about the possibility of adding new companies. I trust you would be willing to relinquish his assistance, should it come to that? I would not rob you of all your officers, of course, but you spoke well of his abilities and he sounds a likely man for promotion. No changes would happen until after the year’s turning, but I thought you should be forewarned.”

“I should be very sorry to lose Aldadil as a second, certainly, but I would not stand in the way of his advancement,” replied Thorongil, receiving a broad smile from the man in question.

“Good. I will make note of that, in my report to the Steward.” Denethor looked toward the mess tent. “Is it time for the meal? You will excuse me for a moment to get ready. I will be there shortly.” He turned towards his own tent.

Aldadil nudged Thorongil’s arm, grinning openly. “How about that, then? A promotion! Not that I haven’t enjoyed serving under you, sir, but the chance for my own command – well, you can see that I wouldn’t turn it down.”

“No, of course not. We can talk about the differences between a second and a captainship, over the winter, if you like, so that whenever this might come through, you’ll be prepared for it.”

“Do you suppose that you’ll get a new officer assigned in my place, or will you just move everyone here up a rank, and find some bright fellow to fill Ostoher’s position? There are several likely possibilities; Sarnegil, for one, or even young Imrahil, perhaps. He puts me in mind of someone, that lad, though I’m not sure who,” said Aldadil, brow wrinkling.

“Ah, he looks like every other lanky lad, as far as I can tell,” Thorongil turned the conversation, and chatting companionably, they moved on.

We shall see what we shall see. I begin to understand Denethor’s purposes here; I wonder if he sees what he does as clearly as I.

That evening at dinner Denethor sat away from Thorongil, talking earnestly with Aldadil on his left and Dagnir on his right. Ostoher’s patrol had returned late that morning and the junior officer sat opposite the Steward’s Heir, listening.

Thorongil smiled at the three enlisted men on his end of the table. “Any news or complaints to give me today?”

They looked at one another, and Horon glanced furtively along the board towards the other officers. “Not at present, sir, no,” he muttered.

“I see,” said Thorongil slowly. “Well, then, would you pass that dish of beans along to me? I don’t know what they’ve seasoned it with, but it’s more flavorful than usual.” Taking a large spoonful, he tried another topic. “Did you reach Henneth Annûn in time to see the sunset from behind the waterfall?”

Horon’s face broke into a smile. “Yes, we did. Who would have thought a cave could look like that? Ciryon here said it would be better than living in a palace.”

“Not that he’s ever been in a palace, I’m sure,” Sarnegil interjected.

Ciryon dug an elbow into Sarnegil’s ribs. “As if you have, either. Captain, what would you say? You’ve been in both.”

“Palaces have their uses, but for beauty I would take the Window on the Sunset,” Thorongil admitted. “Not that I am likely to ever spend much time in either, any more than any of you.”

“But you have to report to the Steward when you’re in Minas Tirith, don’t you? And I heard that he invites all the captains to the Feast at mettarë, those in the city at least, so you must have gone last winter,” said Horon.

Sarnegil added, “I heard the captain danced with the daughter of Dol Amroth there. Reason enough to aspire to an officer’s position for me!” He chuckled to show that he did not really think that was a sufficient motive.

Thorongil noticed that Denethor had turned his head at the sound of the words “Dol Amroth.” And you would expect otherwise? Best to shift the topic, now.

He spoke to Sarnegil. “If you really are interested in the chance of becoming an officer, then show it. We are always on the lookout for men who want responsibility.”

The fellow’s eyes widened and he swallowed. “Thank you, sir. I will. I mean, I do. I mean. . .”

“He’s overcome,” said Ciryon. “Don’t mind him, he’ll learn to speak again sometime. Here, Sarnegil, have another helping of stew and you’ll grow up big and strong like the captain here.”

Talk then turned to more general matters for a few minutes until the meal was ended. When the three men had left to go to their assigned chores for the evening, Thorongil stood and asked Denethor and his officers to join him in his tent.

Handing around mugs of ale, he said, “You wished to speak with all of us before your departure tomorrow, I believe, my lord.”

The Captain of the White Tower nodded, accepting the drink. “Yes. I have spoken with each of you already at least once, but to ensure that everyone knows what the Lord Steward’s plans are, this meeting is wise.” He sat stiffly upright on the one chair in Thorongil’s tent; Thorongil himself and the other officers made do with camp stools. “The Lord Ecthelion is concerned about the encroachments of the Orcs and other vermin into Ithilien and intends to strengthen our presence here. The most probable decision – the one I shall certainly urge – is to increase the number of companies, rather than the size of each. So it is quite likely that some of you junior officers may be promoted and dispersed. Captain Thorongil will, I expect, remain in his present command here, where his talents at training recruits seem to be put to good use. He has indicated that he has no particular ambition to move.” Denethor smiled coldly.

Thorongil heard the speech in wearied annoyance. That is not exactly what I said. But to say otherwise now would only show me in an ill light, caviling at changes and unwilling to accept the promotion of good men. Cleverly done. Denethor will do well as Steward, someday, but it will be best for me to be gone before that day arrives – unless I choose to press my own claim.

Aldadil was looking at his captain in some surprise. He knows better; we have spoken of the rumors from the south. No, don’t speak, man.

To forestall any time-wasting arguments he forced a pleasant expression and said, “I will, naturally, do as the Steward decides. I trust that you have a good report to make of what you have seen here in this company, or you would not be considering promotion for my officers?” Two can play at the game of compliment and undercut.

Denethor frowned slightly. “There is always room for improvement, of course. No man may take his position for granted.” He looked Thorongil in the eye. “Whomever he may look to, in Minas Tirith. . . or elsewhere.”

The junior officers looked confused. “Excuse me, sir,” said Dagnir, “but who is in command, except the Steward?”

“None commands Gondor but Ecthelion,” said Denethor. “I am sure that you agree, Captain Thorongil?”

“I have said so,” Thorongil replied quietly.

“So you have.” Denethor pushed his cup away and stood. “I shall depart early in the morning, and I have reports to write yet, so I shall bid you all a good night.” He ducked out through the tent flap.

Aldadil looked at Thorongil. “What did Captain Denethor mean, saying you do not wish to move? You told me only last month that you hoped you might serve in the south, should it come to war there.”

“He hears what he wishes to hear, I think, as many men do,” said Thorongil. “The captain – and perhaps the Steward, though I do not know – does not wish to think that war might be stirring in Umbar once again, and hopes that by ignoring matters they will not come to pass. But he has said that if a serious threat arises there, it will not be lightly dismissed.” He shrugged.

“He doesn’t seem to like you very much,” said Ostoher, speaking for the first time. “It looked to me as if he were challenging you. And what was that about looking to someone besides the Steward? You came to Gondor from Rohan – but you’ve sworn oath to Ecthelion, surely he doesn’t doubt your loyalty?”

“I don’t think he was speaking of Thengel,” said Thorongil. No, I think he spoke of Mithrandir. But why mistrust the wizard? Unless he mistrusts me because I know Mithrandir, and Mithrandir because he knows me? That makes no sense. At least I did not swear to Ecthelion himself, but to Gondor. I could not take oath to a man whose rule I might need to challenge.

“Oh, well. Denethor’s a fine captain, I hear from my brother in the Guards, even if he is a bit cold; and he’s the Steward’s Heir, so I suppose it makes sense that he’d be worried about politics and loyalty as well as military ability. Well, if he ever asks, we all know that our captain is loyal, don’t we, lads?” said Aldadil. He rose and stretched. “I’m supervising watch tonight, so I’d best be off.”

Ostoher and Dagnir remained for another mug of ale, then also bade Thorongil goodnight. The captain worked on the company accounts for a while, and was nearly ready to blow out the lamp when someone scratched at the entry-flap.

“Come in,” he called, blowing to dry the last line of ink.

A pause, and then Horon and Imrahil entered and hovered uncertainly just inside the canvas.

Thorongil gestured for them to take the empty stools. “What is it, lads?”

They looked at each other, clearly undecided as to who should speak.

“Well?”

Imrahil took a quick breath and began. “Well, sir, Horon and I were talking tonight; sergeant Lasmir was showing us some tricks for fletching arrows and the two of us were working together on it. Now, Captain Denethor didn’t say anything to me while we were on patrol together. But Horon says he was asking a lot of the men there what they thought about you, sir, and asking as if he had some hopes in mind about the kind of answers he might get.”

“That’s right,” Horon added. “I don’t know why he didn’t ask Im – maybe he just didn’t have time to talk to everyone – but he spoke with me, and Ciryon, and Sarnegil, for sure, and I think most of the others. We didn’t have much bad to say, other than the usual sort of gripes, I’ll swear to that, but I thought you should know.”

“I wish he’d asked me,” said Imrahil. “I could have told him about your training me and the others at swordplay. I learn more from you than from the sergeant, and that’s saying something.” He blushed. “Why do you think he was making all those inquiries, sir? Are you going to be transferred?”

Thorongil shook his head. “Not that I know of, I assure you. I suppose he simply wanted the viewpoint of some of my men on how this company operates. If any changes are planned, I’m sure I’ll be told, and I wouldn’t keep something like that secret from my men.”

“Thank you, sir. That’s a relief to hear,” said Horon, and Imrahil nodded agreement. “We’ll be saying goodnight then. We just wanted you to know.”

“Goodnight,” said Thorongil absently. This news gave him much to think on. I knew Denethor disliked me; at least he seems unaware of my friendship with Finduilas, since I doubt that would change his feelings toward me for the better. But what other explanation can there be for his questioning of the men, except an attempt to find reason to make sure I cannot advance higher in Gondor’s service?

He shook his head. The Steward’s Heir. I wonder, does he wish his father King, not Steward? It would not be surprising, if so. If he should, he might find himself taken unawares.

Chapter Text

“Here, Finduilas.” She looks so thin and frail in this light – almost like Mother. The strain must be hard on her.

His sister turned to face him where he stood by a laurel tree, holding out a shawl to her. “Thank you.”

He laid it around her shoulders and gave her a one-armed hug. “I thought you might become chilly when I saw you had slipped outside without anything.”

Finduilas leaned into his embrace and he felt her shiver, just slightly. “A little, but I’m accustomed to the evening, even night air – it is often the only time I can find to come into the gardens, since I must stay with Mother all day.”

“There is no hope, is there?” Imrahil’s voice shook, though he tried to steady it.

“No hope for recovery, no. Only hope that she will find a peaceful end, without too much pain. Your coming has made her very happy, Im – I have not seen her so animated nor cheerful in months – but from what the healers have told me it is only a matter of time, more or less depending on her strength of body and will.”

“It is so hard to see her this way that I don’t know how you can bear it.”

“We bear what we must, don’t we?”

“Not always. . .” Imrahil paused. “I will tell you a secret, shall I? It shames me to say so, but a good part of the reason why I went directly to take up my position in the company last winter was because I couldn’t come back and watch Mother dying, when I could do nothing about it.”

Finduilas hugged him tighter. “It’s all right, Im. I can understand that. Of course I wish you had been here this year – so do Mother and Father – but you did not flee for no purpose, you have been serving our people by your choice, so it was not a dishonorable one. If you had stayed, sullen and avoiding your family, that would have been far worse.”

“You don’t think my decision was dishonorable? I am glad to hear that. Often this past year I regretted that I had left you to cope alone, but I really didn’t think my presence would be of help. I have learned a great deal out in Ithilien, that is certain.”

“Tell me of it.” She thrust one hand out from the shawl, testing the air. “Come, let’s go inside. We can have a nice comfortable talk in my room – I’ll even have some spice cakes brought up for you.”

He grinned. “You know me well, sister!”

“Of course.” She nudged him playfully. “I have known you all your life, remember! Come on.”

They settled down, sprawled on the rug before the fire in Finduilas’s room, plate of spice cakes close to hand.

“It’s good to be home,” Imrahil said, swallowing and washing the bite down with a pull at a mug of that season’s cider. “I have missed our evening talks.”

Finduilas nodded, nibbling at her own cake. “Have you no one to talk with, out in your camp? I thought you got on rather well with your comrades, from your letters.”

“Oh, yes. But there isn’t opportunity for much serious conversation, you understand. When we’re on patrol, or even just guard duty at the camp, we must be quiet much of the time, lest we alert an enemy. When off-duty, naturally, a good bit of talking goes on, but it’s more likely to be telling jokes and stories, or perhaps singing. I don’t want to say that the fellows are never serious, but when you’ve been risking your life you don’t usually want to dwell on it a good deal afterward. You want something distracting, something funny.”

“What kinds of stories do you tell, then? I would like to hear one. . . or you could tell me about one of your patrols.”

Imrahil felt heat stain his cheeks. “Er. . . I don’t think you’d approve of the sorts of stories that soldiers tell, Fin.”

“Oh, that kind, are they?” His sister laughed. “I hate to ruin your opinion of me, but I’ve heard such stories before, and even been known to enjoy them. But you need not tell me any such if you do not wish. As I said, I’d be pleased just to hear what it is really like to be out there – I want to know how you live. Is Captain Thorongil as good a commander as you expected?”

“Of course I have no one to compare him to,” said Imrahil, “but I would call him excellent, judging from what others say who have more experience.”

“In what ways?”

I wonder. . . does she inquire so eagerly for my sake, or for his?

“The care he takes for all his men. He judges well concerning how many of us to send out on patrol, in which directions, for our greatest safety and efficacy in destroying our enemies. We all know that the captain has assigned us to a particular unit because he thinks that our skills will be needed, and that our chances for return are high. Within camp, he sees that chores are shared equally – he has no obvious favorites, nor scapegoats, and no one who has earned punishment or praise escapes it. He eats with us, too, the same food as we all have. Indeed he has each man in turn join him at the officers’ table, and when we do so, he makes a point of conversing with us so that he knows us well as men, not just as fighters.”

“How is the food there? I know your appetite,” said Finduilas, as Imrahil took the last cake from the plate.

“We eat as well as any company, better than most. I don’t know how the captain manages it, but we almost never have trouble with our supplies – no moldy bacon or flour filled with weevils. We’re all under orders to keep an eye out for anything that might add a bit of interest to the meals, too, as long as duty comes first,” said Imrahil.

“Do you ever have a chance to speak with Captain Thorongil, learn how to command? Mother was disappointed that you didn’t take rank to begin with, you know, and Father had a hard time convincing her to accept that it might be a good idea, especially given that he had his own doubts on the matter.”

Imrahil chuckled. “There is no better way to learn than to serve under a good commander, and observe what he does, and how. Though it is true that asking about the whys of some of it is helpful. I have perhaps a bit more of the captain’s attention than some. He himself leads some of the training in sword fighting, and often has me practice with him during the sessions. But otherwise I am not singled out – which is as I wanted. Any praise I receive is due solely to my own ability, rather than to an attempt to curry favor. There is always a certain amount of dislike or resentment among ordinary soldiers towards their officers, but from what I hear less in our company than in most. The captain is so even-handed in his conduct that they expect it; even the slight interest he has shown in my training has been known to provoke comment among the other recruits, and the older men as well.”

“They don’t tease or bully you, do they?” Finduilas asked.

There speaks the older sister, who would claim sole rights to such actions, thought Imrahil with amusement, though in truth he had to acknowledge that even in their childhood Finduilas had been restrained in asserting the prerogatives of age, despite his severe provocation on more than one occasion.

“No more than anyone else,” he replied with good humor. “Anyone, but especially we younger lads, comes in for a certain amount of jesting at his expense. The captain would frown on anything more,” he added, and saw her face clear. “So tell me, Fin, how fares it with you? Despite all the time you must spend with Mother and all the thousand-and-one duties of the household, you are a diligent correspondent to me – how can you manage? Are you still writing to others as well?”

“Of course. I made your captain promise to write to me – so naturally I write to him in return. Don’t worry,” she said as he raised his brows, “we do not spend all our ink and parchment discussing you.”

“I didn’t presume you did. I only wondered what your topics would be,” Imrahil answered.

“All kinds of things – I seem to speak of different matters with each of you. You know that Lord Denethor and I correspond, too. To Thorongil I often write of Mother, oddly enough. I suppose that I feel it would distress you too much, if I were to write to you always of that sadness – since he knows her not at all, it is easier. To Denethor I am wont to talk of more high-minded matters, such as the duties of a ruler and abstruse points of philosophy.”

Imrahil looked at his sister in surprise. “You jest!”

“No, truly.”

By the stars, that is strange of Fin. Not that she hasn’t a clever mind, but I would never have expected her to have a turn for philosophy, not even in conversation with Lord Denethor. She’s always been much more of a doer – I recall some of the scrapes we used to get into together. This portends something, I’m sure of it. Aloud he said, “Quite the variety of letters you must send and receive, then. Whose do you enjoy most?”

“You just want me to say ‘yours,’ I know,” she teased. “Honestly, it depends on my mood at the time and on the letter.”

“So you even like Denethor’s? Remarkable. And what of the authors?”

“Oh, Im, of course I love you best. Need you even ask? The holiday season has made you awfully sentimental, little brother,” Finduilas said.

He grinned. “Just here to remind you of the joys of your birth family, that’s all, before you make some precipitous decision. Or have you already had one to make, and done so?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said, but she would not quite meet his eyes.

“Humph. Well, if ever you wish to discuss such matters with me, feel free – I may be a handful of years your junior, but I’m the only sibling you have. You can’t expect me to be uninterested in your future.” He yawned. “But for your immediate future – and mine too – I would recommend that we should both go to bed. It must be nearly tomorrow already.”

Finduilas stood up and went to the window, pushing open the shutters to see the sky. The cool air made Imrahil shiver despite his place near the embers of the fire. “Yes, there is a hint of dawn to the east. I’m sorry to have kept you up so late. . .”

“It was a mutual decision, remember? We’ve been making up for all those months apart.” Imrahil stood and stretched. “You should get some rest, Fin, you look tired. No wonder, looking after Mother and all.” He touched her face gently at the corner of her eye, then kissed her cheek. “We can speak further tomorrow, perhaps – I won’t have to leave for another five days.”

She kissed him back. “Sleep well, Im. And shave that beard soon, or you’ll be looking like one of those Rohirrim mercenaries!”

Brother and sister were unable to spend more than a few moments together in private for the next three days, caught up in the bustle of preparations and then in the celebration of mettarë and yestarë. More than once in those days Imrahil noted a look of abstraction on his sister’s face, and wondered what it was. He resolved to ask her as soon as he had the chance, which came the day after yestarë.

Nimíril had exerted herself for the festivities. When they ended, weakness forced her to return to her bed to recover, but she insisted that her children should not feel obliged to stay with her.

“Spend some time with your sister today,” she told her son when he brought her tea. “I will take the opportunity to rest, and then you can sit with me and your father this evening.”

Imrahil felt a shade guilty at leaving her – after all, it was to see his mother that he had been granted leave at all – but was delighted to have the chance to get out of the household and city. His year in Ithilien had affected him more than he would have expected, and he looked forward to the quiet of the countryside in Finduilas’s company.

She suggested that they ride down the coastline a short way, then tether the horses and walk to one of their favorite childhood haunts. “But I won’t climb the cliff, no matter what you say,” she smiled, reminding him of one of their less-than-successful childhood exploits. “Here, you carry our luncheon,” she added.

He made as if to open the canvas sack and look inside, and Finduilas mock-slapped at his hand. “You’ll eat it soon enough, leave be,” she admonished him.

Following the gap made by a tiny stream finding its way to the ocean, they soon reached the expanse of white sand. Clouds scudding across the sky dimmed the green sea to irregular greys, with only an occasional flash of light reflected from the breakers.

Imrahil sprawled out comfortably – for once he had remembered to bring along a blanket to keep them off the sand – and watched Finduilas walk along the edge of the water. He saw her pause, looking out to sea, and shake her head. “What were you thinking?” he asked when she had returned.

She sat down, clasping her knees to her chest. “Of something that Thorongil told me, last winter in Minas Tirith, about the likeness of the sea to the plains. I confess I do not see it. Though the grasses may ripple in the wind as the waves do, they cannot make the sound of the waters upon the shore.” Her gaze was wide and unseeing, and she murmured so low he could scarcely hear her, “I do not know if I could endure to live where I heard not the crash of the wave nor the cry of the gull.”

“Is that something you think likely?”

Finduilas blinked, saying, “Likely? Yes, of course. I have always known that. If your duty is to serve your land and people through war and policy, mine is to do so through marriage and management. Do you not take pride and pleasure in your duties, Im?”

“In doing them well, certainly.”

“Though you may not always wish to do what you must,” she agreed. “So do I. And just as you do not know where your service might take you, neither do I – but it is certain not to leave me here in Dol Amroth. Father is not pressing me, not yet; he leaves it to my own conscience to choose what would be best for my family and our people, not only for myself.”

Imrahil squinted at her, saying, “And what would you do if you could choose freely, without thinking of others?” Would she stay here at home? I cannot believe that – she would never forego marriage altogether, not Fin.

When his sister’s silence remained unbroken for some time, he persisted, “Is there not some man you would wish to wed, and bear babes to? You’ve been very discreet regarding what you’ve said of Thorongil and how you feel about him. Nor is he like to be too forthcoming about you to a junior recruit, even if I am your brother. So – do you like Thorongil? If he were of suitable rank in the country, not just in the army, would you think of him as a potential husband? Or does the lord Denethor interest you as more than just a fellow-philosopher?”

Her face was troubled as she answered, “I don’t know, Im. Truly. I like your captain a great deal, as a friend, or a brother. He seems to be all that is virtuous, with everything to recommend him save that his family is unknown. But the way he looked at me, that day last winter when we went riding together. . .” her voice trailed off.

“What?” Imrahil rolled onto one elbow to see her better. “He did not offer you any insult, surely? I would not credit that, not of Thorongil.”

“Oh, no. Nothing of the sort. He looked at me as if. . . as if he were measuring me, weighing me against some standard. Not to my disadvantage, necessarily, but it was odd. I didn’t feel that he was considering me as a pawn to advancement, nor as a prize to be won, more as if. . . I don’t know,” she finished helplessly. “I cannot explain it any better.”

“Well, he’d only met you what, the day before? Even knowing your rank and family he would scarcely be so forward-thinking as to be contemplating the potentials for alliance, would he?”

“Why not?” said Finduilas, puzzled. “I would have done so, in his place.”

“You would? Perhaps I lack a sense of the proper political practicalities.”

In wearied tones, his sister said, “You will learn that, Im. Never fear, you will.” She lay down on the blanket beside him and squeezed his hand. “But I am glad you haven’t it yet.”

They did not speak further for a while, simply enjoying each other’s presence and the salt breeze, long-familiar. Imrahil realized anew how much he had missed his home, and began to understand how Finduilas must feel, facing the knowledge that her future would inevitably take her from so much she held dear.

I would be surprised to find that she had deliberately lied to me, but was she telling the whole truth about Thorongil? He was anxious, when Denethor came to the camp last summer, that his correspondence with her remain unknown to any save myself. Perhaps there is some understanding between them which she is unwilling or unable to share with me?

He dozed briefly, waking only when Finduilas nudged him. “I’m surprised you didn’t wake earlier and demand your luncheon – the sun is already declining from her height,” she said, setting out the food they had brought.

“Too used to having to wait while on patrol, I suppose,” Imrahil said around a mouthful of cold roast duck, trying to think of a subtle way to resume their earlier conversation and, failing, deciding to simply forge ahead. “You never answered my question before, Fin. If your choice were utterly free and unconstrained by practical questions of alliance and suitability, what would you do with your life? Whom would you wed?”

“I cannot answer that, Im. There is no purpose in thinking so. Please, leave it be. Let us talk of something else – did you see Mira dancing on mettarë?”

He allowed her to steer the conversation into gentle gossip, not wanting to destroy her pleasure in his company, but his curiosity remained undiminished.

So, she will not say whom she prefers. She speaks more of Thorongil, to be certain, and I would think him better suited to her taste, more likely to make her happy. I cannot ask him what the situation is, though. I suppose I simply have to nag at her by letter, or wait until she’s willing to speak for herself. She is right, of course, that it is pointless to think of what might be her preference had she no obligation to her House – were she not of the line of Princes of Dol Amroth, Denethor, I’ll warrant, would not have looked at her twice. Thorongil. . . I don’t know. He is kind, but not unaware of realities. Whatever may come, Finduilas will choose for the best; she always has done.

Chapter Text

Denethor cursed under his breath as he looked in the mirror and pressed the linen towel to his face. After a moment he pulled it away and looked once again. That seemed to have stanched the blood. He grimaced in exasperation that tonight, of all nights, the razor had slipped in his hand. He tugged his shirt on, buttoning it hastily, and stamped his feet into his shoes. A final glance in the mirror, a comb touched to the hair, and he was ready.

Perhaps tonight, he thought, she will give me my answer. He knew that Adrahil and Finduilas had arrived in Minas Tirith yesterday and were expected to attend the gathering hosted by Eilinel, the lady dowager of Tolfalas, this evening. Surely I can steal a few moments alone with her.

The rooms were crowded already when Denethor entered them, and it took him a little time to find and greet his hostess, who introduced him to her daughter-in-law, Lalaith. He bowed courteously over the young woman’s hand, but as soon as he straightened his eyes were darting around the room, looking for her whom he was most anxious to greet. He moved about the room, smiling, though his jaw ached with it, and making pleasant conversation, mostly about the unseasonably warm weather. He had just achieved a position from which he could watch the entrance to the room, hoping to see her arrive, when Herion of Anfalas, the Langstrand of the south, came up to him.

“My lord Denethor,” said Herion, his white beard wagging. “Have you yet heard from my son Golasgil?”

“No, I have not seen him here. I did not realize either of you was in Minas Tirith this season, sir,” said Denethor.

“He is not here, in fact, he remained at home, but was to have sent word to you if there had been further attacks.”

“Attacks?”

“Yes, my lord. The Corsairs have been raiding our coasts these past two months, had you not heard? Only sporadically as yet, but our local defenses are insufficient. I fear I must call on the Steward for help against these pirates,” Herion said.

“That is unexpected news,” said Denethor. “And most worrisome. The Council will need to hear of that. I assume you will attend the meeting tomorrow? The Steward will doubtless wish to send one of our best commanders to assess the situation and attend to Gondor’s defense. I assure you that it will be looked into immediately.”

Talk then turned to lighter matters, and when at length they were joined by several other guests, Denethor was able to slip away. He had just taken a glass of wine from one of the servants circulating with trays of assorted liquors when he heard the voice of Adrahil behind him.

“A good evening to you, Lord Denethor.”

Denethor turned, the wine in his goblet nearly sloshing over the brim with the rapidity of his movement.

“My lord prince. I am delighted to see you; I trust you had a safe and pleasant journey up the river?”

“Indeed we did, thank you.”

“Lady Finduilas.” Denethor took her slender hand in his and bowed to brush it with his lips. She is even lovelier than I remembered, though she is thin and pale. “I trust the journey did not exhaust you, my lady?”

Finduilas shook her head. “Oh, no. It was really quite pleasant.”

“I am sorry you were unable to arrive earlier in the season,” said Denethor to them both, and to Adrahil he added, “You have been missed in the Council meetings. I have just learned from Herion that they have been having problems with raiding along the coasts of Anfalas. Have you had the same in Belfalas?”

“Yes, just within the last several weeks before I left,” said Adrahil, frowning. “Has the Steward been made aware of the situation?”

“Not yet,” Denethor answered. “I will speak to him of it early tomorrow, before the Council meets. We had had no reports until now.”

“Well enough,” Adrahil said. “Excuse me, I beg you – I see Forlong of Lossarnach trying to catch my eye.” He moved off through the crowd.

Denethor turned to Finduilas. “Would you like to step out into the courtyard for a breath of air?”

She hesitated for a moment, but agreed, laying her hand lightly on his arm and letting him guide her across the room to the doors which stood open to the evening air. It was cool but not chill, far more pleasant than was usual for this time of year. Some of the herbs planted along the stone walk had been deceived by the unseasonable warmth into putting out new growth; Denethor could smell the sharp scent of rosemary as Finduilas’s skirt brushed against the plants. He wasted no time, once they were far enough from the doors that they would not be overheard.

“My lady,” he said, “in my last letters I asked you a question. Do you have an answer to give me?”

Finduilas met his gaze in the light from the windows. “My lord – I have given it a great deal of thought, but I fear I cannot answer you tonight. Please, allow me a little more time before telling you my decision.”

He exhaled slowly a breath he had not realized he was holding, and in a steady voice replied, “I see. Very well, my lady.”

They continued walking for a short time, conversing about inconsequentialites, before he took her back inside and relinquished her to speak to some of her other acquaintances present. His attention was quickly claimed again by Eilinel, whose quick eyes had noted his brief absence, he was sure, but who spoke only of the news of Corsairs. She had had no word from Tolfalas of any trouble, but would be sure to let him know, she said.

For the next hour or so he drifted in and out of conversations, speaking pleasantly to all, aware of Finduilas’s troubled eyes on him. It was well into the evening when a stir near the entrance drew Denethor’s attention to a late-arriving guest.

“I do apologize, lady Eilinel,” Denethor could just make out Thorongil’s words over the hum of conversation in the room. “I arrived in Minas Tirith only at sunset. I hope you will forgive my tardiness – mettarë may be only a week away, but I could not leave my duties in Ithilien any sooner.”

She will forgive. Indeed, Eilinel was smiling fondly at the captain and gesturing to one of the servants to bring him a glass of wine. For Thorongil, any rudeness will be condoned.

Denethor continued to speak to the man before him, a petty lordling from the borders of the Mark, but half his attention was on Thorongil as the man made his way over to Finduilas and drew her into an unoccupied corner of the room.

She smiled up at Thorongil, and Denethor saw her put a hand on his arm, her expression eager and warm. They spoke for some minutes, laughing intimately together.

“What? I am sorry, Tarcil, my thoughts fled elsewhere for a moment,” Denethor had to say, realizing that he had not heard the question asked.

“Never mind, never mind. A gathering like this is not the place to be discussing serious matters such as road repairs, anyhow,” Tarcil said. “Better to ask you who you would recommend if I am looking for a fine lacemaker, for a gift for my wife at Year’s Turning.”

“There is a good shop on the second level of the city, near the gate to the first. The shopkeeper has a wide selection, as I recall,” said Denethor. As I recall all too well. He glanced back across the room. At last. Thorongil had moved apart from Finduilas, who was now making her way towards her father. “Her prices are reasonable, or so I found.”

“Thank you, my lord. I will be sure to look there tomorrow,” bowed Tarcil.

Denethor nodded to him, murmuring a farewell, and moved off to intercept Adrahil and Finduilas, who were about to depart. Adrahil was speaking his thanks and goodbyes to Eilinel, so Denethor drew Finduilas a little way off.

“May I hope to see you again soon, my lady? Perhaps tomorrow evening? I will be busy with Council business through the day.”

“I am glad you ask, lord Denethor. My father and I would be pleased to have you dine with us tomorrow, if you have no prior engagement,” she said.

“No, none,” said Denethor. He had been anticipating an evening free of obligations – a rare event at this season – but to give that up for time with Finduilas was no hardship at all.

***

The mood at the Council meeting the next morning was somber. Denethor had left word for the Steward regarding Herion’s and Adrahil’s reports of raids, and that was the first order of business when they convened.

“We need more information,” said Ecthelion, frowning. “Adrahil?”

“Just now I can tell you no more than I told your son last night,” said the Prince of Dol Amroth. “The Corsairs first appeared only a few weeks ago, and thus far have raided my shores only twice, to my knowledge. I left instructions with my steward Vardil that he should inquire to determine what has been observed: how many ships have been seen, where and when, and any other information that might be useful. He was to send whatever he learned north as soon as possible, and I hope to receive his message within a few days, a week at most.”

“Very good. Herion, what from you?”

“I made similar arrangements with my son Golasgil,” Herion told the Lord Steward, “before I left, since I was sure you would wish to have the fullest news possible. I expect to hear from him before mettarë.”

“Good. Until we know the nature and numbers of our enemy, we cannot decide how to respond to him. Let us set the particulars aside, then, until either Herion or Adrahil receives further information to bring before the Council. At least this unusually late winter will permit rapid travel for the messengers. As well as for our tax collectors. My lords, what have you to report? If we are to see fighting to the south once again, we will need to find a means to pay for it.”

Denethor listened to each lord speak in turn and jotted down their accounts in the fishhook scribble that he would decipher later if his father’s secretary was unable to do so. Galdor had been struck down by some fever – though the physician said he should recover quickly – and rather than use a man with no experience, Denethor preferred to take the notes himself. He found his thoughts drifting off in anticipation of that evening’s engagement, and wrenched them back only when the Steward’s foot nudged his ankle under the table. It had been another good harvest, and Denethor saw the stern lines of Ecthelion’s face soften beneath his greying beard as he listened to the favorable reports. At least there is something good to come from today’s meeting.

They paused when the sun was high overhead for a hasty meal, then reconvened. Towards midafternoon their number was increased when Thorongil came in to deliver the most recent news from Ithilien. Denethor had to admit that the man was a good speaker, conveying the dry data of numbers of men on duty, frequency and severity of skirmishes with the enemy, resources used, and all the rest in such a way that even the warm afternoon sun slanting in the windows brought only a few yawns to the assembled. For himself, he set down his pen – Thorongil would have provided all the information in his written reports – and let his thoughts stray briefly. He was called back to attention when Duinhavel of Morthond called on his fellows to join him in commending Thorongil’s successes in command, citing the low injury rate among his men and the high number of Orcs they had encountered.

Around the table, heads nodded vigorously, and a hum of approval seconded Duinhavel. Denethor was thankful for the excuse of making note of the fact to keep his head bent and his mouth closed. He glanced up to see Thorongil bowing thanks to the assembled lords. Catching the Steward’s eye, Denethor nodded toward the timepiece on the mantle over the fireplace. It was nearly time to adjourn; he had to go inspect the Guards of the Citadel, and others too had duties to fulfil yet before evening.

“Thank you, my lords, for your presence this day,” said Ecthelion. “We shall meet again tomorrow at the third hour after sunrise. Adrahil, Herion – should you receive word from your messengers tonight, send to me at once. The Council is adjourned.”

Tapping the ink-covered sheets together into a neat stack and stowing them safely in the oaken cabinet that stood in one corner, Denethor heard Thorongil accepting congratulations from the several lords as they departed. He busied himself with wiping his pens and securing the stopper on the ink-bottle.

His efforts at delay were wasted, however, for Thorongil had been detained by Ecthelion himself, who was speaking to him of the needs of his company for additional monies. As if they all did not. Had the Steward but chosen a man of means to captain that band, he would not need to provide so much support himself.

Dryly, he congratulated Thorongil on his commendation before making his escape to the corridor. He clattered hastily down the stone stairs and out into the courtyard.

***

His hands shook less this evening than last as he readied himself to dine with Dol Amroth. In deep green velvet embroidered with silver along the neck he walked down through the tunnel to the sixth circle and was greeted with great cordiality by the prince and his daughter. With an effort Denethor prevented himself from fixing his attention on Finduilas to the exclusion of her father, rather keeping the conversation on topics in which they could all take part.

Adrahil thanked his guest once again for the history of Gondor that he had sent earlier in the year. “Finduilas enjoyed reading it as well, did you not, my dear?”

“I did, very much. I believe you suggested that you might ask the man who wrote it – Golasgil, was that not his name? but a different man from the son of Herion of Anfalas, is he not? – to write an expanded version? That would be of great interest, I think. Or perhaps he might write histories of each district as supplements to it,” said Finduilas, her grey eyes shining with keen appreciation.

“At least I will be certain to tell him of your admiration for his work, and enthusiasm for more. Golasgil is working now as an under-archivist in the Citadel; I thought it wise to retain his services against future need,” Denethor said.

A servant appeared unobtrusively by the doorway. Adrahil said, “Ah, our meal is waiting. Come,” and led them in to dine.

The supper conversation was restricted to light topics. Neither Adrahil nor Finduilas seemed inclined to reminisce about winter seasons past – Well, that is only to be expected, with their recent loss – and instead chatted amiably about history, progressing naturally from there to literature, to poetry, and finally to music.

“Do you sing or play, my lord?” asked Finduilas, leaning forward to pass a dish of candied ginger and other small sweetmeats to Denethor at the end of the meal. “I have never thought to ask you, since letters are hardly a way to convey musical tastes and preferences.”

Denethor took a piece of ginger, but set it down on his plate in order to reply. “I do not sing, lady Finduilas; I fear I have rather a growling voice for song, and would bring little pleasure to my listeners. But I have been known to play the flute on occasion.”

“The flute? How wonderful. Would you care to play for us this evening? I would enjoy singing to your accompaniment, if you are willing.”

“I. . . would be willing,” said Denethor, “if your father cares for such entertainments?” He looked at Adrahil.

His host’s smile held a touch of sadness. “Certainly. Nimíril used to play the flute; one of her instruments is still here. I will have it brought for you.”

The silver flute was cool in Denethor’s fingers as he took it from the servant with appropriate reverence for its late owner. He blew experimentally and was delighted with the pure tones. “A beautiful instrument – I thank you for permitting me its use,” he told Adrahil. “My lady, what do you wish to sing?”

“Do you know ‘The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon’?” asked Finduilas, and blushed. (1) “A child’s song, to be sure, but it has always been one of my favorites.”

“It has been long since I played that, but yes, I believe I remember the tune.” Denethor lifted the flute and played the four introductory bars.

Finduilas began, “The Man in the Moon had silver shoon, / and his beard was of silver thread. . .” Her clear voice was more vibrant than a child’s but the echoes of girlhood yet lingered in it.

Denethor kept his eyes on hers. She is still so young. He could not smile at some of the merrier lines while playing, but as she ended gleefully, “. . .An unwary guest on a lunatic quest / from the Mountains of the Moon!” he lowered the flute with a broad grin. Adrahil applauded. “Well done, both of you. A fine rendition. Do go on.”

By mutual consent they continued to choose children’s songs, ending the evening with “The Last Ship.” (2)

“You would not need to refuse the Elves’ invitation to travel West with them,” said Denethor, low, as Finduilas led him out of the room to return the flute to its accustomed place. “Anyone who sees you can see you bear the blood of the Firstborn; your eyes reflect the stars.”

She blushed, but said nothing, opening the case and holding it for him to nestle the flute on its cushion.

When he took leave from them, he bowed to Adrahil but took Finduilas’s hand and bent to kiss it. Did I feel her tremble?

“Will you be at Forlong’s ball in two days’ time?” Adrahil asked.

“Of course,” Denethor said. “And you?”

“Indeed we will. It was his first question to me yestereve, and he was most pressing,” Adrahil replied.

“I look forward to seeing you then, my lord,” said Finduilas. “I know that your responsibilities will keep you busy in the meantime. Perhaps, though, you might find time to visit again, before mettarë?”

“If you wish it, my lady, I will gladly come to see you – you need only send word. Thank you both for a delightful evening.” Denethor bowed once more and departed.

It was with difficulty that he prevented himself from leaping along the streets. She wishes to speak to me before mettarë. Oh, that she may give the answer I long to hear!

*******

Footnotes:

(1) “The Man in the Moon Came Down Too Soon” is number six of the poems collected in the volume The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, and other verses from The Red Book, which can also be found in The Tolkien Reader. According to Tolkien’s preface, this poem “must be derived ultimately from Gondor,” and so I have taken the liberty of using it here, though the version published may have been altered by Bilbo from that which Finduilas and Denethor would have known. The piece mentions both the Bay of Belfalas and the Seaward Tower, Tirith Aear of Dol Amroth. The Man in the Moon comes down in quest of holiday delights, but has arrived too early in the year and ends up by eating cold porridge rather than the plum pudding he longed for.

(2) “The Last Ship” is number sixteen of the same set of poems, again cited by Tolkien as having been a song of Gondor in origin. Fíriel is a mortal girl asked by the Elves to travel with them to Elvenhome; she refuses, being “born Earth’s daughter.”

Chapter Text

The weather held warm – for the season – though there were hints of clouds to the northwest, and Finduilas hoped that they might bring a change in the air. Snow fell but seldom in the southern coastlands, and she delighted to see it – occasionally. She suspected that were she to live where snow was a winter constant, she would find it less appealing.

Last evening’s dinner with Denethor had been more than pleasant, but she was still uncertain in her own mind about her decision. The better she knew the man, the more inclined she was to accept him, and yet – could she leave her father alone, to dwell in this stony northern city? I had better spend today making up my mind, since I told him that I would speak by mettarë. I know – I will go and walk around in the Citadel. If I wed Denethor, that will be my home.

She flung an old grey woolen cape around her shoulders, and was off.

Emerging from the tunnel into the seventh circle, Finduilas decided first to walk along the top of the walls and enjoy the view. The sun was bright in her eyes as she gazed across the city, seeing the farmlands and fields of the Pelennor in brown and tan patchwork beyond the outer walls. She could make out the sparkling thread of the Anduin in the distance, closest to the south and sweeping away north and east. She moved slowly along the walls, touching the heavy cold stonework here and there as she passed. Safety – yes, they ensure that. So why do I feel oppressed rather than reassured?

At length Finduilas reached one of the guard towers. She decided that she had had enough of walking along the parapets, and made her way down the steps and out into the broad space of the practice-ground. One of the guard units was drilling there, so she edged along the borders until she was safely out of the way. Where now? Her eyes fell on the King’s House. Is that not where the archives are kept? The idea of seeing the history of Gondor in its records appealed to her. If they allow me in. At least I might be able to thank Golasgil in person for his excellent work.

The room where she entered was surprisingly warm. A fire blazed in a large hearth on the wall to her right, and she wondered why it was necessary on a day such as today. A young man came up to her.

“May I help you, madam? Are you looking for something?”

“I was hoping that I might find Golasgil here,” she replied.

“Golasgil? I believe he is in one of the back rooms today. Shall I fetch him for you?”

“Could you take me to him instead?” Finduilas smiled winningly. “I have never been in the archives before and would enjoy seeing them.”

The man hesitated. “It’s quite dusty back there, you know. Disorderly. Not the place for a lady.”

“That doesn’t matter.” She flapped the edge of her cloak at him, saying, “I am not garbed for a ball, as you see.”

“Well – all right.” He picked up a shielded lamp and beckoned Finduilas to follow.

As he led her through the maze of rooms with their towering shelves and stacks, he told her in a chatty fashion that his name was Ulbar and that he had been working in the archives for several years. “The difficult thing is the lack of organization,” he confided. “I am hoping to convince the Master Archivist to let me undertake a revision of our entire system, to make it easier to find any given record when needed. Golasgil and I have discussed the possibilities on a number of occasions, in fact. I would like to make a catalogue, a list, of every item – that would be of immeasurable worth.” His eyes shone with scholarly fervor.

They passed through a narrow doorway and between a pair of shelves that seemed to lean over them. “Golasgil?” Ulbar called. “Are you back here?”

“I am,” came a voice that Finduilas could only think of as dusty. The man who emerged from the dim corner looked a few years older than Ulbar, his hair already beginning to recede. “What is it?”

“This lady wished to see you.” Ulbar bowed to Finduilas. “Golasgil can show you the way out again, if you need.” He vanished back around the shelves

“Thank you for your help,” Finduilas called after him. “Master Golasgil – ”

“Oh, I am no master,” Golasgil said. “Only an under-archivist.”

“Master I said, and master I meant,” Finduilas contradicted him. “I have read your History of Gondor, sir, and wished to compliment you on your work.”

Golasgil flushed. “Thank you, my lady. May I know whom I have the honor of addressing?”

“My apologies – I am Finduilas of Dol Amroth. Lord Denethor sent a copy of your book to my father, and when he had done reading it, I read it as well, to my very great pleasure. Since I was here in the city, I thought I would indulge myself by speaking to its author.”

Bowing, Golasgil said, “I am delighted, my lady. I hope that I may expand on it someday; there is much I was unable to include, owing to the constraints of time. The Lord Denethor was most insistent that I finish quickly, but now that I am working here in the archives I have found a great deal of additional information that I regret not having had access to before. My interpretation of the reign of Ondoher and the events that led to the choice of Eärnil as successor in 1945 would have been quite different.”

“Indeed? In what ways?”

“Well, doubtless you know that he was chosen primarily because he was the general who had defeated the Wainriders, though he had also a distant claim of blood through Telumehtar Umbardacil. But Arvedui of Arthedain laid claim to the kingship as well, being not only a descendant of Isildur but also the husband of Fíriel, Ondoher’s only living child, and a number of the great lords supported Arvedui. But Gondor had lost the breed of noble bloods – and noble bloods arose anew after Eärnil’s coronation, among them the lords of Anórien.” (1) Golasgil sighed. “I rather wonder what would have happened if Arvedui had been given the throne and reunited Elendil’s kingdom. For now that lineage is gone from Gondor, and the north too from all that I have read. Though the Stewards have ruled well,” he added hastily, “the Kings were descendants of Elros himself, in bright Númenor that is lost. ‘Ill fares the land without a king,’ so the saying goes. Perhaps we are misinformed and that House survives, but surely if it were so we would have heard it, even here. And yet – there have been prophecies that the royal line would never fail. What man can say is the truth of it?”

Finduilas was struck by his words. “Perhaps someday the king will return,” she said. “I would like, sometime, to speak with you more about Gondor and her history – but now is not the day. I fear I am keeping you from your work. If you will show me the way out?”

She blinked in the sunlight as she came up the steps and into the courtyard once again. An interesting man, this Golasgil. No wonder that Denethor chose him to write that History for the lords. A glance at the sky told her that the morning grew late. And what shall I do now? It is yet too early for luncheon.

Across the grounds she saw the lords emerging from the Tower of Ecthelion, speaking together in knots and moving slowly in their different directions, but most down towards the passageway to the sixth circle. I am not in the mood for that much company. Finduilas eased back around the corner of the King’s House, then walked briskly towards the Hall of Feasts where in a few days the mettarë celebrations would again be held. A glance in at the door showed this to be no safe refuge; a near-army of servants was at work cleaning the great hall in preparation. She noved on, circling the north side of the White Tower and coming into the Place of the Fountain.

Strolling the graveled paths, her eyes fixed on the barren Tree that dominated the garden, she startled at the sound of her name.

“Good morning, Finduilas.”

Thorongil sat on a bench next to the Tower, below a row of windows with their shutters flung open to catch the warmth of the eastern sunshine. He, too, was gazing at the withered boughs. “What brings you here this morning?”

“Good morning, Thorongil.” She gestured at the seat next to him. “May I?”

“Of course.”

She settled herself, smoothing her skirts. “I was merely wandering around the Citadel, thinking. And you?”

“Ah, I was required to speak to the Council again this morning. Luckily for me it proved a short meeting. I have much else to do, but I cannot meet with the next man I must see until after the noon meal, so I decided to sit here and think in solitude. It seems that few wish to spend time in this garden.”

“If you wish to be alone. . .” Finduilas made as if to rise, but Thorongil stopped her.

“No, please stay. To be interrupted by you is no disturbance.” His expression, though, seemed to her to be withdrawn, even sorrowful.

“Do you find this season especially lonesome, so far from your family?” I should get him a gift for mettarë; I wonder what he might want, or need? She noticed his bare hands. Perhaps some fine leather riding gloves would be useful – it is not cold yet, but soon it will be, and he will be back in the wilds. Filing the thought away for later, she added aloud, “I am sure I would. I do.”

“I do miss them more at this time of year,” Thorongil admitted. “My foster-brothers used to take me out into the woods to gather greens to adorn our dwelling. Holly and bittersweet and boughs of spruce, we would collect, and twine them into garlands and wreaths. On mettarë we would go out just as dusk fell to see the stars appear. . .” his voice trailed off.

“That is not a custom I am familiar with,” Finduilas said.

Thorongil looked over at her. “Oh, well, customs differ. That was one that my foster-father’s family had long had; I do not know how common it is elsewhere.”

“We always exchange a gift or two, on mettarë or yestarë or both.” She sighed. “Last year I gave Imrahil a new pair of boots. I miss seeing him. We had not time to speak much of him the other evening at Lady Eilinel’s reception, so tell me again how my brother fares in your company. What will your men do, out in Ithilien, to celebrate the season?”

“More or less what they do for loëndë at midsummer, which I am sure Imrahil must have described for you. Games and contests – though there are fewer in winter, since even if there is no snow there is likely to be rain, and muddy ground – those are the most popular, but story-telling and singing competitions as well, and a good deal of drinking.” Thorongil chuckled. “And some dancing, too, though there are no beautiful women for partners.”

“He should enjoy that, then,” said Finduilas. “Im has always liked to dance. I taught him when he was very young, since I wanted someone with whom I could practice.”

Thorongil smiled. “You practiced to good effect indeed, as I remember from two years past. I was rather sorry when Lord Denethor claimed you from me, that night.” He paused, and continued in a different tone, “You wrote to me that he had asked you to wed him – have you yet answered him?”

“No, not yet. I cannot quite decide. There are many good reasons why I should accept him, of course, but I had never expected to make a decision so young. I only reached five-and-twenty this autumn, you know, and few women among the great families wed as early as that. Though I am not sorry that my father leaves me the choice, it is more difficult than I would have thought. Thorongil, my friend, my brother, what would you advise?”

“You wish for my advice? I hesitate to give any. There is a saying I often heard growing up, that ‘Nobody can give you wiser advice than yourself,’ which was attributed in legend to Melian, Thingol’s queen in Doriath. (2) And she was known for her wisdom. But I will discuss the situation with you, if you like.” Thorongil looked at her gravely. “You say that there are good reasons to accept him, but you must also have reasons to decline, or you would have already made answer.”

With that expression – almost stern – he looks so very much like Denethor. “Some of my hesitation is for my family’s sake. My father has but just lost his wife – should I deprive him of the only child he still has present to comfort him, now that Imrahil is off in Ithilien? While of course I expect to wed someday, it seems unfitting to leave him so soon in his bereavement.”

Finduilas looked up as the light dimmed for a moment, and saw clouds drifting across the sun. She pulled her cape more closely about her shoulders. “It would also mean leaving my home, and the sea, for the cold stone of these mountains. The coastlines invite those who dwell there to be warm and open like themselves – here in the hills, will men not be harsh and unyielding as the rocks amongst which they live? I dread to be entrapped here.

“Moreover,” she continued, “I am uncertain that I would make a good Steward’s Lady. Oh, I know how to manage a great household – my mother saw to that – but to be helpmeet to a kingdom is a very different task.”

“Surely there is no comparison. Would you prefer, then, to be wife to some lesser man than the ruler of Gondor?” asked Thorongil, his eyes intent on hers.

“I do not know,” Finduilas confessed. She fidgeted with the cuff of her sleeve. “It would doubtless make my choice easier, were Denethor not the Steward’s Heir, with all that implies. Tell me, Thorongil, have you ever been in any such position? You are unmarried yourself, but have you never wished to wed?”

If Thorongil had looked less than cheerful before, now his expression of melancholy deepened, and his gaze became distant. “I have.”

“What happened?”

“From my perspective, rather the opposite of your present situation. Her father thought the lady too far above me.”

Finduilas said, “But you are a great captain; surely he would not hold your lack of noble birth against you?”

“No, that was not all. He felt also that there was too great a disparity in our ages.”

“Foolishness. What should that matter?” He cannot possibly be talking about me, can he? Surely if my father told me of Denethor’s wish to court me, he would not have concealed it if Thorongil also sought my hand. He would have told me, if only to warn me of what reasons he had against such a match. “Was there no way you could change his mind?”

“We agreed that I must prove myself worthy before I could even speak to her of such matters; I do not know if the lady even returns my feelings.”

“How could any woman not hold you in high esteem?” said Finduilas fondly. “You are worthy of the love of any woman I know.” She leaned over to kiss his cheek. As she did so, from the corner of her eye she saw the shutters a few feet above their bench being drawn closed, now that the breeze had quickened and the shifting sun no longer carried its warmth to that side of the Tower. “Have you no hope?”

“At the moment, no.” Thorongil nodded towards the White Tree. “That is why I came here to think. Is the Withered Tree a sign of decline, or is it a symbol of hope, that one day the king will come again?”

“I never thought of it in quite that fashion, but I would prefer to take it as a sign of hope,” Finduilas replied. “Have you never spoken to the lady in question herself?”

“No, I have not, not of my love for her. I do not know if I will dare to say anything unless. . .” Thorongil broke off, but before Finduilas could speak he took her hand in his own. “You asked for my advice. If you still want it, I will repeat what I said in my last letter to you. Denethor is stern, certainly, at times, and he and I may not always agree, but he is a good man, an honorable one. There is no doubt in my mind that he loves you. That was clear enough at Eilinel’s – I saw how his eyes followed you. You have not spoken of your feelings for him, and that is your privilege. But if you return his at all, I urge you to accept him.”

*******

Footnotes:

(1) “Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!” William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. Act i, scene 2.

(2) I attribute this aphorism on advice to Melian, but in fact it originated with Cicero.

Chapter Text

He looked down and saw his knuckles white, gripping the quill. Deliberately he laid it down on the blotter, stood, and went to draw the shutters closed before he leapt through and demanded an accounting from Thorongil then and there. Returning to the table where he had been going over the accounts of naval expenditures for the past year, Denethor carefully tamped the cork into the mouth of the ink bottle and began to put everything away. In his present mood, he would accomplish nothing, and it was nearly time for the noon meal in any case. Then he thought better of it. Were he to go to the Steward’s Hall, he would very likely encounter Thorongil. Instead, he summoned a servant and asked for bread and cheese, figs, an apple, and some wine.

Pacing, he weighed what he had heard. It seemed indisputable that Thorongil aspired to an alliance with the House of Dol Amroth. I will not endure it, Denethor thought. Who is he, that he seeks to usurp my place in this as elsewhere? He has neither lineage nor fortune to offer – has he? The rumors of his parentage surely cannot be true, or the Steward would have spoken of it. Despite the favor that my father shows to Thorongil, he has never intimated close kinship. At least it would appear that the captain had not before spoken openly to Finduilas. He frowned. She has delayed, she has put me off. Could she have been hoping for Thorongil to speak before she responded to me? Recalling the evening before, he shook his head in rejection of the idea. And yet. . . But what can I do save wait for her reply?

Once his luncheon was brought, he ate almost without tasting it. He could not decide what would be best to do in the circumstances, and was thankful that it was not tonight that Forlong would give his ball. He feared he would have been unable to be civil. No, tonight was a small gathering of the hill-lords from the Ered Nimrais, and he could be certain that neither Thorongil nor Finduilas would be present.

The best thing he could do would be to keep himself busy in the meantime, but he knew that he would be unable to concentrate in this room. Instead, he determined to make a round of inspection; though he had inspected the White Guard only the day before, a surprise return might do them good, keep them from becoming lax. He went out of the Tower, going first along the walls of the Citadel, stopping at each guard post. His sharp eyes missed no detail, no flaw in appearance or laxity in posture. No words were needed. As Denethor passed on, each man was uncomfortably aware of the slightest spot of rust on his breastplate or tear in his surcoat, and resolved to strive harder to meet the necessary standard of perfection implied by his captain’s gaze.

From his circuit of the walls he headed to the armories. By the time he reached the practice field, word had obviously spread of his coming, for the company was practicing with exceptional diligence and Denethor found almost nothing about which he could have made complaint. He watched for some time, and indulged in a bout with the lieutenant himself, pressing the man hard.

It was, as yet, only midafternoon, with several hours still of light. He wiped his brow, straightened his garments, and went down into the city to inspect the Watch and the guards at the gates. A comment or two, accompanied by the stern glance of the Steward’s Heir, and Denethor could be certain that the sloppiness he saw would return no time soon.

When he was back in his own rooms changing his clothes for the evening, a knock sounded on his door.

“Come in.”

Ecthelion entered, saying, “I hear that you performed some surprise inspections today, my son.”

“I did,” replied Denethor stiffly.

The Steward gestured at a chair. “May I sit?”

“Of course.”

“I hear further that the outcome of your inspections was. . . not good, in most cases.” Ecthelion tilted his head against the back of the chair, his gaze bright and intent.

“I simply require that they uphold a certain standard. One which will reflect appropriately the dignity of Gondor.”

“A worthy goal,” agreed Ecthelion, “and I am pleased that you were able to make that clear without resorting to discipline or threats. One must not be too harsh in such matters, or it will have the opposite effect to that intended. Is there some reason, though, that you felt the need to do this without consultation?”

Denethor looked in the mirror, adjusting his tunic, keeping his back to Ecthelion. “No reason,” he said. “It had been long since they had had an inspection, that is all.”

“I see. And what is your engagement this evening? Dining with Dol Amroth and his daughter?”

“No, sir, that was yesterday evening.” Denethor frowned slightly. “Tonight I dine with the lords from the White Mountains.”

“Ah, good. Remind them that though the Corsairs raid the south, their help and support too will be needed against our enemies. The center is secure only so long as the borders hold.” Ecthelion braced his hands against the arms of the chair to stand up. “Enjoy your evening, Denethor.”

“Thank you, Father.”

In the event Denethor did enjoy it more than he would have expected. He knew most of the men well, and was able to turn the conversation to serious matters without offense – though the freely-flowing wine doubtless helped to smooth the way for him. At the end of the night he felt a grim glow of triumph that he had accomplished something for the good of Gondor that day.

Sleep came more readily than he had feared, and in the morning the heat of anger had cooled to sullen embers. He broke fast and went to the White Tower for the inevitable meeting of the Council. About half of the lords, including Thorongil, were already present when he arrived, and he chose a seat that would enable him to avoid looking at the captain. He hoped that today’s discussions would again last only through the morning. The work he had left unfinished yesterday required attention; before Ecthelion decided how much could be spent on the coastal defenses next year, he would need to know this year’s costs.

Scarcely had Ecthelion arrived and the Council begun to deliberate when a servant entered and spoke low to the Steward. It must be something of great import, to warrant an interruption of the Council.

“The lord Denethor will see to it,” Ecthelion said, gesturing to his son.

Denethor pushed his chair back and followed the man out of the room. Waiting in an anteroom was a messenger come from Belfalas, bringing the hoped-for news of the Corsairs.

“Speak, man,” said Denethor. “What word have you?”

“I bring a message from Vardil, steward to Prince Adrahil,” the man said. “I was charged to give it to the Lord Steward Ecthelion.”

“The Steward is in council. You may speak to me instead, and I will bring word to him,” Denethor said.

“Vardil desired me to say that in his judgment, the Corsairs are at present only feeling out our defenses. The raids have not yet been extensive, but every coastal town has seen their fleet. He believes that they are preparing to attack in force, most probably in the late spring when they will not run the risk of the winter storms. Here,” a sheaf of parchment was thrust into Denethor’s hands. “All of the details – number of ships seen, when and where – he has written here, for the Steward and the Prince’s use.”

“Thank you. I will tell them immediately. Go down to the refectory and refresh yourself; I am sure that the Prince will wish to speak with you later.” Denethor turned on his heel and left, unrolling the scroll and rapidly scanning its contents. It looks as if they are sending five-ship squads all along the coast. Doubtless when we get word from Anfalas it will be the same. This makes no sense; for years the Enemy has concentrated on Ithilien. He has outmaneuvered us, may his name be cursed.

The information, though expected, touched off a minor uproar in the Council when Denethor returned. Half of the lords – the inland half, thought Denethor with a touch of asperity, despite their words to me last night – were convinced that Vardil must be overestimating the threat; the rest wanted troops sent immediately to the south. The Council scribe, Galdor, now recovered although still wheezing occasionally, could scarcely keep up with their words as his quill flew over the parchment.

Denethor paid close and admiring attention as Ecthelion deftly calmed the room, eliciting more constructive comments and suggestions, assuring the lords that he would listen to the advice of all with due consideration before taking any decisions.

In the past, when the Corsairs threatened it could take decades to resolve the situation and drive them off for good. Or at least for generations, since now they return again. Whoever is chosen to command our defense is likely to remain in the south for years, far from Minas Tirith. For an instant Denethor considered the possibility of leading the army himself, but he doubted that Ecthelion would spare him. In any case, he had less experience in command of actual battles than many of the captains in Ithilien, though he had served stints on the frontier before. Even if it were certain that the conflict would result in an easy triumph for Gondor, he would not be the best choice for a leader, and he knew it, although part of him wished that he could be at hand for a victory.

Discussion of the situation continued through the rest of the morning, and Denethor privately felt some suggestions showed a lack of common sense, such as the notion that all of the coastal villages should raise walls for their protection. We have neither time nor funds for that, and the walls that a fishing village could build would scarcely hold off attacking Corsairs, unless those manning the walls had much better training in war than seems probable!

“If I might interject, my lords,” he said, “I would recommend a gradual repositioning of our forces. The reports from Ithilien are excellent, and I believe that we could reduce the number of troops there by a quarter, perhaps even a third, if we are careful as to which companies they are drawn from. How much do you trust Vardil’s judgment, Lord Adrahil?”

“He’s not a man to panic, and overstate the situation,” the prince responded. “I trust him implicitly.”

“Then his assessment that the Corsairs will probably not raid in force until spring is likely to be accurate. If we move men slowly to the south over the next several months, our defenses will be strong than their present scouting would suggest to them, and we will have the advantage of surprise as well as numbers. Their strategy has traditionally been to bring the largest forces they can, and ravage our lands like locusts. We will need someone experienced in command on land, more than at sea,” Denethor concluded.

“Good points, all,” Ecthelion complimented him. “I am inclined to follow your suggestions. Had you anyone in particular in mind? Or do any of the rest of you have an idea for who might be best-suited to command our coastal defense?”

“Not at this time,” said Denethor, and others around the table also shook their heads. The discussion continued, considering how Denethor’s ideas might be implemented, and what alternatives should be considered.

In early afternoon Ecthelion looked around the room. Every man present had given his opinions, several more than once, and he dismissed the Council until the next day. Forlong, in particular, had looked anxious to leave – he took the threat more seriously than most of the inland lords, but he also wished to return home in preparation for the entertainment he was giving that evening.

Among those who lingered to say a few last words of advice was Thorongil. Denethor clenched his teeth and rose to intercept him before he could leave.

“Captain Thorongil?”

“Yes, my lord?” The dark head so like his own turned courteously.

“Would you have time to remain and speak with me for a few moments? I believe you know where my office is, on the first floor?”

“Certainly. I will meet you there shortly – I wished to speak to the Prince of Dol Amroth, but then I will be free to attend you.”

Dol Amroth? But he cannot mean to speak of anything except the Corsairs, not here, not now.

Denethor’s office was so arranged that he sat with his back to the eastern windows, thus facing across the dark wood of the table anyone who entered and crossed the wide stone floor. It was especially effective in the morning, when the sun made him a silhouette against the light, but served even at other times of day, as now. He leaned back in the heavy leather chair and waited.

When Thorongil entered, closing the door behind him, Denethor did not rise until the man was nearly to the table. He moved over to the hearth and added wood to the blaze.

“The weather has finally changed,” he remarked.

“Yes,” agreed Thorongil. “I would guess that a storm is on its way.”

“I believe so, too.” Denethor paused, clasping his hands behind his back and deliberately looking the man up and down. “You strike me as a man of ambition, Captain Thorongil – would you say that is so?”

“Only as ambitious as suits my station,” said Thorongil, meeting Denethor’s eyes squarely. “For my own honor and respect I cannot do less than I am capable of doing, however.”

“I see. Given that station, would you be content to remain in Ithilien, captaining the rangers there, all your life? Would that suit your ideas of honor and respect, and achieve your hopes?”

“No, it would not.” How can his eyes be so clear, yet I cannot read him?

“How then can you hope to become greater than you are? I see only two roads to success for a man such as yourself – through prowess in war, or a noble alliance with a woman of good family.”

“Those are the traditional methods of advancement,” agreed Thorongil.

“And which is to be yours?”

“I do not intend to raise myself through marriage; marriage for me would be a reward, rather than a means to an end. The merit in serving one’s country and people is far greater, and more apt to bring esteem from those whose good opinion is worth having. If one yearned only for a soft living, a good marriage might be the preferable course, but it is not like to satisfy any man of true honor,” Thorongil said.

“I’m afraid I cannot believe you, sir. Do you not love a lady of high family?” Thorongil’s calmness was provoking, and Denethor bit off the words as he spoke.

“I do love such a one, yes.”

He admits it freely! I knew he was capable of insolence, but this? “You love her,” he repeated. “And are you not planning to woo her and wed her, if indeed you have not already begun to do so?”

“I should indeed wish to court that lady,” said Thorongil, with a glint in his eye that Denethor found inscrutable, “but at this time it is not possible, I fear.” He cocked his head, a mannerism that gave him an almost uncanny resemblance to Ecthelion, and added, “Finduilas’s father is a great prince, and my lineage unknown. How could I pin my expectations on so improbable a match? My position in Gondor is not such as would allow me to reasonably seek her hand. Yours, however, is, my lord. Indeed I envy your luck, that you could ask the lady you desire to wed.”

“Do you indeed?” said Denethor. I sense nothing insincere in his voice, but how then is what I heard yesterday to be explained?

As if he could hear Denethor’s thoughts, Thorongil said, “I do. She told me of it herself, and asked my advice, as befitting the brother she thinks me.” His face remained smooth, his voice calm. Denethor had to admire the man’s control when he continued, “Of course I cannot speak for Finduilas, but I will tell you that I urged her to accept your offer. Believe me or not, as you choose, but I have realized that destiny must lead me down a different road than the one that leads to Belfalas.”

Proud, he is, a nobody to speak of destiny in such terms! “And what do you imagine this destiny of yours to be?” Denethor asked, curiosity and disdain warring in his voice.

“I do not know, yet, though I hope it will be in Gondor,” said Thorongil, “where the Enemy presses hardest against the realms of Men. I have seen his hand in Ithilien, and now his allies threaten the southern coasts. There is much to be done, to preserve this land from harm.”

With a pang Denethor realized that the sincerity in Thorongil’s voice was genuine. He loves Gondor more than he loves Finduilas. Do I? He cleared his throat. “I see. Thank you, Captain Thorongil, for explaining your feelings on this matter. But I believe your future may not fall out as you suppose. As you have said, a man of such ambition as yourself, with such laudable goals, will not be content to stand still. You came to Gondor from Rohan – have you not thought of returning? A man of your abilities would doubtless be welcomed back to Thengel’s court.”

“I have no plans to return to Rohan,” said Thorongil. “For the moment my ambitions are better satisfied by remaining here, in Ecthelion’s service, and Gondor’s.”

Denethor looked askance at him for that. Ecthelion’s service, not the Steward’s service. That, I will remember. I do not think I have ever met a man so contradictory, so hard to pin down, as Thorongil. With one breath he says that he has encouraged Finduilas to accept me – and why should he have done so? – and yet he says he loves her, and behind all is this will to success, to power. But that may be turned to our use, may it not? If he wishes to serve Gondor, perhaps his destiny will take him southward after all. Aloud, he said, “Your service has much to recommend it. But I should keep you from your duties no longer – I am certain you have matters to attend to yet today, as do I.”

“So I have,” said Thorongil, and bowed. “Until tonight, at Forlong’s.”

Chapter Text

The hum of the crowd overlaid the sounds of the music coming from the far corner of the hall. Through the archway and the press of dancing figures beyond Finduilas caught glimpses of cittern, tambour, and pipes, and her foot tapped to the rhythm as she waited to greet Forlong and his family. Will Denethor be here yet? she wondered, having spent much of the past two days considering Thorongil’s advice. I must see his face once more, to be certain.

Despite the cheerful music and the nearness of the midwinter celebrations, the mood in the room was somber. Finduilas knew why. Her father had told her of the news sent by Vardil about the Corsair-raids on the coast. There had evidently been some wrangling among the Council as to the best way in which to meet the threat, to judge by the coolness she noted between various persons here tonight.

She had scarcely stepped into the room before a slender, greying man was bowing over her hand and inquiring if she would care to dance. She could not immediately place him, but as the figure brought them close enough to converse he introduced himself as Baran of Ethring. Finduilas recalled the town, at a bridge on the River Ringló, on the road between Erech and Linhir. Not one of the larger lordships, but respectable.

“Have you been in Minas Tirith for long?” he asked.

“About a week,” Finduilas replied. “And you, sir?”

“My family and I arrived only two days ago,” Baran said. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, the dance requiring them to face in the same direction. “My son Gelmir would be delighted to make your acquaintance.”

Finduilas understood what remained unspoken: Baran was hinting at the possibility of a match between her and his son. I can scarcely tell him that I have already received a proposal from a greater man. She said politely, “I would be pleased to meet him, if you wish.”

When the dance ended, Baran led her to the edge of the room and introduced his wife, Lotheluin, and their son Gelmir to her. Finduilas was startled by the woman’s appearance. I could almost be looking into a mirror, save that her eyes are blue as the sky over the sea on a sunny day – and that she must be twenty or thirty years older than I am, perhaps a little more than Denethor’s age. Gelmir seemed a personable young man of about Imrahil’s age, or perhaps a year or two more. She mentioned Imrahil’s present position in the Ithilien troops, and inquired if Gelmir had similar plans.

“I would be of little use there,” he said ruefully.

Finduilas looked puzzled, and Gelmir gestured at his left leg.

“When I was just a boy, I took a fall from a tree and broke it very badly.” He walked a few steps to show her, and she saw that he limped. “I can still walk, but not ride well and certainly not march all day or move silently in enemy territory. So I cannot join in defending Gondor, much to my dismay.” His voice was resigned, accepting of what must be.

Lotheluin joined the conversation. “Do you ride, my dear?”

“Sometimes,” Finduilas said. “I am fond of it, though I am not the most skilled of horsewomen.”

Baran said proudly, “My wife was a great rider when she was your age. None of the men could keep up with her. She even outrode the lord Denethor once, when he was traveling through her father’s holding.”

Was a great rider?” Lotheluin looked at her husband with a mixture of affection and exasperation. “I can still outride you any day, my dear.”

“True enough,” Baran admitted. “Is a great rider, then.”

“I would be pleased if you would like to join me some morning,” Lotheluin told Finduilas. “I often ride for an hour or two in the Pelennor.”

“If I have the opportunity, I would enjoy that,” Finduilas responded. I would like to know the circumstances of this race with Denethor, which sounds an interesting story. Perhaps I will find an occasion to ask about it sometime.

They continued chatting for several moments more before Finduilas was claimed by another partner and whirled off again into the patterns of the dance. An hour later, breathless and trying not to pant after a lively dance, she found Adrahil and stood by him for a chance of refuge.

“Have you seen the lord Denethor?” her father asked.

“No, I haven’t. Why?”

“He was looking for you a little while ago. I believe he was hoping that you would dance with him tonight, my dear.”

“I certainly intend to,” said Finduilas quietly. “I would regret it if I did not.” Her hand touched the lace at her neck. Tonight there are too many people here. . . but I can leave him encouraged. “Should you see him again, Father, please ask him to wait for me, if you would, and I will return here between dances.”

She had no more than finished speaking when her friend Elerrína, Forlong’s daughter, whirled up to them and claimed her attention, pulling her away from Adrahil with a laugh.

“You will never guess what has happened,” Elerrína confided as soon as they were a discreet distance away.

“Doubtless not. What?”

“Duinhir asked me to dance, twice! You know, Duinhavel’s son, from Morthond. Do you not think he is handsome?”

“Oh, certainly,” said Finduilas absently. Which young man is he, now? Oh – that one, yes. “Very handsome.” She knew from long experience that Elerrína could chatter for hours about this lad or that, whomever caught her fancy at a particular moment. What would she think if she knew I had a proposal from a man old enough to be my father? Laugh, I am sure. She would never value a man like Denethor – which is as well, since I cannot imagine her appealing to him, either.

And,” Elerrína added importantly, “Mother said that I was to consider carefully anyone who seemed to be paying attention to me. They are hoping to arrange a betrothal for me this season.” She smoothed a hand over the blue embroidery that adorned her skirts.

“A betrothal?” Now Finduilas looked at her friend in surprise. “But you are only twenty-two, not yet of age.”

Elerrína shrugged. “What does that matter, if I wish to marry?”

She would make an ill wife, yet – she is still a child in many ways. But I suppose there is no way to persuade her to wait, not if her parents think she should wed and are allowing, even encouraging, such a thing.

“But would you marry so young? I could see being betrothed, but I would not have wanted to wed at your age. There is no reason to hurry; you would be depriving yourself of several seasons of fun and flirtation,” said Finduilas shrewdly.

“Well, that is so,” Elerrína agreed. “And perhaps I will not. I thought you would be interested, however. Are you not beginning to think of marriage yourself? You are of age, there is nothing to hold you back. Is there not some young man who intrigues you? I saw you conversing with the family from Ethring – Gelmir is quite good-looking too. A shame he limps.”

Goodness. She knows the name of every man here, I daresay. And has an opinion on each – based wholly on appearance, I do believe. Well, what else can one expect? With a slight chill in her voice, Finduilas said, “He does limp, but that does not detract from his character.”

Elerrína ignored Finduilas’s tone, and said, “Too bad that Tarondor of Tolfalas is already married. Though I think that Lady Eilinel would be a most fearsome mother-in-law, so perhaps it is just as well.” She chattered on about several other scions of the great families, and it was with some relief that Finduilas saw Elerrína’s brother Derlong approaching to ask for a dance. Elerrína had been a more interesting companion in their younger days; lately her single-minded interest in the lads had become rather tedious.

Derlong was no bad dancer, for a man who spent most of his time on board a ship. He told Finduilas that he had unexpectedly received leave this winter season, but that with the recent news, he was sure to be recalled soon to the southern fleet.

“Rumor has it that the Corsairs are most like to attack in the spring, but best to be prepared,” he said heartily.

With that Finduilas could not but agree. Derlong made a few more remarks about the political situation – more interesting to Finduilas than his sister’s conversation tonight, but nothing that showed any great insight or understanding of matters. Not surprising. He is still young, too, and being with the fleet will teach him much of ropes and sails, stars and tides, but little of men and their political maneuverings. When their dance came to an end, she made a polite curtsey and sought out her father again. Approaching him, she thought at first that he was speaking with Denethor, but as she drew nearer she realized that it was Thorongil who stood with him.

“My lady,” Thorongil bowed formally over her hand. “Will you grant me the pleasure of a dance?”

She smiled at his manner. “I will, Captain Thorongil.”

She had forgotten how well he danced, albeit with a slight – she could only think of it as an archaic feel to his movements, a hint of greater formality and antiquity than she was used to. Not that he ever misstepped; it was simply the way he held himself as he moved through the figures of the dance.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked him.

“As much as I would expect,” he said. “Forlong has not stinted in his hospitality tonight, and the music is excellent – when one can hear it. And you?”

“Certainly.”

He looked at her with a serious expression. “Have you spoken with the lord Denethor yet?”

“No, I have not. I have not yet seen him here tonight,” Finduilas answered.

“Have you decided what you will say?” Thorongil spoke softly, not to be overheard, though he had chosen his words to be discreet.

“I have. But this is too public an occasion, would you not agree?”

“Perhaps. Then when?”

“On mettarë, I think.” She paused as the dance took them apart. “I will ask if he will come see me then.”

“Good,” and in his voice was a wealth of relief that she did not understand.

They finished the dance in a silence that brought comfort, not care, and Thorongil fetched Finduilas a cup of wine when they had finished and again returned to where Adrahil stood. She thought of inquiring why he was so concerned that she give a reply to Denethor. But a crowded ballroom is no place for such a question, and I suppose he would not answer in any case. He would have said, had he wished me to know. Nor did he ask what my decision would be. . .

“You should dance, Father,” Finduilas urged Adrahil, as the lady Eilinel passed near them. “Do not stay on the sidelines on my account, nor on Mother’s – she would have preferred to have you enjoy yourself, you know.”

“I know, Finduilas, but my heart would not be in it tonight. Perhaps on mettarë I will muster an inclination to do so.” Adrahil glanced at Thorongil. “But if you would excuse us, I would like to speak with Captain Thorongil for a few moments.”

“Of course,” she said. They bowed and Adrahil led Thorongil out into the less densely crowded antechamber. Finduilas stood alone against the wall; it was the middle of a dance, and she was thankful for the chance to pause and rest. She closed her eyes to hear the music more clearly.

As the melody drew to an end, a man’s voice intruded on her thoughts.

“Lady Finduilas?”

Denethor stood before her. She found it hard to read his expression.

“My lord Denethor, how pleasant to see you.” The words were formal, but her mouth stretched wider than the socially appropriate half-smile.

“The pleasure is mine, my lady. Would you care to dance?”

“Very much.” She set her goblet down on a tray carried by a passing servant, and took Denethor’s arm.

The music should have warned them that this would be no sedate promenade. Excellent dancer though she was, Finduilas came near to stumbling from dizziness more than once as they twisted and turned, leapt and stepped – but somehow they came through triumphant, one of only four couples to remain standing at the end. Even Thorongil, she saw, had come to grief while dancing with the lady Lotheluin. Finduilas nearly threw her arms around Denethor in celebration, but dignity restrained her.

He looked as exhilarated as she felt herself, flushed and breathing hard. “Shall we see if there is more air in the other room?”

“Yes, please,” she accepted. Cool air would be refreshing; she noted his thoughtfulness in suggesting it, as none of her previous partners had done.

In a corner, with few people close by, he began, “My lady. . .”

Finduilas was certain she knew what he intended to say, and spoke to forestall him. “Not now, lord Denethor.”

“I did not mean to press you tonight,” he said. “I only wished to ask if you would do me the very great honor of opening the dancing on mettarë. I believe I can promise that it will not be such a challenging one as that we just had. Would you?”

Controlled though his expression was, Finduilas could see hope in it, and a touch of wariness that she might refuse. “Of course I will. The honor is mine, sir.”

“Thank you.” Denethor smiled, looking more than ever like Thorongil as he relaxed. “I will see that you are seated at the high table that night – I hope you do not mind? Your father will be there, of course, and since your brother is not here. . .”

With a hint of flirtation, she said, “As long as I am near you, my lord, I should have no difficulty in accustoming myself to such exalted company.”

He looked bemused for an instant, then realized that she was not speaking seriously, and his smile widened. “I would hope not,” he agreed. “I will be sure that you are placed not far away, then.” His eyes held hers, again filled with hope mingled with uncertainty.

No one stood near. She was so close that she could see the beads of perspiration along his hairline from the exertion of the dance, hear the sound of his breathing, smell the scent of new cloth from his tunic. Before she stopped to consider her words, Finduilas heard herself say, “Denethor.”

It was the first time she had ever addressed him by his name alone, and the look he gave her shook her to the core. I did not realize. . . She drew in a breath, and continued, “I believe I owe you an answer to a question you asked me quite some time ago. My answer is yes.”

Denethor put a hand against the wall. “Finduilas. . . are you certain? Do you mean this?”

“I do,” she said.

He reached for her hand and bowed to kiss it, his eyes never leaving her face. “My lady,” he said, straightening. “I cannot say. . .”

“You need not,” she told him. “Let us not speak of it to anyone for a little?” I do not think Forlong’s dance is the place for such an announcement.

Denethor nodded, understanding. “At my father’s feast, on mettarë?”

“Yes. Only to our fathers, till then.”

“On mettarë I will be repeating your name until the walls of my rooms give it back to me, until it echoes from the furthest streets of the city, until the White Mountains resound with it,” said Denethor, still holding her hand.

Finduilas felt a flutter in her chest at the intensity of his expression. She tightened her grip and allowed her gaze to match the longing of his for a moment, then dropped her eyes. For all the disparity in our ages, he seems not like to treat me as a child, she thought, her lips curving in a smile. Which is as I would choose.

“Only so far?” she teased gently. “Why, I might think you cared little for me.”

This time he understood her manner, and replied, “I thought rather to show an appropriate decorum. If you wish, Finduilas,” his voice lingered on her name, “be assured your name will be heard to the shores of the Great Sea in the west, and even into Mordor, and beyond to the lands of the Easterlings.”

“Say not so, even in jest,” she said hastily. “I would not wish to be known to the Enemy.”

“My apologies, my lady.” The look he turned on her was grave and sweet. “I meant only to amuse.”

“You did, Denethor,” she responded, softening at once, “and I am sorry to have taken it more seriously than you intended. I am a little overcome just now.”

Denethor smiled, dazzling like the rising sun. “So am I, Finduilas.” So he is, it is clear. This was the right choice.

They spoke for a little longer, but courtesy dictated and prudence that neither of them should appear to monopolize the other’s company, and so Denethor escorted her back to Adrahil, who had long finished his conversation with Thorongil.

Finduilas danced several more dances, once or twice briefly encountering Denethor in the set and exchanging private smiles, until it was well past the middle of the night. She could have continued, but caught her father suppressing a yawn. He is not as young as he used to be, and no longer has Mother to speak to, to pass the time, she thought with a certain guilt. “Are you ready to leave, Father?” she asked.

“Have you made enough conquests this evening, then? Danced until you can dance no more?”

She leaned against him for an instant. “For tonight, certainly.”

“Then let us go.”

Chapter Text

Denethor watched Finduilas and her father leave from the ball, and with a pang regretted that she had not bidden him farewell. She had no opportunity, he reassured himself. Adrahil looked exhausted, I am sure he had no thought but to return home. He chose not to remember that Adrahil was not so very many years older than himself.

The departure of the family of Dol Amroth, though, meant that Denethor had no reason to remain. The hour was late enough that Forlong would not take offense if he left, and if he went now there was still a chance that Ecthelion might be awake when he returned to the Steward’s House. He wished to share his good news with his father as soon as he might.

His hope was thwarted. The Steward’s chambers were dark and still, and though Denethor ventured a soft knock on the door, thinking that perhaps Ecthelion might lie wakeful, there was no response from within. Sighing, Denethor went down the corridor to his own rooms. He was too restless to seek his bed yet. Finduilas has accepted me! He moved about the room, sitting for an instant on the chair and pulling off one stocking, then getting up and going to the window to throw open the shutters and gaze at the wall that separated the seventh and sixth levels of the city. Beyond it, Finduilas – he assumed – slept. Or perhaps she is as unable to sleep as I? His foot was cold. Removing the other stocking and putting them to be laundered, he slid his feet into a pair of comfortable, if worn, leather indoor shoes. He took them off again immediately to remove his hose, shrugged, and stripped off all his fine clothing. He had sweated through it, dancing with Finduilas, and everything needed to be washed. The soft robe he wore to sleep in hung from the bedpost, and he donned it hastily , resuming his shoes to keep his feet from the cold stone of the floor as he paced around the room.

I will tell Father first thing in the morning. Then we can announce it officially on mettarë – I should speak with Finduilas about that, too, and ask when she would like to have the wedding. As soon as possible, by my choice. Perhaps at the festival of tuilérë in the spring, certainly no later than loëndë at midsummer. I hope she does not wish to wait. There is no cause to do so, that I can see.

He imagined Finduilas dressed in the traditional red garments for a wedding. He had never seen her wear red, that he could remember, but it would suit her – her gaze at him earlier that night had promised a passion he would not have expected. His belly tightened at the thought. Denethor had never been one to make much of physical desires, preferring to turn those impulses elsewhere, and at forty-five he was somewhat surprised to find that his body still responded as it had when he was but a stripling.

Shaking his head at himself, he poured cold water from the ewer into the basin, and splashed his face with it. He groped for the towel to dry off. A comb through the hair and he knew he should try to sleep, even if that seemed the least probable thing he could do on this night of all nights. The smooth linens welcomed him, though, and he drifted quickly into dreams he would not recall.

Dawn’s light crept into the room, and Denethor woke with a start. Why – what – oh, yes! He flung back the covers and dressed hastily. Ecthelion customarily rose early; he always had done, and more so in the past few years. Denethor expected the Steward to be already down in the Great Hall, making himself accessible to any of the household who needed to speak to him before he went to the White Tower and began the day’s duties.

When Denethor was at last able to catch Ecthelion’s attention, he asked that the Steward spare him a few moments directly after he finished breaking fast. Ecthelion agreed, with a tilt of his head that told Denethor that he had probably guessed what the news would be – and so it proved.

“Finduilas has accepted me,” he said once they were in Ecthelion’s room in the Tower, with the door to the corridor shut behind them. “She has accepted me!” He could not keep the broad smile from his face, and did not try.

“My congratulations, my son,” said Ecthelion, clasping him by the shoulders and kissing him on either cheek. “I hoped and thought that might be so. She is a fine woman, from a worthy family, and I trust you will have as good a marriage as did your mother and I.” Denethor winced inwardly – he would not willingly have reminded his father of his mother’s death, but he supposed there was no helping it. Angwen had died young for one of her lineage, before her seventieth year, after a fall from a half-broken horse.

“I am sure we will, Father.” Denethor shook off the memory. “We would like to announce our betrothal to those of the great houses at the Steward’s Feast, if that is acceptable to you? Then the following day to the rest of the city. We would like just the next three days to keep it private, within our families.”

“Certainly. I shall make the announcement at the end of the feast, before the dancing, if that would suit you and your bride,” Ecthelion assured him. He sat down behind his desk, cocking his head. “I must admit, Denethor, that I wondered at your choice at first, and if Finduilas had not given you an affirmative answer this season, I would have deemed it necessary to choose your wife for you. I am relieved that will not be required.”

No more relieved than I, that is certain. Even thinking about the possibility of being forced to wed a woman other than Finduilas made Denethor shiver, and he missed the first of what Ecthelion was saying.

“. . .morning?”

“My apologies, sir, I was distracted. What did you say?” Denethor asked.

“I said, will you be here the rest of this morning? I may wish to consult you again about what shall be done in the south, for I must reach a final decision on that shortly.”

“Of course I will be here, what else? This is where my duty lies. If you are hinting that I would abandon it for Finduilas, she would neither expect nor imagine I would do so.”

“No, of course not.” Ecthelion shook his head. “I will call for you later, then, perhaps. I have other matters to settle before I look to the south.” He reached for the tasseled pull that would summon Galdor, his secretary.

Denethor bowed and left. My duty is indeed here, even today. The news of the Corsairs bodes ill for Gondor – will my father make the best decision? He seems likely to follow my ideas, but I think he may need more persuasion to implement them fully. To whom would he listen? Thorongil. He has always favored Thorongil, and deemed him an excellent commander. And whatever the captain’s words to me before, it would make me easier to have him stationed far from Finduilas.

As soon as he had returned to his own chambers on the first floor, Denethor sent a messenger to find Captain Thorongil and bring him thither. Within the hour he had Thorongil seated across the table and was talking to him earnestly.

“Tell me, Captain, what you thought of my suggestions to the Council as to how Gondor should conduct her defense.”

Thorongil blinked and leaned back, considering the matter. “The Council seemed happy with them,” he said finally.

“I am not asking you that. I want your opinion,” Denethor snapped. Moderating his tone, he said, “If you think that withdrawing troops from Ithilien is unwise, say so. But I do not know where else we may find them.”

“No. It is the only approach I can see, too.” Thorongil’s tone was judicious.

“I spoke with the Steward earlier this morning. He will be making a decision soon, perhaps even today, and may ask your advice or opinions again. When you and I spoke yesterday, you indicated that you have ambition to rise further in the service of Gondor. I would be pleased to suggest to Ecthelion that you would be the best man to take command of the southern defense, if it is conducted in the manner discussed before by the Council,” Denethor said.

“To command?” said Thorongil, drumming his fingers on the edge of the table. “I would not object to that, no. It is my wish to serve this land in whatever way seems best to the Steward, of course.”

“Of course,” Denethor assented. “But with my voice and yours joined. . .” We would both get what we wanted. My plan to be followed, and your ambition to be satisfied. He left the words unspoken, certain Thorongil would understand nevertheless.

“The Steward would be the more readily convinced of the rightness of this path,” Thorongil said.

“Yes.”

“Very well. I will make the opportunity, and will do what is in my power to persuade him.”

“Thank you,” Denethor said, concealing any bitterness or begrudged feelings he might hold at having to work through Thorongil. If Ecthelion will not trust my judgment, however, I will use whomever is necessary to see that events take their necessary course.

Thorongil pushed back his chair as if to leave, then hesitated. “May I ask, Lord Denethor – are you to meet with Finduilas before the Steward’s Feast on mettarë?”

The question surprised Denethor, and he hedged, uncertain what Thorongil wished to learn by his inquiry. “I imagine we will, though we have no definite appointment to do so.”

“Oh.” Thorongil frowned. “I had understood her to say that she intended to ask you to visit her that day.”

“We spoke for some length last night, and she made no such invitation,” Denethor replied coolly. If he is trying to find out whether Finduilas gave an answer, and what it was, he will be disappointed. It is none of his concern. “If she has anything further to tell me, I am sure she will do so.”

“I see,” said Thorongil, but his keen glance at Denethor’s face was a trifle uncomfortable. Surely he cannot read it in my expression? “It is of no moment, I suppose. I had better go and see if the Steward will speak to me. Good day, my lord.”

“Good day, Captain Thorongil,” Denethor replied. Now, if he but does as we have agreed, and succeeds in persuading Ecthelion, all my worries will be resolved.

***

A shame that Merethrond is used so seldom. Denethor took a last look around the Hall of Feasts to assure himself that all the preparations were complete. The tables were spread with linens as white as the stone that gave Minas Tirith her epithet, and set with more china, glass, and cutlery than Denethor thought could possibly be needed, though he had been assured it was. In the days of the kings this hall was the heart of the land every day, not only at times of festival. It is unfortunate that the first Stewards let that custom lapse. Restoring it now would seem presumptuous, as if we aspired to kingship.

Green boughs and banners of all colors, representing every noble family in Gondor, adorned the walls. Denethor had ensured that the white swan of Dol Amroth hung next to the Steward’s own banner, as a subtle compliment to his lady – and his future father-in-law. Adrahil had greeted him as a son when he had called on them the day before, and he wished to show the prince every suitable courtesy.

Servants stood ready throughout the room, and the musicians at its end had begun a soft tune. All was prepared. Denethor let out his breath in a sigh, brushed a hand over his dark hair, and needlessly straightened the deep blue damask tunic he wore before retreating to the entrance where he and Ecthelion would wait to greet their guests.

The one Denethor most wished to see arrived when two-thirds of those invited had already passed through the doors, but when Finduilas entered the Hall of Feasts on Adrahil’s arm, she had never looked lovelier. Or so Denethor thought, complimenting her on the beautiful pearl-and-silver coronet she wore.

“It was my grandmother’s,” she responded. “Mother wore it once or twice, too. Father gave it to me this season, and I wanted to wear it to honor them.”

“A thoughtful thing to do,” Denethor approved. “It suits you well.” He lowered his voice. “Are you ready?”

“I am,” she said, in tones that matched his. “When will your father speak?”

“At the end of the feast, before the dancing. You are to be seated near me at the high table, and when he signals, I will come stand beside you.”

Finduilas nodded, and passed on into the hall. Denethor continued to meet and greet next to Ecthelion until the last straggler had entered. He stepped outside for a moment into the chill freshness of the evening air before he would have to enter the crowded hall. Clouds obscured the sky to the north, though the southern horizon still showed stars flaming against the dark fabric of the heavens. It is clear above my lady’s home, I’ll warrant. But no. From now, Minas Tirith shall be her home. And I will do my best to make her days – and nights – bright.

Breathing deeply, he returned inside and took his place at the high table for the Standing Silence. Finduilas was five places down to his right, next to her father. Denethor glanced around the room. At the near end of the closest table sat Thorongil, who caught Denethor’s eye and nodded before his gaze slipped over to Finduilas. Denethor fought to keep his face calm and made polite conversation with the lords seated on either side as the first dishes were brought to the table. He allowed himself to be helped to quail stuffed with mushrooms and a delicate salad of greens forced in the glasshouses, but refused a second glass of wine when it was offered him.

At length the meal was over. All that remained on the tables were the dishes of nuts and comfits for those who felt the need for assistance with their digestions. Denethor glanced at Ecthelion several seats away, wondering when he would speak. The Steward’s attention was engaged by Lady Eilinel, but finally he rose to claim the silence of the room.

“My ladies – my lords.” Ecthelion’s voice filled the great space without shouting. “Before we begin the dancing tonight, I have two announcements to make to you.”

Two?

“I know you are concerned for the safety and future of our lands, as I am, but what I have to say should set your minds at ease.” The Steward began to walk along the table, and Denethor felt the air move behind his chair; but Ecthelion did not stop, instead continuing until he reached the end of the dais and stepped down. “First, I should like to say that Captain Thorongil has been promoted. He will be transferred from Ithilien to command our forces in the south, both on land and sea, to repulse the Corsairs. Please join me in congratulating him.”

Applause burst out around the room. Denethor could see nods of approval from many. He leaned forward to look at Thorongil, but the man was turned slightly towards Ecthelion behind him, and all Denethor could see was the bright reflection of the silver star on Thorongil’s shoulder. Why? Why tonight? He could have waited. . .

Ecthelion was continuing. “War, however, is a sadly ever-present subject in these days, but not one we wish to emphasize at a time of festival. Therefore I conclude with an even more pleasant announcement.” He beckoned to Denethor to stand and join him, and retraced his steps along the table to lay a hand on Finduilas’s shoulder. “It is with great happiness that I make known to all of you the betrothal between my son, the lord Denethor, and the lady Finduilas of Dol Amroth.”

If the applause for Thorongil had been loud, now it was twice so, almost obscuring Ecthelion’s final remark, “They will wed at tuilérë.” The musicians struck up the traditional wedding melody – legend held that it dated back to the rule of Tar-Meneldur in Númenor – and played through it once before segueing into a more seasonal tune. Denethor took Finduilas’s hand and led her to the top of the room, as servants hastily cleared the few tables there and removed them for the dancing.

Denethor was thankful that the opening dance was far less energetic than that in which they had participated together at Forlong’s ball. He knew the steps well, and could watch Finduilas’s face instead. She smiled like the sun shining on the white peaks of the mountains, her head high and her bearing upright. The rich green of her gown set off her fair skin, and she blushed at some of the remarks made as they danced through the lines.

As soon as the first dance ended, both Finduilas and Denethor were surrounded by young men and women who wished the luck of dancing with the newly betrothed. A silly thing, like any superstition, but at any rate harmless, thought Denethor tolerantly as he gazed at the gaggle of girls and held out his hand at random. He had never felt so popular in his life, not even at the first ball he had attended after he had come of age, when every eligible girl in Gondor – and a few from Rohan – had been paraded in front of him. Absently he noticed that Thorongil was dancing little, but had a knot of lords and a few ladies clustered about him, intent on earnest conversation.

Five hours later, Denethor’s patience was running thin. He felt as if he must have danced with every woman present, but not with Finduilas since their opening promenade. At least now the crowd had thinned – the children had long since been taken off, most of the elderly had also gone, and it was the young and some of those of middling years who yet remained on the floor. Politely Denethor thanked the lady on his arm, whose name escaped him, giving her over to a young man who seemed delighted by the opportunity, and made his way to Finduilas. She had just finished dancing with Duinhir of Morthond.

“Would you care for another dance, my lady?” said Denethor from behind her. His heart lurched as he saw the joy in her face as she turned.

“Most certainly, my lord,” she said, the gravity of her voice belying the light in her eyes.

“How has your evening been, Finduilas?” Denethor allowed his hand to linger on her waist longer than courtesy usually permitted. “I am sorry that my father chose to spoil our news by speaking of Thorongil’s appointment first. You should have been the center of all attention tonight.”

Finduilas’s laugh rippled through the air. The dance parted them then, but when they were able to speak again she was still smiling. “You need not be concerned about that, Denethor.”

How my name sounds on her lips!

“Truly,” she continued, “had the Steward not done so, I imagine I should have had to dance with even more young men than was the case – we could have been here all night.” Her tone had been teasing thus far, but now she became serious. “I do not wed you so that I will be known to all. I would be perfectly happy to avoid this fame – but because it is necessary to your position, I accept it. It is the man Denethor who I wish to marry, not the Steward’s Heir.”

Denethor swallowed hard to hear her say such words. He could not reply as he would wish in the middle of the floor, where the music was once again separating them, but as soon as the dance ended, he took her hand and hurried them out of the hall, slipping along the shadowed edges of the corridor to a side door. It is cold. . . but we will only be here a moment.

The sky was dark with clouds, but enough light from the torches at the front of the hall escaped around the corner that Denethor could see Finduilas’s face as she looked up at him.

“Finduilas,” his voice was rough, and he bent so that his lips touched hers, his arms pressing her slight body against him.

“Denethor,” she said when the kiss ended, and turned her head to lean it against his shoulder. The blood surging in his veins prevented Denethor from feeling any chill himself, but at Finduilas’s shiver he drew her back inside.

“Our absence will be noticed, if we stay long,” he said, regretting the necessity.

“I know.” Finduilas squeezed his hand. “It will always be so. . . but after we are wedded, we will find time to be together, I have no doubt.”

How did a woman so sensible and so beautiful both ever agree to marry me, when she could have had her choice of any young man in Gondor? Denethor wondered as they returned to the great hall and the remainder of the mettarë celebrations. Why does she love me? For clearly she does – perhaps even as much as I love her. Perhaps it is one of the mysteries of life, and it would be better not to pursue it. He let her lead him into the light of the room.

Chapter Text

18 Víressë 2976

Dear Finduilas,

I am glad that I was able to see you married. It still seems strange to me that you chose Denethor, but you are clearly happy with him, and so I am happy for you both.

The Orcs are beginning to raid in greater force, now that spring is upon us. Aldadil is a competent captain, but we all miss Thorongil. Rumor has it that our company may be one of those chosen to be sent sourth, though, so I could have the opportunity to serve under him again. Denethor should know for certain, so when you write next, ask him where to direct your letter so that it does not go astray.

We are being called for a patrol – I had hoped to write more, but if I do not send this now, it could be a week or more, so I will cut it short.

with love,
Im

 

25 Cermië 2978

Dear Finduilas,

Congratulations on the safe birth of your son. We hear that Denethor chose to call him Boromir – a strong name. May he grow to be a strong and wise man, like those he will follow.

In haste,
Thorongil

 

3 Víressë 2980

General Thorongil:

What news from the southern coasts? Your dispatches have been less than fully informative, of late, although I must commend your successful defense of the harbor at Linhir.

No further funds can be provided at this time. While your work is vital, we cannot neglect Ithilien, nor can we fail to repair the roads and bridges damaged by this spring’s flooding. I am sure you understand. If the harvest this year proves good, your men will be first to benefit – unless you previously bring the campaign to a successful conclusion.

Denethor, captain,
on behalf of
Lord Steward Ecthelion

 

24 Nárië 2980

My Lord Steward,

I must respectfully decline to return to Minas Tirith. Other tasks now call me, lord, and much time and many perils must pass, ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate. (1) Herewith I tender my resignation of my commission as an officer in Gondor’s army. It has been my great privilege and honor to serve you and Gondor for these last years, but I have been reminded of other duties and responsibilities that are in my charge. I regret that they are so pressing as to prevent me from traveling to the White City.

My second-in-command is fully capable and ready to complete any further actions against the Corsairs that may prove necessary, though neither he nor I expects that they will be able to muster any challenge to us for some time.

If I may add a personal note, please give my regards to your daughter-in-law and son, and my apologies for not taking leave of them in person.

Respectfully yours,
Thorongil

*******

Footnote:

(1) “Other tasks now call me, lord, and much time and many perils must pass, ere I come again to Gondor, if that be my fate.” This quotation is taken from Appendix A, part I, section iv, of The Lord of the Rings.

Chapter Text

Had I known when I started this story how long it would take me to finish, and where it would go, I probably would have run screaming before I wrote a single word. All I intended was to figure out how Denethor and Finduilas might have become husband and wife. Secondary purposes were to experiment with several different writing techniques – shifting points of view with each chapter, and including letters as a means of exposition – and to try to achieve a kind of Jane-Austen-meets-J.R.R.-Tolkien kind of story, in which the conflict relies primarily on personality and small actions, rather than world-sweeping events, without resorting to unmitigated angst. Though a romance, it is not overtly sexualized, and in that at least I hope it rings true to both Tolkien and Austen.

As seems always to be the case, and was true for Tolkien himself, the tale “grew in the telling,” and what I initially thought would take six chapters ended up about three times as long, with more on the political side of things than has often been the case in my work. Various minor OCs as well as some minor canon characters put in an appearance; among the former is my recurring OC, Golasgil, who first showed up in IHBS as the boys’ tutor.

I would like to thank everyone who has commented on various chapters of the story over the eighteen months or so that it gestated, and to give especial thanks to Julie and Anglachel for all their helpful feedback. Without their help the story would be much less than it is. Any remaining infelicities, discrepancies, or errors are of course my own responsibility

Finally, this story is dedicated to my husband, even though he persists in calling its leading man “Desenex.”