Finduilas POV - 1 of 2
In which Finduilas observes the wounds carried by those around her, physical and metaphysical, fresh and closed, the scars they leave behind, the emotional toll they take.
Minas Tirith, 8 April, 2977 T.A.
Finduilas wondered if Denethor was going to return. She had no doubt but that if he and Thorongil needed to speak, Denethor would give no thought to their guests. The men milled about her study, speaking pleasantly to her and to each other, but not about Council business. After greeting each, she went to Angbor and embraced him warmly. 'I am so glad you came,' she said sincerely, 'so I may speak to my brother-to-be.'
'That is why I insisted upon the journey, though Minohtar was the one who was needed for the Council,' he answered plainly. She liked that he was neither braggart nor falsely modest. Ivriniel chose well. 'I bear my mother's and sister's greetings to you, Lady Finduilas.'
'I am sorry they could not accompany you, Angbor, though this is not a visit for frivolity. Lady Rían and Andreth made themselves dear to me at Yule, and I was nearly as glad that they are to become my kinswomen as I was that my sister found such an honorable man to be her husband. Perhaps they may travel to the City later this summer?'
'I fear not, at least, not Andreth,' he replied. 'When I return home, we go at once to Dol Amroth for the betrothal and to set a date for the wedding. Andreth will remain with my lady to help her and your lady mother to prepare for the wedding itself.'
'Is that so? Then I cannot feel slighted at the loss of their company,' Finduilas said with a laugh. Lord Morvorin came closer, listening to their conversation, and Finduilas gestured for him to join them. 'What of your sister, Morvorin? How is Moraen?'
'Moraen is lonely for your kind company, Finduilas. I had thought to bring her here in the summer, but I fear the Captain's dire news makes me reconsider,' Morvorin said gravely. Finduilas wondered at the usually merry lord's solemn manner. It was not just him; Théoden was also downcast in his demeanor. Is the threat of war that bad? Denethor had not said anything. Indeed, his mood had been much improved since returning from Pelargir. They had little time for words the last two days, but there was no grimness to be seen in him, not as there had been at tuilérë.
Gethron had sent a guardsman hurrying up the mountain to inform her as soon as it was known that Denethor and the captains were on their way from the Harlond. She walked to the battlement, to the place of her dreams, and had watched their approach from the south. From that height, Finduilas could follow their progress through the white streets to the Citadel. The setting sun had painted Anduin red near the bend south, turning the water to fire and blood, making her shudder and retreat away from the prow back towards the Citadel. Almost she had fled to the house, but wished to at least glimpse Denethor before seeking shelter. When he strode up the stone way, she lost her heart again. Not even Thorongil seemed as tall and lordly as Denethor. She was reminded of his coming to Dol Amroth and thought for a moment that she glimpsed a band of stars across his brow, though it may have been no more than some light reflecting from a window. It took all her will not to race to him and throw her arms about him in joy at his return.
'I did not know that the prospects of war this summer were so terrible, Morvorin,' she replied, 'but I am certain that you and the rest of our captains will defeat any threat.'
'With the foresight and leadership of the Warden and the Captain, it is certain that we shall,' Brandir cheerfully interjected as he came over with two cups of wine. 'Here you are, Finduilas. You looked thirsty.' As he handed her the cup, Brandir searched her face keenly before putting on one of his thoughtless smiles. He gently teased Angbor about his betrothal until the young man blushed and smiled, then asked Morvorin how things fared in Ethring. Finduilas left the two younger men in Brandir's care, giving her attention to Forlong and the Rohirrim. Young Éomund was pleasant enough, though his conversation subjects appeared to be limited to steeds and spears. Théoden was of a more sober mien, bearing little likeness to the cheerful golden youth of two winters past. Borondir entered the room, having stopped to speak to Wren on some matter, and joined them. Forlong and Théoden quickly engaged him in a discussion of securing more iron for horseshoes and more steel for spears.
Finduilas had almost given up hope that Denethor would return when he came into the room. They exchanged a look and a nod – all is well – before Denethor turned his attention to the discussion of metal trade. In the next hour, he spoke to each of the lords, mostly about spring planting and the condition of roads. The light was fading in the windows before the lords excused themselves. They decided it would be a good thing to sup together with their commanders in the lower circles, so a guardsman was dispatched to the first circle to collect the captains and bring them to The Messenger's Rest for the meal. Beregar guided the lords. Finduilas knew her Hound would stay to wait upon the guests and listen to whatever was discussed. Denethor walked with them as far as the tunnel to say farewell. She let him sit in silence after he came back until he had gathered his thoughts and looked at her.
'You and Thorongil had much to talk about, friend.'
'No. We had only a few words. He wanted to know why he was to be stationed here. For most of the time, I was speaking to Marlong.'
Finduilas had to think a moment. 'That is the Ithilien captain who broke his leg, yes?'
'Yes. I took him the news of the council. I will need your help with him.'
'I need him to recover as quickly as possible. He is in low spirits, for he knows he'll ne'er command in the field again. Would you visit him and encourage him?' Denethor smiled at her wryly. 'I know of no man who can deny your requests.'
'I think it is for Warden Lhûn to say how fast the captain shall heal, not you,' Finduilas gently scolded.
'Of course. But he will heal faster if you wish it,' was Denethor's imperturbable reply.
'Tell me how bad this summer will be. The lords seemed quite downcast.'
He sighed and shrugged. 'Perhaps as bad as two summers ago. It will be different. Thorongil's right. There will be many small skirmishes scattered across the frontier, all demanding our attention.' Denethor fell silent, worrying his ring with his thumb. He shrugged again, adding, 'Even if I had not wished it, Thorongil will be needed in Minas Tirith, mostly to be sent elsewhere at need.' More silence. 'It will be difficult to know what happens in far places. We need more messengers. And spies.'
That night, Finduilas lay circled by his arms and listened to his slow steady breath while he slept. You are not sorrowed anymore, friend. All of March, Finduilas had dreaded his darkness and mercurial moods, not understanding them. There was no joy for you in our mating. You would that it had never come. His refusals and lies left her alternating between anger and sadness, until she was glad that he left for Ithilien. She took that time to look at what Denethor had been reading in his small room at the archives, and in that, she thought she found the answer. He had finally to lay down one oath and take up another, and this left him pained and melancholic. Finduilas could see that he had read Silmarien for reassurance that it was right for him to wed; she herself had turned to the philosopher's words, wondering at how she could have seen Denethor before there had been a word of love between them, in the waterfall, in her dreams, in the fogs of the Pelennor and the mists of the Sea. Our certainty is like that of Elves. I can see your heart as no one else may do. The other books and scrolls were also interesting. Finduilas had felt decidedly naughty reading some of them, and was eager to experiment. She also thought that Denethor's gloom would lift the more she was wife to him. His melancholy deepened near tuilérë, made worse by Beruthiel's presence and her own absence from his bed, but it had vanished by his return. She snuggled against him, letting herself drift to sleep. I am not letting go of you again, friend.
Minas Tirith, Mid April, 2977 T.A.
Full spring arrived without fanfare, but was a welcome guest, nevertheless. It meant that it was once more warm and dry enough for archery. Twice a week, she, Wren, and Aiavalë would take messenger ponies down the mountain, Beregar at their side. Somehow, there never failed to be three horses that needed to be taken down the mountain, nor three more who needed to be brought back up. She was not certain whether Beregar or Denethor was behind this fortuitous state of affairs.
Wren had her own bow, a gift from Finduilas, so could spend the entire time practicing. She was excellent, with aim and speed that rivaled that of many men. Beregar was even better. Aiavalë had neither their strength nor their speed, but her aim was second to none. Finduilas was shamed into trying to improve her own rather sorry skills. After a morning spent on the archery range, they would give the rest of the day to the archives. Finduilas found that she wanted to learn more about the City, and eagerly read all that Denethor presented. In particular, she wanted to know about Minas Tirith's founding and the early settlements of the Faithful. She did not tell Denethor that she was dreaming of storm-damaged ships from the south, singed by fire.
Even before the spring, she would go to the booksellers' row and see if she could find things before Denethor did. Master Golasgil was most helpful in this regard. He refused all remaining payment for the book she had given to Denethor for his birthday. 'I could not accept that now, my lady,' he said firmly. 'Consider it my wedding gift to the two of you.' Nothing she said would change his mind, so she simply made sure to frequent his shop. He had the most interesting works of all the booksellers. Golasgil enjoyed showing her the collection, though he spoke warily on how he came by the books. Finduilas made him promise that he would tell her of any woman who sold books out of need, to which he assented. What was not old was commissioned. Finduilas requested several works from Golasgil, asking him to model them upon the small traveling book she had given Denethor. The first one was a copy of the history of the first hundred years of Númenor set down by Tar-Elendil. That was for her father's birthday, and had been sent while Denethor was in Ithilien. The next would be done soon, probably by the end of April.
The warmer, drier weather also meant that she could walk in the lower circles. Borondir led her into places she had never seen; warehouses tunneled back into the rock, smithies filled with fire, pump stations housing clay pipes fired to the hardness of stone moving water up and down the mountain and through the circles, noisy taverns where men bargained for shipments of everything under the sun and some things known only to the moon. Sometimes Luinmir would join them and they would pay calls upon those who relied on the Lady's Grace. It shocked Finduilas to see such penury in the heart of a great city, though the women themselves did not complain. As Finduilas had hoped, Luinmir applied all of her cleverness and determination to her new charge, with excellent results. Those who did not have kin, or who did not care for the callous treatment some families gave to a daughter-in-law, were not left to be preyed upon but could go for a time to a house in their circle. All that marked such houses was a tile set by the door – black wing on white. They were places of sobriety and industry. Widows who were merchants or practiced trades were made known to each other so they could share business. Luinmir had even extracted a promise from Borondir to fill the City's stores from these women first, and even pay a slight bit more that would go as a dower gift to their daughters. The sons of such women were prenticed, if they were old enough, in reputable trades and to honest crafters who knew these youths needed to provide for a mother and perhaps other siblings. Borondir forbade them to be made soldiers.
Most interesting of all were her walks through the City on no particular business. It was as when she was Aiavalë's guest and no one knew who she was. Beregar carried her basket and Finduilas fancied he left some of his cares behind. Instead of Aerin, Aeluin was her companion. Finduilas became very fond of the woman, for she was honest and sensible, but also kind. They would visit the market and pick out greens and fresh farm goods for the pantry, examine the wares at all the cloth merchants, and perform any of several dozen tasks needed to keep a great house running. It pleased Finduilas to pass on the lessons she had learned from Luinil to such an apt student.
On her walks, she observed the City. It was more difficult now that the City wished to observe her in return, but soon the denizens became used to seeing their young mistress sauntering down an ally, looking at the carvings and chatting with the children, and paid her only a little mind. It might have been her imagination, but Minas Tirith was more cheerful than it had been but a month before. It is just the spring! All are happy to see the sun return. The banners are new and the stone warms under the sun. Even so, Finduilas imagined that there was something in the very stone that had shaken off a deep melancholy, just as Denethor had done.
Gloom did not return to Denethor after the Council, but his impatience grew. Just as Thorongil had predicted, the Enemy harassed them unceasingly along their borders. It was the captain's turn always to be riding out, north or south, and returning after long days of travel and battle. Denethor chafed at his own confinement in the City, though he did not risk the Steward's wrath by venturing further than the road before the walls. He spent much time walking along the walls and battlements, visiting the first circle garrison, and going to the roof of the Stewards House, always watching the east.
Finduilas herself could not bear to look at the dark scrim of peaks upon that border. When she had to climb to the top of a wall, she kept her eyes upon the south, though she was not always certain that she would be pleased with the view. Anduin played tricks upon her, providing glimpses through mist and haze of things that did not always seem real.
Every Thursday, just before noon, Maiaberiel would call. Ever since the tuilérë feast, the woman never missed a week, even if Brandir was away from the City. Wren was sent to the archives those mornings. Finduilas had given much thought on how openly she would oppose Maiaberiel. At some point, there would be no disguising her own designs. Not until I am ready to do battle, and on the ground of my choosing. So they met each week for a half-hour or so before Maiaberiel joined the Steward for dinner. Rarely did Beruthiel speak so bluntly as she had on her first visit. Rather, they gossiped about the City, compared seamstresses and where to find the best fabric, complained of the weather, and spoke of Ivriniel's betrothal. Maiaberiel would casually inquire about Denethor, and Finduilas would feign ignorance at where or how he spent his time.
'The Steward knows little more of Denethor's whereabouts than you,' Maiaberiel noted one day. 'It is odd to me that he ignores both his lord and his wife. If he does not wish to be with you, will he not at least allow you to amuse yourself?'
'You are too harsh, sister,' Finduilas weakly protested. 'It would not be right for me to attend your parties without him. People would talk.' Denethor and Finduilas had agreed that he would reject any invitation to attend a gathering at Maiaberiel's house.
'There are some things that should be talked about,' was the reply, 'such as his inattention to a new bride, or not caring that you hold your proper place in the City.'
'Please, let us not quarrel on this,' Finduilas begged and Maiaberiel relented, but only to open another attack.
'Are you still so hard-hearted to Thorongil, thinking him a scoundrel?'
'I do not think so of him! He minds his manners now.'
The woman smiled brightly. 'I am glad to hear it! You do not know how sad it has made me to think you disliked him. Now that he will be in the City, I intend that he shall be a guest as often as his duties allow. Perhaps it is time that Denethor should reconsider his opposition to you leaving this dour place.' Maiaberiel rose and gathered her things. 'Or perhaps you should just ignore him, as I do, and visit with whomever you please.'
Finduilas also rose and walked the older woman to the door. 'Perhaps I shall do just that. Good day, sister.'
Minas Tirith, Late April, 2977 T.A.
'Carefully, now. Not too fast!' Finduilas warned Marlong as he began to make his way down the broad steps leading from the sixth circle to the fifth. The man did not answer, intent on placing his crutches firmly upon the stone so they did not slip or wobble. One of the guardsmen stood a few steps ahead, clearing people out of the captain's way while Beregar hovered beside him, ready to grab him if he fell. A few guardsmen and Wren brought up the rear, the girl grumbling under her breath at the silliness of it all.
Marlong was on his way to the first circle barracks. For a week, he had been practicing using the crutches on the street of the sixth circle. While he had not fallen, there were some close calls and more than once he had clipped his injured leg against something. Finduilas accompanied him on all of his walks, though she thought she probably offered more distraction than encouragement. Yesterday, Marlong had gone from the circle up through the tunnel to the Court of the Fountain and back, declaring when he returned that he was almost as good as new and wished to return to the barracks where a soldier belonged.
Warden Lhûn had wryly agreed. 'If you are strong enough to complain of gentle care and good food, then you need the tender attentions of your fellows to remind you of how ill you truly are.' A request was sent to Denethor to approve Marlong's move to the first circle, his assent arriving within an hour. And so, today, Marlong left.
The progress down the mountain was slow and Marlong swiftly tired. More and more often they had to stop to allow him to rest. He would not hear of being carried in a litter or riding in a cart. Finduilas was tempted to join Wren in her grumbles about the stubborn pride of men. By the third circle, Marlong's face was white and all his limbs trembled. 'We will stop at The Messenger's Rest,' Finduilas crisply informed them, and sent Beregar ahead to have a table near the door ready for them so the captain need not limp his way through a crowded room. The last twenty-yards, Marlong had to accept the support of two guardsmen lest he fall. They sat for nearly an hour, giving Marlong time to rest.
Finduilas looked at the people passing by in the street, noting the differences between those who walked here and those in the upper circles. In this circle, the favored decoration on a shirt or a hat was three white feathers and a black one tied together. Clothes were well made, but plainer and of more common cloth. Most of the men were dirty from their labors, though none looked too begrimed to be more than a brisk bath from presentability. Across the way, near a fountain, a knot of guardsmen from Dol Amroth talked to women come to fetch water. Finduilas recognized a few of the women from her houses. Though it was too far to hear anything, it was easy to see that the men were doing their best to be charming and win the women's admiration. Are you finding new loves? Men bereft of home and women torn from husband – it would not be good for sadness to continue if joy might take root. She smiled as she watched the men insist on carrying the heavy water jugs and could imagine their cheerful assurances that "Oh, no, ma'am, it is no burden at all…"
Out of the corner of her eye, Finduilas glimpsed Denethor approaching from the second circle. Her delight faded when she looked directly at him and realized that she was mistaken; it was but Thorongil heading up to the Citadel. She hailed him through the open window. He came in the tavern door and bowed, a bland smile on his face.
'Lady Finduilas, I am pleased to see you.'
'As I am to see you, Captain. Pray, sit with us for a few minutes.' The guardsmen quickly made room for him. Wren did not move her chair an inch, giving Thorongil the sour look she usually reserved for Denethor.
Thorongil ignored the woman's rudeness, addressing Marlong, 'Captain Marlong? I am gladdened to see you walking about.'
'I am not sure I would call it walking, sir, but I can get from one point to another.' Marlong gestured in the direction of the gate to the second circle. 'I am on my way to the garrison. They finally released me from the Houses.'
'So soon?' Thorongil asked, brow wrinkling in concern.
'Not soon enough,' Marlong growled, matching Wren's expression. 'Not with the word from the marches.' He held up one of the crutches, glaring at it. 'Not that I can do much with this.'
'I don't doubt but that you could beat a few Orcs to death with that,' Thorongil answered, 'though a bow will serve you better.'
'You need your legs for a bow.'
Thorongil shrugged. 'Not if you're Eorling.'
'What news?' Marlong shot back, not liking the attention to his injury.
'Attacks are increasing in the south, as expected. Khand and Harad are both sending raiders, though they are as likely to raid each other as us.' Marlong nodded at the news, returning his attention to his ale. Thorongil declined a mug and sat patiently. When Marlong finished the last of his drink and rose to finish his journey, Thorongil did not ask, but simply joined them. It took more than an hour for Marlong to negotiate the last part of the trip and get to the garrison. Once there, Thorongil ordered him to lie on a wide battered bench, calling for the healer. While they waited, the captain gently felt Marlong's leg, fingers finding the injuries and massaging the ache out of over-worked flesh. Finduilas watched Marlong's face become less pained as Thorongil touched him. The healer arrived, scolded the archer for being so foolish as to walk six circles with a half-healed leg, and called for help to move Marlong to the infirmary. When Finduilas turned to leave, Thorongil cleared his throat and looked at her expectantly.
'I was on my way to the Tower to meet with the Steward and the Warden. If you return now, I would be glad to walk with you.'
Finduilas smiled. 'Yes, I return, but to the archives. I would not mind company for the walk.' They set off, Beregar and Wren directly behind them. 'I know you dislike to speak of grim things when there is no need.'
The captain shook his head. 'No, I do not. I set such things aside when I can.'
'Then we shall not. You have traveled all about this spring and have seen many lands. Tell me of spring in Ithilien. I have never been there nor is it likely that I ever shall. I wish to know what flowers grace its hills, what birds sing, whether the trees bloom.'
Thorongil looked at her curiously for a few paces, then nodded. 'Ithilien. The trees bloom in profusion, though unkempt and unruly, orchards turned to woods. Thyme scents the air and marjoram nods its white head. Lilies are everywhere.' The captain spoke and made the hard stone ways fade. Finduilas could almost feel the new grasses under her feet, knew that the rustle in the air was the sound of tender leaves moved by the southern breeze. As he spoke, Thorongil became more animated and his voice took on a lilting cadence, until Finduilas expected him to break into verse. Too soon for her liking, they reached the archives and she had to bid him farewell.
Inside the archive, in the dark stillness of the caverns, Finduilas pretended she had left the leafy ways of Doriath and now walked the ancient halls of Menegroth. Aiavalë greeted her with a kiss and a full basket of scrolls to reshelve, with another for Wren. Finduilas could not help but notice that Wren was still glowering, and wondered if the woman had smiled once all day.
'Wren,' she asked, 'what has you so surly today? Did you not wish such a long walk?'
'Soldiers!' the other snorted. 'Are they not supposed to be brave and strong?'
'Yes, I suppose.'
'That captain is worse than a girl,' Wren said with contempt. 'Lady Lore has lived her whole life with a twisted and pained limb, and you do not hear her complain so greatly!'
Not of the limb, but of all else under the sun. Finduilas sighed and shook her head. 'You are ungenerous, Wren. Captain Marlong is newly lame and his pain is great. It is a terrible blow to him, especially when there are dangers about and he would fain fight than lie abed.'
'Perhaps,' Wren conceded, 'but that Thorongil, he has no excuse!'
'What do you mean? He is not complaining of any injury…'
'They are wrong and unseemly, his attentions to you!' was Wren's furious reply. Finduilas stopped and stared. 'You told him to leave you be, yet there he is. He takes advantage of your kindness. They all do!'
'Who?' Finduilas did not understand Wren's anger.
'Them! Thorongil, Luinmir, her. Her and all her creatures. You should have nothing to do with them! And not Marlong, either. Let him limp.'
'Wren! What is wrong? This is not like you.'
'They do not love you.'
'No, I do not expect that they do, but that is not why I speak to them. They serve my purpose.' Wren studied her toes, obviously unconvinced. 'I think you begrudge them my company, and would have me to yourself.' A shrug. Finduilas laughed and teased the other gently, 'Would you have me send all away? My guardsmen? The Hound? Denethor?' At that, Wren looked up, eyes burning. Yes, you would have me send him away. 'What would you have, Wren?'
The young woman looked away. 'Silly things. Pay me no mind.'
'I would know these things.'
'I would that you were back here, and Lark as well. That we could all be together with the Archivist.'
'It cannot be. I am wed and so is Lark.'
'Do you wish to return here? I would not keep you with me, unhappy.'
'No. I want to be with you.'
'I think you need a man of your own to scold and order about, and not always be worrying about someone else's happiness.'
Wren scowled and shook her head. 'Men are good for nothing but breaking your heart.' With that, she walked off with her basket. Finduilas let her be, working on her own basket of scrolls.
Minas Tirith, Early May, 2977 T.A.
Your last letter filled me with joy and not a little pride. You do a noble thing for those young women. I remember Luinmir somewhat. It is good that she has found a better mistress. That family has great talents, and every child seems endowed with excellence and determination, but also are they possessed of pride and cruelty. If they set not their sights on something worthy, wickedness follows. I hope your lord will also listen to your wisdom.
Are you well? I hope no spring fevers beset you. You are always in my thoughts, dear child. A day scarce passes that I do not look up, thinking to see you so I may tell you something. I shall have to write instead of speak. Three babes have been born in the keep since we returned…
…and so fares your family and Dol Amroth. I shall let Ivriniel tell you of her betrothal and add only that it went far more smoothly than the last. I wish Angelimir could have seen this one, as well.
Or must I call you Lady of the White Tower now? Ivriniel seems to get great pleasure in saying this of you. Your old sire gives you his love and many kisses. Thank you for the fine birthday present! I have read it through twice and have it always in my pocket so I may look at it as I please.
You sound so like your mother when you speak of all that you are about, of how you order the City this way and the kingdom that way. I trust you are ordering my son-in-law just as thoroughly. Do say you are not displeased that I kept Imrahil here when he was summoned to the council after tuilérë. The late winter was harsh in the falas and I need him here to help on the Prince's business. He grew so in his months away.
I promised that I would behave myself over Ivriniel's betrothal and I have. I hope she will be happy. My daughters have both chosen very sober men to wed. You will be in Linhir for the wedding, will you not? Please say you will so that I and your mother may see you again. I shall forgive you if you are in no state to travel. That, too, I hope for.
Oh, how I wish you were here! I need your quick wits to get things in order for this winter. Did you know Andreth is here now? She has come to be my sister since you cannot be here, though I wish for both of you – it would be so much more fun!
I was so nervous at the betrothal, I could barely speak the words. Were you that nervous? I wore a green gown…
…when we see each other this winter! Will you stay with Lord Angrist? I suppose that would be proper, for the Warden and the Lady to be Lord Angrist's guests, but I hope you will stay with me. Mother has already arranged for a house for us, for we will be there a month before the wedding. I think it would be best, sister. Father has been downcast since we returned, though I think he will be more cheerful when there is nothing left of winter.
Do not think me unkind, but I long for the day of the wedding so I will cease hearing Ivriniel prattle on about it. Perhaps it is for the best; at least one of this house is not worried over the Prince. Father's melancholy is less deep than when we arrived, but it will not let go. People are beginning to murmur. This is not how I wished to learn the Prince's tasks, but so be it. Your book made him happy. It was the first time Father has smiled in months. Can you come here? I think he would leave off his mourning if he could see you.
You said I may speak my dreams. This came to me the day after news of the Captains' Council arrived. I stand among ruins, Osgiliath, I think, and look over a great river towards a dying land. A vast ship, greater than any I have seen, sails up the river towards the ruins. The sails of the ship are made of fire. Aboard is a dark king, grim and terrible, like one of the statues of the Citadel come to life. The soldiers aboard are wraiths, made and unmade in the twisting smoke of the sails. It docks across from where I stand and the king walks away towards the East, tall as a tower, followed by his smoke warriors. The land burns behind them.
Finduilas began to enter the front room, then stopped when she saw Denethor sleeping in a chair, the cat curled in his lap. For a moment, she thought of waking him and telling him to lie down, but knew he would be stubborn, insist he was not tired, and she merely would find him sleeping at his desk an hour later. At least this time can be explained. Thorongil had come to the City late and he and Denethor had spoken to the Steward well into the night. Even after he returned, Denethor had stayed awake, working on something at his desk. Finduilas fell asleep waiting for him to come to bed.
Other times, though, Denethor was weary with no apparent cause. Finduilas would return from her business in the City, and he would be asleep in his bed or at his desk. Sometimes, he would be drowsing in the chair where he now slept, a far-off expression on his face, as though seeing or hearing something she could not. Once, Finduilas came home, saw he was not at his desk, and went downstairs to ask Aeluin something. By the time she returned, Denethor was sitting before the fire in the front room, mind in another land. She did not think that he was wandering the City at night as he sometimes did; aside from the time of her moon flux, they shared his bed every night and she would wake if he left it.
Quietly, she backed from the room, leaving the door ajar so the squeak of the hinges would not wake Denethor. He had been short on words that morning at breakfast, obviously thinking on whatever news the captain had brought the night before, but had said Thorongil would be in the City for several days before being sent to Anórien. She had some business to take care of with the captain, as well as see how Marlong fared. A walk down the mountain will be pleasant. Gathering a small pouch from her study, Finduilas let herself out the Wall Door.
The walk was pleasant. It was still early enough in the day that it was not too warm, but the breeze was gentle and the stone had lost its winter chill. Light reflected off walls and windows to make the lanes bright, and flowers in boxes and pots seemed in a contest to see which could bloom more profusely and brilliantly. The tunnels through the stone pier were inviting – lanterns illuminated the carvings that lined them and they were restful rather than dark. Finduilas took her time, stopping often to study something beautiful or to talk to a passerby. She even joined a group of children in a game of hop-square, the boxes drawn on paving stones with a lump of chalk.
It was near noon by the time she reached the first circle garrison. The guard at the door smiled and bowed when he saw her. Unfortunately, it appeared that Thorongil had all of the captains and lieutenants in a dinner council, telling them the news he had given the Steward and Denethor the night before. She told the guard to send Thorongil to the stable to speak to her when his council was through.
Gull and Gaerhûl both nickered at seeing her. Finduilas let Gull into the aisle so a stablehand could clean the stall, and collected a brush and comb to groom the mare. Gaerhûl leaned over his stall door, nuzzling Gull. 'So, are you also wed, Sir Mischief?' Finduilas asked the stallion. He snorted in reply. As she brushed Gull, Finduilas let her thoughts return to Denethor's odd behavior. He was not hiding anything, as far as she could tell, but neither was he acknowledging that he was tired. Perhaps it is but the pacing he does on the walls and up and down the City. The more the engagements with the Enemy had increased, the more stern he had become, though she had not seen any return of sadness. It has always been you, before, friend. You were the one who rode the length and breadth of Gondor. You marched soldiers to battle. You saw with your own eyes and were the one to bring the news to the Steward. She frowned at his wish to be the one in danger. You will be Steward, and this is the Steward's lot – to order how things shall be, but to wait upon others to do as you wish, not to do yourself.
The horses' heads turned as someone came around the corner of the stable aisle. Thorongil raised a hand in greeting as he approached. Finduilas smiled, but did not leave off brushing Gull. 'Good afternoon, Finduilas,' he said when he was close enough for speech. He bowed his head to the horses. 'Mistress Gull, Master Gaerhûl, greetings.' The horses nickered and Gull lipped at his hand. Thorongil's face was set in a polite expression and he stayed on the other side of the mare. 'You wished to see me?'
'Yes, Thorongil, I do. Is that such a surprise?'
He paused, then said 'No, but I was not sure of my reception.'
Thorongil busied himself scratching Gull's forehead, not looking at Finduilas. 'When we last spoke privately, last winter, you were displeased with me.'
'How do you wish to be received?'
'As a friend.' He spoke this very softly.
'Then we are in agreement, for I would have you as friend.' He glanced at her and she smiled to show she meant her words, which garnered a small smile in return. 'I was grieved and spoke more sharply than your kindness deserved, Thorongil. I hope you will forgive me for that and not think that I will do naught but scold you.'
His smile widened and he came closer. 'I took no offense, but blamed my own clumsy tongue.' He sighed and looked at her wryly. 'I begin to think that anything I say will fall over itself and anger you.'
'Not your tale of Ithilien,' she countered, 'that was beautiful and pleasing. You just need more opportunities in which to tell me of beautiful things. Speaking of which,' Finduilas balanced the brush on Gull's back and wiped off her hands on her skirt before opening up the pouch at her waist, 'I have something for you. Hold out your hands.'
'What is it?'
'A late birthday present. Hold out your hands. And close your eyes!' He did as he was told. Finduilas placed a small book in his palms. 'Now you may look.'
Gull was curious and tried to nibble the book as the captain turned it about in his hands. Thorongil laughingly told her to stop and retreated to better examine his gift. Gaerhûl was also attentive, poking his head over Thorongil's shoulder and looking for all the world like he was reading the book along with the captain. Thorongil's face lit up as he paged through the work, more delighted with every leaf turned. Finally he looked at Finduilas. 'This is so beautiful! It is far too fine for me.'
'It is but a poem, one that any may read. How is that too fine?'
'But, look at it! This book should be in a guarded library. The work is near perfect.'
'It is made for travel. The pages are thick, the covers very strong, and the inks are durable. It is also small, to fit in a pocket or a pack. I had Golasgil make it so, for I knew where you would carry it.'
'Made for me? Why?'
'So you would always have something of beauty with you, no matter what lands your feet carry you to.'
Thorongil's face softened. 'Thank you, Finduilas. That you would think so of me is a more precious gift than the book.' He blushed and returned his attention to the work, pausing here and there to read over a particular line or examine one of the small illustrations in the margin. 'The Voyage of Eärendil. Why did you chose this poem?'
'Because it is a tale of hope. Like you.' His eyes snapped to hers and Finduilas found it difficult not to look away. It was as when Denethor let go his mask and allowed himself to be seen. There was challenge in the captain's expression, but also something great, a power and nobility that drew and daunted her at the same time. I look on a king. You give us hope; you need hope in return. And love. Hoping her voice would not tremble, Finduilas said, 'Someone will call you that, Thorongil. And all that goes with it shall be.'
In a heartbeat, grandeur left him and Thorongil slumped against the door of Gaerhûl's stall, holding the book close to his chest. 'Perhaps. I sometimes doubt.'
Finduilas returned to brushing Gull. 'You sound like another very tall man of my acquaintance. He was similarly dour on that prospect and now look at him.'
Thorongil laughed merrily. 'You are a cure to all drear thoughts, Finduilas. Indeed, I have looked on the Warden.'
'And what have you seen?'
Thorongil blushed again and looked at his toes, but did not stop smiling. 'What did I see? Oh, much. A month past, when we walked from the Great Gate, and you stood upon the wall to greet us… then in the court, beneath the Tower…' He paused and studied the book in his hands before catching her eyes again. This time, there was mirth there, and love. 'What did I see?' he said softly, then chanted,
With hearts atremble, Idril fair
And Tuor Sea-touched halted there
Beneath the Tower. Tall and proud,
Stood Gondolin's lord. Tuor bowed
His head with grace and said, 'A love
I left, the mighty Sea, to rove
Strange hills, forsake the Deeps, and bring
Grave tidings here to thee, my King.
And here I found a treasure dear –
Dare I ask this? – for without peer
Is Idril.' She raised her hands to him.
'Doubt not this troth, though times be grim
And hedged about with storm and fire,
For love there is that will conspire
With thine own hopes. Thou art my love.'
The words died in the air. Thorongil's grey eyes would not let go her own, no longer a great and terrible king or a fierce hunting hawk, but a man possessed by joy. 'That is what I saw, Finduilas, and I rejoiced to see it. I will not claim that I do not pity myself a little that such love is not mine, but I would be a wretch not to be glad for you, both of you. My fears are set at naught, and I am glad!'
Finduilas blushed at his words. 'Then let your heart be content on this, Thorongil – what you saw is true. And know just as certainly that such joy is what I wish for you, my friend.' Some of the happiness left his face and he looked away. 'You doubt this?'
With a shrug, Thorongil answered, 'I am not sure what to think.'
'You are so often sharp with me.'
'I asked your forgiveness for my tart tongue but a few minutes past.'
'You don't approve of me, though, do you?' Thorongil challenged. 'Or trust me?'
'I trust you enough to stand here and speak to you of things I do not say to others.'
'And what do you say of me to others?' His tone was brusque, and Finduilas did not know what to make of this sudden change of temper, so she did not answer. After a few heartbeats, Thorongil continued, 'Lady Maiaberiel told me you think I deceive you, looking only for my own fortune, and that you speak disdainfully of me.' His cheeks were red with anger now, not embarrassment. 'If you would be friend, I would know truly what you think.'
Finduilas patted Gull and said it was time to return to her stall. Ignoring the glowering captain, Finduilas put away the brush and comb and gathered some hay for the manger. As she walked off, she said, 'You will have to come with me if you would have an answer.' With a grumble he followed. The afternoon light was very bright after the dark of the stable. 'I find it curious that Beruthiel would say such things to you.' She glanced at him and laughed at his astonished expression. 'You have never heard her called that?'
'No. Not until now.'
'It is her true name, one for you to remember. What I say to her is to test her and see what lies she spreads. You should know better than to put your trust in that woman's words. But to answer your question, no, I do not think that you try to deceive me, nor have you ever tried such. You speak less of the truth than you might, but I understand your caution and do not fault you for it. I do think, however, that you deceive yourself.'
Thorongil took her arm, making her stop. 'Why? Deceive myself how?'
'You do not know why you are here, Thorongil.'
The mask fell back into place. 'I do not understand you, Finduilas. I am here to serve. I am here to fight that,' he gestured eastwards, 'and to do the Steward's bidding. I am here to earn gold to send to my kin.'
'No. Those are excuses. You could do all that in Rohan.' She extricated her arm from his grasp and continued towards the Great Gate. When they stood near the garrison door, Finduilas smiled and laid a hand on his arm, standing closely. 'I am glad you like your birthday present, Thorongil. I hope that you will take time to be a guest at my table when you are in the City. Here is something to think on. When you are able to speak your name for any to know, not just me, then you will know why you are here.' With a nod, Finduilas walked off.
As on the trip down, she took her time returning, but her attention was on her thoughts, not the sights of the City. The captain was more confounding than ever. How can you see the truth of Denethor's love and not see Beruthiel's falseness? It pricked her pride that Thorongil would believe Maiaberiel's claims and demand that she disprove the woman's words. Your first kingly lesson is to learn to judge women better, you silly eagle! Coming into the light after passing through the tunnel in the third circle, Finduilas realized someone was walking beside her. It was Denethor, looking most displeased. She smiled brightly and took his arm, making him scowl even more.
'Where is Beregar?'
'At the house, I expect. I did not ask him to come with me.'
'You should not be unattended.' His arm under her fingers was tense. 'You should have woken me.'
'I would have, but you were up nearly until dawn and needed your rest. You have been greatly weary of late, friend, and I find you dozing off at all hours. It worries me.'
Denethor did not reply at once. After several minutes, he asked, 'Why were down here by yourself?'
'Why don't you tell me? Obviously you followed me down here,' Finduilas said pleasantly, though his questioning irked her.
'You went to the stable. Thorongil went looking for you.'
'No, I left a message for him to attend me there.' Denethor looked at her, eyebrows up. 'I gave him his birthday present.'
'It is his birthday?'
'Past. March first, so I am late. I gave him one of Golasgil's travel books, just as I gave my father. I also gave him some advice.'
'That he should attend my table when he is in the City, and should beware of anything Maiaberiel says. It seems he has not yet learned that lesson.' Her words left Denethor thoughtful, and they walked in silence the rest of the way to the Stewards House.
Denethor stayed near her the rest of the day, though he said nothing, instead reading from her book. Finduilas smiled to herself and made no mention of his company. For love there is that will conspire with thine own hopes. He was ardent when they went to bed, making her writhe and cry out. Their sweat beaded, became drops from the waterfall. His hands lay to either side of her face, long fingers cradling her head as he looked into her eyes, and she felt again a familiar clutching sensation near her heart. 'I love you, love you,' he repeated in hoarse pants until all words were lost in a harsh cry, and he shuddered against her. Denethor was silent afterwards, face buried against her neck, and she wondered if he was going to weep, for he was trembling. Finally, he sighed and raised his face to kiss her. He covered her face and neck with small kisses while his hand caressed her thigh. 'You' kiss 'are' kiss 'not' kiss 'to' kiss 'leave' kiss 'here' kiss 'un' kiss 'attended' kiss 'ever' kiss 'again.'
'I won't, friend. I won't.'
Minas Tirith, Late May, 2977 T.A.
Finduilas had no reason to disregard Denethor's command, for she preferred to have companions with her when she left the Stewards House, though she did wish that Denethor could be one of them more often. As May went on, he was required more and more to attend the Steward on matters of the realm, which meant he was rarely about, even in the archives, during the day. Finduilas did not like being in the Citadel without him near and went into the lower circles when she knew Denethor would be in the Tower. Thorongil had left the City two days after they talked, and was not expected to return until June.
She looked forward to archery. Marlong had been put in charge of training new archers and could usually be found at the archery range. It pleased her that he seemed less downcast now that he had things to distract him from his woes. Wren was barely civil to the man, which left Marlong baffled, though he never responded with anything except full courtesy in return. Finduilas tried to be even more attentive to make up for Wren's rudeness. He gladly told her about his healing, which was too slow for his liking, and of his plans to improve the archers, who also were too slow in his estimation. Finduilas was pleased to see a friendship growing between Marlong and Gethron. When not drilling their charges, they could be found at The Messenger's Rest, talking about the ongoing skirmishes, discussing their troops, or telling each other tales of their homes.
The tavern was Finduilas' court in the lower city. A table in the far corner was always waiting for her, where she could speak privately. Adanel played seneschal, making sure Finduilas dined in peace, interrogating the would-be petitioners, and then allowing one to approach to ask a boon of the Lady. One day, near the end of May, Finduilas saw someone eating at one of the tables and decided she would choose her own company this time. She walked over and waited for the person to look up.
The grey wizard hastily swallowed his sip of ale, rising to bow his head to her. 'Lady Finduilas. This is an unexpected pleasure.' He was unchanged from the last time she saw him.
'Will you join me?'
'I would like nothing better.' They were soon in her corner with dinner before them. Beregar kept curious ears at a distance. Mithrandir lit the herbs in the bowl of his long pipe, releasing their sweet scent. 'Two years is too long to be deprived of your company, Lady Finduilas. My belated congratulations on your marriage to Lord Denethor.'
'Thank you.' Finduilas tasted her soup, determined to make the wizard do the talking.
'I am sorry I was not here for the wedding, for I would like to have seen it, though I heard a grand telling of it in Edoras but a few weeks past.'
'King Thengel did us the honor of joining our hands and hearing our pledge. How did you spend the Yule?'
One bushy eyebrow went sailing north, and the wizard could not immediately hide his surprise at her pointed question. 'Only a little prying, eh?' She smiled, which earned a chuckle. 'I spent much of that time in a hole in the ground.'
'That does not sound terribly inviting.'
'Oh, I assure you, it was quite comfortable,' he said with a twinkle in his eye.
'With Dwarves, then?'
Mithrandir's expression became less jovial, his eyes sharper, and he drew on his pipe before answering. 'Quite inquisitive. A Dwarf would be comfortable in that hole, yes.' Finduilas nibbled some bread. A few more puffs on the pipe. 'I spent part of the season at a jolly inn telling tales and drinking ale.' As he spoke, Mithrandir gazed off over her shoulder, avoiding her eyes.
'And you do the same even now.' He smiled and chuckled again, then paused to blow a smoke ring. 'Was this what you expected to find when you came to this inn?'
'The Warden wed. To me.'
He avoided her eyes again. 'This is no great news. It has been expected for more than a year… '
'But not what you expected, or perhaps, not what you hoped for.'
'You do not know what I hope for,' was the wizard's curt reply. Finduilas nodded agreeably. Mithrandir studied her, smoke curling up from the bowl of the pipe in thin blue strands. 'What of your dreams?'
'I no longer dream of eagles.'
This answer did not please him, for he scowled at her. 'Of what, then? Of the City? Of the Dark Tower?' Mithrandir's eyes were bright and impossible to avoid. She looked back into him as boldly as she dared.
'Of ships, mostly. Of ships upon the river. Of ships upon a great bay. Of the stone ships of the City coming unmoored. I saw Osgiliath whole and new, with ship masts moored to its south, then watched it fall into Anduin and perish once more. I am garbed in armor made of stone, wrought by Dwarves, and may only look East. And I dream of an old man, dressed in fog, who sits upon a deck and weaves nets out of legends.' Finduilas paused, then said, 'I agree with you, Mithrandir; I have been called here. It is not happenstance.'
As he had done once before, Mithrandir turned his attention to something unseen and lost himself in thought, looking much like Denethor drowsing near the hearth. 'I think… ' he said very softly, not quite speaking to her, but not entirely talking to himself, either, 'I think that many have been called here. More will follow.'
She had no answer to this. 'I fear I was not the friend to Thorongil you hoped for.'
Mithrandir smiled wryly. 'No, you were not, but you were the friend he needed.'
'How can you say that? I brought him sorrow and disappointment. That is not what I wish to bring a friend.'
'You call him friend?'
'Yes. I gladly call him such. I said this to him directly but a few weeks past.'
'It is good for a young man to master disappointment when times are unforgiving. It teaches him lessons if he has the sense to learn from them.' The old man blew another smoke ring and smiled kindly at her. 'You have been a better friend than you know. I hope you do not think poorly of him for having been forward.'
'No, I do not. The captain was in all things an honorable man. He spoke his heart, but I could not answer. It pained me that I could not.'
To her surprise, Mithrandir harrumphed. 'He spoke, but only part of his heart was present. How can you take what is only proffered, but not given?' The wizard shook his head and sighed. 'He is not the first, nor will he be the last, to be disappointed in love.'
'And yourself? Have you been disappointed in love?'
'Always. And I am not very good at learning my lessons.' His tone was light, but there was more to his words. That he meant what he said, Finduilas had no doubt, but she did not know in what way. Mithrandir's forehead furrowed and he sighed. 'I must ask your forgiveness, Finduilas, for my poor manners. At Edoras I also heard of the passing of Prince Angelimir. I am deeply sorrowed by this news.'
'Thank you, Mithrandir. I miss him.' The wizard's words reminded her of the letters that came from Dol Amroth. She had not spoken of them yet to Denethor. She wished to return home to see her father as Imrahil had asked, but knew that Denethor would not allow it, not while the war season was upon them. I shall have to wait until winter. Her parents and Ivriniel had received replies from her, but not Imrahil. Between his request that she return and his unsettling dream, she knew not what to say.
The wizard drew on his pipe, watching her. When he had her attention, he said in a gentle voice, 'When I was in the south, two years ago, Angelimir made me welcome. We sat and watched the Sea. He told me of all he had done and seen. He was not disappointed in love, and he spoke of it in every tale. I learned much wisdom from him. Most of all, I was reminded of all the joy there is in the world if we are but brave enough to welcome it into our hearts. In that lies hope. I miss him, too.'
Finduilas felt her eyes tear up at the wizard's kind words about Angelimir. She could picture their converse precisely, for it is how she had spoken with her grandfather last summer. Another thought seized her and the tears vanished. She reached across the table and seized Mithrandir's hand. 'Go there.'
'Go to Dol Amroth. Tell my father of my grandfather. He will want these stories. Speak to the Prince of love and joy, for I fear for him.'
'I had not planned… '
'You must go,' Finduilas entreated. 'Please Mithrandir, you must. Here we have hope. You brought it to us. My father took none with him, and is bereft. I cannot join him until winter, and that is too long. I cannot go, so you must.' She held his eyes, willing him to understand.
Mithrandir nodded. 'I will go.' He rose and tapped the ashes from his pipe into the hearth before collecting his hat, cloak, pack and staff. With a bow to her, he left the tavern, heading down the mountain.
Characters introduced in this chapter, in order of appearance:
- Éomund – Rider of Rohan, companion to Théoden, eventual husband of Théodwyn, 24 years old