Finduilas POV - 1 of 1
In which a snake slithers in, a prisoner is paraded, the Rohirrim show off, an inquiry is launched, a gift is offered, a fate is pondered, a friend is mourned, a queen triumphs, hope trumps certainty, and someone we love dearly is destroyed.
The Great West Road, near the Firienwood, 10 August, 2981 T.A.
It could not have been more different. Only the dryness was the same.
A year and a half before to the day, she had been upon this road in the middle of winter, on a hurried ride to Thengel's funeral. To the north, frost-browned fields, rough and barren, had been replaced by a sea of gold, its whispering expanse interrupted only by the occasional rock wall or narrow lane that marked the end of one holding and the start of another. All the corn from all the fields of western Gondor could not equal the vast yield of the farms they had passed just today in Anórien. Finduilas had wondered at how so many granaries could still be full from the last summer's harvest, but now she understood. Denethor and Borondir had gone over the harvest estimates in late July, the Quartermaster ruefully saying that there were not enough places to store this superfluity of grain, and suggested that much should be sold or given to Rohan to make up for any shortfall they might have. Denethor had shaken his head.
'Let them ask for it,' he said, 'and exchange gold for gold.' A few days later, Denethor had several barges of grain loaded in Pelargir. They were sent without price or explanation to Umbar, where rumor said famine stalked the gutted city, and they went under Finduilas' banner. Imrahil had approved, if no one else.
To the south of the road, green trees dotted tawny hills where livestock grazed, the short grass a velvet drape on slopes that rose steeply towards the peaks of Ered Nimrais. Streams ran down the folds like wine spilled on cloth, the green of the folds adorning the hills with ropes of emerald.
Their winter march had been lonely, for it had been too cold and they had ridden too swiftly for people to come to see the Lady pass by. This time, they rode slowly, as much because of the size of their party as the wearing heat, and all of the country-folk came to cheer Finduilas as she passed. More than a few shouted "Huzzah for the Queen!" and they did not mean Morwen who rode at Finduilas's side. Almost every group before Minrimmon had some version of her banner proudly displayed.
After that town, the people were much fewer and the banner different. The Steward's edict of the previous year, that all who could should move east of Minrimmon, had been obeyed by many, but the folk of the far lands were stubborn and the population much mixed with the Rohirrim of Eastfold, so they were not so eager to part from their long-held farms. Also, a number of King's Men had removed to the western edge of the province to escape Denethor's harsh retribution for their opposition after Umbar, and they were not so pleased with the visitors. The banners were now more likely to be the badger on the golden field of Brandir's house than Finduilas's black wing. There were no white flags of the Stewards to be seen.
Of course, it could be fear, Finduilas thought, looking sideways at the rider to the far side of Morwen. Maiaberiel looked as beautiful as ever, and she spoke to Morwen as one ruler to another, belying her true status as a banished rebel. The town at the crossroads below Minrimmon had grown considerably, swelled by both Beruthiel's adherents and the existing residents who wanted the greater safety of a wall since the winter invasion. It was now larger than Edoras and almost as great as the cluster of villages that surrounded the garrison at the edge of the Drúadan Forest. Maiaberiel had made Minrimmon her court. They would not dare to show support for Denethor while she is watching.
Maiaberiel and Brandir had joined the procession to the border yesterday along with a several dozen followers, all of whom Finduilas knew to be King's Men. She was glad for her fifty mounted Guardsmen and the dozen garrison riders they had collected when they passed. While the presence of three éoreds of Rohirrim might keep the men courteous for the ride out, there was the return leg to Minrimmon.
Maiaberiel herself was gracious and charming, with compliments for everyone except Denethor, whom she pointedly ignored. Though Brandir spoke genially enough with Denethor as they rode, he did not permit Denethor to approach Maiaberiel. Finduilas was thankful that Aiavalë had not accompanied them this far, having turned aside just past the garrison to go to Wren's farm. 'You can go ride all day and sleep in the dirt,' Aiavalë had said with a grin. 'I'm going to have a cool house, a real bed, and a baby to dandle.' Finduilas wondered if Lady Lore would have changed her mind had she known Beruthiel would appear.
Morwen observed all of this with a keen eye, but did not comment on it. The time on the coast had been good for her, as Aiavalë and Luinil had reported. Aiavalë had traveled with the queen to Dol Amroth to represent the Steward's house at Hilda's marriage and to visit again with Luinil. They had plotted to draw Morwen out of her grief with dances, sailing, journeys and any other merriment they could invent. The queen was less drawn and angry than she had been in the winter, though it was still painful to See her. Finduilas had wondered, given the savage words her cousin had spoken in Edoras, if Morwen would, in fact, return to Rohan.
They reached the Firienwood shortly before their midday stop and spread out under the trees to rest in the shade during the worst of the summer day's heat. The warm air smelled like baking bread. Finduilas nestled against Denethor as he sat with his back against a tree, her head on his chest, and let the sound of his heart lull her to sleep.
Pharazôn came up from the dock and took his place beside her in the pavilion that overlooked the harbor at Rómenna. She feigned a smile and forbade herself to flinch away from his embrace. The people cheered to see their king and queen reunited. Though he, too, smiled, his eyes let her know that he knew her pleasure at his return to be false.
Horns blew and all eyes turned to watch the prisoner be brought from the hold of the king's ship. The creature was dressed in tattered garments and steel chains hung from his neck, wrists and ankles. With slow steps, his head bowed from the weight of the collar about his throat, their enemy made his way along the pier and up the stone street towards the pavilion. He was to be made to walk the entire way from Rómenna to his prison at Armenelos, bearing up under the blazing heat of summer with not a drop of water or bite of fruit to slake his thirst, nor any shade or parasol to protect him from the sun's fierce rays. The crowd derided him, throwing curses and rotten things at him as he passed. His jailors yanked him to a halt before the king and queen. Blood dripped from the wounds on his wrists to the white stone of the road.
The demon looked around him, awed by the majesty of Númenor. Pharazôn began speaking and the creature looked up at the sound, but his eyes fell first upon her. He was beautiful. That is wrong. Something so evil should be repulsive to view. But he was beautiful, and there was a light in his face. His eyes met hers. There was arrogance in them, contempt, even, but something else as well. Weariness. Sadness. And love.
She began to weep in pity for this tormented creature, bound in chains of his own making stronger and more cruel than the steel that now bound him. In that moment, when she saw love in his face, she saw not an enemy, but a lost soul seeking a way out of darkness. Will you not be redeemed? There is hope. His eyes widened as though he had heard her, and his expression became one of wonder. Even you. Slowly, his gaze traveled over her. The longer he stared at her, the more she felt something upon her, like the weight of a yoke or a net pulled close. When he met her eyes again, there was no wonder, only hunger.
Finduilas welcomed the chatter about Hilda's wedding as they rode that afternoon. She had been yanked from her nap by a dream that she could not remember, and wished to be distracted from her unease. Théodwyn eagerly replied to Maiaberiel's questions, though Aldwyn was more circumspect in her words to the women. You remember what she did after Umbar. Morwen listened to Théodwyn's account patiently, occasionally correcting her youngest daughter's more extravagant descriptions, but mostly encouraging the young woman to dwell on the event.
'You describe it so well,' Maiaberiel praised the young woman, 'I can picture every moment.'
'It is a pity you were not there, Maiaberiel,' Morwen said. 'It was a wonderful wedding. In fact, I am surprised that you are out here in the hinterlands and not in the middle of events in Minas Tirith. I remember your parties as some of the grandest I attended in my visits to the capital, and was sorely disappointed to find you gone. Why are you out here, now?'
There was no point in pretending disinterest in Maiaberiel's answers, so Finduilas nudged Gull closer to the other horses so as not to miss her sister-in-law's reply. Maiaberiel's eyes and lips narrowed and her cheeks reddened. 'It was not entirely my idea.'
'Oh? Why not?' Morwen pressed. Aldwyn moved Stormwind closer on Maiaberiel's offside, also listening intently.
'It is what the Steward wishes.' This was said primly, with a nod to indicate that there was no more to be said.
The queen did not relent. 'And what is the Steward's reason? I cannot think he would wish to be parted from you.'
'He cares little for anyone,' Maiaberiel said sharply, 'and he no longer has good counselors to soften his more wayward decrees.' She glared at Finduilas as she said this.
'His counselors are the same as always, sister,' Finduilas smoothly answered, 'save that he no longer listens to mercenaries and wandering wizards.'
'Well to the good if he puts aside a wizard's blandishments,' Morwen said. 'They are naught but trouble! Saruman claims to be our friend, but continues to shelter the Dunlendings who raid us. The loss of Ælric's counsel, though, that is a sore loss.'
'So both I and Brandir deem,' Maiaberiel hastily interjected, 'but as for why we have come, after the victories last year, it is time for people to cease hiding behind walls and reclaim our lands. Since the City is no longer friendly to those who disagree with the Warden,' she shot a hateful look at Finduilas, 'and as Brandir has extensive holdings here, we came to bring some civilization back to the region. And, of course, to ensure the ties between Rohan and Gondor remain strong.' Maiaberiel was back to being charming.
'And what will Gondor do for Rohan?' Morwen replied. 'It is clear what Rohan does for Gondor; we send our young men to fight. King Théoden is no longer so certain of the wisdom of that.'
'There is always trade, Queen Morwen. It is ridiculous to say there is naught that binds us but war.' Maiaberiel sounded just like Aiavalë or Denethor now. 'Anórien sends much to Rohan and receives a great deal in return. With whom else do you bargain for iron, oil, cotton, needles, wine, or half a hundred other things? Do you trade to the north?'
'There are lands to the north, and they like what we can sell,' countered Morwen. 'The Breelands send traders.'
'As much as Gondor?' Maiaberiel pressed. 'And why should your traders have to go all the way to Minas Tirith to do their business? Most of the goods you trade, your wool and your horses, come from Eastfold. Why should you journey beyond Minrimmon?'
Morwen shrugged. 'We do not mind long journeys. We are content with our trade, Maiaberiel. But if Gondor would truly be a friend, and not just another place we take our goods and gold, then perhaps you and your folk can do what the Warden will not and rid us of that wizard.'
'Why do you not get rid of him yourself?' Finduilas asked.
'Orthanc is not ours to claim. It was never given into the keeping of the Eorlingas,' Aldwyn piped up. 'Father said so. It is one of Gondor's fortresses.'
'And a great one. It would be wise for Rohan to hold it, as it does Helm's Deep,' Morwen added.
A look of calculation came over Maiaberiel's face. 'Or Gondor should do for Rohan what you have done for us, and put a true guard upon your border.'
'Perhaps,' Morwen replied, her voice taking on an edge, 'but now it is for Gondor to remove this troublesome tenant, and then either possess the tower so it cannot become occupied by enemies or else give it over to those who have shown friendship unwavering.'
Théodwyn let out a great sigh to indicate her boredom with the conversation. Aldwyn gave her little sister a poke for her rudeness and the two squabbled until Morwen told them both to hush. The women rode in silence the rest of the afternoon, each deep in her own thoughts.
The shadows were long and the sun low in the sky when they emerged from the Firienwood and saw the Mering ford at the foot of a long slope. On the far side, a field of pavilions awaited them, the White Horse flying all about the camp. The éoreds formed up as they escaped the narrow confines of the forest track. Finduilas could see Riders gathering on the other side of the ford as well. A standard bearer hurried to fall into place behind Morwen with her banner and her daughters moved to flank her. There was a long, silent minute, then Morwen raised her arm and signaled the closest éored. A Rider stood in his stirrups and sounded a horn. Another joined him, then one could be heard across the river, and another, and soon the air was filled with the sound of horns welcoming home the Queen. The three éoreds charged down the slope and two across the stream thundered into it, sending sprays of water high in the air from the force of their passage. The éoreds met and merged into each other, the lines of racing horses weaving and braiding themselves as deftly as a master roper plying his craft. A horn blew again and the Riders wheeled and froze, forming a double line to either side of the road from one side of the stream to the other and up each slope.
The Rohirric women rode to the ford. Denethor came up next to Finduilas and signaled that they should follow. On the far side, Finduilas spied Théoden approaching, followed by Éomund and Gríma. The king waited for them on the far bank, in his own kingdom. When his kinswomen crossed the stream and drew close, he leaned from his saddle to embrace Morwen tightly and then each of his sisters. Only when he finished did Théoden look at his guests.
Denethor and Finduilas rode forward together. Gull and Gaerhûl both bowed their heads to the Lord of the Mark. Denethor nodded politely and Finduilas smiled. 'Greetings Théoden, son of Thengel, King of Rohan, friend of Gondor,' Denethor said loudly for all to hear. 'We bring back to you your lady mother, Queen Morwen, and your noble sisters, who have honored us with their company for many months.'
'Welcome, Denethor, son of Ecthelion, High Warden of Gondor, and friend of the Mark!' Théoden answered in kind. 'Hail Finduilas, daughter of Adrahil, wife of Denethor, Lady of the White Tower and kinswoman! For your kind care of our queen, please bide a while here in the Mark and let us honor you.'
Finduilas nudged Denethor so he would know to let her speak. 'We have received your honor already, for did you not entrust us with safeguarding your dearest kin? No greater honor can you give us. But we shall not part from you, Théoden, king, kinsman and friend, until we have shared your joy at their homecoming.'
With a great smile, the golden king came forward and embraced each of them. 'Please follow me to your pavilion so you may rest ere tonight's feast.' As Théoden led them into the encampment, the Rohirrim sang a greeting to their guests. Riders came forward to take the horses of the Gondorian soldiers and show the men to tents. Only when all of the guests had a guide did the éoreds seek their own comfort.
Beregar sent Borthand off in search of hot water before he turned to inspection of the large tent that had been prepared for Denethor, Finduilas and Imrahil. Finduilas looked longingly at the soft pallet behind a side curtain, but knew she would fall soundly asleep were she to lie down. Outside, she heard Beregar talking to Denethor and Gethron and knew they were arranging for the guard on the tent. Across the encampment, she could hear and smell the feast being prepared, making her stomach growl in anticipation. A clanking sound at the tent flap announced Borthand. 'Master Mutt has returned, my lady,' he said with a grin, 'and here is your wash water.' The youngster had a good sized kettle nearly full with steaming water, plus a small wooden bucket and ladle on a leather loop at his belt. She wondered which cook fire he had pilfered it all from. Borthand's smile faded and he scurried out when Denethor entered.
'Wash your face and hands, friend, while it is still warm.'
Denethor retrieved a thick washing kerchief from his pack and handed it to her. 'You do a better job on my neck.' She set to scrubbing him. 'What did you women talk about all day?'
'Mostly the wedding and what caught the girls' fancy in Dol Amroth.' Finduilas wrung out the cloth and gave it to Denethor so he could wipe his face. 'Though Morwen questioned your sister closely on what she was doing in Anórien.'
'Beruthiel did her best to avoid admitting she had been banished, but she could not hide that she had lost her power in Minas Tirith. She spoke poorly of the Steward.'
'Really?' Denethor shook his head in wonder. 'That I would not have guessed.' He motioned for Finduilas to turn her back. 'Your turn.' The warm water felt wonderful on her neck, while the rough cloth got all the itches of the day's travel.
'Was this a mistake, friend?'
'Was what a mistake?'
'Sending her off here where she can gather her followers and build her strength? She sits athwart the trade road, and made no pretense that she expects Rohan to do their business with her, not Minas Tirith.'
'I wish more of her people would come here rather than Pelargir or the coasts.'
'And build up her army?'
Denethor shook his head. 'She'll not have that. There's not enough. There is less mischief they can do here. Those who rebel against Minas Tirith find allies in the South.'
'Morwen suggested she and the King's Men try to dislodge Curunír from Angrenost.'
That made Denethor pause. 'Thorongil said it would take another wizard to do that, but if Beruthiel wishes to spend her strength on such a task, I shan't stop her.'
The feast began just after sundown and was merry. Morwen smiled and laughed, clearly pleased to see her son again. Théoden had brought Théodred, who had just turned three. He was barely as large as Boromir, though a half year older. His aunts fussed over him and even Denethor played a few games with the young prince. Théoden leaned forward and caught Denethor's attention. 'How is your boy?'
'Getting larger by the day,' Denethor proudly answered. 'I wished to bring him, but it was too long a ride.'
'Next summer, then,' Théoden said. 'He'll be big enough for his own horse.' He ruffled Théodred's hair. 'Our sons are kinsmen, if from afar, and should be friends.'
'I agree on that, Théoden, but ready for a horse? Boromir will barely be more than three…'
'And he does not yet have his own steed?' Morwen said in mock horror. 'The poor child! Théoden, you must succor your cousin lest he reach manhood without knowing how to ride!'
The Riders nearby laughed uproariously at Morwen's jest, but Gríma stared at her coldly. He alone of all those at the feast was not in a gay mood. He had glowered at Brandir and Maiaberiel most of the evening. His gaze upon Morwen was harder to read. Finduilas studied the counselor. The greater her merriment, the darker his stare. You thought she would not return.
'Indeed, Mother, I cannot let that dire fate come to pass,' Théoden said in mock consternation, eyes twinkling. 'I will send a suitable steed to Mundburg at once.'
'Yes, you must! Aldwyn will see it is given to Master Boromir. He is so large, I think he is almost ready for a mount in truth,' Morwen said.
Aldwyn was not pleased by this plan, giving her mother a sharp glance. Finduilas turned her attention to the girl. She sat next to her golden sister, who was flirting with Éomund. Aldwyn spared Théodwyn a disgusted look and kicked her under the table, which garnered a poke in return. Finduilas remembered the argument between the sisters at Edoras. You don't like your sister's choice, nor does she much care for yours. Aldwyn sighed and looked in Gríma's direction, then looked away hastily. A moment later, the young woman stood and walked off. Finduilas glanced at Gríma to see what had upset Aldwyn. His eyes were on Théodwyn, and he did not appear to have noticed Aldwyn's departure.
Morwen and Théodred walked with them back to the tent once the feast was done, Morwen and Finduilas chatting about him and Boromir. At the tent flap, Denethor knelt and gave the child an embrace and a kiss goodnight. He stayed on one knee, smoothing Théodred's hair. 'Morwen?'
'I have a… request.'
'In 2932, perhaps 2933, Steward Turgon sent a child to King Fengel. I don't know if it was a boy or a girl, but the child was about two years old.'
'Why would he have sent the child?'
'A young woman was not sensible enough to leave shame behind her.' Denethor looked sadly at Théodred and kissed the child's brow once again before standing. 'I wish to know the child's fate.'
'I only learned of it in the last year.'
'I will ask. Records are not kept in Rohan as they are in Gondor.'
'I want you to have it. I made it for you.'
She held up her right hand, displaying her folly and shame. 'I have one. I want no other.'
'This is better. What I offer is better. More worthy of you.'
'Wear this and you will not perish.' His voice dropped to a whisper. 'Aught else is abomination.'
'Everyone dies. All mortals.'
'But you are all that makes this bearable!' He proffered his gift once more. She shook her head. 'Please,' he beseeched, 'for you alone have I done this. I will save you.'
Anórien, below Nardol, 20 August 2981 T.A.
Brandir made sure there was no trouble. On the evening of the third day in Rohan, he said that he and all his folk were going to continue on to Edoras with Théoden. 'The Warden has his duties but we are free to continue on, Morwen,' he said. 'My lady has yet to see Meduseld, and never is it more grand than at the height of summer.' Maiaberiel's expression said that she was not pleased at the thought of another week in the saddle. The next morning, Finduilas bade farewell to Imrahil and Borthand, for they went to be guests of the Mark until after Yule, and also said goodbye to Morwen and Théodwyn. She even managed to be genial to Maiaberiel, offering the woman a quick embrace and light peck on the cheek. Brandir received a strong hug and whispered thanks. His smile in return made her glad. 'For all whom I love, it is no burden,' he said.
Aldwyn's farewell to her kin was perfunctory. She had taken the lead line of the sturdy piebald pony Théoden selected as a gift for Boromir and had ridden off without a backwards glance. With her face so stern, she looked much older than her twenty-four years. The girl had cried herself to sleep that night. Finduilas had no words of comfort for her. The next day, Gethron watched the sad princess through the morning, then spoke to her at the noontide rest of his mother and sister who were coming to Minas Tirith for yáviérë, and knew no one there save him. 'Would you be kind to them one day and show them about the City while I am at my duties?' he asked.
'Yes, of course, captain,' she answered, then grinned. 'Considering how much I have presumed upon your patience, it is time I made amends.' Gethron grinned in return before excusing himself to see to his men.
If disappointment had aged Aldwyn, joy made Aiavalë seem younger than Maiaberiel. 'Come in,' she commanded, her face alight with a lop-sided grin, 'and meet your new nephew! Mab is almost as big a babe as Morcollë.' Aiavalë was indignant when she heard how Maiaberiel had intruded upon the journey, but just as quickly forgot her sister's trespass as she showed off Wren and the baby. The lack of brooding about Beruthiel's plots astounded Finduilas. Love has transformed you, Lady Lore.
She was not alone in her transformation. Love filled Aiavalë with boundless gaiety and gave Wren a deep calm. The woman's vinegary tongue was nowhere to be heard. She greeted them all lovingly, even Denethor, and immediately took Aldwyn under her wing, saying how much she had missed the girl's company since last year. Finduilas had to fight back jealousy when she saw how Wren adored her new child, reluctant to let others take him, speaking and singing to him, and giving him her attention to the point of ignoring even Marlong. The man did not appear to mind for he, too, was caught in his son's spell. The babe himself looked like all infants, red-faced and squinting, doing little but eating, sleeping, crying and messing himself. Finduilas was just as glad to let Aiavalë and Aldwyn squabble over who got to cuddle him when Wren napped.
As soon as Denethor was certain Finduilas was safe at the farm, he had taken Gethron and half the guardsmen and ridden back west to inspect the warning beacons, starting with Minrimmon. 'Since the lord and lady have departed, my visit can be swift,' he dryly noted. Even with Maiaberiel gone, it made sense to go into the King's Men's territory with a strong guard. He would return tomorrow from Erelas, then go to Nardol and Eilenach. Amon Din would wait until they were on their way home.
With Denethor gone and Aldwyn and Aiavalë entranced by the baby, Finduilas was free to go about as she wished and search without questions. Each day she packed a meal, called Gull, and went into the golden foothills, trying to ride into a dream. She had no idea which way to go, so asked Gull to amble as it pleased her. Beregar was the only companion she permitted to accompany her. She had no wish to walk alone in the dream lands and not even Denethor would be a more tenacious guardian. Beregar carried both bow and sword and kept his steed just off Gull's flank, occasionally bumping the mare in his determination not to be left behind again.
Finduilas asked Gull to halt and sat gazing off at the gold and green patchwork of fields in the flat lands below. They had climbed half way up the flanks of Nardol today, winding between stands of oak, but had found nothing. 'It is time for our dinner, Huan.'
Beregar swung off his gelding and prepared a place in the shade for her. He scoured the ground to ensure there were no snakes or other creatures before spreading an old wool blanket for her to sit on. Finduilas unsaddled the horses and brought her pouch and water skin to the shade. Gull and the other horse rolled in the grass to scratch their itches before finding their own tree under which to doze. Beregar accepted a long drink from the water skin, but refused all else, moving to a spot where he could watch her and the approaches to the tree.
Finduilas drank from her water bag to relieve her parched mouth before eating. The liquid did not relieve a certain tightness at the back of her throat. The only thing that wholly relieved it was the special tea. She had brought none with her on the trip for she wished to test the truth of something. Denethor had said that the stone the Enemy possessed could not see very much further than Minas Tirith, certainly not beyond Linhir, which was why he wanted her to return to Dol Amroth. Minrimmon was almost that far away on this side of the mountains. As they had ridden west along the road, she had paid attention to her sense of being watched, and it had subsided the further west they went. Maiaberiel's presence meant she could not enjoy the relief from the gaze, and it had returned as they came east, though still less than the weight it carried in Minas Tirith.
What eyes have not been upon me? she crossly thought as she picked at her food. Thorongil and Mithrandir and the rest of the Lost with their stares, Beruthiel and her calculations, the Enemy and the mariner and who knows what other Power, all have looked upon me and seen advantage. A rustle in the copse behind her made her turn her head slightly, catching sight of Beregar moving to a new vantage point from the corner of her eye. Even Huan cannot leave off his watch. The only gaze she wished for was Denethor's.
Will or nil, the Enemy seeks you out. What sparked his fascination with her? Was it truly her resemblance to Míriel? Finduilas no longer was certain what of her dreams of Míriel were invention and what true. The histories said little. None could agree on whether Pharazôn simply seized rule or whether she acceded to him. None spoke of the Enemy. In her dreams, there was no love between the Queen and the Fiend; at best, she pitied the demon. Their bed was no hallow, but a dungeon. So Míriel thought, but what of Sauron? He would not care that she did not want him. His pleasure at destroying Pharazôn must have been that much the greater for being rid of her husband. Did he love her? He had offered her a wedding ring and promised to reclaim for her the immortality laid aside by Elros.
With a sigh, Finduilas wrapped up the remainder of her dinner and asked Gull if the mare was ready to continue. There was nothing to be found that afternoon save the weight of heat and a dire gaze. It was disappointing and relieving at once. She needed to find the Tree, but dreaded what would try to seize her when she entered the shadowed realm. At the farm, her absence had scarcely been noted. There were a few letters from Moraen with news of the City, but Finduilas only scanned them and did not reply. Moraen and Borondir ordered the City well so there was no point in an answer when they would be home in only a few days.
Instead, Finduilas found a quiet spot on the porch and settled in with Denethor's birthday present to her this year. He had collected a set of love poems and had written them down in his own hand, then had Golasgil the bookseller bind them. It was small and sturdy, meant to be carried in a pouch or pocket. There were two Haradic poems with their translations on the facing page, and in the margins Aiavalë had drawn flowers, vines and fantastical beasts, as well as some figures meant to be Finduilas and Denethor. They were odd poems, not the kind one usually heard recited, and each one held some subtle reference to something they shared. It was like reading the letters he had sent during their betrothal with their many layers of meaning.
And what of love is not layered thus? Finduilas still could not decide what part of her love was by chance and what by fate. That her love for Denethor was true, she was certain. Nothing else could bind me to such a contrary man, she wryly thought. With one finger, she traced the design stamped into the leather, a swan before a waterfall. Even that spoke of a secret. The poems themselves made up a story: of their meeting, of his reluctant awakening to their love, of how she tamed and emboldened him at the same time. She picked up the book and found the place she had left off, marked by a ribbon.
She wavered, and she stayed her song.
'The road,' she said, 'was wild and long,
but Thingol sent me not, nor knows
what way his rebellious daughter goes.
Yet every road and path will lead
Northward at last, and here of need
I trembling come with humble brow,
and here before thy throne I bow;
for Lúthien hath many arts
for solace sweet of kingly hearts.'
Only that passage. There was naught else of the Lay of Leithian in the book, though there were many selections from the Fall of Gondolin. This was the terrible time of doubt in their love, when Thorongil had asked and Denethor would not speak. Neither had known the shape of her rebellious heart. That was the simple way to read these lines. Yet every road and path will lead/Northward at last… The deeper secret, though, was that she had found a king, and for the sake of love had denied him. Were we fated to love, or does our love defy fate? Before she heard Thorongil's confession, she would have said the latter. But it was not simply the first, either. Thorongil's fate might be to love the northern Elf, yet he said he had loved her truly as well. Would you have tarried here so long save for that love, a chance to claim what was denied you in the north? There was little doubt in her mind but that the wizard had hoped that would come to pass when he asked her to befriend Thorongil. In truth, he became a faster friend after I wed. A better friend to Denethor as well. One would think that losing a love to a rival would have the opposite effect, yet Thorongil had clearly forsworn any opposition to Denethor after the marriage. No, after he knew we truly loved. Finduilas pondered this. Not all fate had to be dire. Mayhap their love softened a hidden king's heart towards a steward, and kept strife at bay. Still he left. The tale of Denethor's poems left off before Umbar, and now there was no knowing where the tale would lead. Estel was part of the story from the start. Around him our love took shape.
The tightness in her throat returned and would not relent. She thought it was a cough, but it turned into a sob. She missed him. His wonderful smile. His gentle manner. His rueful confessions and the terrible honesty of his heart. Finduilas wanted him back not as the king, but as her friend so she could tell him of the burdens that weighed her down like armor. Why did you abandon us the way you did? We are yours, sworn to you, wed as a maid to a man. What have we done that have forsaken us so? Eventually the weeping did make her cough, leaving her back aching and her throat raw.
Anórien, Edge of the Drúadan Forest, 24 August 2981 T.A.
'It looks like thunderstorms,' Marlong said, looking up at the sky. 'It's probably not best to go to the beacon…'
'It is the season for such storms,' Denethor irritably replied. 'Wait a day and they will still happen. We have tarried too long on our return as it is.' Marlong bowed in acquiescence. With a glare at Finduilas, Denethor turned Gaerhûl's head towards the forest beyond the garrison. Gull nickered at the stallion, who stopped and waited for her to catch up, and the two walked together into the shade. Denethor made a sound half-growl, half-sigh and stared grimly ahead. Behind them, they heard the sound of Beregar's horse.
Finduilas had stayed at the farm the day after her coughing fit, waiting for Denethor to return from Erelas. Their reunion had been tender and she had not dreamed while she slept in his arms. The next day, she had ridden with him to the top of Nardol, as much to see the beacon with her own eyes as to seek the shadow lands. The only thing blurring her vision was the heat waves rising from the plain. It had been interesting to see the enormous bonfire, a carefully constructed tower of logs and hay that would light quickly, even in a gale, and would burn brightly through the night. In the small hut where the fire tender lived during his watch, there were several jars of powders which, when thrown on a fire, would change the color of the flames and the smoke. Denethor explained that the smoke was how the fire could be seen during the daylight hours, and the color of the smoke would convey the nature of the danger.
He had tried to dissuade her from accompanying him to Eilenach today, but Finduilas insisted. Though it was but a few leagues closer to Mordor than Nardol, she could tell the Enemy's eye could see her more clearly. She was not certain, but she thought his gaze was needed to create a dream she could enter. He wishes to grasp me, and in this world, we may meet. Finduilas was glad for both Beregar and Denethor nearby and well-armed.
Eilenach sat on a high ridge in the center of the forest, and it was almost a full day's journey there and back to the garrison where they had spent the previous night. Aiavalë and Aldwyn were to follow today, escorted by Gethron and the guardsmen, and they would set out together on the morrow for Minas Tirith, camping below Amon Din tomorrow night. Last night, there had been a feast at the garrison, with many people from the surrounding villages coming to pay their respects to the Lady who they loved dearly. A minstrel sang a song of her valiant nighttime ride to raise the garrison after the invasion, which made Finduilas want to protest that she had simply clung to Gull's back and the true hero was the silver-grey mare.
After an hour following the narrow track through the trees, the land began to rise. Up ahead, the road turned sharply to climb a steep hill. As they rounded the turn, a pale flash among the dark green of the forest made Gull snort and crabwalk into Gaerhûl, who also had his eyes trained on the spot. Denethor urged the stallion forward, calling over his shoulder, 'It is nothing, just a stone. Come see.' Near the object, the path turned again sharply to continue up the slope
Finduilas and Gull approached cautiously, the mare's ears tipped forward and her nostrils flaring. Denethor dismounted and walked a few steps into the undergrowth to pull aside a branch. It was an ancient statue of a squat, broad figure, with arms crossed over a round stomach and face set into an impassive visage. The eyes were black holes. Around his middle was a stone sash, and strange square runes and figures were worked into the band. A necklace of stone beads, separate from the statue, draped the man's thick neck, and a band circled his head like the one around his belly. Under his feet was a low pedestal, carved with the same runes and figures as adorned the sash.
'There are many of these along the way,' Denethor said softly, barely above a whisper. 'These are the work of the Drúedain.'
Finduilas had to think hard before remembering some stories told by her grandfather. 'They are real? I thought them legend.'
'Oh, yes, they are real, and they are still alive,' Denethor assured her. 'Or, they were. They have dwindled. Sometimes, men of the garrison, on their way to the beacon, say they glimpse them among the trees, but can never approach. If one of them stays still, it is a stone. There are some similar statues on Amon Din.' He remounted Gaerhûl. 'We should not tarry.'
Thunder rumbled and rain threatened, while the way under the trees dimmed until it was like twilight. A wind snaked through the tree trunks, speaking with many voices – sometimes a whisper, sometimes a moan, and far off Finduilas could hear a flute against the roar of the Sea. Every so often, at a turn in the road, they would see one of the statues hidden in the bushes, hidden or revealed as the greenery was pulled aside by the wind's invisible hands.
She listened for the sound of pursuit. Her departure from the City was known by now, for she had seen King's Men upon the road. Anárion had found her first, near Rómenna. She did not tell him her plan, but let him follow. The road was going up very steeply now as they neared their destination. The stallion neighed and reared, refusing his master's command to go further. Her own mare ventured but a few steps further before whinnying piteously and halting.
'Alquallë?' Anárion called her a name she had not heard since her father died. She looked at him, a king now, crowned with gold, amber, peridot and diamonds. The neck of his shirt was stained with blood. A grey beast stood just at the edge of her vision, growling. Anárion slid off his steed and came to her side. 'We can ride no further. Finduilas, answer me!'
She closed her eyes and gave her head a shake to clear away the dream visions. Once more, it was Denethor before her, and the beast became Beregar, bow out and watching the surrounding woods. 'Help me down, friend.' Finduilas took Gull's reins and led the mare a few more yards up the road, but could not make her pass the turn where one of the statues guarded the track. Gull nickered and pawed the ground with a hoof, but could not be coaxed another pace forward. 'We will have to walk,' Finduilas said.
Denethor took her shoulders and looked at her searchingly. Her eyes played tricks upon her, shifting back and forth between her love, the ancient ruler of these lands, and her King from the Sea. Denethor raised a hand to touch her hair, then pulled it back, dismayed. 'Queen,' her lover said hoarsely, 'my queen.' Beregar made an odd sound, looking upon her with amazement and fear, before kneeling in the dirt to bow deeply to her, his cloak a dark pelt. A moment later, there was only a great shaggy hound standing in the road. She wondered how she appeared to them. Denethor touched her cheek lightly. 'Alquallë, we must be swift.'
Finduilas took Anárion's hand and walked up the track. Huan whined as they left, but stayed to defend the path. She knew they were watched and that the Enemy's creatures drew near. At each turn of the road, a Drúadan statue stood sentry, each adorned with a garland of flowers and knotted grass. The higher they climbed, the stranger the land around them became, with trees and flowers Finduilas could not name. They came over the lip of the summit, and paused, looking out. To the north, the land spread away in great pastures, though there were high hills beyond and a dark blue horizon. To the west, they could not see, for the eagles blotted out the sky. In the east, they could faintly see the glimmer of Anduin as it wound its way between the lands of sun and moon, and then rank mists rose up and blocked the sight. A strong wind parted the foul smoke, and they descried the harbor of Rómenna, shining like a ruby, turned red by the wrath of the West. The ships of the Faithful were no longer anchored there. Beneath their feet, the mountain rumbled. The storm gathered, arching like a wave over the doomed land.
Akallabêth was upon them.
Finduilas forbade herself to think and allowed her feet to take her where she needed to go, just as when she went to Laanga's garden. She strode across the Hallow towards a stunted grove, more briar than bush, that sheltered near an outcropping of rock upon the western edge. Three great eagles dropped from the sky to perch upon the stone, their eyes golden and cruel. In the wind was the mariner's flute playing a mournful song. She plunged into the thicket, the Sea King at her side. He began to draw his sword to hack a path through the brambles, but the eagles screamed and one flung itself down from its perch, talons out, enraged at the desecration of a weapon drawn within the Hallow. Denethor threw himself flat to escape the attack. Finduilas scrambled under the tangle like a rabbit in a briar patch, and he followed, the wiry thatch protecting them from the bird.
Within a fence of thorn stood the White Tree. It was ancient and twisted, with many bare boughs, a relic at the end of its days. A few limbs had dark green leaves clinging to them. At its foot, there were a few fallen fruits, their perfumed flesh turned fetid. Frantically, she sought for one that still clung to a branch and was not ruined.
The Golden Tree had perished without children. Naught could cure her of the poison of Death that withered her root, branch, and leaf, so it was for her brother to persist. Anárion approached the tree of his brother. He grasped a branch of Nimloth and stripped it of its leaves, making the eagles scream once more. Finduilas and Denethor both staggered at a sudden shift of the earth. Again he reached up and tore away the green from a branch, and she saw it. Deep within the boughs, there was one last fruit. Eagerly, Finduilas seized the orb, careful not to bruise it as she pulled it from its twig. She wrapped the treasure in her scarf before sticking it into a pouch fastened securely to her belt. One last time, the summer king laid harsh hands upon the silver tree, and a branch broke.
Lightning shot from the lowering sky and struck very close, throwing them stunned to the earth. The leaves fell from Denethor's hands. As they pulled themselves up, more bolts fell nearby. Finduilas tried to gather the dropped leaves, but Denethor seized her arm. 'We must flee!' he shouted above the storm and the cries of the birds. 'The mariner says the waves are coming – run!' At the sound of his voice in the Hallow, the heavens unleashed the deluge.
They scrambled back through the bramble, the thorns tearing at them, the downpour turning the ground to mud. When they won free, they bolted towards the path, barely able to keep their feet as the ground shuddered and crevices opened, spewing ash and fire. Just as they plunged over the edge and down the path, the Hallow split from east to west, swallowing up the last White Tree.
The trees sheltered them from the worst of the storm, but the path was dark, steep and treacherous. As they descended, she began to see motions at the corners of her eyes. The demon was no fool. He had let her go where his own creatures did not dare set foot, and merely had to wait for her to emerge. They plunged forward, skidding and sliding as they negotiated the turns under the stone stares of the Drúedain.
Above and behind them, something shrieked and a dark form flung itself out of the trees towards them. All Finduilas had time to see was red eyes and yellow fangs and then there was a gout of blood as Denethor struck it down. He did not wait to see if he had killed it, but grabbed her hand and redoubled their speed. Another thing seemed to rise without warning from the dirt before them and put a rip in her shirt before having its arm hacked off and steel put through its chest. Behind them, they heard another creature charging, its feet thudding on the ground and its cry rising in glee as it bore down on its prey. Another turn approached, and Finduilas despaired, for they would have to slow to make the turn.
The pale Drúadan jumped to his feet and brought his blowpipe to his mouth. Something whistled past Finduilas's ear, followed by an agonized scream behind them. 'Hurry, my queen,' the stone man called, 'they are many and we are few, but we will guard you. For this we have waited all our days!' Denethor sheathed his sword and grabbed her, not questioning their salvation. They ran for many minutes, dodging dark things that loomed in the trees, but trusting to the statues to meet the foes. Once Finduilas glimpsed a stone man grabbing a beast shaped like a monstrous wolf and crushing it in his grip. Many times she heard the "Phfftt" of a pipe followed by the scream of a pursuer.
Finally, the wind became less, the rain more steady, and the trees were familiar once more. The shadows under the boughs retreated, and the statues ceased to move, their weathered faces still as stone, though their eyes gleamed in the dusk. Finduilas and Denethor came around a final corner, and saw Beregar leaning over a form in the road. Gull was also there, but the other horses were missing. Beregar whirled about at the sound of their approach, his eyes wild.
'Hound, what happened?' Denethor demanded.
The Hound motioned at the form in the road. Now, Finduilas could see blood. The man had sword wounds on his chest, and his neck was partially severed. His clothes, however, were strange, in a style she had never seen. On his breast was embroidered a golden star on a sable field. 'It is a King's Man,' she said. They had finally picked up the trail from Rómenna, and…
'I do not remember any of Beruthiel's followers who looked like this,' Denethor said.
Finduilas struggled for a moment to make her vision see Denethor, not Anárion. 'Different king.' Denethor stared, then nodded in understanding.
'A number of them were following us. They attacked not long after you left.' Beregar sounded dazed. There was blood spattered on his front and arms, with smears of it on the sides of his face and down his throat.
'Huan, say that you are not wounded!' Finduilas cried.
'No. They attacked and I, we, I drove them off. This was the last.'
Denethor rose from examining the body. 'Where is Gaerhûl?'
'He guards down the road.' Beregar finally looked at them. 'Ah, no, I have failed you again, my lady! Some must have won past me to attack you.'
'No, Huan. Those who attacked us were lying in wait.' Gull came over and nosed Finduilas's shoulder, nickering. The exertions of the last – How long? An hour? Two? A day? – finally took their toll. Weariness seized her in iron claws and she would have fallen save for Denethor's arm around her. He boosted her onto Gull and began walking swiftly along the road.
A few hundred yards further on, they found Gaerhûl and Beregar's horse. The Hound's steed was wild-eyed and shaking, but Gaerhûl looked pleased with himself. Four men lay trampled upon the track, limbs snapped and torsos crushed by the stallion's hooves. Two of the men had their throats torn out. Unlike their fellow, none had any sword cuts. Around the edges of the trail, in the mud, there were the prints of a huge dog. Beregar stared at the corpses while Denethor went through their pockets and purses to find anything that would tell him who they were. Finduilas saw the young man touch his mouth, then stare at his hands, a look of horror on his face. She embraced him while they waited for Denethor to finish.
Denethor shoved a few things into his pouch and picked up something slender and dark like a long stick from the mud at the edge of the carnage. He ordered them to mount and set off at a trot, looking intently at the dirt track. Even Finduilas could see the boot marks in the wet earth left behind by the slaughtered men. Then, suddenly, there were no tracks except the hoof prints of their own horses from earlier in the day, already faint from the rain.
The garrison was abuzz at the news of the ruffians who had set upon the Lady in the forest. Marlong sent out soldiers along the road to root out any companions that might remain. Denethor showed the badge he had cut from one man's shirt, but none knew of any lord or town in Anórien that used such a device. Aldwyn was not surprised to hear that Gaerhûl had attacked the men.
'He's a man-killer,' she matter-of-factly said. 'He killed some Dunlendings when he was a yearling.'
'He'll go after Orcs on his own,' Denethor replied, 'but I'd not heard that he had turned on men.'
'They had raided the herd he belonged to. They threw rocks at the herdsman, who was just a boy, and stunned him. I think they meant to kill him and steal the horses, but Gaerhûl attacked and killed them. I remember the stories! The men said he had ripped them apart, and someone said he had even eaten part of one, though Father said that was scavenging dogs. Not even Ælric could tame him after that, only the Lord of the Mark,' Aldwyn said with pride. 'No steed can deny the king's command.'
'And then he gave the beast to me as a birthday present,' Denethor said wryly.
'Mother was aghast when Father gave him to you and wondered…' Aldwyn bit back whatever she was next going to say, her face going red.
'…whether he still bore Gondor any love, no doubt. Captain,' Denethor turned away from the embarrassed girl. 'Captain Marlong, we didn't see horses, so there may be some tethered in the woods.' He put an arm around Finduilas and walked towards the stairs. 'If you capture any others, lock them up until I can question them.' There won't be any others. They are all drowned.
When they reached the room they had shared the night before, Denethor locked it and began undressing her. When she was bare, he examined her closely, noting every scratch and bruise upon her. Satisfied that she had no serious injury, he took a ewer of hot water and a wash rag from the sideboard and cleaned away dirt, sweat and dried bits of black blood. Finduilas did not resist and was soon in bed and asleep, curled up under a clean sheet. She woke after sundown. Denethor was sitting in a chair nearby, watching her. She sat up and waited for him to speak.
'It is done?'
'The hardest part, yes.' Finduilas sighed and dropped her head to rest on her knees. 'I shall not venture so far again, friend.'
'What will you do with it?'
'Take it to Laanga. He will know how to use it, just as he did with the leaves.'
Denethor patted the pouch at his waist. 'I did get more leaves. They are a little bruised but still should be good for a tea.'
'Ah, that is good news! With what I have already, it should last until the tree grows.' Denethor nodded but his expression was odd. 'What is it, friend?'
'We stood on Númenor.' His voice was hushed, wondering. 'You were a queen, with a star bound to your brow.' Denethor came and knelt next to the bed, taking her hand. 'We have been wrong all this time, Alquallë.'
The name made her shiver. Another thing we share. 'What is wrong, Denethor?'
'The king came and fled, but our queen remains.' He kissed her hand and bowed his head over it. 'The Tree will bloom again by your grace, and Gondor will flourish under your rule.' Anárion looked up at her with in awe and love. 'The Faithful will follow you.'
Minas Tirith, 29 August 2981 T.A.
They had rested a full day in Anórien to let Finduilas recover from the attack. There was worry when searchers could not find the bodies of the ruffians, only hoof prints and a bloody patch of mud partway up Eilenach. Marlong sent out patrols through and around the forest, but nothing more was found. Some wondered if Orcs from the invasion had somehow found their way to the forest, but most muttered that they need look no further than Minrimmon for the origin of the attackers. Gethron had taken no chances on the return trip, keeping the women in the center of the guardsmen. At Denethor's insistence, they rode the entire distance to Minas Tirith in a single day, arriving in the City not long after sundown. Finduilas had slept through the next day. Aside from a brief report to the Steward, Denethor stayed with her the entire time.
The fruit perfumed the room even from inside the pouch where it lay hidden. Finduilas took it out, hoping that it was not spoiling from the heat, but it was whole and firm, the most perfect fruit she had ever held. For several minutes she did nothing but breathe in its scent, feeling her heart lighten as she did. The smell pleased Denethor as well, for he smiled and care left his face. As she gazed at the golden orb in her hand, a greediness came over her. Laanga said it would heal me. Her stomach rumbled in agreement. But I should take it to him first, so he can see it. She glanced at Denethor, who was looking upon her with reverence, sending a chill up her spine. What you want is wrong, prince. I am not the queen. There is another waiting. But, perhaps not, if fate hinges upon this. Can it heal and bloom at one time? Finduilas rewrapped the treasure and asked for hot water for tea instead.
'I take this to Laanga today, Denethor.'
'I will go with you.'
Aldwyn and Aiavalë walked with them to the sixth circle, then continued down the mountain with Boromir, taking him to see his new pony. The door stood open for them. Though the exotic flowers did their best, none could match the scent of the fruit. Laanga was waiting just outside the garden door, hopping from one foot to the other in his excitement.
'Yes, daughter? Yes? You will make my old heart break for joy?' he cried when he saw them coming through the greenery. Denethor stopped at the door as he always did while Finduilas darted forward to embrace the ancient.
'Yes, Master Laanga, I bring you a great gift.' She led him to his workbench in the garden and set down the pouch. Slowly, she worked loose the pouch lacings, carefully opened the mouth of the sack, taking her time while Laanga motioned for her to hurry. It was delightful to see him so eager, like a child wanting his Yule gifts. With a flourish, Finduilas unwrapped the fruit and held it out to the herbalist with a bow. 'Here it is. The last fruit of Nimloth.'
Laanga did not reach for it but inhaled the aroma, closing his eyes as the sweet smell filled the air around them. 'Bring it to the Crone, daughter, so she may be glad, too,' he said. Finduilas took it to the old apple. The tree reached out a branch and caressed the fruit, touching the top of Finduilas's head gently with another branch in blessing. The herbalist sat under Crone Apple's boughs and patted the ground. 'There is a great tale to go with this. May I hear it?'
'Yes. I walked with Míriel, and saw her doing and not doing.'
'What did she do?'
'She was faithful. She went to Meneltarma, but not to save herself. She had nothing to repent. She placed this in my hand so that it would not perish.'
'What is it?'
Laanga looked at Finduilas searchingly. 'And what will you do with this now?'
'You said once that if I ate it, it would cure me.'
'I believe it will. There is no other more deserving. Is that what you hope for?'
'Denethor hopes I will be queen.'
'He loves you.'
'You also said that if the fruit was planted, a tree would grow, and perhaps many could be healed.'
'There are few plants as wholesome as this. Or as powerful.'
'Could I eat the fruit and plant the seeds?'
The old man cocked his head. 'You'll not cheat fate that way, daughter. There is a single stone in that fruit, and it needs the flesh as a child needs his mother's milk.'
'If I eat this, it will be for me.'
'And for Denethor. You are his hope.'
Finduilas thought on that. 'How quickly will the tree grow?'
'No one can say,' Laanga said with a shrug. 'It may sprout the next year. It may lie quiet for a hundred. It may spoil and never grow. If you wish certainty, you must eat it.'
'What healing would it do?'
'Great. Your cough would be gone. Your heart would heal. Your life would be longer, much longer, though the Gift of Men may not be taken back.'
I will save you. She gazed at the fruit. Whose voice shall say that? My own, or one who speaks to me? 'If I give it to you, will you plant it so it will grow?'
'No. It will not grow here. But I can show you where to plant it. There is a place where such seeds are put to guard against a dim day. The Crone told me of it, for she is wise in such things.'
'A few hours' walk. On the slopes of Mindolluin.'
Laanga collected a trowel and a bundle of food and gave them to Denethor to carry. They followed him through the City and out the Great Gate. None took notice of the three of them, as though the secret veil of the garden traveled with them. Around the curve of the wall they walked south and into the foothills below the south face of Mindolluin. 'I have traveled these ways many times on my search for herbs,' he told them as he guided them along a faint track. 'It is a steep climb, but one an old man can make if he is patient.' It took several hours to reach the high perch.
Finduilas gazed out in awe upon the sights below her and called Denethor over to her. 'Remember where we found the last tree? Here is such a place for its scion.' Laanga led them further up the scree, almost to the snow field. He and Denethor cleared rocks from a patch of ground, then Denethor took the trowel and dug a hole, laboring to loosen the hard packed soil. When Laanga motioned that it was sufficient, Finduilas placed the fruit at the bottom. It was soon covered and they retreated from the high hallow to a more sheltered place where they ate their dinner before returning to the City.
Beregar was waiting for them at the Great Gate, as haggard and miserable as Denethor was hale and happy. He mournfully trailed them back to the Stewards House. Boromir claimed his father at once, and the two went off to Denethor's study to lie on the floor and play with blocks. Finduilas pulled Beregar aside into her study.
'I should leave,' he said.
'I cannot guard you.'
'I have come to no harm, so I think…'
'No. I don't mean it that way. I… do not wish to guard you. Not like this.' His eyes were haunted. 'Call me false and coward if you will, but I cannot… I am not a hound. I am a man, but I was made into a beast and killed as one.' Beregar covered his face with his hands. 'I said I would fight Carcharoth. Not become him.' Finduilas embraced Beregar as she had in the forest until he began to weep. 'I have never killed before, Finduilas. I rent their throats and ate their flesh. Please, release me.'
When his tears subsided, she led him to a seat and bade him stay until she returned. She asked Damnir to bring her water for tea and retrieved the small jar and bone spoon from the chest where they were kept. 'Here, Beregar, drink this,' she said. 'It will balm the hole in your heart.'
'Just this one thing.' There was a flash of silver.
'I said I have no wish for your gifts.'
He smiled. 'But all that I do is for you. If you will not take that gift, then I will give you others.' In the Temple, there was a flash of steel. 'You will not perish, nor will they.'
Characters introduced in this chapter, in order of appearance:
- Mablung – JRRT, Wren and Marlong's son, newborn.