Finduilas POV - 1 of 4
In which a fox talks, a baby grows up, a better bone is found, a tree is wise, a fool is honest, a fiend is eluded, a promise is made, a net is cast, and the Queen lays down the law.
Minas Tirith, 1 September, 2982 T.A.
The house was very quiet, the air warm and still in the early autumn afternoon. Moraen was upstairs napping. Boromir had gone to the Tower with Brandir to see his grandfather several hours ago and would return soon. Denethor and Imrahil had left not long afterwards, most likely to check on the garrison. Beregar had gone with them and Finduilas hoped they were all three sitting in the kitchen court of The Messengers Rest, sipping ale. She lazed on the couch in her study, considering whether to continue the pretense that she was tending to the Lady's business or surrender to the weariness of her long journey and retire to her bed. If only she did not have to climb a flight of stairs to get there, the bed easily would have won out. Last night, she had dropped off to sleep almost as quickly as Denethor after they made love.
She put a hand on her belly. It was the third day of the first six, when it was most likely she would conceive. Wren had said it worked at once for herself and Marlong. But perhaps it is not good, right after so much travel. Her hand strayed to her hip and then her ribs. I'm not fat enough. That's what Lhûn would say. In truth, she had not made up her mind on this matter until they had arrived and she had seen Ecthelion and Boromir together. All the babies. There had been so many children on their travels, and so many questions as to when she would bear her next child. Mother and Father both had hinted that they would not mind being grandparents again, Ivriniel had said that the minute Eärwen turned five, she and Angbor were having another, and then there was Aeluin's ecstatic news in Pelargir. All had made Finduilas wistful, particularly seeing the little girls, but the decision was made by the sight of the Steward. He was so old and looked as tired as she felt. Another child will secure his heart at the last and ensure his good will towards Denethor. It made her uncomfortable to think this way, but Maiaberiel was building up her strength, the coming season of war would make people remember Thorongil with fondness, and there must be no question when the Steward died who he intended to rule after him.
The thought of a second child was more appealing to her after the sojourn, too. For the first time, Boromir had been pleasant to be near and not merely bearable. She knew Denethor had been directing him for the first part of the trip, but the child's acts had seemed his own by the time they reached Dol Amroth. Boromir's refusal to be parted from her in Pelargir, even when tempted with the prospect of seeing his grandfather that much sooner, had pleased her greatly. Though you do need to learn to stay in your own bed, Morcollë.
Footsteps on the stair caught her attention. There was a light tap at the door and Mírwen poked her head in. 'My lady? Halmir brought Master Boromir back from the Tower and asks if he may have a word with you.'
Finduilas sat up, touching her hair to see how bedraggled it was. Not too bad. 'Yes, send them up.'
A few minutes later Boromir bounded into the room followed by the solemn Lost. Finduilas rose, holding out her hands. 'Halmir, thank you for bringing the cub back from his visit.'
A hint of a smile came and went from the Lost's face as he took her hands and bowed over them. 'I had concluded my business with the Lord Steward and he asked if I would bring Boromir back to you while he rested before his afternoon audience.'
'Denethor is not here and I am not certain when he will return.'
'I did not come here to speak to the High Warden, my lady.'
Finduilas motioned for him to sit across from her before the bare hearth. Boromir dragged his box of blocks from the corner and upended it before the seats. 'You came to speak to me, then.' Halmir nodded. 'On what?'
'To say farewell.'
She sat quietly, not wanting to accept his words. Boromir laid out the foundations of his wooden city, ignoring the adults' converse. Finduilas sighed. 'I see. I shall not be selfish and try to dissuade you, for your own kin must miss you greatly.'
'I have been too long away as it is.'
'Twice the time your people usually grant us.' Another nod and his fingers moved in an odd way. Finduilas glanced at the doorway to make sure it was closed. 'You stayed for your nephew,' she murmured. Halmir's expression became still. 'He told me of your kinship in this very room.'
The Lost sighed heavily and bowed his head, resting his forehead on his hand. 'Aye.'
'Do you go home or do you try to find him?' Halmir did not move for many heartbeats, then shrugged. It was a slight and defeated gesture, done in the knowledge that neither choice would do any good. Finduilas found herself becoming angry with their king. Why do you do this to our hearts? You torment your kin as well as your servants with your wandering. 'Go home.' Halmir met her eyes, questioning. 'None will find him unless he wishes it, so go to where he will be able to find you.'
They sat in silence, watching Boromir industriously build a castle. 'Have you spoken to Beregar and Aeluin? They will be saddened by the news.'
'To Beregar. I saw him on the way up.' The Lost stared at his hands. 'You. You… have… destroyed.'
'Destroyed? What? Who?'
'Not your fault, of course,' Halmir continued, refusing to look at her, 'but we can't… deny you. Avoid you. Either of…' His words abruptly stopped.
Either of you. The women with the face of a dead queen. One loved by a Steward, one by a King. 'No, I cannot help it. I am hunted in the place of one who cannot be seen and must remain hidden until it is time.'
The Lost's face was stricken. You understand. The man lunged to his feet and began pacing the room, muttering to himself and moving his hands. Boromir had stopped playing with his blocks and watched Halmir warily. '…wizard… told him… no good… lying… wrong, all wrong!' He came to a halt. 'I will stay for your sake, my lady. I would not leave you undefended from what we have brought down upon you.'
'It is not for you to defend me, any more than it was for Thorongil to woo me. Your heart lies in the north, Halmir. Find it there.' Finduilas held out a hand to Boromir to help him stand. 'Morcollë, you must say good bye to Uncle Halmir.'
Boromir must have sensed there was more to this farewell than he understood. 'Stay for supper, please, uncle?'
Halmir came to kneel in front of Boromir so they were eye to eye. A sad smile came to his face and he brushed the hair back from the child's forehead. 'No, Master Boromir, I cannot. I have another journey to begin this very evening.'
'When will you be back?'
'I won't be back. I have to go away, back to my own home.'
'You live here!' Boromir grabbed Halmir's arm. 'You can't go away! You have to teach me swords! You promised!'
'I have taught you swords. Now, someone else will have to.'
'Your father, Lord Denethor. Listen to me.' Halmir took Boromir's shoulders. 'Your father is a great man, a great ruler, the match of any king who has ever been. He will teach you all you need to know. You must obey him.'
'I don't want you to go!'
'I must go. I have to go home to my family. I have a little granddaughter, almost your age, and I need to go home and tell her stories, like I tell you and Finiel.' Boromir stood there, dejected. 'Here, I have one more story for you.' The Lost began telling a tale of a little boy who outfoxed Orcs and saved his village from being burned. When he ended, he kissed Boromir's brow. 'Promise me you will be good and not worry your mother.'
'Promise.' Boromir spoke so softly Finduilas more saw than heard him speak. He mumbled something else.
'What is that?' Halmir asked, trying to catch his eye.
'May I write you letters?'
'No, child. They do not have messengers in the north.'
For a moment, Finduilas was certain Boromir was going to cry. His face became stern and he looked like Denethor. 'Then you live in a stupid place!'
The Lost smiled wryly. 'Yes, Boromir, I agree.' Halmir made a sign with his hand. 'That is "stupid" in Lost talk. Can you say that?' Boromir copied the motion a few times until he could do it perfectly. Halmir tried to give him another kiss, but Boromir pulled away, signed "stupid," and ran out the door and downstairs. With a sigh, Halmir stood.
Finduilas embraced him briefly, and kissed his cheek. 'Do you have all you need for the trip? I cannot give you what you most want, but travelers gear is easy enough to obtain. Or gold, if you prefer to purchase your own.' He shook his head. 'Is there no one in the north I may entrust a letter or a bundle to?'
'One person, though he is not of our kind. The innkeeper, Harliman Butterbur, of the Prancing Pony in Bree, he is as honest as the rising sun. His family has run the inn for generations. We go there to hear things. Say it is for Ranger Fox, and I will get it. Eventually.' Halmir stepped away and bowed to Finduilas. 'My lady, farewell.' He left through the Wall Door.
Finduilas picked up Boromir's blocks and put them back in the box before going downstairs to the kitchen. Dúlin and Aeluin greeted her cheerfully from where they sat at the kitchen table, and the cook bounced up to get Finduilas something to eat. Finduilas was too tired to protest, so allowed herself to be sat at the table and fed like she was a child. 'Have you seen Boromir?' she asked.
'Yes. He ran out the kitchen door and over to a pup. They went off on some mischief,' Aeluin answered. 'It was Ingold, so he knows to bring the cub back for supper.'
After a few bites, Finduilas went upstairs to nap the rest of the afternoon. Sleep eluded her as she thought about Halmir's words. Who have I destroyed? Beregar. His cries of grief when Denethor called him back from death's release had made her weep. For my sake, all that has happened to Huan. Who else? Ecthelion and Maiaberiel. Perhaps not directly, but their designs were put to an end when she came to the City. Thorongil? No, he knew when he saw me the promises that already lay in his heart. Denethor. She shivered despite the heat and pulled a sheet more tightly around her. But we are fated for each other. That fate may be destruction. She got up and drank several cups of wine. They soon made her too dizzy to think and she drifted into a fitful dream. She rode towards a City wreathed in smoke while a man begged her to flee, the wind sounding like a discordant flute.
'Alquallë?' A hand stroked her hair.
'Mama?' Another hand tugged on her own. She turned over and groggily tried to focus. Denethor and Boromir were standing next to her bed. When he saw her open her eyes, Boromir began climbing up on the bed. Denethor picked him up and held him tightly, Boromir determinedly trying to twist out of his father's grasp.
'What time is it?' she asked.
'Almost supper. If you are too tired…'
'Yes, I am too tired, but I should eat something. Morcollë,' she said to Boromir, who stopped wiggling, 'Will you take Papa downstairs and ask Dúlin to fix me a tray for supper?' When they left, she pulled on a shift and went to the front room to wait. Supper soon arrived. Finduilas picked at it, having no appetite but knowing she needed more than wine in her stomach. Denethor spoke quietly of what he did during the day, which mostly involved speaking to Borondir and going to look at a few things his cousin thought important. Boromir's face had tear streaks on it, but he looked more angry than sad and he kept glaring at his father. He howled and struggled when Mírwen came to wash him up for bed and he would not behave until Finduilas came and sat nearby. Another battle ensued when Denethor and Mírwen tried to put him to bed. His angry shrieks and plaintive cries for "Mama" could probably be heard throughout the Citadel.
Denethor came back to the front room and sat heavily in a chair, wincing as Boromir let loose with a particularly powerful screech. 'You want another. Now. Are you sure?'
'He's just tired.'
'Do you know where I collected our adventurous cub this afternoon?' She shook her head. 'In the second circle on his way to the stable to go saddle Boots so he could ride north with Halmir.' Her eyebrows went up. 'I was sitting at a window at The Messenger's Rest and saw him walk past. I followed him all the way to the gate between the second and first circle before I stopped him.' Another wail rose from the children's rooms. 'Halmir came here?'
'Yes. He wished to pay his respects.' Denethor nodded, but said nothing. Did you know Halmir was going? The wails were subsiding into deep sobs. They heard Mírwen telling Boromir to get back in bed. Denethor sighed and went back to assist. Wailing and outraged screeches resumed.
'Stop!' Finduilas jumped at the sound of Denethor's roar. For a moment, there was silence, then just a hint of suppressed weeping. 'You are behaving disgracefully, Boromir.' There were sounds Finduilas could not make out then, 'Behave. I do not wish to see or hear you until tomorrow morning.' Denethor once more emerged. 'Perhaps I should let him go with Halmir.'
'He will be better tomorrow.'
'What about you?'
'Me, too.' She stood and walked into his embrace. 'Perhaps not… now.' They were soon curled up in her bed, sound asleep.
By the next morning, Boromir was nestled between the two of them. 'You must be tired, too, friend, if you did not wake when the cub sneaked in,' Finduilas said softly, touching the child's cheek.
Denethor looked on his disobedient son with disfavor. 'He was told to stay.' With a low growl, he rolled out of bed and gave Boromir a shake to wake him. The child huddled down in the bedding when he saw his father's face. 'Boromir, go back to your own room.' Boromir did not move, so Denethor picked him up and set him on the floor. 'Go.' Boromir threw one beseeching look at Finduilas, who shook her head and pointed at the door. He left, watching over his shoulder for some sign of softening.
'Be patient with him, Denethor. He has spent most of the last six months sleeping next to us.'
Denethor sighed and sat on the bed, then lay back, head in her lap. 'I cannot blame him for wishing to be next to you.'
'Halmir's leaving has upset him.'
'Not just him,' Denethor muttered under his breath.
'What mean you?'
'The Lost are leaving and will not return.'
Finduilas gave Denethor a light push so she could stand. 'They follow Thorongil.'
'I expected that, but none come to replace those who leave.' She did not know what to think of that. 'What did Halmir say when he left?'
'Little. He returns north. When he bade Morcollë farewell, he told the cub to obey you. He said that you were a great man, the match of any king who has been. He also said that you would take up Morcollë's sword lessons.'
'Did he?' Denethor's voice was distant. Breakfast was a silent affair, with Boromir looking both defiant and guilty and Denethor lost in thought. When they finished, Denethor stood and gestured for Boromir to come with him, which the boy did with great reluctance.
Enough laziness! Finduilas scolded herself. You have left your work to others for too long. Moraen was summoned and a guardsman dispatched to find Borondir. The three had a cheerful reunion in Finduilas' study. It felt good to see her cousin again and speak of ordinary things. Though she watched carefully, Finduilas could not discern any change in the amiable manner between him and Moraen. Enough, goose. They are not meant for each other and that is that. There was some change to Borondir himself. It might simply be his pleasure at their return, but Finduilas fancied that he smiled more than was his wont and spoke with less reserve. It was a good change. They worked through the morning, with Borondir doing most of the talking as he presented the ledgers and lists and reports for six months of the City's life. Aeluin oversaw Nellas and Mírwen bringing food and drink for them while they worked, giving Finduilas a meaningful look and patting her own belly lightly to remind her mistress to eat. Finduilas obediently nibbled a few slices of the fruit and cheese. Not now, but in a month, I need to be ready.
They were almost ready to sit down for dinner when Boromir came thundering up the stairs, Denethor on his heels. After boisterously greeting Borondir, Boromir grabbed Finduilas' arm. 'Mama, I'm going to be a soldier now. Papa said I could and we went to the garrison and I got things but my bed is all wrong!'
Finduilas glanced at Denethor in confusion, who merely gave her a smug look and took his seat at the table. Whatever animosity had been between her men this morning was gone, for which she was glad. 'Is that so, Morcollë? Why is it wrong?' she asked, patting a chair next to her to get him to sit.
'I have no place for my sword,' he informed her with great seriousness, Denethor nodding gravely in agreement, 'and I need a trunk for my gear. A soldier needs a trunk. My bed is all wrong. It's a baby's bed.' This was said with a great deal of scorn. Whatever else he might have on his mind had to wait as he dug into the stew.
'Well, that will not do,' Borondir said, 'seeing that you're almost full grown.' Boromir nodded emphatically, cheeks filled with his dinner. 'He is half again as big as he was last spring, Finduilas,' Borondir added.
'I fear we will be making a great deal of noise this afternoon, my lady,' Denethor said in a tone devoid of apology. 'We have a proper soldier's bed to set up, a trunk to fill, weapons to stow, and many other important things to do.' Boromir and Denethor exchanged a pleased look. Near the end of the meal, Finduilas heard voices on the stairs and much thumping. She recognized some of the voices as belonging to her guardsmen. Boromir dashed out of the dining room to investigate. Denethor drained his wine and followed, kissing Finduilas' brow as he passed. The thumping continued up to the next floor. Soon, there was the sound of hammering right over their heads. A few things crashed and dust drifted down from the ceiling.
Upstairs, the sounds were louder and the dust worse. The furniture in the front room was shoved into a corner, sawhorses had been set up, and lumber and tools littered the floor. A few guardsmen and workmen she did not recognize milled about. Finduilas peeked around the edge of the door to the row of children's alcoves and withdrew hastily, choking from the dust. Moraen helped her to the window to get fresh air while Borondir pushed on into the mess. Denethor soon appeared at her elbow, concern on his face. 'You must leave here. The dust is bad for your cough.'
'I will when you tell me what you are doing.'
'Turning his space into a real bed. You'll see. Please, do not stay in this mess.'
Finduilas and Moraen retreated to the archives, where the air was cool. She had been tempted to go to the garden, but found that her feet were reluctant to venture further along the sixth circle. Aiavalë was too busy giving orders and grumbling about the sad state of perfection Mallor, Mairen and Hador had kept things in to pay them much mind, but the stout bookbinder danced a jig and sang a song in honor of his Lady's return. The other archivists came in turn with soft welcomes and more often than not a little gossip. Finduilas gladly told them of Lark and the archive in Pelargir and of some of the happier events of their journey. Aiavalë gave her a basket of scrolls to reshelve and Finduilas felt a maid again, taking orders from Lady Lore and having no worries beyond handling scrolls with care. Deep in the caverns, the weight of the east was less, too.
Less, but still there. She sighed softly. There was no eluding it, not even by going to the western reaches of Gondor. When she had passed the gap of Tarnost, she had expected the Enemy's gaze to disappear, as it had at the Mering Stream in Rohan. The immediacy of his watch had vanished, and for a while she had been hopeful. Then came the waking dream in Dol Amroth and all of her old dreams had returned. The race up the tower. The stooping eagle. The storm wracked fleet. The dark army on the plain, the crumbling walls, her abandonment on a high pinnacle above a blasted waste – all were back. Worst were the dreams of Míriel being wooed by the demon. Only those times she lay in Denethor's arms after they made love did she escape from those memories. Even then, however, came the haunting tunes of the mariner and Denethor would be marked by the lanyard. Several times she had woken suddenly and had felt his neck to assure herself that he bore no wound. But you did mark my lord. The rope lash still stood out on Denethor's chest, a thin scar across one breast and down his ribs.
When Halmir had left, she had wondered if perhaps the north was far enough. There are always watchers. Perhaps Sauron could not use the palantír to spy upon them there, but there were other eyes to mark their passage. No, here is where we belong and here we shall stand, though the Enemy emerge from his lair and come to our very gates.
Beregar came to fetch them for supper and Lady Lore as well. Nothing would do when they returned but that they follow Boromir upstairs to see his new "garrison." What had once been three sleeping alcoves was now turned into two. A full sized bed was against the back wall of the first one, with a large and battered leather trunk at its foot. In it were his clothes, very neatly folded. 'I did that myself, Mama,' Boromir proudly informed her. Also in the chest was a writing slate and a pouch full of chalk. His shoes were polished and in a neat row under the edge of the bed. On the wall nearest the foot, pegs had been sunk, a true wooden practice sword hung upon them. Finduilas had to swallow very hard several times before she could master her desire first to rip the thing off the wall and throw it from a window and then to weep because there was no other path for her child. She touched her belly. Perhaps not now. Perhaps not ever. She wondered if her mother had ever thought the same thing of Imrahil. On the small table near the head of the bed lay the knife that Halmir and the other soldiers had given Boromir just after his birth. There was also a book of tales and another of the kings of Gondor.
'Papa says I'm not a baby anymore,' Boromir told her, 'so I will now have to join him every morning in the practice yard before I may go see Gran… my Lord Steward. I am to be a page to the Steward for an hour every day.' There was no hiding the child's pride at the new order of things. At supper, Aiavalë said she would come every other day and that they would have writing and history lessons. 'After all,' she said, 'if you are to serve the Steward, you must be a learned man.'
Finduilas drew Denethor aside afterwards while Boromir told his aunt all he had done to help build his room. 'Why all of this change, friend?'
'To take his mind off the Lost.' Denethor shrugged, not quite meeting her eyes. 'He is not a baby, and needs tasks to focus his mind. He had months of an adventure. Now is time for him to learn.'
'He is still a baby,' she muttered.
'You'll have another soon enough, and if Morcollë stays in his bed, it will be that much sooner.'
Night fell and Aiavalë left for the widow's house. Boromir did not fuss over his bath, eager to sleep in his new bed. 'Papa, will you tell me a story before I sleep?' he asked.
Denethor kissed his brow. 'Yes. Go get in bed.' Finduilas came along to help tuck Boromir in. Denethor kissed her hand. 'I should not be long.'
'I will be waiting in your room.' Finduilas went to his bed, not entirely certain she wished to be there. Telperien jumped up on the bed when she lay down, purring and bunting her head against her mistress. Faintly, she heard Denethor's voice. The cat's steady purr soon lulled her into a light doze. Sometime later, Finduilas woke with a start, brought awake by the crumbling walls beneath her feet. Denethor was not there. She slipped on her robe and took a lamp. He and Boromir were sound asleep in Boromir's new bed, the book of tales lying on the bed beside them where it had slipped from Denethor's hand. She retrieved the cat and went to her own bed to sleep.
Minas Tirith, 9 September, 2982 T.A.
Finduilas was reasonably certain she had not conceived. After Boromir's room had been rebuilt, Denethor had not been particularly ardent, spending half his nights beside Boromir to encourage the boy to remain in his own bed and most of the rest curled around Finduilas in her own. Only two or three nights had been in Denethor's bed. Not that Finduilas had made any protest of this situation. It was probably best that they wait on a child. She made sure to clean her plate and rest.
Denethor did not give Boromir a chance to miss Halmir. Each morning they went either to the upper training yards or to the lower archery ranges. Aiavalë went with them to practice her archery. Once Finduilas accompanied them to the upper yards, where the Tower Guard trained. She found she cared as little for the art of death as Beregar and did not return. In the late mornings, after they had bathed, Denethor and Boromir went to wait upon the Steward. Boromir would come back after an hour or two for lessons with Aiavalë or Borondir; his elder cousin had declared he would teach Boromir his figures. In the afternoon, Boromir went with Beregar to take care of the horses. If Denethor was finished with Tower duties, he would go with them. Boromir always had a basket of sweets from Mistress Adanel to present to Finduilas upon their return.
The last three days, however, Denethor had neither Tower business nor horses to concern him in the afternoon, though he would not say what he was doing. He returned to the house in the early evening distracted and moody, and did not like being touched. They had not lain together since it started, even in her bed. Finduilas asked Beregar if he knew the reason for his master's odd behavior.
'All I know is that he has ordered Thorongil's house to be emptied, repaired and repainted,' Beregar said with a shrug. Finduilas thanked him and did not pry further, only asking Beregar to let her know when the work was completed. No doubt this was brought on by Halmir's departure.
Today, in late morning after Boromir returned from the Tower, they were to go to the garden. Laanga was inside when they came through the old door, tending the exotic plants that crowded the downstairs rooms. Finiel and Boromir raced through the tangle to the garden. Laanga laughed and clapped his gnarled hands in delight. 'I have so missed all of my children,' he said, the whites of his eyes gleaming in his dark face. 'Come! Come to see Old Crone Apple. She has missed you as well.' He led the way, pointing out blooms and odd plants as they strolled through the lush growth. They emerged into the bright yard, the white back wall reflecting light and heat from the east. As usual, Beregar halted just short of the threshold, refusing to enter the garden.
'Master Laanga, I have the most wonderful news,' Aeluin said, taking the herbalist's hands. 'I am going to have a child!'
Laanga embraced her. 'That is marvelous, granddaughter. Know you how soon?'
'April or May next year, I believe.' Aeluin glanced over at the doorway to the house, Beregar just visible inside of it. 'He is not completely healed, master,' she murmured. Laanga slipped an arm into hers and they walked away, heads together. At first, Finduilas was irritated that they did not include her in their conversation. He may be your Hound, but he is Aeluin's husband. Your claim on his heart has brought him nigh to ruin. Hers is the one that will restore him. Chastened, Finduilas went to Crone Apple where Boromir and Finiel swung on the branches. The tree offered a slender limb in greeting and Finduilas took the twiggy end. At the touch, a great breath left her, releasing a knot in her chest she had not known was there. She let herself forget all else that demanded her attention, content to watch the children play.
After a while, Aeluin and Laanga ceased their strolling, and the old man went to his potting bench near the door. There, he began to drag a large bush in a heavy wooden container towards the back wall. It was slow work and the ancient's brow was soon beaded with sweat. When Finduilas took a step to come help him, the Crone laid a restraining limb on her shoulder. Boromir, however, clambered down from his perch and trotted over. Without being asked, he took hold of the edge of the pot and threw his small form into the task. The sun-browned boy and the wizened old man tugged and pulled and panted, trying to shift the bush. A crunch of gravel made Finduilas look to the door. Beregar approached, hugging the wall and looking wary. When he got to Laanga and Boromir, he ducked his head and said something low to the herbalist, who pointed to a spot a few yards distant. Beregar took the sides of the pot and dragged it the rest of the way, before swiftly retreating back to his post inside the door.
Laanga walked over to Finduilas and sat beneath the apple's boughs, wiping his face with a kerchief. Finduilas sat next to him. 'Ah, daughter, I am old.'
'Older than the hills.'
His eyes narrowed, becoming flinty, before crinkling in humor. 'Yes, Finduilas, you have me, but still I am old.' A sly smile came to his lips. 'I was using the wrong bone to capture your shepherd's attention, it seems.' She resisted glancing at the doorway, but smiled and nodded. Laanga's expression turned pensive. 'It is a stubborn and proud line, the golden trees, with branches unyielding as oak. As twisted, too. Their roots are likewise into the ground. I could not wheedle the Steward to come here after you left, nor even to set foot beyond the Citadel. We old men sat upon the bench under the White Tree and pondered being old.' Laanga took one of Finduilas' hands and laid a gentle kiss upon it. 'He spoke most of you, of your kindness.' Finduilas felt her cheeks redden, knowing her recent thoughts about Ecthelion had been anything but. 'You have given him joy when he thought there would be no more in his life.'
'I do not wish anyone to be lonely.'
'Truly, he repents his long years of folly, and is grateful to have just these few of happiness.' Laanga squeezed her hand firmly before letting it go. 'That is a great gift you have given.'
'And perhaps another will come. My own folly is done and I wish another child.'
Laanga did not smile at her words. His brow furrowed and he gazed at her intently. 'Are you sure?'
'Did you not council me in this very spot to think of this wish? Forbade me poison and chastised me for my rebellious heart?'
His dark eyes showed no whites and were unreadable. 'To refuse you poison, that was right, but mayhap I was not as wise as I thought.'
'I should not bear another?'
'The Crone has told me it is no small thing to be parted from your children.' He stood, kissed her brow, and went back to his potting bench. Finduilas remained in the dappled shade of the apple. She reached up a hand and the Crone took it in a bony clasp. Does he know my fate as the mariner knows Denethor's? If he did not, he certainly suspected it.
Laanga brought a shovel over to the potted bush and began digging a hole for the plant. The earth was hard and dry from the summer, making it nearly impossible for the old man to make any progress on the hole. For a second time, Beregar slunk into the yard, coming over to Laanga. The herbalist shook his head, gently saying he would dig the hole while Beregar protested that it was too great a task for the elder. Reluctantly, Laanga relinquished the shovel to Beregar. The ground did not yield easily to Beregar, either, and a half hour of digging produced only a shallow hole. The old man shook his head. 'Thank you, grandson, for your effort, but I fear this will be too much of a task for you today. It is of no matter. I will dig a little in the morning and evening when it is cool and eventually I will have my pit.'
'I will come back when Aeluin does, Master Laanga,' Beregar said, 'and will clear out this hole for you. Do not harm your old bones with digging.'
'As you wish, grandson, but no more for either of us today! It is too hot now. There is water in the kitchen for you to wash with, and some sweet cider in the cask on the table. Would you pour some? I think the children must be thirsty from all their running about.'
After Beregar left, Finduilas came over to look at the hole. It was going to be a difficult task for the ground was dense and full of small stones. It reminded her of another hole dug to receive a different plant. 'Laanga, did the seed I planted last year ever sprout?'
'Not this year.'
He sighed. 'I am not sure. Perhaps you should have eaten the fruit.'
Finduilas shook her head. 'It is not spoilt. I think I would know were that true, so it is waiting, as we wait. It is not time.'
Beregar called the children from the doorway, telling them to come get some cider. Finduilas fetched Aeluin, who was sitting under the bower with her sewing, and they all went in to refresh themselves. When they were done, Finduilas said she wished to return home and rest. Once home, she went to her room and found the bottle of powdered leaves, weighing it in her hand. It was less than it had been in the spring. She had used it freely on the sojourn. Wasted it. You did not always need to drink it. The shadow could have been borne without it. Until Laanga spoke, she had not realized how much she had hoped the Tree would grow at once. When it grows, the King will return. There will be no respite until he does. It must be soon. But what if that did not happen, either the Tree growing or the King returning? Finduilas shook the bottle gently. There was enough for a year and a half, perhaps two if she were chary with the tea. Enough for one more child.
Minas Tirith, 13 September, 2982 T.A.
'Finduilas?' Brandir peeked around the door of her study.
'Brandir, come in!' Finduilas hastened over to embrace him and lead him to a seat on the couch. 'How kind of you to visit.'
'I am not keeping you from something, am I?' he asked.
'There is nothing that will not wait while you are here,' she assured him. She poured him a cup of water and offered him tidbits from the tray on the low table before them. After the visit to Laanga's garden, Finduilas had gone to Warden Lhûn to say that she wished another child as soon as she could. Lhûn said it had been long enough since Boromir's birth, but that she must gain more flesh, which meant resting and eating much more than she had been doing. Moraen, Aeluin and Dúlin had been enlisted in this endeavor. Dúlin turned her kitchen upside down to create the most tempting and savory delicacies to appeal to her lady, collecting new recipes to prevent Finduilas's appetite from becoming jaded. Moraen would not allow her to do anything about the Lady's Grace save review a few reports. Aeluin kept the house quiet and restful, sending the children out with the Hunt to wear them out, allowing very few visitors in, and generally making sure nothing disturbed Finduilas's peace.
The result was that, after only four days, she felt stuffed and bored. Her only diversion had been seducing Denethor. It was almost as when they had been newly wed and he had not wished to touch her. From the moment he returned from his business, she was with him, giving him her attention, presenting him with what he would want before he could ask, and flirting with him at every turn. She bestowed small kisses and tender touches. Her clothes were the most provocative she had, though nothing compared to the gowns she had seen Maiaberiel wear. Denethor was not allowed to sleep apart from her, and she used her hands freely on him to rouse his desire. It did not please him, though he would not say why. It worked enough that they had mated each night, but it left Finduilas feeling shamed, for Denethor was perfunctory in his acts, breeding her quickly and turning away afterwards. By morning, he would have turned over and be holding her tightly. If she tried to kiss him or caress him, though, he would leave without a word. It would be a relief when her moon flux started in a day or two and she would have a reason to be chaste.
'I have not seen you since we returned, Brother Brandir. What have you been doing?'
'Many meetings with the Lord Steward and the ministers, for the most part,' he replied with a sweet smile. 'Though the kingdom did run without us, still there is much that has suffered in our absence.'
'Are you staying in the Tower with the Steward?'
'No. Widow Almarian was kind enough to give me a room, for I had much work to do with Aiavalë, and she had to give her attention to the archives. Staying in the same house made it easier to speak in the evenings.' Brandir laughed. 'More than once I simply dozed off on the couch in her parlor and woke there the next morning with a cat for company!'
Finduilas giggled at the thought. 'You and Lady Lore, you have been much in each other's company.'
'I like Aiavalë,' he answered simply. 'I always have. She is the most sensible of the entire family, now.' After a sip of his water, Brandir shrugged. 'She doesn't hate anymore. Not that her tongue is any less sharp!' he quickly added, 'but she no longer looks upon the world with a dark gaze.'
'It was your kindness to her that made me think well of you when we first met. I remember how you held her up during Lady Emeldir's funeral.'
'Ah. Yes, that.' Brandir looked away, face troubled. After a long silence, he shrugged and said, 'I liked Lady Emeldir, too, though she thought me a fool to marry her daughter. But I am…'
'You are no fool, Brandir.' When he opened his mouth to protest, she took his hand and placed a kiss on his cheek. 'I think Laanga is right that you are very wise in your own way.'
'Perhaps, but it is not always very useful wisdom,' he gently replied, keeping hold of her hand.
Wanting to stop this sad train of thought, Finduilas asked, 'And what besides councils have you been up to?'
'Oh, this and that. I saw to some business for a kinsman, went with Borondir to claim a share – and if that man doesn't have a secret, I don't know who does – of warehouse space for the harvest goods from the farm, and accompanied Denethor on a few…'
'Borondir has a secret? I thought he looked too pleased with himself! What is it?'
'I don't know. It is a secret and I did not wish to pry.'
The look on Brandir's face was so sincere Finduilas knew trying to get any more information was pointless. So, cousin, what is it you are hiding? Brandir's last words registered. 'You accompanied Denethor? To do what?'
'Reclaim Thorongil's house. He really isn't coming back, is he?'
When it is time. 'I don't think he will. Not openly, at least.' Finduilas paused, remembering the fight between Brandir and Denethor over Thorongil. Brandir's expression said he, too, remembered that argument. So much for pleasant converse. 'Denethor said that, after you had struck him, you wished he had gone to Umbar in Thorongil's stead.' Brandir closed his eyes and nodded. 'He said you wished him dead and Thorongil here, alive.' Brandir's face twisted in shame or pain, and he covered it with his free hand. 'Why?'
'Because my brother is Fire and we flee or are consumed.'
'Yet you return. You journeyed with us.'
'Love cannot be denied.' He dropped his hand from his face. 'And there is not enough love in the world to satisfy him. I thought that perhaps Thorongil could do so, but even he could not withstand Denethor. When I saw the fire demon rise from the waters in Umbar and stretch out his hands, raining vengeance upon the lost souls of that cursed city, I… saw Denethor.'
'You are cruel to say that of my husband.'
'No, honest. Afraid, even. Denethor would bring the very Powers to justice if he could. He would right every wrong, fulfill every oath, make good every promise. All word, no heart. For that, he needs others, and Thorongil… he had not enough heart to give.'
'It was already promised.' Brandir looked at her curiously. No, that is his secret, and I shan't say it, not even to Denethor. 'What do you mean you were reclaiming Thorongil's house?'
'Oh, that.' Brandir sounded relieved at the change of subject. 'It is for Violet, now.'
'Violet? You mean Wren and Lark's mother?'
'Denethor said this to you?' Finduilas was thoroughly confused. She knew the contempt Denethor held for his father's mistress.
'No, Violet did. He would never admit to such a thing. She told me when I went to visit her in Pelargir.' Finduilas just stared, utterly lost. 'I have known Violet a long time,' he said. 'I have always liked her.'
'Is there anyone who you don't like, Brandir?'
'Aside from myself? Not really.' He furrowed his brow, thinking. 'I did not like Isilmo, for he beat Luinmir and bragged of lying with Beri. I did not like Amlach, either.' His expression was more sheepish than shamed or angry. 'Amlach was crude enough to tell me he lay with my wife while we were guests in his house, which is why I killed him.'
'You killed him?'
'I threw him into the Umbar harbor.' Brandir sighed and let go of her hand. 'It was a despicable thing to do.' Softly, 'It did not make her love me more. I could kill them all, and that would not change.'
Finduilas could not think of anything to say to that and cast about wildly to change the subject. 'How do you know Violet?'
'When Beri and I were betrothed, she told me of helping Emeldir punish Ecthelion's mistress. She had done it to win her mother's approval, but it did not work the way she thought it would. I was worried about the woman and the two girls, so I tracked them down. Aiavalë was already caring for Lark and Wren, so that left me caring for Violet. I did not have enough to let her leave the brothel, but she seemed content to take a few coins and spend an evening talking. She is a good woman. Ecthelion was a fool to let Turgon order him to give her up.'
'But… She was a mistress. He had a wife…'
'Yes. Violet loved him and made him happy.'
'It dishonored both of them.'
'That, too. But mostly there was love. She is the only person who simply loves him and wants nothing save that. Not even for him to love her in return. For all your kindness, Finduilas, you cannot come close to that claim.'
'Boromir loves him. You do.'
'Boromir loves him in ignorance. My love is mixed. All others either flatter him or despise him. Except Thorongil. He pitied the man.' Brandir thought for a moment. 'Aiavalë pities him now, I think. But she does not love him.'
They sat silently for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Finduilas was shaken by Brandir's confirmation that he had wanted Denethor not only to go to Umbar, but to die there. "Not enough love in the world to satisfy him." This made her shiver. As when he reduces me to… She thrust away the thought, made frightened and guilty by it. Never can our hearts be disloyal to each other. He needs naught else for love. Brandir sighed and took her hand again.
'I came to say farewell, Finduilas. I have been too long away from my own house.'
'I am sorry it is not a more joyful place for you to return to.'
'I am used to it. I promised myself I would not let the new paramours get too comfortable, so it is time to throw them out for the winter.' There was no self-pity or rancor in his tone, just a calm matter-of-factness. 'I doubt I will be back before next spring, possibly not until next summer.'
'Will you write Boromir letters? He has become quite entranced by them and is sorry not to be getting them anymore.'
Brandir smiled. 'Of course I will.'
Minas Tirith, 17 September, 2982 T.A.
She had been mistaken about him. His greater years had made her believe that he must have experienced these sensations before, that he had joined his body to another's and pleasured himself, partaking of forms and acts more exotic than she could offer. But his motions were awkward, his touch tentative, even as he commanded her surrender. The wonder on his face as he moved within her stripped away years and care, making him once more younger than the dawn, finding a light older and stronger than the sun with each press of flesh. She should have known he would never forgive her for seeing him weep afterwards, his pride and power surrendered to her. To possess her was to reclaim himself.
It was rare that she could elude him. No door could be locked between them. If she left his sight, his creatures dogged her steps and watched her jealously. His hatred of Elendil's heir increased all the more when he found that the man had laid a hand upon her, even though the touch had been chaste. When she was returned to his power, she thought he would mate her there on the floor before the throne, caring not for those who might see, so wild was he to remove the traces of another's touch. Even after he had exhausted her body with his demands, making her swoon, he stalked her dreams.
'Leave me be!'
'I love you.' She tried to ignore the voice. 'You did this to me. Made me love you.' She could hear his steps coming closer. 'You are wrong not to love me.'
'You disgust me.' But that was not entirely true. She was drawn to him. He was beautiful. He was powerful. His form melded to hers when they touched. Even when she tried to make herself indifferent, a bitch being bred by the dog that happened along, he drew her out, made her gasp and writhe. 'No more.'
The door creaked open. She knew how he looked as he walked, elegant and dangerous, all long limbs and deadly grace. 'Sleeping?' he whispered. She shivered, wanted to pull the blanket over her head, but found herself turning her face up towards the sound. His fingers traced her cheek and her eyes fluttered. 'Wake up, sleepy head. It's day time and I've come to see you.' A gentle kiss was placed on her brow.
Finduilas opened her eyes and gazed up into Sauron's face, a few inches from her own. He's here! He found me! She screamed and lashed out at him, sending him staggering backwards. He's here! Her terror gave her strength and speed, and she flung herself over the back of the couch and onto the floor, frantic to escape. Behind her, something crashed. 'Away, Fiend!' she cried as she scrambled for the door of her study. She heard feet pounding up and down the stairs. Anárion skidded in the door, his sea grass crown studded with amber and pearls, and came to kneel beside her.
'Finduilas! It's me! Imrahil!'
Finduilas stared at Denethor in confusion while others crowded the doorway. The crown became a trick of light, reflections from the windows. He helped her stand. On the other side of the overturned couch, Imrahil sat in the midst of a broken table and the remains of her afternoon repast, his face pale. Gingerly he picked himself up out of the wreckage.
'What happened?' Denethor's words were as sharp and cold as he himself had been the last week.
'It is my fault, brother,' Imrahil sheepishly said. 'Finduilas was asleep and I startled her. She woke with a shout and I fell on the table.'
'Are either of you hurt?' When they shook their heads, Denethor turned on his heel and walked off, returning to his study. Aeluin took charge of the mess, getting Borthand and Hunthor to put the couch back on its feet and take away the ruined table, while Mírwen and Nellas picked up the spilled food and broken crockery and Damnir brought water and rags to mop away whatever spilled. The study was soon back to rights.
Finduilas sat on the couch, shamed and shaken. Imrahil gestured to the seat next to her. 'May I?' She nodded. He sat and held out an arm, inviting her to curl up against him.
'I'm sorry.' It was all she could say.
'Me, too. I didn't mean to scare you.'
'What dream did I walk into, sister?' Finduilas froze. Imrahil leaned back and took her by the shoulders making her look at him. His face was like Angelimir's, except untouched by age and perfectly beautiful. She began to shake. Imrahil did not try to comfort her. 'You may fool Mother with your falsehoods, but not me. I know these dreams. Who were you looking at?'
'Sauron. You look alike. I thought he had finally found a way to seize me.'
Imrahil drew her back into an embrace and held her tightly until her shaking subsided. 'In Ithilien, two summers ago, and in Anórien, a year past, he nearly did, yes?'
'My dreams are not just true. They are real. I dream of Míriel, the last queen of Númenor, and I become her. I walked on Númenor, seeking something. He watched and sent dark creatures to seize her. Me. I thought he had come through my dream to claim me at last.'
Imrahil's gaze was bright and piercing. 'Why would he do that?'
'I think… he loved her. He wants her back. I have seen drawings of her. We look much alike.'
'What were you seeking?'
'I can't tell you. But I found it.'
He stood abruptly and began slowly pacing the room. 'What else have you found?'
'The king.' The words were out before she could think better of it.
'He showed me proof. Denethor accepted my word.'
'And I still dream of a burning man from the south.' Her brother frowned. 'That was the point of Umbar, then. Denethor gave him a way to claim the crown with an incomparable victory, a deed greater than anything since Umbardacil himself.' Imrahil laughed sharply. 'I should know better than to underestimate Denethor.'
'We were ready for him to make a claim. Perhaps not openly, but to us. I think he knew.'
'And why wouldn't he claim it?' She shrugged. 'You know more.'
'You were glad he left.'
'At the time. Now…' Imrahil sighed and came back to sit beside her. 'Baragund is a good man, but not a leader. Denethor can't be risked in battle.' He gave her a rueful smile. 'They were a good team, even as they contested.'
'But they did not reckon with Umbar. And whatever else you are hiding.'
The talk of war in the south made her remember the season ahead. 'When do you leave for Pelargir?'
'Tomorrow. I came to speak to Denethor and to see you.'
'And I scream at you and knock you into the furniture.'
That made Imrahil laugh. 'Well, I do like being the center of attention, but preferably with fewer bruises!'
In unspoken agreement, they did not talk again of their dreams, but of other things – Boromir's new bed, letters from their parents, some misadventure Imrahil and Borthand had got themselves into, rumors about Lord so-and-so or Lady thus-and-such. After a while, Boromir and Beregar returned from their afternoon ride and nothing would do save for uncle and nephew to wrestle and do their best to break the rest of the furniture in the room. Moraen appeared just before supper, fresh with gossip from the fifth circle. She greeted Imrahil and Boromir the same – ruffling their hair and bestowing a sisterly kiss on a cheek – and proceeded to ignore them, treating them like overgrown puppies on the floor. Finduilas tried not to be irked at the woman presuming on their company. Imrahil does not seem to mind, after all. At some point, Moraen remembered that Imrahil was not an idle youth, but a man with responsibilities.
'Imrahil, you are soon to go to Pelargir, yes?'
He looked up from where he sat helping Boromir build a block castle. 'On the morrow.'
'Morvorin sent me a letter saying he wished to join the autumn campaign.'
'Yes, he sent one also to Captain Baragund. We are pleased by his offer of archers.'
'But he says he will go himself to these battles. Please, Imrahil,' she asked, 'will you do something for me?'
'Anything for you.'
'Will you look after my brother and keep him out of harm's way?'
'I will do my best, Moraen. Lord Morvorin is a headstrong fellow, after all.'
Borondir and Aiavalë came for supper, having heard that Imrahil was to leave the next day. Denethor was almost genial, though he listened more than he spoke. Boromir won a promise from Imrahil that he would write letters from Pelargir. Imrahil teased and amused as was his wont, not satisfied until he had made both Aiavalë and Moraen blush with his flirting. The women retreated with Aeluin to Finduilas' room to sew until bedtime while then men sat with Denethor in his study.
Finduilas wished she could be there instead. Since her moon flux began four days ago, she had not even slept beside Denethor. That is when her dreams had started again, too, equally divided between haunting by the demon and longing for Denethor, seeing him in their secret place as though he walked in the wilds and did not lie on the other side of the wall. He wore a robe of scales and his hair was plaited with seaweed. Across his chest were claw marks from some great beast. She used her feathers to try to sop up the blood that oozed from the edges of the wounds. Finduilas still did not know what she had done to anger him. Tonight, though, she did not see who kissed her or whose hands stroked her body. Sometimes the cheek against her own was smooth, sometimes bearded, and the hands felt the same.
Minas Tirith, 22 September, 2982 T.A.
Boromir was tucked into bed, sound asleep. He had not tried to sneak into hers since his room had been changed. Finduilas kissed her son's brow and went to her own room. Denethor had not come to her bed in almost as long, and was now hiding in his study. Finduilas was becoming steadily angrier with him over this state of affairs, and did not much care about the reason for his reluctance. I have done nothing to deserve this coldness, husband. Her flux had ended two days before, as he well knew, yet he kept away. Finduilas brushed out her hair until it was silken. You may have foresworn pleasure, but you may not deny me my due. She took her time stripping off her clothes, washing away the day's grime and sweat with some water warmed at the hearth, and pulled on the beautiful robe Morwen had given her two years before when she had summoned them to her house. Finduilas had not worn it since. Given what Brandir had said about Violet and the house, she guessed that wearing Morwen's gift might have a strong effect. She finished by pulling her hair up loosely, leaving the nape of her neck exposed. Let me see you resist this.
Denethor sat on the floor near her chair before the hearth, a small stack of papers next to him and the cat in his lap. A single lamp burned nearby, casting long shadows about the room. His gaze took her all in as she shut the door behind her before he fixed his eyes on the paper before him. She could tell he was not reading. Finduilas walked over and took her seat, her bare legs stretching out beside him. His shoulders were so taut they trembled slightly and she could see a flush creeping up his neck. She licked her forefinger and ran it behind his ear. Denethor lurched to his feet and stumbled away, hand clapped over the spot she had touched. The cat scuttled into the alcove. When he turned to face her, his expression was a mix of disgust and desire.
'Why are women so eager to be whores?'
So that is it. 'Perhaps because our men are so quick to see us as such.'
'I do not!'
Finduilas leaned back in her chair and stretched, letting the robe part in lovely ways. She heard his breath catch. 'Are you not now calling me a whore?'
'You are… behaving whorishly.'
'No.' She dropped her seductive manner and glared at him. 'That would mean I allow you to purchase my consent and my forgiveness. Not even you can command either of me. I act as it pleases me.'
'You are a queen and should behave as one! Not, not, that!' He motioned at her.
'And your sullen discourtesy of the last few weeks is how you think to bring a queen to heel?' Finduilas stood and sauntered over to his desk, letting him watch her hips move under the silk. Hitching a hip on the edge of the desk, she said, 'A queen? Perhaps, but most certainly a wife and I have done naught but try to please you.' Denethor came closer. 'Do you truly take so little pleasure in me?'
'Too much.' His voice was a whisper, making her strain to hear him, and he kept his eyes on the floor. 'Pleases me too much. I will not treat my wife like that.'
'Wrong things. Why men go to whores.'
'You wish to harm me?' He shook his head. 'Hurt me? Cause me pain, as you did once before?'
'No!' Denethor dropped to his knees, hands over his face. 'Never.'
'Then how do you wrong me?'
He crept forward, hiding his face. The sight of him abject before her was satisfying after his days of coldness. 'Wrong things. Obscene... things.'
'How do you know them obscene? Have you done them?' He shook his head. Finduilas remembered a few of the lascivious books she had found in his archive room. 'Read about them, did you?' Denethor let his hands drop, but kept his face averted. 'And what has the most learned man in Gondor researched?' He shrugged. 'Like what?'
'Like touching your mouth…' He gestured towards his crotch.
'But you like that.'
'Too much,' he muttered. 'It is… bestial.'
All his rules. Finduilas sighed to herself. They did not make sense, and half of them he could not keep. Ah, then give him rules he can obey. 'Come here.' Finduilas pointed to the floor before her. When he knelt before her, she raised a foot and touched him under his chin, making him look up at her. There was no hiding the bulge in his trousers. 'I am your queen?'
Denethor gazed up into her eyes as he had after their flight from Númenor, his face filled with devotion and awe. 'Yes. I am yours, utterly.'
'Then here is the Queen's Law to rule your desires.' She ran fingers lightly over the robe where it clung to her breast. 'When I wear this, you may fulfill one desire, unless I forbid you. And when I wear this, I shall do with you as I please.' Finduilas leaned down and slapped him sharply, throwing him off balance. 'That is for your ill-temper of late.'
Denethor righted himself and kissed her hand. 'Thank you, my queen.'
'You have left me in want for days. Please me.' He scrambled forward to place himself between her legs. She closed her eyes and leaned back on the desk at his familiar touch. Kisses as soft as the night air graced her inner thighs as his hands caressed her legs. Remembering from the last time, she raised a leg and placed it over his shoulder, letting him tuck the other under his arm. His ministrations roused her, but did not drain her this time so she abandoned herself to the sensation. For a fleeting moment, there was a weight upon her, a cold, furious stare. Míriel should have slapped you and made you kneel. You would have, too. The watcher retreated with a snarl to his lair, but his avid gaze remained upon them. Soon, Denethor used his fingers upon her as well as his tongue, and she moaned and twisted to show her approval. Her head swam, and the desk beneath her became the stone floor of the secret place, the roaring in her ears the sound of the waterfall, and she knew that the mariner had shielded them from the Fiend's malevolent jealousy. Her feathers hung loosely, sliding down to leave her shoulders bare and gems beaded on his brow and at the edge of his hair. Finduilas sank into the rising swell, borne up by it, letting it carry her up and forward and more quickly until the crest broke and she was thrown to the stone floor, the fall cushioned by her lover's arms.
When she returned to herself, Denethor had his arms around her, his head laid on her belly. The Sea lay between her hip bones. The mariner sat in Denethor's chair before the hearth, his back to them, and he whittled something, the shavings falling at his bare bony feet. She ignored him. As she straightened up, Denethor stood. Finduilas stood also, pulling the robe back over her shoulders but not belting it. 'And what is your desire, my lord?'
'Shall I not forego that wish in penance for my ill-temper?'
'Oh no, I shan't fall for your tricks,' she warned. Finduilas ran a slow hand up his inner thigh until she found his erection and fondled him. 'This should not be wasted,' she said. 'Show me what you want.'
'To breed you.' He took her by the shoulders and turned her towards the desk, and ran his hands down her arms. When he reached her wrists, Denethor gripped them firmly and made her reach forward to grasp the edge of the desk. 'Like this. Like…' His crotch was pressed into her rump. He straightened up, pulling his hands swiftly along her arms, body, and down her thighs, then back up, catching the bottom edge of the robe and pulling up over her bent back, leaving her legs and bottom bare. A few moments later, she saw his clothes tossed into a heap to the side of the desk.
Denethor took a step back and ran his hands over her rump and haunches, trailing his fingers up the insides of her thighs. He was breathing hard, almost panting, and making soft sounds in his throat, part groan, part whimper. He put a foot against the inside of hers and pressed outwards, making her spread her legs. A nudge with the other foot made her even up her stance.
Finduilas braced herself, ready for his thrust, then nearly jumped as he touched her with his fingers, not his cock. A hand slipped forward, finding her nub and rubbed it firmly until she gasped and bucked, while the other hand played with her in some way, sometimes slipping into her, sometimes stroking the exposed flesh. It was minutes before his hands moved to her hipbones and his thighs brushed against her own. His cock rubbed against her inner thighs, moved higher, and pressed against her furrow. Ever so slowly, rigid flesh parted soft folds, inching its way in, while Denethor shook and whimpered, his fingers digging powerfully into her skin. There would be bruises tomorrow. When his full length was in her, Denethor lay across her back, panting. He rubbed his face against her back and nipped her, then bit more sharply, grinding his hips against her rump.
With a moan, Denethor pulled completely out of her, then began his slow entry again. She could feel him lean back to press more thoroughly into her. His moans were guttural. A rhythm began to emerge in his measured motions, his hips gaining speed as he thrust in and pulled away. He pulled away less as his hips moved more quickly and sharply against her, until he was pressed closely, jerking hard and fast. He leaned across her back and pounded his cock into her, biting and clawing her in his last frenzy, the force of his thrusts almost lifting her feet from the ground.
They sank to the ground before the desk, Finduilas cradled in his lap and lay there, panting. She thought she heard the mariner chuckle. After a few minutes, they stood and helped each other back to the alcove. Denethor made her stop and removed the robe before she went behind the screen. He sat against the headboard and held her against his chest, leaving gentle, lingering kisses on her face and neck. It felt good to be home once more. Finduilas wondered how long Denethor had held this desire in his heart. It did not seem so terrible to her, certainly not obscene.
'Did your wish please you as you hoped?'
He was still for several heartbeats. 'Beyond.'
'More than you hoped? Why?'
He shifted a bit to reach down and pull a sheet over the two of them. Finduilas snuggled against his chest, ready to wait him out until she had her answer. It was several minutes before he spoke. 'I could see myself… enter you.' Denethor shivered and hugged her more tightly. 'It's not the right days, I know, not yet, but I watched and wanted… I kept thinking I could see myself get a child on you. Not just feel it.' His hand cupped her breast and he nuzzled her hair. 'You are so beautiful. All of you.' After a few kisses, he softly asked, 'And you? Did it offend you?'
'No, I was not offended.' And you were driven half mad by it. Finduilas knew she was going to ache tomorrow from the bruises, but it was a small enough penalty to have uncovered this desire. Now, how to make use of it? 'It is not unnatural, I think, but it is base.'
'Oh. If it does not…'
'I did not mind it, for you had pleased me well. You may ask it of me again.' This earned her a long kiss. Finduilas touched his cheek and spoke honestly. 'Though I allow it, friend, I prefer to see your face when you lie with me.'
'As you wish.'
She relaxed against his chest again, savoring his touch. It was like water on a parched throat. One of the lamps in the room guttered out. The robe distorted the outline of the screen and beyond was the sound of a pocketknife's snick as it trimmed wood. Looking at the robe, Finduilas was reminded of a recent conversation about a whore. You should go to sleep, goose. Curiosity got the better of her.
'Brandir said you are giving Thorongil's house to Violet.'
'To Lark, actually. Violet wishes it given to Lark.'
'You spoke to Lark in Pelargir?' Denethor had been to the archives several times.
'No. To Violet. I had questions, so I paid a call. The answers were worse than I could imagine.'
'What did you ask?'
'Thorongil was right. This traffic in souls is evil.'
'Evil? I'll grant you it is wicked…'
'He bought Violet from Morwen when she was barely more than a child so he could despoil a virgin.' Denethor's voice was thick with revulsion and his hands gripped Finduilas tightly. 'She was captured, like Brandir, a tender heart enslaved, all so he could have his indulgence. When she became inconvenient, he could not even see to her protection, but allowed her to be cast into the street, then told her that I had ordered it done. So I gave her back the house to do with as she pleased. She would accept nothing else.' He growled and slumped back, relaxing his grip, which was a good thing because it was starting to hurt. 'And still, she loves him! What has he done to earn that?'
Finduilas knew if she thought on this long enough, she could tease out the connections between Violet's love and Denethor's avoidance of it, but it was getting late and her mind wished to rest. 'He has done nothing that I know of, and now has only his own lonely soul for company. That was earned through his cruelty.' With a yawn, she wiggled down the bed until she could lie flat.
Denethor scooted next to her. She nestled against him with a contented sigh. His fingers brushed her cheek. 'I'm sorry, Alquallë.'
I want to sleep. 'Sorry?'
'For being a beast to you.'
'You're forgiven.' Now sleep.
'I've missed you,' he whispered.
Very well, if you are not going to let me sleep until you have confessed all your faults… She knew her next words were manipulative, but that did not make them less true. 'And I, you, love. The gaze weighs upon me more heavily when you are not here.' He wrapped himself around her in a protective embrace. 'I think you a guard against bad dreams.'
'You have been dreaming?' His tone was alarmed.
'Yes, since you have been apart from me. When Imrahil frightened me, I was in a dream that the Enemy approached Míriel. Imrahil touched my cheek to wake me, and I thought him the other, so real was the dream.'
'I left you unguarded,' Denethor whispered. 'Not again. I swear.'
Weariness and lovemaking eventually caught up with them, and they succumbed to sleep. Just as she drifted off, Finduilas heard the chair by the hearth creak as the mariner stood. There was a soft sound of something being swept. He padded over to the remaining lamp in the study and blew it out, then let himself out the door. Under her fingers, she could just feel the slender scar he had placed on Denethor's chest.