Finduilas POV - 3 of 4
In which the Warden gets testy, the Monster gets her way, the Quartermaster gets an ultimatum, the Prince gets a new grandchild, and the Steward gets what he wants.
Minas Tirith, 25 October, 2982 T.A.
The news of Lord Morvorin's death was a cause for much sorrow, for the exuberant lord had endeared himself to all who met him. Many came to the Stewards House to offer their condolences to Moraen until Finduilas forbade any more visitors. Moraen herself had been given the news by Denethor a few minutes after he had told Finduilas. The woman asked no questions and did not weep, but had spoken scarcely a dozen words since then. This morning, they stood on a dock in the Harlond waiting for the horses to be lowered to a barge bound for Pelargir. A boat was due to leave shortly thereafter to take mourners to the port city where they would form a funeral procession for Morvorin. They would travel to Linhir and then up to Ethring upon the roads the young lord had championed.
Finduilas stood on the dock with her arms around Moraen. She wished that she could go with her to Ethring, but could not risk traveling now. Borondir stood to Moraen's other side, his hand resting on the small of her back, fingers gently trying to rub the extreme tension from her frame. As soon as he had heard the news, he said he would go to Ethring. Ecthelion and Denethor both agreed that Borondir was a good choice to represent the Steward. Finduilas knew he would be a comfort to all three women so suddenly bereft – Moraen, Luinmir and Anna.
The animals were soon loaded and secured, and their barge was poled out into Anduin's current. A passenger boat was brought up to the docks, the dock hands efficiently tying it up and moving at once to store the travelers' packs. Also bound for Linhir was a small heavy chest holding coins, gems and ingots of gold and silver, wergild for Morvorin to Luinmir. Denethor finished speaking to the boat's captain and came over to Moraen, taking her hands. 'The vessel will leave soon and the captain has assured me the journey will be swift. The horses will be to Pelargir by morning.' Moraen nodded, not raising her eyes from the dark waters. 'Moraen, you are as dear as a daughter of my own house. Is there anything else you would have of me?'
'No. Thank you.'
Denethor kissed her brow and stepped out of the way. When it came time for passengers to board, the other nobles waited respectfully for Moraen to go first. Borondir went ahead and helped her down the ladder to the deck. Not long afterwards, the captain called out for the lines to be cast and the rowers to take their places. Finduilas waited until it went out of sight before sighing and turning away. Denethor kept an arm about her as they returned to the horses. It was a sedate walk back to the City, Gull placing her feet gently to avoid jostling her rider. Finduilas had told the mare that she was with child before they set out, and Gull had nuzzled her to assure her that no harm would come to her or the babe.
The joy of yáviérë vanished with the sad news from the battlefield, leaving the City solemn. Flowers vanished from flower boxes and leaves dropped like tears from trees and vines. The wind was cold, now, all hint of summer's warmth fled. Boromir was not there when they reached the Stewards House. 'He was sad that Lady Moraen and Lord Borondir were going away,' Aeluin told them as she and Dúlin put together a tray of tea to take upstairs, 'so we sent him with Hunthor to attend the Lord Steward. That will cheer them both.' Beregar carried the tray for them to Denethor's study. Denethor instructed him to turn away all visitors for the day and to allow only messengers in. Finduilas fetched her special powder, mixing a full measure of the tea into the mug. It was an extravagant use of the precious mixture, but nothing less would left the weight on her heart. Denethor sat at her feet with his basket of reports, his back against her legs.
The later reports from Poros had been better than expected; though Khand had forced a crossing for an hour, they had not been able to advance more than a few dozen yards beyond the northern bank. The recent rain had caused the Poros to rise, for the desiccated hills and rocky crags of Ephel Dúath had resisted the water's touch, allowing the rain to drain into the river. Baragund's reluctance to send too many forward became more sensible when that was taken into account. The river was treacherous to cross for friend as well as foe, and it did much of the defenders' fighting for them. The bulk of Khand's forces had been trapped in the cold rushing stream and many were slain or drowned. The fisher folk of the Ethir reported that Anduin was tinged red near the confluence with the Poros and that their nets brought up men and horses and even the occasional camel. Another of Borondir's tasks was to confer with Baragund and Imrahil on the morrow in Pelargir and advise on the collection and distribution of the battlefield spoils.
After a while, Denethor set aside the reports and rested his chin on his drawn up knees, staring at the coals in the grate. Finduilas stroked his hair. 'What are you thinking of, friend?'
'That I have need of the palantír.' She wondered if he could See guilt in her. 'That this was a poor victory.' He leaned back to glance up at her. 'That the matter of Ethring must be decided, and quickly. Lord Duinmir is an ambitious man, though one with honor.'
Finduilas sighed. 'An infant lord. Those who are not ambitious will be worried. Dervorin was a sturdy baby last summer, but…'
'…children die,' Denethor quietly finished. 'A steward must be found for Ethring.'
'One already exists. Luinmir will defend her son and his interests like a wolf,' Finduilas sharply answered. 'I doubt there is another in all Gondor who is better suited to ordering a peaceful trading center than she. Duinmir's ambition…'
'I doubt the lords of the area will accept a twice widowed woman of uncertain lineage as their liege, even if she is their lord's mother.'
'They would if you and Father stood squarely behind her.'
'Duinmir will not stand for closer ties between Ethring and Dol Amroth. Calembel will be wrested from Ethring's influence if he thinks that is to happen. He wishes to unite the vales against the coast.'
Finduilas snorted. 'And just where does he think to send his goods if not down the rivers to Edhellond? This is an old argument between falas and mountain, and the mountain always loses.'
'Not with good roads from Erech to Linhir.'
'And Linhir is wed to Dol Amroth. Lord Angrist has as little use for Duinmir as Luinmir.'
'Luinmir must have a steward if she is to rule. And there must be an indisputable heir if… the worst should befall Lord Dervorin.'
They sat silently for a few minutes while Finduilas considered Denethor's argument. 'It will not work, prince. I have tried for two years.'
'There is no other choice acceptable to the Steward. Or to me.'
'Is that why you were so quick to send Borondir?'
'No. It was he who came to us, but once said, it was obvious. Borondir must wed Moraen as soon as possible…'
'Borondir said he intended this?'
Denethor shook his head. 'No. All he asked was to journey to Ethring. After he left, I began to speak, but the Steward had already decided. For once, we concur. Borondir is completely trustworthy, he will keep Ethring independent of both Morthond and Dol Amroth, and he will ensure that the central lands remain obedient to Minas Tirith.'
'Neither will agree to this, Denethor. There is no love between them.'
'That does not matter. They have both had years in which to find a love. Perhaps they need a reason to look for love in each other, even as Beregar and Aeluin have found.' Denethor sighed and took her hand, resting his cheek against it. 'I am not uncaring of them, Alquallë, but I need to care for Gondor first.' He was quiet for a time, then spoke softly, 'I failed in that care with this battle, prince.'
His words made her think of another battle, the one in Osgiliath when Dragon Fire was first unleashed and fortune seemed to turn against them. Only his own will could release him from his judgment, and it would take a long argument to make him see reason. 'And how have you failed?'
'I left too much to chance.' His eyes strayed towards the Tower, and she knew he was thinking of the palantír. 'Our spies and scouts should have done more. The foe drew too close to…'
'Did you not have your Captain-General commanding this battle? I seem to recall that he has done battle – and well – upon the plains below Poros before, though the enemy was Harad, not Khand.'
'And it is for him to gather word of the foe.'
'I should have gone there. None are so…'
'Experienced as you? I will grant that, but how else are others to learn? You are to be Steward, not Captain-General, and I will be selfish and be glad that it was Baragund and not you who was wounded.'
'Cirion led Gondor in battle.'
Finduilas made her voice dry. 'And nearly was it his end until some wild men rode out of the north and we are stuck with them to this day.' That made Denethor snort. She touched his cheek so he would look at her again. 'Is that what you wish, prince? To be a warrior? I thought you aspired to greater things.'
'No, to the greatest things. To be worthy of you and of Gondor.' The grim mask left his face, leaving his heart bare. There was such want in his gaze, as simple and unyielding as Boromir's wish to give Halmir a letter, and she was glad she had drunk the mug of tea, for his need drained her. I am not what you imagine me to be. 'That and nothing else. Nothing less.'
'I have seen you return from battle and never wish to see that again. Order them, yes, but leave the conduct of war to your captains. Gondor may need no mercenaries, but her Steward has need of his sworn men. They, too, would be worthy of Gondor. I did not fall in love with a man of war. I spurned such a one, a captain and king, for you.'
Denethor sighed and bowed his head. 'As you command, my queen.' When he straightened, his face wore its usual stern expression. 'But still there is a great fault to lay before me and that was allowing that idiot Rider to go to Poros.'
'On that I will agree, prince,' Finduilas crisply said. 'You have known for long that he is headstrong and thoughtless. Baragund commanded Pelargir and oversaw him during his service at Poros ere Umbar, and should also have known the danger of placing him where his failure would bring harm to Gondor.'
'So, you think we have both failed?' Denethor wryly asked.
'Yes, I do, and Théoden as well for not keeping this wayward man to heel. And where is Éomund, anyway?'
Denethor growled and stood to pace. 'Gone. Fled. As soon as he knew of Baragund's wrath, he gathered his men and hastened up the Ithilien road to Osgiliath. Anbar let him pass without challenge, for he bore swift news of the battles and spoke naught of his own treachery. He went up the river road and straight across Anórien past the garrison. To Marlong he only bragged of victory and said he must now return to guard his own people, now that he had come to the aid of Gondor.'
'Has word been sent to Théoden?'
'Not yet. I wished to give Éomund time to spread his boasts.' He went to his desk and sat, removing the cat and laying out pen and paper. Finduilas settled into her chair, content to wait until he was done. She stared into the grate, letting her vision blur as she looked upon the glowing coals. She knew Denethor disliked waiting upon others while great deeds loomed, distrusting anyone's judgment save his own. And perhaps you wish to reclaim your usurped title, in deed if not in name, with a great victory that requires neither Fire nor Thorongil. The fireplace's warmth combined with the tea to make her sleepy. It was a long time before she heard the pen scratch upon paper. The strokes were distinct, crisp, with no pauses for reflection or doubt. In the chair opposite, the mariner sighed softly. Beware the desire to punish, child. Finduilas nodded, watching the coals glimmer like the waters of Cobas Haven in the sunset.
'Alquallë?' Denethor was standing next to her chair, a letter in his hand. 'The last time I wrote to Théoden, I did so without your counsel.' He offered the letter. 'I would not commit that folly again.'
She took the letter. 'Yes, friend, I will read it.' Denethor sat in his now-empty chair, watching her closely. There was little on the page.
25 October, 2982
Théoden, son of Thengel
King of the Mark
Near the crossings of Poros stands Haudh in Gwanûr, where your great uncles, Folcred and Fastred, were laid in reverence by my great grandfather, Lord Steward Túrin, for their unyielding defense of the ford.
Before his kinsmen's grave, Éomund of Rohan betrayed them and darkened the honor of the Mark. He abandoned men to die defending passage of the river, seeking only his own glory.
To the Lady Luinmir of Ethring, a rich wergild has been sent for the loss of her husband, Lord Morvorin. He and his archers stood their ground, bereft of the guard that Éomund had sworn to provide, until they were overwhelmed.
Éomund's life is forfeit for the loss of Lord Morvorin should he set foot in Gondor again.
Denethor, son of Ecthelion
High Warden of Gondor
Finduilas wavered. It was a harsh judgment, but not unjust. Even so, the rebuke would be a bitter cup for the young king. Too much. She looked at Denethor, and bit back her words. Another foreigner has failed you, taking the lives of your people. Denethor would punish himself for that failing more thoroughly than any other would dare to do. Let another feel that sting, knowing he has failed in his rule. 'Yes. Send it.'
Minas Tirith, 2 November, 2982 T.A.
"Would you come see me before dinner? We have not spoken for too long."
Once Boromir was safely ensconced with Borondir for his figures lesson, Finduilas pulled on her mantle and set out for the Tower, a basket of sweets from Adanel over her arm. Denethor was conferring with Anbar and Gethron down in the first circle garrison, having left reluctantly, and would return for dinner, but there was time for a visit with the Steward before he returned. She felt a small pang of guilt for having failed to give Ecthelion a single thought in the last few weeks.
He greeted her warmly and sent for fresh tea to have with the sweets. His frailty reminded her of her grandfather in his last year, and she realized that she had grown fond of her father-in-law despite his trespasses, and was dismayed at the thought of losing him. For a while they spoke of Boromir and the preparations for the coming Yuletide festival. 'I fear this year will be a somber one, overshadowed by the loss of Lord Morvorin,' she sighed.
Ecthelion sighed as well. 'It was a terrible thing. I enjoyed that young man's company. It gladdened me that Luinmir wed him, and now I grieve for her.' He swirled his tea in his mug, the lines in his face deepening. 'And I cannot offer her a father's comfort, only a lord's condolences.' Ecthelion looked at her with a pleading expression. 'Will you tell me of my daughters, how they fare? I have heard naught in too long.'
'Of course I will.' Finduilas poured more tea for them both. 'You see Aiavalë all the time, so I need not…'
'She wears a ring on her right hand. Has she wed?' He ducked his head and muttered, 'I haven't dared to ask.'
'She was wed to my father's captain of ships, Îbal, for a short while. He was slain in Umbar.'
'She wed on one of her journeys to Dol Amroth, then?'
'On one of her journeys, yes,' Finduilas hedged. 'Though brief, I believe it was a joyful union.' Ecthelion smiled and motioned for her to continue, eager for the news. 'The sweets we share are from Adanel's kitchen. The Messenger's Rest is now the most prosperous tavern in Minas Tirith. Oh, Beregar and Aeluin expect another child in the spring, probably April.'
'And what of yourself, daughter? Do you still think you will have a child next year?'
Finduilas smiled. 'I am certain I am already carrying a child.' Ecthelion exclaimed in joy and stiffly rose from his chair to kiss her brow. 'Mid-summer, Warden Lhûn says. That is when the babe will come.'
'And I shall be sure to live that long,' he answered, beaming.
'You must be silent on this, though! I wish to wait until mettarë to announce it. I will be past any dangers by then.'
'I shall, I promise! What of Primrose and her girls?'
'More business than she can take care of! One of the girls will be a master jeweler like her mother, but I think the rest have wed other tradesmen. Primrose bought much from the Dwarves last year and has spent her time puzzling out their secrets.' The goldsmith had ransacked the archives for all mention of techniques and formulas that might explain the Dwarven pieces. Finduilas hesitated before saying, 'I know not what Maiaberiel is up to.'
'No good, no doubt,' he answered, sounding and looking exactly like Denethor. Her spell on you has broken, or perhaps it is just that your love has become more honest. 'Brandir writes and I have reports of western Anórien.' He chuckled mirthlessly. 'I may not like the business of being Steward, but I do pay attention, no matter what Denethor thinks.' Ecthelion dropped his eyes. 'And what of my other daughter in Anórien?'
'Wren is content. She loves Captain Marlong much and their son even more. She sent me a letter the other day saying she intends to come to Minas Tirith for Yule with Mab and stay through the Great Council. Lark will come upriver and join her.'
'Lark has two children now, yes?'
'Oh yes! I saw them in August. A girl, Merilin and a boy, Hirgon, both big and strong. She will bring them and Bard for Yule. And Violet.'
Ecthelion's gaze sharpened and his eyes were cold. Finduilas refused to look away, though she knew her cheeks had reddened. 'I keep forgetting how cruel you can be, Finduilas. Is that how you bear Denethor, by matching his hard heart?'
'Sometimes, yes, but now I was simply being honest. I did not wish you taken by surprise.' He snorted and retreated behind his mug. 'You know of Luinmir and her sorrow.'
'How old is the baby boy?'
'Dervorin will be two years old this month.' The Steward made no answer and they sat in silence for several minutes.
'Laanga was right,' Ecthelion said quietly, looking into the cheerful fire in the hearth. 'I should have gone last summer. All those months, lost. I could have held another grandson, had days warm and indolent with Boromir, and looked upon Gondor a final time.' He shrugged. 'Denethor would not have allowed it.'
'I think he would have. Boromir wished it, and he cannot say no to the boy. Though I am glad for it, it was a wearying trip for me. It made Denethor very happy. Indeed, for much of it, he was as I have never seen him before, carefree and with a very gentle heart.'
'Really? I would not know that man.' Ecthelion's tone was wistful. 'I wish you believed that I want Denethor to be happy, even as I wanted him humbled in times past.' The Steward gave her a wry look. 'A little humbling now would not do him harm, either, but he has earned his pride. You know, he and Boromir are nothing alike.'
'How do you mean?'
'I cannot remember Denethor ever smiling as a child.' Finduilas thought of a small chapbook, full of illustrations of a mischievous boy. His smiles were not for you. 'He was always solemn. Always measuring, judging.' The Steward's face brightened. 'No matter where we walk in the City, other children flock to Boromir. It exhausts me just to watch! Even the older ones heed him and they all wish for him to call them friend.'
'He is a gregarious fellow and charms all whom he meets.'
'A leader. Not a ruler. Denethor did not allow the other children to be friends with him. He called upon them when he needed them. They feared him, I think.' Ecthelion sighed. 'He is the ruler necessary for these dark times. I fear for my grandson.'
Minas Tirith, 18 November, 2982 T.A.
It was a season of sorrow. In the same week that Morvorin was laid to rest among the tombs of his forefathers, Widow Almarian breathed her last. Finduilas shivered despite her warm mantle, and it was not just from the chill gusts off the slopes of Mindolluin. There was too much death amidst the plenty of the year. Denethor pulled her closer to him as they walked behind Almarian's family towards the crypts at the end of Rath Dínen. The Kings, Stewards and other great houses had tombs upon the road or on the back lanes, but most of the City either placed their dead in the crypts to molder until only their bones remained to be gathered and placed in chests, or else cremated them near the Harlond, the ashes given to Anduin to bear to the Sea or collected in simple urns. Even upon the Pelennor, the farmers preferred to bring their dead to Minas Tirith than to bury them.
After her body had been placed on its ledge in the crypt, the mourners returned to her house for food and drink and to remember her. Every one of her four children and eleven grandchildren had at least one tender tale to tell of her, and her neighbors and friends provided dozens more so that by the end most were smiling and raising their cups in toast to her.
Aiavalë came back to the Stewards House for the afternoon to teach Boromir the lesson missed in the morning due to the funeral. A message awaited Denethor when they arrived, asking him to attend the Steward. This left Finduilas on her own for the afternoon. With a sigh, Finduilas gathered the reports for the Lady's Grace and began her work. With both Moraen and Borondir gone, it was great task to oversee the City. She had learned to rely on Haleth for news about the warehouses. The woman knew not only about the goods in her own caverns, but collected information from other warehouse masters to provide to the Lady. Every few days, Finduilas walked the lower circles with Beregar and a few guardsmen so she would know by her own ears how the City fared. Denethor did not like her doing this, but had no good argument to keep her in the Citadel. She knew he often shadowed her on these walks.
There was too much to store. The granaries could hold no more, the wool, flax and cotton could not all be spun and woven, the cured hams far outnumbered the hooks upon which to hang them. People perish and things remain, outlines of our lives. The forges were busy day and night smelting the most recent leavings of war, while other gleanings of barren, bloody fields went to where they could be harvested a last time – leather, wood, animals hale and animals halt. A week past, three ships had set sail under her flag from Pelargir, bound for Umbar. Food, fuel, and fabric filled their holds to bursting. Not even corn for sale went north to Rohan. Finduilas set aside thoughts of the children in those distant lands and gave her care to those who, despite the kingdom's bounty, walked the City's streets in want.
'Alquallë?' Aiavalë stood in the doorway with a tray of tea. 'The cub has finished his lessons and earned his rest until supper. Can I coax you to do the same?'
'Yes, Lady Lore, you can.' They were quickly curled up on a couch near the hearth, fingers warmed by the filled mugs. 'So where has my little beast disappeared to?'
The Archivist waved her hand in a circle. 'Somewhere there is dirt, no doubt. And how does your other little one fare?' Aiavalë had been the first to be told about the pregnancy just as last time.
'Well. Only a little sick in the mornings, and Master Laanga's herbs take care of that.' Finduilas patted a hip. 'And the entire household conspires to make a cow of me. I am gaining weight, which I didn't do with Boromir this early.' Denethor was adamant that she would put on weight this time and not just on her belly. Finduilas obliged because it also made him wish to touch her more and lie under her when they made love so he could stroke and caress her body. He did not like for there to be any candles or lanterns burning, jealous of the watching eyes. 'I think this will be an easy pregnancy.'
'Good.' Aiavalë's face took on a look that seemed nonchalant, but which Finduilas knew to cover a powerful wish. 'I do not like that you are so alone here, Alquallë, especially with a baby coming.'
'I am so alone. I have only Aeluin and Beregar, and Dúlin and Hunthor, Mírwen, Damnir and Nellas, several guardsmen, all the pups, oh, yes, and my husband and son.' She sighed in mock pity. 'Poor, bereft me!'
'You have not Moraen or Hilda or any other companion like that.' Aiavalë sipped some tea, then said, 'Wren and Lark are here at Yule. Convince one of them to stay here with you.'
'They are women with their own husbands and children, Aiavalë.'
'But it would be good for them to be here, in the City,' the older woman stubbornly insisted.
'And where are you going to be, now that Almarian has died, sister?'
Aiavalë shrugged. 'I haven't decided. The eldest daughter wishes the house so she may give her own to her daughter. Though she says I may stay as long as I like, I think she would prefer it without guests not of her choosing.'
'You are staying here, then.'
'Wren, I think, would be best,' Aiavalë continued as though Finduilas had not spoken. 'There is nothing in Anórien in the winter, so she might as well spend it here with us.'
'Indeed, I would not mind Wren's company, but she has her own house in Minas Tirith, and you have none.'
For a long time, Aiavalë stared into her tea. 'I can't.'
'Why not? I want you here, there is room, even your own old rooms, and…'
'I swore to Denethor I was never coming back.'
Finduilas sighed, rolling her eyes. 'And he swore to me that he would never marry me. I swear you two are the greatest fools in all of Gondor, stubborn, stiff-necked, bad tempered fools.'
Aiavalë shook her head. 'It is more than that. In this place, I was a monster. A weak, twisted thing that no one wished to see, even those who would pet me rather than strike me. I am done with caves.'
'Then transform it into your eyrie. Your caves are the archives, after all.' Finduilas took Aiavalë's hand. 'I need you, sister. I need someone here strong and wise, who fears nothing.'
'You have Denethor.'
'Not for much longer.' Aiavalë looked at her in consternation. 'No! Not anything dire for us,' nothing I may speak of, 'but the Lord Steward declines. Sooner than we think, Denethor will have even greater burdens. I love Aeluin and Dúlin, but they do not understand things beyond these walls. I know not if Moraen will return, and I am loath to bring a stranger in to the house…'
'That's why you need Wren!'
'She would not stay. You know that.' Aiavalë growled but nodded agreement. 'Please, Aiavalë, I need one of my sisters with me now.'
'Very well...' Finduilas hugged the Archivist and kissed her. 'I suppose there must be someone with some sense around here.' Boromir came in, windblown and wearing several layers of dirt, and regaled them with a story of the practice yards in the sixth circle. Denethor did not return until just before supper, and said nothing of his time in the Tower, instead taking Boromir to wash up for the meal. They went to Finduilas' study after supper to drink a final cup of wine. Denethor remained quiet. Aiavalë cleared her throat to get his attention.
'I will be needing several guardsmen tomorrow.'
'Ask Finduilas for them. They are hers.'
'I already have! I was simply telling you so you did not think to make use of them yourself,' she retorted.
'For what do you need them?'
'You don't expect me to carry all my things up one circle and three flights of stairs myself, do you? Though I could,' she cheekily added.
Denethor looked at her quizzically. 'Are you asking to move back here?'
'I am telling you I am moving back. I am not going to leave Alquallë to care for two children herself. Boromir is old enough to need more regular lessons and I don't doubt but that he is as clever at getting out of them as you were.' Aiavalë shook her head in annoyance at his obtuseness, while Finduilas tried not to giggle at her sister-in-law's performance. 'I will take Mother's rooms as Moraen has left her own belongings in the others…'
'You may have your own rooms back…'
'No.' Denethor ducked his head to avoid his sister's glare. 'I gave those to Imrahil. Besides, I have too much to go into them now.'
'Of course.' Aiavalë laid out her moving plans with the precision of a battle commander before kissing each of them and saying she would return early on the morrow. Denethor waited until they heard the door downstairs close behind her before asking Finduilas, 'And what has inspired that?'
She patted her belly. 'This. Lady Lore has always wanted to be closer to the children, not just Boromir, but did not wish to leave Almarian alone. And, perhaps, she has a few monsters left to slay.' The look on Denethor's face was odd, but he seemed content with the answer. 'And what occupied you for so long in the Tower?'
'Théoden was displeased by the ban placed upon Éomund and wrote to the Steward, who wished the battle explained and what happened afterwards, when the Rohirrim fled.' Denethor studied his wine. 'The Steward has upheld Éomund's fate should he pass our borders again. I recommended that a gift of corn and iron to be made to our ancient ally, Rohan, in celebration of Yule.'
Minas Tirith, 21 December, 2982 T.A.
A third moon flux had failed to appear and Finduilas breathed a sigh of relief. The uncertain time was past. Lhûn was very pleased by what she saw and felt, while Laanga smiled wisely to himself and bade Finduilas to come see him every third week for herbs. Crone Apple waved her branches for joy and tangled her twiggy fingers in Finduilas' hair. The household had been told, though asked to keep it a secret for the announcement at mettarë. Her belly had a noticeable bulge to it already, unlike last time when there was nothing to see. Every night, Denethor knelt beside her and looked at her cross-ways, admiring the growing curve. Since Aiavalë had moved back to the Stewards House, he had not slipped into any dark moods, too pleased by his sister's return to allow anything to dampen his joy. The Archivist was also in high spirits, never pausing for a rest as she spent her time between the archives, the Tower, the house, and business in every circle of the City. Boromir loved his "Auntie Monster," and they were together nearly as much as Boromir and Ecthelion. More than once, Finduilas saw Aiavalë join the Steward and Boromir on their adventures around the City.
The last week, however, Boromir had been left mostly to his own devices, for Lark and Wren were in Minas Tirith. Before their arrival, Aiavalë had put Lark's new house set to rights with furnishings, house wares, stocking the pantry and the like. Marlong's sister-in-law and her daughters did the same for Wren's house in the third circle, though hers needed only to be aired out and the larder filled. The sisters had arrived two days ago with husbands, children and baggage in tow, and intended to stay a month. Marlong had quickly escaped to Denethor's study, while Bard was busying himself in the first circle garrison, both men knowing better than to get between a woman and her house.
Today, Finduilas, Aeluin and Aiavalë had brought Boromir, Finiel and Dúlin's daughter down to Lark's house to play with the other children while the women visited and decided what last things were needed to make the house complete. Beregar had collected his sister Rose's oldest boy, as well, so the house was filled with shouts, running feet, howls, and things falling over as the cousins romped from floor to floor. Aiavalë gave one a playful swat as the older children tore past in a game of tag. 'You are falling behind,' she teased Wren, 'as you have only one!'
'In good time!' Wren answered with a grin.
'And you must come to the City more often,' the Archivist continued, 'in fact, you both should simply plan to spend your winters here.'
'I am glad we came in. Marlong cannot stay, but I don't think he would object to us staying behind until the worst of the winter cold is done.'
'He'd best not!' Finduilas laughed. 'Tell him that you are commanded by the Lady to remain.'
'I don't see why I should,' Lark airily said. 'Pelargir is warmer than Minas Tirith and I have plenty there to keep me busy. It is not like I live on some wind-swept plain at the edge of nowhere…' Wren squawked and threw a piece of bread at Lark and the two tussled playfully, leaving Finduilas and Aeluin in giggles. Aiavalë smacked them and scolded them to behave. Eventually they did, but not before both mussed each other's hair and dropped things down each other's dresses. Plucking some crumbs from her bodice, Lark said, 'Of course I will visit, sisters, but there is an archive to be cared for, you know.'
'More than one,' Aiavalë answered. 'I have only half an eye on the archives here with all the work I am now doing for the Tower.' It was true. Aiavalë's formidable knowledge of the kingdom's past, gleaned equally from histories and ordinary reports alike, made her invaluable to the Steward, Denethor and their ministers. In Borondir's absence, she had taken over many of his Quartermaster duties.
'What of Mairen, or Mallor?' Wren asked.
'Mallor is older than I am and Mairen does not know how to command. Neither are suitable to be a Master Archivist.'
Wren and Lark exchanged a thoughtful glance. 'Then it is good that Wren can be so much in the City,' Lark said. 'She can be trained to be the next Master Archivist.'
'No! That is for you, sister,' Wren quickly countered.
'Perhaps, but then there must be someone to order Pelargir, and that will be you if it is not me.'
'What if Bard is assigned to this garrison, or Osgiliath?'
'Marlong is just as likely to be brought back to Minas Tirith as Bard…'
'Leave them to their garrisons! You should both come back…' Aiavalë groused.
Finduilas smiled and winked at Aeluin as they listened to the three archivists bicker. It would be nice to have at least one of the sisters back in the City permanently, but Finduilas doubted that would happen while the Steward lived. Not that they care much for Denethor. A thought tickled the back of Finduilas' mind. She stood, murmuring to Aeluin that she would be back in few minutes, and went to the kitchen.
Violet was standing before the stove, stirring a large pot of something that smelled delicious. Even if she had not seen the woman briefly at the two weddings, Finduilas would have recognized her by the resemblance between her and her daughters. She had not had a chance to look at the woman closely before, and was startled at how young she was to have two grown daughters with children of their own.
If she was disconcerted by Finduilas appearing in the kitchen, Violet did not let it show. 'Good morning, my lady. May I fetch you something?'
'Good morning, Violet, and you must call me Finduilas. No, I just came to say hello.' Now that she was here, Finduilas was not sure just what to say.
'That is very kind of you,' Violet said, smiling. She pointed to a chair at the kitchen table before turning to ladle some soup into a bowl. 'Please sit, my… Finduilas. Here's a bite to eat.' She set a small bowl of the soup on the table where it was soon joined by a cup of wine and a thick slab of fresh baked bread slathered with butter. 'The children will come running through any time now. They have been doing that all morning.' Violet chuckled. 'They know I can't deny them a biscuit. Your Boromir, he will be five any day now, yes?'
'Yes, on the twenty-fifth.'
'He looks a year older.' Whatever doubts Finduilas had vanished as she and Violet easily chatted about the children, the festivals, the quality of the squashes and hams in the market place, and so forth as Violet cooked and cleaned. As she said, the older children showed up at the door several times, begging sweets, which she dispensed with a lavish hand. Finduilas found herself reminded of Brandir in Violet's total lack of artifice or pretense in her manner, and understood why Ecthelion would have fallen in love with her. She could not be less like her daughters, with their keen minds and sharper tongues – they were Aiavalë's creations as surely as Denethor was. Denethor was right that Violet loved Ecthelion truly. Perhaps the Steward had made wicked use of the woman at some point, but Finduilas could not believe that the affection was only one way.
'Violet,' Finduilas said after the most recent raid by the children, 'I would give you a gift for Yule. What would please you?'
'You are kind, Finduilas, more kind than I could imagine, but I want for nothing. Not even a scarf.' Violet looked critically at her newest concoction simmering on the stove. 'Well, perhaps some carrots…' They laughed gaily at the jest. Finduilas called one of the pups loitering in the kitchen yard and sent him off to the market to get carrots, onions and rashers of bacon. Violet did not take up her banter afterwards, though, and watched her pots thoughtfully. Finduilas sipped her wine, waiting. 'I have heard that the Lord Steward is not well.'
'He is not ill, but he is old. The end of his days draw near.' At those words, Violet bit her lower lip and turned her back, busying herself with the food.
'One thing.' The woman spoke without turning around. 'The girls will not hear of it. Perhaps you will think it wrong, too.'
'What do you wish?'
'Help me see him once more. I wish only a minute or two, somewhere private, where I may speak to him. I did not get to say farewell, and I wish to do so properly. It is all I want.'
Minas Tirith, 29 December, 2982 T.A.
Seabird had docked at the Harlond the previous day, bearing many lords of western Gondor. It had also brought both Borondir and Moraen. Finduilas was somewhat surprised at Moraen's swift return, having thought she would remain in Ethring with Luinmir. Moraen shook her head when asked.
'No, Luinmir would not hear of it. She said I must return to Minas Tirith for the Great Council, and stay here to look after Ethring's interests. Your lady mother, Princess Luinil, is there with Ivorwen and Aldwyn.'
Prince Adrahil had come for the Council, collecting Captain Baragund as they sailed through Pelargir. It turned out that the captain had been wounded more seriously at the Poros than he had admitted. Denethor took one look at Baragund and ordered him to the Houses of Healing where Lhûn and Laanga saw to his care. Imrahil remained behind in Pelargir, helping Gildor set the southern defenses in order against any foe who might think to take advantage of the winter. Captain Anbar of Osgiliath and Lord Angbor of Linhir had joined him, with Anbar to return to the City for the Council. Adrahil had arrived on the doorstep in time for breakfast this morning, had gone to the practice yards with Denethor and Boromir, and was now with them attending the Steward.
Finduilas went over some short reports in her study, waiting for Lark and Wren to arrive. They were leaving the children here with Aeluin and going down to one of Haleth's warehouses in the first circle. Remembering the lesson of Luinmir selling books and other valuables to pay her debts, Finduilas had let it be known that the Lady's Grace would purchase such things for a fair price from widows and other women in need. Books, art, furnishings, rugs and other fine things had found their way to the warehouse. Many times, the woman would reclaim her possessions when her fortunes improved. The rest was sold as need be. Today, they were to look over rugs and other things, for Finduilas wished to make gifts to both women for their homes.
She looked up from her reports at the sound of a knock on her door. Borondir stood there, looking tired. Finduilas hurried over to kiss his cheek and fetched him a cup of tea. 'I thought you would be at the Tower this morning, cousin,' she said, 'for I know you and your wisdom have been sorely missed.'
'I was there, but the Steward took pity upon me and bade me to rest until after yestarë. It will give me a few days to catch up so I don't sound a total fool.'
'Just speak to Lady Lore – she has moved back here if you didn't know – and she will tell you all she has done with your accounts.'
Borondir gave her a quick grin, identical to Denethor's when he was being mischievous. 'Ah, perhaps I had best get back to work sooner rather than later, lest I be supplanted by the Archivist! She is more clever even than her brother.'
'Don't say that where they can hear it, or we'll never have an end to their bickering!' Finduilas jokingly warned. 'I am glad you are safely back.'
Borondir nodded, sipping the tea. 'So am I. I have sorely missed your wisdom, cousin.'
'After this morning, you may have it. I go to the first circle shortly.'
'Why?' Finduilas explained to him what she planned. 'May I go with you?' he asked.
'Yes, but shouldn't you rest?'
'A walk after so many days on board a ship will do me good. Besides, I have not seen Wren and Lark since…' he began counting, '…since Yule two years ago for Wren and since Wren's wedding for Lark. And I should at least pretend to be paying attention to my own duties.' The prospect of a visit with the sisters did appear to have relieved Borondir of much of his weariness.
'I believe Moraen will also walk with us.' Moraen had been overjoyed to find out that Wren was in the City. The two had visited until far into the night until both were yawning too much to talk.
Some of the eagerness left Borondir's face. 'In that case, do not let me intrude. I fear Moraen may be tired of my company after these many weeks.'
When Lark and Wren arrived and Moraen joined them, however, all three insisted that Borondir must come with them. 'If we don't steal you, you will just sit in some dreary room and look at ledgers,' Moraen teased. Wren gave him a great hug and kiss and insisted he visit with the children before they set out. This raised his spirits again and they had a cheerful walk down the mountain. The dolorous mood of winter was lightened by the anticipation of the upcoming two days of festival. The City bustled with visitors and traders, and the air was scented with marvelous things baking, stewing and cooking. People called out merry greetings as they passed. The cold air made Finduilas cough and the growing child was beginning to be a weight in her belly. Beregar insisted they stop at The Messenger's Rest to let Finduilas rest while they warmed their hands around mugs of hot cider.
The dim warehouse felt warm after the brisk air in the street. A door ward let them in and sent word to Mistress Haleth that the Lady, the Quartermaster and their guests had come to inspect goods. The foreman led them to an open space near the back and set up lanterns to illuminate the area. Workmen pulled out rugs and unrolled them so the women could examine them better. Wren and Lark were soon arguing over the virtues of the different carpets, while Moraen took out the walking desk and made notes. It was not long before Haleth appeared. She gave Finduilas and Borondir a dignified bow. 'My lady, my lord, is there anything you need?'
'No, Mistress. Your foreman has everything in hand. We will be an hour or so looking at rugs and some chests, I think,' Finduilas said.
'Then I will leave you in his care. I will be in the food stuffs cavern should you need me for anything.'
'Lord Borondir, if I may have a few minutes of your time before I go,' Haleth said, turning to him. 'There are some small matters that arose during your absence you should know of at once…' The two walked away towards the front of the warehouse. Finduilas turned back to the others. It was a good opportunity to study Moraen. She was thin, with dark circles under her eyes and a stern cast to her features even when she joked and teased the sisters for their contrariness. You will have to wed. You know this. So would every woman with an unwed son, brother, or kinsman from Pelargir to Minrimmon. With a sigh, Finduilas began to think of how it would be done. There would need to be many dinners and parties at the Stewards House to show Moraen off to her best advantage. There would be many invitations to pay a call upon Lady-so-and-so or Lord-thus-and-such, the better to introduce Moraen to prospective husbands. The project was both daunting and depressing. Denethor would say there is no need to bother, as all interests are best served by his choice.
Finduilas glanced over her shoulder. Borondir had not returned. The other women were engrossed in their debate, ordering Beregar and the work hands to roll this carpet back, unroll that one, drag another over to this side or that, so Finduilas slipped away. Perhaps she and Borondir could speak privately while the others entertained themselves.
Halfway to the other side of the warehouse, she came upon Haleth and Borondir, and drew back into the shadows. The two stood very close, speaking in murmurs that Finduilas could not make out. There was no mistaking their stance or the way Borondir clasped Haleth's hand against his chest, their foreheads nearly touching. Whatever he said, Haleth did not like, for she kept shaking her head and motioning sharply with her free hand. After a few more whispered exchanges, Haleth touched Borondir's cheek, then pulled his head down to hers for a rough kiss, her body moving forward to close the space between them. As swift as it was done, it was over, and Haleth strode away, her long legs taking her quickly into darkness. Finduilas stealthily slipped away before Borondir could see her spying upon them. Borondir rejoined them a few minutes later, his face a calm mask.
It was another hour before each sister picked out her rug and a chest of drawers was selected for Lark's house. The work hands placed the items in sturdy hand trucks and Finduilas sent for some of her guardsmen at the garrison to pull them up the mountain. When they reached Lark's house in the fifth circle, Moraen declared she wished to spend the rest of the day visiting. Finduilas begged off, saying she needed to rest, but would see that the children were sent down. Borondir came back to the Stewards House with her and saw her to her study.
'I will leave you to rest, Finduilas,' he began, but she shook her head and motioned for them to sit on one of the couches.
'No. I think we need to speak of things best discussed while Moraen is not here.' With a sigh, he nodded and sat. Beregar brought them tea and was told they were not to be disturbed. 'You said you needed my wisdom. What happened in Ethring?'
Borondir did not answer until he had drunk a mug of tea and poured himself another. 'I learned that I don't love Luinmir anymore, though Anna can still break my heart. There was not much I could do for either of them, except hold them when they wept.'
'That is not a small thing.'
'Luinmir will destroy anyone who offers threat to either of her children. That consumes her. I think it a good thing that your mother is there, though some say ugly things.' Finduilas raised an eyebrow. Borondir shrugged. 'There is truth to it, of course. Dol Amroth protects its own interests in the Ringló Vale, as is only sensible. Mostly Luinil pities a twice-widowed woman with two small children.'
'Of course Dol Amroth will seek to keep Ethring looking to the Prince as her chiefest ally. What does Luinmir think?'
'She has her doubts about the Prince. Nothing unpleasant,' Borondir hastened to add, 'nor does she think Dol Amroth a threat, but she is wary of great men with much power and knows herself to be a woman in need of their indulgence and protection. She also knows she cannot call directly upon her kinsmen to aid her.'
'Denethor will do as much as he can. He is not eager for the Prince to hold any more power over Ethring, but dislikes Morthond's intentions even more.'
'Mmm.' Borondir turned his cup in his hand, swirling the contents as he stared at the floor. 'She is not entirely convinced of Denethor's good will, I think, though I told her she could trust him. She thinks he may still resent her closeness to Maiaberiel.' Finduilas shook her head. 'I told her that, as well. She said she preferred the aid of another kinsman.'
Borondir nodded. 'Me.' With a sigh, he set the cup down and looked squarely at Finduilas. 'Luinmir said I was to wed Moraen.'
'Isn't it obvious? Even were we not so close of kin, she cannot wed again. She knows I would be a good man to Moraen. She wants me to come to Ethring and be lord and father to both their children. Denethor and the Steward want the same thing.'
'And what do you want?'
'I am too old and maimed to want anything.'
'I think Haleth would disagree. She certainly wants you.'
A look of shock came over Borondir's face before he could school it to blandness. 'I don't know what you are talking about.'
'I am talking about the kiss Haleth gave you today. I think you were telling her what you intended to do and she did not like your proposal. You should propose to her instead.'
'Do you think I haven't tried?' he hissed. Red bloomed around the white scar ridges on his face. 'Twice I have asked, nay, begged for her to accept my suit! She says she has no wish to be a lady.'
'Perhaps she needs to understand that inaction may risk losing you,' Finduilas calmly replied. 'So, she knows what you intend?' He nodded. 'She did not look pleased. Have you kissed her before?'
'No! I am a man of honor and…'
'You and Denethor,' Finduilas dryly observed. 'A well timed kiss can break down a very hard heart. So, you shocked her enough that she kissed you. Good! Give her some time to think on it, but say no more of what you will or will not do.' It was difficult not to laugh at the befuddled look on Borondir's face. Finduilas kissed his cheek. 'Do nothing for now. Remember that everyone was in agreement that I should wed Thorongil – even Denethor said I should! – until I decided I preferred your grim cousin.'
'I will follow your counsel, Finduilas.' The look of hope on Borondir's face made Finduilas wonder if she had promised too much. Haleth, you may not wish to be a lady, but you had better become a wife.
Minas Tirith, Mettarë, 2982 T.A.
Merethrond was packed and the feast spilled out into the court before the Tower. In anticipation of Finduilas' announcement, the Steward had thrown the Citadel open to the entire City and not just those who lived in its crown. Outdoor kitchens had been set up in the court behind the Great Gates and in the market square in the third circle to spread the cheer to the lower circles, for even Merethrond could not hold everyone. The lavish feasts also helped to empty the overstuffed warehouses, granaries and cellars of their older stores.
Finduilas was crowned with mistletoe and ivy twined with pearls, while Denethor sported the same, save with holly berries instead of pearls. It was identical to what he had worn that same day six years before, when they had wed. They both wore their long dark hair loose on their shoulders. They walked together among the tables, greeting all the guests high and low alike, filling plates and cups, and enjoying the festivities. Denethor had insisted she drink an entire mug of special tea before the feast began to ward off weariness and a dark gaze. Aiavalë, Moraen, Lark and Wren also insisted on serving the tables, each sporting a spray of white feathers with a single black one in her hair. Aeluin was there, but neither Finduilas nor Beregar would let her play servant. Those of her guardsmen who were in the City took turns carrying things from the kitchens, their black wing badges prominent upon their breasts. Those not needed for carrying ate, told tales or danced as it pleased them. There was dancing inside the hall and out and children were everywhere. Finduilas could not remember there being so many youngsters in years past. There are more of them. People have taken heart and can bear to hope for their future.
The Steward had not arrived until the feast was well under way, and he moved slowly among the tables. His voice was strong, though, and his smile never flagged. As always, he had a trail of small children asking for the sticky candies he kept in a pouch at his waist. Adrahil stayed with the Steward most of the time, walking beside him and acting as his server so that Ecthelion did not tire himself overmuch. Boromir greatly enjoyed having both of his grandfathers present to admire him. Adrahil and Ecthelion were only too glad to indulge him.
Moraen was the center of attention for the young (and not-so-young) lords attending the feast. The men vied to be her servant or tried to entice her away from the tables and to the dancing. She spurned them all, leaving them holding platters and jugs and refusing to let them take her hand. Wren played chaperone, acidly upbraiding any man who importuned too strongly. Though Finduilas looked carefully, she did not see Violet anywhere in the hall, not even near the cluster of small children playing games at the eastern end. To her great surprise, Finduilas did seen Madam Morwen. Twice, she and Denethor had pulled on their cloaks to take a turn about the court and greet revelers there. She only recognized Morwen because she first saw Mírwen and Nellas standing with a tall woman near the lane to the house and left Denethor speaking to Lieutenant Erellont of the Tower Guard, walking over to say hello. When she greeted them, the woman turned around. Though her lower face had a scarf over it to repel the cold, there was no disguising Morwen's distinctive eyes, at once familiar and exotic. The woman dropped her veil and smiled. 'Good evening, Finduilas.'
'Good evening, Morwen. Are you enjoying the feast?'
'Very much.' The woman stroked Mírwen's hair. 'My little gem told me that I must be here tonight, but would not say why.'
'It is a secret, but one that will be known within the hour.' Finduilas lightly embraced Morwen and kissed her cheek. 'Thank you for the gift of your gem. Both of them.'
Morwen gripped her hand tightly. 'What do you know?' she whispered.
'Nothing, save that a young man went into peril as too many have done before.'
'If you ever hear anything, anything, even a wild rumor, I beg you, tell me.'
'I am not privy to such things,' Finduilas murmured, 'But should I hear…'
Morwen's eyes teared and she gave Finduilas a swift, strong kiss, her hand rising to caress Finduilas' cheek. 'Bless you, my lady, defender of whores. Watch over our sons and keep them safe.' In a moment, Morwen had covered her face once more and disappeared into the crowd. Denethor came over and said it was time to return to the hall lest Finduilas get chilled.
As soon as they entered, Adrahil swooped down on them, a little tipsy and full of cheer. 'Daughter, you must make your announcement soon, before we all fall over in a drunken heap.'
'I have a better idea, Father. Why don't you and Lord Ecthelion make the announcement for us?' Denethor gave her an amused look at this suggestion, but Adrahil immediately went off in search of the Steward. As soon as they were together, Denethor signaled for one of the musicians to sound his horn and get everyone's attention. Ecthelion and Adrahil stood with an arm about each other's shoulders.
'A merry mettarë to everyone here!' the Steward proclaimed, raising a goblet high in the air. The crowd shouted their greetings in return. 'Please, everyone, give your kindest attention to Prince Adrahil, who has great news to announce.'
'I shall not keep you long from your merriment,' the Prince said. He was swaying slightly, making Finduilas wonder at the wisdom of asking her father to speak. Denethor hid his smirk under his hand. 'I am very proud to say that come midsummer next year, my grandson Boromir will no longer be an only child.' He raised his cup to Finduilas and Denethor. 'To my next grandchild!'
The news spread throughout the City within minutes, and the noise of the celebration must certainly have reached every corner of Gondor. Finduilas and Denethor danced a short and sedate dance to mark the news and spent the rest of the evening receiving good wishes and blessings from the revelers. As the hour became late and people began to leave, the wine and cider of the evening caught up with her and Finduilas had to excuse herself to go to the privy. On her way back to the hall, she saw Violet and went over to the woman.
'I am so glad you came.'
'So am I! Congratulations, Finduilas.'
'Did the girls already tell you?'
'Yes, they couldn't keep that secret,' Violet said, 'but I kept it for them.' She peered in the arch to the main hall. 'I haven't been to this before. Ever. It is marvelous.' She patted Finduilas' arm. 'And I got to see him.' From the warm light within her, there was no mistaking who she meant.
'Did you speak?'
'Oh, no! Not with so many about. It will do.'
'Wait a moment.' Finduilas looked around for Beregar, who she knew would be nearby, and waved him over. 'Huan, do you know the back stair to the upper walk?' He nodded. 'You are to accompany this woman up there and find a private place to wait out of the wind. I will follow shortly.' She went back into the hall and quickly located Ecthelion. Denethor and Adrahil were a few yards away, talking to Lord Gundor of Langstrand. Ecthelion came with her without a question. When they were in the hallway to the kitchens, Finduilas said very quietly, 'Once, you asked me to hear you out and, if I did not like what was said, to smile and walk away. I ask now that favor of you.'
'You have it.'
'I told you that Violet had returned to Minas Tirith with Lark for Yule.'
Ecthelion nodded. 'I saw Lark and Wren this evening.'
'Violet asked a boon of me. She asked if I would arrange for her to speak to you privately for just a few minutes. If you wish it, she is on the upper walk right now, waiting.'
He said nothing for several heartbeats, weighing her words. 'Get me my cloak.' Finduilas took Denethor's and draped it over Ecthelion's frame. It was too big, but it was warm. She led him up the stair and out upon the walk. Beregar waved to get their attention. Ecthelion dropped her arm and went towards the shadows. Violet stepped out into a spot of moonlight and Beregar bowed to them both before coming to stand with Finduilas. It was not long before Violet took Ecthelion's hands. He stood silent, his head bowed, while she talked. Below in the court, Finduilas heard the musicians on the steps to the Tower start another song. The Steward bowed to Violet and took her in his arms. Their dancing shadows followed them in their slow measures across the stone of the walk. When it ended, they embraced a long while. Violet kissed his cheek and hurried off, turning to wave before she disappeared down the stair.
Finduilas went to Ecthelion. His eyes were fixed on the stair. 'You know,' he said softly, 'I have always wished to dance with Violet at mettarë.' With a sigh, he turned and began to walk slowly towards the Tower. They were halfway there when Denethor strode over, the Steward's cloak over his arm, looking exasperated.
'Where are you going?' he said.
'To bed,' the Steward answered, not even turning to look.
'You have the wrong…' Denethor grumbled something under his breath and took Ecthelion's arm. 'Huan, I will tend the Steward. Please take the Lady home.'
'Good night daughter, good night grandson,' Ecthelion said cheerfully over his shoulder.
'Good night,' they chorused. Beregar offered his arm and they rejoined the Prince downstairs.