Courting the Lady
10. Epistolary Seasons III
Having Imrahil home was wonderful; I cannot thank you enough for permitting it, and I hope what he hinted about his comrades being jealous of his special treatment is not true. He seemed so pleased overall with his accomplishments this past year, and especially that he stood on his own merits and did not trade on his name and blood for respect. It would be a shame if his love and loyalty to his mother were rewarded so. But I am sure that there is nothing you can do if this is the case; it is simply human nature to resent a distinction that appears undeserved.
Mother was so overjoyed to see him that it almost seemed she was not ill – for a little while. Now that he is gone she withers daily, though physically more resilient than I or the healers would ever have imagined. Though two months ago they gave her only a few weeks to live, now they shrug their shoulders and will make no guesses. But she is in great pain much of the time and reluctant to take the syrup of poppy that they recommend for it. I can hardly bear to see her agony, yet what can I do else? Comfort me, my friend and brother! I need your support. . .
11 Nénimë 2975
You know you have my greatest sympathy and respect for your endurance of this trial. I speak with Imrahil on occasion, to try to give him encouragement, but he is reluctant to discuss the matter. I know not whether he fears that my notice will break his anonymity, or if he simply does not want to think of such troubles. But it speaks well of you that you maintain your adherence to all your responsibilities; that is easy to do so when all else runs smooth, yet to do so in adversity shows true character. To that end I have another verse to send you:
They that have the power to hurt and will do none,
That do not do the thing they most do show,
Who moving others are themselves as stone,
Unmovèd, cold, and to temptation slow –
They rightly do inherit Varda’s graces,
And husband nature’s riches from expense;
They are the lords and owners of their faces,
Others but stewards of their excellence.
The summer’s flower is to the summer sweet
Though to itself it only live and die,
But if that flower with base infection meet
The basest weed outbraves his dignity;
For sweetest things turn sourest by their deeds:
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds. (1)
You are no such lily, Finduilas, but a rose, upright and sturdy, perhaps a bit prickly at times but none the worse for that. I shall write again as soon as may be – I am called now to arms. Do not be troubled, it is only an ordinary sighting of Orcs, but we must needs deal with them promptly.
5 Súlimë 2975
It dismays me to hear from you that Mother is once again losing ground to her illness. She seemed so much better than I had expected, while I was there, that I did hope for a time that all the healers’ predictions would prove mistaken. How is Father? Not that I expect him to be cheerful, in the circumstances, but he always used to say that the first hints of spring were his favorite time of the year, with the green shoots peeping above the ground and out of the bark, and the first flowers brightening the ground.
Here to the north the season is not yet so advanced, but waterlogged winter appears to be nearly over at last. Once again we will be changing camps. Thorongil is having us relocate far earlier this year, perhaps to avoid Orc-attacks like the one last spring. It certainly will not make it easier to move, going so early; all the trails and tracks are muddy and sodden with the remnants of last fall’s leaves.
Rumor has it that I’m going to be promoted soon. I doubt it – when I was traveling with Thorongil to join the company last year, he told me in private that since I had chosen to be anonymous among his men, he would not single me out in any way, and that I should not expect fast promotion. I think he was testing my resolve, really, and giving me a last chance to claim the position to which my blood might entitle me. But I declined. So it would be surprising if I were to be advanced now; there are plenty of good, competent men, at least as skilled as I, who have years more seniority. . .
Of course I still have the rose you sent me, you need hardly ask that. I keep it in a little leather pouch, and carry it with me on a thong around my neck whenever I am sent out on patrol, for luck. Do write back soon and tell me how Mother is, please?
30 Súlimë 2975
The best that can be said is that Mother seems not to have declined much since I last wrote, but truly it pains me to see her. Father sits by her bedside every evening after the meal, holding her hand. They speak little, simply looking into each other’s eyes, but when she has fallen to sleep – and to my great relief she is at last willing to take the syrup of poppy that brings her some ease – he goes down to his study and shuts himself in. Once or twice he has been slow to rouse in the mornings, and I think he has been drinking too much wine. Thankfully everyone in the household understands and bears the additional burdens well.
Of course I avoided answering your questions about Denethor. The privilege of an older sister. As I have said before, I am pleased that he thinks so well of me, and I do believe he would like to wed me, but he has not asked me. Speaking with Father is not enough. In any case I am still not certain of my feelings. There is much to admire in him, but he is nearly old enough to be our father, so were I to wed him, I might look forward to many years as a widow. Besides, if and when he does ask, and I decide, you are too far away to hear my decision before I tell it to him. Hazards of your present occupation, brother mine, and by your own choice.
Speaking of that, even if you are not promoted, I think you should be proud that apparently your comrades consider you likely to be so. Why did you choose to be anonymous, again? Was it simply to prove yourself without any extra advantages? I was thinking the other day that it seemed rather odd that no one has recognized you; there are certainly plenty of local men who join the army in one capacity or another. Or are you using some other name to help prevent that? Or is there simply no one from Belfalas in your company? Please pardon your inquisitive sister, if you haven’t the inclination to answer. . .
14 Víressë 2975
I am glad that both you and your father have enjoyed the History of Gondor and that Adrahil says that it is accurate for the lands of Belfalas as far as his knowledge extends. Perhaps I will acquiesce to young Golasgil’s suggestion that I commission an enlarged version of the work. Do you think Adrahil would find it worthwhile?
With the coming of spring, the pace of life in the city quickens as always. The Steward and I have been discussing the state of the walls and gates and at last we will begin to make some improvements to the Rammas Echor that encircles the Pelennor. The wall was built only twenty years ago, but it was put up in haste when Ithilien was deserted at last by all her folk, and the stonework was not always as well-wrought as it should have been. Since last harvest was remarkably fruitful through all the land, for once there are funds enough to do what is needed, there at any rate.
Busy though I am, I think of you often, and in spare moments continue to try my hand at verses for your amusement. Here is one humble specimen:
Her smile it was that first brought me to bliss.
Alone so long, I never thought I’d miss
Her face, her voice, and all she is to me.
I’d give up all my duties for her kiss.
Perhaps not to be taken quite literally, but I might be tempted, I confess. My regards to your parents, and deep sympathy and respect for you at this difficult time.
10 Lótessë 2975
Is there no name you would rather I called you? “Thorongil” seems so formal and distant for the address of a friend and sister. Choose you something else, and I will use that. Imrahil calls me “Fin,” you know, and if you like you are welcome to do so as well.
Your last letter was delightful, with the stories of your men and all their little quirks. Exactly what I needed to cheer me up. I grow weary sometimes, sitting up night after night with Mother, though neither she nor I would wish another to take my place. I look at her and it is as if her flesh has grown transparent, so thin and frail she has become. Simple existence draws nearer and nearer to agony, and yet she clings to life; I never thought to see my mother afraid, but it must be fear that holds her here, fear of what may come after. Is it just that I am young and strong, that I cannot understand that fear in her? For when I imagine myself in her position, dying far too soon for one of our blood, I do not dread death as she does. Reluctance to leave all that she loves, that I understand. I would not wish to leave my family either. Oh, I do not know what I mean.
I read a poem not long ago, in which the author complains that pity is dead. It is too long to give in whole here, but I shall enclose the first verse; if you like it I shall copy it the whole out to send to you some other time.
Pity, whom I have sought so long ago
With heart so sore and full of pain
That in this world was never one so full of woe
Without dying – and I shall not feign
My purpose was to Pity to complain
About the cruelty and tyranny
Of Love, that indeed shall make me die. (2)
I should also include another bit of verse by the same author, which suggests that he managed to get over his pique:
Since I, escaped from Love, am so fat
I never think to be in his prison lean;
Since I am free, I count him not a bean. (3)
The habit this poet had of personifying the concepts he discusses I find most unusual; do you know of any other poets who wrote similarly? I think perhaps he was not from Gondor, judging by his name, Marhari, which sounds rather like a name from Rohan. His odd verse forms also suggest a foreign origin. I have not translated them; this is the original wording as far as I am aware.
Ah, much as I would enjoy musing on poetry for longer, I must end this letter, for the candle burns low and I should snatch such rest as I may, before my mother wakes and calls for me. Soon I know I shall have to write to Imrahil with sad news; please, look after him if you can.
1 Nárië 2975
It is over. Mother is gone. Father and I are both thankful that she died in peace at the last, her spirit following the tide out in the early morning. I feel numb – she had been so ill for so long that her death is a relief, and yet how can I not mourn my mother?
But I have been awake now since yestermorn, and I can hardly put pen to paper and hope you may decipher my words. I will send this now and try to write to no one else at present. I love you, my brother. I wish you were here with me now to share our grief and lessen it.
27 Nárië 2975
My sincerest condolences on Nimíril’s death. I know that you were close to your mother and must be distressed by the event, long-expected though it has been. The few times I met her, I found her charming. Your father must also be feeling great loss. Please convey to him my personal sympathies, though of course he will also receive a formal letter from the Steward.
If there is aught I might do for you or for your father from here in Minas Tirith, please do not hesitate to call upon my willing services. I will not impose further on your time now, but will write again soon.
Always at your command,
6 Cermië 2975
My dear Finduilas,
I cannot tell you how my heart goes out to you at the news of your loss. Though I, too, have lost a parent, my father died before I was old enough to have known and missed him, and my foster-father was all that a father could have been to me. So I have not experienced the same sense of loss that you must now feel. All I can say is that I wish I could be there for your comfort, or that I could send Imrahil to you – I know that it would be what you would want, and he too, to be able to be with his beloved sister, but it is not possible at this time. Midsummer is the worst season for raids, and I cannot spare a man; nor would he be willing to go and leave us shorthanded.
Be sure that you are often in my thoughts. Some time ago you asked if there was another name by which you might call me. If you wish, you may call me Estel – it was a pet name given me in my youth, and at this time it might remind you that whatever may happen, there is yet hope in the world.
Your loving brother,
12 Cermië 2975
I knew before I opened your letter what it must contain. I’m sorry that I haven’t written back to you sooner; unfair of me, I know, when you are the one who was there at the end and whose grief must be greater than anyone else’s except Father’s. But I put off and put off opening it, hoping that if I did not read the words it would not be real. Finally Captain Thorongil asked me how I was, and it was clear that you had written the news to him as well. I had to admit that I had not yet read your letter – shameful, that. And then it was my turn at patrol and I had no chance to respond for a bit. Please forgive me.
How is Father? And how are you? I wake in the morning and from habit wonder how Mother is – and then I remember, and my heart turns cold despite the heat of the season. I cannot believe I will never see her again. I shall write soon again, I promise. I love you.
8 Yavannië 2975
I have not thanked you properly for all your kind letters, and indeed I am several behind in answering. I do hope that you will understand. The verses in your last were delightful; I especially liked the lines
And should we come to be as one, I know
True union will our inspiration be.
Together we shall stand up to each blow
In life, as shelter from the roaring sea.
This is one of your own compositions, is it not? I did not recognize it from elsewhere.
It seems hard that life must continue as always, but slowly things are returning to their usual pattern. Harvest is nearly in and soon we shall have the autumn festival to celebrate the end of a fruitful season. And if I am more grieved than last yáviérë, still I have less to worry me, and so I shall take part as always.
My father seems likely to come to Minas Tirith this winter, and I shall probably accompany him, having no wish to stay here alone. I would certainly look forward to seeing you again and perhaps taking another tour of the city in your company? I would be more prudent in how I dress. . .
Very truly yours,
9 Narquelië 2975
My dear Finduilas,
I would be delighted to see you again this Ringarë. Unless you tell me otherwise, I shall dare to assume that it will be so. Do not worry about strolling through the city; the new patrols have done well at reducing theft and crime of all sorts. You might without fear wear anything you choose.
A few days ago I thought of you and wrote these lines:
Her hair like netted darkness, set with pearls
Above a neck of alabaster white;
Her skirts about her slender figure swirled –
These were the things that caught me at first sight.
But later ’twas her gentle dulcet tone –
A lómelindë’s voice I must it call –
That wrenched from my poor heart a muffled moan;
All lost amid the bustle in that Hall.
Her willingness to chance an unknown road
Drew forth my admiration and my pride.
Acceptance of her loss – to me that showed
Great virtue. Now, can I make her my bride?
I never thought to feel a love like this –
Acceptance by her would bring me to bliss.
I hope to hear from you soon.
26 Narquelië 2975
I hope I do not presume, but I must be certain that I do not misunderstand. The poem in your last letter – did you ask me to wed you?
Awaiting your reply,
27 Narquelië 2975
I am in a bit of a shock. Well, perhaps not entirely a shock, but a surprise. I think that Denethor has finally asked me to marry him, as I have long presumed was his intention but had begun to doubt with the delay. I could not be quite sure as he sent me a verse, rather than an explicit proposal. So I have written back to make sure I did not misunderstand.
How would you feel if your sister were the Lady of Gondor, Im?
27 Narquelië 2975
An appropriate name to call you, in the circumstances, for I am holding onto hope as if onto a branch in a stormy sea. I thought this might happen, and I was never certain whether I willed it or no, but now that I think it has I cannot rest until I know. You are wondering what your adopted sister babbles about. Lord Denethor – I think – has asked me to wed him. He put it in a poem and so I have had to ask if that is indeed what he intended. Soon I shall hear. And then I shall have to determine whether I will accept his proposal.
I hope, though, that should it come to pass that I wed him that it will make no difference in our friendship. These last two years I have greatly appreciated being able to confide in you and speak freely with you, albeit by letter. Rest assured that I will retain all my affection for you!
11 Hísimë 2975
My dearest Finduilas,
Indeed, yes, my lady. I love you and I wish to wed you as soon as you would be willing. What say you then? Please, do not keep me waiting for your reply. I am,
ever at your bidding,
(1) Thorongil is anachronistically channeling William Shakespeare again. This is sonnet 94, with a word or two modified.
(2) This is my translation of the first verse of one of Geoffrey Chaucer’s lesser-known poems, “The Complaint Unto Pity.”
(3) Part of another Chaucerian poem, “Merciles Beaute,” again my translation.
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