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Hands of the King: 1. Assumptions
Can you draw out Leviathan by a fishhook?
Can you press down his tongue by a rope?
Can you put a ring through his nose,
Or pierce his jaw with a barb?
Will he plead at length with you?
Will he speak soft words to you?
Will he make an agreement with you
To be taken as your lifelong slave?…
Lay a hand on him,
And you will never think of battle again.
40:25, Book of Job
"And Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all."
"Of Commonwealth, " Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes
"So good-bye to thee – and wrong not Captain Ahab, because he happens to have a wicked name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife – not three voyages wedded – a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that old man has a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless harm in Ahab? No, no my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his humanities!"
"The Ship", Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honors and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.
Scene I, Act iii, Othello, Shakespeare
Minas Tirith, Mid April, 2974 T.A.
Denethor turned a corner in the hallway and willed himself to keep his pace measured. He wished to hurry back to his study in the Stewards House and consider the events of the morning. The council meeting had bordered on insulting, as was becoming more common in his dealings with the Steward. Another morning spent listening to Ecthelion laud Thorongil for minor accomplishments. Another morning replying to persistent, detailed questions that belittled his own efforts. Another morning having it shown, if not said, that the High Warden of the White Tower, the Steward's own heir, was of less importance than a mercenary. What made this morning different was the audience.
Adrahil, newly made Prince of Dol Amroth, had been witness to their subtle sparring. Why does the Steward reveal this discord before the Prince? Until now, Ecthelion had been careful not to contest with him too openly in front of others, and certainly not before visiting lords of the outlying fiefs. The Steward had read the reports; he knew who had written them, who had done the thinking, who provided the counsel, yet always it was to Thorongil that Ecthelion turned with his questions. And his compliments. His heir, political second, and the Captain-General of his forces was given scant regard.
Denethor noted that his hands had clenched as he thought over the maneuvers of that morning and he made himself relax. The tall man took a deep, slow breath, released it, letting his thoughts move to consideration of the falas lord in order to distract himself.
Dol Amroth followed the oldest traditions of Númenor when it came to inheritance. The ruling prince would surrender his office well before death, allowing the heir to assume that position. Angelimir, the elder prince, had surrendered the princedom to Adrahil the previous fall, on Angelimir's one-hundred and seventh birthday. The new prince had come with the soft warmth of spring to swear his fealty to the Lord Steward and to take council on matters of trade and defense. It was Adrahil's first visit to Minas Tirith in ten years, when he had met with Denethor and other captains to plan the retaking of Osgiliath. The decade had added a few lines to the man's face and had increased the acuity of his questions. This was someone to keep as an ally.
Denethor halted at Adrahil's hail, turning to face the prince. The older man strode briskly towards him, the light from the windows glinting off his close-cropped silver hair as the prince moved from sunlight to shadow and back. As long as Denethor had known the prince, which was close to thirty years, the man's hair had always been silver-white. Aside from Thorongil, the prince was the only man Denethor knew of who approached his own height. Also like Thorongil, the prince was difficult to look in the eye. There was a keenness to their gaze that daunted, and a thoughtfulness that made one doubt one's own mind. Always, they observed, weighed, judged.
'Prince,' Denethor politely greeted Adrahil as the other drew close enough for normal conversation.
'May I be so bold, Lord Denethor, as to ask to accompany you to your next appointment?' the prince replied. This is… interesting. Denethor smiled slightly and inclined his head.
'I would be grateful for your company, Prince Adrahil. I go to call upon the Lady Emeldir and pay her my regards for the day.'
'Then we are fated to be companions, sir,' Adrahil replied with a warm smile, 'for I, too, am due to pay my respects to your lady mother, and to collect my own ladies. Luinil and our daughters are attending Lady Emeldir this morning.' Denethor bowed a little more deeply, allowing his shoulders to join head and neck in the movement, and gestured for them to walk. They fell into a slow, easy pace. Denethor waited for the older man to speak his mind, as was both polite and politic. It was not a long wait.
'So, that is Thorongil.'
'Yes. That is Thorongil.' Always Thorongil. Denethor turned his head slightly to hide any sign that the statement irritated him. Adrahil would see what was easily hidden from lesser men. When the prince did not reply, he looked over at the other. Adrahil watched him intently.
'What do you think of him, Warden?'
'I think him the best mercenary we have hired in service to Gondor, Prince,' Denethor replied honestly. What do you really wish to know?
They had left the Tower through a side corridor on the third floor and were now upon the walkway that edged the Court of the Fountain, leading towards the wall of the seventh circle. The walk and the wall intersected at the edge of the great ship's prow that divided the City. From there, one could continue walking east to the point of the promontory, or could turn north or south and follow the circuit of the wall. The Stewards House stood against the wall to the south. Southern breezes brought spring up Anduin, tugging gently on their cloaks. Adrahil remained silent until they had turned the corner towards the house.
'You seem to be in disagreement with the Lord Steward over this captain, Warden.'
Denethor halted. He took a moment to be certain they would not be overheard and to compose his reply. An honest answer did not mean a thoughtless one.
'I am not in any disagreement with the Steward over Captain Thorongil, Prince. The Steward shares my opinion that the captain is eminently suitable to head the garrison at Pelargir and to oversee the southern troops. Do you, perhaps, bring a complaint from the south over this captain's handling of the defense?'
'No, I have no complaint. I have heard naught but good of him. Thus, I was greatly surprised that you and your lord father appeared to be having some contestation over the captain's reporting this morning.'
Denethor allowed his brow to wrinkle in confusion. 'Contestation? On what do you base this? I was not aware that there was any contestation or disagreement in council this morning. Unless you count as contestation my refusal to supply more bowmen? I thought I had explained that well and courteously enough, and that the captain accepted my judgment in like spirit. Do you think otherwise?' Denethor had to concentrate on keeping his voice mild and slightly bemused. How should it be that I would contest my own reports? The fact that Thorongil himself always gave credit for the information and thinking to Denethor where it was due could not help but undermine him, even as it confirmed his work. It was as if Thorongil were praising a subordinate. It would be better if he simply took credit.
Adrahil turned and leaned upon the City wall, gazing out over the Pelennor, considering. The less said to the prince, the better. Denethor joined the prince and looked away south, towards the Harlond below the Rammas Echor. Faintly, he could make out the white dots of a flock of gulls, and idly wondered if the prince's keen eyes could pick them out better than his own.
'It struck me as odd that your captain should be more like to your commander, Lord Denethor.'
'Why do you say such?'
'What have you done to so displease your lord father?' Adrahil's bright, grey eyes met Denethor's own, and he had to remind himself not to look away.
'I do not understand you, Prince.' What have I not done to displease him? Or he to displease me? It was now clear what Adrahil wished to know.
Adrahil said nothing for a full minute, then nodded. 'As you wish, Lord Denethor.' The prince refused to drop Denethor's eyes. 'Let me ask a different question, then, and I think you shall understand. What do you know of this captain?'
I understand all too well. You wonder at Ecthelion playing favorites, do you not? Well, so do I. Affecting nonchalance, Denethor began to reel off the known facts.
'The captain presented himself at Edoras sometime in 2957, offering his sword. Thengel was glad to have him, the Mark having been left in great disarray by his sire, Fengel. According to the king, Thorongil appeared as though by chance when Thengel had none to order East Emnet and the Wold against Orc incursions from the Brown Lands in the years immediately after he took the throne. Thorongil spent eleven years serving Thengel, until spring of 2968, when he presented himself to the Lord Steward with Thengel's letter.'
'I had heard he was out of Rohan.' Adrahil finally looked away, but only for a few moments. What else have you heard, prince? And what do you wonder? 'As if by chance? You think it not so? I hear it is uncertain whether he is of the North.'
No one had ever questioned Thorongil's presence in Minas Tirith so directly before. Most who understood such things accepted the Lost if the Steward did, and those who did not were glad for the northern mercenaries. Thorongil himself was simply the most illustrious of many fine northern soldiers. Of course, there were always a few tall, dark-haired young men who appeared out of Rohan every so often and who would seek service in the army. Young men who often resembled other young men born in the south and who never quite explained the manner of their own birth. They certainly were not Eorlingas. Thengel did not mind such men, and made sure that they learned the speech of Gondor ere they set out for service in that land. Most of these ostensible northerners never departed, and often married reasonably well.
'I think little is by chance, though perhaps much is by misfortune, in these times, Prince. At the same time as he appeared in Gondor, an old wanderer in grey also began to take an interest in Gondor.'
'The wizard? Mithrandir?'
Adrahil looked away for a longer time, thinking. 'You think there is more to these two appearing at the same time than mere chance, then?' A glance, now, instead of a stare.
'I think that wizards are always meddling in things that are not their proper concern, and that Mithrandir has visited Minas Tirith more than his usual wont since Thorongil appeared.'
'This displeases you?'
'This intrigues me.'
'Ah.' Adrahil scratched idly behind one ear, thinking hard. 'But we were talking of Thorongil. Is it certain he is from the North? What else can you say?'
I can say much, but I think I shall keep my peace. 'There is not much else to tell, in truth. I am as certain as I can be that he is of the Lost. Thorongil says nothing of himself, as is typical. He has the look, and asks the usual payment. None of them ever question his commands, though they are less friendly with him than with each other.'
That Denethor had not been able to puzzle out. The Lost were a tightly knit group, saying little to others. There were no known marriages between them and Gondorian women. They stayed in their garrisons, fought with grim efficiency, and disappeared back into the northern mists when their service was at an end.
Until Thorongil. He was different. The captain's speech was odd compared to that of the other rangers, though all of them sounded peculiar to southern ears. Thorongil also fought in a manner different than any Denethor had seen before, unlike the Lost or the Rohirrim, incorporating elements of both as well as something else. It was the distant, almost cold regard of the Lost towards Thorongil that was the greatest mystery, however. It made Denethor think that the man was perhaps some kind of outcast or had no proper leave to be here. Or has simply assumed their manner, and they dare not protest for fear of having to explain themselves.
'That is all you know?'
Denethor merely shrugged. 'He is an excellent commander, he obeys where obedience is required, and acts when decisions must be made. You have heard him speak, and you obviously know of his deeds. There is not much else of interest.'
'Why is he still here?'
'The Lord Steward has asked him to remain in the City for the week while…'
'No. Why has he not returned north?' Adrahil left off examining the plain below and pinned Denethor with his bright eyes once more.
Why indeed? The northerners served one five-year term of duty in Gondor, then left, usually to be replaced within a few weeks by another dark, taciturn warrior. In the fifth year, when he should have resigned his position, Thorongil easily assented to the Steward's request that he remain, not even asking for promotion. That was wrong; they always leave if they are from the north. Ecthelion had turned to Denethor then and asked him to name what post should belong to Thorongil. It had been a simple decision, and was quite popular in the City. It had also removed Thorongil from the Osgiliath garrison. The Lost have sent us one of their finest in these dire times. I should be glad for his presence, Denethor sternly told himself. The captain is a tool to be used against the Shadow. Do so and pay the rumors no mind. Not for himself the pettiness of jealousy towards the captain. The Steward would not push humiliation so far as to endanger the defenses. As long as that was the case, he must bear the rivalry and do his duty towards the realm.
'I fear you shall have to ask Captain Thorongil for the answer to that question,' Denethor blandly replied.
'I believe I shall,' Adrahil replied, dissatisfaction evident. I wish you luck, prince, in uncovering the captain's, or the Steward's, secrets. Even I cannot puzzle them out with certainty. 'But, however he may have arrived here and whatever he may have to say for himself, the captain's estimation of our situation can be trusted, yes?'
Denethor nodded emphatically. 'Yes, without reservation. He is careful in his statements, and it is rare that his estimations fall short of or overshoot the mark. You need have no worry as to whether he will take close care of the southlands. I would not have assigned him that garrison had I any doubt.'
Adrahil's eyebrows went up a fraction. 'You assigned him that command? Not the Lord Steward?'
Adrahil waited for more information. Denethor did not offer any. Finally the prince smiled thinly and gave his head a small shake.
'Is Captain Thorongil as forthcoming as yourself, Lord Denethor?'
At that, Adrahil laughed merrily. 'As masterful in politics as in battle you are, Denethor. Very well, it shall be as you wish. I am in agreement with you that the most skilled bowmen are going to be more effective in Ithilien and Anórien than they will be on the southern deltas, but I concur with Thorongil that more bowmen are needed in the south.'
'I do not disagree, Adrahil. I believe we need more bowmen in all locations, as I made clear, but we have only what we have, and those are best used east and north. Swordsmen and spearmen are the best for open plain battle, particularly as the enemy is short of horsemen. A dozen horsemen with spears will serve us better there than a dozen bowmen, horsed or unhorsed.'
'Is there no way to increase our bowmen, then?'
'All who train in arms in the City must master at least the simplest handling of a bow, by my order. Any who have talent are noted and required to train more, even should they prefer another weapon. I spend a good amount of time in the yards myself, training up the most likely prospects. In fact, some fine ladies are taking up a bow in the practice yards, if only to shame the men into doing better.' The attention had paid off. They now added more archers every month than they lost, and most swordsmen were at least serviceable archers at need. 'How do you train up bowmen in Dol Amroth?'
'Much the same as you, though our ladies are a bit less eager to callous their hands with feathers and bowstrings. Perhaps I may take in a few lessons with you during my stay? Your prowess as an archer is well known, even in the falas.'
Denethor smiled slightly and bowed his head to acknowledge the compliment. 'You flatter me, Adrahil.'
'No, I do not. I have seen you with a bow, in practice and in battle.'
'You shall come to the yards and see if the rumors are true.' Denethor returned Adrahil's glance. 'Will you have any extra bowmen to add to the southern forces this year? You did not answer that question in council.'
Adrahil scowled and shook his head. 'I fear not, sir. The shadow of Umbar is falling on Belfalas.'
'It falls no less heavily upon Pelargir and Ethir Anduin.'
'But you are well-armed and well-led in those regions, while Belfalas offers a more tempting target, being both fat and poorly patrolled.'
'Your forces are second only to those of Minas Tirith itself, Prince, as was evident in council but a half-hour past. I think any in Umbar who think Belfalas poorly led has forgotten the lesson of Langstrand.'
Adrahil waved away the mention of his own command prowess. 'We were forewarned by fishermen, and it was but a matter of waiting for the pirates to disembark before trampling them. We never did get the ships, not even to burn them. That would have marked a true victory. As it was, they have learned only that they need more secrecy, not that they need fear us.' The man scowled again. 'We need some way to meet them at sea.'
'If Gondor is short of bowmen, it is even more short of shipwrights. The sea-knowledge of Gondor left with Castamir. Could we find the hands to man a navy still we would lack the ships. Should we try to build any in the old havens, that will rouse the ire of Umbar, and guarantee attack.'
'There is knowledge enough and ships enough along the falas to put together a raiding fleet, Denethor.'
'Perhaps, but you know more than I whether the men will be willing to leave their coasts unguarded for as long as it will take to mount more than some small harassing raids. Again, I think we can only incite the beast to attack, not give it a good fight.'
'I must admit some dismay as to the Lord Steward's position on the Corsairs.' The quick shift back to the business of the White Tower reminded Denethor that Adrahil was interested in more than the ordering of the falas.
'I appreciate your sentiment, Prince. I trust you intend to discuss this matter with the Lord Steward more thoroughly over the course of your stay in Minas Tirith?' No, you will not get me to contradict Ecthelion. Not this way.
Denethor heard footsteps along the walkway as someone approached from the Tower. He was not sure whether he should be amused or annoyed that it was Thorongil who stepped around the corner. Not by chance, even when chance it is. The captain saw him and the prince standing against the wall, gave a polite nod of acknowledgement, and turned to take the steep stairs down to the alleyway below. Adrahil's back was to the captain and he did not see the man. Perhaps you should have the chance to talk to our secretive eagle sooner rather than later.
'Captain Thorongil, would you join us?' Adrahil whipped around to watch the captain approach. The tall, strongly built man carried himself lightly, yet with a grave air, as though always on the edge of a profound thought. Rather like a wizard.
'My lord, my prince,' Thorongil evenly greeted them.
'Captain,' Denethor replied in kind. 'Prince Adrahil and I were just discussing the problem of Umbar.' As he hoped, a fierce look came to Thorongil's face. There were few topics that could rouse the mysterious captain's spirit, and none affected him as much as the topic of Umbar. Why should that be? These small chinks in Thorongil's calm façade were tantalizing hints of the man in full.
'And how might I be of assistance in this discussion, sirs?' It was not simply imagination. Thorongil's voice was sharper, more eager.
'I fear I am in disagreement with both the Lord Steward and the Captain-General on the threat offered by Umbar, Captain Thorongil,' Adrahil responded.
'Then you shall be in disagreement with myself, my prince,' Thorongil said firmly. 'I hold with my Captain-General that Umbar is a great threat.'
'Does that not, then, put both of you into disagreement with the Lord Steward?' Adrahil asked.
Denethor said nothing. After looking over at him, Thorongil carefully replied, 'I believe it is a disagreement in degree, not in kind, my prince. We all know Umbar to be a threat and a strong one. The only question that remains is how great a threat, and a commander in the field is well advised to presume an enemy is as strong as rumor and report would have it. The Lord Steward is certainly not unaware of the threat of Umbar, if that is what you mean.'
'The prince wishes for more bowmen in the south to counter this threat,' Denethor pleasantly offered, earning a sharp glare from Adrahil. It was now Thorongil's turn to refrain from an answer.
'The prince wishes for a more concerted defense, not merely more bowmen, against this threat, my Lord Denethor,' was Adrahil's slightly waspish reply. Denethor noted a small twitch at the corner of Thorongil's mouth as the man suppressed a smile. The captain gazed south, down Anduin, ignoring the other two men as they sparred.
'Regrettably, such a defense would require a navy of our own, as we have just been discussing,' Denethor offered.
'Then the Belfalas will need to create its own defense and hold off the pirates and raiders of the south.'
'Yes, Prince, but has that not always been the case? Minas Tirith guards the River and southern and eastern land approaches, and Dol Amroth stands firm against the enemies who travel the waves.'
'Then it shall be Dol Amroth who suffers the losses, for Umbar will not attempt the River while the Pelargir garrison stands. Perhaps we should dare to build a few warships of our own upon the coast. If nothing else, we might reduce their threat with a few victories.'
'That's not what is…' Denethor and Thorongil looked at each other, startled, as they spoke the same words at the same moment. Thorongil bowed his head and motioned for Denethor to speak.
'That is not what is reported out of the south, Prince Adrahil,' Denethor repeated. Thorongil nodded his agreement. 'We have had some reliable news that we have not seen the true strength of the Corsairs.' He motioned for Thorongil to take up the report.
'Various sources agree that Umbar is greatly increasing its shipyards. What the raiders send against us now are old and decrepit vessels that can do little more than raid an isolated fishing village. Not since Langstrand have they offered a true fight. They are wearing out their old fleet, not repairing it, and the ships are badly undermanned. More than a few have ended up on the rocks of Tolfalas or stuck in the tidewaters of Ethir Anduin. They are building a new fleet under the direction of an old enemy. What they send out now, they expect to lose.'
Adrahil looked back and forth between the other two, concerned. 'Why was this not said in council?'
'I do not know, my prince. The Steward felt other concerns were more pressing, I presume.'
'Not more pressing to me!' Adrahil growled. 'How reliable are they, these reports?'
'Reliable, but vague, indirect,' Denethor had to admit. 'We can get no spies into Umbar itself, and rely on news of what Umbar trades in and out of the merchant bazaars on their borders.'
'What of the Faithful?'
'They would send news only of the most dire kind. They cannot risk contact for anything less.' Adrahil pondered this news for a moment, then turned to Thorongil.
'Tell me, Captain, what do you think the import of this news?'
Thorongil glanced over at Denethor for permission to speak. Receiving a nod, he said, 'There are no certain answers, Prince Adrahil, but the most likely outcome would be a single large invasion along the entire falas, with particular attacks upon Dol Amroth and Pelargir, possibly in combination with a push on land across the Poros and up into South Ithilien.'
Adrahil said nothing in reply at first, simply watched the two of them with his bright eyes, measuring. 'You describe an invasion of a size not seen since the Steward Beren's reign.'
'Aye.' Again, they spoke with one voice.
'I thought that the forces of Umbar, no matter their long hatred, have dwindled even as those of Gondor have done. How could they provide such an army?'
'Faithful or darkened, the blood of Númenor fails, it is true,' Denethor replied, 'but evil hearts spring up in all types of men, and the Nameless Enemy brings his servants together more effectively than we can rally our allies.' He held those bright eyes sternly, and eventually Adrahil looked away.
'I myself think it even more dire than Thorongil has presented,' Denethor continued. 'If Pelargir can be overrun, and the falas tied down, what is to prevent the Enemy from retaking Ithilien or Osgiliath?'
'What stands in our favor,' Thorongil interjected, 'all that is in our favor, is time. It will take them years to build this fleet, and they dare not attack in any great force until it is ready.'
'And in that time,' Denethor concluded, 'we must demonstrate to the Lord Steward that it is not exaggeration and to win his support in meeting this threat. And to figure out precisely how we can defeat a great navy when we have none of our own. Just a few small matters.' He glanced at Thorongil, and they shared a small, wry smile. He knew Adrahil watched them more intently than ever, looking for some sign of division, of conflict. You will see none.
'Have these reports been confirmed independently?'
'Yes. From fairly reliable sources,' Denethor replied. Adrahil said nothing, but crossed his arms and considered all of the news.
Bells chimed, announcing the fifth hour.
'My Lord Denethor, we are late to our next appointment! The ladies will be most put out at us,' Adrahil joked, though the humor was strained. He was still thinking about the news of Umbar.
'Do not let me keep you, sirs,' Thorongil began, with a small bow, preparing to depart.
'No, you must come with us, captain! We go to pay our regards to the Lady of the White Tower, and I am to collect my own ladies. I know that they would very much like to make your acquaintance.' Denethor watched a small look of alarm enter Thorongil's eyes and decided he wished to be entertained this morning.
'You are quite right, sir, the captain must come with us.' Denethor's face and tone gave no hint to his delight at Thorongil's pleading expression. 'You will be able to pay all of your respects at once, captain, and earn your freedom for the rest of the day.' Denethor began walking, knowing the other two would fall into step beside him. Adrahil was chuckling.
'Ah, yes, say hello, makes one's excuses, and run as quickly as possible back to the barracks! Be glad you are but a soldier, captain. Were you one of the lords of the City, all your spare time would be taken up with these niceties,' Adrahil said with false joviality. Thorongil smiled and made no comment. Denethor contented himself with a thoughtful sound and led the way to the Wall entrance to the Steward's House. The Prince was quite strongly on the scent, but was the scent false? Only the letters between Ecthelion and Thengel could illume the question, and Denethor was not certain they even existed anymore.
They entered the house. Denethor paused momentarily at the door to his mother's solar, the first room along the hall on the second floor, but decided the visit called for a more formal entrance and led the way to the entry hall a floor below. There, he pulled a bell rope to summon the Matron. In less than a minute, she came downstairs, keys jingling at her belt.
'My Lord Denethor?'
'Madam, please inform my lady mother that I, Prince Adrahil and Captain Thorongil wish to pay our respects this morning.'
'Of course, sir. One moment.' Soon, the matron returned and gestured for them to follow. The men were led back upstairs to the solar, a large, sunny room with glazed windows that overlooked the wall. Women sat in three pairs around the room. He went first to his mother and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
'Denethor. I believe you know Princess Luinil.'
'Indeed I do, though it has been far too long since I was last able to greet her in person. Princess.'
'Lord Denethor.' Adrahil's wife's eyes were a pale, unprepossessing blue, dulling an otherwise lovely face. Her handshake was firm, though her eyes were not on him at all, but looking beyond him to Thorongil. He stepped to the side and gestured for the captain to approach.
'Mother, you of course know Captain Thorongil.'
'Lady Emeldir,' Thorongil courteously addressed her, bowing slightly. Emeldir gave Thorongil a cool stare and a small nod.
'Princess Luinil, my senior captain, Thorongil.'
'Princess Luinil,' Thorongil repeated, bowing exactly as he had to Emeldir.
The princess offered her hand. 'I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Lord Thorongil.' Denethor saw his mother arch an eyebrow at the title bestowed on the captain and wished he could turn around to see Aiavalë's expression. Thorongil looked very uncomfortable, but smiled and shook Luinil's hand. Adrahil stepped forward and gave Emeldir a kiss, murmuring his greetings. When the prince straightened, he took the men by the shoulder and guided them towards the other two pairs of women.
'If I may provide the introductions, gentlemen,' Adrahil said, coming to a halt before the first pair. 'Lady Maiaberiel, you are more lovely than ever, my dear.' Denethor's sister preened under the praise. She was widely accounted the most beautiful woman in Minas Tirith. And one of the most dangerous to cross. Denethor and Aiavalë had not nicknamed her "Beruthiel" for nothing. 'May I present my eldest daughter, Ivriniel. Ivriniel, Lord Denethor, High Warden of the White Tower, and Captain Thorongil.' A young woman almost as beautiful as his detested sister offered her hand.
'Lord Denethor.' Her eyes were the same grey as her father's, though lacking the inner brightness. Her polite smile widened to friendliness as she turned to greet the captain. Denethor watched, caught between exasperation and amusement, as the girl discreetly flirted with Thorongil. He glanced over to the final pair and noted his eldest sister and her guest exchanging amused looks over Lady Ivriniel's flirting. Adrahil soon steered them in that direction.
'My greetings to you, Lady Aiavalë,' Adrahil said in a formal tone, bowing slightly to the Steward's eldest child. What, no exclamations over her loveliness? No endearments? Denethor gave Adrahil a dark glance. His sister inclined her head graciously, but said nothing. Denethor leaned down and kissed her cheek through her veil.
'Brother.' Her eyebrow quirked up in amusement at the prince. They had long ago learned to tell each other's thoughts just from looking at the eyes. 'Thorongil,' Aiavalë added. She never bothered with "Captain."
'Archivist.' Thorongil never bothered with her name. It suited them both.
'And this is my daughter Finduilas,' Adrahil said in a much less formal tone. 'Finduilas, Lord Denethor and Captain Thorongil.' The girl looked up and Denethor was captured by her eyes. In this, she clearly took after her father. He felt himself examined, measured, weighed and judged as acceptable in just the moment of her glance. Denethor could not really say whether she was beautiful or not as he could not look at anything in her face besides her eyes. She offered her hand matter-of-factly.
'I am pleased to meet you, Lord Denethor.' Her handshake was firm and unhurried.
'The pleasure is mutual, my lady.'
'Finduilas.' A correction, given without hesitation.
'Finduilas.' Denethor bowed over her hand, then stepped out of the way to watch her greet Thorongil. She looked intently at the captain, much as her father had done on the wall when Thorongil walked up. What made Denethor wonder was how intently Thorongil stared in return. A glance at Aiavalë showed she, too, had noticed this unusual reaction from the steadfastly distant captain. It is as though he sees Umbar. His sister looked at him briefly and he nodded a hair. This would need to be discussed later.
'Captain.' The coolness of the girl's tone, almost a perfect match to his sister's greeting brought Denethor's attention back to Finduilas. She was not smiling as her sister, Ivriniel, had done. She was thinking.
'My lady.' Thorongil was still staring. Finduilas removed her hand from his and nodded a dismissal.
'What have you gentlemen been discussing in your council this morning,' Princess Luinil asked, 'or is it too secret to talk about?' A warm look passed between the husband and wife, and the prince went to join her. Denethor quickly sat next to his sister, giving her left hand a squeeze as he did so. Thorongil retreated to a chair across from Beruthiel and Ivriniel and did his best to look only at the floor or the prince.
'We spoke no great secrets, but I am not certain we said anything that bears repeating,' Adrahil began. 'This morning was given over to the reports prepared by Lord Denethor and his captains. I suppose we could tell you how many hundred-weights of corn and how many wagons of hay have been sent to Pelargir, if you really wish to hear of it, my ladies. Is there anything of greater interest to be discussed this afternoon, Lord Denethor?'
'The progress of repairs to the barge at Cair Andros will be, I believe, the most important point of discussion this afternoon, I am sorry to say.' Unless you decide to bring up the question of Umbar. That would make for a very interesting meeting.
'I do not think we need to hear the quartermaster's list for each garrison, but it would be good to know how we fare generally,' Luinil told Adrahil. The prince nodded and began a brief but accurate account of the condition of the major posts, occasionally asking for a detail from Denethor or Thorongil. It was the report of one ruler to another, and the princess listened carefully. Finduilas and Aiavalë also paid close attention, and he could tell from where and how his sister narrowed her eyes what parts of the report Aiavalë would question in greater depth later. Luinil thought for a moment after Adrahil completed his account, then asked for more information about where and how men from Belfalas were being used, never losing track of a location, a name, or a rank. That was not a mistake earlier, was it, Luinil? Whose reaction were you watching when you called a mercenary a lord? He would have to keep a close eye on the entire Swan house, it would seem.
Not long into her mother's questions, Finduilas began coughing. It was a low, nagging cough, barely more than throat clearing, but the fit did not wish to end. Denethor rose and brought some water to the young woman, but this only soothed the cough for a short time.
'If you will pardon me, I need to step out for a breath of air,' Finduilas apologized. Aiavalë was on her feet in a moment, pulling Denethor up with her.
'Come,' his sister ordered. Before he could protest, his sister had one arm, Finduilas the other, and he was escorting the women out of the room. They had to pause in the hallway as Finduilas coughed very strongly, but were soon out on the circle wall, strolling back and forth before the Steward's House.
'Are you well, Finduilas?' Aiavalë asked with much concern. She kept one hand resting on Denethor's arm for support, but did not walk closely so her limp would not cause her to bump into him. The breeze pressed her veil against her face and she had to hold it away from her mouth to talk.
'Oh, yes, Aiavalë, thank you. Sometimes the air becomes too close indoors for me to breathe easily, and a short walk outside sets things to rights,' the younger woman assured her.
'What will you do in the archive, then? The air is much closer there, and the dust can be terrible.'
'I shall need to stop often and walk outside, is all,' Finduilas replied with a sigh. 'Are you certain there will be no objection to me going through papers?'
Aiavalë let out a barking laugh. 'Of course not! I am the Master Archivist, and you will be there with my permission. You will need to handle the documents as I tell you to, lest they be damaged. If you do that, you may look at what you will.'
Denethor was greatly intrigued, and held his tongue, hoping the women would continue. He could not remember Aiavalë ever speaking so freely to someone she had just met. Indeed, aside from himself, her archivists, and a few particular servants, his eldest sister scarce spoke more than a word or two before others. He was also intrigued as to what the girl was going to be looking at and whether it was business for the prince.
'I shall follow your instructions precisely, my dear Lady Lore,' Finduilas teased, 'for I most certainly do not wish to be made to spend all of this spring sitting attendant upon Ivriniel.'
'You will be here all spring?' Denethor asked, surprised by the news. He had thought the Swans would return to Dol Amroth after the Prince was done taking counsel with the Steward.
'Yes. Mother has decided that she wishes to spend the season in Minas Tirith. We shall depart when the summer heat descends,' the girl pleasantly replied.
'Will that be enough time to finish your research?' he pressed, hoping she would let slip what she was looking for. The girl looked at him keenly and did not answer at once.
'I have no clear object of research, but I trust I will find one.' Finduilas paused to cough.
'That sounds as if it is something serious,' Denethor noted with concern. 'Are you always short of breath or is this a passing malady?'
Finduilas stopped and faced him, and once more he was caught in her bright gaze. 'Yes, I am always somewhat short of breath, though more so when I need to sit still for a long period of time. I have had a cough like this as long as I can remember, though it changes with the seasons, sometimes better, sometimes worse.'
'Shall we walk more, then, Finduilas? If motion relieves the malady.'
She smiled. 'The moment has passed, but I think I should prefer a quiet stroll upon the wall to returning to the room. I do not need an escort, Lor…'
'Denethor.' She nodded.
'Denethor. I do not require an escort if you need to return to your business.'
'The other gentlemen shall be out in a few minutes, if I am any judge. Having spent all morning in council, I, too would prefer a quiet stroll, and I believe I speak for my sister, as well.' The three continued south along the wall.
'Finduilas,' Aiavalë asked, 'can nothing be done about this illness?'
'I fear not. I have tried many medicines and cures, but it remains.'
'You need to go to the Houses of Healing in the sixth circle,' Denethor firmly replied. 'The greatest healers of Gondor are there. Perhaps they will know of a cure.'
'Yes, you must!' Aiavalë added crisply. 'I shall hold you to it.'
Finduilas laughed and patted the Archivist's arm. 'Very well, I shall obey!'
They walked along the wall for a hundred yards and by the time they returned, Thorongil, Adrahil and the other women were waiting. The captain excused himself to prepare for the afternoon meeting with the Steward, and the prince took his ladies back to Vinyamar, their residence in the fifth circle. Denethor went to Aiavalë's suite of rooms and they discussed their mornings.
Characters introduced in this chapter, in order of appearance:
Denethor – High Warden of the White Tower, Captain-General of Gondor, only son and third child of Emeldir and Ecthelion, 43 years old
Adrahil – Twenty-first Prince of Dol Amroth, 57 years old
Thorongil – Captain of the Pelargir garrison, 43 years old
Emeldir – OC, Lady of the White Tower, wife to Ecthelion, 88 years old
Luinil – OC, Wife of Adrahil, Princess of Dol Amroth, 56 years old
Maiaberiel – OC, Second daughter of Emeldir and Ecthelion, 51 years old
Ivriniel – First daughter of Luinil and Adrahil, 27 years old
Aiavalë – OC, First daughter of Emeldir and Ecthelion, 59 years old
Finduilas – Second daughter of Luinil and Adrahil, 24 years old
For the purposes of the story, I call "OC" any character not given a name by Tolkien. Thus, Ivriniel is not "OC" because she is designated in a genealogical chart, though her mother, Luinil, is OC since, though she must exist, she is not named.
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