Many Guises and Many Names
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The Commander of Gondor: 13. The Lady's Champion
As the evening deepened into night, the snow, pushed by a rising wind, blasted by the window in the City Guard commander's office. It had been a vicious and tenacious winter that refused to loose its grip on the southland, even now as the calendar neared March. Thorongil was working late and was alone. He had sent Quillion home earlier and these days it was uncommon for Fallon to spend his off-duty hours near. Footsteps came along the portico and Thorongil looked up expectantly as the door opened, half-hoping it was his captain coming home. Denethor stood in the doorway, a silver flask in his hand. The Steward's elder son was drunk, an occurrence nearly as rare as seeing Thorongil intoxicated.
"My lord?" Thorongil stood up, pulled up Fallon's chair, and indicated the seat.
"I've done a terrible thing," Denethor began, dropping into it. He looked at Thorongil's stricken face. "What goes through your mind, Commander? Murder? Treason?" Noting Denethor's surly mood, Thorongil warily shrugged. "I've married a woman who cannot return my love. And it saddens her, saddens her terribly."
"Finduilas admires and respect you, my lord." The words sounded insincere to Thorongil as he spoke them and he knew they were not the words a husband wishes to hear of his wife.
"Aye, but I love her so, it near drives me mad." Denethor took a drink from his flask and held his head in his hand a moment. "Have you ever felt that way about anyone, Thorongil? Loved them to the point it drove you mad?" He looked at the commander with reddened eyes.
"Actually, I have."
"Did it end well?"
"It hasn't ended yet." Denethor eyed him, waiting for the story.
"I suppose that's all I'll get from you? The secretive Commander Thorongil! One day I'll learn your secrets, my friend." He laughed harshly. "We are friends, no?"
Thorongil slowly shook his head. "No, we are comrades. You are the next Steward and I serve the Steward's House."
"Ah…it's my brother. You've deep loyalties to him." Denethor nodded knowingly. "I feel guilt about what's happened between us, you know."
Thorongil was silent, watching the drunken man's mind churning.
"My wife is very respectful, very kind-hearted, very polite to me. I'd rather have her angry at a marriage forced on her by her brother and her husband." He was silent a long while, then began speaking again so softly Thorongil strained to hear his whisper. "Sometimes…sometimes my anger is hard to control. I hold her responsible for the hatred my brother bears me…" He took another drink from the flask. "What would you do, Thorongil, if I struck her?"
"I'd kill you, my lord." The commander held his eyes for a moment and Denethor skirted his gaze away.
"I shall hold my hand then until I have an heir." He took another drink and rose unsteadily. "Good night, Commander, and may sweet Varda send you dreams of your beloved."
"Good night, my lord. Would you like the way lit?"
"No, I know it well. It's still my city… for awhile." He staggered out into the snowy dark.
For a long while after the great tower clock struck midnight, Commander Thorongil sat at his desk, staring with unseeing eyes, pondering Denethor's words, wondering if Fallon and Finduilas were safe within Minas Tirith's strong walls.
Early the next morning, Thorongil sought an audience with the Lady Finduilas. The Commander of the City Guards made it his business to know the Lady's routine. Most of the court would still be long abed, but Thorongil knew Finduilas kept her usual hours and dawn would find her awake and walking on the plaza of the Citadel. She met him there. He fell in step beside her and walked quietly with her for a ways.
"I have a delicate matter to inquire about, madam," he began.
She smiled a faint reminder of her carefree smile and chided him. "So, it's 'madam' now; 'lady' wasn't formal enough?" She saw the seriousness in his eyes. "Of course, my friend." She caught his hand. "What troubles you?"
Thorongil looked directly at the Lady of Minas Tirith. "What troubles you, Finduilas? Has your husband ever---ever threatened you? Ever struck you?" He waited for her reply, knowing what he would do if she acknowledged violence, knowing it would ruin so many plans, knowing it would lead to his death. He held her eyes and she did not look away.
"My husband has a depressed streak of which I was unaware before but the courtiers say is seen too often of late. And he has a terrible temper but he has never struck me or threatened even. As you probably know, he has begun to drink to excess. Something plagues him. Something greatly disturbs him, and I fear it is our marriage." She walked a bit father on, started to speak, hesitated, and finally went on. "Sometimes, sometimes when he has drunk too much, he makes a joke about the day he seeks his own end. It will not be poison or a dagger, but he will raise his hand to me. He says you and Fallon and his father will draw lots to kill him then. I think this speech is wild and it scares me and I tell him so, but he laughs." She clasped Thorongil's hand tightly. "He becomes very strange then and says he says he fears you most." Finduilas watched Thorongil closely. "He says we all have reason to fear you…should I fear you, my lord?"
"Sometimes, Lady, I fear myself," he told her. "But, never should you fear me, my dear. As once you saved me so I always will protect you." She caught his coat and made him stop. Facing him, she removed a blue enameled swan from her coat and pinned it on his lapel. It was the gesture of a little girl and all the more poignant for that reason. Finduilas saw him as the brother she wished she had, the father that she missed, and the lover that she had lost. Impulsively, she hugged him to her fiercely.
"You're my champion, Sir Knight. Let all know that." The two parted not long after, the commander to his office and the lady to the duties that now awaited her. Neither saw the watcher who long after the plaza was deserted, stood in one tall tower window, pressing his forehead against the cold panes of glass.
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