Many Guises and Many Names
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Courting the Lady: 15. Answer
Despite the cheerful music and the nearness of the midwinter celebrations, the mood in the room was somber. Finduilas knew why. Her father had told her of the news sent by Vardil about the Corsair-raids on the coast. There had evidently been some wrangling among the Council as to the best way in which to meet the threat, to judge by the coolness she noted between various persons here tonight.
She had scarcely stepped into the room before a slender, greying man was bowing over her hand and inquiring if she would care to dance. She could not immediately place him, but as the figure brought them close enough to converse he introduced himself as Baran of Ethring. Finduilas recalled the town, at a bridge on the River Ringló, on the road between Erech and Linhir. Not one of the larger lordships, but respectable.
“Have you been in Minas Tirith for long?” he asked.
“About a week,” Finduilas replied. “And you, sir?”
“My family and I arrived only two days ago,” Baran said. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, the dance requiring them to face in the same direction. “My son Gelmir would be delighted to make your acquaintance.”
Finduilas understood what remained unspoken: Baran was hinting at the possibility of a match between her and his son. I can scarcely tell him that I have already received a proposal from a greater man. She said politely, “I would be pleased to meet him, if you wish.”
When the dance ended, Baran led her to the edge of the room and introduced his wife, Lotheluin, and their son Gelmir to her. Finduilas was startled by the woman’s appearance. I could almost be looking into a mirror, save that her eyes are blue as the sky over the sea on a sunny day – and that she must be twenty or thirty years older than I am, perhaps a little more than Denethor’s age. Gelmir seemed a personable young man of about Imrahil’s age, or perhaps a year or two more. She mentioned Imrahil’s present position in the Ithilien troops, and inquired if Gelmir had similar plans.
“I would be of little use there,” he said ruefully.
Finduilas looked puzzled, and Gelmir gestured at his left leg.
“When I was just a boy, I took a fall from a tree and broke it very badly.” He walked a few steps to show her, and she saw that he limped. “I can still walk, but not ride well and certainly not march all day or move silently in enemy territory. So I cannot join in defending Gondor, much to my dismay.” His voice was resigned, accepting of what must be.
Lotheluin joined the conversation. “Do you ride, my dear?”
“Sometimes,” Finduilas said. “I am fond of it, though I am not the most skilled of horsewomen.”
Baran said proudly, “My wife was a great rider when she was your age. None of the men could keep up with her. She even outrode the lord Denethor once, when he was traveling through her father’s holding.”
“Was a great rider?” Lotheluin looked at her husband with a mixture of affection and exasperation. “I can still outride you any day, my dear.”
“True enough,” Baran admitted. “Is a great rider, then.”
“I would be pleased if you would like to join me some morning,” Lotheluin told Finduilas. “I often ride for an hour or two in the Pelennor.”
“If I have the opportunity, I would enjoy that,” Finduilas responded. I would like to know the circumstances of this race with Denethor, which sounds an interesting story. Perhaps I will find an occasion to ask about it sometime.
They continued chatting for several moments more before Finduilas was claimed by another partner and whirled off again into the patterns of the dance. An hour later, breathless and trying not to pant after a lively dance, she found Adrahil and stood by him for a chance of refuge.
“Have you seen the lord Denethor?” her father asked.
“No, I haven’t. Why?”
“He was looking for you a little while ago. I believe he was hoping that you would dance with him tonight, my dear.”
“I certainly intend to,” said Finduilas quietly. “I would regret it if I did not.” Her hand touched the lace at her neck. Tonight there are too many people here. . . but I can leave him encouraged. “Should you see him again, Father, please ask him to wait for me, if you would, and I will return here between dances.”
She had no more than finished speaking when her friend Elerrína, Forlong’s daughter, whirled up to them and claimed her attention, pulling her away from Adrahil with a laugh.
“You will never guess what has happened,” Elerrína confided as soon as they were a discreet distance away.
“Doubtless not. What?”
“Duinhir asked me to dance, twice! You know, Duinhavel’s son, from Morthond. Do you not think he is handsome?”
“Oh, certainly,” said Finduilas absently. Which young man is he, now? Oh – that one, yes. “Very handsome.” She knew from long experience that Elerrína could chatter for hours about this lad or that, whomever caught her fancy at a particular moment. What would she think if she knew I had a proposal from a man old enough to be my father? Laugh, I am sure. She would never value a man like Denethor – which is as well, since I cannot imagine her appealing to him, either.
“And,” Elerrína added importantly, “Mother said that I was to consider carefully anyone who seemed to be paying attention to me. They are hoping to arrange a betrothal for me this season.” She smoothed a hand over the blue embroidery that adorned her skirts.
“A betrothal?” Now Finduilas looked at her friend in surprise. “But you are only twenty-two, not yet of age.”
Elerrína shrugged. “What does that matter, if I wish to marry?”
She would make an ill wife, yet – she is still a child in many ways. But I suppose there is no way to persuade her to wait, not if her parents think she should wed and are allowing, even encouraging, such a thing.
“But would you marry so young? I could see being betrothed, but I would not have wanted to wed at your age. There is no reason to hurry; you would be depriving yourself of several seasons of fun and flirtation,” said Finduilas shrewdly.
“Well, that is so,” Elerrína agreed. “And perhaps I will not. I thought you would be interested, however. Are you not beginning to think of marriage yourself? You are of age, there is nothing to hold you back. Is there not some young man who intrigues you? I saw you conversing with the family from Ethring – Gelmir is quite good-looking too. A shame he limps.”
Goodness. She knows the name of every man here, I daresay. And has an opinion on each – based wholly on appearance, I do believe. Well, what else can one expect? With a slight chill in her voice, Finduilas said, “He does limp, but that does not detract from his character.”
Elerrína ignored Finduilas’s tone, and said, “Too bad that Tarondor of Tolfalas is already married. Though I think that Lady Eilinel would be a most fearsome mother-in-law, so perhaps it is just as well.” She chattered on about several other scions of the great families, and it was with some relief that Finduilas saw Elerrína’s brother Derlong approaching to ask for a dance. Elerrína had been a more interesting companion in their younger days; lately her single-minded interest in the lads had become rather tedious.
Derlong was no bad dancer, for a man who spent most of his time on board a ship. He told Finduilas that he had unexpectedly received leave this winter season, but that with the recent news, he was sure to be recalled soon to the southern fleet.
“Rumor has it that the Corsairs are most like to attack in the spring, but best to be prepared,” he said heartily.
With that Finduilas could not but agree. Derlong made a few more remarks about the political situation – more interesting to Finduilas than his sister’s conversation tonight, but nothing that showed any great insight or understanding of matters. Not surprising. He is still young, too, and being with the fleet will teach him much of ropes and sails, stars and tides, but little of men and their political maneuverings. When their dance came to an end, she made a polite curtsey and sought out her father again. Approaching him, she thought at first that he was speaking with Denethor, but as she drew nearer she realized that it was Thorongil who stood with him.
“My lady,” Thorongil bowed formally over her hand. “Will you grant me the pleasure of a dance?”
She smiled at his manner. “I will, Captain Thorongil.”
She had forgotten how well he danced, albeit with a slight – she could only think of it as an archaic feel to his movements, a hint of greater formality and antiquity than she was used to. Not that he ever misstepped; it was simply the way he held himself as he moved through the figures of the dance.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked him.
“As much as I would expect,” he said. “Forlong has not stinted in his hospitality tonight, and the music is excellent – when one can hear it. And you?”
He looked at her with a serious expression. “Have you spoken with the lord Denethor yet?”
“No, I have not. I have not yet seen him here tonight,” Finduilas answered.
“Have you decided what you will say?” Thorongil spoke softly, not to be overheard, though he had chosen his words to be discreet.
“I have. But this is too public an occasion, would you not agree?”
“Perhaps. Then when?”
“On mettarë, I think.” She paused as the dance took them apart. “I will ask if he will come see me then.”
“Good,” and in his voice was a wealth of relief that she did not understand.
They finished the dance in a silence that brought comfort, not care, and Thorongil fetched Finduilas a cup of wine when they had finished and again returned to where Adrahil stood. She thought of inquiring why he was so concerned that she give a reply to Denethor. But a crowded ballroom is no place for such a question, and I suppose he would not answer in any case. He would have said, had he wished me to know. Nor did he ask what my decision would be. . .
“You should dance, Father,” Finduilas urged Adrahil, as the lady Eilinel passed near them. “Do not stay on the sidelines on my account, nor on Mother’s – she would have preferred to have you enjoy yourself, you know.”
“I know, Finduilas, but my heart would not be in it tonight. Perhaps on mettarë I will muster an inclination to do so.” Adrahil glanced at Thorongil. “But if you would excuse us, I would like to speak with Captain Thorongil for a few moments.”
“Of course,” she said. They bowed and Adrahil led Thorongil out into the less densely crowded antechamber. Finduilas stood alone against the wall; it was the middle of a dance, and she was thankful for the chance to pause and rest. She closed her eyes to hear the music more clearly.
As the melody drew to an end, a man’s voice intruded on her thoughts.
Denethor stood before her. She found it hard to read his expression.
“My lord Denethor, how pleasant to see you.” The words were formal, but her mouth stretched wider than the socially appropriate half-smile.
“The pleasure is mine, my lady. Would you care to dance?”
“Very much.” She set her goblet down on a tray carried by a passing servant, and took Denethor’s arm.
The music should have warned them that this would be no sedate promenade. Excellent dancer though she was, Finduilas came near to stumbling from dizziness more than once as they twisted and turned, leapt and stepped – but somehow they came through triumphant, one of only four couples to remain standing at the end. Even Thorongil, she saw, had come to grief while dancing with the lady Lotheluin. Finduilas nearly threw her arms around Denethor in celebration, but dignity restrained her.
He looked as exhilarated as she felt herself, flushed and breathing hard. “Shall we see if there is more air in the other room?”
“Yes, please,” she accepted. Cool air would be refreshing; she noted his thoughtfulness in suggesting it, as none of her previous partners had done.
In a corner, with few people close by, he began, “My lady. . .”
Finduilas was certain she knew what he intended to say, and spoke to forestall him. “Not now, lord Denethor.”
“I did not mean to press you tonight,” he said. “I only wished to ask if you would do me the very great honor of opening the dancing on mettarë. I believe I can promise that it will not be such a challenging one as that we just had. Would you?”
Controlled though his expression was, Finduilas could see hope in it, and a touch of wariness that she might refuse. “Of course I will. The honor is mine, sir.”
“Thank you.” Denethor smiled, looking more than ever like Thorongil as he relaxed. “I will see that you are seated at the high table that night – I hope you do not mind? Your father will be there, of course, and since your brother is not here. . .”
With a hint of flirtation, she said, “As long as I am near you, my lord, I should have no difficulty in accustoming myself to such exalted company.”
He looked bemused for an instant, then realized that she was not speaking seriously, and his smile widened. “I would hope not,” he agreed. “I will be sure that you are placed not far away, then.” His eyes held hers, again filled with hope mingled with uncertainty.
No one stood near. She was so close that she could see the beads of perspiration along his hairline from the exertion of the dance, hear the sound of his breathing, smell the scent of new cloth from his tunic. Before she stopped to consider her words, Finduilas heard herself say, “Denethor.”
It was the first time she had ever addressed him by his name alone, and the look he gave her shook her to the core. I did not realize. . . She drew in a breath, and continued, “I believe I owe you an answer to a question you asked me quite some time ago. My answer is yes.”
Denethor put a hand against the wall. “Finduilas. . . are you certain? Do you mean this?”
“I do,” she said.
He reached for her hand and bowed to kiss it, his eyes never leaving her face. “My lady,” he said, straightening. “I cannot say. . .”
“You need not,” she told him. “Let us not speak of it to anyone for a little?” I do not think Forlong’s dance is the place for such an announcement.
Denethor nodded, understanding. “At my father’s feast, on mettarë?”
“Yes. Only to our fathers, till then.”
“On mettarë I will be repeating your name until the walls of my rooms give it back to me, until it echoes from the furthest streets of the city, until the White Mountains resound with it,” said Denethor, still holding her hand.
Finduilas felt a flutter in her chest at the intensity of his expression. She tightened her grip and allowed her gaze to match the longing of his for a moment, then dropped her eyes. For all the disparity in our ages, he seems not like to treat me as a child, she thought, her lips curving in a smile. Which is as I would choose.
“Only so far?” she teased gently. “Why, I might think you cared little for me.”
This time he understood her manner, and replied, “I thought rather to show an appropriate decorum. If you wish, Finduilas,” his voice lingered on her name, “be assured your name will be heard to the shores of the Great Sea in the west, and even into Mordor, and beyond to the lands of the Easterlings.”
“Say not so, even in jest,” she said hastily. “I would not wish to be known to the Enemy.”
“My apologies, my lady.” The look he turned on her was grave and sweet. “I meant only to amuse.”
“You did, Denethor,” she responded, softening at once, “and I am sorry to have taken it more seriously than you intended. I am a little overcome just now.”
Denethor smiled, dazzling like the rising sun. “So am I, Finduilas.” So he is, it is clear. This was the right choice.
They spoke for a little longer, but courtesy dictated and prudence that neither of them should appear to monopolize the other’s company, and so Denethor escorted her back to Adrahil, who had long finished his conversation with Thorongil.
Finduilas danced several more dances, once or twice briefly encountering Denethor in the set and exchanging private smiles, until it was well past the middle of the night. She could have continued, but caught her father suppressing a yawn. He is not as young as he used to be, and no longer has Mother to speak to, to pass the time, she thought with a certain guilt. “Are you ready to leave, Father?” she asked.
“Have you made enough conquests this evening, then? Danced until you can dance no more?”
She leaned against him for an instant. “For tonight, certainly.”
“Then let us go.”
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