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Hands of the King: 22. Tales
Minas Tirith, Mid December, 2975 T.A.
The fuss over Lark's wedding occupied most of Finduilas's waking hours for the next four days. Even Ivriniel jumped into the planning, volunteering to get Widow Almarian's house prepared for the ceremony and the feast afterwards. Finduilas had to admit that all would have been less grand and beautiful had not Ivriniel taken command. Her elder sister saw that the house was cleaned, the great dining hall freed from its drapes and darkness, another cook brought in to help Lily with the food, silver and plate scoured, even somehow finding flowers for the table and for Lark's hair.
Finduilas took care of the guests. All of the archivists would be in attendance, of course, as well as Aiavalë and Denethor. Lady Lore said that Beregar's mother, Adanel, and any of her children who could be spared from tending the tavern should be invited, as well as Mistress Primrose. Bard himself had his parents and two younger siblings, several uncles, aunts and cousins, six of his friends from the garrison, and the garrison lieutenant. Lark herself only wished for the seamstress who was making her dress to be invited, saying all others she could think of were already on the list. To Finduilas's surprise, her own parents asked to attend, as well. The Widow Almarian completed the list.
Through all the bustle, Finduilas's thoughts were of Denethor. She saw him briefly most days for he always had dinner with Aiavalë. He would greet her politely and ask how the preparations progressed, making clear that all costs for the celebration were to be given to him to pay. Denethor even had some recommendations of provisioners for wine and meat, which greatly improved his standing in Ivriniel's eyes. What are you thinking, friend, when you see this being done? Do you regret that you have forsworn this for yourself? Finduilas still could not reconcile Denethor's cruel words about Lark with the care he was giving to her wedding. Is this just making sure there are no more scandals in your house? Mostly, she tried to think of how she could speak her heart to him, with little luck.
The day before the wedding, Finduilas was sitting in the parlor at Vinyamar, reading the poetry and trying to puzzle out the unknown fourth language. Every afternoon, after she had seen Denethor, she would return home to read. There really was not that much for her to do at the house since Ivriniel had everything in hand. A light tap on the door got her attention. 'Come in.' Finduilas was very surprised to see Thorongil.
He came in, but stood by the door. 'Good afternoon, Finduilas.'
'Good afternoon, Thorongil. What brings you to Vinyamar?'
'I came to speak to the Prince on some matters.' He hesitated, then asked, 'May I talk to you? I do not wish to disturb your rest.'
She smiled and indicated a chair. 'Please, sit. I would be glad for some pleasant conversation.' He smiled his wonderful smile and did as she bade him.
'I heard word that you have not been feeling well.'
'Oh, pay it no mind! I always cough a bit more when the weather turns cold, so Mother has kept me bundled up near a fire.' Thorongil smiled at the news, then glanced away. Finduilas could tell he was trying to figure out what to say next. It took almost a minute for him to gather his wits.
'I was much distressed when your lady mother said I was to remove myself from your company. I feared I had given some great offense. Though you said in your note I had not, I am not wholly satisfied on this matter, and would hear it from you directly.' His grey eyes searched her face.
'Then hear it: I know of no offense. You tried some silly flattery, I scolded you for it, and you have not attempted such foolishness again. As I recall, we said that we would not be out of sorts with each other and parted most amiably.'
'Then I am in a quandary, Finduilas. Why would Princess Luinil forbid me your company if I have given no offense?'
'Tell me exactly what my mother said.'
'She said that she thought me an honorable man, but that she could not countenance my speaking privately to her daughters while the Prince was absent. She said that my doing so disturbed the peace of her house.'
Finduilas considered what to say, then decided the truth was best. 'I know Mother does believe you to be honorable, as does the Prince. When we parted, Ivriniel saw us speaking and became jealous, for she thinks rather highly of you. Mother did not care for our squabbling, and forbade us to be so silly. She told not just you, but all men to stay away from Vinyamar until our lord returned.'
A look of great relief came over Thorongil's face. 'Ah, I understand. I am sorry to have been an occasion for discord.' To Finduilas's mind, the captain looked pleased, not sorry, at the news that two young ladies had been fighting about him. But only one of us was fighting for you. Oh, why can you not be pleased by Ivriniel? It would all be better.
A more sober expression came over Thorongil's face and he sat up very straight in his chair. 'Finduilas, I came to Vinyamar to speak to the Prince on some matters.'
'So you said.'
'One of those matters was you.' She did not answer, but raised an eyebrow. 'I did receive your lord father's permission to speak with you, since you asked that I respect Princess Luinil's request. I would not have you think that I set aside their wishes, or your own.'
'Thank you for your consideration. What is it you wish to say?'
'I ask for the chance to earn your regard.'
She pretended she did not understand. 'You have my regard. Do I not call you friend?'
Thorongil's gaze upon her was almost frightening in its intensity, reminding her of when he had first looked upon her and before she had scolded him for staring. She felt hunted. Finduilas crossed her arms in front of her, holding Denethor's book, making it a shield against his approach.
'I would that you might call me more.'
'I know not how to answer you, captain.'
'Then here is a question you might answer simply. Would you permit me to write to you once you have returned to Dol Amroth? The Prince has said he would not forbid me.'
"I have some plans where that man is concerned." Finduilas recalled her father's words, and found herself becoming angry. 'Did it occur to you that perhaps you should have spoken to me before striking an agreement with my father? How now shall I disobey my own sire's wishes? The two of you have already decided I shall receive your letters.'
'No!' The sharp stare went away, leaving behind an exasperated expression. 'Finduilas, I have already been chastised for having spoken to you without your parents' knowledge. I would not commit that error again. I fear you would scold me for not having sought such permission, should I have spoken to you first. If you do not wish this, then I shall not write.'
'I am being a silly girl, captain,' she answered, embarrassed. 'Pray, forgive my contrariness. It is just that I am quite surprised!'
'Then give me no answer, but think upon it. I ask for no more than just to write to you. You said once before that you would not mind me doing so. If you do call me friend, then I would it remain so and not have you forget me when you leave Minas Tirith.' Shyness came over him, and he looked at the floor. 'I am not blind, Finduilas. I can see that as gentle and generous as your heart may be, it does not incline greatly towards me. You asked what I would have you know of me. Let me write to you and tell you. Mayhap your heart shall think better of me then.' Thorongil met her eyes once more, and the look was tender, not fierce. 'That is all I ask, to be heard.'
He cannot help his heart any more than you can your own. Finduilas found it sad, and not just absurd, that love should be so tangled. Why cannot true hearts find each other? Even so, she still felt some anger at others' presumptions of her own heart. 'Yes, of course you may write to me, and not simply because my father will allow it. I can make no promises to you, Thorongil, that you wish to hear, save this alone – that I shall read each line with a friend's fond regard.'
The smile that came to his face made her both glad and worried. 'I can ask for no more. Thank you.' He rose to leave.
'Thorongil, do hear one thing that I say to you as a friend. There is another in my house whose heart does look upon you tenderly, and whose happiness means much to me. You would wish for my heart to be moved, but you also should consider that perhaps your own may be opened to other choices.'
His smile faded. 'I do not think my own may be moved.'
'Perhaps not. But heed my counsel.'
'I will.' He bowed and left the room.
Finduilas waited until she heard the front door open and close before going to Adrahil's study. Her father sat at his desk, writing a letter. When he saw her, his face lit up. 'Finduilas! How are you, dear daughter?'
'What are you intending as concerns myself and Captain Thorongil?'
Adrahil's smile faded much as Thorongil's had done. He set aside the letter, then indicated that she should sit. 'I take it that the captain has spoken to you?'
'And what did he say?'
'I would prefer to know what it is you said to him, sir.'
'We spoke of several matters, then I asked him to account for rumors I had heard saying that he had been paying court to you. What he said made me believe his intentions are honorable. Even so, I told him you are too young to permit any formal courtship. He has been told he may not speak to you save with my or your mother's permission. If you agree, he may write you letters directly, otherwise, he must send all of his communications through me.'
The slight differences between her father's account and Thorongil's irked her, but she did not think the captain had told any falsehood. 'I have said that I will accept his letters.'
'Very good! That is all that needs to be considered, then,' Adrahil said cheerfully.
'No, Father, that is not all. I still do not know your intentions. You said but a few days ago that I must think of Dol Amroth. Given what I have heard you and mother speak of the last few weeks, I cannot think only of my heart. There are other things at stake.'
Her father sat, hands steepled, and did not reply at once. 'Yes, daughter. You understand such thing aright. You are like your mother. Luinil is the equal of any lord of Gondor in understanding the perils that face us, and her wisdom is greater than most. I can see such judgment in you already. So, what do you think I am about?'
Now was her turn to sit silent, considering. 'You wish to bind Thorongil to the south and to Dol Amroth through marriage.'
'You think he can bring unity to the realm, and that the lords will follow him as they will not follow the Steward or the Warden. But to do so, he must stay.'
She shrugged. 'I hear whispers that some think he should be named king.'
Adrahil stared at his hands for a moment, then smiled wryly. 'I also wish for you to be happy, child. I wish a good and decent man to be your husband. Not all is statecraft.'
'And you see all of this in Captain Thorongil?'
'Yes, Finduilas. I do.' Adrahil dragged his chair closer so he could take her hands. 'Daughter, sweet girl, you are the most dear to me of all my children. I suppose it is unkind to your brother and sister to say so, but it is true. Yes, I see hope in the captain that I had not thought to exist. All that you said just now, and more. But I would have turned this man away without a second thought had I not believed that there was some true affection for him in your heart. I watched you this last summer when he was near, and you seemed glad for his company. Have I judged wrongly?'
She shook her head. 'You are not wrong, but neither are you right. I think Thorongil a good man, I gladly call him a friend, but I have none of Ivriniel's feelings for him.'
'I do not believe Ivriniel has her own feelings for him,' was the dry response.
'Whatever do you mean?'
'You sister knows nothing of him save that he is handsome and victorious and that all the girls are quite mad about him. To be honest, had Thorongil asked after her, I would have told him no.'
Finduilas shook her head in confusion. 'I admit your logic eludes me, Father. You encourage him to woo the daughter who has no great love for him, and would spurn him for the one who does?'
'Ivriniel is not the kind of wife he needs. She knows not her own mind, and has not the sobriety of judgment to be the partner of a man so placed.'
'And I am?'
'Not yet. By the time you are old enough to wed, you will be.'
'It is your wish that I should wed Thorongil, when this time comes.'
'It is my wish that you shall have taken the full measure of this man, and of any other who catches your eye, and that you will choose the suitor who is most worthy of your hand. If the captain does not please you, when it is time for you to choose, then leave him aside.' He looked at her, brow wrinkled. 'Have I presumed too much, Finduilas? I just remember how happy you seemed at the mid-summer party when you danced with him. I want you to be happy.'
Tell him. Tell him your heart is already given to another. Finduilas began to speak, then thought better of it. What would Denethor say to you, if he knew this? He would bid you chose duty. He would not have you wed one you detested, but he would say the captain is sufficient. But he loves Gondor, and I love him.
'I understand how you mean this, I think.'
Finduilas gave a white lie. 'But I do not think you know how cruel it will seem to Ivriniel.'
'Her affection for the captain faded when she returned to Dol Amroth last year, and it will pass once more when we return. By the time it comes time for you to seriously reflect on such matters, she will be several years wed.' Adrahil stood, drawing her up with him. 'Now, no more thinking upon this! The man will write you, and what will happen, will happen.'
'Yes, Father.' Adrahil kissed her brow and dismissed her so he could continue his own work. She returned to the parlor and tried to read the poetry. What of you, friend? Will you write to me?
Just after dawn, she and Ivriniel, dragging a sleepy, protesting Imrahil behind them through the bitter cold, arrived on the widow's doorstep to set all in order. Beregar gave their little brother a sympathetic clap on the shoulder and the two young men set out to get heavy things moved, all the while good-naturedly complaining about the frivolousness of girls. The seamstress arrived with the dress immediately after breakfast, still all wrapped up and veiled against the sharp cold of the morning. Only the tip of her nose and her eyes could be seen. Wren claimed her before she could even speak, taking the dress, asking if all the changes had been done, calling for Lily to bring some tea, and generally being a nuisance. Ivriniel ordered them both upstairs to the rooms Widow Almarian had set aside for Lark to use and told them to stay there and out of trouble. Once that was done, the rest of the preparations went smoothly.
The archivists came first in a large, noisy group. There were almost two dozen of them. They bore small gifts of pots, cooking oil, candles, and other things to make a home of a new household. The soldiers followed soon after, a small bag of silver and some skins of wine in their care. Much joking was done over whether there had been one skin that did not make it up the mountain. Finduilas's heart beat harder when Denethor came in, accompanied by her parents. He appeared to be rested, though he was still too thin, and stood with Adrahil discussing some matter. Mistress Primrose and Adanel arrived with a daughter each.
Primrose immediately sought out Aiavalë. 'Here they are, as you requested.' Primrose dropped two gold wedding bands into the Archivist's hand.
'They are beautiful.'
'Thank you, my lady.' Primrose nodded and left.
Lady Lore held out the rings to Finduilas. 'Look at them! It is masterful work.'
The rings were lovely; evenly thick, heavy, and etched with an intricate design. On the inside of the smaller was engraved "Bard" while the larger said "Lark".
'Mistress Primrose did this?'
'Her husband would have made the rings, but she engraved them. They do the finest gold-work to be had in all of Gondor. Only a Dwarf could craft better.' A commotion at the door announced the arrival of Bard and his clan. 'Go give the smaller ring to Bard's mother to hold for him, and the larger to Denethor to hold for Lark. I go to find Almarian. We need to start in a few minutes. Tell Denethor to come over.'
Finduilas did as she was told, somehow managing not to stammer and blush when giving Denethor Aiavalë's orders. She, Ivriniel, Imrahil and Beregar shooed people to their seats in the dining hall. Wren popped her head in the side door and signaled all was ready. The four found their seats.
Wren opened the side door to let Widow Almarian enter. The old woman walked slowly and stiffly but with great dignity to the front of the room. Wren stayed at the door. Finduilas noticed that the seamstress had taken a similar place near the door to hall. The widow faced the guests and raised her hands for silence.
'Friends and kin, how kind you are to come here upon this day to bear witness to the wedding of this young couple. In this very room was I wed to my husband, in the waning month of a year long past. It is meet that a wedding should be at this time, for it stands as promise and proof that life is renewed from darkness, and that warmth returns where hope and love stand fast. Let us hear their pledge and rejoice in their union.'
The seamstress opened the door to the hall and let in Bard. His parents walked at his either side, his father stern and proud, his mother smiling, and their arms were linked in his. They walked him over to Almarian. When he stood there, Wren opened the side door to let Lark in, escorted by Aiavalë and Denethor. They walked slowly to accommodate the Archivist's limp. When all were standing before the widow, Almarian held out her right hand.
Bard's father took his son's right hand and placed it, palm up, in the widow's. 'Go now, my son, and give thy heart and soul to another, as did thy mother and thy father, each to the other. Let thy love open thine eyes to see wisely and far in the manner of He who watches us.'
Aiavalë lifted Lark's right hand and put it palm down across Bard's. 'Little Lark, fly now from those who love thee to one who loves thee yet more, and share with him thy heart and soul. Listen to the wisdom of your heart, and share it with your love, just as the Kindler enlightens her lord.'
Almarian placed her other hand atop the two lovers' saying, 'Tell us now, dear ones, do you affirm your pledge and give heart and soul, each to the other?'
'Yes!' Lark and Bard spoke as one, clasping hands tightly.
'Then give unto the other the symbol of your union.' Denethor and Bard's mother each stepped forward now, holding out the gold rings. There was some fumbling and a few giggles, but soon the rings were in place. The newlyweds exchanged a kiss to the roaring approval of the guests, then embraced and kissed again.
Finduilas laughed and cheered, even as she shed a few small tears. Across the table from her, her parents were giving each other a certain look which meant that Lark and Bard would soon not be the only pair kissing in that room. Then something by the door caught her eye.
The seamstress stood, face wet with tears, staring at Lark. Finduilas had not really paid much attention to the woman before, but now could see the set of the nose, a curve of her cheek, a certain proportion to her body. The woman turned slightly and looked to Wren, who smiled through her own tears, and blew the young woman a kiss. Then the girls' mother slipped out the door, closing it noiselessly as she left.
Lark and Bard were seated next to each other at the head of the table where they ate from the same plate and drank from the same cup. Many toasts were offered to them throughout the meal, most from Bard's fellow soldiers and Lark's archivists. Finduilas had been careful when deciding where people would sit. She knew Aiavalë would neither eat nor drink in front of the guests, but made certain she was seated with the other archivists so she would have someone she would feel comfortable talking to. Bard's family and the soldiers were near the center of the table. Beregar would not keep in his seat, but insisted on waiting on any guest who asked. Denethor she had sat next to Adrahil so they could speak of important matters. It also allowed her to sit across from Denethor and look at him. Widow Almarian sat at the foot of the table, chatting quietly with Luinil.
She herself sat between Ivriniel and Adanel and was soon caught in a discussion about who were the best merchants in the City, where to watch the scales, who would not give a full measure of cloth, and so forth. Mistress Primrose would lean across the table and throw in her own observations without any prompting. Watching the half-sisters talk, Finduilas realized that fully half of Ecthelion's children were in the room, and wondered if so many of them had ever gathered in one place before. She glanced across the table to see what her father and Denethor were discussing, right into Denethor's eyes. He was watching her. One, two, three, four, five heartbeats their eyes were locked, then he bowed his head with a polite smile and raised his glass a few inches.
'Lady Ivriniel, Lady Finduilas, you have done a wonderful job on this wedding.'
'They most certainly have!' agreed the widow, also raising her glass. All at the end of the table toasted the sisters. As Denethor sipped his wine, his eyes did not leave Finduilas. When the toast ended, however, he turned to Adrahil and asked a question about ship rigging, and did not so much as glance at her again through the rest of the meal.
The plates were being cleared when the musicians arrived. The young men jumped up and boisterously moved tables and chairs aside to make room for dancing. It was pleasant chaos for a few minutes, then music began and Lark and Bard danced to applause. There was not room for everyone to dance at once, but no one seemed to mind, taking turns or talking as luck provided (or failed to provide) a partner. The soldiers were too shy to ask either her or Ivriniel to dance, though Hador wasted no time in claming Finduilas for an energetic romp. The book binder was amazingly light on his feet for one so stout. Denethor was dancing once with each woman in the room, even the widow, though he never quite made it to Finduilas's side. Finally she tired of waiting and simply took his hand herself. It was not a very long dance, and when it ended, she stayed next to him.
'You have made Lark very happy, Alquallë,' he said.
'You also have something to do with this, friend.'
Very well, we shall talk about rigging. 'Denethor, I forgot to thank you for your latest loan of books.'
A little sternness left his face. 'Ah, yes, they were to your taste?'
'Very much so. I had not realized how ancient Pelargir was. Sometime when there is not so much distraction, you will have to explain to me why that was not made the capital of Gondor.'
'The usurper Castamir, of course, did propose to do so,' Denethor began to recite, 'and did name it the capital when he was…'
'Please, no, not here!' Finduilas laughed, laying a hand on his arm. 'I said we should speak when I can concentrate on what you say! Take pity on me, friend.' She left her hand on him and hoped it was not simply her imagination that he leaned into her touch.
'Very well, though I fail to see how that is not more interesting than mere carousing,' he growled in mock indignation.
'I do wish to know about the poetry, though. Am I mistaken, or did you write it?'
There was no hiding the small smile on his face. 'Oh, that was simply an exercise I did many years ago.'
'I much enjoyed seeing the poem in the different forms, though I admit I do not recognize the language in the lower right of the page.'
'It is Haradic.'
'You speak Haradic?'
'If I read these poems, will I be able to learn it?'
'It is a good lesson, but you will need more.'
'Then perhaps you may teach me.'
'I fail to see how I may. You leave for Dol Amroth in a few weeks, do you not?'
'Oh. I forgot. Of course.'
'You may take the book with you, if you like. It is my own to loan as I please.' Over the sound of the music, they heard the City bells tolling the hour. Denethor grimaced. 'Unfortunately, I am due to meet with the Lord Steward in the quarter hour. If you will pardon me, I must make my farewells.' With a small nod, he walked off towards the Archivist.
By the time an hour had passed, most of the other guests were also departing. Lark and Bard retired upstairs. Bard was reassigned to the Pelargir garrison starting a week after yestarë, and Almarian's gift to the newlyweds, along with the loan of the house for the wedding, was a grand room to stay in until they needed to leave for Pelargir.
Finduilas stayed behind when the Swan House left to help neaten things up. Lily and Beregar took care of the table while she gathered candles and other decorations. The wedding gifts were laid in the parlor and Aiavalë set about making a list of what had been given and by whom.
'You cannot help cataloging things, can you, Lady Lore?' Finduilas teased as she sat down in Denethor's chair near the fire.
'No, I cannot,' Aiavalë cheerfully agreed. 'It was a wonderful wedding!'
'Yes, it was.' Finduilas wondered if Aiavalë had noticed the seamstress. 'I hope I shall be recovered from the festivities by mettarë!'
'You had best be recovered sooner than that, Alquallë! We have another celebration in but five days.'
'The twenty-fifth? What celebration?'
'Denethor's birthday! We did not honor it last year because of Mother's death, but I shall not let it pass by again! And do not worry, it will just be us. You need do nothing but come to supper.'
'That sounds splendid! How old will he be?'
Denethor and Thorongil are the same age. Finduilas always thought of Denethor as much the elder of the two. You seem a man a decade older, friend. She looked into the fire and let the light dazzle her eyes, thinking back to how he had stared at her across the table. He did not seem young or old then, but simply himself. What were you thinking when you stared? Was it of me? With a sigh, Finduilas excused herself to go home, promising to be back for breakfast. Aiavalë embraced her, then tugged on a lock of the girl's hair.
'I think you will be the next, little sister.'
'The next what, big sister?'
'The next to wed.'
'Oh, don't be silly! Wren is older than I, as is Ivriniel. It will be four or more years before I even think of marrying. And I have to find a husband, first!'
'That will be the least of your worries, Alquallë.' Aiavalë seemed ready to say something else, but just smiled and pulled aside her veil to kiss Finduilas on the cheek. 'But you will not be the next right now! Go home and rest, dearest.'
When she left the widow's house, Finduilas did not go directly home. She climbed to the top of the sixth wall and stood, watching dusk settle over the City. All she could think of was the way Denethor had stared at her over the table. It reminded her of how he had stared when she told him of seeing the Ring of Barahir. Has someone told you? She could not imagine who would do so, but perhaps Denethor had heard of Thorongil's suit. For a moment, she entertained the idea that the news might make Denethor jealous, but quickly dismissed it. He would think it but one more rejection of him. Denethor would probably bid me to do just that. Even if he had deftly turned the Steward's judgment to his own ends, there was no doubt that he felt himself vanquished. She walked home and went to bed at once, pleading weariness.
At breakfast with Aiavalë the following morning, Finduilas decided she needed to walk about in the air, not be cooped up in caverns or a house, and said she was going to select mettarë gifts for her family, as well as find a birthday present for Denethor, instead of accompanying Aiavalë to the archives. The Archivist sent Beregar as escort and to carry any packages. When she stopped at Vinyamar to tell of her plans, though omitting that she was to find a gift for Denethor, Luinil quickly produced a long list of things that Finduilas should also get, and sent Aerin along to help. Adrahil frowned at Beregar, but did not provide another manservant to go in his place.
After an hour, Finduilas knew she had done the right thing. The walk down the mountain refreshed her and the keen air cleared away the melancholy cobwebs that had built up. The streets were filled with people merry and busy. She and Aerin chattered with the goodwives minding market tables, taking their time getting the ingredients for supper. The wonderful greens of summer were gone, but there were bushels of apples and nuts and potatoes, bright bundles of carrots, stacks of thick-skinned hard squashes, and many wheels of rich cheese. A few items went into Beregar's basket while heavier things were to be sent up to Vinyamar in a hand cart.
Household purchases done, the three went into the lower streets to find more precious items. In an alley of jewelers, Finduilas found gold and pearl earrings that she knew Ivriniel would want, as well as slender silver chains, one each for Wren and Lark. In the next shop, she found a round cloak pin made of pewter. In the background was a harp, and over the harp was the profile of the Hound of Valinor. She cast a single look out the shop window at Beregar lounging against a wall in the thin winter sun, patiently waiting. The pin was wrapped in velvet and tucked away next to the earrings.
She already knew that her gift for her mother would be a pair of warm riding gloves, but that would wait until they were in the first circle. A few streets over were the cloth merchants. There were many lovely things there, and she selected yarns, needles, and lace, having them bundled carefully and sent home. She would parcel these out to the serving women of the house. At a tea merchant Finduilas found some rare blends, and then to a stationer's shop to get delicate paper and interesting inks. These would all go into a basket for Aiavalë along with a few other things.
Finduilas went next to the booksellers' row in the second circle to find Denethor's birthday gift. She went to each shop, looking at their copies of the Lay of Leithian. He obviously loved the poem, so she thought to give him a copy that he could carry with him and not risk destroying a great heirloom. It still made her feel guilty that she had taken such a precious thing so thoughtlessly from the archives.
The more she looked, however, the less certain she became. The smaller copies tended to be poorly made and would not stand up to the rigors of travel. The one or two books she found that were intended for travel were ugly, and one had errors in it. None could match the elegance of the ancient book. After four shops, Finduilas began to rethink the wisdom of such a gift. However, when she looked to the histories and the philosophies, every one she looked upon seemed to be something she remembered already sitting upon the shelves in his study.
In the last shop, she thought she would have to give up. The books in this one were few, but very interesting, and every one she picked up was one Denethor already had. A slightly distracted looking man emerged from the room behind the shop, walked past her and out into the street. He was several paces down the lane before he stopped and trotted back. 'Forgive, my lady, do you require assistance? I was just on my way to talk to the tanner about my parchments, but that can wait.'
'Oh, I do not think you can help me. I am trying to buy a book for a very discerning gentleman, and I do not see anything that will please him.'
The man reached past her and picked up a book on the building of Lond Daer. 'This is a most excellent work if the gentleman likes history. A copy of this was purchased by the High Warden himself…'
'That is the person to whom I am giving the book. He has spoken of this one to me.'
The man's face fell. 'Oh. My lady, you should know that the High Warden has selected everything from this shop, and from all of the others, that he has found of interest.'
'I am not surprised. Tell me…'
'Golasgil, my lady. I am Golasgil, the historian.'
'Golasgil, are there any books here that the High Warden has not yet seen?'
The man thought for a minute, then began collecting a few items, laying them on a table in the middle of the room. He disappeared into the back room and emerged with several other things – two books, a scroll, a folio. 'That is all he has yet to look at.'
Finduilas thanked the man and examined the works. When she moved one of the larger books aside, her heart beat faster. There was a small, old, well-bound book that looked greatly like the one that had been ruined. She picked it up gently and opened it. "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin" A small shiver went up her spine as she read the words in the frontispiece, though she was not certain why. Finduilas turned over several pages, admiring the beauty of the writing. It looks like a companion to the other book. She paused on one page and read,
In the furor Tuor cried,
'Flee now this tomb! False hope has died.'
And Idril wept as she swift followed
her love from lovéd home so hallowed,
holding fast the living star
of doom and hope that someday far
would bear their plea before the powers.
Away they fled from Turgon's tower
that stood no more, laid low in ruin,
amid the flames of Gondolin.
Soon came they to their passage deep,
the secret way through which could creep
a meager few…
'This one!' Finduilas turned to Golasgil. 'I shall take this book.'
'It is a fine one, my lady,' he agreed.
'How did you come by it?'
Golasgil's face wrinkled in sorrow. 'A lady's lord was slain in the recent battles. Though her grief was great, yet more burdens was laid upon her when it came clear that the lord had many debts unpaid. She needed coin for her debtors, and sold to me a number of fine books. Most of these new ones are from her library.'
'How much do you wish for this?'
'Six gold crowns.'
'I do not have such coins with me.' Finduilas knew that she did not have that much, even were she to return with all she had behind in Vinyamar. She had not even a full half of a single gold crown. Sadly she held the book out. 'It will find another owner, for I have not such riches at all.'
'You are one of the daughters of Dol Amroth, are you not?'
'Yes. I am Finduilas.'
'Wait.' Golasgil took the book and disappeared into the back room once more. He returned with it secured in a small, black leather case, obviously intended for the book. It, too, was very old. With a bow, he handed it to her. 'Please take the book with you, my lady. Send the coins later, as you are able.'
'I cannot take this,' she said, very flustered. 'I know not how I would ever get so much gold.'
'It goes to Lord Denethor as a gift, yes?'
'No one in all of Gondor would appreciate this book more. The honor of Dol Amroth is well known. Though it take a dozen years, I know it will be paid.' He placed it in her hands. 'Please.'
Finduilas stared at the book for a moment, then set it down on the table, fumbling for her purse. She counted out all of the money she had, and set it on the table. 'There is earnest for the rest, Golasgil. It will be paid.' Once the book was safely stowed in Beregar's basket, Finduilas said they were done.
'Then let us go to my parent's tavern for dinner, for the hour is nigh and the walk to the fifth circle long,' said Beregar. His stomach rumbled a loud agreement, making the women laugh. The meal at the tavern, as always, was simple and very good. Beregar waited upon the two women before sitting and eating his own meal.
That night, when supper was through, Finduilas went to her room, took out the book and paged through it, reading stanzas here and there as they caught her eye. She had read this poem once or twice before, but now it spoke more deeply to her. The words of the ruin of Gondolin brought forward her dreams of the floods and armies that brought down Minas Tirith. In the Gate of the Noldor, she knew the secret place where she could see Denethor from afar, guarded from the Great Enemy's eyes by the Lord of Waters. Am I then the Swan knight who comes from Vinyamar with words of doom in a voice from the Deeps? Even as she laughed at the notion, Finduilas trembled and hastily put aside the book in its case.
In the late afternoon of the twenty-fifth Finduilas went over to the Archivist's to help prepare for Denethor's birthday. It was no great matter; just straighten up the parlor, shoo the cats under the couch, help Lily set out dishes on the sideboard, and give the book to Beregar to keep safely out of the way until after the meal. If Aiavalë caught wind that Denethor was receiving a book, she would insist on seeing it.
Denethor arrived at sundown, cold from his walk up the mountain. He explained he had spent the day inspecting warehouses in the first circle with his cousin Borondir. After giving each woman a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, he sank into his chair with a sigh. Finduilas was glad to see that he was less worn than before. Aiavalë had already claimed the chair nearest Denethor, so she took the one across from the siblings. Aiavalë had let drop her veil, and her silver wings sparkled in the light. The way she was sitting the marred side of her face was obscured. She looked beautiful, if severe. As they sat, Denethor sipped his wine, his other hand set in hers. The two had made up since their fight ten days before, it appeared. Of course, given their tempers, another could start at any moment.
'Sister, you may not care greatly, but Borondir says that Aunt Andreth fails.'
'Why do you bother even to tell me?'
Such as now.
Aiavalë removed her hand from Denethor's and gave him a sour look. He shrugged. 'Because you like to know things. And because it sorrows Borondir.'
Aiavalë looked a little abashed. 'Well, it does not sorrow me, but I can see Borondir would be sad at his grandmother's passing.'
'She is not yet dead.' Denethor saw Finduilas's quizzical look and added, 'Andreth is the Lord Steward's elder sister, our aunt.'
'Oh, then I am confused. I thought Borondir to be a maternal line cousin.'
'He is. Both. Ecthelion and Andreth are siblings. Belemir and Emeldir are as well. Ecthelion wed Emeldir, and Belemir wed Andreth.'
Finduilas traced this out in her head, nodding when she understood. 'I see. I hope that the lady does not suffer.'
'For Borondir's sake, let us hope not,' Aiavalë agreed, rising. 'Will you eat now, Denethor?' He nodded.
Supper was uneventful, thankfully. Aiavalë and she did most of the talking, discussing the doings of the archive. Denethor did look at her over his wine, but only when she spoke and no differently than how he looked at his sister when Aiavalë was talking. I think you were imagining things at the wedding, goose. She began to understand better Ivriniel's frustration over the captain's inattention.
Soon enough, all three were back in the chairs before the hearth, Denethor paying the two women no mind, just gazing into the fire. Finduilas compared this birthday to those her family gave to each other, merry and boisterous affairs with many kin and friends. It seemed not much of a celebration. And how should it be when this house rues the very lives within it? Or denies that those souls exist? A rebellious thought arose. Perhaps it would have been best had you not returned, friend, but best for thyself. Find a way to escape what crushes you, as Idril had a tunnel dug to flee Gondolin. As she watched, one of his hands rose and brushed his chest lightly, searching, then dropping back down to the arm of the chair.
'Oh, I almost forgot!' she exclaimed. 'Wait but a moment!' Finduilas jumped to her feet and hurried to collect the book from Beregar. Mayhap this is no proper birthday, but it can be made merrier with a gift! She came back into the room with the book in its case behind her back. 'Hold out your hands, friend, for I have a gift,' she said, smiling.
'Your company is gift enough, Alquallë,' he protested, but he was smiling in return.
'Well, I gladly give you both, so hold out your hands.'
Denethor set down his cup and held out his hands properly. She placed the case in them, amazed at how small it was when he held it. He minutely examined the case before removing the book, eyebrows going up. Aiavalë scooted her chair closer, also peering at the case. They exchanged a glance before he slipped the book out, handing the case to the Archivist. Again he examined the object in his hands intently, even bringing the book up to his nose so he could sniff it. Only then did he open the book. As he carefully paged through he began to shake his head.
'This cannot be.'
'This book.' Denethor looked up. 'Where did you get this?'
'From a book seller in the…'
'I told him he was not to show such books off unless I had seen them first,' Denethor growled.
'And I asked him to show me all those you had not yet seen. He knew I meant to give you a gift.'
'Denethor, let me see it!' Aiavalë held out her hand for the book. Denethor moved it closer, but would not hand it over. The Archivist looked at a few pages and sighed. 'This is something that once belonged to the archive.'
'Not necessarily,' he objected. 'This could be… Alquallë, did Golasgil say how he had come upon it?'
'A widow sold it to him to raise coin to pay off her debts.'
'See!' Denethor said, 'It has probably been a treasure of one of the great houses for all this time.'
'I say it was once thieved from the archives long ago, and has been held by some great house since then, unknown and unremarked,' she insisted.
'So find it in the catalog.'
'A work of such quality belongs in the archives.'
'No it does not. It is my gift to Denethor and it belongs to him!' Finduilas objected. 'This is to replace the other poem, so he is not carrying so precious a thing about with him. It is his own.'
Denethor gave Aiavalë a triumphant look and settled into his chair with a chuckle. 'It is scarce less ancient and dear a thing than the other book, Alquallë.'
Finduilas sat down with a thump. 'That is not what I meant to do! I wished to give you something fine but not so precious you could not carry it where you willed.'
'I will carry it where I will in any event,' he cheerfully replied, reclaiming the cover from Aiavalë. 'Thank you, Finduilas. I very much like this. Though I am going to have to have a talk with Golasgil.'
'You and I will have a talk about this,' Aiavalë warned.
'It is mine.' Denethor slipped the gift inside of his tunic into an inner pocket. Aiavalë started to draw a breath in protest, and Finduilas could not bear to listen to any more squabbling.
'I do hate to be a poor guest, but I fear I must go home now,' she said in a rush, standing up. 'Mother will be quite angry if I over-tire myself.' The siblings ceased their argument and stood.
'Yes, Alquallë, of course you must go,' Aiavalë agreed, lurching forward to embrace Finduilas and kiss her good-bye.
'I must go as well. Good-bye sister.' Denethor kissed Aiavalë's cheek. As Finduilas expected, Denethor walked back to Vinyamar with her. She took his arm and walked slowly, not wanting to be parted from him just yet. 'I thank you again, Alquallë, for the book.' Denethor looked down at her and smiled just a little.
'I know better than to presume you do not know every line of this poem. In several languages.'
'Yes, but only because I like it so much, as with the other.'
'I do feel a bit of a fool. I did not mean to replace one treasure with another.'
'Do not! This was made to be carried about. But now you must say what it is you would have as a gift from me. Such generosity must be repaid in kind.'
'It is not my birthday!'
'But it must have been in this last year, and I gave you nothing. What would you have?'
Thy heart. Thy hand in mine. 'An odd request. Release Beregar from your service and allow him to join the Tower Guards. It is his dearest wish, and it would please me greatly that you should grant it.'
Denethor halted, puzzled. 'That is what you wish? Why?'
'Because it would make him very happy, and that would please me.'
'That is not a proper gift. Ask for something else.'
'It is what I wish.'
'I will consider it, but I require him for other things right now. Name something else.'
'Uh, well, the book of the poem in four tongues. I would have it as my own, and then we have each given the other a book.'
Denethor looked even more confused. 'That? In exchange for this princely gift? It is little better than some copy book exercise.'
'May I have it or not?'
'Of course you may. But I would that you have something finer.' He thought for a second. 'Come to the Stewards House when you are able and choose another book. Something of worth!'
'But the poem is of worth to me, for it is something of you.'
He stared at her once more as he had at the wedding, then turned with a shrug and walked again. 'As you will, though I will not be pleased unless you accept a true book. If nothing in my library pleases you, find what you wish among the booksellers and I will buy it for you.' After a few yards, he casually asked, 'Do you know when you will leave for Dol Amroth?'
'Soon. After yestarë, probably within the week. The risk of storms along the coast is great, so we will be riding.'
'Aiavalë is going to miss you greatly.'
'And what of yourself? Will you miss me as well?'
'Do not be ridiculous, Finduilas! Of course! You have endeared yourself to everyone. How can you think I would not miss such a cheerful and charming little sister? Where now shall I find someone with the patience to argue philosophy with me? We shall all miss you. The very walls of the City will wish for the tread of your feet upon them. But it is Aiavalë who shall be most sad when you leave.' Denethor's voice was quite sincere.
Finduilas looked down at the ground, trying not to cry. A sister and fellow prince. You have your answer, goose. Swallowing hard and coughing a few times to clear her throat, she replied, 'Well, then, dear brother, you shall have to become used to holding our arguments by letter.'
'I shall have much time in which to craft my correspondence.' The shift from sincere to bitter was abrupt.
'Which is all for the good, prince,' Finduilas said with some exasperation, 'as the most dire battles now shall be fought with words, not swords. I should hope you would be well practiced.'
Denethor snorted. 'See? I shall sorely miss such wisdom.'
'So you had best write much and oft, if you would keep your wit sharp.'
They approached Vinyamar, turning down the lane. Her feet dragged and almost she asked that they keep walking, though where to she could not say. When they stopped before the door, she did not reach for the latch.
'Happy birthday, Denethor.' She looked up into his face. 'I am so glad that you are, friend.'
Denethor leaned down and placed a whisper of a kiss on her brow. 'Thank you, Alquallë, for your wishes. And for the book.'
'When are you going to tell the truth?'
'What do you mean?' His eyes were wary.
She grasped him firmly by his left forearm. 'This. How the other book actually got ruined. You never fell in the River, did you?'
A whisper. 'You saw.'
'Yes, friend, I saw.'
'You should not have… Forgive me, Finduilas. I did not wish you to know this.'
'What was the flame?'
'Dragon Fire. A spot of it fell on me. Only the cold of the falls could drive it out.'
'I thought you dead!' Now she was crying. 'I held you in the water, and when the flame was snuffed, you were cold and unmoving and then you were just gone. For days and days there was no word, and no one knew yea or nay, and I feared to speak it, lest it come true!' He embraced her and she buried her face into his cloak. 'I hate sleeping for fear I shall dream. I am glad – Glad! – that you will go no more to that place, for I cannot bear what I see.'
'Now, Alquallë, please, stop!' Denethor turned her face up to his and mopped off her tears with his cuff. 'Listen to me! You are not causing anything to happen.'
'I don't want to see you die! I don't want to see the evil in the East, or armies, or floods, or doom. I am not a creature out of a poem!'
'I know not how to answer you, Alquallë. Your dreams are so, and truth makes itself known to you when others would keep it hid. You have learned in short months what the captain has made secret for years.' Denethor stretched out a finger and brushed her cheek. 'Halmir was right. You are an elf. You are to me a fair and fey maiden, stepping whole from the pages…'
'Stop it! I don't want to hear that!' she cried, pushing him away. Before he could reach for her, Finduilas slipped in the door, locking it behind her, then fled to her room. Standing away from the window so she could not be seen in it, she peeked down at the lane below. Denethor stood for a long time, staring at the closed door before pulling his cloak tightly around him and leaving.
Characters introduced in this chapter, in order of appearance:
Golasgil – OC, Bookseller and historian. Golasgil is graciously on loan to me from Celandine Brandybuck who created the character.
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