A Writer Reads
Playlist Navigation Bar
Hands of the King: 24. Troth
Minas Tirith, Yestarë, 2976 T.A.
Her dreams were horrible.
The eagle let her drown, or else threw her down from a great height into the seething mass of armies on the plain before the City. Before cruel hands ripped her asunder, she could see the walls crumble and fall. There was a new dream as well. She stood upon the battlements in Osgiliath, encased in stone armor, forced to face east by the unyielding helm. She could hear the echo of horse hooves in the court behind her and knew it to be Denethor setting out for the north. Finally, she found herself a half-grown swan once more, huddled among the stones near the secret waterfall. She tucked her head under her wing and stayed there, sent into deep sleep by the sound of the water.
Finduilas woke just before the second bells rang, tired and confused. The euphoria of the previous night was gone. She coughed a good deal, though nothing came up. Once she had ceased coughing, Finduilas drank water and tried to think.
I have chosen. This thought calmed her. Whatever else might come, the choice was made. Joy hummed contentedly to itself in her heart. This is right. Perhaps it was so that fate had wished for her to be Thorongil’s wife and queen, but her heart had decided on a different course. I think it well enough that he should rise, even to be king, but I am not for him. The captain may want me, but it is Denethor who needs me. Though he may never lay aside his oaths to Gondor, still he will know there is one who will never hold him second to the captain. Finduilas sighed and grew troubled as she remembered Denethor’s words about himself in their argument. Friend, why must thou be so cruel to thyself? Thou art, too, a good man. There would be her great task – to show him this truth about himself.
Picking through her clothes, Finduilas began to dress, then froze. She heard a voice downstairs in the hallway, then remembered that Denethor was to breakfast with her father in the second hour of the day. She quickly finished dressing and made herself presentable. Just as she was to walk out of her room, she stopped. Was it wise to see him again so soon? Denethor was not at Vinyamar for her sake, but to speak to the Prince. He would not welcome any distractions. He would be at the yestarë feast that night, in any event. Finduilas rang a bell and asked Aerin to have tea and bread sent to her in her room this morning.
It was shortly before the third hour that she heard Denethor’s voice again, talking to Adrahil as he was escorted to the door. When she heard the front door thump closed, Finduilas bounded to her feet, going to her window over the lane. Denethor strode briskly away, turning south on the main road and vanishing from sight. She remained at the window, staring out, until Aerin tapped her door and said she was to attend her father in his study.
She was reasonably certain she was to be scolded and punished for having wandered off last night, and hoped she would not be kept home from the yestarë feast, for then she would not see Denethor. When she went into Adrahil’s study, he gave her a severe look and she put on her most repentant face. He did not indicate that she should sit, so remained standing, stopping a few feet in front of his desk.
‘Your mother was very worried about you last night.’
‘What were you doing?’
‘I was sitting near a door by the kitchen where it was warm but the air was fresh. Something I ate disagreed with me and the dancing did not help.’ She hoped no one had gone to the kitchens looking for her. Adrahil’s face did not give away what he was thinking.
‘I see. You should have told your mother or your sister where you were going.’
‘I know. I am sorry.’
‘Your recent disobedience is most unbecoming. You are in danger of losing the regard of people of worth. Worse, you risk your own reputation.’
‘I am glad we go home soon.’
Her father’s stern visage softened at her words and he smiled. ‘I am, too, daughter. I want all of you back in Dol Amroth, away from the dangers and perversities of this city. I expect you to be on your best behavior for tonight’s feast, and that you will stay in the house after that until we leave.’
‘May I beg one allowance?’
‘I would like to bid the archivists, all of them, a farewell ere we leave. It seems only polite.’
‘I will consider it.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Finduilas waited to be dismissed. To her surprise, her father shifted his weight uncomfortably in his seat.
‘Finduilas, I had… a most … unusual conversation with the Warden just now.’ She kept her face as expressionless as she could. Had Denethor said something that showed up her lie about being in the kitchen? ‘Ordinarily, I would not bother you with something like this, but I promised that I would present his suit directly to you.’ Her heart began pounding. Suit? Could it be? Finduilas clasped her hands before her and tried to remain calm. ‘The Warden, just before he left, asked for your hand.’ Adrahil sounded partly amused, partly embarrassed.
He asked. He asked! She turned her back to her father, hands over her face, trying to control her emotions. Finduilas wanted to leap and shout for joy, run out in the street and cry out to the entire City. He asked! Her father’s voice broke in on her thoughts.
‘I was shocked as well, but we must not anger the Warden,’ he said soothingly. ‘I made it quite clear that you are too young to even consider the question, so no answer need to be given.’ She slowly turned, dropping her hands, trying to pay attention to these words. ‘After we return to Dol Amroth, it can be made clear that the suit will not be entertained, though…’ Adrahil paused in thought for a moment, ‘perhaps we simply should not give an answer, and let that speak for itself.’
‘No, we may give an answer immediately.’
‘Daughter, we will wait until we return home…’
‘I accept. I accept Denethor’s suit.’
‘I said that I accept the Warden’s suit for my hand.’
‘I just did.’
‘I am the one who accepts the suit!’
‘Then know that I wish it accepted,’ she said stubbornly.
‘It shall not be.’
‘It is not a true request, daughter,’ Adrahil said sternly.
‘This is simply a move by the Warden to counter Thorongil’s rise.’
‘I think it a request for my hand.’
‘And why does he ask now? The Warden has eschewed marriage, consorting with low women for many years, and suddenly, within a month of when Thorongil makes a choice of whom he will court, Denethor picks the very same woman? Forgive me if I think this suit too convenient.’
‘I know of no courtship between myself and the captain. He has asked to write letters. How would Denethor know of Thorongil’s request? Did you tell him? Did the captain? I do not believe any claim that the Warden would associate with low women. I think rather this a lie spread by his younger sister, who bears him little love and is well known for her own lasciviousness. In any event, it matters not. I do not care why he is asking. I accept.’
‘You are not in a position to judge these matters,’ Adrahil said firmly. ‘I think you too much under the influence of the Archivist and too used to being an advocate for the Warden. Your head has been turned by the idea of this man wishing to marry you.’
‘And your head has been turned by the idea of your daughter being married to a king,’ Finduilas coolly replied, ‘which makes you too much under the influence of the Steward and Lady Maiaberiel.’
‘You are much under some dark influence that you would speak to your lord and sire so, daughter.’ Though his voice was even, Finduilas knew her father was furious.
‘I am under no influence. I simply speak what is true – I have no wish for the captain, and I find the Warden’s suit acceptable.’
‘It will not be accepted. You are too young.’
‘When I am older, then.’
‘It will never be accepted.’
‘You said I should pick the suitor most worthy of my hand…’
‘And you picked the wrong one.’
‘I see. The one worthy of my hand is the one you wish chosen and none other?’
‘Denethor is not worthy. You may give up any notion of that match, for I will not permit it.’
‘And you may surrender any notion of any other match, for I have made my choice and shall not waver.’
Adrahil leaned back in his chair and glared. ‘I see we may be removing you too late from this place. Go to your room. You will stay there until we leave.’
Finduilas curtseyed deeply, then left the room with as much collection as she could manage. She resisted the temptation to slam any doors on her way to her room. Once there, however, she lay on her bed and screamed her rage and hatred into her pillows. So close! She was too angry to cry over this; instead she hugged the pillows and said every horrible, vicious, filthy curse she could think of against Ecthelion, Maiaberiel and Thorongil. They filled her father’s head with falsehoods and turned him against her love. When she exhausted all of the foul language she knew, Finduilas sat on her bed, hugging a pillow, and tried to figure out how she would get around all of this.
During the fourth hour, there was a tap on her door and Luinil walked in. Her mother looked no more sympathetic than her father, so Finduilas made no effort to be pleasant. She sat there sullenly, waiting for whatever tongue-lashing her mother chose to give.
‘Your lord father says you have been most insolent.’
‘Because Lord Denethor has asked for my hand, and Father says he will never approve of Denethor’s suit, no matter what I wish!’
‘I want an honest answer out of you, Finduilas. Are you already wed to the Warden?’
Finduilas looked at her mother in confusion. ‘Already wed? I do not understand. He only now asked for my hand, and Father said no.’
‘Four weeks ago, you ran out of the house and went to him. I know that you spent that night with him in the Stewards House. You are often in his company, and often alone with him. The touch of other men makes you ill. Have you already lain with him and wedded yourself to him?’
‘No! I would never shame my house by doing such a thing. Denethor would never treat any woman so dishonorably.’
Luinil sighed. ‘Too bad. It would make my arguments easier.’
‘Mother!’ Finduilas stared at Luinil, aghast. ‘How can you say that? You would wish me to have done such a wicked thing?’
Her mother came over and sat on the bed next to her, taking one of Finduilas’s hands. ‘No, Lamb, I would not wish for you to do so. But, if it is done for love and forever, it is not wicked. It is how a marriage is made.’ Luinil stroked back a lock of her daughter’s hair. ‘I am right, am I not? That there is true love between you?’
‘Yes. Oh, yes! You said I would know it when it was time, and I know it.’
‘Why have you said nothing to me?’ Luinil scolded gently.
‘Because I did not know how he felt until last night. We were out upon the upper walk…’
‘I thought you were sitting near the kitchen door,’ her mother dryly interrupted and Finduilas felt her face get very red.
‘From now on, only the truth from you, Finduilas. No more surprises.’ Her mother was once again sharp-eyed and harsh. ‘Even if it is poor news, I wish it more than a falsehood.’
‘Yes. I danced with Thorongil and it made me ill, so I went to the hall near the kitchen where Denethor found me after you sent him. He saw I was sad, so we went to the upper walk were we could talk privately. I told him how wretched I felt, with all, even Father, intending for me to wed Thorongil, and asked his advice. He said I should wed only if I loved the man. He did not speak for himself or even suggest that I should choose him. I was the one who spoke first of love, and Denethor did his best to turn me away. I had to ask him what was in his heart, and he admitted to love.’
‘And you two agreed that he should come to ask for your hand?’
‘No! I am very much surprised, for he urged me to accept the captain or any other than himself. I said I could not and we parted.’
‘Hmm.’ Her mother stood and walked to the window, thinking, then sighed. ‘I do wish you had said something to me before this.’
‘Do you approve, Mother? Would you say no to this match?’
‘I am tempted to say no for now. You have both acted rashly.’
‘But I see that there can be no other match for you.’ For the first time, her mother smiled at her. ‘I saw that some months ago, and wondered when you were going to say something.’
‘Then what shall I do? Father has forbidden it.’
‘You leave that in my hands, as you should have done in the first place. Both of you have angered him greatly, and it may take some time to soothe his pride. However long it takes, you will conduct yourself above reproach. For the Warden’s sake as much as your own.’ Luinil came back to the bed, kissed Finduilas’s brow and ruffled her hair. ‘Stay here and be good.’
After her mother left, Finduilas lay down and tried to convince herself that everything would work out. Soon, she drifted off into sleep, her thoughts full of Denethor and his warm hands upon her. Aerin woke her when the old woman brought a tray with dinner for her.
In the eighth hour, there was a knock on the door. It opened a crack and a hand appeared, waving a white kerchief. A moment later, Adrahil poked his head around the edge. ‘May we call a truce, daughter?’
Adrahil came in and drew up a chair next to the bed. ‘I have spent the last few hours listening to your mother explain how many kinds of a fool I am. The wonder is that she has finished, and it is still daylight.’ Finduilas tried not to giggle and failed. Adrahil chuckled at himself, then sighed and scrubbed his short hair with one hand, face becoming serious. ‘She has also explained to me things that I did not know before, things about…’ He stopped, considering his words.
‘Let us start over. Daughter, in the last few weeks, I have heard two different men tell me that it is his wish that you become his wife. Both are men of standing and power, Captain Thorongil and the High Warden, Denethor.’
‘So you have said.’
‘I prefer the captain. I think him the better man. I do not think you may convince me otherwise.’ Her father’s voice was firm. ‘Your mother says that the Warden’s suit should be accepted, and cares not for the captain. You agree with her. Tell me, daughter, why do you wish to wed Denethor?’
‘Because I love him.’
‘He does not love you. I asked him if he did, and he said he did not. Denethor claimed that he was fond of you and thought you an excellent young woman. He said it was time for him to wed and that you were the only girl of suitable standing whom both of his sisters liked, and with whom he could speak intelligently. I admit to being shocked at his words. It was as though he were buying a horse, right down to the tone. I almost told him to leave, I found his words that disrespectful. Does knowing this change your heart?’
Why are you saying these things, friend? Do you wish to be turned down? Finduilas shook her head. ‘No, it does not. His manner may be distant, but his words are honest.’
‘What is there to love in him? Tell me, daughter, for I do not see it.’
‘Denethor speaks to me. He has never said a word of love, but always he has spoken to me as a prince. I hear charming words from the most vile men, and they lie. Even Thorongil has told me falsehoods and mouthed insincere sentiments to try to turn my head. Denethor does not. He speaks to me as you and mother speak to each other, to an equal and with respect. He can also be venom-tongued and rude, but then I have usually been impertinent to him.’ Finduilas considered. ‘And I think him handsome, if solemn.’
‘On that you would say yes to his suit?’
And that I touch him in dreams, that we know the secret of the king, that he loves me enough to break his oath to Gondor. ‘What else should I say? I have seen him more closely than I have seen any man not one of my own kinsman, I know he can be kind though he will not admit to it, I can see he is a brave and learned man. I scarce see how I should know a man better without it being a scandalous association.’
Her father looked at her with a worried expression. ‘Luinil said… Does… Are you made ill by other men’s touches?’
The Prince sat quietly, staring at his hands clasped in his lap. Finduilas waited patiently. He spoke without looking up. ‘It is becoming known among certain people that Thorongil has asked for you. Both your mother and I have heard some words to this effect. Do you know how this would be known, as neither I nor your mother have said anything of it, not even to your siblings?’
‘Yes. Thorongil spoke to Brandir and Maiaberiel, and she has no doubt been repeating it. Brandir told me at the party that Thorongil had so spoken.’
‘Hmm.’ Adrahil continued the study of his hands. After several minutes, he nodded and stood. ‘Your mother is correct - I am a fool.’ He took Finduilas’s face in his hands and kissed her brow. ‘Daughter, dearest child, my heart misgives me in this choice thou hast made. Wilt thou not withhold it for now and think more upon it?’
‘I would not give thee grief, Father, but my choice is made. If thou dost wish me to be silent upon it, I shall hold my tongue. The choice remains.’
‘Then there is naught to gain by withholding an answer from the Warden.’ Adrahil sighed and straightened up. ‘I will write a letter to the Lord Steward asking for an audience before the feast tonight. Be certain you are ready to be presented at that time.’
‘Why are you talking to the Steward?’
‘His heir cannot stand betrothed without the Steward’s approval, so we will need to get it.’ Her father seemed about to say something else, then shook his head and swiftly left the room.
Three hours later, the Swan House went to the Tower. To Ivriniel and Imrahil’s questions about why they set out so early, Luinil merely answered that they had a short audience with the Steward before the feast. Finduilas did not say anything, for she was trying to understand Denethor’s disavowal of love. All she could think was that he hoped the Prince would deny his suit. Then why ask? If you wish it not, why speak at all? Something else was afoot, though she could not piece together the puzzle. Trust in what Denethor is doing and listen carefully to his words.
A servant was waiting for them at the entrance to the Tower to escort them to the Lord Steward’s rooms. Ecthelion greeted them warmly, shaking hands all around and giving each woman a kiss on the cheek.
‘Adrahil, Luinil, I am honored by your visit on this day,’ he said, motioning to the servant for wine to be poured. ‘I would think you would be quite tired of my company this week, so often have we been in council, Prince.’
‘Never, Ecthelion. I should have despaired of all those councils were it not for your cheer and wisdom,’ Adrahil pleasantly replied. ‘I wished to be certain that we had time to properly present the good wishes of Dol Amroth to you and your house before we plunged into the business of this coming week.’
‘Ah, yes, the Great Council and your own departure. I am sorry that I shall lose your clear wisdom in council after this week, Adrahil – and yours as well, Princess! – but your own lands call you home.’
‘I also have a more private matter to discuss,’ Adrahil continued in the same pleasant voice, ‘and I took the liberty of inviting the Warden to join us in this discussion. I expect he will be here shortly.’
‘The Warden.’ Ecthelion’s cheer melted away, leaving curiosity and some suspicion. ‘What matter can this be, Prince?’
‘A most serious one. As soon as the Warden arrives, we may speak,’ was her father’s calm reply. They stood in uncomfortable silence for several minutes until there was a polite rap at the door and Denethor entered, Beregar trailing behind. Denethor paused a moment when he saw all of the people in the room, then walked over briskly, keeping his eyes on the Steward. Finduilas looked at him carefully, noting the deep circles under his eyes, the way he held himself that hinted at weariness, how his splendid feast clothes hung too loosely on his frame.
‘My Lord Steward, Prince Adrahil, Princess Luinil, a good yestarë to you all.’ Denethor spared a polite nod to the three cygnets, then returned his attention to Adrahil. ‘You requested my presence, Prince?’
‘Yes. My Lord Steward, is there a place we may speak privately?’
‘In here.’ Ecthelion walked to a door at the side of the room, Denethor and Adrahil behind him. Luinil took Finduilas’s arm and followed, gesturing for Ivriniel and Imrahil to stay behind. Adrahil looked surprised at first, then nodded to Luinil.
The room was obviously where the Steward conducted business of the realm. It was spacious, with a tall narrow window at one end and a great wooden desk in the middle. On the desk was the Steward’s ivory rod of office. Ecthelion picked it up before turning to face the others.
‘What is you wish to speak of, Prince of Dol Amroth?’
‘A matter of state, my Lord Steward. This morning, the High Warden came to Vinyamar to speak to me of several important things. The last thing we spoke of was the most important. Lord Denethor asked for the hand of my daughter, Finduilas. After much thought, I have decided that it is an agreeable match and accept the Warden’s suit.’
Ecthelion was not looking at Adrahil. He was staring very coldly at Denethor, who matched the gaze. ‘Is this so, Warden?’
‘It is so, my Lord Steward.’
‘You did not tell me you were going to do this.’
‘No, I did not.’ Denethor calmly agreed. After a moment’s pause, he added, ‘It seemed not a matter to bother you with, my lord, who has so many more important burdens to tend.’
‘The marriage of my heir is a rather large matter.’ Denethor bowed his head, but did not answer.
‘It is my hope that you will consider the Swan House to be worthy of your own noble line,’ Luinil interjected, ‘though it is only a second daughter who is bespoken.’
‘I think it the other way around, Princess.’ Ecthelion’s voice was gentle, though Finduilas could still see anger in the corners of his eyes, the tenseness of his stance. ‘I wonder that you would relinquish such a treasure.’ His gaze shifted to herself, examining her face carefully. ‘The question is whether there is a man worthy of this dear girl. There is no one in this city who does not know Lady Finduilas is one of the greatest jewels of Gondor.’
‘I much agree with your words, my Lord Steward. It is the judgment of myself and my lady wife that the Warden is one of the few who is a worthy match to our daughter.’
‘And what do you say to this, dear girl?’ Ecthelion asked.
Finduilas smiled as prettily and thoughtlessly as she could manage. ‘I am deeply honored that the High Warden would consider me. Of course I shall obey my lord father’s wishes.’
The Steward’s brow wrinkled and he frowned slightly. He walked forward and offered Finduilas his arm. ‘If you will excuse us for a moment. Please come with me, Finduilas.’ They walked to the far end of the room. Ecthelion turned her to face him. Over his shoulder she could see that her parents had withdrawn to the other end and were murmuring to each other. Denethor had not moved. His eyes never left her.
‘Finduilas,’ Ecthelion said softly, ‘think me not disrespectful of your lord father for what I will say. Are you agreeing to this only to please him?’
‘Should a child not do as her father bids?’ she replied innocently.
‘Well, yes, but you must also think for yourself in matters so large.’
‘And I have! I am greatly pleased by my father’s choice for I hold you and your house very dear! Your daughters have made me a beloved sister in my stay here, and Lord Denethor is as noble a man as I have ever met. When my parents told me of their wishes, I thought myself most blessed.’ She smiled charmingly at Ecthelion.
‘Really?’ The Steward appeared surprised at her words. ‘Ah, well… But what of your own heart, dear girl? I had thought that, well, perhaps someone else had caught your eye?’
Finduilas let her face fall. ‘You don’t think I am worthy,’ she whispered. ‘You wish me to let alone the Warden and find another.’
‘No! No, that is not at all what I mean,’ the Steward hastily assured her. ‘Were you not listening? I think you too good for him!’
‘But wed I must be, and I think none more noble than Lord Denethor. He is a great man.’
‘So it is your true wish?’
‘Yes!’ Finduilas smiled again at him as sweetly as she knew, and soon he smiled back.
‘Very well, then.’ She walked back to the others with him. ‘I am content that the lady has consented to this match of her own will…’
‘I would not force any daughter of mine into a match, no matter the rank of the suitor,’ Adrahil bristled, throwing a rather dark look at Denethor.
‘Nor are we agreeing to anything more than a betrothal,’ Luinil said, taking Finduilas’s arm and pulling her daughter close. ‘All talk of wedding may be set aside for another day.’ She also gave Denethor a dour look.
‘I am deeply honored that you would accept my suit, Prince, Princess, and wait upon your pleasure for when it is time to wed,’ Denethor replied politely.
‘Such questions shall of course wait,’ Ecthelion confirmed. Someone tapped at the hallway door to the meeting room. When told to enter, a servant informed the Steward that guests were arriving at Merethrond. ‘The Warden and I must leave to tend our yestarë duties, Prince. If you will excuse us.’
‘Yes, of course. We will be making an announcement of this at the feast, will we not Ecthelion?’
‘A splendid idea! Let us do so just before the dancing. It will make the evening quite merry!’ the Steward replied with false cheer. ‘You are already to sit at the head table. Until later, Adrahil, Luinil,’ Ecthelion turned and took Finduilas’s hands, ‘and my new, dear, daughter.’ He kissed her cheek soundly. Finduilas tried not to flinch at his touch. When Ecthelion stepped away, she could see that Denethor’s hands were clenched into fists.
After the Steward and Warden departed, Luinil chuckled. ‘It is going to be an interesting feast, my prince.’
‘All I wish to see is the look on that woman’s face when she hears the news. Lamb, not a word to your siblings on this. The surprise should be complete.’
They returned to the receiving room, where Beregar still stood with the Swans. ‘We must go to the feast now, children,’ Luinil said, motioning for Imrahil to bring her her cloak. Beregar went over to the council room door and looked in. He turned and addressed Adrahil.
‘My prince, where is my lord?’
‘The Warden and the Steward left to attend to feast guests.’
‘Thank you. If it pleases you, I will escort you to Merethrond, my prince.’ At Adrahil’s nod, Beregar helped them on with cloaks and accompanied them to the great hall. There was a substantial line of people in the winter dusk at the entrance to the great hall, waiting to be greeted by the Steward. All the Citadel was thrown open to the people of the City on this night. A thousand were guests within the great hall, and the rest gathered upon the walls or in the Court of the Fountain and the Hall of the Kings or spilling down into the sixth circle, eating, visiting, dancing, singing, and making merry until all hours. The Swans took their place in the line. Finduilas motioned Beregar to stand close.
‘I have a task for you, Huan,’ she whispered to him.
‘Anything, my lady!’ he replied under his breath.
‘You must go to the Archivist, and you must get her to the hall before the dancing begins tonight.’
‘She will not come. Lady Aiavalë hates such gatherings.’
‘Tell your mistress that she must attend, for Beruthiel is going to be humiliated in a very satisfying way, and she will never forgive herself if she misses it. It will happen just before the dancing and then she may go.’
Beregar gave her a big grin. ‘My mistress will be here, if I have to carry her cursing and thrashing the whole way.’ With a bow, he took to his heels and was soon lost in the crowd.
Ivriniel poked her in the arm. ‘What was all that about?’ Ivriniel hissed. Imrahil drew closer, listening.
‘What do you mean?’
‘With that serving boy, of course. And with the Steward!’
‘Are you in trouble?’ Imrahil asked with a worried expression.
‘You could say that,’ Finduilas demurred.
‘I told you! You have been terrible the last few weeks.’
‘Ivriniel! Shush!’ their brother admonished, before turning back to Finduilas. ‘What have you done, sister, that it concerns the Steward and the Warden?’
‘Mother said I should not speak of it. You will know soon enough. I fear the whole City will know soon enough.’ Finduilas tried to look ashamed. Ivriniel and Adrahil exchanged worried looks, then looped their arms in hers.
‘You are going nowhere without one of us at your side, Finduilas,’ was her sister’s stern warning. Imrahil nodded emphatically. Finduilas smiled gratefully and did her best not to giggle.
Though the line was long, it moved quickly since no one wished to stay out in the cold. They were soon to the head, where Ecthelion, Denethor and Maiaberiel all stood. Though she tried to catch his eye, Denethor would not look at her. Inside the hall, all was magnificent, with wreaths and drapes, tables beautifully laid, music playing, and the people in great cheer. The great feasts had not been held the year before due to the death of Lady Emeldir, and all seemed doubly determined to celebrate. For an hour, the Swans milled about, greeting and talking to all there. Ivriniel and Imrahil stuck like burrs to Finduilas. They chatted amiably with all the young nobles they came across. Encountered like this, even the more amorous of the young men were bearable. All lamented Dol Amroth’s swift-approaching departure.
Applause announced the end of the greeting line and the presence of the Lord Steward. It took not very long for all to find their places, for the standing silence, for a brief word of welcome by Ecthelion, and then the feast began. Sitting at the high table, Finduilas could not see Denethor without craning in a most undignified manner, so she sat between her siblings and tried to eat. The meal dragged on.
When she was done eating, Finduilas amused herself by looking out at the tables. Near the front, she saw Maiaberiel sitting with Brandir and his family, who had arrived from Anórien. The woman looked bored. Most of the tables in the front of the hall were occupied by the great houses and the visiting outland lords. Further back could be seen lesser houses and the more wealthy merchants. At the very back were officers and artisans. One table was set aside for a number of the Swan Knights, and next to them were archers of the Ringló Vale. Back among the artisans, she saw a few of the archivists, including Wren. It did not take her long to see Thorongil. He was a head taller than any of the other garrison officers at his table and he scarcely took his eyes off her. When he saw her looking at him, he smiled and raised his glass to her. She nodded in return and looked elsewhere.
After two hours, dishes were cleared and tables were removed from the front to allow dancing. Finduilas’s heart beat faster as the space opened, and looked about for Beregar and Aiavalë. Ecthelion stood and raised his hands for silence. All others at the high table stood with him.
‘Friends and guests, we gather here to welcome a new year into being. The last year started under a shadow of grief, with the loss of the Lady of the White Tower. Great were the trials that followed, as enemies assailed us from several quarters, the last assault being but a few weeks past.’ Ecthelion paused, and the hall was silent, thinking of these sorrowful things.
‘But try us though they might, we prevailed! We did not succumb to foe, nor to despair, and we were victorious!’ A great cheer rose from the audience and some in the back pounded the tables. Ecthelion held up his hands once more for silence.
‘And now we shall start anew this year, in joy and in hope, and set aside the sorrows of the past. I have news most great to tell you all assembled, so that our gathering be yet more joyful. On this day it was agreed between myself and Prince Adrahil, lord of Dol Amroth, that my son, Denethor, High Warden of the White Tower, shall stand betrothed to his daughter, Lady Finduilas.’
There was one moment of amazed silence, then the hall erupted in shouts of joy. Soon, sounds of cheers and the sounding of horns and the ringing of bells came in from outside as word of the betrothal spread through the Citadel. A chant took shape: ‘Gon-dor! Gon-dor! Gon-dor!’
Luinil leaned around Ivriniel, who was staring at Finduilas in utter shock, and said, ‘Go! Down from the table to the front. You will have to dance.’
Finduilas shook off her own amazement at the noise and walked to the end of the table, down a few shallow steps, then back in front. Denethor was walking towards her slowly, a tall, noble lord from the Sea. She forgot the noise as she met him. He said nothing, did not even smile, but bowed deeply to her. She curtseyed in return, and he held out his hand for her to hold as she rose. Music began, the cheers subsided, and they danced. When it ended, applause broke out again. Denethor nodded acknowledgement and walked them to the edge of the dance area. The musicians immediately struck up a merry tune to get people to dance. Finduilas clung to Denethor’s arm, wishing she had not so many people staring at her.
‘Not here. Say nothing,’ he murmured back. He squeezed her hand, then tucked her arm more firmly under his.
In a moment, Brandir hurried up. ‘Denethor! Brother! I wanted to be the first to congratulate you,’ he said with a great smile, though his eyes were troubled.
‘Thank you, Brandir.’
‘And Finduilas, my dear, how wonderful!’ Brandir gave her a kiss on the cheek, then turned back to Denethor. ‘I must admit to being… surprised, Denethor.’
‘Why? Were you not the one who said I needed to be wed? I do listen to good advice, Brandir.’ Denethor sounded somewhat amused.
‘Well, yes, um, good! Good! We shall talk later, yes?’
The rest of the evening was one person after another congratulating the two of them as they stood near the high table. They did not dance again. Neither Maiaberiel nor Thorongil were among the well-wishers. Aiavalë was.
Escorted by a grinning Beregar, Aiavalë walked up and simply stood in front of them, looking at them. Finduilas could tell that she had been crying. For the first time since they had danced, Denethor let go Finduilas’s arm to hold his hands out to the Archivist. She took them. The siblings stood wordless, until Denethor finally smiled.
‘You are a very bad boy.’
‘I told Beregar he is to bring all of the books in your study to me so I may recover the archives’ works.’
‘If you wish. I will retrieve them later.’
Aiavalë laughed and limped forward to hug Finduilas. ‘Oh sister, sister! No more precious gift could you have given me, Alquallë!’
‘Thank your brother for the asking.’
‘I have some words for him, you may be certain!’
Finduilas hugged Aiavalë to her again. ‘I was so worried you would not be here to see this.’
‘And you tricked me!’ The Archivist’s eyes twinkled. ‘You know too well my weaknesses, Alquallë. But know that only your plea would bring me into such a crowd.’ Aiavalë looked around, then planted a kiss through her veil on Finduilas’s cheek. ‘I must go. I could not leave without speaking, but I will not dim this celebration.’ Aiavalë walked away swiftly, people stepping out of her path to avoid being touched by her as she moved through the crowd. Beregar followed after bowing deeply to his lord and lady, his grin never slipping.
Finduilas began coughing and had to lean against Denethor sometime in the third hour after the announcement.
‘I come to the end of my strength, friend.’
‘Then you should go.’ With a curt nod of dismissal to someone who was approaching, Denethor walked her back to the high table where the Swans were sitting. ‘Prince, Finduilas tires from all of this attention.’ As he helped her to sit, Denethor murmured in her ear, ‘An hour after your house retires, go to the roof.’ With a bow, he was gone, leaving through a door at the back of the hall.
As soon as they could gather cloaks and bid the Steward farewell, the Swans left. Outside, there was still the occasional sounding of a horn, or clanging of a bell, and it seemed that every knot of revelers in the Citadel and along the streets were toasting the good news of Lord Denethor’s betrothal. News had traveled to Vinyamar. The servants were gathered in the hallway to offer their congratulations to Finduilas and her parents on the betrothal. When her parents bade her good night, they seemed sad.
As she was undressing, Ivriniel slipped into her room. ‘What have you done?’
‘To that nasty old man? Why?’
‘You should speak more kindly of your brother-in-law, Ivriniel.’ Finduilas put the silver and black dress into the clothes press. ‘I should think you would be very happy.’
‘Why should I be happy about this?’
‘Because now you know I am not trying to steal Thorongil away from you. I know of no better proof. Perhaps you will believe me, now.’
Ivriniel grabbed her by the shoulders, looking stricken. ‘Tell me you did not agree to this for that reason!’
‘The reason does not matter. The Warden asked, Father said he approved, I said it was acceptable. It is done.’
‘No, please, say it is not so! You do not deserve such a man.’
Finduilas gave her sister an unsympathetic look. ‘If you will go? I am weary.’ Ivriniel started to cry and hurried out. Finduilas sat in the chair by the window, not daring to lie on the bed for fear she would go to sleep. She listened to the sounds of revelry that echoed in the stone streets. What have I done? In scarce a day, everything she had thought she would do had turned into its opposite. She waited impatiently for the bells to sound the hour and it was time to go to the roof. Then, she slipped on warm clothes and carried her shoes as she tiptoed along the hall to the upper stairs. She did not dare go downstairs to collect her cloak. Up the stairs, slip on her shoes at the top, and out the door onto the roof. As the night before, it was totally clear and the stars lit the City with a silvery sheen.
Denethor stood, wrapped in his cloak, once more a statue in the dim light. Finduilas walked over to him until she stood before him, a little frightened by his silence and his piercing eyes. He reached a hand up and delicately touched her cheek, then cupped her face. She pressed against its warmth.
‘I did not expect thee, friend.’
‘At all. I thought I would be alone.’
‘Thou set before me a choice, even as thou faced thyself. Thou didst make me understand, and I had to choose.’ He raised his other hand and caught her face between them. His eyes searched hers. There was no joy in his face; rather, something akin to dread. ‘I chose love.’ She shivered and stepped into his embrace, letting his cloak wrap them both. Denethor buried his face in her hair. His tattered whisper was in her ear. ‘I chose love.’
Finduilas let him clutch her to his chest, feeling the lump of her book between them. His frame was taut. She slipped her arms around his waist and put her hands upon his back, gently kneading it. Very slowly, the extreme tension left him, and Denethor relaxed his powerful grip. Finduilas pulled a little away so she could look up into his face again. It was still sorrowful, but calmer and no longer terrible to look upon.
‘We have both so chosen, friend. It was done long before, when first we met and gave to each other our hearts. How else could I have seen thee?’
Denethor looked upon her with wonder. ‘Because thou art as Tuor, or Lúthien, or so I say. I am bound by thy enchantments.’
She stepped back suddenly, out of his embrace. ‘I have no enchantments beyond what any girl may possess. I do not wish to hear such nonsense from you, friend!’ she scolded. And then shivered mightily for the air was very cold.
‘Where is your cloak?’ Denethor scolded in return.
‘Downstairs. I did not wish to fetch it.’
He sighed and pulled off his own to wrap about her. Denethor was still in his finery and once more Finduilas was caught by his beauty. He crossed his arms and looked at her wryly. ‘You have upset the plans of many people, Alquallë, not the least my own.’
‘And on that point, I have some questions for you. Why did you tell my father that you did not love me? He said you were quite rude and angered him greatly!’ Denethor shrugged. ‘Were you hoping he would turn you away?’
‘Then why ask? If you did not wish this answer, would it not have been better to say nothing than give insult?’
‘I do not want them to know I love you.’
‘Why not? I want the whole City to know I love you! I hate you being spoken of meanly and…’
‘Think, prince.’ Denethor’s words were sharp. ‘Did I not just say that you have upset many plans? That includes the Steward and Beruthiel. Have you already forgotten what she had done to Lark?’
‘She would not dare!’
‘Oh, yes she would. The bastard born just after me, Hareth, she is dead for trying to thwart that woman. Maiaberiel told me the day before the last battles that she had hoped for my death during the summer wars, and warned that I would be brought down if I did not make myself agreeable to her. Isilmo tried to kill me during the first day of fighting in Osgiliath.’
‘Her pet…that is what you meant! You killed him!’
‘No, though I would have. Uruks got him first.’
‘Friend, what shall we do?’
‘We shall be careful. As far as anyone is concerned, you are a silly girl marrying as your father has bid you.’
‘You will have a hard time convincing him of that. Or Mother.’
‘They are not a danger. Go nowhere in the City without a guard, not even to the archives.’
‘Do you honestly think she would try to do me harm?’
‘I think she would prefer not to, but I put nothing past her. If she thinks it is none of your doing, she will try to convince you to forsake this betrothal, and will focus her wrath on me. ’
A great determination seized Finduilas. ‘She shall not succeed. Mayhap much of our plans may have changed, but certain things have not.’
Denethor’s look was amused. ‘Our plans?’
‘Yes, ours. Neither of us is for a simple purpose, prince, and if we have found each other, it is because the deeds that lie before us require us both.’
A look of amazement came over his face. ‘You believe this?’
‘Yes, friend, love, I believe this.’
He smiled and gently touched her cheek once more, shaking his head. ‘You confound me, Alquallë.’ Before she could answer, Denethor’s face changed again and he began digging in a pocket. ‘Actually, I have a real reason for being here.’
‘I thought seeing me would be reason enough.’
To her delight, a quick grin came to his face. ‘Quite true! But, here, I come not empty-handed. I have a present for you! Hold out your hands.’ Finduilas did as she was told, feeling something small and heavy drop into her outstretched palms. ‘I made it myself. I meant to give it to you yesterday, but things became… complicated.’
In her hands was a long silver chain at the end of which was a black stone. She brought it close to her face to see better in the wan starlight. The stone was smooth and tear shaped, with a silver cap through which ran the chain. It was just the size to fit neatly into her palm.
‘It is from there, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. I found the stone before I left the last time.’ Denethor looked at her shyly, acting for all the world like Beregar. ‘Do you like it? I drilled the hole in it and fixed the cap. That is something Primrose taught me how to do. If you do not like it…’
‘And the chain?’ she teased, ‘did you make it also?’
‘No! Of course not. That belonged to my mother.’
‘I love it and shall wear it always. Help me put it on.’ Finduilas handed back the stone, gathered up her hair, and turned her back to Denethor so he could put it around her neck. As the clasp clicked shut, she felt a fingertip brush up, then down, the nape of her neck. She let her hair drop back on her shoulders and turned back to him. Denethor was looking at her hungrily. The stone was a small but definite weight on her neck. Very deliberately, Finduilas picked up the stone and slipped it down the front of her dress between her breasts, never dropping his eyes. When she was done, she stood closely in front of him. His hands came to her waist of their own accord. ‘Thank you, husband.’
He shook his head. ‘That I may not claim.’
‘I am thine, and call myself thy wife.’
‘Thou art still thine own and I shall wait for thee. I must go now.’
‘You just said you would wait!’ she teased.
‘I must go see Aiavalë.’
‘Yes! She was so happy.’
‘I did not send for her.’
‘I did. I sent Beregar.’
‘Clever girl. Now, go rest. You have a great journey in a few days.’
‘May I not have a kiss good night?’
Denethor leaned down and laid a tender kiss on her brow. Then very expertly removed his cloak and pointed to the door. ‘Go, before you freeze.’
Finduilas kissed his cheek with a giggle and slipped back down to bed. She fell asleep with the stone in her hand. When she dreamed, she did not know where she was, but she was a swan nestled next to Denethor as he sat and read from a small book.
Denethor need not have worried that she would go about by herself. The Prince did not permit any woman of the house, not even the serving women, leave without at least one Swan Knight in attendance, preferably two. When Luinil asked him why, Adrahil said he liked not the crush of strange people in the City, particularly since there had been such attention drawn to the house at the yestarë feast. It was difficult for Finduilas to walk anywhere without strangers approaching and giving her their congratulations and blessings, so she was glad for the soldiers who attended her.
When she went out, it was almost always in Luinil’s company. They visited a few of the great houses where much was made of her betrothal. All assumed it was a political match, and she tired of receiving wisdom that she would come to love such a fine man as Denethor “in due time”. Her father granted her request to go to the archives to say farewell to Aiavalë and all of the other archivists. Luinil and Ivriniel both accompanied her and she showed them about the caverns. The archivists, particularly Wren, were sad that she was leaving, and all wanted to know when she would return as their lady. ‘No date has been set,’ Luinil pleasantly but firmly answered. After a tearful farewell to all there (Hador was so overcome with sorrow he had to retreat to his workshop), they returned to Vinyamar.
The day after the Grand Council and the day before they were to leave, Finduilas went to the apothecary in the Houses of Healing to obtain medicines she might need for the trip home. The seas were too rough to travel in Seabird, which meant a long, chilly overland ride. Finduilas gave the bundles to Aerin to hold in the outer hall while she went upstairs to thank the different healers who had tended her over the near two years she had dwelt in Minas Tirith. Farewells completed, Finduilas went downstairs and walked along the arcade that lined the garden. She jumped back in fright when someone stepped out from behind one of the pillars and blocked her path. Fear departed but unease remained when she realized the stranger was Thorongil.
‘I would have a word with you, Finduilas.’ His face was stern and his words cold.
‘Then speak.’ She turned and walked a short way out into the garden so she could see if any approached along the arcade, but also so that their own converse could be observed.
‘I would have an explanation from you of your duplicitous acts.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
Thorongil’s jaw clenched as he stared down at her, and she could not help but think him a hunting eagle. ‘What kind of a fool were you playing me for?’ he said in a low, sharp voice. ‘I have an understanding with you, and a few weeks later you are betrothed to another!’
‘The understanding I had with you, captain, was that you would write to me, and I would read your letters. That is all.’
‘You said you would hear me out!’
‘And so I shall still, should you write. But I never said I would reject another’s suit in favor of your own.’
‘Did it amuse you to listen to my plea when you had accepted the suit of another?’
‘I had accepted nothing when we spoke.’
‘But you knew it. You came to the feast arrayed in the colors of Gondor, ready for the announcement!’
‘My dress was prepared well before any suit was made, captain. I wore what pleased me, and in honor of the kindness shown to me by this city!’ she hotly replied. ‘The suit had been put to my father only that very morning, and the agreement struck but an hour before the feast.’
‘So easily was your heart moved?’
‘What is in my heart is no concern of yours, captain. This match was what my lord father thought best for me, and I consented to it in trust of his wisdom.’
Thorongil looked at her with a mixture of dismay and disgust. ‘You will wed where you do not love?’
‘I will wed as seems best to me and to my father. More than that is not your concern.’
‘But, I love you! Does that mean nothing to you?’ Thorongil demanded.
‘Yes, Thorongil, it means much. Because of it I consented to hear you. In turn, I ask, does it mean nothing to you that I have never claimed such feelings in return? You made clear your heart and your intent. I did the same. Do you deny this?’
‘No. You spoke your doubts, but you also said things to give me hope that your heart might change.’
‘You heard what you wished to hear.’
‘You said you would give me your fond regard.’
‘As I would give any friend.’
‘Why did your father allow me this if he knew he would set aside my suit?’
‘You must speak to him would you know that answer.’
‘The Swan House has treated with me falsely and unkindly!’ the captain spat.
‘Really? I believe the Swan House has given you far more regard than you deserve.’ Finduilas drew herself up to her full height, returning the captain’s fierce glare. ‘I am to wed the High Warden of the White Tower when it shall be time. He is a man of honor and nobility, learned and wise, who won many great victories long before you appeared and continues to do so, and who will rule Gondor in but a few years. I should decline this man for the chance to wed some ratty, penniless, wandering mercenary from who knows where who has managed to win a few battles and has his name called out by common folk in the street? You sell your sword and borrow your clothes, though I will grant that you tell a pretty tale. I can see why you would wish to wed me, but I cannot fathom why you think I would wish to wed you.’
Thorongil’s face lost most of its color, though his hands were clenched and his shoulders trembled with anger. He began to walk off, but rounded back on her, eyes burning. ‘I had thought you different than the false and petty creatures of this city! Your fair and tender seeming covers the same calculating heart, the same cunning ambition!’
‘And you, of course, have no such ambition? Your mind does not tally advantage even as your heart is moved? Tell me to my face you never thought of how a good marriage would allow you to rise in Gondor.’
That set him back a bit, bringing some red to his cheeks. ‘I swear, I do love!’
‘And so do I believe you. I believe also that you are an ambitious man who has been led astray by his own desires. Answer me this, Thorongil: Do you think I should consider the suit of a man who will not tell me his true name?’
At that, the anger left Thorongil, leaving him looking lost. He hung his head and shook it slightly, then took a great breath and said a single word.
‘I should take you on faith, captain, believing that you would eventually tell the truth about yourself?’
‘No. That is my name. My true name.’
“If hope is what I require, can your dreams give it to me?” Denethor’s words of so long past came back to her. He is hope returned to Gondor, but not of my dreams. He is not here because of me! Thorongil raised his head and caught her eyes with his own, clear grey and full of longing. I might have loved you. Had I looked upon you first, and not Denethor, what now might be? Finduilas felt sorry for Thorongil, for he did not lie when he claimed to love, and touched his arm gently to take away the sting of her words.
‘Then speak it truly to one who loves you in return, that you shall both have hope. Though you do not believe it, Estel, even now I count you friend and wish you well.’
‘You are determined on this course, to wed for station, not for love?’
‘Why are you so certain there is no love?’
‘You counted it not among the reasons for choosing Lord Denethor. You show less regard to him than to me. He speaks to you as he would to a counselor or an officer, with scarce common politeness.’
‘Mayhap I prefer such statecraft to poetry and flattery. I am a prince of Dol Amroth, no less than my brother, and I have been raised to think and speak of my land. But you are right, there is no love. Not yet. Perhaps not ever.’ May you take these words to Brandir’s ear, and Beruthiel’s as well.
‘Why, then, such haste?’ he pleaded. ‘Why do you rush to this? Surely there is someone of great station whom you would also love? Your lord father said that you were years away from such a decision. Unless those were just fine words to keep a beggar at bay?’
In his last bitter comment, Thorongil sounded so like Denethor she was tempted to laugh. Time to begin preparing the king. Finduilas crossed her arms and put on a stern face.
‘Mayhap because there are some who rush to throw down the Warden when he is in disfavor with the Steward? Who seek their own advantage in promotion of a man who is beholden to his patrons? Who spread rumors of kinship that are not true? The Swan House does not approve of such things. Yes, I am young. The wedding will wait. This faction must be halted now. If marriage to Denethor will do so, I am prepared to wed him.’ She glanced east out the end of the garden and towards the Ephel Dúath. Motioning with her chin, she quietly said, ‘There is the Enemy. And any who seek to divide and weaken Gondor stand with him, not the Stewards.’
Thorongil also gazed East for a long moment before facing her once more. ‘I see I have misjudged.’
‘Yes, captain, you have.’
‘Once more, I have thought only of my own wishes.’
‘They are not bad wishes.’
‘But they lack your wisdom.’ He looked upon her again, but now his eyes were sad. ‘I could not do as you have done.’
‘You might surprise yourself.’
‘I hope not.’
‘Do we understand each other, Thorongil?’
‘I would not have you call me that. Not now.’
‘I think it best that I do. Only one who loves you should speak it. I will never call you more than friend. Give up that hope.’ Finduilas nodded to the captain and walked swiftly away, refusing to look back at him. She had to stop and gather her composure before she went to the outer hall where she had left her attendants. Denethor was there. Smiling, she strode over. ‘My lord, how good to see you!’
Denethor bowed. ‘My lady. May I attend you home?’
‘Please.’ He offered his arm and they set out. Aerin and the knights stayed a discreet distance behind them. ‘You were spying on me.’ Denethor pulled a thoughtful face, but did not answer. ‘You could not have known I was here unless you were trying to find me.’
‘Did you see?’
‘Did you hear?’
A long pause. ‘Some.’
‘What think you?’
‘That you are chief among my counselors. But I do hope you like poetry. I rather enjoy speaking it to you.’
‘From you, friend, I will even hear flattery.’
Playlist Navigation Bar