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Hands of the King: 32. Cold
Minas Tirith, 13 December, 2976 T.A.
'Time to rise, lamb.' A hand gave Finduilas's shoulder a firm shake. She opened her eyes to see her mother smiling down on her. Finduilas began to stretch, smiling back, when she noticed how late in the day it was and sat up with a start.
'When is it?'
'Just after the sixth bell.'
'Why didn't you wake me?' Finduilas ignored the coughs trying to force their way out of her throat and scrambled out of bed. 'The day is half-gone!'
Luinil laughed and held out her arms. 'Well, is that not a grand "good morning!"' Finduilas had to laugh at herself, which allowed the coughs to escape. Her mother drew her into an embrace. 'There is time aplenty today and every day after,' Luinil gently scolded. 'You and Ivriniel both are worn from travel and need your rest. There is but one errand to run. That is enough for today.' With an extra squeeze, Luinil stepped away and left, adding 'Don't dawdle. Lord Borondir will be here soon,' as she exited the room.
Lord Borondir? Finduilas was puzzled. The Quartermaster? With a shrug, she pulled on a robe and went to Ivriniel's room. The sisters were soon on their way to the women's baths at the back of the circle. Míriel, Dúnmir, and Ivorwen were there, and the young women visited and helped each other get well scrubbed. All agreed they were too tired to do anything that day, but planned to dine together on the morrow. Ivorwen promised to bring Handiriel, while Ivriniel said she would get Andreth and Moraen.
'We should have one meal together while we still smell like a horse!' Míriel teased. Dinner was ready by the time Finduilas and Ivriniel returned. While they ate, Luinil and Angelimir talked about the voyage, the river passage, and the days spent in Minas Tirith waiting for the rest of the household to arrive.
'Denethor has supped with us several times, as his duties allow,' Angelimir said. 'The Warden has been most generous with his time.' Finduilas could not help the blush that came over her face at the mention of Denethor. Her grandfather noticed and winked. 'Somehow, he always knew exactly where you were on the journey.'
She turned a deeper shade of pink. 'That is probably because of the messengers. They always took word of us wherever they went. They would have reported to the Warden.'
'I have no doubt what of their news interested him most,' was Angelimir's knowing answer. 'He was disappointed not to see you this morning.'
'What do you mean? Denethor was here?'
'Yes, early. He came to collect your father and brother for a meeting with the Lord Steward,' her mother said.
'Why did you not wake me?'
'So he could see you all rumpled and half-awake?' her grandfather teased, then laid a gnarled hand on her own. 'Don't begrudge us keeping you hidden for these last few days, child.'
'Of course not. You are right,' Finduilas replied, ashamed at her thoughtlessness. They were finished with dinner and drinking tea when Lord Borondir was announced. When they met him in the parlor, Finduilas let out a cry of delight – Wren was with him. The young woman was so genuinely glad to see them again that even Ivriniel could not help but be kind in return. When the greetings were done, Borondir asked if they were ready to go.
'Where are we going?' Finduilas asked, unable to rein in her curiosity.
'To the warehouse in the Citadel first, my lady, then to the Stewards House,' he replied. It was disconcerting to look at him with his one eye. 'New gifts have arrived. They need to be catalogued and you must say what shall be done with them...'
'I am here to help with that!' Wren interjected, holding up her walking desk.
'…and then the Warden has instructed me to show you the Stewards House,' Borondir continued as though he had not been interrupted, 'so you may say what shall be done with that as well.'
Wren and Finduilas walked to the Citadel arm in arm, talking over news of the archives. By the time they reached the it, Finduilas was tired and coughing. The air was dry and cold, leaving her throat sore with each breath. Luinil frowned and said they would stop at the Houses of Healing on their way back to make sure nothing was amiss. Borondir led them to a large stone building adorned with a frieze of ships. Finduilas could not find two ships that looked alike among all she could see. A doorward saluted Borondir and bowed to the women before opening a small door set into the huge, steel-banded doors. The interior of the warehouse was well lit and felt warm after the chill outside. A woman in full trousers and wearing a leather apron and guards on her forearms approached them, greeted them quietly, and showed the way to where the wedding gifts were stored.
Finduilas was amazed. There were several dozen chests, some of wood, some of leather, and each held a wonderful surprise, like cloth, spices, or delicate metal work, gifts of the nobles of Minas Tirith. Each guild in the City had presented her with some work of its finest craftsmen. Minor lords of Anórien, the Pelennor, and the southern fiefs sent samples of their foodstuffs – salted fish, preserved fruits, dried meats, corn of several types, and many strong-smelling cheeses. Borondir said there were harvest fruits, gourds, and root crops as well, which had been cellared properly. There was furniture, many beautiful wall hangings and tapestries, and a large Haradic rug. When asked who had sent that, the quartermaster shrugged and said only that it had arrived from Pelargir.
Wren opened her walking desk. It was crafted of ivory and a dense, red-brown wood, and opened on a hinge along its spine. It had a leather pad on one side for writing upon, and a cleverly stoppered ink pot inset near the top. The other half held paper, quills, a penknife, and some solid inks that could be mixed in the ink pot. She followed Luinil and Finduilas, making notes about what had arrived since Luinil's last visit, from whom, and what should be done with it.
'Whatever shall we do with all of this food?' Finduilas asked in consternation. 'It is far too much for a single house, however grand.'
'What do you think should be done with it?' Luinil pointedly answered.
'I would hazard that the Citadel itself is already well provisioned,' Finduilas said, 'though that should be checked. Borondir, who oversees the ordering of the Citadel?'
'I have, since Lady Emeldir died,' he said.
'Then you shall have to teach me how it is done,' Finduilas firmly told him. 'Are any of these provisions needed here?'
'No, my lady. The Citadel's stores are full and overfull this year. The harvest was good.'
Finduilas made herself think. "It is your duty to order it well. Many will rely on your forethought…" It would not do to seem a witless goose in front of the Quartermaster and Denethor's close kinsman. 'Where then, Borondir, are there shortfalls?'
'In the first circle and in the Harlond. Not shortfalls, I would not allow that,' he replied with some pride, 'but less than bountiful stores. Their needs are filled by the Lady's Grace.'
'And the Stewards House? How is that provisioned?'
'From the Lady's holdings, though there has been little of that done for more than a year.'
'I see. Would you please draw up a report on the condition of the first circle stores…'
'And the Harlond.'
'…and the Harlond, and bring that to me as soon as you may? We will need to speak of that as well.'
There was no hiding the pleased look on Borondir's face. 'Yes, my lady. I will have them ready the day after tomorrow.' To her amusement, his cheeks reddened and he looked down, bashful. 'It is good that there will be a Lady once more to order things.'
'And with your guidance, I shall do so,' Finduilas answered. 'We should go to the house now.'
Borondir smiled and gestured for the women to follow him. Wren and Luinil talked about what had arrived since the previous week – obviously Wren had been acting as Luinil's scribe for some time – while Ivriniel and Finduilas listened. Sador was waiting outside the door for them, beaming.
'My lady, oh, you do not know how happy you have made this old man!' the doorward exclaimed clasping her hands between his own. 'Come in! Come in! Your house awaits you.' There was some confusion at the door when Sador tried to bow Finduilas in without letting go of her hands, but soon all were inside. It was good to shed their heavy winter cloaks and move freely, though they had to wait while Finduilas coughed.
It was strange to walk through the house. The rooms she had occupied were clean and newly painted, and empty. Imrahil's rooms, once Aiavalë's, were exactly like his own at home, with no discernable order and liberally scattered with things he found on his jaunts around the City. Ivriniel good naturedly scolding her brother for his slovenly habits while Imrahil protested. Finduilas realized that Imrahil might be now living at Vinyamar, but very few of his belongings had left the Stewards House. The kitchen was as it had been under Lady Emeldir, well stocked and filled with interesting smells. On the second floor, the solar at the back of the house was open once more, and held a mix of the old furnishings from the room and things sent from Dol Amroth. Ivriniel looked around with a sigh, and shook her head.
Finduilas seized the opening. 'This is not very inviting,' she said in a doubtful voice.
'It is dreadful,' Ivriniel firmly declared.
'Yes, it is. I suppose I could have things moved.'
Ivriniel snorted. 'And whomever moved it would know no more than this.' Hands on hips, her sister surveyed the room, nodding to herself. 'Well, I can see what I shall be doing,' Ivriniel concluded. She turned to Wren and began dictating what was needed. Finduilas felt her mother slip a hand into her own and squeeze it. They shared a sidelong smile before paying attention to Ivriniel's counsel. The small dining room left the elder daughter shaking her head once more. 'What a mean house this is for the Stewards to live in! Can the ruler of Gondor truly have no better home? His station deserves better. Vinyamar is grander than this, and it is but a temporary place of rest!'
'This, too, was a temporary place of rest, once' Borondir said in a mild voice. 'The House of Húrin lived in a grand manor in the hills of Emyn Arnen, and the Steward would reside here when summoned by the king. Even after the kings ended, the Steward's household lived much of the time in Ithilien, coming here only in winter. Only in the stewardship of Thorondir was the manor finally abandoned. I think it will not be so mean a place once our lady is here.' He bowed his head to Finduilas. Ivriniel said something agreeable, and returned to inspecting the rooms.
Finduilas looked at the Stewards House critically for the first time. It was mean compared to the houses of the fifth and sixth circles. It was narrow, dark, cramped, and undistinguished. The view from the eastern windows upon the City and across the plain was breathtaking, but the house itself was simply one more among the sturdy domiciles that stood against the Citadel wall, intended to house the servants of the Tower. None of the other ministers lived within the Citadel. They each had a house along dignified lanes in the lower circles; they did not live next to the master baker or the head weaver or the Tower cellarer.
They wandered from the dining room to the third room on the floor, which overlooked the narrow street in front of the house. It was the largest room in the house, and had probably once been where the Steward worked and received guests during the time of the kings. Finduilas did not remember it ever being open in the months she lived here. It stood empty. They climbed the stair to the third floor, and walked into the central room. The biggest change was the open archway to the left just inside the door. Intrigued, Finduilas walked through it, trailed by the other women. As she had suspected, they were rooms for children. As she examined the last one, she heard a familiar mew, and looked down to see Telperien at her feet.
'Your Majesty!' Finduilas exclaimed, squatting down to pet the cat, 'You're here!' Telperien sniffed the woman's outstretched hand, then bunted her head against it, demanding to be petted. Finduilas scooped the cat up, delighted that Telperien remembered her. The others gathered around to admire the cat and scratch her ears. Telperien purred loudly at the attention. 'Have you been a good girl?'
'Aside from making a ruin of my reports, yes.' All the women jumped at the sound of Denethor's voice. He stood just beyond the archway in the main room, watching. For a long moment, he met her eyes, and Finduilas wished that everyone else would leave. Then Denethor gestured towards the rooms and asked, 'Is all to your satisfaction?'
'Unfortunately, no.' Finduilas wondered for a moment who had spoken, then realized it was herself.
Denethor's brow furrowed in consternation. 'No? What is wrong?'
She walked back to the main room, wanting to be closer to him. Finduilas was glad for the cat – Telperien kept her from flinging her arms around Denethor when she finally stood before him. As he had in Dol Amroth, Denethor clasped his hands behind him and rocked back on his heels somewhat. It was difficult to be so close to him and not dare to touch him, not even to take his hand.
'Please tell me what is wrong so it may be fixed.'
'It is not arranged to my taste,' she replied, but smiled to take any sting from the words. A motion near the door caught her eye. Beregar. He stood half-hidden in the doorway, eyes downcast. Gold glinted on his right hand.
'How do you wish it to be arranged? Say what you wish, and it shall be done,' Denethor prompted.
'We are making notes on that,' Luinil answered, walking past Finduilas and holding her hands out to him. Denethor took Luinil's hands and allowed her to place a kiss on his cheek. 'Pay no mind to our fussing. Every woman wants her house just so.' Denethor smiled slightly in return. 'How are you, Denethor? Has the Steward released you for the day?'
Finduilas was startled at the wave of jealousy that surged up in her heart, like water flung against the rocks by the tides of Cobas Haven. It was not right that she did not dare to take her own love's hands, give him a kiss, speak so to him, it… The cat wriggled in her grasp, disliking how tightly her mistress was holding her, and jumped to the floor. With an effort, Finduilas made herself smile and kept her tone light. 'We are almost through. There is only the final floor to look at.'
'Then it is well I returned, for they are locked and you will need the key.' His smile disappeared and he addressed Luinil. 'Yes, I am released for the day, as are the Prince and Imrahil.'
'Then we had best finish here so they will not wait too long for us,' Luinil answered. With a nod to Denethor, she turned and walked into the bedroom just off the main room, asking Ivriniel her opinion of what was needed in there. Wren hurried to catch up and take notes. Finduilas glanced at Denethor. He said nothing, but stared at her intently.
'Friend?' she whispered
'Alquallë. Thou art here, finally,' he murmured in reply. His hand strayed towards her arm, then was tucked firmly behind his back. A look of chagrin came over his face. 'You don't like the house?'
'I think it fine, but Ivriniel and Mother have other ideas,' she said quietly with a rueful grin. 'It does no harm, and gets them to give us a moment's peace.'
The corner of his mouth twitched very slightly. 'Wise, as always, prince.' His eyes flicked towards the bedroom door, and he said in a stronger voice, 'We should not tarry. Are you ready to see upstairs?'
'What about that room?' Ivriniel asked, pointing to Denethor's study.
'No.' Finduilas answered firmly, then stepped closer to Denethor, slipping her hand under his arm. 'Shall we go?' Denethor did not smile at her touch but neither did he pull away, and they walked up the stairs together. The way was narrow enough that she had to press against his arm to stay next to him. He did not appear to mind this, either. Once on the top floor, Denethor let go her arm and pulled a ring of keys from a pocket. They went to the rooms at the wall end of the floor first. There was a spacious front room with a bedroom behind, both bare. They overlooked the wall and had large glazed windows. Ivriniel pushed past Finduilas, exclaiming at the sight of the City spread out below them.
The day was clear, providing a view reaching beyond Osgiliath to the Ephel Dúath. The range's grim bulk stood sharply against the thin winter sky. Finduilas could not take her eyes off them. For a moment, she imagined a dark shadow creeping out from the roots of the hills, seeping into the land and oozing towards her. She shivered and crossed her arms tightly. Denethor's hand came to rest in the small of her back. 'Alquallë?' He more breathed than spoke her name. She wished he would take her in his arms and let her hide her face from the menace.
'You should take these rooms, Finduilas,' Ivriniel said, going from window to window. 'It is so bright and beautiful here!'
'I prefer downstairs.' She wanted to retreat there now, to Denethor's study, with its warm rug, small window, and reassuring smell. 'I do not wish to always be climbing so many stairs.' Turning her back on the east, Finduilas walked out. 'Let us see the rest, then return home. I am becoming tired.' She waited impatiently for Denethor to open the door to the rooms near the front, Lady Emeldir's quarters. They looked as they had when the woman lived. Finduilas stood aside and allowed Ivriniel to decide things. Denethor stood near, not quite touching her arm with his own. Looking about, she noticed that there was a depression on the bed, as though someone had sat or lain upon it.
'The furniture in here is beautiful, Denethor,' Luinil said, admiring a chest of drawers.
'It all belonged to Lady Emeldir.' Not "Mother". Not "my mother". 'Whatever you find pleasing, you should take.' This was said to her.
'Are you certain?'
'Yes. You were very dear to Lady Emeldir in her last months. She would wish for you to have it.'
As Ivriniel and Luinil examined the furniture, Finduilas edged closer until her arm touched Denethor's and their hands brushed together. She did not look at him, but hooked her fingers into his. It lasted only a few minutes, for the other rooms in the suite had little or nothing in them and Ivriniel was soon finished. Borondir and Beregar were waiting for them on the ground floor, as were a Swan Knight and one of Finduilas's guardsmen. Borondir was talking to them about their quarters in the City, leaving Finduilas feeling a pang of guilt for having failed to think of her soldiers. Beregar still would not look up, so she said nothing, not wishing to make a fuss in front of so many people. Once more, Finduilas began to cough, though it quickly passed.
Denethor frowned at the fit. 'Were you bothered by this during your journey?' he asked as he helped Finduilas put on her cloak.
'No, Denethor. There was no problem on the ride.'
'And there will be no problem here,' Luinil sternly added. 'We go to the Houses of Healing now, then home to rest.' Denethor insisted on walking with them as far as the tunnel entrance. Finduilas kept firm hold of his arm the entire way. The late-afternoon sun was low in the sky and cold winds rolled down Mindolluin and across the Citadel, making her shiver. She did not remember the air being so frigid the last two winters in Minas Tirith. When they reached the tunnel, Denethor admonished her to rest.
Finduilas laughed and shook her head, patting his arm. 'You worry too much! I will collect my draught from the healers, rest undisturbed, and be perfectly fine tomorrow.'
He frowned at her words. 'You were ill too often winter last.'
'So I shall be careful not to overtax myself,' she answered brightly. Before he could step away, Finduilas stood on tip-toe and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. 'We ladies will leave you to your business, my lord.' Just before they turned into the southern branch of the tunnel to the sixth circle, Finduilas looked back up the ramp. All she could see of Denethor was a silhouette against a circle of light, as though she walked in one of her visions, and she half expected to be wrapped in feathers, not wool.
Soon came they to their passage deep,
the secret way through which could creep
a meager few of loyal heart.
Forsaking kin, they did depart
And sought the cruel and frigid heights,
Finduilas shuddered violently as she recalled the words, but could not make her feet move towards the figure in the light any more than she could follow him in her dreams. Wren had to tug her arm to make her quit staring and follow.
Warden Lhûn of the Houses of Healing greeted them warmly, insisting they join her for a restoring mug of hot tea while an apothecary prepared some medicines. The woman inquired after Angelimir, advising that he stay within doors as much as possible to ease his joints, and assured Luinil she would send around a healer every few days to check on both the old Prince and Finduilas. 'It will not do to have our lady take ill before the celebrations, after all,' the Warden said with a kind look at Finduilas. The sun was close to setting by the time they finished the visit, and all of them, even Borondir, were exclaiming over the bitter wind. Wren parted with them at the archives, saying she had to attend Lady Aiavalë and make sure her mistress got safely home.
Finduilas was glad to arrive back home. There were many notes waiting for herself and Ivriniel from the other young women, all saying they were coming over on the morrow for dinner and an afternoon of gossip. Supper was soon ready. Finduilas saw a look pass between her parents after the standing silence was through, one that asked what the supper table conversation should be. Luinil smiled and asked Ivriniel who would be her guests the next day. Though she had hoped her father would speak about the meeting with the Steward, Finduilas was glad to sit at a meal with all of her family and hear nothing but cheerful things. At one point, she felt her throat tighten. It had been so long since they had been together like this, exchanging merry words instead of dark looks, and she wished it was longer before the wedding. After supper, Ivriniel dragged Imrahil off to ask him about something; Finduilas guessed it had to do with how well he was acquainted with the young lords. Angelimir excused himself to retire.
Adrahil looked at Finduilas and Luinil and sighed in an exaggerated manner. 'I suppose you will require a full report, ladies?'
'Of course,' Luinil replied, rising, 'but not here.' When all three were sitting in the parlor with wine, Luinil asked, 'What are the war reports? There have been rumors of a possible attack since I arrived.'
'No.' Adrahil shook his head. 'There may be rumors, but they are not coming from the garrisons. From Cair Andros to Poros, the reports are consistent – nothing out of...' her father jerked a thumb eastwards, 'and even less from the south. All that remains unknown is what the Easterlings may plan. The Warden is certain there is nothing threatening from there, and all word from the northernmost scouts supports his claim.' The Prince sipped, then said, 'The memory of last winter is still sharp, but that campaign squandered much of the Enemy's forces. Now is a time for rebuilding strength, not spending it.' The last words were spoken quietly, and his look was inwards.
'And our own rebuilding?' Luinil asked. Adrahil did not reply. The women waited patiently. When the Prince finally gave them his attention, his eyes twinkled with amusement.
'Most talk is over a certain new banner, and the prince it belongs to,' he said in a musing tone. Finduilas felt her cheeks get red. Adrahil smiled and raised his glass to her. 'That was a masterstroke. No one will be allowed to forget what union it is that binds Gondor.'
'All that matters is that the Steward remembers it,' Finduilas coolly answered, which made her father laugh.
'The Steward is surprised by how many lords have flocked to this banner,' Adrahil went on in his sly, amused tone. 'I don't think he was expecting so many guests.'
Luinil cleared her throat. 'I am curious, daughter. Where did this banner come from?'
'The lieutenant of the men-at-arms asked if I had a device for them to wear, Mother, so I came up with this. I suspect the banner was Lady Beriel's idea, and the ladies all worked together to make it for me.'
Her mother nodded appreciatively. 'Well chosen. It will make them think.' Luinil fixed a stern look on Adrahil. 'And the Warden?'
'As laconic as ever.' Luinil's eyes narrowed. Adrahil met her glare and shrugged. 'He listens to others speak, and guards his own thoughts. He appears to be watching Lord Duinmir most closely.'
'Lady Handeth was overly inquisitive about this match,' Finduilas offered. 'She wished to know why the houses were to be joined now.'
Luinil's expression grew thoughtful. 'And what was she really asking?'
'And you said?'
'Gondor. I also said this was always intended to happen.' And it was. From before we knew each other, we were meant to be matched. Finduilas looked back and forth between her parents. Her mother was still thinking, but her father looked sad. 'It puts my earlier stay in Minas Tirith in a new light, as the beginning of something already agreed upon, and makes clear who is in power.' She caught her father's eyes. 'Now, the lords will see this wedding as the culmination of the new Prince of Dol Amroth's plan to secure the pledge of Minas Tirith to defend the falas.'
The Prince's expression was guarded, but his tone curious. 'So, who lost?'
'Lady Maiaberiel. And those who follow her.'
'Only if he follows Beruthiel.' Finduilas began to say more, but a yawn replaced whatever words were supposed to come out. Her parents laughed, and Adrahil stood, holding his hands out to her.
'Enough! There is time enough on the morrow to decide the fate of the realm. For now, I insist my daughter be a good child and go to bed.' Finduilas allowed her father to pull her to her feet. Kissing her mother good night, she walked with him to her room. At the door, Adrahil sighed. 'I tried, daughter.'
'What? What did you try?'
'To see him as a man of honor.'
'He is,' she gently insisted.
'I distrust them all. The entire house.'
'But you see honor in him, so it must be there,' Adrahil continued, 'and I will keep trying until I find it. I promised you I would.' He gave her a quick, fierce embrace, then turned away. 'Go to bed.'
The next day dawned clear and more bitterly cold than the one before. Finduilas rose early, determined to take care of her charges. She sat in the parlor with her grandfather and wrote notes all morning, a large pot of tea keeping them company. Angelimir wore several layers of clothes and sat next to the fire to ward off the seeping chill. Her first note was to Gethron, asking after her soldiers. Her next note was to Aiavalë.
Forgive your thoughtless little sister! I have been a full day in Minas Tirith and have not yet come to pay a call. Let me know when I may come see you.
After some thought, Finduilas wrote a longer but less personal note to Maiaberiel and Brandir, saying she was resting from the long journey and hoped she would be able to pay a call on them soon. Next was Borondir, thanking him for his company yesterday and saying she looked forward to going over reports on the City when he finished preparing them. Then a note to the Warden Lhûn and her healers. So passed the morning, with a packet of letters sent out every hour to be distributed about the City.
Where once she would have only thought about being agreeable and polite to those who had shown her courtesy, Finduilas now had to consider what she wanted from them. When dinner time came and the young ladies of the falas arrived, she was grateful for the distraction. Even then, however, she found herself listening and judging more than speaking. It was odd to consider her friends this way, as she had once only looked at Maiaberiel. But these girls will marry, and their marriages will make alliances, and these alliances will matter greatly to how Gondor fares. The women themselves talked and laughed and confided as young women should, speaking of parties, asking about wedding preparations, and promising to visit each other a great deal. None of them had been to Minas Tirith before, so Ivriniel offered to show them the City during their stay.
It was several hours before their guests left and Finduilas was worn out. She had no time to rest, however, as replies to her morning missives came in. The first she opened was Aiavalë's.
Dearest Little Sister,
Spare no thought for this old crone. Wren, Beregar, and Denethor have each told me you are very weary from your journey and had to visit the healers yesterday. I will send over a basket of things for you this evening. Do not come to the archives. It is too cold and I have told everyone to stay home near a fire. Mallor will not listen, of course. You are welcome at any time you wish to see me.
Finduilas had to shake her head and chuckle that not one but three people had reported on her to Aiavalë. Ah, sister, your spies are everywhere! Gethron also replied, thanking her profusely for her concern. The men were well housed in barracks in the first circle, resting from their march, and meeting the two hundred from Anórien and Minas Tirith with whom they would be joined. "Have you a pattern of your device, my lady," he asked, "for the inlanders wish also to wear your badge. Their kinswomen will stitch them if a pattern is provided." She dispatched one at once. Close to sundown, two baskets arrived. One was filled with teas and books, Aiavalë's promised gift, as well as another note admonishing her to stay warm. The other held sweet things, obviously from Adanel. Finduilas suspected that Beregar had delivered both. Supper was again pleasant, with Adrahil and Imrahil telling of their day in the lower circles checking on the men, while Ivriniel and Luinil planned how they would spend the next fortnight, beginning with a dress fitting for Finduilas the next morning.
It was for her wedding dress. The cloth had been brought from Dol Amroth, purchased dearly from one of the southern traders. The scarlet silk was dense and soft, with delicate embroidery. Finduilas touched the fabric, wondering if it would be warm enough for a mid-winter wedding. When it was pieced together and draped on her, she wondered even more, given how much of her bosom was exposed. She stood patiently, letting the others fuss and pin and adjust and consult, and considered her dress. Common folk wore whatever they pleased, but a Dúnedain bride always wore red. A dress of blood. The rings showed that she was bound to her husband, as he was to her, but her dress, that was for the houses. Within me shall the blood of our houses be joined. It was not just alliances that came of weddings, but also children. He does not wish any, and for reason. The thought nagged at her for the rest of the fitting.
Afterwards, Finduilas asked to dine with Aiavalë. Luinil was reluctant at first, then relented. To prevent coughing, Finduilas drank one of the teas the healers had prepared and wrapped herself up against the cold, even veiling her face. Accompanied by two of her soldiers, she hurried to Widow Almarian's house, bringing along a few of Adanel's sweets for them to have with tea after they ate. No doubt Aiavalë was well supplied with her own dainties from The Messenger's Rest, but Finduilas did not wish to appear empty-handed. Leaving the men in front hall, she let herself into Aiavalë's parlor and right into the middle of an argument.
'I have met stones more reasonable than you,' Aiavalë growled from her chair near the fire. Denethor stood facing it, hands outstretched to the flames.
'No. I will have nothing more to do with that woman,' he snapped in return.
Finduilas did not know whether to groan or laugh at the scene. Instead, she said, 'So, what has Beruthiel done now?' She smirked at how the siblings jumped at the sound of her voice. Aiavalë let out a cry of joy and limped over. Denethor stared before turning back to the fire. The two women embraced. 'I am sorry I did not send word ahead, Lady Lore…'
'It does not matter,' the Archivist said before pulling the bell rope by the door. 'Can you stay for dinner, or must you go immediately?'
'I can stay.' Lily was at the door in a minute, which meant more hugs and greetings. Aiavalë said Finduilas would stay for dinner. Finduilas asked if Lily could find something warm for her guards. The young woman assured her that the men would be well fed. Aiavalë led Finduilas over to a chair near the fire. Denethor said nothing, offered no greeting, did not turn to look at her. Finduilas noticed he was dressed for riding. A glance to the door showed his pack and saddlebags sitting near it. Aiavalë gave her a mug of warm, spiced wine before dragging a chair over for herself.
'As I asked, what has Beruthiel done?'
'Nothing. It's not her, it's her,' Denethor answered, turning to glower at Aiavalë.
'It is you, brother!'
'I dare say it is all three of you,' Finduilas said into her wine cup, 'but I still understand nothing.'
Denethor had not stopped glaring at Aiavalë. 'You stood for Lark. You stood for Primrose. After all you have done to bring this about, why won't you stand for me?'
'That was nothing, small gatherings with no one of import,' she shot back, 'but this? No! Not in front of…'
'You went to the funeral, why not this?'
'A funeral is death and ugliness! What matters that a monster appear?' Aiavalë fumed. 'Do not blight your wedding with me.'
Finduilas finally understood. 'Aiavalë! No! You must be there. Say not that you will stay away.'
'I will be there, but not where all may stare. I am not going to hobble along in front of all the lords of Gondor!'
'And I will not have Maiaberiel there! I don't want to hear her. I don't want her touching me. I don't want to look at her with all she has done to us. I don't want her gaining some advantage. She was at the betrothal, and I want no more of her!' Denethor snarled, dropping into his large chair.
'Then I will have no one.'
'I did not come here to listen to you argue,' Finduilas interjected. 'If you wish to fight, I shall come back another time.' The other two looked abashed at her scolding. Denethor's words brought back to her how upset he had been at the betrothal when Beruthiel would not leave him be, obviously mocking him when he did not dare correct her or bid her leave. No, that woman is not going to stand for him, not if I can help it. 'I agree with Denethor. I do not wish Beruthiel to stand near me at this wedding. We shall have to work out something else.' Denethor shot a triumphant look at his sister who made a face in return.
There was a knock at the door which Denethor answered, collecting the dinner tray. He told the two of them to stay warm by the fire and let him lay the table. With smooth efficiency, Denethor put more wine to warm in a pot on the hearth, brought chairs to the small table, and filled each plate. Finduilas sipped her wine and watched him move. He was a beautiful man. She wanted to touch him. When he was through filling the mugs, he glanced up and caught her looking at him. Denethor looked away first, gesturing at the table.
'Come eat while it is warm.'
The food was very good, as Lily's dishes always were. After a few bites to take the edge off her hunger, Finduilas motioned at Denethor's clothes, asking 'Are you going somewhere, friend?'
'Yes.' Finduilas nodded and returned to her food, refusing to be baited. A few minutes later he added, 'The Steward has decided that I need to personally inspect the close garrisons before year-end. I should be back by mettarë.'
'He will have my mother to answer to should you be delayed,' Finduilas sweetly replied, making Denethor choke on his wine. She sighed, shaking her head. 'I do not think he wants that.' To her delight, Denethor laughed at the thought. 'How long will you be gone?'
'At least ten days; perhaps a fortnight.'
Finduilas thought for a moment. 'Did the Steward know how many lords were coming for this?'
'Not all. Most gave their word directly to me.'
'I think he does not wish you in the City talking to all of them gathered. Most will leave directly after yestarë, yes?'
Denethor nodded. There was no hesitation or wariness in manner now. 'Yes, prince, I think you right. He devised this since yesterday's council.'
'Can you accomplish this in less than ten days?'
'No. The travel alone will take six days. At least one day full inspection at each location, so there's another four. We had best say twelve days. No telling what the weather will do.'
'Take no risks, friend.'
'I won't. Since I am gone, that should make your sister's rearrangement of the house easier for her to do.'
Aiavalë asked what this was all about, so Finduilas spent the rest of the meal telling of the inspection of the Stewards House. When they finished, Finduilas walked with Denethor to the door of the parlor and waited while he put on his cloak. The Archivist busied herself at the other end of the room.
'You will be there?'
'Six days. Maybe seven.'
'I will look.'
Denethor delicately touched her cheek. 'I do not wish to leave. I could refuse.'
'Let us anger neither your sire nor mine. Not now.'
'Not now.' He took her hands. 'You look tired.'
'I will go home and rest after I visit here.'
'Ten days. No more.' He placed a light kiss on her brow, collected his gear, and left.
After she heard the soldier's voices as they greeted him, then the soft thud of the front door closing behind him, Finduilas turned and gave Aiavalë a stern look. 'Just what all have you done to bring this about, Lady Lore?'
Aiavalë laughed and put more wine to warm on the hearth. 'Nothing, save to be sure you two saw as much of each other as I could contrive to happen.'
'And how long have you been unfolding your plot?'
'Since he first looked on you, and I watched him fall in love with you in that glance.' The Archivist waved her to a chair by the fire.
'I have wondered, sister, about that. How is it that a man of his qualities and station should have been unwed at his age?'
Aiavalë shrugged. 'There has been no one to catch his eye. No one good enough for him. I taught him to beware of conniving girls and their ambitious mothers.'
Finduilas waited for the older woman to settle into her own chair. 'You need to stand for him, sister. We both want you to.'
'I will not shame you or myself.'
'The Steward will speak, not you.'
'I will limp too much.'
'Perhaps a special shoe can be made.'
'I have tried to wear such before. They cause me pain, and one nearly cast me down.'
'Then you need a better cobbler. What of Lark's father-in-law? I have heard tell he is a good cobbler.'
'It won't work.'
'Perhaps it will not, but I am going to ask you to try, for me and for your brother. Wren could bring him here. She knows the family. Promise me you will try.'
Aiavalë grudgingly gave her word. Finduilas asked for all the archive news, and they spoke until the next bell, when she returned to Vinyamar.
The morning brought a note from Borondir saying he could not meet with her for several days due to the Lord Steward's requests, but he did send her all of the accounts and records he had promised to prepare. Unfortunately, it also brought an invitation from Maiaberiel for a party to be thrown in Finduilas's honor the following day. Luinil read the invitation, tight-lipped, and tossed it into the fire with a snort.
'Does that mean we are not attending?' Finduilas asked.
'We will have to,' was her mother's terse reply.
'Need we plan one of our own for afterwards?'
Luinil shook her head. 'No. We need to play the guest from now until the wedding.' Her mother glanced at her, eyes sharp. 'After that, they must all come to you.'
The following evening, the Swans arrived at Maiaberiel's house. Angelimir insisted on attending, so the walk there was slow. The cold had not abated and at night it cut through all cloth and most walls. By the time they walked the circle to Maiaberiel's house, Finduilas was glad to get inside regardless of what lay within. There was barely space to squeeze through the hallway to the great room, so many people were packed into the house. As she expected, Beruthiel swooped in, expecting to snatch Finduilas up as her chief ornament for the evening. Finduilas was prepared.
'My dear sister – do forgive me for presuming on that! – you look beautiful,' Maiaberiel exclaimed, trying to loop an arm around Finduilas. 'There are so many people here to see you.' Finduilas embraced the older woman, but slipped away from her grasp to take Angelimir's arm.
'I am amazed at it all!' Finduilas cheerfully replied. 'Help me to get Grandfather to a chair where he may watch everything.' Angelimir gave her a sidelong look, then quickly winked. After much fussing, a large chair was procured and the elder Prince settled into it. Finduilas took Maiaberiel's hands in her own and stepped very close. 'Do help me, sister,' she murmured.
'What do you need?'
'Give your attention to Ivriniel, for she is to be your sister, too,' Finduilas said in her most earnest tone. 'I am still weary from the journey, and she is jealous that she gets no attention.' With a kiss on the despicable woman's cheek, she added, 'Make her the queen of the evening!'
Maiaberiel smiled and nodded. 'You are so kind, child. Yes, you must rest. You do look tired.'
'I will stay here with Grandfather and introduce him to everyone.'
After Maiaberiel left, heading directly for Luinil and Ivriniel, Angelimir looked expectantly at Finduilas. She said nothing, but smiled and greeted the couple who approached. She remembered them somewhat and knew them to be of Beruthiel's faction. Most of the guests were. She could see her parents had split up and were engaged in their usual party behavior. Imrahil stayed close to Adrahil. More people approached Finduilas and Angelimir, offering their greetings. Dancing began an hour into the festivities, keenly reminding Finduilas that Denethor would not be there. To be in your arms, friend. She wondered if he was still in Osgiliath, or on his way north to Cair Andros and then to the secret place. As she expected, Ivriniel soon escaped from Maiaberiel in the dancing.
At the sound of her name, Finduilas turned around. Luinmir stood there, looking forlorn. The woman's face was thin and her clothes were much plainer than her wont. Finduilas held out her hands. 'Please, Luinmir, be not so distant.' The women embraced, Luinmir clinging to her tightly. 'How are you, my friend?'
The other woman stared a moment, before dropping her eyes with a shrug. 'I am a widow.'
She knew the woman was vain and conceited, but there was something in the way that Luinmir spoke that made Finduilas feel great pity for her. Finduilas embraced her again, saying, ‘Parties are not good places to speak, and I see you have a tale. I know not when I may have a free hour between now and mettarë, but there will be time afterwards for us to meet and talk.’
'You would wish to meet with me?' Luinmir asked softly, searching Finduilas's face.
'Yes.' She could not say exactly why, but Finduilas was certain this was a good thing to do.
'I will await a summons from you, my lady,' Luinmir replied with a shallow curtsey. 'Thank you.' She walked away to the edge of the dancing. Finduilas decided she would speak privately to Brandir at some point and find out more of what had happened to Luinmir. It did not seem possible that Beruthiel would allow the woman to escape her clutches.
When just over two hours had passed, Angelimir tugged on Finduilas's sleeve, smiling broadly. 'Look! Plans must have changed. The Warden is here after all.'
'Where?' Finduilas asked, searching the crowd. This would be a perfect ending to the evening if Denethor had somehow managed to return.
'Near the second door. His back is to us.'
'No. That is Thorongil, not Denethor.' Denethor is sent away. The Captain is brought in two days later. Finduilas wondered how long Thorongil was to remain in Minas Tirith.
'I must meet him.' Her grandfather began to stand. Finduilas placed a hand on his shoulder.
'I will fetch him.' Finduilas wove through the crowd to Thorongil's side. When he turned to see who had walked up, the captain froze. He quickly regained his composure and bowed.
'My lady, it is good to see you.'
'And it is good to see you, Thorongil. I wondered when you would show up.' The man did not answer. His eyes were shuttered, his face a polite mask. 'My grandfather has asked to meet you. Will you come with me?' She did not wait for an answer, but put her hand under his arm and returned to Angelimir.
Her grandfather said nothing when introduced to the captain, not even nodding in answer to Thorongil's courteous greeting. After a long minute, Angelimir looked away, face troubled.
'Is something wrong, my prince?' Thorongil asked.
'Where have you been?'
Angelimir turned his bright gaze on the captain. 'Where have you been?' he demanded once more.
'In Osgiliath, sir,' Thorongil replied, but the words were uncertain.
'No.' Angelimir shook his head. 'I did not see you there, but I have seen you.'
'I do not understand, my prince.'
Angelimir deliberately looked away from Thorongil and at the crowd. 'Get me something to drink. I am thirsty.'
'Yes, grandfather.' Finduilas walked off. As she expected, Thorongil followed.
'Have I offended your grandfather?'
'No. His manners have become odd.' She was curious at Angelimir's reaction.
'I am glad you are with your family, my la…'
'Use my name if you are going to speak to me.'
After a pause, Thorongil finished, '…Finduilas.'
'Yes, I am also glad, even more so that all are here now.' There was a relatively empty part of the hall between the main room where the dancing was and the dining room were food and drink were laid out, so Finduilas took advantage of it to stop. 'And of your own? I do remember our talk of a year ago. Have you word of them?'
For a moment she thought he would refuse her question, then he sighed and shook his head. 'No. They are far away and word is rare.' There was no falseness in his sad tone.
'You said that you thought to bring them here someday. You should do that so you may have them near.'
The captain drew himself up and glared at her. 'Bring them here? Your lord has told you to say these things.'
Finduilas stared at him in confusion. 'What do you mean? The Prince has…'
'No, Lord Denethor has said nothing to me on this, nor has he asked me to say or not say anything, but I see now that he has spoken of such things with you.' She crossed her arms and waited, refusing to be daunted by Thorongil's fierce look. With a sigh of exasperation, he nodded curtly once. 'Then you should pay heed if he has counseled you so. My lord is a wise man and perceives things that others do not. But you should not need his words. Why would you not wish your kin to be near you?'
Thorongil opened his mouth, then closed it, looking away. With a shake of his head, he said, 'We should not leave your grandfather in thirst.'
'No, we should not, any more than you should live without word of those dear to you.' Finduilas waited until the captain looked at her once more. There was neither fierceness nor suspicion in his eyes now, not even sadness. Thorongil's expression was bleak and a slight droop marked his frame.
'It must be so,' he said so softly she had to strain to hear him. How long has it been since you have heard from your kin? Months? Years? She laid a hand on his forearm in sympathy.
'That is not right, Thorongil, and it saddens me to hear it.'
He shrugged and answered, 'Let it not concern you.'
'It does concern me,' Finduilas countered. 'What sorrows my friends sorrows me.'
'You should not call me friend.'
'I call you friend, captain, and Thorongil,' she firmly replied, 'as all are true. You have given me your trust. I do not count that lightly. Do we not share honorable intentions?'
Thorongil seized her hand, eyes intent. 'Then tell me true – have you found any love for your lord? You said there was none. If you count me friend, then tell me!'
With the touch came a familiar sick sensation, and she had to resist the impulse to push him away. 'Why does it matter to you, Thorongil?'
'I…have thought long on your words of last year, Finduilas. You said you made a match in part because of…me. Of ambitions and calculations. I… It…' Thorongil broke off and stepped back, clasping his hands behind him. 'It grieves my heart to think that something I have done has put you in a loveless match.'
'I will not answer yea or nay, Thorongil. Instead, I say that you should watch when my lord returns from his patrol, and decide for yourself what you see. Until then, I suggest you think more on what love others bear me, or at least profess to.' With a meaningful look, Finduilas briskly walked off to fetch her grandfather's drink. Thorongil did not follow. She collected a glass of brandy and hastened back. Brandir was standing near Angelimir when she returned and they exchanged a warm embrace. When she touched her grandfather's hand, however, she became alarmed at how cold he was. Despite Angelimir's protests that all was well, Finduilas sent Brandir off to find her parents. They were soon found, as were Maiaberiel, Ivriniel and Imrahil. All were worried over the old Prince, agreeing that he needed to return to Vinyamar and be warmed. As soon as their cloaks could be gathered, the Swans departed.
Angelimir stayed in his bed the next day, well-bundled in quilts with a strong fire in the hearth and cloth-wrapped warm stones near his feet. Finduilas woke coughing more than usual, and the healer who visited shortly after breakfast sternly warned her not to venture out into the chill, so she remained near the fire in the parlor while Ivriniel went out with the other young ladies to show them the City. Finduilas smiled to herself at the news that the young lords were also in attendance. The first part of the morning was for letters while the remainder she gave over to reading Borondir's reports. The complexity of them was daunting at first, but she soon made sense of how the stores were managed. What perplexed her, however, was the lack of any mention of the Lady's Grace in the records. She decided that it must no longer be used since Lady Emeldir's death.
Luinil came in with a tray of dinner for them at noontide – a marvelous soup filled with meat and beans, plenty of fresh bread, tea, and brandy – and they spoke of how the wedding gifts of food would best be used. When the meal was cleared away, Luinil patted the seat on the couch next to her to invite Finduilas over. After Finduilas sat, Luinil did nothing but look at her for several heartbeats, then pulled her daughter into an embrace.
'I spoke with your father. He told me of a conversation the two of you had in Pelargir.'
'What did he say of it?'
'That it made him sad.'
Finduilas sighed and pulled away. 'That is not what I meant to do. I fear all I have done within my own house is cause anger or grief or both.'
'It has been difficult.'
'Are you angry with me, Mother?'
'No! No, lamb, I am not. Why would you think that?'
Finduilas shrugged. 'I have heard no words of joy or approval from you. You speak so little to me.'
Luinil began to stroke Finduilas's hair, shaking her head. 'If I am angry, child, it is with myself for allowing such contest to occur. I wish I had spoken sooner of my suspicions to you. Even before you spoke, I knew you had no care for Thorongil and much affection for Denethor. I knew something of your father's notions and should have stopped them sooner. I wish Denethor was not such a proud man, quick to take insult.'
'I think he has conducted himself with restraint, given all that has happened.'
Her mother sighed sharply. 'All that has happened. That gives me most pause! In this last year, I began to wish you had not fallen in love with him.'
'I thought you approved of him.'
'Of Denethor himself? Yes, why would I not? Though his mien be dour, he is a noble man of great quality and learning. It is the situation that I now rue. When you were but a guest here whom none expected to stay, that was one thing, but now…' Luinil's voice tapered off, then she sighed again. 'Not all were pleased by your banner, I fear.'
Finduilas had no answer to this so did not try. 'What of your talk with Father? Will he ever be reconciled to this?'
'I think so, but not easily.' Her mother began stroking her hair again. 'I think you have said much that will help. Be patient. And warn your lordly husband to keep a respectful tongue in his head for his father-in-law!'
'I will. Was your father happy at your betrothal?'
Luinil laughed, shaking her head. 'Not in the least! Father made Adrahil wait almost a year for an answer, and another for the wedding itself. He was right, of course, for we were young. The Prince will be reconciled, lamb, but his pride and his honor have been greatly wounded. The Warden was not kind.' Her mother gave her a sharp look. 'Speaking of honor, daughter, are you still a maid?
'Yes,' Finduilas crossly replied, 'Why do you ask?'
'Because of how often you have been alone with Denethor.'
'Denethor would be insulted that you would think such of him. As for myself, I may be in love, but I am not a fool.'
'Good. Make sure you stay that way. Not being a fool, I mean,' Luinil replied with a sly smile. 'Soon enough, you had best no longer be a maid.' This made Finduilas blush and look away. Luinil put a finger under her chin and made her look up. 'Do you wish to ask me anything of that?'
'I don't know what to ask,' Finduilas confessed. 'Whatever you may say, I wish to hear.'
'There is not that much to tell,' her mother wryly answered. 'I have yet to hear an account that does the deed justice.' Luinil paused, thinking to herself, then nodded before drawing a deep breath. 'Much is made of the wedding night, when first you know each other and bind yourselves together. My wedding… was wretched. It left me in pain, humiliated, and weeping. Your poor father would scarce touch me for days afterwards, he was so shamed for having done me harm.'
'Why are you telling me this?'
'So you will know what might be. My mother told me that it would be wonderful and joyous. When I asked her afterwards what was wrong, she said it had been that way for herself as well, and she had not wished me to be frightened.' Luinil stroked Finduilas's cheek. 'I know you, lamb. You can hear any truth, and I would not have you think I misled you. Hear this truth as well – it is never like that again.'
'Then why is it so at all? I mean, I know a woman's maidenhead is pierced by her husband's… member… when they first lie together,' Finduilas asked, feeling her face get very red, 'but why should it be wretched, as you say?'
'It is not so terrible for all women,' Luinil admitted, 'though I know none for whom it was not at least a little unpleasant. And it is nothing compared to bearing a child. Perhaps it prepares us for the pain that is always there even in the most joyous marriages. More likely it is to save silly maids from tumbling too easily with a honey-tongued scoundrel.'
Finduilas considered Luinil's words. 'Yes, I suppose so. And you are right, Mother. I would rather know an unpleasant truth than any lie, however well intended.' She let her mother pull her into another embrace.
'I hope it will not be so for you, lamb. But it was so for me and my sister and mother and grandmother before her, so I fear it will be so for you and your sister as well.' Luinil placed a light kiss on Finduilas's forehead. 'Thank you for being so gentle with Ivriniel. I know she has been less than kind.'
'It cannot be easy for her to watch a younger sister marry first. She should wed before me.'
'I fear she is in too much of a hurry, now,' Luinil grumbled, 'and will give little thought to whom she weds.'
'Father was concerned as well. He asked me who I thought was suitable and I told him to talk to you.'
'As he should!' Finduilas and Luinil shared a knowing look and broke into giggles. 'I do not think the Prince will make that mistake again. But I am curious to know what you think.'
'Well, first I would be sure it is a man who has caught her eye. None of the men from Minas Tirith appear to have done so.' Except Thorongil. 'She saw them two springs ago, and again last winter.'
'No. She must not wed here. Your sister, for all her harsh words about Denethor, envies your station. She would too easily…'
'…become a tool for Beruthiel's faction,' Finduilas concluded.
'Yes. I would wish that a daughter of mine have better sense, but there it is,' Luinil agreed. 'I know of no prominent family from Anórien with a suitable son.'
'There are none. All families of note from Anórien are now in the City.'
'Of the southern lords? You know the young men better than I.'
'Morvorin has flirted with her some, but I don't think him a sensible man.'
'What of Morthond?'
Finduilas shook her head. 'The more I know of the lord and lady, the less I think of that match. Morthond needs to be tied more closely to Dol Amroth and to Minas Tirith, true, but I would fear for Ivriniel's happiness. I do not think Duinmir and Handeth would love her as she deserves.'
'That sense had been growing on me as well. Are any of them suitable?'
'Hirluin is handsome and his family generous, but he is also young and Pinnath Gelin is far away. If she wishes for him strongly, it would not be a bad match, but there is no advantage to Dol Amroth or Minas Tirith in it. Angbor of Linhir is a better age and a more serious fellow. I know that with the threat of Umbar it vital that the falas be united. I like Lady Rían a great deal, and think she would treat Ivriniel well.'
In the hallway, voices could be heard; Ivriniel was back with her entourage. Luinil smiled at Finduilas and kissed her. 'Enough of this talk. Let us greet our guests.'
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