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Hands of the King: 45. Station
Linhir, 6 December, 2977 T.A.
Seabird made short work of the leagues between the wide waters of Belfalas and the narrow firth of Linhir, and by late morning the docks of the port were in sight. The waves of the bay were touched by the low winter sun and they gleamed a delicate gold. Smaller boats upon the estuary drew near and their crews called out greetings. They were soon moored at a great pier and the gangplank lowered so they could go ashore. Lord Angbor was waiting for them and greeted them with cheer and courtesy.
'Lord Denethor, Lady Finduilas, welcome to Linhir,' he said, bowing deeply. 'I hope your journey was smooth.'
'It was,' Finduilas answered, earning a smile from Angbor.
'My lord father sends his apologies for not being here to greet you himself, Warden. This is his day for hearing grievances.'
'I would not wish him to set aside such duties,' was Denethor's grave reply. His face, however, was not stern. Since that morning, when he had declared he could see Finduilas, Denethor's mood had been joyful. A slight smile graced his lips and his eyes were full of mirth. Standing here on the dock, Finduilas saw again the King from the Sea as Denethor had appeared to her in Dol Amroth. He was, as then, tall and fair, but there was only beauty in him now, nothing terrible to fill her with awe. Mayhap the mariner has frightened me, but he has touched you more gently this time. Did I not wish that you should smile? He glanced at her and his smile grew. Finduilas set aside the warnings in her heart and let herself be glad for his gaiety. 'We shall pay a call when we are rested,' Denethor continued, returning his attention to the young lord.
'But not tonight!' Imrahil cheerfully interjected. 'You, brother Denethor, are under orders from my mother to sup with us and no other.'
'You may not ignore this summons, my lord,' Angbor soberly agreed, eyes twinkling. 'Lord Angrist will excuse your absence.' He turned to Imrahil, embracing the younger man. 'I have missed your company, Imrahil, and am glad you are safely returned.'
'I told you to come with me,' was Imrahil's rascally reply, 'It was your last chance for peace and quiet!' The two laughed and jested over this as Denethor listened with amusement. Imrahil put his hands on the others' shoulders. 'Here I am, an only-born son. Soon, I shall have the two finest brothers in all of Gondor!' Denethor and Angbor protested, Imrahil insisted, and the three spoke happily and loudly together.
Finduilas smiled to herself and looked for Wren and Beregar. She saw them several yards away, watching the first of the baggage be unloaded from Seabird. Gethron was there talking to Beregar, and a dozen guardsmen were standing about, waiting for things to be lowered to the pier. Thorongil was also nearby, though he did not watch the cargo. His eyes were on the three lords and his expression was wistful. With a sigh, Thorongil turned towards the net of baggage from Seabird's hold being lowered onto the dock. Finduilas ached at the sadness in his stance. Do you have a brother, or one to call such? Indignation came to her heart. It is wrong that you who has cared for my happiness should be sorrowed. You are dear to me, too. She strolled over to the captain's side, not certain of what to do, but determined that she would make him smile.
Thorongil bowed when he saw her, but his face remained sober. 'Lady Finduilas, good day.'
'Yes, Captain, it is,' she cheerfully answered.
A smile flitted across his face, but it was mere politeness, and his answer was a nod. The baggage was on the dock now, dockhands pulling the net aside, calling for a cart to be brought closer. Thorongil retrieved his two packs, slinging one over his shoulder. He glanced briefly at the lords, then stared out at the narrow bay before looking at Finduilas once more. 'Good day and farewell, my lady. I must be on my way.'
'Where are you going?'
'To put this in the garrison,' he answered, motioning to his bags. At her confused look, he added, 'I am staying in the garrison.'
'You most certainly are not,' retorted Finduilas, 'so put those down!'
'But, where else would I stay?' he replied, perplexed.
'You are staying in the house I have let so that you are nearby when Denethor has need of your counsel,' she firmly answered.
'But, my lady…'
Finduilas cut him off. 'If it were just you traveling on some garrison business, then it would be understandable, but you are here for larger things.' Thorongil began to protest, but she held up her hand. 'You said you would do as I ask.'
'This is what I ask,' she continued with a smile.
For a moment, she thought Thorongil would refuse, but he sighed and bowed his head to her. 'Yes, my lady, I will do as you ask. Though I shall also ask Lord Denethor where he thinks me best placed. Where I sleep has little bearing on whether I attend him.'
That would not do. She did not doubt but that the Captain could craft his words to make it seem wise that he should lodge elsewhere. 'There must be no hint of division between the Warden and the Captain-General at the council next month,' Finduilas answered sternly, 'and people of rebellious heart will look for any sign that you are opposed.' As soon as she said this, Finduilas knew it to be right. It was not just Thorongil who needed to be taught. Others needed to see him and learn to think of him and Denethor together. You will be brothers, as in the vision. Thorongil's expression changed from stubborn to thoughtful, so she pressed her advantage. 'Think also that you will be able to speak to Denethor without having your meetings be noted, which they would be were you placed in another lodging.'
Thorongil nodded, eyes flicking towards Denethor. 'You are right.' He glanced at her, amusement in his eyes. 'I should have known you would teach me a new lesson, Finduilas.'
She resisted his humor, keeping her gaze stern. 'I should not have to remind you to think of who watches. That is an old lesson.' Nodding to him, Finduilas turned away and looked for Beregar. Catching his eye, she waved him over. Wren and Gethron came with him. 'Huan, how soon will our baggage be unloaded?'
'Not long, my lady. Within the half hour.'
'Good. You and Wren should go ahead to the house and make certain all is in order before our lord arrives. Lieutenant, leave four of your men to bring the baggage as soon as possible, send two with Beregar and Wren, and have the rest escort us.' The others agreed this was a good plan and set off to do her bidding. Only then did Finduilas return her attention to Thorongil. 'Shall we join the Warden?'
Denethor watched as they approached, though his eyes were only on her. The wan sun's rays reflected off the waves near the dock and for a moment they touched him, painting him with golden light. It was impossible not to smile when he took her hands. 'Forgive my inattention,' he said.
'Forgiven,' Finduilas replied. 'Beregar and Wren have gone on ahead to open the house. The guardsmen will bring our things when they are unloaded.'
'Good. We should go so you may rest for this evening.' Denethor finally took notice of Thorongil. 'Captain, do you need something?'
Thorongil shook his head. 'No, my lord. I simply wait to leave.' Perhaps it was the way he faced, but none of the gentle light that warmed Denethor touched the Captain. His eyes were dull and his shoulders seemed stooped as though under a long-borne weight. Finduilas could not help but think of the stricken tree in yesterday's fog. You are here. You are hope. I can see you. You are not a hole in the world. She cast a distasteful look at the golden waves, glad that they were not to return to Minas Tirith by the mariner's paths. She tugged on Denethor's hands. 'Let us go now.'
In short order, they set out, Gethron leading the way. Angbor walked with her and Denethor, pointing out sights and being a gracious host. Finduilas was glad to see that Imrahil did not allow Thorongil to walk by himself, but engaged him in conversation. As soon as they left the pier, crowds gathered. Townsfolk lined the streets, craning for a view of the Lady, and cheered when they saw her. The Linhir streets were narrower than the main ways of Minas Tirith, which left little room for them to pass. A number of people waved small white flags with black swan wings and more waved black and white scarves or strips of cloth together. Many had sprays of black and white feathers pinned to their hats, shirts or cloaks. It had been several months since the people of Minas Tirith had made such a concerted fuss over her, and Finduilas clutched Denethor's arm, trying not to show dismay at the noise and press of people. Gethron and the guardsmen called for people to give way, but were mostly ignored. Imrahil and Thorongil joined their efforts, walking to either side and warning people off. A dozen town guards came to investigate the noise and their numbers were finally enough to clear a way through the crowd.
When they arrived at the modest house on a quiet court just off the main street, Angbor apologized for the crowd, saying it would not happen again. Denethor said he would call upon Lord Angrist in the morning and sent the flustered young man on his way. Imrahil went with him. Wren took command of Finduilas, who did not protest the woman's bossiness, leaving Denethor in a stern talk with Beregar, Gethron and Thorongil about ensuring that Finduilas was not accosted when she went out. Wren led her to a sitting room on the second floor where a warm fire burned in the hearth. Finduilas gratefully accepted a cup of warmed wine and took a seat before the fire while Wren fussed.
'What wretched manners! They are as rude and rustic as any up-country farmer,' Wren grumbled. 'Could they not see you needed to rest?'
'They wished to welcome me, that is all,' Finduilas answered. With the fire warming her toes and the wine calming her nerves, she was ready to forgive the people for their eagerness.
Wren growled and shook her head. 'You are too good to them, Finduilas.' Finduilas shrugged. 'The house is nice enough, and your mother sent Mistress Aerin over to be your matron.'
'Oh, good! She will keep all in order for us.'
'Yes, she will. She is seeing to your dinner now.'
Within a few minutes, Finduilas was ready to explore the rest of the house. There were two sleeping chambers behind the sitting room. One had a window and a large bed as well as a wash basin and a clothes press, while the other was just barely big enough to hold a narrow bed and a washstand. There was another set of rooms like this on the same floor, plus two small sleeping chambers and a privy. The topmost floor had one spacious room with the rest divided into small sleeping chambers. Downstairs, there were two large rooms that were divided by a set of doors, a small room, and a library, where she found Denethor. He left off looking at the small collection of books as soon as she came in, and came to her. They embraced and stood for a minute like that. With a kiss she asked, 'Anything worth reading?'
'No, but I brought others.' Denethor touched her cheek lightly. 'Alquallë?'
'Do not fret, friend. I am over any fright from the crowd.'
'I thought you were to rest.'
'I will, after dinner.' Finduilas was tempted to ask Denethor more about his strange words that morning and what it was he could now see, but decided she was too weary to pursue it. A knock on the door a few moments later made her glad for her choice, as it was Aerin come to summon them to dinner. Finduilas and Aerin both wept a few tears of joy at their reunion. The older woman was a little more plump and her hair a touch more grey, but was otherwise unchanged. Finduilas gladly allowed Aerin and Wren to tuck her into bed after dinner to sleep the rest of the day. When she woke and prepared for the visit to her family, Finduilas looked at the dress Wren had laid out for her, a beautiful embroidered green dress in the fashion of Minas Tirith, and shook her head. She did not wish to be the Lady, not tonight, and chose instead a simple gown of blue wool, one she had brought from Dol Amroth the year before.
Denethor was waiting for her downstairs. He had also dressed plainly, as a son-in-law and not the Warden. When he turned at the sound of her step and faced her, Finduilas fancied she saw the golden light of the Sea upon him, almost within him, as though its radiance had taken abode in his face and heart. Imrahil was also there, waiting to lead them to the Swan's house.
It was chill outdoors, but not as cold as upon the heights of the Citadel, and the smell of salt water pervaded everything. Linhir reminded Finduilas of a flatter version of Dol Amroth, though larger, spreading out from the estuary east and west. It had two ports – the lower port where the sea-going ships were moored to great piers and the upper port where the Gilrain and the Serni joined to form a broad, deep river and where the upriver merchants tied up their barges. Low boats with no masts plied the waters between the two, passing under the six bridges that crossed the mixed water of sea and river. The southern-most bridge was all of black stone and sprang high and wide above the waters, a monument of an earlier age. It was part of the great wall that ringed the oldest portions of the town east and west, ending in twin towers to the north, one upon the western bank of the Gilrain, the other on the eastern bank of the Serni. Within the black walls were a mix of neatly kept stone and wooden buildings, few more than three stories tall. Six main roads, one for each bridge, ran straight and broad from east to west, while more narrow and curved lanes arched from north to south. Where they intersected, there were squares with fountains and old spreading trees.
The Swan's house was just past the western end of the second bridge. Scarcely had Imrahil bowed them in the front door when Ivriniel seized Finduilas with a delighted cry and the sisters hugged and kissed and exclaimed over each other. After a minute or so, Ivriniel remembered her manners and greeted Denethor warmly.
'Come,' she said, offering an arm to each of them, 'Mother and Father are waiting for us in the parlor.' When she walked into the room and saw her parents, Finduilas's throat closed and she could not speak. Her father pulled her into a tight embrace, speaking no words of his own, and she could feel tears on his cheek. It was only her mother's pleading, 'Let me see my lamb!' that made him let go.
Luinil's embrace was scarcely less powerful than Adrahil's, though she broke it of her own accord. 'How I have missed you, lamb,' Luinil whispered, 'I have longed to see you.' Luinil's eyes searched Finduilas's face, then the woman laughed merrily and hugged her daughter again. 'I have all my children with me again, and no other gift do I desire,' Luinil declared, planting a kiss on Finduilas's cheek before walking over to Denethor. She kissed him, and said, 'Thank you, Denethor, for bringing Finduilas to us.'
'I could not say her nay,' he answered.
'Few can,' Adrahil dryly added, eliciting a laugh and general assent from all. Luinil asked Denethor about the journey. Finduilas let him do most of the speaking, adding an occasional agreement, and took the opportunity to study the others. There were lines near her mother's eyes and mouth that had not been there a year before, but little else was changed. There was nothing to the eye different about her father – his silver hair made him ageless, not old – but the touch of his hand as he held her own felt different. It did not have the certainty she had always known; a strong and reliable grip, one that provided shelter and gave confidence at the same time. Now, it was tentative, questioning, the touch of one who was no longer sure of what surrounded him. Finduilas tucked his hand firmly in hers. Ivriniel was thinner and had shadows under her eyes, and she kept glancing at Finduilas.
They were soon called to supper. Finduilas sat at her father's right hand, with Ivriniel across the table from her. For the second time in a day, she faced a table loaded with dishes from her childhood – cockles in a salty garlic broth, carrots roasted and drizzled with honey and spices, a lamb stew, greens cooked with a tart vinegar sauce, rice rich with butter and saffron, dense dark bread, blackberry preserves from the keep – and she felt homesick for Dol Amroth. She glanced at Denethor, saw he was already engaged in a conversation with Luinil about the increase of the dye trade from the south and gave her attention to her father and sister. They regaled her with stories of the keep and Dol Amroth. After earnestly trying to be interested in the quality of green dye that did not fade swiftly in sunlight, Imrahil joined in on the keep gossip. They stayed at the table, sipping wine and tea, long after the supper dishes were cleared. Only when Finduilas's yawns threatened to drown out the words did Ivriniel reluctantly accept that the evening had to end. The entire flock walked them to the door.
'When will you be back?' Ivriniel anxiously asked.
'We must call upon Lord Angrist and Lady Rían tomorrow and the house needs to be set in order, but I will be here the day after,' Finduilas firmly replied.
Just before they left, Adrahil clapped Denethor on the shoulder, smiling with his usual cheer. 'In all the hubbub, I did not greet you properly, Denethor. It is good to see you.'
Denethor summoned his most pleasant smile and bowed his head to the Prince. 'Thank you. I am glad to be here.'
As the two briefly embraced, Luinil gave Finduilas a sly wink. Her father stepped back, still grasping Denethor's shoulder. He did not let go at once, peering intently at Denethor who did not appear dismayed by the scrutiny. A smile spread across Adrahil's face and he laughed much as Luinil had done earlier, and pulled his son-in-law into a longer embrace. 'Indeed, it is very good to see you!' her father heartily said. Denethor's smile was a touch embarrassed at this pronouncement, while her mother smirked and her siblings exchanged confused glances. So people stare at you as well, friend. It was not her imagination; she saw light within Denethor, as though all the warmth she knew lay within his heart had been fanned and now glowed like coals in a fire.
Through the cold walk home, Finduilas pondered these things. There was a fire in the sitting room before the two bedchambers and a small pitcher of wine sat in the ashes keeping warm. As tired as she was, she did not wish to sleep without asking Denethor a few questions, so she poured a cup of wine and sat near the fire. Denethor collected a cup for himself before taking his usual seat at her feet, head resting on her knee.
'I think Father has accepted you.'
'I hope so.'
'What did he see?'
There was a long pause. 'That I love you.'
'But what is it?'
She waited longer for him to speak. 'When… you love, and with your whole heart, when you want nothing but the one you love and you give… when you will that your heart shall be so and never change, then you are changed. Forever. Then you can see truly and others may see you. Because you love.' He did not look at her, but stared ahead into the fire. 'It is in Silmarien.'
'Is it like light?' He nodded. 'All this day, I have looked at you and have seen you filled with light. It is golden, like a midsummer evening.' Denethor did not turn or answer. After several heartbeats, his shoulders shook once, then again. Finduilas leaned forward until she could see his face. Again he shook, though he did not make a sound. His hands trembled and a tear slipped down his face. She put her cheek against his and slipped an arm around him. 'Friend?'
'I have waited.' Finduilas more felt than heard his words. 'For months. I love you with all my soul. Brandir saw it in me first. Those who love thus can see others who do so. No matter what I did, I could not see you. You didn't love me back. Not with your whole heart.'
'Denethor! You have borne this for how long?'
His face was wet and his breath ragged. 'Since I first lay with you. You called me and I had to answer.'
'Why did you say nothing?'
He shrugged. 'If you loved me not, t'was my own fault. I love what is good beyond measure, but you have cast your lot with a grim and tainted creature.'
'Please, love, say not such things of yourself!' she begged. Denethor shook his head. 'I do love you. Put aside your doubts, friend, for you can see me now, yes?'
Finally, he looked at her. The fire caught his face, leaving parts hollow and shadowed, making his tears gleam redly. 'The jewel cut from the Iron Crown had not half the beauty of the light before me.' He tried to laugh, but it was more a sob. 'And you love me.' Denethor lay his head in her lap and wept.
Linhir, 12 December, 2977 T.A.
'Ivriniel, this is beautiful!' Finduilas exclaimed, looking down upon the garden. Even in winter, the court of the house was green and inviting. The lords of Linhir had a great house halfway between the river and the outer wall. It had been joined together of other houses over the centuries until it circled two small courts. The larger was cobbled and horses and carts came into it, but the smaller was a well-tended garden filled with plants chosen for their beauty. For most of the year, it was a riot of color and scent. The rooms that Ivriniel and Angbor would share after they wed were on the second floor, and were no less beautiful than the garden. They were gracious and full of light, with delicate colored glass bordering each window, elegant furniture and well-woven rugs, and ancient lanterns of brass and crystal. She, Ivriniel and Wren had come here to visit with Andreth, Angbor's sister, and see that the rooms were being arranged to Ivriniel's liking.
'Finduilas, close the window!' Andreth said with a laugh. 'You will freeze us all!'
Reluctantly, Finduilas drew her head inside and secured the window. She looked around the room and said with a sigh, 'It is all beautiful. I wish the Stewards House were half so lovely.' Or at least not so exposed. She shivered at the thought, and pulled her shawl more snugly around her shoulders. 'You are right, Andreth,' she lied, 'it is getting chill.' More than once she wished that she and Denethor could live in one of the lower circles, or even at the rear of the Citadel. The small and worn quarters did not bother her, but the prominence of the Stewards House on the eastward face of the City left her unsettled.
'It does seem strange that the Steward would not have the greatest house in Minas Tirith,' noted Andreth.
Finduilas said something polite and then asked Ivriniel what she was going to do with this room. 'A sitting room, I think,' Ivriniel replied. Andreth agreed that would be a good use and the two started discussing where this chair or that table should go. Wren dutifully took notes on her walking desk. For the last six days, Finduilas had spent every day with Ivriniel, sometimes at the Nest, as the Prince had dubbed the house the Swans had taken in town, sometimes here at Lord Angrist's house, and sometimes visiting the nobles of the town. While those visits were for the nobles to meet Ivriniel, Finduilas herself usually became the center of attention. The ladies vied to see who would play host to the Lady of the White Tower. Finduilas cringed at this, seeing how it slighted her sister. Ivriniel herself seemed more anxious than happy, fussing and worrying over the smallest details, and would become sullen whenever others paid too much attention to Finduilas. The only thing that made Ivriniel cease her worry was when Angbor appeared, so Finduilas encouraged visits to this house.
Two days ago there had been a supper with Lord Angrist and Lady Rían that Denethor had attended as well. At it, Lord Angrist had given a silver necklace with a pendant of pearl and sapphire to Ivriniel as a token of affection from himself and his wife. Luinil had bestowed upon Angbor a silver collar set with a white gem, the same collar that Angelimir had been given from his wife's parents. Ivriniel wore her necklace now. Finduilas surreptitiously touched the black stone at her own breast, hidden under her dress. Not even a Silmaril would I take in place of this. Her mind went back to Denethor's wrenching confession. She had expected him to be evasive or to try to distract her with romance as he usually did. Instead, Denethor had laid bare his heart to her. Since then, they had not made love, for he had no desire and she feared to rouse it while his heart was so raw, but they spent every night spooned together in the large, soft bed.
The light glinted off the gems at Ivriniel's throat. Finduilas had felt a strange jealousy when her grandfather's collar had been given to Angbor, not for the necklace itself, but for what did not grace Denethor's neck. You wear a fearful cord woven by one who wishes things for you beyond our ken. That part of you is not mine. Why have we been given such fates? Finduilas did not herself feel great or brave, even if Denethor was. She was jealous, too, of how much more simple the choices were before Angbor and Ivriniel. Why are we the ones touched by something from the depths of ocean and past? Finduilas spent the rest of the visit in a somewhat resentful mood and feeling foolish for feeling resentful. Beregar and an equal numbered mix of guardsmen and Swan Knights walked them back to the Nest in the waning of the afternoon. When Ivriniel wanted to go over the notes they had taken, Finduilas begged off, saying she needed to speak to their mother on some matter, leaving Wren with Ivriniel.
Luinil was working on some business from the look of the papers on her desk, but stopped as soon as Finduilas walked in. 'Lamb, are you back for the day?' she asked, rising to hug her daughter.
'Yes, thank goodness,' Finduilas replied with a sigh.
'What is the matter?'
'I would rather be doing that,' Finduilas pointed to her mother's work. 'In truth, I find myself wishing for Borondir's ledgers and the business of the City.'
Luinil chuckled and poured them some wine. 'Well, it is not for so long, and you are making Ivriniel happy.'
'I know. I don't wish to sound ungrateful.'
'You don't. You must feel hemmed about by us.'
Finduilas nodded. 'A little. But I have missed you, too!'
'You have your own house, and concerns other than us now.' Luinil's voice was matter-of-fact and she smiled as she spoke.
'Why did you say nothing to me of Father's sadness? That did concern me.'
'There was nothing you could do and I had no wish to increase your worries. How did you find out?'
'Imrahil told me.'
'I warned him to hold his tongue,' Luinil grumbled.
'Why do you think that hiding things from me will keep me from worry?' Finduilas countered. 'Do not decide beforehand that I mustn't be bothered. What else should concern me save those I love? I can do more than you think, even two hundred leagues away. Did I not send a wizard? Save for Imrahil's letters, I would not have known to ask Mithrandir to go to Father.'
Her mother sat and considered this. 'The wizard took away his grief, it is true, but you have made Adrahil laugh again. Had you not come here, we would have journeyed on to Minas Tirith to see you. What else has your brother told you?'
'That Father will allow him to come to Minas Tirith now. I told him to let the Prince raise the question with Denethor.'
'It is what your father has said.' Luinil sipped her wine, thinking. 'It is not an impulsive choice. I think he has been cured of that. What grieved your father most was the thought that he had left you in sadness, and that it was mostly of his doing – fighting with you, disdaining your choice of husband, doubting your judgment. He feared he had lost your love. This time, he wishes to part from all of you in joy.'
'Is Ivriniel joyful?'
Luinil shrugged. 'She will be, though marriage will be harder for her than for you. I wish she would have let the betrothal stand for another year. Rían and Angrist are both very kind, and Angbor older than his years, or I would not have allowed it.'
Finduilas hesitated, then asked, 'Did you ever wish that I had not wed Denethor? Or had waited, as had been planned?'
'No, never.' Her mother smiled, though it was sad. 'You have always known your own mind. I knew you would never choose a husband for a frivolous reason or for position alone. Besides, I have always liked the Warden. There is an admirable man behind that forbidding mask. I wondered if there were too many years between you, that is all.'
'He names me his chief counselor and he accepts my advice sooner than that of any other. Not that he accepts anyone's advice over his own counsel very often.'
They both chuckled over this thought, though Luinil grew thoughtful again. 'Denethor is not the only one who requires counsel,' she said. 'I need your help, Lamb, to decide a delicate thing. It has not yet been decided who shall join Ivriniel and Angbor's hands.'
'Who have you considered?'
'Denethor, but he has not been wed himself long enough. Brandir is not going to be here, but even if he were, his is scarcely a model marriage. I had actually thought of Lord Forlong, but he will not be here, either. No other choice stands out.'
Finduilas asked for a brief list of all lords of note who were in Linhir or were certain to arrive, then thought about them. 'You must ask Lord Duinmir,' she said firmly.
'Duinmir?' Luinil asked, incredulous, 'Why would I chose him?'
'People will assume that the next match Dol Amroth intends to make is with Morthond, most of all Morthond himself. You can be certain that Handeth wishes to match Handiriel well.'
'I think she has her eyes set on Morvorin, not Imrahil, for the girl. They know they will have more influence over Ringló Vale than Dol Amroth – and the trade in Cobas Haven comes down the Ringló.'
'Yes, which is why the match should not be allowed. If they think there may be a chance of having a grandchild in Dol Amroth, they will ignore Ethring. By the time Handeth realizes that Imrahil will not make the match, Morvorin will be wed. He will choose within the year. He is old enough that he cannot wait much longer.'
'Hmm.' Her mother considered this, slowly nodding. 'Can you be certain the girl does not catch Imrahil's eye?'
'I think he abhors all thought of marriage right now, and later he will be in Minas Tirith.'
'Good.' Luinil set her cup down and stood. 'I will get Ivriniel to agree to it. You go convince the Prince. He will not say no to you.'
Linhir, 16 December, 2977 T.A.
Finduilas frowned as she thought of the supper she had attended last night. The Outland lords had begun to arrive in earnest in the last few days, and they were hosting parties for the nobles and other men of influence. From now until the wedding, there would be suppers and gatherings every few nights, with the largest being mettarë. She did not look forward to the many events as they left her both tired and with less time for Denethor. There was also the problem of Thorongil. As Captain-General, he was invited to almost every party that she and Denethor were at. He had not obtained new clothes to replace the worn garments from the fall campaign, and looked down-at-heel. There was no question but that he could not continue to appear in this state. With a sigh, she rang a bell to summon a guardsman.
'Yes, my Lady?'
'Would you please tell Captain Thorongil to attend me here in the library?' Within a few minutes, she heard footsteps in the hall and Thorongil entered. He was careful to leave the door standing open behind him. 'Good morning, Thorongil. I am glad I caught you before you began your business.' Finduilas gestured for him to sit across from her before pouring tea for them both.
'I expect the Warden to call me soon, Finduilas,' he replied, smiling as she handed him a warm mug.
'What have you two been doing while I help Ivriniel? '
'Talking, mostly. Getting a sense of the falas.'
'Denethor wishes to be prepared for the council,' she agreed, then plunged forward into her concern. 'You also must be prepared, and not just for the council.'
'Prepared in what way?'
'For all the small councils that will happen between now and then, where more than speech will be judged.'
Thorongil shook his head. 'I do not understand.'
'I know I did not give you much warning that you were expected to come to Linhir, and you were required to be on the marches almost until the moment we came here, so you could not prepare for this journey. You have nothing with you save plain and worn uniforms, and…'
'They suffice.' The words were said politely, but firmly. Thorongil's expression had lost its warmth.
'No, Thorongil, they do not,' she replied just as firmly. 'Even were they new, they would not be proper clothes for the more festive gatherings.'
'They are what I have,' he said, a slight edge in his voice.
'Yes, I know, and there was no time for you to obtain any others. I do not fault you for this, and wish to help. I packed more for Denethor than he will need…'
'No.' Thorongil set down his tea and stared at her fiercely, 'Though I sell my sword, I no longer borrow clothes. I care not what others may think of honest garb.'
'I do.' Denethor stood in the doorway, looking disdainfully at Thorongil, who stood and bowed. Finduilas tried to signal Denethor to hold his tongue, but he ignored her. 'Can you not spare a few coins from the north to have suitable clothes made? You are not a common soldier any longer, as I have told you before, though you seem not to understand. Your wretched garb does harm to my honor and that of Gondor, and you insult all other lords with your appearance, most of all the Lord Steward, in whose name you speak and act. And now you insult the Lady, who defends both the realm's honor and your pride. When you cease to insult, join me.'
Thorongil remained standing for a few minutes after Denethor left, hands clasped loosely behind him. Finduilas did not make a sound, cringing over Denethor's cruel words to the captain, with nothing to say to lessen their sting. Without turning around, Thorongil quietly said, 'I apologize for my effrontery, my lady. All of it.'
'No, Thorongil. You have done nothing.'
'Lord Denethor is right,' he continued, refusing her forgiveness, 'I have offered insult since I first saw you. It is wrong that a low creature presume upon another so much higher. You are kind to allow this shabby man such liberties.'
Ire replaced sympathy and she snapped, 'Never have I known two men more alike than you and Denethor! You are the same in form, in fair face, and most of all in foolishness!' Thorongil gaped at her in astonishment. Finduilas pointed at the seat opposite. 'Sit and finish your tea since you are dismissed for the day.' The man sat and reclaimed his mug, though he did not drink. You great men, claiming to be worthless beggars, she silently fumed, when you are but prideful fools! She fixed a stern eye on Thorongil and said, 'Since you insist on your wretchedness, I shall grant it to you, but I will not allow Gondor and the Warden to be demeaned before these falas lords, whose subtle hearts I know far better than you. Though the council is here of necessity, there must be no weakness to be found in you or the Warden. Your clothes speak of attacks and want, not of strength. If you are not at the Warden's side when matters of state are discussed, they will see division and they will intrigue.'
'I place myself in your hands, Finduilas, but hear me out,' Thorongil said, 'for there is more than simple foolishness in my refusal. If I am to speak a certain word for all to hear, then borrowing must cease. I have allowed others to borrow me for their own ends. You have shown me the harm that comes of it, and I no longer allow it. Not even the Steward may do so. Nor shall I be a borrower, for that also is fraught. I will take nothing more from Denethor – not his forbearance, nor his rightful station, nor the shelter behind him as he faces a storm. Not even his clothes, though he gives them with both hands.'
'I think that is wise, Thorongil, though do not refuse a hand honestly offered, nor spurn a needed tool that may be returned.'
He smiled shyly and shook his head. 'No, that I will not do, and thus I sit here.'
'You are Captain-General and must have what goes with that station. I have become well acquainted with the tailors of Linhir in the last few days and can tell you who sews respectable clothes for reasonable coin.'
Thorongil sighed. 'Even that is beyond me. I have but a tharni to my name. I do send every coin north.' He gestured at his shirt. 'Until now, this has been suitable.'
'The need in the north is so great?'
For a moment Thorongil's gaze became hard and wary, then he sighed again, his shoulders drooping slightly, and he looked as he had on the dock. 'Yes. All the wealth, all the holdings, all the goods of the Lost is but a sliver of what can be found in Linhir alone, let alone a great city like Pelargir or Minas Tirith. It is mean and small, what I once regarded so proudly.'
'Your purse may be empty now, but that can be solved,' Finduilas answered. 'Your greater coin as Captain-General must be apportioned more carefully.'
'It is the same,' he sharply replied, 'I earn what is always given to the northmen. I did not profit from that bit of borrowing!'
Finduilas was annoyed at the man's simple-minded thinking. You are more foolish than Denethor! 'Then you have lost much for both of you, for it has cost the Steward naught to choose you, not even a purse, your own clan has gained nothing for your greater labor, yet Denethor was demeaned in the doing.' Thorongil's fierceness disappeared and he bowed his head penitentially. Enough, goose. You must teach him, not shame him. 'It matters not; it will be corrected when we return to Minas Tirith. You will send north what a Captain-General should provide to his people, not what a mere soldier may send. I have your word that you will not allow any more borrowing to the detriment of my lord. So, all that remains is how to make you presentable.' She sat, brow furrowed, wondering how she could give Thorongil coin in a way that he would accept. Let him care for those who are weak. 'Some borrowing you must do now, Thorongil, but it shall all be returned. I will give you enough to have clothes made here. When we return to Minas Tirith, you will return it not to me, but to the coffers of the Lady's Grace in full and with an extra portion so that the unfortunate may benefit from your lack of foresight.'
Thorongil stood and bowed deeply to her. When he straightened, he was smiling and there was no hint of sadness in his stance. 'A penalty I shall gladly pay.'
'Wait here. I will show you to a good tailor.' Finduilas went upstairs and gathered what she needed. Soon, she was walking with Thorongil towards the market streets near the center of town. Aerin and Beregar attended them, along with the usual guardsmen. The people no longer crowded and jostled when they saw her in the street, but they still paid her more attention than Finduilas liked. The first stop was at a medium sized shop run by a stern faced woman. 'Mistress Ailinel, I need a new shirt for my lord husband, for one has been spoiled by ink.' The woman led Finduilas to the bolts of cloth and Finduilas selected a strong linen, giving Ailinel the ruined shirt to use as a pattern. She also let the seamstress know that the Captain-General had lost some baggage and needed new clothes for the upcoming celebrations. The two laughed quietly at the absent-mindedness of men. Finduilas told Thorongil that Mistress Ailinel would assist him with clothes and bade him good day.
The rest of the morning she and Aerin wandered the markets, selecting fish, meat, cheese, roots, cellared fruits and wine for the house. Even if she and Denethor were usually guests of other nobles or else dining with the Swans at the Nest, still the guardsmen had to eat. After seeing to the larder, Finduilas simply walked about, for the sun was out and the day was almost warm.
Near noontide, she found a small, cluttered shop on an alley off the main street. There was no saying what kind of shop it was, for there were bolts of cloth, lanterns and small casks of oil, sacks of dried herbs and foods she had never heard of, metal work, some gems and ivory; in short, anything that might once have been on a ship from southern climes had a home here. An old man sat on a tall, rickety stool at the rear, whittling a piece of wood into a whistle. He glanced at Finduilas once when she walked in, but otherwise ignored her. On a dark shelf near the back, she came upon something made of brass. It was small but heavy, and she could not figure out what it was for. There was an eyepiece on it and a wheel that made the eyepiece move along a track. There were arms near the end of the eyepiece, a curved base, and the whole was half the length of a forearm.
'Excuse me,' she asked the shopkeeper, 'What is this?'
The old man did not look up. 'Don't know.'
'Then why is it here?'
She looked at it again, and an idea came to her. 'What do you wish for it?'
'Don't know.' He looked at her briefly and his eyes shimmered like light on the waters of the estuary. 'Yes, I do. A dance.' He put his lips on the whistle and piped a tune, the kind sailors played to amuse each other on their journeys, and Finduilas found herself dancing a jig. At some point, she realized the tune had ended and she stopped. The shopkeeper was still watching her with his bright eyes, but his face was sad. The man's lips did not move, but Finduilas heard him clearly: And now his heart was healed and slain with a new life and with new pain. The stool creaked as the shopkeeper stood. He walked to the shelf where the strange instrument sat and reached below, pulling out a small, lidded wooden box. Placing the thing inside the box, he handed it to her. 'Thank you for humoring an old man.' He touched her cheek lightly. 'Forgive me.' With that, he turned and left through a curtained doorway at the back.
As soon as he disappeared, it was difficult to remember exactly what she was doing standing there. With a shake of her head, Finduilas walked to where Aerin waited for her at the front of the shop. Errands done, they walked home. Partway there, they came upon Thorongil, who had finished his business with the seamstress and was waiting for them. He kept looking at the box Finduilas carried. 'If I may pry, what is in the box? It looks heavy.'
'I don't know.' For some reason, this answer filled her with mirth and Finduilas laughed gaily.
Thorongil laughed at her amusement. 'Why don't you know?'
'It is a strange contraption. I know not what it is for.'
'So, why do you have it?'
She laughed again and mischievously replied, 'That I know, but I'm not telling,'
Linhir, 25 December, 2977 T.A.
'What is it?' Denethor carefully lifted the instrument out of its box, face alight with curiosity. Finduilas let him experiment with it. He tried the eyepiece, discovered all of the moving parts, turned it this way and that. 'Well?'
'I don't know,' she said. 'No one knows, so you will have to figure it out.'
'Ah, a mystery. That is what it is,' Denethor happily replied, returning to fiddling with the instrument. 'I will solve it.' He examined the box as well, nodding to himself, then carefully replaced the instrument. 'Thank you, Alquallë.'
'Happy birthday, friend.' This was the first evening they had to themselves in several weeks. Thorongil had been sent off to make apologies for the Warden and the Lady at a supper being given by Lord Hirgon and Lady Beriel of Pinnath Gelin. Finduilas had paid a call upon Beriel yesterday to assure the kind lady that she meant no snub by declining tonight's invitation. After tonight, Finduilas would be staying in the Nest until the wedding on yestarë, for Ivriniel and Luinil had both asked her to.
Finduilas poured them wine and took her seat by the fire. Denethor joined her, kissing her brow before he sat before her. She wondered if he was ever going to return to sitting in a chair and hoped not, for she liked him close. She tugged a lock of his hair. 'Who were you meeting with earlier?'
'Angrist, Angbor and their garrison commander, Minohtar. And Thorongil.'
'Always.' He sipped his wine. 'It will be the main topic of the southern council. The falas lords think the marauding from the east is to keep our attention away from the south. The silence of Umbar will not last. Only the Steward believes such things.'
'How will this council be run?'
'As much like the Great Council as possible. A messenger will bring an account of the northern lords' meeting with the Steward. I will sit in place of the Steward and hear the concerns of the southern lords.' Denethor tipped his head back to look up at her. 'Do you wish to attend?'
'Of course! But how can I?'
'You will speak for Minas Tirith and the Pelennor. I may not do so. Thorongil presents Ithilien and the garrisons – Cair Andros, Osgiliath, Pelargir and the Poros.'
'I can certainly speak of the City.' Finduilas touched his cheek which made Denethor smile and take her hand, bringing it to his lips. 'But I would rather speak of something else.'
'What?' His tone was offhand, but she felt his shoulders tense against her leg.
'Of how you See love.'
'What would you know?'
She was tempted to rap him on the top of the head for avoiding her questions, but schooled herself to patience. 'You said Brandir saw it first in you. You said others could see it. I don't know what I'm supposed to look at! No one appears to me as you do.'
'Oh, it takes some practice.' Denethor furrowed his brow, thinking. 'I cannot explain except to say when someone loves this way, like an Elf, with their whole heart, they are changed and can be seen by others who are also so changed.' He looked up at her again, face earnest. This was better than when he first spoke and was overcome. 'It is in the Eighth Discourse, though the words makes little sense until you can See.'
'There is no Silmarien here. I have looked.'
'I know. So did I so I could show you. But, it makes sense, Alquallë!' Denethor sat up and turned, facing her. 'Someone whose heart is thus cannot be turned to Shadow so long as he loves. You know who you can trust if you can See them.'
'But what am I seeing, friend?'
'As you See in me, something light or like a window. It is very faint in most, and they do not really See in return. Your parents, they love. Look into them, and you will See it.' His expression became wry. 'You cannot See it in yourself, even with a mirror. Or at least I cannot.'
'What of Brandir? How could he See you?'
'He loves.' Denethor swirled his wine and downed the last in a gulp. 'Maiaberiel does not. She never will.' After a long pause, he said quietly, 'Brandir told me he had not wished you wed to me for he feared that I would never love you, that I would be like my sire and my sister, capable only of heartless lust.'
Much of Brandir's words to her became more clear. With a sigh, Finduilas stroked Denethor's cheek. 'He should know you better than that, friend.' Touching a finger to his lips, she teased, 'Your lusts are quite heartfelt.' This made him blush, though he did kiss her finger. Finduilas was emboldened to say more. 'But they have been little in evidence since we landed.'
Denethor sat, eyes downcast. 'We are still near the Sea,' he eventually said. 'You heard him. You spoke of a touch not my own.' Another pause, then he whispered, 'I know not whose touch has changed you.'
She leaned down kissed him hard, letting her hands caress his face and neck. 'It was you. His touch brought fear, not love. When I feared, you held me and he was banished.' Finduilas stood and Denethor scrambled to his feet. With a languid smile, she slid her arms around his neck. 'I seem to recall that you failed to give me a birthday present this year, friend.'
'I thought you said having me home safe was all you wanted?' he replied, smiling.
'I changed my mind.'
'And what does my lady wish for a present?'
'I think I would like you to be… forward.' Finduilas kissed him thoroughly before walking to the bedroom. The only light was from the low fire in the hearth. She undressed slowly while Denethor watched, knowing how much that roused him, and lay on the bed. He quickly joined her. At first, he just touched her, then he followed the stroke of his fingers with small kisses all over her body. By the time he lay between her thighs, she was shivering with delight.
'What have we here?' Denethor said with mock amazement. A finger slid along her furrow, making her moan and wriggle. He studied his wet finger, then sucked on it. 'An eager wife,' he pronounced, making her giggle. She felt his fingers on her again, spreading her folds apart. 'A beautiful wife,' he added, voice husky. She cried out when he finally touched his tongue to her and could not keep her hips from jerking upwards. Very slowly, he nuzzled and licked her, stopping every now and then to touch her with his fingers. His beard brushed against her flesh as well, rough and stimulating. Finduilas felt herself warming and plumping under his ministrations. The cold, cramped cabin of Seabird was forgotten in the dim warmth of this room. Denethor reached for one of her hands and drew it down, guiding Finduilas's fingers so she could know and admire his efforts. The wetness astonished her; neither her own experiments nor her mating with Denethor had ever left her this roused. His lips and tongue brushed her fingers, wove between them, seeking more tender flesh below. Finduilas shivered, pulling her hand away so she would not interfere with his touch.
'A perfect shell, so pink,' he murmured, 'A treasure deep.' When she felt him slide his fingers into her, Finduilas groaned and seized them tightly, wanting something within her. Finally, his tongue moved upwards, coming to rest on the small nub tucked under the top fold of her furrow. Finduilas squealed and bucked, wrapping her legs around him and pressing herself into the rub of his tongue. This time, she did not fight against the sensation of being swept away, but abandoned herself to it. Like a diving bird, she darted into the swells, feeling them envelop her and whirl her about. Denethor lapped at her, the touch sometimes rough, sometimes slick, and his own moans reverberated against her. She closed her eyes, head tipped back, and let herself be carried wherever her visions would take her. The summer king stood before the fall, his hair wet from the spray, bare save for the collar of sea-grass. He bade her come to him, and fumbled among her feathers to reach her skin. A handful of down came away at his touch and the blood wet them both. Finduilas pulled the blue mantle aside, the stars clattering upon the stone as it fell from her shoulders, but the down lining cushioned her own fall while she shuddered and jerked against the bed.
She panted for air, trembling. Denethor wiped his face on the sheet and crawled up beside her, waiting for her to catch her breath. When she looked at him, he smiled and kissed her nose. 'I thought you weren't going to kick me, even if you disapproved.'
'I did not kick you!'
'Yes, you did. My back is covered with your heel marks.'
'Those weren't kicks. They were encouragement,' she grinned.
'So you approve?'
Finduilas kissed him as an answer. They were both panting by the time it ended. With a smile, she ran her hand up the inside of his thigh until she could cup him, making him groan and press into her hand. 'Your turn, now, friend.'
Denethor shook his head. 'This was your present. I already received mine.'
'And leave you like this?'
'This wasn't for me. I just wanted to touch you. See your light. See you changed. I need naught else.'
Finduilas let out an exasperated sigh, then pushed him over on his back, propping herself up on his chest. Oh, no. I have had quite enough of noble beggars. 'Is that so? Well, if you do not care to make use of such a fine tool, I shall. You have not touched me everywhere yet.' Quickly, she threw a leg over him and straddled his hips. They had made love like this a few times, so it took only rocking forward and a certain twist of her hips to have him inside her. As on the ship, there was no hint of resistance to his cock, nor the usual sensation of her womb relaxing around it. He moaned and grabbed at her hips, trying to pull her down more firmly upon him, but Finduilas slapped his hands away. 'None of that! You said you were satisfied, so you can just be still,' she said with a smirk. She grasped his wrists and pinned his hands above his head. 'Keep these up here until I am through.'
At first, it seemed Denethor would protest, then he let himself go limp under her. Mostly limp. Finduilas moved slowly, wanting to draw out his pleasure. A few times, his hands moved and he started to reach for her, then he would let them drop back to the bed. The more Denethor resisted, the more aggressive were her motions, grinding down on his loins and clenching herself tightly around him. He dug his fingers into the bedclothes, refusing to let his hands touch her. Denethor groaned and cried out as she rode him, but she could not make him touch her. Only after he had spilled and she sank onto his chest did he let go the sheets and clasp her tightly to him. When their skin cooled, they pulled the blankets up around them, Denethor's arm keeping Finduilas pulled snugly against him. Tired and satisfied, Finduilas soon drifted off to sleep.
They followed Isildur along the track, the riderless mare trailing behind. The fog did not thin, but gave way suddenly as they reached the edge of Rómenna. She pulled the hood of her cloak down over her face, hoping she would not be recognized. Anárion's arms held her securely before him. It was simple to lean into his warmth and try to forget the horror to the west. Isildur led them along the road just above the docks. There were few ships here now, most being filled by the Faithful preparing to leave for the mainland. Along the quay, an old man sat against a pillar, playing a mournful tune on his whistle.
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