A Writer Reads
Playlist Navigation Bar
Hands of the King: 5. Confidences
Minas Tirith, Early March, 2975 T.A.
Finduilas nodded her thanks to the boys who stepped out of the way of the horses. They grinned and waved, careful to keep a hand on the large baskets of bread they balanced on top of their heads. The boys continued their way up the mountain, delivering fresh bread from the second circle bakeries to houses in the fifth and sixth circles. She and Aiavalë guided the messenger steeds down the street. These horses had arrived the day or night before, and the women rode them to the stable at the foot of the mountain to be exchanged for fresh mounts. The archery yard was beyond the City walls, Aiavalë could not bear the long tramp down and back up, and the horses needed to be changed out; so it happened that they became hostlers twice a week when Aiavalë wished to practice with her bow.
Beregar followed along as he always did. At least the dear boy is not merely carting baskets and packages this time! Today, Beregar would be doing some archery practice of his own, not just dancing attendance upon her. He never complained, but Finduilas knew he must not be pleased at having to play porter and bodyguard to two ladies all the day long, not when he wanted to be a Tower Guard. He had blushingly admitted as much one day when she caught him looking longingly at the Guards walking down the street past the Stewards House. Beregar was between herself and Ivriniel in age. It had surprised her at first that he showed no alarm or disgust around Aiavalë, as even some of the House servants showed, and then had been more surprised when she learned that Aiavalë had taught him his letters and figures when he was small. Her surprise turned to curiosity when she saw him standing with Denethor, receiving directions. Some careful observation of Beregar’s face, particularly his eyes, gave her ideas. Then she met his mother at the archives in late January and could see the relation written in the woman’s face and form.
They passed through the gate to the second circle, the horses treading carefully on the broad stone stairs that led down from the higher circle to the lower. Even this early in the morning, the circles bustled, people moving quickly in and out of the narrow streets that opened onto the main way of each. The pillar of stone that dominated the City cast a shadow upon the northern part, chilling the air and blocking light. The horses’ hooves rang loudly as they clopped through the tunnel in the pillar. Inside the tunnel, people became quiet, though they burst into noise as soon as they emerged. Finduilas squinted as the sun hit her eyes and brought up a hand to shade them. A movement caught her attention. She turned slightly and was rewarded with a glimpse of a ragged-robed old man wearing a pointed blue hat and carrying a gnarled staff just before he disappeared into the shadow of the tunnel. Something pricked at her thoughts, but the notion disappeared as quickly as it came, and she had to attend to guiding the horse through the busy street.
Beregar took the horses from them at the archery yard and led them to the stables. He was back very quickly. Aiavalë gave him a gentle clout on the shoulder, telling him to get busy with his practice. He laughed and bobbed his head before scampering off. A small practice area for the women of the City had been set up at one side of the yard. Aiavalë grumbled a bit that the girls there spent more time flirting with the soldiers than practicing their aim. Finduilas teased back that they were aiming for different targets and their aim appeared to be quite good. She herself enjoyed arching, despite being an indifferent archer at best, and did not mind leaving the flirting to the other young women. The hour passed quickly and soon they were waiting for Beregar to bring up the new messenger mounts for the ride back up the mountain. They dismounted at the messenger stable and walked the rest of the way to the archives.
‘You aim improves, Alquallë.’
‘I think not, sister!’ Finduilas laughed, ‘Unless you mean that my bolts come closer to the poor folk standing about watching than they used to do.’ They paused at Lark’s desk near the entrance and asked for the news.
‘None, Mistress, my lady. The day has been very quiet.’
‘I am expecting Mistress Primrose this afternoon. Be sure she is shown in without a wait.’
‘Yes Mistress.’ The Archivist nodded good day to the doorward and limped into her domain. Lark and Finduilas exchanged smiles before the latter followed Aiavalë. The sisters had decided to defy Maiaberiel and refuse the marriage she planned for Wren. Aiavalë had seen them moved to rooms in a house owned by an old widow, Lady Almarian, near the archives, but that was the only change Finduilas knew of. Maiaberiel’s threats had come to naught. Of course, neither has a suitor, so who can tell? Perhaps her threat is coming true. After a few nervous weeks, the two young women had gone back to their usual calm demeanors.
When they reached Aiavalë’s office, Finduilas settled in for several hours of cataloguing. It was all administrative reports and terribly dull. She scanned each report for news that might be of interest to her father, not that she found anything, then recorded it in an index. The reports went into the appropriate wicker basket for shelving. Outside the door she could hear the murmurs of archivists as they walked about, the rustle of paper, the occasional thump of a book being set down, and the creak of doors opening and closing. She coughed very little in the caverns, much less than she usually did in the damp winters of Dol Amroth, and she had suffered no illness the entire season. It was good not to spend a week or more abed with a fever and wracking cough.
‘Archivist, Mistress Primrose is here.’ Lark’s soft voice announced the visitor. Finduilas looked up at the woman in the doorway and knew she was seeing another half-sibling. There was a certain set to the jaw, something about the eyes, that marked all of Ecthelion’s children.
‘I will put these away.’ Finduilas gathered baskets and left the office. Mistress Primrose closed the door firmly behind her. As she walked the rows of shelves and racks in the tunnels, Finduilas wondered what business the daughters of Ecthelion could be conducting. Spying. Well, that much was obvious. The Master Archivist always had visitors who did not appear to have archival business. Finduilas could see that Denethor’s spy network was run out of the Archives. It was the understanding between Lady Lore and her half-sisters that intrigued her.
Once the administrative documents were filed, she joined Wren in checking the condition of books in the seventh tunnel. Finduilas glanced surreptitiously at this other half-sister. It saddened her to think of the rift between the Steward and his family and she had not understood the coldness of Lady Emeldir to her children. Both Ecthelion and Emeldir had been so kind to her in her months here in the City it was difficult to watch them be callous to their true children. Emeldir may have had a just quarrel with her husband, but why inflict the hurt upon her own children? Were they not hers as much as his? When the lady had sickened late in the fall, Finduilas was the one she asked to sit with her and tend her, not her daughters. Emeldir had granted a single cold meeting to Aiavalë, while Maiaberiel had never visited during her mother’s last days. Denethor alone had attended the lady regularly, though it was his usual once a week audience with his mother, the same as before she had taken ill. Only Aiavalë wept at the news of the lady’s death, which was perhaps the oddest thing of all given the disgust Emeldir bore for her unfortunate first child.
I imagine that is why she tends the others so carefully, even as she grumbles and scolds. She knows the cruelty of kin. Perhaps Denethor was better off to be mothered by Aiavalë than by Emeldir. Finduilas let out a sigh of exasperation at the thought of that man, earning a curious look from Wren. He was the strangest mix of coldness and kindness she had ever known. She was flattered that he regarded her as a fellow prince. Even the Steward, for all his pleasantness, treated her as something to be looked at rather than spoken to. Speaking to Denethor was like speaking to Father or to Imrahil, even if too many of their conversations ended up as arguments. She had been so afraid, after their exchange the night of Maiaberiel’s party, that he would think her nothing but a fanciful goose, fit only for silliness and match-making. The sadness of his declaration that he would stay alone all his life rather than risk his parents’ fate left her unable to sleep, sorry for him and afraid that she had greatly exceeded the bounds of friendship with her impertinent questions. But he had been gracious the next day and she had overcome her embarrassment. He had dined almost every day with her and Aiavalë for the rest of January. She had missed his watchful, silent presence since he left for Osgiliath in February, and was glad that he would return in the next few weeks.
The afternoon was over, the day coming to a close, and Aiavalë was still closeted with her half-sister. Finduilas was weary from her exertions and decided to lie down on a couch in the archivists’ room while she waited for Lady Lore to finish her business with Mistress Primrose. As soon as she lay down, one of the cats (Telperien’s sister, if she was not mistaken) jumped up beside her and nestled in the crook of her arm, purring away. Soon both were dozing.
She walked towards the oval of light. It was deeply colored in red, purple and indigo. Denethor watched the molten fire pass before him, his shoulders tight in an effort to hold off weariness. Finduilas had seen the stance before, at the High Council. She knew now the difference between him and Thorongil, even if it was just a silhouette. Finduilas drew nearer until she could see his face. It was stern, closed, a faint pink cast to it from the light shining through the fire. The color faded with the fire, and the curtain of light became silver fish scales, gleaming and chiming against each other, turning his face to the white of Emeldir’s in the hour after the lady died. Only the blink of his eyes gave evidence that he lived, so still was he in the silver light. He reached out a hand and grasped something in the fall before him, then turned as though to go back into the darkness behind them, stopping when he saw her. He looked at her, confused, then held out his hand. In his palm lay three pearls. Denethor looked first at the pearls, then at herself, and tipped his hand back into the gleaming curtain, allowing the pearls to slide away. He smiled sadly at her before he walked off, his dark hair and clothes blending into the gloom.
Finduilas’s coughing after she woke from the dream was loud and violent enough to get Mallor’s attention. The old archivist called for Wren to come and the two helped her up off the floor where she had rolled from the couch. Aiavalë soon appeared and alternately soothed, clucked, and scolded the girl for allowing herself to become over-tired. The Master Archivist insisted Finduilas hold Beregar’s arm on the climb back to the Stewards House. Finduilas did not object; her coughing had caused her to pull something in her ribs and walking was painful. This was so strange – why was she dreaming of Denethor again? Because you were thinking of him and of all the Steward’s family through the afternoon, goose! But this did not feel like a dream. He was standing just there, near me. You were dreaming, girl, and you dreamt of what you had been thinking.
The pain in her ribs kept her from a sound sleep, and she moved in and out of dreams for most of the night. Her dreams had departed when she began her watch over Lady Emeldir, though in truth they had been few once the air had cooled and the leaves fell. Now they were back and they had changed. Finduilas was quite cross with Aiavalë at breakfast and did not speak of her new dreams as she did not know what to make of them herself. She had not dreamed again of Denethor, just as her first dream of him had never repeated. I cannot figure out my old dreams, she petulantly thought on the way to the archives, and now I have new ones to cause me even more confusion! Her sore ribs did not improve her mood.
Aiavalë set her to work with Mairen preparing the requested documents for the day, placing the baskets of papers and books and kid-skin gloves for the requestors in the reading carrels. Finduilas finished that quickly and set off for the seventh tunnel and the books. There was still one more shelf to examine for damage. Wren was not there today, so Finduilas took the opportunity to read bits and pieces from the books she was supposed to be checking for mildew, rot, and cracking. She lost track of time reading about Tarannon Falastur and his queen, Beruthiel, feeling decidedly wicked as she compared the ancient queen to Maiaberiel and found them a good match. In a much better mood, Finduilas gathered the two books in need of tending and set off swiftly through the tunnels to give them to Hador, the archival bookbinder, for repair. She was still chuckling to herself about the two queens when she rounded a corner and crashed into another person. They both went sprawling, books and scrolls flying, and Finduilas cried out in pain as her ribs were jarred.
‘Why don’t you watch where you are going, girl?’ snapped the scruffily dressed old man, who was on his hands and knees gathering up his dropped papers. She could not answer, screwing her eyes shut against the sharp pain and pressing a hand against her ribs to try to ease it. When she did not reply and did not move, the old man looked up.
‘Oh, dear, whatever is wrong? Why did you not say you were hurt, girl?’ he asked in a worried tone. Finduilas shook her head and waved him away, concentrating on getting her breath back. She could hear footsteps approaching – Mallor, from the heaviness of the tread. ‘Come now, young lady, let’s get you sitting up,’ the stranger cajoled, helping her lean back against the doorjamb, then his voice stopped. Finduilas opened her eyes. The grey-haired man was staring intently at her, as though he could not believe what he saw.
‘Are you all right, my lady?’ Mallor asked when he arrived.
‘Yes, Mallor, thank you. I just bumped my ribs where they were injured yesterday and the pain was sharp for a moment. It is passing.’
‘Are you sure you did not take more harm, girl?’ the old man asked.
‘Quite certain,’ she said firmly, becoming embarrassed by the attention. ‘I only need catch my breath and all will be well.’ The old man kept staring at her in that unsettling way, and she did not like it. ‘Pray, sir, why do you gaze at me so?’ Finduilas demanded. He blinked and sat back on his heels, then chuckled.
‘Pray, forgive my rudeness, girl. You remind me of someone and the resemblance is startling.’
‘Of whom do I remind you?’ she asked. He rose and offered his hands to her to help her stand. They were large, long-fingered hands, strong despite their gnarled appearance, and rough to the touch. He easily pulled her to her feet.
‘Of a high, noble lady whom I met long ago. In a library, as it happens,’ he quietly replied, his regard kinder though no less keen, ‘and I thought that I was seeing her again.’ The old man turned and gestured at the spilled scrolls, addressing Mallor, ‘If you would be so kind as to spare my old back with stooping and take these to a carrel. I believe you have to catalog them in any event.’
The archivist bowed stiffly before collecting the papers. ‘Shall I take these books as well, my lady?’ Mallor asked once he had gathered the old man’s items.
‘Please, yes, Mallor. They are for Hador to mend.’ The archivist bowed his head, scowled at the old man and departed. Finduilas suddenly remembered something.
‘You are Mithrandir, are you not?’ Whom else could it be? Strangers were not allowed to walk about the tunnels, and the wizard was the only one she knew of who had permission. The old fellow’s eyes twinkled and he bowed.
‘Quite so, my dear, though you now have me at a disadvantage. Whom do I have the pleasure of knocking down?’
‘I am Finduilas.’ He looked at her quizzically. ‘Of Dol Amroth.’ His eyes became keen again and she felt him take her measure.
‘Of course. You are a kinswoman to the prince? You have the look.’
‘I am his second daughter, if you wish to know,’ she replied a bit more sharply than she intended, not much liking the questioning. He held up a placating hand.
‘Forgive my inquisitiveness, my lady. I do not mean to pry.’
‘Oh, I think you do, but only a little,’ she teased in return, her good humor returning. He shrugged and chuckled, acknowledging the truth of her words. Mithrandir! This was an interesting encounter. A thought occurred to her and she decided to ask before her courage subsided.
‘Are you going to be in the City for long?’
‘Not long, perhaps a few more days. I come to read of something, and to speak to the Lord Steward.’
‘Do you know about dreams? I mean, how to read someone’s dreams?’ she asked in a rush. He looked at her a long moment and shrugged again.
‘That depends upon the dreams. I have no skill in telling when someone has dreamed of their true love, or…’
‘No!’ she interrupted with some irritation. Why do all think that a young girl is only dreaming of love? ‘I would not bother you with something so frivolous. I am having great dreams, that portend something fateful. I am certain of this, but they drive me near mad for I know not what they are telling me!’ Her earnestness had the desired effect.
‘Are you free this afternoon? I have no meetings planned.’
‘Yes, I can be free.’
‘Then shall we meet here again?’ Finduilas shook her head.
‘No, I do not think it a good thing to meet here. I am a guest of the Master Archivist, and she…’ Finduilas came to a halt, realizing it would not be polite to speak poorly of Aiavalë, particularly to one whom her host did not like. Mithrandir nodded.
‘No, it would not serve you well to antagonize that lady. Come to the third house on the Holly Court of the sixth circle after the eighth bell. Ask for me. I am staying in rooms there.’ He gave her a small bow. ‘If you will excuse me, I have some things to read before then.’ The wizard strode away.
Finduilas stood in the tunnel for some time, wondering if she should tell Aiavalë whom she was going to meet. She had never purposefully deceived the other, and was not certain she could do so even if she wished. I shall not say where I am bound, but I shall not lie if I am asked, she decided. One of the cats meowed at her and rubbed against her ankles. Leaning down to rub its ears, Finduilas hissed at the small stab of pain in her ribs. I should go rest, but not on a couch. In bed. That solved the problem of leaving the archive – she would do so now. Beregar was soon escorting her back to the Stewards House so she could eat dinner then rest. After the eighth bell rang, she followed the wizard’s instructions.
‘Welcome, Lady Finduilas, welcome,’ Mithrandir greeted her at the door, motioning her in to his rooms. After a moment’s hesitation, he motioned Beregar in as well. Finduilas knew she could not leave the seventh circle without her guard and had not said anything to him except that she needed to speak to an old family friend. The young man looked briefly around the spacious apartment, then took a seat by the door, out of earshot. The wizard set two chairs near a small table next to a window that overlooked the court. She watched politely as he prepared a long clay pipe with herbs, though she rather dreaded the smell that would result. Many folk in Dol Amroth smoked leaves and fibers of the rope-plant and it stank terribly and muddled the mind. To her surprise, the scent of this smoke was somewhat sweet and rather pleasant.
‘What herbs are you using, Mithrandir? I have not smelled anything like that before.’
‘Oh, this? It is but pipe-weed from the north. Not well known here in southern climes, but as ordinary as dirt all along the Dwarven ways.’
‘Then it is a Dwarven herb?’ One bushy eyebrow rose and the wizard chuckled.
‘Nay, though they make the best pipes. It is grown by a small, little known people, who sell it to Dwarves who carry it about to other places.’ He paused, drew on the pipe, then exhaled a rather impressive smoke ring. ‘But enough of pipe-weed, you came here to speak of other things, of portentous dreams, did you not?’
Finduilas saw his eyes twinkle and knew he was teasing her slightly. Even so, his face was serious and his tone polite. She found herself fumbling for words to begin.
‘When did these dreams first come to you, or can you remember?’ he gently prompted.
‘In the spring of 2968, in my eighteenth year. I began to dream of Númenor and the Downfall. It was as though I were the queen, Tar-Míriel, running from the floods, and then I am plucked up by a great eagle.’ She paused, studying his face for any sign of doubt or impatience. He simply drew on his pipe and motioned with his chin for her to go on. ‘He bears me over the Sea, and we watch the ships of the Faithful battle the storm. Sometimes I fall and drown, but most times I am left in a high place, either the highest wall of Minas Tirith, or upon a pinnacle overlooking a blasted plain, and I know this place to be Barad-dûr.’ That got the wizard’s attention. His eyebrows shot up, bristling, and he leaned forward.
‘That is not how your dreams end, though?’ he demanded.
‘No, though they have changed over time. Not a great deal, but some. Now, when I am set upon the walls of the City, I wear a heavy weight upon my head and I think I am armored. Night is falling, and the Pelennor swarms with a black army. The quays at the Harlond are afire and burning ships float derelict upon Anduin. They are the ships of the Faithful, though I know not how I am so certain. The army below surges and crashes upon the walls of the City like the waves of storm-seas upon the seawall of Dol Amroth. In time, the walls collapse from their pounding.’ She paused to sip from a cup of wine and could not repress a shiver.
‘And what of the Dark Tower?’ Mithrandir pressed, ‘What do you dream of that?’ Finduilas looked down at the cup in her hands and spoke low and quickly.
‘Again, night falls, but now I face West, not East, and the sun does not quite set. I see, somehow, the Tower of Ecthelion catching the last rays. Then I look far into the West, and I see more towers upon the horizon, and I know them to be Avallónë. A curtain of rain begins to fall between the Dark Tower and the white spires, making the Anduin flood, and soon all the lands around Mount Mindolluin are deep in water which joins the Sea and rings the City to protect her. Around the base of the Dark Tower and across the waste, armies crawl like beetles and dash themselves against the base of the tower.’ She ended and looked up into the wizard’s face. He was no longer watching her, his gaze turned inward as he thought. They sat for a long minute before he stirred and puffed the pipe, his eyes now keen upon her, like the eagle’s.
‘Is there aught else you may say of these dreams?’
‘Only this; that the armies seek me out as the waves of Akallabêth sought to drown me, water turned flesh to cross the land. And the eagle places me where I ask. He bears me away from the flood, but I must say where we go. He cannot help but take me up.’ It was this understanding that had brought her fully awake this morning, coughing and gasping. Now that she needed to think and question someone who might understand, weariness was catching up with her, and the wizard’s smoke was making her sleepy.
The wizard blew a few smoke rings while he thought. Finally, he sighed and shook his head.
‘I admit, young lady, that these are very portentous dreams, but I am unsure what to make of them. I am no soothsayer. If you are certain that the floods are following you, then all that I may make of your dreams is there is a great choice before you and all paths are perilous.’
Finduilas grimaced. ‘So much I have already determined for myself, Mithrandir. The only thing new, really, that I have learned is that the eagle will place me where I ask, though it is less a request than a strong thought that I should be one place or another.’
‘So, why do you ask to go to a particular place? Why is there any choice of where you would go?’
‘I am not certain myself. Danger follows on my heels,’ she slowly responded, trying to clear her mind. ‘I fly away to draw it off. The dread tower is taller than the City and is safer from the floods, though there can be no escape.’ The pipe smoke tickled her nose again. And tickled her thoughts. The wizard, and pipe-weed, and (supposedly) Thorongil were all out of the north. She threw off the drowsiness wrapping her mind and pinned the wizard with a look. ‘One thing that has been said of my dreams is I must be dreaming of our great captain, Thorongil, the eagle who now guides much of Gondor’s defenses. Perhaps these are just a fanciful girl’s dreams of love.’
Mithrandir matched her stare, then shrugged. ‘Perhaps, perhaps, but these seem not like wishes for a sweetheart. These are, as you say, portentous. But, I do not think you wrong…’ The wizard’s words trailed off and his gaze turned inwards once more. Again they sat while he pondered. ‘I do not think you wrong that there is some connection to Thorongil in these dreams. The great eagle is the herald of the West, and it was under their wings that fate fell, for death or salvation, upon your ancestors. It is not a mistake, I believe, that one so named has come to Minas Tirith in these times.’ The wizard’s eyes sharpened and his tone lost its musing quality. ‘Nor can I think it mere happenstance that you have been called to Minas Tirith in this time, while he is here.’
‘I was not called. I came visiting with my parents, and remained behind to try to uncover the truth of my dreams.’
His eyes twinkled. ‘As I said, you were called, though it took rather a shout to get you here.’ He studied her face carefully and she felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle at the minuteness of the inspection. Mithrandir’s words were gently said and he smiled, but his eyes were full of something – calculation? ‘Dreams of eagles and eagle captains, well, some might discount such things as fancy, but I believe there to be some greater meaning in it, though unclear to us now.’ He drew on his pipe before asking in an altogether too-innocent tone, ‘And the captain, what do you think of him? Do you know him?’
‘I think him a fine captain. I have met him and we have exchanged a few dozen words. I must admit to finding him a bit of a boor. He stares quite rudely and has not much to say for himself.’ The wizard began laughing and inhaled more smoke than he intended. When he almost had regained his breath, Finduilas said, ‘And how is it that you know him?’
Mithrandir busied himself with poking into the ashes in his pipe with a broom straw from the floor, not meeting her eyes. ‘Oh, Thorongil? Well, I’ve known him for some years. We met upon the road one day, and as he was inclined to talk rather than lop off an old man’s head, we spoke for a bit. I thought him a good fellow, so we walked and were friends by the end of our stroll together.’ He smiled at her, but it did not reach his eyes.
‘And where exactly was this road?’ Finduilas pressed. The wizard’s smile slipped a bit and his eyebrows bristled.
‘In Rohan, girl, not that it is any business for you to meddle in,’ he huffily replied.
She gave him her sweetest smile. ‘Oh, pray, forgive my inquisitiveness. I do not mean to pry.’ They stared for a moment, then broke into laughter, though there was still sharpness in the old man’s eyes.
‘Ah, I am properly chastised, fair lady, for being a nosy old man, but that is the nature of a wizard. We wish to know everything,’ he said. He toyed with the pipe a bit longer, then set it down on the table and leaned forward, face very serious. ‘I do think you wrong in your judgment of the captain, Finduilas. Many young fellows, and even older ones, are a bit tongue-tied when confronted with a beautiful young woman like yourself.’
‘He has secrets.’
Mithrandir raised an eyebrow. ‘And who does not, my lady?’
‘These are great ones. He is like an eagle soaring against the sun to keep himself from being seen.’
‘Is that not how an eagle should hunt?’
‘Perhaps he is tongue-tied, perhaps he is not. His silence and fierce stares are daunting.’ She did not know why she was admitting this to the wizard, but it felt right to speak to him of Thorongil.
‘Do not fear him, my dear. He is a kind and honorable man, and is of no danger to you.’
‘That is not true. Not the man himself, no; that I believe. I do not think that he is of danger to any who stand against the Enemy. I do not fear for myself nor think he would do me harm. But danger follows him, in his secrets, as even an eagle against the sun must cast a shadow.’
Mithrandir did not answer. He sat back in his chair and studied her as he had before. She sat still under his regard, wondering what he saw. He nodded and grumbled something in his throat before looking out the window, resting his chin in his hand. Finduilas sipped her wine and coughed a little, waiting for him to return from his thoughts. A quarter hour passed before the wizard spoke again.
‘My lady,’ he said quietly, still looking out the window, ‘I know that you are the guest of the Steward, or more precisely, of the Master Archivist, and it would be quite unconscionable for you to disregard any requests she has made to you concerning the captain. I know there is little fondness between those two. However, I do think that it would be for the best were you to get to know the captain a bit more. He is a good man, and he should have the friendship and regard of a noble lady such as yourself, almost as much as he should have that of a ruler such as the Steward or your own lord father. As I said, I think it not an accident that you two should be drawn to Minas Tirith at the same time, though it is far beyond me to know the wherefore and the why of this fact. I counsel nothing save to offer him the regard of a friend.’ The wizard snuck a look at her from the corner of his eye. ‘Do you think this might be done without offending your host?’
Finduilas rose and held out her hand. ‘Thank you, Mithrandir, for listening to my silly dreams. I shall not take up any more of your time.’ The wizard stood and bowed over her hand.
‘I enjoyed your visit, my lady. I shall head south later this week, and have a mind to visit the Belfalas. If you would like a message borne to your lord father, I would be happy to carry it.’
‘I would not dream of burdening you in such a way, good sir,’ she politely replied. ‘Though if you would simply say that I do well and miss all of my family terribly, I would count it a great kindness.’
‘I shall do so.’ The wizard escorted her to the door, where Beregar stood waiting. After a few more pleasantries, Finduilas departed, thinking very carefully of what she had learned.
The wizard knows far more than he admits. Perhaps not about my dreams, but most certainly about Thorongil. No, he has ideas about my dreams as well, and they have to do with the captain. Finduilas began to understand Denethor and Aiavalë’s frustration with the wizard. Why will he not say to me what he is thinking? They are my dreams, after all! Be a friend to the captain – just how is that meant, Mithrandir? Are even wizards turning into match-makers? She mulled over these thoughts all the way back to the Stewards House.
Two letters awaited her. One was simply a note from Maiaberiel saying she was not feeling well and asked if Finduilas would forgive her canceling of their weekly supper. Since Emeldir’s death, Maiaberiel had insisted on entertaining Finduilas each week. They were peculiar meals. Finduilas had noticed that when Brandir was not in the City, they tended to be cancelled. There were always a few other guests as well, though rarely the same from week to week. Finduilas thought the gatherings frivolous and dull, finding little of interest in the gossip. Occasionally, however, she would be present for some interesting deals, where Maiaberiel dispensed favors. She conducted herself as a silly and vacant girl, listening to all that was said, saying nothing of importance herself, and reporting every detail to Aiavalë the next morning.
And I am turned into another of Lady Lore’s sister-spies, Finduilas thought wryly as she sat to pen a note in reply. She called Beregar and asked him to deliver the note, and released him to spend the rest of the day with his family in the third circle and return on the morrow, for she would not need him until then. The young man shook his head.
‘My Lord Denethor would not like that. I am to be here, within call. He has ordered it.’
‘And I say that I shall not have any need to call you. Really, Beregar, it is all right. I have all the servants of this house and a barracks full of Tower Guards if I have any true need.’
The lad grimaced and stared at the ground. ‘But that is my lord’s command and he will be angered if I do not obey. It is no burden, truly, my lady. I would not want him to know I had abandoned my post.’
‘Well, I promise not to tell on you,’ she teased, and wondered at the red blush that spread over Beregar’s face. You try his loyalties too much, goose. ‘Very well, if you think it so wrong, I shall not demand it of you, though I do give you leave to continue down the City and to sup with your family. Return afterwards.’
‘I could see if Mother has some biscuits to send back up with me,’ he shyly replied. ‘You like those, do you not? It is no burden to fetch some for you.’
Give him his honor. ‘Now that you say it, Beregar, I do believe I wish to taste some of the sweets your mother makes. I have been feeling a bit unwell, and those would make me feel better.’ She was rewarded with a smile and a crisp bow.
‘I will be back before you retire, my lady.’
‘Then I shall wait for my evening tea until you return. Now, off with you!’ He bobbed his head and trotted out.
Finduilas read over Maiaberiel’s note once more. If she had not seen Beruthiel threaten Wren in the Archive, she would not believe the woman to be as dangerous as Aiavalë and Denethor claimed, though it was clear that Beruthiel cared little for anything except being courted and flattered. She still wondered if they were not making too much of their middle sister’s wickedness. Is she really so much worse than the Archivist? Aiavalë has her spies, just as Maiaberiel does. Does not Father have his spies, formal and informal? But there was a difference. She could see nothing in the beautiful, terrible woman that indicated Beruthiel thought of anything save her own desires. There was nothing in her that showed great concern for the City or the realm. Under the indulgence that surrounded Maiaberiel was fear, not love, and all was undergirded with despair.
It could not be further from home. Finduilas settled under a window and opened the second letter, which was from her mother. It was long and loving, and she found herself shedding a few tears at some of the news, not because it was sad but because it was home and she missed it terribly. She exclaimed with delight when she read that they all would be arriving in Minas Tirith in a month’s time. A soft tap on the doorframe caught her attention, and she looked up to see Aiavalë leaning in the door.
‘Little sister, how fare you? I have been worried about you all day, you know.’
Finduilas could not help the guilty flush that rose in her cheeks. ‘I am much better, big sister. I have rested and, look! Mother sent a letter and says they shall all be here soon!’
Aiavalë laughed and her eyes above her veil twinkled. ‘That is good news, Alquallë, though I shall not pretend that I wish other than that I could keep you with me always.’
‘Well, you shan’t lose me too soon, as Mother says she intends to once more to spend a spring here in the City. The storms have greatly damaged the Tower and the keep, and there is much work to be done to it, best done without the ladies in residence. I think she is also determined to have Ivriniel betrothed this year and the City is the best place to locate a fine young man.’ Aiavalë chuckled low and nodded, walking over to take a seat.
‘Indeed, a betrothal takes one of each, man and maid. So there are not enough fine gentlemen in Dol Amroth for your lady mother’s tastes?’
‘No, none that she or Ivriniel care for.’
‘What about the young lord from Pinnath Gelin?’
‘Aye, him. I though him a dashing fellow when he was here at year-end. Does Ivriniel not care for him? Or even you yourself, does he not catch your eye?’ Aiavalë teased her. Finduilas laughed in return.
‘What a match-maker you are turning into, sister!’ she scolded with a grin. ‘As for the heir of that fine land, I think not that Ivriniel has made his acquaintance, but that she would be quite taken with him were she to do so.’
‘Ah, I shall not let you duck my questions so easily, little sister! What of your own thoughts about this fair fellow? Since I know you do not like the great captain.’ Aiavalë’s eyes rolled as she mentioned Thorongil, and both broke into snickers.
‘I fear I have no inclination to fair Hirluin, or to any young fellow I have met. I am only four and twenty! For what do I need a lord at my age? I have looked for no one, and do not intend to until Ivriniel is well and married. It is not right that a younger sister should wed before an elder.’ Finduilas stopped suddenly as she realized what she had said, and turned very red. ‘I mean, it is, that is…’ Aiavalë laid a gentle hand on her arm.
‘Fret not, dearest. You said a true thing, and did so out of loyalty and love for a sister who deserves such. It serves me right for being so nosy. I do admit to not quite believing that you have no good regard of any man, however.’
‘Oh, I hold a number in good regard. Lord Hirluin is a pleasant enough man when he is not trying to flirt. For all that I care not for his staring, the captain strikes me as a decent person, and a good officer.’ Finduilas ignored the narrowing of Aiavalë’s eyes. The wizard is right, Thorongil is a decent man. Perhaps he would not stare so if I simply treated him as a friend. ‘I thought most of the lords whom I met during the High Council at year-start to be worth my regard. And, of course, Denethor. I think only my own kinsmen have my better opinion than does your brother.’ Finduilas thought it best not to mention that she thought well of Ecthelion, too. As she hoped, the mention of Denethor made Aiavalë beam.
‘You are not afraid of my glowering brother?’
‘He is not so fierce as he would like people to believe, any more than you are, Lady Lore!’ Finduilas cheerfully retorted. Aiavalë patted her arm again and rose.
‘You know not how glad it makes me that you think well of him. He deserves your good regard. I think he does well to have you as a friend. I know what a dear friend you are.’ Finduilas wondered at the closeness of Aiavalë’s words to those of Mithrandir earlier in the day. ‘Are you going to need to put your family’s house in order for their arrival?’
‘Yes, sister, I will, though not for a few weeks.’
‘Let me know when you do and I will help as I can.’ The older woman leaned down and kissed the younger through her veil. ‘I must go and wash for supper. Will you join me?’
‘Oh, yes, of course. Speaking of supper, Beruthiel cancelled this week’s meal.’
‘Hmm. Brandir is meeting Denethor at Cair Andros this week. They will be back in nine or ten days.’ Aiavalë’s eyes were full of mischief. ‘It would be interesting to know who is having supper with the lady. And dessert as well, I imagine.’ The two broke into snickers once more. The Archivist left with a wave, and Finduilas re-read her mother’s letter until it was time for supper. She retired soon after the meal and dreamt her new dreams most of the night.
The dreams came and went over the following week, though Finduilas did not dream again of Denethor. When she was awake, she could not keep herself from mulling over the wizard’s words. So, you cannot think it coincidence that I and the captain are here together. What is it that you know, Mithrandir? The more she pondered it, the more angry she became over his silence. Three days after their meeting, she returned to the house on Holly Court intending to question him, but the wizard had departed the morning before. She wished that she dared to broach the topic with Aiavalë, to have her elder sister’s advice, but knew the Archivist would be angered over the secret visit.
Finduilas also could figure out nothing more about her dreams. A choice lay before her, but how to know anything about that choice? Her dreams were too grand and vague to draw any clues. Why would danger follow me, of all people? Would not Aiavalë be more appropriate? She chastised herself for thinking ill things of the Archivist, yet it did not seem right that a great and powerful and Shadow-touched lady would be of lesser danger than the sickly second-daughter of Dol Amroth. Perhaps I am getting someone else’s dreams. It all left her increasingly short-tempered. Even the cats knew to avoid her.
In the afternoon, when the day’s cataloguing was through and she was free, Finduilas began to look into everything she could about Thorongil. There was next to nothing. From his appearance and stature, he had to be pure-blooded Dúnedain. She had seen enough of his manners that she knew he had been gently raised, as much as any nobleman of the City. The few Rohirrim she had met were polite enough, but their habits were coarse. The only thing of note about the captain, aside from his battlefield leadership, was the star on his cloak, and that revealed little. Stars, suns and moons were common cloak pins, and many nobles sported a six-rayed star, particularly if they could trace some type of descent from the royal house. Others claimed to wear it in honor of Gondor.
A week and a day after her interview with the wizard, Finduilas and Aiavalë trudged back up to the seventh circle. The evenings were becoming lighter though it was still damp and chill. As they walked in the door to the Stewards House, the doorward held out a note to Aiavalë. The Archivist’s eyes lit up with joy as she read the note and she took Finduilas’s hand.
‘Denethor is back in the City! A day earlier than we expected. He and Brandir are supping with the Steward tonight and informing him of how things fare, so he begs our forgiveness for leaving us alone this evening.’ The two women had a merry meal together, though Finduilas’s dreams kept her tossing and coughing through the night.
Her head ached when she rose and her throat was sore. Aiavalë’s good cheer over the prospect of supper with Denethor merely increased Finduilas’s own foul temper. At dinner time, she could barely swallow the meal prepared for the archivists, and told Aiavalë she needed to return to the house and rest for the afternoon. She was relieved that Beregar was not waiting at the door to the archives, wishing to be alone in her weariness, though it was odd for her faithful shepherd not to be standing sentinel. It was a relief, however, when he met her part way, stammering apologies for having to run an errand and not knowing that she would need him. Finduilas shushed him and took his arm to help her finish the fairly steep slope in the tunnel of the seventh circle, pausing to cough once they reached the top. Aerin fussed over her, gently scolding that she was going to make herself sick just before her family arrived and that simply would not do.
Before she had time to undress and lie down, the Matron tapped on the door and said that Lord Denethor wished to speak with the lady at once.
‘We are to sup tonight,’ Finduilas grumbled as Aerin helped make her presentable. ‘Can he not wait until then?’
‘Perhaps he cannot bear to wait that long to see you, my lady,’ Aerin gently teased.
Finduilas contented herself with a snort of derision at that thought, and walked out. She coughed a little as she climbed the stairs to the third floor. The door to his rooms was standing open so she went in, pausing only a moment before she saw him through the doorway of his study. Denethor was sitting at a large desk, writing. Beyond him was a carved wooden screen, backed with pale fabric. All around the room were bookshelves, books and objects carefully placed upon them. A deep red rug with an intricate design in black, white and a paler shade of red covered most of the floor, probably from Far Harad given the design. There were a few chairs to one side, but none near the desk besides the one he sat in. The room reminded her very much of her grandfather’s study, right down to the rug. The thing that struck her most about the room, however, was that it smelled like Denethor. It lingered at the edge of her senses and was not unpleasant, but it was clearly there. She wondered how long he had used this room such that it would be permeated with him.
Denethor did not look up when she entered the room. Finduilas walked toward the desk then came to a stop a few feet away when he raised a single warning finger. He still did not look up from his work and left her standing for a full minute while he finished. When Denethor finally sat back in his chair, he did not say anything. He merely steepled his hands and looked at her with a cool, even gaze, face hard. Finduilas found herself becoming irritated at the silence.
‘Are you going to tell me why you asked for me or are we to stare at each other all day?’ she asked, hoping she did not sound peevish.
‘What were you doing meeting with Mithrandir on Monday last?’
For a moment, Finduilas could do nothing but stare at him dumbly, feeling a naughty child caught in a bit of mischief. How did he…? Beregar. She felt like boxing her own ears for being so stupid. She had only seen the young man as a bodyguard, when the simplest fool should have known he had also been set as spy. That is probably what he was doing this morning, when I met him returning from the Citadel, informing his master of my doings. She tried to match Denethor’s look.
‘What are you doing setting a watchdog upon your guest?’
His eyes widened a tiny bit, showing his surprise at her reply, but face remained grim. ‘I watch what needs watching. I am responsible for your well-being while you are the Steward’s guest. You met with someone I deem unfriendly to the interests of the City. I wish to know why you were meeting him and what was discussed.’ Denethor’s tone was quiet, but more than a bit menacing.
‘I am not your servant to be ordered about.’ That was not a very strong reply, but she could not think of what else to answer. Her head pounded and she could feel a familiar tightening sensation in her chest. The last thing she wanted was to go into a coughing fit in front of this man.
‘I do not wish to hear excuses, girl. I wish to know what you were doing.’
All the frustration of the last week surged up. Finduilas glared back at the High Warden and decided she would not allow this man to intimidate her.
‘Girl? Call me that if you wish; I assure you it does not further your suit.’ His eyebrows went up and his face became slightly less forbidding. ‘Is this how you speak to a fellow prince? Or do you only name me that when you wish to flatter a fanciful girl?’
Denethor’s look changed, became more thoughtful, though it was still stern. ‘I stand corrected, prince. But you still fail to answer my question. What were you doing speaking to the wizard?’
Her anger made her reckless. She recalled something her mother had once done when her father had been unhappy with Luinil and had scolded his wife while sitting at his desk. She did not dare do precisely as Mother did to end the argument, but she could come close enough. Finduilas deliberately walked around the desk, pushed the letter he had been writing out of her way, hitched a hip up on the desk so that she was partly sitting on it, and stared down at him. Denethor had to turn to face her as well as look up. She could tell he was now curious at what she was doing. Curiosity was to her advantage, but she needed to be careful, lest it turn to anger.
In a sharp voice she asked, ‘Who am I?’
‘Finduilas, lady of Dol Amroth.’
‘Who is my lord?’
‘Adrahil, your father, Prince of Dol Amroth.’
‘Who is his lord?’
‘Are you his lord?’
‘No, prince, I am not.’
‘To whom do I owe my loyalty?’
‘To your lord father.’
‘To my lord father. I serve my father loyally. The business I conduct in Minas Tirith is in the interests of the Prince before it is in your own interests.’
‘Nevertheless, prince, you have treated with one whom you know I mistrust, and it is unfriendly of you to refuse to speak of it.’
‘It is unfriendly of you to call a guest before you like a miscreant servant and demand to know her business. Have I ever given you reason to distrust my intentions towards you or the City?’
‘No, you have not, Alquallë, but…’
‘I have not. And I am your guest. You have no business demanding such of me.’ She crossed her arms and matched his stare. He was thinking, that much she could tell. A ghost of a smile passed over his face and she knew she had won this round.
‘I beg your pardon, prince. I have been terribly rude. However, I do not think myself unreasonable to be concerned with what the wizard does and with whom he speaks when he is in the City. I am loyal to my City, and its interests are my concern.’
‘Remove your watchdog and I will consider discussing our mutual concerns.’
Denethor shook his head decisively. ‘No, Finduilas, I will not. You must have a proper escort. I am responsible for your safety.’
‘Then you shall have to rely upon Beregar to know what has occurred.’
‘Are you truly trading in such secrets that you may not speak them to me?’
‘Not when you speak to me like this, no. This is most unfriendly. I thought better of you than this.’ To her surprise, he looked away, as though embarrassed. Finduilas thought it best not to continue to press him on this and risk him becoming angry. She stood and began to walk out.
‘I am sorry, Alquallë, if I have insulted.’ She stopped and faced him again.
‘I am insulted, but I accept your apology.’
‘Thank you, my lady.’ Denethor paused, then said, ‘We do appear to have a knack for argument, prince. Shall we set it aside at supper? I do not think it would please Aiavalë to hear us argue.’
Finduilas shook her head a little, suddenly aware of how much it hurt and how tired she was. It was not wise to avoid supper, for fear that Denethor would think her still angry and become resentful in return, but she knew that she could not bear a dinner with the siblings.
‘In truth, Denethor, I am not well. That is why I returned early from the archives. I will have to make my excuses to your sister, but I cannot.’
All hardness fell away from his face at her words. ‘Then I am doubly to be faulted, Alquallë. Pray forgive me for disturbing your rest.’
Finduilas smiled and nodded, not wishing to speak. She was part-way down the stair when the fit seized her, forcing her to sit on the stair and gasp for air in between the raw, tearing coughs. She did not hear Denethor approach and jumped when he touched her shoulder. He did not say anything, but patiently crouched next to her, waiting until the spasms ceased. She was grateful when he put an arm around her to steady her as they walked the rest of the way downstairs.
‘Please, rest, my lady,’ he said when they reached the door to her rooms, ‘and do not worry about Aiavalë. I will speak to her.’ Aerin helped her into the apartment and gave her a draught that eased the tight feeling in her chest. Finduilas fell into a deep, dreamless sleep and did not wake until the next day.
Characters introduced in this chapter, in order of appearance:
Mistress Primrose – OC. Goldsmith, half-sister to Denethor, 50 years old
Mallor – OC. Elderly archivist, @ 80 years
Mairen – OC. Middle-aged archivist, @ 40 years
Hador – OC. Archival book-binder, @ 45 years
Mithrandir – The grey wizard, as old as Arda
Playlist Navigation Bar