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Hands of the King: 65. Recovery
Minas Tirith, Mid June, 2980 T.A.
'He is so big and strong,' Lhûn said approvingly as she stood with Finduilas in the arcade of the Houses, watching Boromir play tag on the greensward with several other children. It was true; Boromir was bulkier and a hand taller than other boys his age. His steps were very sure and he rarely lost his balance anymore. The stairs at home were no longer a barrier to him. He could scramble up them quickly on all fours, and had recently learned how to scoot down them on his bottom. Denethor was very proud of the child's inventiveness even as Ivrin was driven to distraction by Boromir charging off on his own. Finduilas was just glad that he no longer nursed. As though reading Finduilas's thoughts, Lhûn slipped an arm around her waist and hugged her. 'And now is time to get you big and strong, too, Finduilas.'
She smiled and hugged the healer in return. 'Yes, it is! I think I am fatter since the spring.'
Lhûn felt Finduilas's ribs, shaking her head. 'Not much. You need to eat a great deal more and worry a great deal less.'
With a laugh, Finduilas hugged Lhûn again, feigning amusement. 'Now you sound like Denethor!' She kissed the healer on the cheek. 'I must take the cub back home so we may both have a nap.'
It took several minutes to capture her rambunctious son, who was not quite ready to end his game. When they got out into the main street of the sixth circle, Boromir suddenly darted away. 'Catch me!' he cried as he dashed along, disappearing around the curve of the street. Finduilas followed more slowly, knowing he would not get very far nor would anyone seeing him allow him to come to harm. The City loved its little prince, more so now than ever. He filled an emptiness.
It was that hollowed out place that kept her thin and tired. She slept more than she should and ate everything Denethor put on her plate at dinner and supper, but still she felt empty, and her dreams were filled with thoughts of drowning. Finduilas suspected a similar feeling afflicted Denethor, for he was restless, often spending hours walking around the City listening to the stone, particularly at night. At least the palantír was out of his reach, though she had caught him gazing at the Tower and knew he was trying to figure a way past the Dwarven lock on the chamber door.
Boromir was still out of sight. No doubt a proffered sweet would eventually halt his headlong rush. All along the road, people were readying their homes for the loëndë festival. Stoops were scrubbed, windows washed, and flags flown. There were far more of her black swan wings than the white tree. Even the empty houses were being opened and cleaned. Many of them had owners arriving from the Outland fiefs and most of the rest were being let out to the numerous visitors. There would be a children's parade on loëndë itself, and a tournament in the days after. And many, many political councils.
A sharp squeal up ahead made Finduilas hurry. Coming around the curve, she slowed again, not sure if she should approach. Brandir knelt in the street, Boromir in his arms. She had not seen Brandir save at formal councils with the Steward since he had struck Denethor. It was difficult to make sense of Denethor's claim that Brandir had wished him dead; Finduilas could not believe her gentle Fool would say something so spiteful. Denethor said he had already been struck when Brandir spoke, making her think that he had not heard correctly. Yet they fought, and that you would not have believed, either, had not Brandir confessed. The only certain thing to come from those days was the breaking of Maiaberiel's power. The King's Men were in disarray and Aiavalë's spies said no one besides Brandir, Ecthelion and the servants had entered Maiaberiel's house since the night Denethor beat her. Finduilas shivered at the memory of blood on his garments and the rank smell that permeated the cloth. There was more done than a beating. Had someone touched me so, naught would keep you from killing him. You have tried our Fool's heart too much.
Boromir saw her and waved, making Brandir turn about. Joy left his face, replaced by bland politeness. 'Mama, look!' Boromir gleefully said, gesturing at his uncle.
Finduilas smiled warmly. 'Yes, Morcollë, I see you have found Uncle Brandir. You are a clever boy.'
Brandir stood and nodded to her. 'My lady, how good to see you.'
She shook her head. 'No, Brandir. Not with me.' Finduilas embraced him tightly, laying a kiss on his cheek. 'It is good to see you, sweet friend.'
'Yes. I've missed you.' Brandir ruffled Boromir's hair. 'And I shall miss you all the more soon.'
Finduilas slipped her arm into his. 'Walk with me a while, Brandir. The cub needs to run more before he is ready to nap.'
A smile came to Brandir's face. 'I would like that.'
They walked south along the sixth circle, Boromir sometimes ahead of them, sometimes behind. 'When do you leave?' Finduilas asked.
'Soon. Within the week.'
'To Anórien, yes?'
'Between Calenhad and Minrimmon. It is further west than the Warden wishes people to live, but we will be near the road.' Brandir sounded neither pleased nor sad as he spoke this. 'It was my great-uncle's farm and I spent most of my youth there. It is a pleasant place. We have also a house in the town.'
'Can you not wait until after loëndë?'
'No. We will be gone before then. I know many journey here. Will the Prince come?'
His tone was polite but firm, letting Finduilas know he wished to change the subject. They spoke of who was going to be in the City. Her parents were coming on Seabird, stopping in Linhir to collect Ivriniel, Eärwen, and Moraen. Morvorin was coming overland with Angbor so they could see the condition of the roads. Aldwyn was very happy because Hilda was coming, as well as Handiriel and Ivorwen. Luinil would not hear of leaving the young women behind in Dol Amroth. Lord Gundor and Lord Hirgon were bringing their households, though only Lord Duinmir was coming from Morthond. Almost Finduilas could think all was well with Brandir as they spoke of the visitors, for he laughed and spoke warmly of them, engaging in gentle gossip, delighted by Andreth and Duinhir's betrothal and even more pleased by the news that Luinmir was pregnant. Finduilas had learned this herself only a few days before.
The sun was overhead, warming stone and making the street hotter by the minute. Finduilas wished there was a cooler place to speak, for she was loath to part from Brandir. She knew it would be long before they met again. As if in response to her wish, a door appeared at the edge of her vision. She called Boromir to her and pushed the old wooden door aside, greeted by the scent of green things. When their eyes adjusted to the dim interior, even Boromir exclaimed at the beautiful plants. They walked through the house, admiring the delicate foreign blooms that thrived in the dusky rooms, and came into the garden. Crone Apple spread her leafy boughs wide, keeping the earth cool in her shadow.
Beneath her limbs, Laanga sat, watching them approach. Brandir knelt and took Laanga's hands, touching his forehead to them. 'Who are you?' the ancient asked.
'The Fool, master. I am the Fool.'
'I see that you are,' Laanga gravely answered. 'Would that all were as wise as thee, child. I am sorry.'
Brandir sighed and raised his head. 'They cannot help it.'
'Your heart is sorely tried.'
'No, not really,' Brandir objected. 'I should not be so foolish, trying their patience.'
Laanga kissed Brandir's brow. 'But then you would not be the Fool, and their pain would be greater.' The apothecary rose stiffly from the ground with Brandir's assistance. 'And look who else has come to see me!' He held out a gnarled hand to Boromir, who seized it eagerly. 'I have not seen you in a long time, cub. Come help old Laanga tend the garden.' The dark man led Boromir away, disappearing behind a tall shrub.
Finduilas tugged on Brandir's arm and took him back to the bench in the bower. He sat on the ground near her feet, as Denethor did, and rested his head against her thigh. Finduilas stroked his hair - it was almost as fine as her own, not like Denethor's heavy dense strands - and waited. Faintly, she heard Boromir's voice somewhere beyond the apple tree.
'We would have left sooner, but Beri's hair had to grow out a little. She didn't want anyone to see her like that,' Brandir said.
It took Finduilas a moment to realize he was speaking of Maiaberiel. She had never heard him give his wife a pet name. 'If you had, we would not be speaking now.'
'I am glad for that. I have wished to speak to you, but did not know how. She has been sick. Several of the wounds festered from the dirt that got in them, but Beri would not let me call a healer.'
'I am sorry, Brandir. I wish it had not happened.' It was not a lie. Finduilas wanted everything back to where is was before Umbar.
'So do I. I keep thinking...' He sighed. 'I wonder if it would hurt less could I hate even one of them, but I can't.'
'Her. Denethor. Thorongil. Ecthelion. If I begin the naming, there is no end.'
'I don't want you to hate anyone, friend.'
'I know you think Beri wicked, the worst of them all. She is cruel, but no more so than any of her house. She loves me as much as you love Denethor. I wish you believed that as much as you believe her to be wicked.'
Finduilas began to reassure him that she did believe it, but Brandir looked her in the eye and she could not lie. 'No, Brandir. I do not see that she loves you very much.'
'And how can I know the love between you two? Have you never exchanged cross words? Never made the other weep?' Under the Crone's boughs, they could see Laanga and Boromir crawl along on their hands and knees, following the path of a bug. Finduilas sighed and shrugged. 'No, Beri is not faithful, but that is my own doing. I freed her from that, and now given, I will not take back my promise.'
'Freed her? Why? How can you? That troth is the core...'
'For that.' Brandir interrupted, motioning towards Boromir with his chin. 'Unless one of us lay with another, we would not know where the fault lay. I could not, bound as I am, so she bore the burden. It broke her heart. Her wickedness is also mine, for I said she should harm her very soul. Perhaps I pushed her towards that too soon. Perhaps her damaged heart is my doing.' Brandir took Finduilas's hand, but kept his eyes on Boromir and Laanga. 'I am not excusing her. I don't excuse myself. When she has been thwarted, her heart has turned to hatred. There was a time when a young kinswoman of mine believed the lies of a wretched man. We were going to leave here, go to Anórien, and live there for several years. The girl was to be Beri's maid. When we returned, we would have a child and my kinswoman would have her honor. Beri spoke to her father of what we planned, for she loved him and wished him to know the truth, and he forbade it. I said we must obey our lord. Should she not hate each of us? For Ecthelion's cruelty, she has plotted to rob him ever since. Have I not earned my cuckoldry?'
Finduilas leaned down to hug Brandir. 'You have not earned that, though I cannot fault her anger.'
'No, Finduilas, I am despicable. I took her to Denethor to be tortured. He gave me no promise that he would not kill her, and yet I allowed it. Once more, I obeyed my lord and not my heart, and have betrayed her again.' Brandir bowed his head to his knees and was silent for a long time. 'I hoped,' he said without raising his head, 'that Boromir would tame their hearts. That is what we wanted, yes? But Denethor forbade and Beri would not humble herself. The first time, I should have taken her and fled.' Brandir stood and embraced Finduilas tightly. 'Good-bye, sister.'
Finduilas waited until Brandir left the garden before going to find Boromir. He was industriously digging in a patch of bare earth with a wooden trowel, stopping only to examine the earthworms he exposed. Laanga was nearby, pinching leaves from a bush. 'Ah, daughter, forgive me for not greeting you earlier, but you needed the Fool's wisdom more than this old man's. I am glad you have come back. The Crone told me to be patient, and she was right.' Crone Apple stroked Finduilas's hair with the twiggy end of a long branch, leaving a few leaves behind. Under her feet, there was soil, not stone, so Finduilas slipped off her shoes, digging her toes into the dirt. Laanga placed a kiss on her cheek, then handed her a soft basket woven from rushes. It was comforting to do as they always did, with her following him around the garden as he plucked leaves to put in the basket, tied back branches, and admired the new growth.
We have what we hoped for, yet the rifts are worse than ever. A year ago, would she not have rejoiced to know that Umbar would be destroyed and Maiaberiel defanged? Ecthelion had not sent Denethor into any danger, though it would have been so simple to change who commanded the fleet. There was no rivalry anymore, no faction or division in the realm. And the price for it... Finduilas sighed and held out the basket for some leaves. The motion of Laanga's hands mesmerized her. They did not look different than any other old man's hands, fingers thin, joints lumpy, all bone and no flesh. But he's a wizard. She wondered if Denethor knew this. He would say to shun Laanga, for wizards have their own designs. No more so than Wardens. What has Laanga done to do you harm? Naught but a scolding. She glanced around the garden, feeling her throat tighten. It had been almost a year since she had been here last. The hole in her heart was a little less large now that she stood on this soil. She did not wish to lose another friend, not so soon.
'Master Laanga?' He looked at her, his dark eyes warm like the earth under her feet, not cold and stony as when they argued. 'Will you forgive me for being a goose and not coming to see you?'
'Of course, daughter. You have many things to see to, more important than a cross old man.'
'No. It was my own contrariness that kept me away.'
'You should be more kind to yourself, Finduilas. I should have listened more carefully to you so you did not have to find others to hear your stories.'
'I wish all of Gondor could be this garden,' she said, reaching up to touch the Crone.
'You can stay here as long as you wish. Forever, if that pleases you. She would not mind.' Twigs squeezed Finduilas's fingers for a moment.
Could I? As soon as she thought it, she shook her head. 'No, it is not enough, though it is lovely. But I will come visit.'
'It is only large enough to hold a heart together until it can mend,' Laanga answered, nodding. 'Once, all the world was like this, until it was broken. It mended.'
For a moment, Finduilas did not see the garden, but a narrow path leading upwards. Her chest hurt from the exertion of running and behind her was the Sea, reaching up to drown the world. No eagle stooped to rescue her from the waves. 'I told him to leave.'
'No. Thorongil. He told me how his heart could not mend and be whole, so I bade him to return to his garden, wherever that is.' But there is no making whole. There is only breaking and mending, until there is naught left but scar.
'And what of your own heart?'
'There is a hole in it.' There was more than her own emptiness at work. There was Denethor's need as well. She had noticed something recently in their lovemaking. It did not happen all the time, only when she had been roused until she convulsed, and then he sought his own satisfaction fiercely. There was a sensation of being drained, as though the blood had fled her heart. It made her weak for several days afterwards. The first time she had felt it was when the mariner had torn something aside, allowing Denethor to See her. She could not remember feeling it again until his birthday last year when he had finally been able to mate her again and they had used the sheath. It was happening more often now, and it frightened her. Finduilas did not want to try to explain all of that to Laanga, however, so added, 'I am grieved at the loss of those dear to me and it leaves me drained. And other sorrows also weigh upon me.'
'You should not try to be so strong, daughter,' he gently scolded. 'Others can help with your burdens.'
'I will come here, Laanga, I promise!'
'And I will not give you reason to stay away, Finduilas. I promise that.' Laanga took the basket from her, kissed her cheek, and walked away in the direction of his worktable.
Finduilas noticed that the sun had declined a great deal, and it was nearly evening. The household would be worried at her absence. 'Boromir, come to Mama,' she called, but he did not answer. She scoured the garden for him; aside from an impressively large hole in the ground, there was no sign of him. Perhaps he went inside to look at the flowers. She hastened to the doorway.
A pace inside, Denethor sat, Boromir asleep in his arms. A look of relief came to his face when he saw her. 'Alquallë, are you through visiting Master Laanga?'
'Yes. How long have you been sitting here, friend?'
'A while.' He kissed the crown of Boromir's head. 'I had company.'
'You should have called for me. Or joined me.'
Denethor stood. 'It is nearly supper time. We should go.' They walked slowly through the shadowed streets to the Citadel. The stone was still hot from the sun, radiating heat. People nodded or said quiet greetings as they passed, smiling at the sight of Boromir napping in his father's arms. Finduilas studied Denethor's hands. They were long, with slender fingers, and each had a few small white scars. The wedding band on his forefinger bore its own scratches. What have you done with these hands? Held hers while he pledged his love, forever. Written down the business of the realm. Fed his son. Killed Orcs. Designed a bridge over a great river. Caressed her body. Fired arrows. Wrote ciphers. Tormented his sister. Touched stone. Put bruises on her face and yanked her hair. Held her when she wept. Breaking and mending. It was only when they reached the Stewards House that she realized she had left her shoes behind.
It had been difficult to elude the Queen's Men the demon had put upon her, but she saw her opportunity and seized it. The great earthquake had frightened people and animals, and Armenelos was in disarray. In the confusion, she dressed plainly and found a horse wandering in the street. There were many people on the road to Rómenna, and none looked twice at her.
She went to the headland above the harbor and looked at the ships. They would take me. Leave Pharazôn to his folly. Escape the demon. She shuddered at the thought of his hands upon her. A ship moved east, leaving Rómenna. A group of nine were anchored together, well guarded. If I go, there will be pursuit. The Faithful would perish if they tried to take her from the demon.
She turned her horse's head north. Let him follow.
Minas Tirith, 28 June, 2980 T.A.
The week brought a flood of travelers to Minas Tirith. Finduilas had ventured out upon the promontory to look down at the City and the Pelennor, and was amazed by the acres of tents before the walls and how the streets were dark with people. She retreated when her eyes played tricks upon her, turning the visitors into an army. Yesterday, the Swans arrived. Imrahil had Borthand play messenger, bringing letters from the Harlond directly to Finduilas. "Do not come near," her mother had warned, "for we are in chaos. I will send a note when it is safe." Another note had arrived this morning at breakfast saying she could visit whenever she wished, and that Hilda wished to stay with Aldwyn in the Steward's House if Finduilas approved.
Denethor gave her a weary look at the news. 'How many girls does that make?'
'Only three, they will spend most of their time out visiting, and Hilda will depart with Mother soon enough,' Finduilas answered. 'They will be moving in today, however, so you had best be gone.'
He looked at Boromir. 'We will need to flee, Morcollë, so we are not trampled in the confusion, yes?'
'Yes, Papa,' Boromir obediently replied, then pointed at the sideboard. 'Cheese!' Denethor stood to fix him a slice of bread with cheese and jam.
'I will take him with me to see Mother and Father,' Finduilas said. 'I have no intention of being here, either.'
'Shall I come along and be the dutiful son-in-law? Morcollë, no, do not shove it all in your mouth at once! Take bites.'
'No. No more of that.'
'Which of us are you talking to?' Denethor distractedly asked as he tried to keep Boromir from wolfing down the bread. Finduilas waited until he had things under control.
'You, prince. No more are you a dutiful anything.'
'I am to be rude to the Prince?'
'You have been going to the Prince for two years. That is at an end. From now on, he and all other lords must come to you. They owe you their fealty, particularly any who have ever shown favor to the Captain. Unless there is a large party, in which case you grace them with your company.'
Boromir motioned for more food, his mouth too full to talk. Denethor shook his head and tapped his son's cheek. 'Eat! Then you get more. Easily enough done, Alquallë, but should not the ladies come to you, as well?'
'They do. I can be excused for taking Boromir to see his grandparents.'
Finduilas sent a note to her mother in return, saying Hilda could stay with Aldwyn, and to expect her at Vinyamar that morning. With the City full of strangers, Denethor did not allow Finduilas to leave the Citadel without a full guard. Hunthor carried Boromir while Beregar kept a close eye on the street. A half dozen guardsmen escorted them. Even in the upper circles, people gawked at her and Boromir, pressing close for a better look, and she was glad for her guardsmen. Aldwyn came along to join her sister. Swan Knights were waiting for them at the foot of the lane to Vinyamar, and gave her and Boromir a rousing cheer. Boromir crowed and clapped in return, not the least bit frightened by the noise.
Inside the house, only her parents were in the hall. 'Where is everyone?' Finduilas asked.
'We did not wish to overwhelm the baby,' Luinil said. Finduilas embraced her parents, Aldwyn greeted them and was sent upstairs to see Hilda, and then Adrahil knelt, motioning for Hunthor to set Boromir down.
'Come here, Boromir,' Finduilas said. 'Say hello to your grandpa.'
Boromir walked a few steps forward, brow wrinkled, and peered around Adrahil. 'Grandpa?'
'Here, I am Grandpa,' Adrahil said.
'No,' Boromir answered with a shake of his head so like Denethor, Finduilas burst out laughing.
'Yes, Morcollë, this is Grandpa,' she said, kneeling next to her father. 'You have two grandpas.'
He folded his arms over his chest, scowling. 'No! Not Grandpa!' Luinil began laughing and Adrahil had difficulty keeping a straight face.
'Very well, Master Obstinate,' Adrahil said, 'not Grandpa.' He held out his hand which Boromir took. 'I am Prince. Who are you?'
'Can you say "Prince"?'
'Yes!' Boromir happily replied.
When he did not say anything else, Adrahil began to chuckle, then roared in laughter. Boromir clapped his hands and laughed along. 'You, Morcollë,' Adrahil said, wiping away a tear, 'you are your father's son to the core.'
Luinil knelt. 'Hello, Morcollë. I am Grandma Nil. May I have a kiss?' Boromir gave her a hug as well. The morning went by quickly, filled with greetings, news of the journey and Keep gossip, the servants coming in ones and twos to give their regards to Finduilas and see Boromir. Adrahil finally got Boromir to say "Prince" and the two explored the parlor together. After dinner, Boromir lay on the couch next to Finduilas and napped.
Adrahil poured wine for them. 'Daughter, I am curious.'
'What really happened concerning Captain Thorongil.'
'Has not Imrahil told you?'
'He says nothing save he is glad the captain is gone and that I must speak to Denethor.' Adrahil took his seat with a sigh. 'I have heard more than enough accounts of the horror. A boiling harbor, a giant of fire, and a storm of death over the city.' He shook his head. 'Perhaps you can explain that, too. Why did he use Dragon Fire? I saw it but once and a day after it was used, and I could see it was evil.'
'The Steward commanded Thorongil to defeat Umbar, and Thorongil commanded Denethor to make the Fire.' Finduilas sipped wine as she gathered her thoughts. 'I do not know if it could have been any other way. Do you remember Imrahil's dream, of ships fleeing fire?' Her parents nodded. 'He had another one, of a king on a ship of fire with soldiers made of smoke. The king came up Anduin and marched upon Ithilien. I had a dream much like it.' Except it was Isildur and he stayed for my sake. 'These were Swan dreams, and true. Were they warning? Were they prophesy? That I cannot tell.'
'But he did not go to Ithilien.'
'He walked through it. He was seen.'
Luinil leaned forward. 'So what kept him away from Minas Tirith?'
'I do not know. Even before the fleet sailed, Maiaberiel had her faction begin spreading rumors of the great reward that was going to come for a victory in Umbar. She was trying to force the Steward's hand to raise up the captain, not that it took much encouragement. People were speaking of crowns. There started to be fights between my men and hers. When the news of victory came, people spoke openly of a new king, but then Mordor attacked. Denethor left directions that Thorongil was to go at once to Ithilien. Then came the news that Thorongil had disappeared. Brandir brought a letter from the captain to Denethor. It was in a cipher only Denethor can read, and only he knows what it says. He will not tell me what was in it.'
Adrahil and Luinil exchanged a look, and Luinil stood to pace, ticking off key points. 'Thorongil has been gaining honor and power in Gondor for twelve years. He goes to Umbar, uses a fearful weapon, and is victorious. The Steward will give him rule and the populace stands ready to acclaim him. He returns to shore, but flees like a thief.' She stopped in front of Finduilas. 'This makes no sense. You said Denethor told Thorongil to go to Ithilien. Or did he threaten to kill the captain?'
'No. I saw what Denethor wrote. If Thorongil had returned directly, there was no choice save to cede rule or risk civil war. Had he been crowned, it would have been a doomed rule. I believe this is the meaning of the dreams.'
Adrahil shook his head. 'That may explain Denethor, but why would Thorongil not claim rule? Did he know of the dreams?'
'I did not tell him of my dreams. I know not what Imrahil or Denethor said to him. Mayhap he saw the ruin of Umbar and would not found rule upon it. Mithrandir was in Pelargir and spoke to Thorongil. He trusts the wizard's counsel.'
'Where has he gone?' Luinil asked.
He has returned for what he loves. His love here was wrong, as he always knew. Finduilas shied away from that thought. 'None know for certain, not even the Lost. He was last seen in Rohan, headed north.'
'And if he had not gone?' Adrahil added. 'What did Denethor plan for his return?'
'Simple. He would have been acclaimed, and the Steward would have offered him the crown. Denethor would not have contested. All our efforts would have been to prevent Maiaberiel's faction from attacking her enemies, claiming to do so in defense of their king.' The longer Finduilas had thought on Brandir's words, the better she understood the depth of Maiaberiel's desire for vengeance. She had been plotting against her father as well as her brother, maneuvering to have the Steward enact the downfall of his own house. She would have been merciless. Finduilas glanced at her sleeping son, smoothing a lock of his hair. If she could not possess you, she would have destroyed you, too.
Adrahil snorted. 'Then are we saved by Thorongil's common sense, or his cowardice?'
'I don't think he would have done anything to harm Denethor.'
'Would Denethor have harmed him?'
'Then Denethor is a fool,' her father curtly answered.
'I think Thorongil has made fools of us all often enough.' Luinil gave Adrahil a stern look until he dropped his eyes. 'He is a master of sowing discord to gain advantage, then retreating when it no longer profits him.'
'There is more to his acts than that, Mother,' Finduilas answered. 'Yes, I do think he had his eyes upon the throne, but I do not think he wished power at any cost.'
Adrahil sipped his wine, thoughtful. 'Very well, daughter. Your measure of the man is the best I know. Why do you think he left?'
For love. 'He is neither a fool nor a knave. The assault on Umbar was not his wish alone, but shared with many, including yourself, Prince. He could have been raised up safely only if it was done with Denethor's agreement, and that was not secured. Maiaberiel was determined to split the kingdom, thinking she could use Thorongil as a tool against her brother. Even if he was not willing to help her, she wished a battle. He left rather than bring war on his heels. That is what I believe.'
'What is that woman plotting now?' Luinil asked.
'Nothing. She is no longer in the City.' Luinil's eyebrows went up sharply. 'With Thorongil gone and the Steward unable to raise up a rival, Denethor was finally freed to move against her. He banished her and has destroyed her faction.'
'Where is she now?'
'On a remote farm in western Anórien.'
Luinil considered this. 'Will she not just plot from there?'
'I think she counts herself lucky to be alive.'
'And the Steward? She was his favorite,' Luinil pressed.
Finduilas leaned over and kissed Boromir's cheek. 'His favorite now is a little bear. If he opposes Denethor in any way, Boromir and I will be coming to Dol Amroth for a long visit.'
Adrahil smiled grimly and raised his glass to Finduilas. 'To the new ruler of Gondor - long may she reign.'
Luinil did not join the toast, but sat with her brow furrowed. 'If Maiaberiel and her faction are gone, does that not clear the way for Thorongil's return?'
'No. Denethor does not need to compromise with him anymore.'
A tap at the door prevented Adrahil's next question. A servant said that Lord Forlong wished to pay his respects to the Prince and to discuss a private matter. Adrahil told him to show Forlong to the study. 'No doubt the captain will be the topic of conversation,' he said. 'What do you wish me to say of Thorongil?'
'That he was too cowardly to directly contest with Denethor, for he knew himself to be a self-serving mercenary,' Finduilas answered crisply. 'He is a contemptible oath-breaker, and we are well rid of him.'
'As my lady commands,' the Prince said with a bow. He kissed Boromir tenderly and left. Luinil had not lost her thoughtful expression, so Finduilas waited. She was surprised by the next words.
'Has Lady Aiavalë been acting... oddly... since Umbar?'
'In what way?'
'No. She has been very forward. She no longer wears her veil and she is regularly in the high councils.'
'Oh.' Luinil sighed. 'Perhaps he was mistaken.'
'Who was mistaken? And about what?'
'Îbal.' Her mother sighed again. 'Near Yule, Îbal came to me and said he was going to ask for the prince's leave to wed. As Captain of the Prince's ships, he said he needed Adrahil's approval, particularly considering the woman he intended to marry. When I asked him, he said that he had fallen in love with the Archivist, and that she returned his love. He expected that the Steward and the Warden might object to the match, for he was not noble. But if Aiavalë is not downcast at the news of his death, perhaps he was mistaken as to her affection.'
Îbal. Knowing who Aiavalë must have wed made Finduilas both more joyful and more sad. She was not surprised that he loved Aiavalë, for Îbal saw beauty in the strange realm of the Sea, and had joked he would never wed a woman who was any less tempestuous and wild. Aiavalë had refused to name her mate, but had allowed Finduilas to see the ring. Lark knew the truth, but had already returned to Pelargir so Finduilas could not question her.
'No, he was not mistaken. They met in Pelargir, when the last councils were held, and they were wed. I know this to be true, for I can See her now.' Luinil let out a cry of delight and hugged Finduilas, then sat back in dismay.
'But, then... Oh, that is terrible! Widowed as soon as she is wed.'
'She said to me she never thought to have even that, and takes solace from it.' Finduilas remembered Aiavalë's words in answer to her own sorrow - "In this sorrow I am happier than I have ever been, Alquallë. We are parted, but not forever. When I finally rejoin him, I will be whole! No monster for a wife. And I will never be alone again." Aiavalë had seemed truly happy with this state of affairs. After their talk, the Archivist had given away all of her veils, saying she did not care who looked on her anymore. 'When you wish, I will take you to visit and you may See for yourself.'
'Yes, I will need to. If they are wed, then what was his now belongs to her.'
'I doubt she cares about that.'
'Even so, there are things of his she should have.' Luinil smiled at her sleeping grandson. 'I have long dreaded what would come out of Umbar. More than one Prince has perished on Corsair swords. But things are better than they were, not worse. I think losing the captain was a serious blow, but being rid of faction outweighs his departure.'
'We shall see.'
Minas Tirith, 30 June, 2980 T.A.
All around her, the Citadel was in motion as people bustled to ready it for the festival on the morrow. The cooking had started several days before and would continue right through the feast in Merethrond tomorrow night, lending a wonderful smell to the entire circle. Tower Guards and Queen's Men were busy hanging her flags from the upper walks around the court, while gardeners fussed over the plants and flowers set out in pots, turning the plain green lawn into a riot of color. Later this afternoon, she was going to steal an hour and go sit in Laanga's garden with Aeluin while Finiel and Boromir played under the herbalist's indulgent gaze.
Moraen had been recruited at once to assist with the festival, and she was soon poring over ledgers and lists with Aiavalë and Borondir. Finduilas had watched the cheerful way Moraen and Borondir had greeted each other, some ideas coming to her mind. Borondir's sorrow over Luinmir and Anna's departure had never really lifted, and it was not clear to Finduilas that he was more displeased by the news that Anna was not coming to Minas Tirith at loëndë or the news that Luinmir was to have another child. If Aiavalë can find a love, so can Borondir. Moraen was pleased when Finduilas told her that she would be in command of the Lady's Grace, with Finduilas's and Borondir's help, of course.
Yesterday morning had been the reunion with Ivriniel and Angbor, and seeing her niece Eärwen for the first time. The little girl looked just like Finiel, except with blue eyes like Luinil. Finduilas knew she still was jealous of Ivriniel's good fortune to have a daughter. Laanga had been right to forbid her Widow's Wort last year. Finduilas surreptitiously tapped her belly. When I am stronger, then will be time for my own daughter.
Finduilas was looking forward to the children's parade tomorrow. This year, she would walk in it. Earlier in the week, the Hunt had proudly presented the wagon they had built for Boromir to ride in. It was large enough to hold a dozen children and would take several men to pull it. She gave them each a kiss for their work. Across the court, Finduilas watched men putting up the pavilion near the Tower. That was where Ecthelion would...
'Oh, you goose!' she scolded herself, earning a few stares. She hurried to the Tower, hoping the Steward was not in a council. Amid the flurry of celebration activity and the arrival of the Swans, she had neglected to ask Ecthelion if he would receive the children at the end of the parade. There was little chance he would decline, but she thought it best not to presume. Hathol was standing near the door of the Tower, watching the preparations, and waved when he saw her approach. 'Hathol, I must speak to the Lord Steward,' she said. 'Is he in council?'
'No, though he is reviewing accounts and has asked not to be disturbed, save for very important business. But I think he would not mind a visit from you, my lady.' Hathol led the way to the council chamber, motioning for Finduilas to wait outside. In just a few heartbeats, he reappeared and held the door open for her.
Ecthelion stood at the head of the table, looking tense. 'Finduilas, to what do I owe this visit?' His tone was odd, not exactly irritated but clearly not welcoming.
You've interrupted important work, goose. Be humble. 'To beg forgiveness for being thoughtless, my Lord Steward,' she shamefacedly said.
He cocked his head. 'Thoughtless? On what?' A smile came to his face, though his frame was still taut. 'I cannot believe you are thoughtless, my dear.'
'I meant to ask you several days ago, but with the preparations and then my family arriving and so many ladies asking to see me, I forgot. Please say you will be my master of ceremonies here in the Citadel!'
The smile broadened and his shoulders relaxed. What did you think I was going to say? 'Gladly! You scarcely need to ask me to do something like that. Just send a servant to fetch me when I am needed.'
Curiosity got the best of her. 'You looked worried, my lord, when I came in. Did you expect different words from me?' Ecthelion began to shake his head, then paused, looking at her a long while. His eyes dropped and he nodded. 'What?'
'The opposite, that I was not to appear.'
Finduilas took a seat at the table, patting the chair next to her so the Steward would not retreat to the head. 'Why would you think that?'
'I quarreled with Denethor a few weeks ago. You have not been to see me since. I feared he had forbidden you to bring Boromir to visit.'
'No, he has said nothing of this quarrel. It is my own distraction that is at fault.' Finduilas laid a hand over his on the table. 'Ecthelion, your bargain is with me. If you have displeased me, I will tell you.'
'I feared that was what you came to speak to me about.'
'No. I love my husband, but I know that he can be unreasonable and cause a quarrel where none exists.'
'One exists, and he was right to upbraid me.'
'Tell me of it, then, so I may judge.'
'I asked his forgiveness.'
'And he quarreled over this?' Finduilas shook her head.
'I have thought on many things as this festival drew near,' Ecthelion continued in a soft, calm voice, 'mostly on what a poor... wretched... father I have been. In my crimes against my own blood, I have shown my true heart. I told you I love my children.'
'Yes, I remember.'
'I am proud of them, too. All of them are excellent in some way. Denethor will be the greatest Steward Gondor has ever known. There is no one who knows more than Aiavalë or who has taken better care of the archives.' The Steward's expression became wry. 'There is no more cunning counselor, none better at betrayal, than Maiaberiel. It is an excellence, if not exactly something to be proud of.'
'I understand how you mean that. What has this to do with forgiveness?'
She waited patiently for his answer. His voice was barely above a whisper. 'I asked his forgiveness for all the wrongs I have done to him. He said he would never grant it, and that he had naught but contempt for me. I swear, before you now and before those who watch from afar, I would lay down my life to earn Denethor's good regard.' The wry expression returned. 'Though I doubt even my death would raise his estimation of me.'
'No, it would not, so you should not think or say foolish things,' she firmly replied. 'I will not disagree with what you have said, Ecthelion, but neither will I indulge your self-pity.' He looked at her questioningly. 'Boromir loves you. He refuses to call my father "Grandpa" because that means only you to him.' Ecthelion smiled. 'It is for you to keep his good regard. I amend our bargain. You may come to see him, and not wait upon me to bring him. You may not enter the house. That ban is not for me to lift.'
The Steward took her hands and lightly kissed the ends of her fingers. 'I accept my parole, Finduilas. Why do you grant this to me?'
A fool's behest. Not to excuse, but to encourage. 'I want you to be a grandfather Boromir should love. And your other grandchildren. You will have two more by year-end.'
'Lark will bear by August, and Morvorin and Luinmir expect their first child late, in November.' Finduilas stood and kissed his cheek. 'I must return.' She paused at the door. 'Four years ago, I thought you vile for what you did to those I love. I have not yet completely forgiven you. For Boromir's sake, I will try.'
Minas Tirith, 4 July, 2980 T.A.
'I really can't...' she began.
'You must!' Wren declared. 'This is the last time we will all be together until Yule, and we won't be able to ride then.'
'But...' she tried to protest.
'Yes, please say you will,' Moraen entreated, Aldwyn and Hilda adding their pleas to hers. 'There must be someone to witness what really happens so these braggarts are kept honest!' The Rohirric princesses' pleas turned to squawks of mock outrage.
'There is so much I must attend to, and...' she sternly said.
'I won't go unless you do,' Aiavalë said, and that decided the issue.
Thus it was that Finduilas found herself walking down the mountain in the early morning on her way to a lesson in how to shoot an arrow from horseback. She doubted Wren needed much practice, but it was a good excuse for escaping the crowded bustle of the City. Aiavalë was very keen to learn as she had not had the benefit of Aldwyn's tutelage in the spring, and Moraen declared herself ready to try. Beregar and Borthand walked with them, and Hilda insisted that they should invite the heir of Langstrand, Golasgil, to attend. This led to much teasing from Aldwyn and red-faced retorts from Hilda, though it was all in Rohirric. Guardsmen kept onlookers away from the Lady with a stern look and a hand raised in warning, though there were few upon the streets at this hour. They broke their fast at The Messenger's Rest while dinner bundles were packed. Golasgil had joined them by then. Finduilas had always liked him, for he was cheerful and open-hearted, and he had gone from being a boy to a handsome young man since the last time she saw him. From the way his eyes stayed on Hilda, she wagered the princess was unlikely to return to Rohan. Morwen will be pleased.
At the stables, Finduilas argued briefly with Beregar about how many guards to bring. He wanted a half dozen, she wanted none. 'Huan, we ride upon the Pelennor and in the open fields. There is naught there but grass, a wall and a whorehouse.'
'There are many strangers about because of the festival. Lord Denethor would insist...'
'He's not here, so we need not listen to him,' Wren interrupted with a scowl. 'We're all bearing bows and know how to use them. Or are you and Borthand so poor that we will need to defend you?' Beregar reluctantly relented.
As soon as they were clear of the busy lanes near the City, they let the horses gallop. Hilda and Aldwyn challenged Finduilas to a race, pitting Gull against their mearas mares, Juniper and Stormwind. It was close, but Gull prevailed. They came to the far fields by mid-morning and spent until noontide learning how to fire while moving. The men were told that they had to keep watch. Beregar did, but Borthand was more interested in the archery and Golasgil in Hilda. Finduilas never managed to hit anything, but Moraen landed two arrows and Aiavalë did well. Wren was almost as good as the shield maidens.
When it was time to eat, they scrambled to the top of the Rammas so they could view the river and Ithilien beyond. The Ethel Dúath were hidden by the summer haze, and it was almost as though Mordor did not exist. Finduilas motioned for Aiavalë to bring her dinner and sit apart from the others. The Archivist sat with a leg dropped over the side of the wall, some hair escaping from her braid to make a silver halo around her face, and a powerful light illuminated her from within. You're happy. It seemed odd that one lonely for so long, then widowed so quickly, could be, yet she was. 'Lady Lore?'
'Have you spoken to my mother yet?'
Aiavalë looked away, suddenly shy. 'Yes, the day after loëndë.' She glanced at Finduilas. 'She told you, didn't she?'
'Yes. It made me glad to know who you chose. I have known him all my life, and he has always been dear to me.'
'I know. He spoke lovingly of you, of all your house. He told me of taking Denethor to Dol Amroth, how proud he was of your choice. "A Sea-lord of noble mien, one who bears the glory of ancient days," Îbal said to me.'
Finduilas felt flattered that Îbal had approved of Denethor. 'Will you go there?'
'Yes. I will go with them and shall return before it gets cold.' Aiavalë fidgeted. 'Have you told Denethor?'
'No, sister, nor will I. I think it is for you to tell him, though he will probably guess once he knows where you are going.'
'If he hadn't been such a brat, I would have told him,' the Archivist grumbled.
Finduilas laughed and shook her head. 'You two! Always bickering. Give it to him as a gift, but make him swear to keep it secret. That will please and aggravate him in equal measure.'
Aiavalë grinned. 'A wicked plan, Alquallë. I like it!' She motioned towards the others with her chin. 'What has them gawking?' The other women were all standing on the wall, looking at Ithilien. Wren was pointing to something and gesturing. 'Let's find out.' When they drew near, Aiavalë said 'What? Do you see Orcs?'
'There aren't any left in Ithilien,' Wren archly replied. 'Marlong said so.'
'So what do you see?' Finduilas asked to forestall an argument between the two.
'One of my dower properties. Marlong pointed it out to me once. Look right there, past the first hill...' Finduilas followed Wren's directions and soon made out an orchard more from the pattern of the trees than anything else. It was too far to see the ruined buildings, though Wren stoutly claimed she could see them.
'It may be a good holding,' Hilda said, 'but you'll never walk there. Have you other lands on this side of the river?'
Wren nodded, staring at the property. 'I will, too, walk on my land,' she abruptly said. 'There's no Orcs and no reason not to look upon it. I'm going. Now.' She scrambled down the wall and went to her horse, the other women hurrying after. Wren rejected all of arguments that she should not go. 'There are healers who go to gather herbs, and there has not been so much as a skirmish anywhere in Ithilien since March. I am not proposing to live there, just look at it and be back here before evening.'
'You are not going alone,' Aiavalë said and started saddling her own steed. Aldwyn and Hilda exchanged a grin and whistled for their mares. With a sigh, Finduilas called for Gull.
Beregar was aghast when she told him what they intended to do. 'Let her go by herself!' he said. 'It is too dangerous for you to cross the river.' When Finduilas ignored him and started to mount Gull, Beregar grabbed the mare's reins. 'No, my lady, I cannot allow this.'
'You won't allow it? It is not for you to choose, Huan.'
'You're not going!' Finduilas looked at him coldly, making him duck, but he would not release Gull's reins. The mare tossed and jerked her head to free herself. Finally, she nipped him sharply on the wrist which forced him to let go.
'I leave it to Gull to decide.' Finduilas explained what they intended to the mare, who listened closely. She stamped her forefoot several times as she thought, then snorted, nodding her head. 'See? Gull would not go into danger.'
In short order, they were all riding towards the garrison. The guards shouted for the gates to be opened as soon as they recognized Finduilas, and the new captain, Anbar, was waiting for her in the court. Halmir was with him and bowed to her deeply. When she explained what they wished to do, Anbar shook his head. 'No, my lady, I am sorry. I cannot permit you to ride beyond the bridge.'
'You do not have the land secured?' she smoothly asked. The corner of Halmir's mouth twitched.
'Yes, of course...'
'And do you not escort healers and herbalists much further out, and on foot, than we wish to go?'
'That is so, but...'
'So I do not see why we cannot ride to see a nearby farmstead and return at once,' she finished with a winning smile and a sharp gaze. 'And we do know how to use these bows.' Anbar tried to formulate another reason, but Halmir interrupted.
'You, girl,' he said to Wren, 'this is your farm, yes?'
'Tell me exactly where it is. If you can't, you aren't going. I don't want men wasting time trying to find nothing.'
'Cross the bridge over the river. Go to the second lane north and follow it. Cross the old stone bridge and look to the right. A furlong past, there is a track marked by a great oak with a long broken limb. Follow that track a half mile, past the stand of myrtles. The north and west walls of the farmhouse are still standing.'
Halmir nodded sharply. 'I know the place. The north wall fell in the winter.' He looked at Anbar. 'We can be there and back within three hours.' Beregar made a sound of annoyance and shook his head. Borthand and Golasgil, on the other hand, looked eager to go.
'I don't think the High Warden...' Anbar began, tying to regain control of his command.
'If we don't take them there, they'll just do something stupid like try to row across the river. Let them see there's nothing left,' Halmir said.
'Well, Lieutenant, if you think...'
'A patrol was going to set out this afternoon anyway,' the Lost continued, 'so they can leave now and go that way. We'll follow in a half hour. Two guards per girl.' The time passed quickly and soon they were riding across the bridge.
As soon as the gate thumped shut behind them, Finduilas knew she had made a mistake. There was a smell rising from the warm stone of the ruins that roiled her stomach. At the edges of her vision, the ancient city rebuilt itself, as it had the last time she looked upon it, and eyes peered out at her from the shadows. Under them, Anduin rumbled against stone, and in that she thought she heard the grinding rocks of a drowning island. She was relieved to escape the confines of the bridge and trot along the old Ithilien road. Halmir set a brisk pace, Wren beside him, and they slowed only when they came to the crossroad. There, they had to ride single file, for the lane was overgrown, barely more than a rut leading through wood and meadow. Unlike Anórien, Ithilien was hilly, and all was climbing or descending. The oak appeared as it should just beyond the stone bridge, and the track led past the half crumbled wall surrounding the farmhouse. Golasgil and Borthand were told to draw water for the horses from a well while the soldiers spread out to secure a boundary. Wren led the women to look at the remains of the farm. Beregar stayed within a pace of Finduilas the entire time, eyes searching the surrounding land for danger.
There was not much to see, of course, but Wren was determined to examine all of it - the foundation, the broken chimney, the ruined out-buildings, and what remained of garden and orchard. 'Don't go far,' Halmir said. 'There may not be Orcs, but a wild boar is just as dangerous.' Finduilas soon tired of looking and walked back towards the track, Gull at her side. Beregar trailed them a few yards back. She wished Wren would hurry. It was foolish, of course, but Finduilas felt watched. There are soldiers watching you, and Huan always watches.
When she reached the faint path, Finduilas saw an odd tree several rods further on. It was beautiful, with pale slender limbs and dark green leaves. A few fruits, small and golden, peeked through the leaves. Curious, Finduilas walked over to it. The fruit was even more beautiful close up, for each delicate globe was brushed with rose. The scent was enticing, but she did not pick one for fear it might not be wholesome. She took a handful of leaves, for they smelled almost as good as the fruit, and put them in her pouch.
Far away, east and south of where they stood, a horn blew, sounding a staccato alarm. Gull's head shot up, ears pointed in the direction of the sound, and she neighed. Get back to the others, goose! When Finduilas looked for Beregar and the path, however, she saw neither one. The others had disappeared. Finduilas could not hear anything except Gull, her own breathing, and the wind. No bird songs or insect chirps could be heard. The light itself was diffuse, and she could not tell the direction of the sun. Finduilas knew she should call for Beregar or Halmir, but feared to attract attention. There is nothing here! But where is here? It was some kind of waking dream - only the tree remained the same. Perhaps I imagined the horn, but, no, Gull heard it, too. The sense of being watched increased.
'We're not staying here to be caught. Come on.' Finduilas turned her back on the White Tree and walked forward, Gull next to her. She might not be able to board one of the ships, but that did not mean she was going to meekly return to her prison inside the City. The demon pursued her, of course, but she had led him on such a hunt as he had not...
Finduilas stopped and grabbed at the saddle to keep from falling down, for her legs would not bear her weight. He sees me. In the palantír. I am watched. He sees me now. So many parts of her dreams fell into place. What other woman do I resemble, besides the northern Elf? Míriel? She whirled around and looked at the tree. What else did she know of? Another scion of Nimloth? Míriel was the heir, not Pharazôn. To her would have been vouchsafed knowledge of where such a treasure could be found. No more a hole in the world. Finduilas started back towards the tree, intending to seize a fruit. As she walked forward, a wave of freezing cold crushed her to the ground, leaving her retching. Gull screamed, placing herself between Finduilas and whatever approached from the east.
'Over here!' Something blessedly human shouted behind her. As she struggled to her feet, Beregar and Halmir came crashing through the undergrowth, several bow-wielding soldiers right on their heels. One of the men cried out at the feeling of cold. Halmir wasted no time. He grabbed Finduilas and flung her onto Gull's back. 'Get her out of here!' Gull needed no encouragement. She charged forward, not pausing until she rejoined the other riders. The horses were stamping and whinnying in fear. Finduilas knew the icy stalker was still seeking her, picking its way through the dappled shade under the trees. Before it could reach them, Halmir, Beregar and the soldiers were back, mounted, and they were going down the track to the lane as quickly as they could. When they made the lane, Halmir urged them into a gallop, ignoring the uneven path with its threat of falls and broken limbs. They did not slow until they reached the bridge.
As soon as they were inside the garrison, Aiavalë pushed her way to Finduilas's side. 'Where were you? You disappeared!' The other women joined in the questions, but Finduilas shushed them.
Turning to Halmir, Finduilas asked, 'What was the alarm?' All around them, the garrison was a flurry of motion as men armed and formed up to march east.
'Something came out of the Vale,' he said brusquely. It took Finduilas a moment to realize that the strange look on the man's face was fear. In the next moment she understood he was not afraid of whatever they had encountered in the glades. He was afraid of her. 'Go home. Go away. It follows you. It can't help itself. None of them can.' The Lost twisted in his saddle and pointed at Beregar. 'You! Some dog you are. You can't follow a simple track. Take the women back to the City and don't show your face outside its walls again!' With that, Halmir wheeled his horse and began shouting orders to the men assembling in the court.
Beregar kept them at a lope the entire way back to Minas Tirith. His face was pale, his expression grim. Finduilas knew that Denethor would be outraged at Beregar for allowing her to go into danger, and the Hound would only agree with the master. The sun was declining but still fairly high in the sky by the time they reached the gates. She pulled Beregar aside while the stable hands took their mounts.
'Listen to me, Huan. You are to say nothing to Denethor until I have spoken to him.'
'You just disappeared!' he whispered. 'I was right there, following, and I looked away down the track as I crossed it. It was but an instant and you were gone! No prints, nothing. What happened?'
'Something that was meant to happen, Beregar. I must explain it to Denethor, for it is no fault of yours.'
'I should not have allowed this, though you cursed me to my dying day,' he said, and she thought he was going to weep.
'No, Huan. Say nothing. It was not your doing.' On the climb to the Citadel, Finduilas silenced any questions from the women with an icy stare. Denethor was still in the Tower so she waited for him in his study. When he came to the doorway, something must have been in her face, for he shut and locked the door behind him. He did not come to sit at her feet, but took the chair opposite her and waited.
'I did a very foolish thing, Denethor, but I have learned much from it.'
'Swear to me you shall do no harm to Beregar.'
He watched her for several heartbeats, then nodded. 'I swear I shall do no harm to Beregar.'
'I went to Ithilien. Wren wished to visit one of her dower holdings very near the garrison. It seemed safe, given that the healers can go there. Halmir led us and we took a strong guard. Once there, I dreamed. I walked in Númenor, not Ithilien, and I saw the White Tree. As I stood there, the Enemy cast his eyes upon me through a palantír and sent servants to capture me. Almost was I seized, struck down by an icy breath, but Gull faced down the dark creature and Halmir and Beregar fought through the tangles of sorcery to free me.' Denethor's hands were gripping the arms of his chair tightly, skin white and taut over his bones. Finduilas reached into her pouch and pulled out some of the leaves. They were bruised, but the rich scent clung to them. 'Here are leaves of Nimloth as proof of what I saw.'
Her hands began to shake. 'The armies I have dreamed, those pursuing me, it is not just fancy. His eye is upon me...' Finduilas dropped her face into her hands and moaned. In a second, Denethor's arms were about her. She lifted her face to his and kissed him. He picked her up and carried her to his bed. Their hands on each other were frantic. She did not care that the lanyard touched her, nor when it turned to thorns and clawed though her feathers as they moved against each other. The dark walls of the cave hid them from the evil, and the stars from her mantle rose up to illuminate the rocky arch above them. All around was the roar of the Sea.
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