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Hands of the King: 71. Havens
Western Gondor north of the Green Hills, 2 May, 2982 T.A.
Their original plan had been to travel to Tarlang's Neck, then follow the Morthond south to its confluence with the Ringló and from there go to Edhellond. Lady Arluin and Lord Hirgon had pleaded with Denethor and Finduilas to return with them to Pinnath Gelin, and take the coastal road to Dol Amroth. 'Please, my lady,' Arluin entreated, 'the people of the western valleys so wish to see you and have you bless their farms and families. They will grieve if you do not look upon them!' So it was that they forded the Morthond just south of Erech and set out across the gentle rolling hills of western Gondor. Denethor said he thought it had as much to do with keeping Ivorwen in Imrahil's company as for love of their own, and Finduilas allowed as to how that might be true, but it made the other reasons no less valid.
Their pace was very slow, for Arluin did not exaggerate the desire of the country folk to see the Lady. Families from leagues north set up camps along the road, waiting for Finduilas to pass. They stopped at every one to grant the people their wish of speaking to her. When they came upon a village, there would be a celebration with music and minstrels and the best dishes the goodwives could prepare. Boromir made new friends every day and was almost as popular with the crowds as his mother. Denethor contented himself with the occasional serious conversation with a mayor or headman about bandits or taxes or the prospects of war. Just as they did in Minas Tirith, the guardsmen lent their strength and cheer to doing good deeds. At one stop, they helped raise a barn, at another, they rebuilt a stone wall for a widow, and so forth. Finduilas would not allow them to accept more than a mug of ale for their labor, telling the farmer or goodwife to do something kind to another less fortunate than themselves in the name of the Lady.
Finduilas had given Aldwyn King Théoden's letter the day after the betrothal. Afterwards, the girl had taken her horse out and had not returned until just after sundown. The set of her chin and shoulders made Denethor think of Queen Morwen, though her expression was more like to her father's thoughtful mien than to her mother's proud air.
'I do not know, friend,' Finduilas had answered when he questioned her, 'for Aldwyn will say nothing save that she is thinking upon her brother's letter. I let her know that you had received a letter, too, asking for her return.'
Some rain had fallen the first few days of their travel, but it had been fair for almost two weeks. As the pace was slow, they mostly walked. Finduilas never put saddle or bridle on Gull anymore, not wanting the mare to be burdened. If she wished to ride, all she had to do was call Gull and the mare would trot over and kneel down to allow Finduilas to mount. The sight of the Lady riding the glorious mare without strap or spur awed the country folk. Boromir taught Finiel to ride by having her sit behind him on Boots, Aeluin and Beregar walking to either side to make sure neither fell off. Halmir often walked next to Beregar. The two rarely spoke, but it seemed to Denethor that they took comfort in each other's company. It was not unusual in the evenings to see the two men, silent and stern, sitting together, each whittling something that would turn into a whistle or a small toy for one of the children. The only thing that made either smile was the children. Boromir had learned that Halmir knew many stories perfectly suited for a small boy to hear, of trolls and goblins and brave men, and could be coaxed to tell one while a small wooden figure took shape between calloused fingers and sharp blade. For Finiel, the Lost wove tales of beautiful and clever princesses who outwitted dragons and witches.
Ivorwen had been claimed by Moraen and Aldwyn for their forays into the surrounding countryside, for they found the pace to be too slow. Hirluin and Imrahil were their defenders, while Brandir and Aiavalë chaperoned. It pleased Denethor to see Brandir and Aiavalë so carefree, though he was somewhat mystified as to why they so enjoyed each other's company.
'That is easy to see,' Finduilas had said with a smirk. 'Lady Lore can speak of everything for hours on end, while my dear Fool can do the same with nothing, so they never run out of something to discuss.' Her smile faded. 'And they are alike. Both in love beyond the circles of the world, but without their loves until that time comes.'
The only drawback to the long journey was that Lord Hirgon was as dull as tarnished silver and had decided that only Denethor was noble enough for him to speak to. Being the chosen conversation partner of someone who had little to say and a great deal of time in which to say it encouraged Denethor to find reasons to always be riding off on Gaerhûl to inspect this or find out the truth of that. Hirgon was an indifferent horseman at best and was not comfortable around Gaerhûl, particularly after Denethor had Aldwyn repeat the story of the stallion's bloody youth, so he rarely accompanied Denethor.
Boromir, on the other hand, never wished to be left behind. If Denethor was simply trying to avoid Hirgon, he would have Boromir ride Boots. Once out of sight, they could amble as they pleased, the pony easily keeping up with the war horse. If there really was something Denethor wished to see, he would put Boromir before him on Gaerhûl and they would run. 'Faster! Faster, Papa!' Boromir would shout, leaning into the wind of their passage, arms out like a hawk's wings.
They were coming back today after viewing a small bridge, Boromir singing a song Halmir had taught him, when they met the young folk returning from their own adventure. Hirluin and Imrahil rode to either side of Ivorwen. There could be no mistaking the girl's flirtation with Imrahil. Aldwyn and Moraen ignored the three, busying themselves with a discussion of bows and bosoms, namely, how to keep the latter out of the way when using the former. Denethor dropped back to ride with Brandir and Aiavalë, not wishing Boromir to hear the conversation. Borthand and Mírwen brought up the rear. The caravan had already set up camp for the evening by the time they got back. Denethor sent Boromir off with Brandir and Aiavalë, saying he would see to the horses. A few guardsmen came over to take the young nobles' steeds. While Denethor brushed down Gaerhûl, he noticed that Borthand and Mírwen were still there, a few horses away, quietly flirting with each other. Moraen called Mírwen's name and the maid hurried away. Denethor finished with Gaerhûl and told a guardsman to see to the other two horses. 'Come with me,' he said to Borthand.
Denethor led them to a small rise not far from camp where he could see if anyone approached. Borthand had matured since their first meeting on a rainy street in Minas Tirith. The youth had grown at least a foot and was beginning to fill out in the chest. The ridiculous mustache of last winter was becoming a neat beard. Anyone looking upon Borthand, Imrahil and Hirluin would think him the latter's companion, not their servant. To be cruel now is to be kind later. Denethor stared at him coldly. 'Master Mutt, what is your father's name?'
Borthand's cheeks went crimson and his fists clenched, but his voice was steady. 'I do not know, my lord.'
'I see. What is Mírwen's father's name?' That made Borthand look away, shrugging. 'You are the children of whores and know not your sires, yet you court each other.' Another shrug, but the boy's head dropped. 'Look at me.' Borthand's piteous expression almost made Denethor soften his words. No. He must understand his danger. 'Until you know your sire's name, there is no woman you may court without risk of abomination. None.' He left Borthand to think on this.
The evening remained balmy even after sunset. Supper was roasted lamb, barley and vegetables cooked in pots buried in the embers, and fresh bread from the farm just over the hill. Singing and stories whiled the time until the meal was ready and all ate heartily. Denethor kissed Finduilas's hand. 'Are you tired, Alquallë?'
'A little. Why?'
'Would you care for a stroll? I'm too full yet to sleep.'
'I would enjoy a walk with you.' They walked up the hill towards the farm, an arm around each other's waist. A few minutes later they heard something behind them and Boromir hurried up, taking Finduilas's hand. At the top of the rise, they stopped. Denethor sat at the foot of a tree, pulling Finduilas into his arms. Boromir curled up tightly against her, allowing Denethor to hold them both.
Before them stretched Gondor, an occasional twinkle of lantern or fire announcing a farm. The stars illumed the land with a soft light and the waning moon added his own luster. In his arms, the two he loved more than life itself relaxed in his embrace. It was an odd sensation, to be alert and in repose at the same time, perfectly aware of everything around him yet feel no lack or want, to have no wish for aught but this. It is enough.
'What is enough?'
He looked at her, the starlight smoothing away all lines, the moonlight making perfect gems of her eyes. With a tender kiss, he said, 'This. Now. You and him and what I can hold right here. It is enough.' He kissed her again. 'I am happy.'
Fortress of Langstrand, 15 May, 2982 T.A.
Lord Gundor's keep sat upon a headland overlooking the Bay of Belfalas, but that was the end of its resemblance to the keep of Dol Amroth. The fortress of Langstrand was plain and solid, an outpost rather than a center. It was to Dol Amroth as Aglarond was to Angrenost. Still, it was a well-wrought fortress and had been one of the few places on the coast to have withstood the Corsairs invasion in 2758. For his valor in sustaining the defense of Langstrand when the old lord and his sons fell during the terrible winter, Steward Beren gave Lord Gundor's forefather Galdor the lordship of the fief. There was no harbor close to the keep, though a large one had been built in the bay to the west. The land along the shore was high and bare, scoured by the winds that came from the Sea, and the people who were not fishermen lived inland along the foothills, growing food for their own use and raising pigs, sheep and goats for meat and hides for trade. A few adventurous clans near the harbor were sea traders - or pirates, as need required. The wealth of the fief lay in the oyster beds in a few sheltered coves that yielded up the finest pearls of Gondor.
Denethor had spoken at length with Lord Gundor about his pearls and whether there were any that could go north to the dwarves in exchange for gems and fine metals. Gundor was intrigued, but uncertain how they could sustain trade overland through wilderness. 'After all,' he said, 'on the Sea, you can sail around your foes, and can always follow the stars.'
'The dwarves themselves have already come to Minas Tirith, seeking to establish trade routes. In time, they will come more often, but it is to our advantage to take trade to them. There are safer roads to the west of Hithaeglir. A number of traders take that route. Pearls could be taken to a well-known crossroads trading town in the north where the dwarves do their business.'
'If we were not the ones having to do the travel...' Gundor mused.
'...certainly not into the east unless the dwarves can secure that way as they intend,' Denethor agreed, 'but perhaps the westward route.'
'If we wait for the dwarves to come to Gondor...'
'...we may wait a long time. I doubt their trips will be common, given what Master Nori said. Meeting them at this trade town may be best until they are coming on their own.'
'If you think so...'
'Yes,' Denethor firmly replied, 'I think so. Pick out a set of pearls you think would sell well and let me buy them. I will take the risk on the first try.' To this Gundor had happily agreed. The pearls would provide excellent cover for a spy who would have good reason to be staying in one place without a great deal of baggage, and would let him ask questions about people's comings and goings.
Lady Beriel had been trying to do her own trading with the other treasures of Langstrand, her daughters Míriel and Dúnmir. Ivorwen was not pleased by the competition for Imrahil's attention. The lady had not remained behind in Pinnath Gelin, saying she had promised to return to Princess Luinil's care once her brother's betrothal had been done. For his part, Imrahil appeared to enjoy being wooed, flirting with all three women whenever he was in their company. The young ladies of Langstrand fell short of Ivorwen's beauty, but Denethor thought them less false in their demeanor.
'I hope your mother is not planning to wed your brother to Ivorwen,' he said to Finduilas one night as they lay in bed, Boromir a limp lump between them.
'I think Mother intends for Imrahil to pick his own wife, friend, but why do you object to Ivorwen?'
'She wishes to marry the Prince of Dol Amroth. If that means marrying Imrahil, she will do so.'
Finduilas was silent, then sighed. 'I don't think the woman is quite that calculating, but I admit to thinking less of her as I know her better.'
They had one more day here in the keep before setting out for Dol Amroth. This morning there had been a low tide. He had gone with Finduilas and Boromir to a rugged beach not far from the keep and they had looked at the odd creatures and beautiful shells left behind by the retreating waves. This afternoon, he brought the Númenórean bow to the archery range and practiced. Halmir and Aldwyn joined him. Beregar, Boromir and Hilda sat behind them, cheering every good shot. Hilda was extremely pregnant and due to deliver within the next few weeks
Denethor was shamed at how he had allowed his archery skills to deteriorate. Twice he missed the butt entirely and he could not blame his aim upon the bow, for he knew it well enough now. He did not think he could bear to wield another after having held this one in his hands. Ordinary bows felt crude and clumsy next to its sleek perfection. All things from Númenor were like that; a breathtaking combination of beauty and efficiency. The glossy curves of the bow echoed the arches of the bridge. The elegant socket that joined the two halves reminded Denethor of the sockets of stone holding the haven gates of Pelargir. He wondered where the pityatír had come from, whether it had sat in a chest in a keep or had been retrieved from the ocean like the sand-worn bottle Boromir had found that morning, before being traded for something its owner could use, like lamp oil or a net. Denethor took careful aim and let fly his arrow. It landed solidly in the center of the target. He had not seen any unbroken arrows after Gaerhûl trampled the corpses in the forest and there had not been time to search, unfortunately. It would have been interesting to have an original arrow as well and see how they were crafted. For now, an ordinary shaft would do.
Halmir shot with his usual excellence, missing very few. In the last week, he had been giving Boromir "sword" lessons with some staves he had fashioned into practice weapons. Boromir had made a drawing of a sword and had written down the name of the parts. He read them off every night, though by now he had them memorized. Halmir made Boromir treat the sticks lashed together with a leather thong as though it was the finest steel, checking it for damage before practice, wiping it off afterwards, and keeping it hung upon a peg in the wagon when it was not being used. The Steward received regular reports on his grandson's sword fighting prowess.
His arrows were spent and his arms and shoulders ached from the exertion. Thorongil would say you should be mucking... Denethor gave his head a shake to be rid of the traitorous thought. I will practice until I am fighting shape again.
As he disassembled the bow and put it into its pouch, Aldwyn stopped in front of him. 'Lord Denethor, may I have a word with you?' He nodded, gesturing for her to speak. 'I will not be continuing on with you and Lady Finduilas.' Denethor straightened. Aldwyn's expression was calm, though there was a sharp spot of red on each cheek. 'I will remain here, with my sister. I wish to be here when her baby is born.'
'Hilda must be glad you will be with her at that time. You will join us afterwards in Dol Amroth?'
'Will you be rejoining us at all?'
'Your lord brother, your king, has requested your return to Rohan when this journey has ended.'
'I know, so it shall not end. I have sent a letter to home saying that I will remain with Hilda.'
'For how long?'
'Forever, if need be.'
'And what is your need?'
'That is my business.'
'You are Finduilas's ward. Does she know...'
'She knows and approves of me remaining with Hilda to help with the baby.'
Denethor watched Aldwyn walk away with Hilda. Boromir was thoroughly absorbed in Halmir's explanation of a bow, so he left the boy with the Lost and sought out Finduilas. She was sitting tailor style on their bed, walking desk in her lap, writing letters. 'Aldwyn told me she is not going home,' he said without preamble.
Finduilas barely looked up. 'Morwen has sent a letter saying Aldwyn must not return. I took the opportunity to hint that it would be easier for Aldwyn to resist this command were Morwen to come here as well.'
Denethor sat next to her. 'For now, I have only been asked to tell Théoden we are back in Minas Tirith. If Théoden commands me to return her, I will have to.'
'Mmm.' Finduilas finished whatever she was writing and sealed the note. 'I have told her that. She will not ask you to defy her brother. I hope Théoden is wise enough not to let this become a matter of state.' She shook her head. 'Neither sister wants to wed Gríma, though Aldwyn might have been willing before last summer when the man showed his preference for Théodwyn. She admitted that much to me yesterday when she told me her plan. Aldwyn said she has no wish ever to return to Rohan.'
'Did she speak of Gethron?'
'No, and I made no mention of it. That may be the price of her defiance.'
'What do you mean?'
'Théoden may not require her to accept his choice, if only for fear that she will shame them all rather than submit, but the price may be that he will refuse her any other choice.'
Denethor sighed and lay back on the bed. 'I will never do something that stupid again.' Finduilas snickered so he slapped her leg. 'This is serious!'
'Yes, it is, but with what Aldwyn and Morwen have told me, it probably would have come to this anyway.' 'It would have been better had Morwen been the one to broach this to Théoden, but it is done and now out of our hands. Where is the cub?'
'Wait a moment.' Finduilas wrote a small note, sealed it and left the room with it. When she came back, she locked the door. 'Halmir will take Boromir and Boots out for the rest of the afternoon.'
Denethor sighed again, loosening his belt. 'Why don't we simply hire a town crier to announce to the keep that we are lying together? It would be faster than sending out notes.'
Finduilas began undressing. 'See? You do have good ideas. No one would bother us.'
'True. We could give him some details,' Denethor sat up to pull off his boots, ' "This afternoon, the Lady will be supine, legs up, while the Lord proceeds lustily,"' a boot went sailing into a corner, ' "until they reach a rousing finish with time for a short nap," ' the second boot joined its mate, ' "before the evening meal." ' Finduilas was giggling madly. He stood to be rid of his trousers. ' "On the morrow, the Lady will be astride." ' The rest of his clothes were gone in short order. Denethor pulled her onto the bed and pinned her, kissing her until her giggles stopped. 'Won't you let me please you?' he asked softly.
'If I may do the same for you.'
Denethor shifted so they lay side by side and he could stroke her. For weeks now, he had Seen the mariner's mark on her, that small spot that kept her from being his entirely. When it was there, she was apart from him and he was left wanting. 'Why do you want to?'
'Because I imagine it would please you much as you please me. Friend, you do not mind if I put my hands on you. You place yourself inside of me already. I do not understand why you object.'
'What if.. if I spill?' He felt his face redden.
'And if you do? '
'It would taste terrible.'
Finduilas snorted. 'You think I have not tasted you before?' He growled and rolled on his back. 'Denethor, will you not let me try, just once, as I allowed you?'
The mark was darker than when the journey started. Perhaps it was larger, too. They would be free of all claims upon them save each others'. 'If you... Very well.'
She moved on top of him and let her tongue twine with his, pressing her hips against him. He kept his eyes shut. As she had weeks before, Finduilas took her time rousing him, using her mouth, hands and dampness of her furrow to leave him trembling. When she came to his crotch, at first she simply kissed him lightly, placing her lips gently against his thickened cock. She cupped his balls and rubbed her tongue against the base of his shaft, pressing firmly, making him groan. Very steadily she worked her way upwards; he did not try to be quiet.
Finduilas paused. 'Friend? Look at me.' Denethor slitted his eyes. Holding his gaze in her own, she lightly touched the head of his cock with the tip of her tongue, then stopped. Then a little more, then stop. Then a stroke of the underside of her tongue around the side and stop. She began to move again, but stopped. 'More?' Denethor nodded. 'I can't hear you.'
'Yes, more.' He swallowed. 'Please me.'
The next sound from him would have put a town crier to shame. Her womb had never moved upon him like this, could envelop him but not stroke him. Her hand squeezed the length of him while her lips and tongue caressed his crown. Only when he was near to spilling did he push her away. It was almost a minute before he trusted himself to move and not end.
She was supine later, drenched and unresisting, the mark nowhere to be Seen. Now, she was his. Where her hands and mouth had taken command of him, moving him as they wished even as they made him long for more, her womb now accepted what he gave. He mated her swiftly, needing release and to be filled in return. Mine.
Dol Amroth, 1 June, 2982 T.A.
What should have been a seven day journey had taken twice as long, for the falas had turned out to show their fealty to their queen. The road from Langstrand to Edhellond was busier than it had been since the time of the kings as the fisher folk and hill men converged to watch their Lady's passage. Once to the shore of Cobas Haven, the road was more a lane through a vast festival than a highway for travelers. Colorful tents had been pitched, parades were waiting, and everywhere people cheered and called out for the Lady to bless them. Her device was everywhere black and white feathers could be placed. Every village, no matter how mean, had set out a feast in Finduilas's honor and she could not refuse to at least sit next to the headman and take a sip and a bite of what was offered. The final mile to the gates of Dol Amroth was an unbroken assembly. A hundred Swan Knights acted as their escort, singing as they approached the city gates in the mid-afternoon.
Denethor kept a watchful eye on Finduilas. The constant demands of the last two weeks of travel were taking their toll upon her. Her eyes had dark shadows under them and she sat with her shoulders bowed. When he held her at night, he could tell that she had lost weight. Boromir had noticed her flagging spirits and had taken to telling people to give her peace, placing his small solid form in between her and the supplicants. Two nights ago, she would not eat supper, but had drunk a mug of her special tea. Boromir had not left her side since then, eschewing even Halmir's tales in preference for sitting with his mother. Denethor was very glad they were to rest a long while after today.
Musicians played a welcome at the gates, though he could barely hear them over the shouts of welcome from the crowd. After a quick conference with the captain of the knights, Imrahil and Beregar, Halmir ordered the guardsmen to take the wagons and the horses along the wall to the east gate near the keep. Denethor quickly dismounted from Gaerhûl to help Finduilas off Gull. He was certain it was only his arm around her that kept her from sinking to the ground. She leaned on him, her face against his neck. 'Alquallë?' he murmured, 'Are you well?'
'Just... tired, friend.' Gull nickered and nuzzled Finduilas's arm while Gaerhûl pinned back his ears and bared his teeth at anyone who came too close.
'We can take the horses around and ride up to the keep.'
'No.' Her voice had the same stubborn sulky tone Boromir got when he was tired. 'I want to see the town. I am a prince returned and shall act like one.' With that, she pulled herself upright, neatened her clothes and put on a smile. 'Shall we go, my lord? The Prince of Dol Amroth awaits.'
Denethor offered his arm. 'Morcollë!' he called, 'Come and walk next to your mother.' Boromir came running. Gull gave Finduilas a last nuzzle, lipping her cheek gently before walking off to follow the wagons. Gaerhûl obediently trotted after her, making Finduilas chuckle.
'The dreaded man-killer is naught but a hen-pecked husband,' she said with a sly grin.
'If he knows what is good for him,' Denethor replied sagely.
Beregar approached, saying all were ready to walk to the keep. Denethor set a slow pace, which had the benefit of being both dignified and conserving of Finduilas's strength. Boromir had a firm hold of her other hand. To Denethor's relief, the knights walked to either side, keeping the towns folk from rushing up to Finduilas, though there was nothing they could do about the noise or the flowers being thrown in their path. Imrahil walked directly behind, Ivorwen and Moraen to either side. While most of the adulation was for Finduilas, many also cheered the return of their young prince. Aiavalë and Brandir came after, with Beregar and Aeluin right behind, Finiel on Beregar's shoulders. Borthand and Mírwen had been sent with the wagons.
The tall tower of the keep cast a long narrow shadow over the town. As they climbed, they could glimpse the bay shimmering under the summer sun. Whenever Denethor thought Finduilas's steps were slowing, he would look for the nearest patch of shade and pause there, the musicians entertaining the crowd until they walked again. Near the top of the hill, they stopped at the terrace that overlooked the city and the harbor. Denethor scoured the seawall, squinting to see past the sparkling reflections from the water that dazzled his eyes.
He was there. Near the end of the seawall, the mariner sat, a fishing pole propped up in a hole in the stone, a wooden flute in his hands. He stopped his playing when he felt Denethor's gaze and looked up, their grey eyes meeting across the great distance. Denethor took hold of the balustrade to steady himself and nodded his head respectfully, earning a slight smile and a nod in return.
Love endures, child, and there lies hope. The tone became wry. When you're not too stubborn for your own good, that is.
'Friend?' The voice was far away. Denethor could not look away from the mariner. Something pulled on his arm. With another nod, the mariner put the flute to his lips and played a sprightly tune. The old man returned his attention to the Sea, releasing Denethor from his spell. He leaned on the balustrade, willing himself not to be overcome. 'Denethor, what is it?' Finduilas entreated. When she saw his face, her own became pale and she looked at the harbor. 'We need to go now,' she said. 'I am tired. Please, friend, we need to go.'
The last furlong to the keep was a trial, for Finduilas was worn and walked very slowly. She kept glancing over her shoulder at the harbor. Adrahil and Luinil waited for them in the beautifully carved receiving hall, the retainers of the keep lined up to either side. Boromir waved at them and skipped next to Finduilas, tugging on her to make her walk more quickly. 'Boromir, behave,' Denethor said quietly, quelling his son's exuberance. When they were a few paces away, the look of joy on Adrahil and Luinil's faces became replaced with something else, and they both knelt, followed by the rest of the household. 'High Warden Denethor, Lady Finduilas, welcome,' Adrahil said, his voice soft and reverential.
'Mother, Father, no, stand! Please, I cannot bear another minute of this,' Finduilas said, hurrying forward to help her parents rise. She embraced them both tightly. 'Oh, I have so missed you! And where is...' She broke off suddenly, a hand over her mouth.
'What, lamb?' Luinil asked, 'Who?' Finduilas began to cry silently, shaking her head. Luinil pulled her close. 'What is it?'
'I almost asked where Grandfather...' Finduilas wiped her eyes. 'I'm a goose.'
'You're tired, is what you are,' Luinil said briskly, motioning for someone to approach. Aeluin was there in a moment, Moraen on her heels. 'Adrahil, see to the others. Come, lamb, you need to rest.' Luinil walked Finduilas off. Boromir ran after them and grabbed his mother's hand.
'The last few days of travel have been wearing on her,' Denethor said before Adrahil could ask, 'on all of us, in truth.'
Adrahil embraced Denethor. 'We can speak more when you have rested.' The Prince greeted the others and had servants lead them to rooms where they could wash and recover from their long travels. He himself led Denethor to the rooms he had occupied twice before, once at the betrothal and again on his visit during the plague. Finduilas was already in bed, Luinil and Aeluin hovering over her. Moraen was trying to wash Boromir's face while he squirmed and protested, and Denethor could see a tantrum was going to break out soon.
'Boromir, come here,' Denethor ordered, walking to the balcony. The child reluctantly followed. Denethor squatted down and said in a conspiratorial voice, 'Don't let them hear us. We don't want to upset the women.'
Boromir leaned close and whispered, 'Mama's sick! What shall we do, Papa?'
'Make her well, of course.'
'I tried to go get her magic tea, but Moraen wouldn't let me!' Boromir's voice rose in indignation.
'We'll just wait until Moraen leaves, then. Mama will have to sleep first and have her tea when she wakes.' Boromir nodded. 'Mama will sleep better if we stay next to her, so we have to wash up. If we stink, it will wake her up. Remember,' Denethor laid a finger on his son's lips, 'be very quiet or we'll never get the others to leave.' He led Boromir back inside and over to the washbasin. 'Moraen, is there any hot water to be had? This will not clean off the road's grime.'
In short order, an ewer of hot water was delivered. Boromir submitted to a good scrubbing without protest, though he never quit watching the bed. There was a knock at the door. Imrahil, Beregar and Halmir were there with several guardsmen and the baggage, which they left just inside the door. Moraen helped Denethor locate a nightshirt for Boromir before excusing herself to let Imrahil show her to her quarters. Finally, Denethor went to the bed.
Finduilas was asleep, her eyelids still puffy from weeping. Luinil sat next to her, holding her hand. Denethor lifted Boromir onto the bed and set him next to Finduilas. 'How is she?' he asked Luinil.
'Tired. She'll be better for some sleep.' Boromir snuggled as closely as he could. Without waking, Finduilas turned and put an arm over him. It was only a few minutes before he also slept. Luinil stroked his hair from his forehead. 'He is so big now. I wonder if he remembers me and Adrahil.'
'He will after his nap.'
'Has the journey been difficult?'
'Not really, but the last few days were trying. The crowds were heavy and all wished her attention. Then seeing Dol Amroth again after so long.'
'I must go and see to my other guests, Denethor.' Luinil rose and embraced him, giving him a kiss on the cheek. 'Thank you for bringing them to me.' She kissed Finduilas and Boromir and left.
Aeluin was busily unpacking things, but stopped when Luinil left. 'I have laid out what you might need right away, my lord. Do you wish me to sit with the lady?'
'No, thank you. I will sit with her.' When Aeluin left, Denethor took off his clothes and washed away the day's dirt. He set a robe on the chair so it was easy to reach and slipped into the bed. It was not long before he joined them in sleep. The room was dim and the day near its end when a tap on the door woke him. It was Aeluin.
'Forgive me for disturbing you, but supper is soon and the Princess wished to know if you wished for a tray to be sent here.'
'A tray, please. They are still sleeping.'
'I will be back shortly.' She and Beregar returned with the supper. In no time at all, they had a table laid and the meal laid out. The smell of food woke Boromir and he came over to give sleepy hugs and kisses to them before they left. Denethor got him eating before he went to Finduilas.
'Alquallë?' She stirred. 'If you are hungry, there is supper.' He helped her sit up. 'Are you rested?'
'Some.' Her face was thin and circles remained under her eyes.
'Do you want your tea?'
'Later, perhaps. Let me wake and eat.' She came to the table and ruffled Boromir's hair. 'So, cub, have you left anything for mama bear, or have you gobbled it all down?'
'There is a lot. It's good!' he assured her, and stood up on his chair to spoon things onto her plate. Denethor made sure the chair did not tip but allowed Boromir to serve Finduilas, for it made her chuckle. The table could be cleaned later. 'There, Mama. Do you want magic tea?'
'No, Morcollë, but you must give Papa supper, too.' They were soon all eating. Finduilas ate slowly and without much appetite, but she did finish most of the generous servings Boromir had provided. He was much rested and chattered non-stop, jumping up several times to go to the balcony or peer about the room.
'May I go explore, Papa?' he asked, peeking out the door into the hall.
'Yes, but if you fall into a well you have to stay there until morning.'
'Mm-hmm. I'm going to find Finiel.' With that, he dashed off, small feet loud in the stone corridor.
'Unstoppable,' she said fondly, 'rather like you.' Finduilas left the table and went to the balcony. The sounds of the keep preparing for the night echoed against the stone cliff, undergirded by the deep rumble of the Sea. Denethor stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her. They stood a long while watching dusk become true night. 'I should not have done this.'
'Done what, Alquallë?'
'I should have left it as it was.' With a sigh, Finduilas went to a couch inside. 'You saw him, the mariner.'
'Yes. Just a glimpse. He said love endures and that I am too stubborn.'
That made her lips twitch. 'He knows you well.' With another sigh, she said, 'I saw him too, though not...not as you did. I could see in your face that he spoke to you. Then...' Denethor waited for almost a minute before Finduilas could continue. 'I saw the seaweed crown upon you and the harbor became Rómenna. He was far off, but I could hear his flute. The prisoner was being brought up the hill.'
'The Fiend. All the rest of the walk to the keep, I could hear his chains dragging on the stone. And the flute.' She paused again. 'I have not dreamed like that since our great deed. Not even asleep. But I was Míriel once more. I had hoped I was done with that.'
Dol Amroth, 14 June, 2982 T.A.
'...which leaves Pelargir overmanned,' Imrahil concluded. Brandir nodded in agreement, though Halmir seemed unconvinced. Denethor trusted Halmir's judgment and gestured for the man to speak.
'Khand has grown fat in its battles with Harad.' The Lost gave a sharp nod of his head and crossed his arms over his chest, having said all that was needful. Denethor waited for Imrahil to understand the danger. The young prince cocked his head as he looked at Halmir, as though to hear the man's thoughts. After a minute, he nodded as well.
'An attack in late autumn, mostly to take northern Harad, but also they will attempt the Poros crossing. They will have heard that the Rohirrim have gone home.'
Halmir nodded once again, acknowledging Imrahil's reasoning.
'So what should we do with Pelargir?' Denethor asked.
'Not station them at Poros,' Imrahil said crisply. The corner of Halmir's mouth twitched up for a second, but Brandir shook his head in confusion.
'Imrahil, if you think that there may be an attack upon Poros, why would you not reinforce it?' he asked.
'Because they will see it reinforced and either attack in greater numbers, or seek to establish their own fortifications in anticipation of spring sally,' was the assured reply. 'Instead, keep a close eye on their approach, and send out a large force late, one that their spies will see. They will hurry to try to reach the ford first, and will be spread out upon the road. Send a fleet of shallow draft boats up the Poros, and catch them from the side. The men in Poros march and engage the head until the second force can be brought up.'
'Right.' Denethor stood, ending the small war council. 'Imrahil, please write up your estimation for me. I will have it sent to Captain Baragund. He will meet us in Pelargir in August.'
'Is it time for some more local maneuvers?' Imrahil said with a grin.
'As our fair captains have commanded, so must we obey,' Denethor solemnly replied, before glancing next to him. 'My prince? Are you ready to fulfill your orders?'
Adrahil's grin equaled his son's. 'I am indeed, Warden.'
'So are we!' Brandir declared. Halmir shrugged, but a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth and his eyes crinkled, an expression Denethor had seen a hundred times on Thorongil's face. The kinship was unmistakable.
'Until this evening, gentlemen.' Denethor and Adrahil walked out of the room. Near the passage to the kitchen, Beregar and Aeluin stood with Boromir, who was bouncing up and down in excitement. As soon as he saw them, Boromir darted away from Aeluin's grasp and flung himself at his father. Denethor met him with a growl and tossed him up in the air and caught him, Boromir shrieking with delight.
'Careful, you're going to put him through the ceiling!' Adrahil teased. 'Mistress Aeluin, good day.'
'And to you, my prince,' she answered with a wide smile and quick bow, her eyes twinkling. 'I have your dinners packed, my lords.'
'Thank you, Aeluin,' Denethor said with true gratitude. 'And for the rest?'
'All ready, my lords,' Beregar answered. 'The horses are saddled and await us in the court.'
'Put the cub down, Denethor,' Adrahil admonished. Boromir gave his grandfather a hug that turned into a wrestling match. 'All right, Morcollë,' the Prince said, 'the last one to the horses doesn't get any dinner.' The two sprinted off down the corridor to the court, whooping and dodging the servants. They bolted around a corner, followed by a shout and the sound of things crashing. Denethor sighed, exchanging a look with Beregar.
'Shall we chaperone the children, my lord?' Beregar asked, slinging a pack over one shoulder and trying not to grin.
'We'd better, lest they bring the keep down around our ears.' Denethor took the other pack and bade Aeluin farewell. Around the corner, a scullery boy and a stablehand were picking up a spilled bucket of fish from the docks. Adrahil and Boromir were waiting near the horses, looking smug.
'You're last, Papa, so no dinner for you!'
'I'll have to catch some fish, then,' Denethor answered, putting his pack on Gaerhûl.
'Can I catch a fish, too?'
'Perhaps, Morcollë, but we need to get to the water, first.'
They were soon mounted and riding down the outside of the wall, heading north. They were going to a cove north of town for an afternoon of swimming and little else. Adrahil and Boromir had been nearly inseparable since they arrived, and one of the first things the Prince had done was teach Boromir how to swim. 'He cannot go out on a boat if he can't swim,' Adrahil had declared, 'and a scion of Dol Amroth will go out on a boat!' It was usually best if they were out in the water, for when they were together in the keep things tended to break. More than once, Luinil had ordered them out. 'Just like Imrahil and Angelimir,' she had sighed, looking at the ruins of a small table and its contents. All the adventures during the day left Boromir quiet in the evening and he would curl up against Finduilas to be cuddled until he fell asleep.
The cove was the same one where Denethor and Finduilas had walked before their betrothal. The waves were gentle here and there was no undertow, so it was a good place to swim. Boromir had taken to it at once and was unafraid of diving under the surface or getting hit by waves. He had his clothes off and was in the surf before the others had picketed the horses. Adrahil joined him and the two began a water fight, splashing each other with glee.
Denethor followed more slowly, scanning the cove for any sign of an old man in grey. He had not seen the mariner again, though he occasionally thought he heard a flute. One day, he had taken a fishing pole and had walked out upon the seawall to sit and see what emerged from the waters. A few small fish was all he found. Skirting the water fight, Denethor walked out into the Sea, wading until the water came up to his waist before diving in. The seawater was tolerably warm and mostly clear, unlike the rivers where Denethor had learned to swim which were always cold and usually muddy. He swam a score of strokes into the cove before diving under the waves and looking around him. About his neck was the lanyard. It seemed wise to wear the mariner's gift when in his realm. Small fish darted around and ropes of seaweed drifted in the tide. Far off, at the edge of his vision where the cove floor dropped down towards the deeper bay, larger shadows moved. The sea floor below him was littered with rocks, sea stars, grasses and small scuttling things. When his lungs began to ache for air, he came to the surface. For a while he floated, allowing the water to carry him where it would. The tide was going out and he was pulled further from shore. It would not do to drown, not today, so Denethor swam back to shore, enjoying the feel of the waters parting before him. Boromir wanted to play a game of tag which he was very good at, far better at twisting and dodging in the shallow shore waters than his tall kinsmen. Beregar sat on a rise above the cove, keeping an eye on them and the horses.
They ate a late dinner and lazed in the sun afterwards before returning again to the water to swim. The tide was far out by now, exposing tide pools near the edges of the cove. Each was a world to explore and Denethor had a difficult time explaining to Boromir that they must leave the fascinating creatures that lived there in their homes, for they would not survive if removed from the sea. They did collect a double handful of beautiful shells and stones. When the sun was sinking towards the horizon, they saddled up the horses and rode back to the keep. Denethor saw Borthand playing lookout on the keep wall. He was waiting for them in the court along with Halmir and Aeluin.
'My lords,' Aeluin said with a quick bob of her head, 'the Lady and the Princess say you must go at once to the baths and ready yourselves for a special guest who has arrived for supper. I'll take Master Boromir and get him scrubbed up. Beregar, please attend our lord and the Prince.'
'Of course. Are their...'
'...clothes laid out? Yes. One of the Prince's men is there waiting. I put your clothes there as well. Be sure to wash and dress yourself, for the Lady has tasks for you.' As Aeluin spoke, Borthand and Halmir took the horses away. She held out a hand to Boromir. 'Your mama wishes to see you, Morcollë.'
Boromir held up the small sack holding the shells and stones. 'I have a present for Mama.'
'Oh, how sweet of you! Let's hurry and give them to her right away!' With a smile and a sly wink to Denethor, Aeluin bustled off, exclaiming over Boromir's swimming tales. Adrahil said they should not keep the women waiting and led them to the baths.
The baths of Dol Amroth were older and more elaborate than those of Minas Tirith, delved at the rear of each level of the keep. The low caverns were carved with fantastic creatures from the deeps - sharks, fish, sea serpents, dolphins and beasts Denethor did not have a name for - and they were set with tiny tiles that imitated iridescent scales. Crabs, sea stars and clams adorned the feet of pillars. Unlike Minas Tirith, the showers had warm water as well as cold and the soap was scented with rare oils from the south. Instead of tubs that one or two men could sit in, there was a single large heated pool with seats built into the edge. In the middle, the water came up to a man's chin and the floor was tiled to imitate the view of the sea floor. Down a short hallway was a dressing room similarly carved and tiled. All was lit by beautiful bronze and crystal whale oil lamps.
They eschewed the pool, having spent all day in a finer one, and quickly scrubbed away sweat and sea salt in the showers. Denethor looked enviously on Adrahil's short hair, which was clean, toweled and nearly dry in just a few minutes, while his own long locks left his shoulders damp. Beregar squeezed as much moisture from them he could before running a bone comb through them and giving Denethor a neat braid. The clothes Aeluin had provided for Beregar were as fine as Denethor's own. When he stood for inspection, Beregar looked every inch what he truly was; a son of the House of Húrin.
Imrahil and Brandir were waiting for them in the hallway and greeted them warmly. The young Prince's hair was completely silver now. When he embraced his father, Denethor noted that Imrahil was ever so slightly taller than Adrahil, though still lean like a youth. Imrahil teased Adrahil about the spilled fish from the morning, warning his father to stay away from the kitchens lest the cook demand amends.
'We must not tarry, my lords,' Brandir gently admonished after embracing Denethor and Beregar. 'Finduilas has decreed that we are to present ourselves before the sun sets.'
Adrahil and Imrahil led them at a brisk pace through the corridors and down the stair. Denethor was surprised when they did not turn towards the great hall, but back into the keep to the small dining room. When they came in, the princes quickly stepped to the side, leaving Beregar framed in the doorway.
'Surprise!' everyone cried. 'Happy birthday, Beregar!' Beregar did not look terribly surprised, but he was smiling, his face a little red from all the attention. The weight of the last year lifted somewhat from his shoulders. He sought out Aeluin, who was dressed like a lady, and kissed her hands.
'You did this, wife, didn't you?'
'No, husband, not just me. All who love you have conspired.'
He kissed her brow and bent to pick up Finiel, who was standing next to Aeluin. 'Thank you, my friends. I am moved by your love.' Luinil and Finduilas came forward to lead him and Aeluin to the head of the table to preside over the feast. In a small basket on the table was a bundle of letters from his friends who could not attend; Gethron and Borondir, his parents and sisters, Marlong and Wren, Morvorin and Luinmir, Aldwyn and Hilda, Hunthor and Dúlin, Primrose and Urgon, Warden Lhûn and Master Laanga, the archivists, the Hunt, Scratch, most of the Tower Guard and several dozen other people Denethor did not know. Even the Lord Steward had written a note of congratulation. Around the table were gathered Adrahil, Luinil, Imrahil, Denethor, Finduilas, Aiavalë, Brandir, Moraen, Ivorwen, Halmir, Borthand, Mírwen and Boromir. The mood was merry and people chatted gaily through the meal, which was made of all of Beregar's favorite dishes. Even Halmir managed a few smiles, though he said little. After the children had eaten their fill and became bored with the adults' converse, they came to Halmir and begged for stories, which he happily gave them.
When the meal was done, Luinil stood and raised her hands for silence. 'In honor of all of our guests, there will be dancing in the great hall tonight. All denizens of the keep have been invited.' By the time they arrived, the hall was already filled with dancers and well-wishers. At Finduilas's insistence, Beregar and Aeluin led off the dancing. It was wonderful to watch them, the love in their hearts the same color as the last rays of the sun coming through the high windows of the hall. People applauded them before taking to the floor themselves.
Denethor held out his hand to Finduilas and they took their place among the other dancers. 'A successful campaign, my captain,' he said as they glided along, 'with perfect execution of your plans.'
'Not completely, friend. Beregar was not surprised.'
'And why should he be? He is your Hound, after all, and is aware of all that goes on around you. And I daresay he remembers his own birthday.'
They danced until Finduilas began to cough and had to sit and catch her breath. Denethor noticed that Imrahil appeared to be dancing with Ivorwen every second or third dance, though he was as like to dance with a scullery maid as with a lady at the other times, and appeared no less pleasant to a blushing maid in her simple dress as to a noblewoman in her silk gown. Finduilas's guardsmen were in the thick of things, for every one was a Dol Amroth man, and none of them wanted for a dance partner.
Finduilas stood and gave Denethor a kiss on the cheek. 'Wait here, friend. I will return.' Denethor watched her make her way through the crowd, expecting she was on her way to the privy. She stopped in front of Halmir, however, and spoke to the man briefly. After a few shakes of his head, he finally nodded and allowed her to lead him into the dancers. He was an efficient rather than an elegant dancer, and a few times he did not know the proper steps, but there was a slight smile on his face when they were through. Brandir claimed Finduilas before she could return and then she claimed Beregar and soon Denethor could not see her amid the crush of people. Denethor downed a glass of wine and went in search of his own amusement. He decided he needed to dance with the beautiful Lady Ivorwen to see if he could discern her charms. She was an accomplished dance partner, but something about her touch reminded him of Maiaberiel and he was glad when she left to go hunt down Imrahil once more. Luinil was his next choice. It was odd to touch her, for it was very like touching Finduilas, like a familiar song given new words or a different meter. What he could See in her was similar to her daughter as well. He did not keep track of his later partners, for there were many, but he found himself enjoying dancing. It felt good to move with and touch others like this, to give himself over to gaiety with no greater reason than the pleasure of doing so.
He stopped to quench his thirst with a cup of wine and see if he could spot Finduilas. Not far away, Boromir was holding Luinil's hands, dancing in a circle with his grandmother. Across the hall, Denethor caught a glimpse of the top of Finduilas's head, though he could not make out with whom she danced. Over there... Denethor just stared.
Adrahil held Aiavalë as they took a series of quick, light steps followed by a whirl. Someone who knew would be able to pick out the awkwardness of Aiavalë's movements, but others would simply think that she had just skipped a step or two. She laughed at something Adrahil said. The silver hair at her temples had been braided back, and the strands gleamed against the dark hair like a coronet. Her dress was a deep ruby red, cut perfectly to show her slender waist and attractive bosom. On her right hand, gold and ruby winked in the lamp light. He had never seen her look more beautiful or more happy, and she seemed much younger than her sixty-six years.
'Denethor?' His head snapped around at the sound of his name. Finduilas was there, looking up at him quizzically. 'What is so funny?'
'What do you mean?'
'You have a grin on your face as though you have seen something amusing.'
'No, something beautiful, but you are lovelier still.' He kissed her hand, pleased at her blush. 'May I claim one more dance?'
'One more for you, but I am exhausted.' The next tune was slow so they did not have to exert themselves greatly. Now Aiavalë was dancing with Brandir. They danced well, even better than she and Adrahil. Lord Fool, I introduced you to the wrong sister, I think. When the music ended, they found Boromir and bade Adrahil and Luinil good night. Boromir asked to be picked up and was asleep on Denethor's shoulder before they got to their room. The child barely stirred when they undressed him and tucked him into his pallet near their bed.
'He'll sneak into bed with us before morning,' Finduilas said fondly, stroking Boromir's cheek.
'I hope he doesn't make a habit of that once we are back home.' Denethor tucked the blanket in around his son and gave him a tender kiss. 'Sleep well, Morcollë. Papa will see you in the morning.'
'So, tell me, friend,' Finduilas asked as she undressed, 'what was so beautiful?'
Denethor tossed her the grey shift with the bright flowers and laid the pad on her side of the bed, before shrugging out of his own shirt. 'Aiavalë. I was watching her dance.' He hesitated, not wanting to tell the entire story, but knowing Finduilas would wish to know why this was so joyful. 'Once, Aiavalë struck me and cursed me...'
'The reason for this particular time,' he continued, giving Finduilas a dour look which only made her smirk more, 'was that I had said I would not marry you, despite her entreaties. She said that I was a selfish brat and that she hated me because I treated so lightly what she could not have - not a mate, not even something so small as a dance.' Finduilas came over and embraced him. 'She said she would give her life just to dance once and not limp, so I saw her tonight and nearly wept for joy.' He felt tears building in his eyes. 'Thank you, Alquallë.'
'Thank me? Why? It was not me who gave her a shoe, or who first danced with her. That was you, friend!'
'But you got her to try. You changed her. From the day you came into her, our, lives, you have changed us.' Finduilas wiped away a tear that escaped his eye. 'You gladdened our grim hearts and taught us to love. And, here I am with a wife and a son. Aiavalë has a husband and she dances instead of hiding behind a veil.'
Finduilas kissed him and they held each other tightly for a long while. 'I think this is not all my doing, but whatever I have done to make you and Lady Lore more happy, I am glad for it.' She turned away and began arranging the pad on the bed. Denethor snuffed the lamps after she made herself comfortable and lay beside her. After a few minutes, he got up, retrieved Boromir and brought him to sleep with them.
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