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Hands of the King: 80. Exiles
Minas Tirith, Late December, 2984 T.A.
The cough grew neither better or worse as winter gripped the City. Finduilas did her best to keep from coughing when Denethor or Boromir were near, for it made them scowl and fuss over her. Two weeks ago, Denethor had left the City with Captain Marlong and Beregar and had ridden to Osgiliath, returning the next day. The City buzzed with the news that the Lord Steward had left not just Minas Tirith, but the Pelennor, which no Steward had done since Cirion. Denethor was grim when he returned and even Boromir avoided his company. She was glad when her moon flux came and he had to be chaste, for his lovemaking had been fierce and left her exhausted.
Finduilas stood in Denethor's study, waiting for Aeluin and Aiavalë to get the children bundled up for the walk to Lark's house, and looked at the old map of the north hung upon the wall. Are you home yet? It was a long way, but he was a hardy and determined man. She had asked Haleth if any Southron traders had continued north instead of returning south, and was told that two caravans had gone to Rohan. You are among them. Who would pay any mind to a scruffy adventurer who decided to keep going when his companions turned back? More than once, she had been roused from sleep by a dream of the burning king coming up Anduin. Usually, the ships docked at the Harlond or among the ruins of Osgiliath, and he led a spectral army towards Mordor. Once, though, the ships did not halt, but continued north. Below her, the plain was covered with armies. If I had coughed, you would have paused, and I could have captured you. Upon such chance hangs fate. That thought made her shiver. She now knew how she could command his return. A letter to Ranger Fox would get to him, and in it would be a choice - without your healing, I shall perish.
'Alquallë, we have the children wrapped up, but they won't stay like this for long. We'd best go!' Aiavalë cheerfully called out from the front room.
'I'm coming! Get them moving along and I will follow.' Finduilas caught up with them before the tunnel and they had a loud and merry walk to the fifth circle. Violet greeted them at the door. When Lark went back to Pelargir after Ecthelion's interment to oversee the archives, Violet had stayed behind. Though he never spoke of Violet, asked after her, or tried to see her, Finduilas knew this pleased Denethor. In the weeks between the Steward's death and the burial, Denethor had presented Finduilas with a ledger of Ecthelion's wealth - all his lands, purses, rents, businesses and holdings - and had instructed her to create and distribute proper dowers to the bastard daughters. "All of them," he had commanded. With Aiavalë's help, Finduilas had even tracked down the families of the two daughters, Hareth and Miraen, who had died, and had given them their share. Wren had flatly rejected the dower from her father's estate, giving it all to the Lady's Grace instead. Finduilas set aside a comparable portion for Violet so that she need not work for Morwen any longer. Violet had accepted it with great reluctance and only after Finduilas had lied and said that Ecthelion had asked her to give this final gift to Violet so that she would not be kept from their grandchildren because of her association with Morwen.
It was not long before the house was swarming with children. Lark had returned to Minas Tirith for Yule, and her brood loudly greeted their cousins from the Stewards House. Haleth left her niece and nephew with them on her way to her warehouses, and Wren soon brought Mab and also Rose's two children to keep them out from underfoot at the tavern. The Messenger's Rest had reopened a few weeks before and was doing brisk business. The dower gift was well timed for it kept the debtors away while the tavern was rebuilt. Despite his best digging, Scratch admitted there was no whisper of foul play concerning the tavern fire.
'Here you are, Finduilas.' Violet set a tray next to Finduilas' seat with a small teapot steeping one of Laanga's special mixes. Finduilas never had figured out how Violet knew of the special teas, let alone which one to serve her, yet she never failed to have just the perfect mix whenever Finduilas came to call. She studied the woman over the rim of her cup. Whatever one of her guests could want, Violet was offering it before it was asked for. No amount of mischief from the children could elicit more than a gentle sigh and a shake of her head. You live to be a comfort to others.
As talking led to coughing, Finduilas tucked her feet underneath herself and let the others amuse her with their conversation. Across the room, Boromir was playing with Faramir, letting his little brother stand squarely on top of his own feet and walking them around while making roaring noises to sound like a bear while Faramir giggled and squealed. The oddest things would remind Boromir of Ecthelion and set him to crying - a smell, a sound, a certain alley in a lower circle. Each week, when he wrote his letters, he would write one to his grandfather. He had stopped writing them to Halmir. Finduilas and Aiavalë would listen to Boromir while he read the letter to them and showed them the drawings that went with it, then Aiavalë would take the letter and put it in a chest with the earlier ones. "Grandfather hears them," Boromir had stoutly asserted, "Father said so, and he knows everything." He did not like for people to say that Ecthelion had died, only that he had gone away. In the evenings, Boromir would lie on the floor with Faramir, playing with their blocks and soldiers, and he would tell Faramir stories about Ecthelion. Finduilas did not think Faramir understood what was said, but he liked to listen to his brother.
Perhaps it would be better if we did not love so keenly. It shamed Finduilas that she did not miss Ecthelion greatly, especially in comparison to Boromir's long mourning. She could not see any sign of sorrow in Denethor, either, though he was extremely patient with Boromir's grief and difficult questions about mortality. Aiavalë would scold her nephew not to think such dark thoughts and try to distract him with other things like archery or Boots or tales of great battles from Gondor's past.
It also shamed Finduilas that she did not love her sons more. It was not so difficult with Faramir, as he loved Aiavalë greatly and did not appear to miss his mother's attentions. Finduilas did not try to win over his affection, though she made herself be pleasant if he came to her for a hug or to show her something. Aiavalë is a better mother to you than I am. With Boromir, however, she could not get him to pay her no mind. He not only possessed his father's bossiness, he had also inherited Denethor's eye for any sign of illness or discomfort in her. In the days after Thorongil's second flight, Boromir had stayed close to her, somehow knowing something was amiss.
Morcollë's grief will pass, though some sorrow will always remain. Finduilas watched Violet soothe one of the small babes who had fallen backwards on her bottom and was crying. Whence comes your serenity, Violet? A life of abandonment and loss, yet you are the most content of us all. Finduilas sipped her now-cool tea, ignoring the chatter around her. Is there ever love without loss? They were the warp and weft of mortality. Once, she had thought she knew the path laid out before her - to be helpmeet to her love and lord - and that it was enough simply to say to whom she would vouchsafe her love. I trusted in love to guide my fate, but now I know that fate to be cruel, and the love is both sweet and bitter. She could not have held back her heart had she wished to, nor would she take back her choice now even were it granted to her, but... Denethor held out hope that she was not doomed even if the mariner had pronounced his own. But I am. Our fate is shared. All knew, at some point, that they would lose what they loved, but what she knew made the prospect of loss into mockery. Finduilas was glad Denethor knew nothing of the northern Elf.
Is ignorance any kinder? Magor lived, but his family had lost him as surely as if he died. To relieve their grief could mean an even worse fate for him, should their love move them to seek him out, so they were left to mourn. What the Powers do with us is not so different than what we do to each other. Perhaps this is why they needed the salve of believing in a kind end, no matter how harrowing the passage, and a hope of reunion with the parts of themselves that had been sundered. It almost did not matter if it was true. Love lost had to be redeemed, and those who commanded loss had to make amends.
Finduilas started, realizing someone was saying her name. 'What?'
'I said, what has you so somber, little sister?' Aiavalë said.
'I'm not somber, I'm thinking.'
Finduilas laughed. 'Of some gifts I need to get for Yule. Who wishes to come with me to the market?'
The matron stared dumbly for a moment as Finduilas, Aiavalë and Wren walked into the front parlor, baskets over their arms before collecting herself and bowing. 'My ladies, we are honored at your company.' It was a different woman than Finduilas was used to seeing in Morwen's house. There were a few men in the parlor being entertained by the whores, and they turned away from the newcomers, trying to hide their faces. The whores who were not the chosen companion of this or that man bounded to their feet and came over, offering greetings and good wishes. The matron warned them away with a stern glance. 'How may we serve you, my ladies,' she pointedly asked. Finduilas thought she was as displeased by the unexpected guests as were the customers.
'I have brought some gifts for the girls here,' Finduilas answered, holding out her basket. In it were many colorful scarves wrapped around bundles of lace, thread, some small trinkets and a silver tharni. Violet had helped Finduilas select what would be of most use to the girls, and had put together all of the bundles. 'There should be enough for one for each. If there is not, let me know so more may be prepared.'
The matron bowed again. 'You are too kind to us, Lady Finduilas. We do not deserve such attention.'
'There are none who do not deserve the Lady's Grace. Tell your girls to come and collect their gifts. Also, would you tell Madam Morwen I wish to speak to her.'
'Madame is not receiving any visitors.'
Finduilas wondered if Morwen was perhaps already with a visitor. 'Even so, please let her know that I am here.'
The woman's mouth was drawn in a straight line, but she nodded sharply and turned away, motioning for one of the whores to accompany her. Twice while they waited for her to return, men began to enter the house, then hastily left when they saw properly dressed women in the entry to the parlor. The men already there huddled in a corner, trying to avoid attention. The matron appeared in the doorway leading further back in the house and gestured for Finduilas to follow. They climbed a flight of stairs and went to Morwen's office at the front of the house. Finduilas stepped inside the door and came to an abrupt halt.
Morwen sat behind her desk as usual, dressed more perfectly than the finest lady of the City. Her left cheek was swollen and mottled with bruises and her left arm was in a sling. She gave Finduilas a lopsided smile and stood, offering her hand. 'How kind of you to pay a call, Finduilas.'
'Morwen, what happened? Did you fall?' Finduilas crossed the room and embraced the woman carefully, mindful of the injured arm.
'I... well, that is what I say to those who ask, yes, but to you I will not lie. Some lout who visited the house last week assailed me. It is not good for business to let that news be known, so I trust you will keep it to yourself.' Morwen motioned for Finduilas to sit and poured them both wine before retaking her seat behind the desk.
'I will say nothing, but what of yourself?'
'Bruises and my arm is sore where he struck it, but nothing that will not be healed by yestarë.'
'I hope he was arrested for his harm to you!'
'He is dead.' Morwen's voice was matter-of-fact.
Morwen reached under the desktop and pulled out a double-edged knife. 'I stabbed him.' Her calm tone never changed. 'It has snake venom on the blade edges, so a simple cut is deadly.' She returned the knife to its hidden sheath. Noting Finduilas' shocked expression, Morwen explained, 'Few care what violence is done to whores. It is not the first time I have had to defend myself or one of the girls.'
A suspicion rose in Finduilas' mind. 'Why did he attack you? Do you know?'
'No. He looked like a trader from one of the caravans. We get many of that type for they know they are welcome in our house. He bought one of the girls, then began to complain she had a pox, which is ridiculous. My matron went to see what was the matter and he argued with her and would neither accept another girl or his money back. He stormed into my office. When the matron tried to stop him, he threw her into the door jamb and knocked her senseless. He struck me in the face, knocking me down, and pulled a blackjack from his pocket. He hit me in the arm with it, so I grabbed my knife, stabbed him in the belly and scrambled under the desk so he couldn't use the club on my head.'
'And no one noticed this man was killed?'
'He was not of the City. A few guards agreed to remove him without notifying anyone in exchange for some favors.' Morwen paused, thoughtful. 'No caravan asked about a missing man, either.'
'Might it have been someone sent by Maiaberiel? Denethor told me of her threat to you all.'
'It is possible. I thought it might be Denethor who ordered it.'
'What? How can you think that?'
'He has always wished for me to close this house. All the gold I was given in the fall, that was so I would be tempted to be done with it, yes? Just as Violet was bribed.'
Finduilas began to cough from the tightness in her chest. 'Denethor told me to give a suitable dower to each of Ecthelion's daughters as what was due them from the Steward's estate. Yours was all gold, but there are other goods if you would prefer them. You got no more or less than Adanel or Wren or any other daughter. Violet's gift was my own idea. Denethor would never do any of his sisters harm.'
'I see.' Morwen sipped her wine. 'No, it would not be like him to send an assassin. He would do it himself.' She shrugged. 'It might have been Maiaberiel. It might have been a rival madam. It could have been exactly what it appeared. But enough of this grave talk. On what business did you come?'
'I had some small gifts prepared for your girls. Aiavalë and Wren are giving them out downstairs.' It was tempting to leave the business at that after Morwen's outrageous insinuation about Denethor. No, there are amends to be made. 'And I bring you something that may or may not...'
'Magor? Do you have news of him?'
'No, I do not, but that itself may be news.' Finduilas drew a paper from her purse and spread it upon the desk. 'All of the ships that went to Umbar had a list of the men aboard them prepared and left behind in the port from which they sailed. Magor's name was not upon any list from Pelargir.'
'He could have given a false name.'
'Yes, I thought of that.' Finduilas pointed at the paper. 'This is the list of all who did not return. Every one has been accounted for with his family or kin. Magor is not on this list, either.' Morwen read the list over. When she was done, Finduilas said, 'And I have spoken with the Master Archivist. It was she who selected the people who are not on any list, the spies who were put ashore. She swears Magor was not among those she sent. If you wish for her to swear to your face, she is downstairs.' It was true even as it did not tell the truth, and Aiavalë had agreed to stand by it.
Morwen hugged herself, staring at the list of names. 'But still I do not have my son.'
'You asked me for anything I knew, no matter how wild a rumor or slender a hope. This is all I can offer.'
'Maybe... maybe he went to spy afterwards. He couldn't resist the raid, but feared to face his uncles and went south.' Morwen's voice was barely above a whisper.
'Would he do such a thing?'
'He wrote me once about how much he liked being on one of the trade caravans. I know Denethor was training him to be a spy.' Morwen looked up, expression sharp. 'I will close this house if Denethor brings him back. Tell Denethor that is my price.'
'I will tell him.'
Minas Tirith, 5 January, 2985 T.A.
They walked into the council chamber together and all the lords sprang to their feet. Finduilas took her place at the Steward's right hand, Aiavalë opposite, just as they had done the last two years. The difference was Denethor now sat at the head of the table instead of half way along. Imrahil was there, the new High Warden, Marlong across from him as Captain-General.
Denethor had wished her to wear the Dwarf-stone, but Finduilas had refused. 'I have a better crown this time, prince,' she said. When she explained what she wished to do, Denethor said he preferred the Dwarf-stone, but agreed there was wisdom in her choice. Since September, a number of spies had reported back that Maiaberiel's bastardized wing and stars device had been seen in Pelargir and a few other places in Lebennin. She could no longer be allowed to make this claim unanswered.
Finduilas wore a dress in the colors of Gondor and in her hair was worked a clever variation on her own black wing device. White feathers had been worked into wings and then black feathers overlay them, combining both her own device and the white wings of the crown. She wore one at each temple. At her throat was a slender chain bearing three diamonds to represent the three stars of the stewards. Finduilas could see the lords studying her carefully. Gondor and the Lady are one, and we are under the protection and command of the Lord Steward.
The contrast between Denethor and Ecthelion could not have been more stark. A larger chair had been procured from the garrison in Osgiliath, an enormous black seat of lebethron. It sat slightly higher than the other seats, placing Denethor a full head above anyone else. Denethor eschewed both Ecthelion's jocular manner and his own usual cold contempt, and spoke with a quiet dignity that sobered even the slippery Lord Hallatan. Under Denethor's stern gaze, the lords made their various reports quickly.
Brandir had not come, not that any expected him to. He had sent all his reports of western Anórien to Aiavalë, just as he had done for the last two years. Lord Duinmir had once again sent his son Duinhir in his stead. Finduilas wondered if the proud lord of Morthond would attend another Great Council. It mattered little as Duinhir was an intelligent and judicious man, less prone to pride than his sire but no less dedicated to the welfare of his people. Imrahil had made a point of being in the young lord's company since Duinhir arrived two days ago.
Also in their company had been the newest lord of Gondor, Angbor of Lamedon. His father, Lord Anbar, had been killed in a fall from a horse not long after Ecthelion had died, so Angbor had not been able to journey to Minas Tirith to pledge his fealty to Denethor at that time. The lords of Lamedon were of close kin to those of Morthond, and Angbor was traveling with Duinhir. Finduilas could not recall the young man from her sojourn two summers past, though she thought he had been at Hirluin and Handiriel's betrothal. Denethor's only comment on the man was to ensure he did not wed Moraen. More than a few murmurs had been heard that it would be an opportune match. There was also much joking about the new lord sharing a name with Angbor of Linhir, to whom he was also of kin, their mothers being sisters. Half mountain, half coast. To which will you give your allegiance? Though he was both young and new to rule, he acquitted himself well when it came time for him to report upon his fief.
Hirluin of Pinnath Gelin, Angbor of Linhir and Minastan were eager companions to Imrahil, Duinhir and the younger Angbor, which Denethor thought to the good. This had meant that Ivorwen, Hirluin's sister, was also about, trying to attract Imrahil's eye. Golasgil of Langstrand rounded out the group. Finduilas had always liked Golasgil and was glad to see him made partner to this friendship. Even though he was the youngest of them all, it was clear that Imrahil was their leader. If only Morvorin were still alive... Moraen sat for Ethring as she had for two years and undoubtedly would continue to do until Dervorin was old enough to do so for himself.
The other new face at the table besides Angbor the Younger was Wren. Denethor had asked her to present the report on eastern Anórien, for Brandir had nothing to say of anything east of Minrimmon. Marlong and Aiavalë wore identical proud expressions when Wren spoke.
Weather and Mordor dominated the council in the afternoon. Almost every lord was worried about their harvests, particularly grains. Even oats and rye were having a difficult time with the wet. Fruit had done well and wool was plentiful, but there was only just enough gourds and root crops for cellaring this year, particularly as there were widespread problems of spoilage in damp cellars. If the winter became more cold or harsh, there would not be enough fodder for the herds. Denethor said they must cull their herds ahead of want and keep only the soundest. 'Expect another year of poor seasons,' he said with certainty, and all nodded, trusting his wisdom.
As for Mordor, Marlong spoke at length on the actions of the enemy. It had been a long season of small attacks. 'They are scouting,' was his final opinion, 'testing to see where their best footholds will be when there is a substantial attack.'
'Where will they seek advantage?' Denethor asked.
'They have lost Umbar for at least a generation, so must come through Ithilien. Their target will be Poros. Once that is secured, they will aim for Cair Andros.'
The lords around the table exchanged worried looks. 'And when can we expect this assault, Captain Marlong?' Duinhir asked.
'It has already begun and will continue another twenty years.'
'Correction.' Denethor's expression was grim. 'It will continue forever. We face an immortal foe who has assailed us across the ages. Our only solace is that he appears to decline in power even as we do. Ever will there be war upon our borders.' He paused to allow this fact to sink in. 'Captain Marlong, what do you advise we do to prevent Mordor from securing their footholds?'
'Secure our own. Push our borders out where we can, and contest every incursion. If we can reclaim parts of Ithilien, we should do so. We will need Rohan to hold south Ithilien and Poros.'
'It would be preferable not to reply upon allies for our basic defense, Captain. I expect a strategy where we shall not be left vulnerable to the whims of outsiders.' Around the room, the lords showed a mix of reactions, some nodding agreement while others looked troubled. Marlong merely bowed in obedience.
Discussion turned to less dire things, such as roads and taxes. Hallas and Núneth said that taxes in kind would be less because of poor harvests, and that this must be made up by coin from lords and the larger towns until good harvests returned. The lords were not pleased by this. Denethor's next command was looked on with even less favor. Areas that were not subject to strong lords, such as the plains above Poros, the wide valley between Pinnath Gelin and the Morthond Vale, the highlands of Lebennin, Pelargir and its surrounding lands, and much of Anórien, would be given governors to mind the business of those lands, ensuring laws were followed, taxes collected, and the land used wisely. The governor of each would be the Steward's representative and would be the highest authority in each area. The places so designated were mostly where Maiaberiel's agents had been found meddling in local business, though some were truly lordless.
The greatest protest came from Hallatan, who fumed that Pelargir needed no governor and that the plains north of Poros were rightfully under the control of the port city. Finduilas was not surprised that Prince Adrahil was the next most vociferous critic of Denethor's plan. Do not be greedy, Father. Dol Amroth's proper sway is the falas. Most lords tried to expand their own power by suggesting Denethor should grant them more sway over adjacent lands rather than appoint new governors.
Denethor listened to each objection without interruption, then simply stated what was going to be done, and presented a list of governors. They were young for the most part, few being more than fifty years of age, and not always noble. Denethor picked soldiers, merchants and successful farmers, people known for their honesty and loyalty. There were two women among them. Governorship of Pelargir he gave to Halwen, the harbormaster of the port. She had been the one who worked with Thorongil to secretly organize the raiding fleet from Pelargir, keeping any rumor of the work away from both spies and the local lords. Borondir, Aiavalë and Núneth all approved of her, and Ragnor had said she was respected by the traders. Eastern Anórien was placed under Wren's rule. Her role in the evacuation of Anórien during the Orc attack was well known, and she had earned the respect of the village heads when Marlong was captain of the Anórien garrison. It did not hurt that Marlong himself was well regarded by most in the region.
The announcement of the governors was the last business of the council. Denethor closed the council with the ancient formula and led them to the council supper. Adrahil took his seat at the foot of the table and stayed there, speaking quietly with Forlong. Neither were pleased by the thought of having governors so close to their lands and no doubt were trying to devise a strategy to ensure the new rulers did not gain any lasting power. The combination that displeased Finduilas was Hallatan and Duinhir. She caught Imrahil's eye and inclined her head slightly towards the pair. He glanced at them and gave her a tiny nod. At the close of the meal, Imrahil claimed the Morthond lord and swept out of the room with him, other young lords in their wake, saying he knew just the place for shaking off the dull sobriety of the council. Adrahil and Forlong loitered while the other lords offered their good evenings to the Steward and Lady.
'Steward Denethor,' Adrahil said when most others were gone, 'may I and Lord Forlong pay a call upon you in the morning...'
'Why don't we go to Vinyamar now and speak?' Denethor interrupted. 'I would rather discuss whatever is on your mind while it is fresh.'
'Ah, yes...Yes, that would be fine, if you are not too weary from...' began Forlong.
'No, I am not. Let us go.' Denethor turned and walked away swiftly, making Adrahil and Forlong hasten to catch up.
Finduilas smiled to herself as she watched them leave. No, do not give them time to plan more than they already have. She turned and had to step back suddenly to avoid running into Hallatan, who was squarely in front of her. His expression was distinctly unpleasant.
'The Steward does not seem to know how to command women,' he said with scorn, though only loud enough for her to hear. 'He should know that not all lords will stand for being made subject to skirts.'
'And if you had any balls, you would speak your treason to your lord's face and not go about trying to bully a woman,' Finduilas replied loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear. Marlong began walking over. 'Beware what woman you obey. Power has a way of ending. Abruptly. Remember Amlach.' Hallatan glared at her until Marlong put a hand on his shoulder. He shook off the captain's hand and stomped off, purposefully brushing against Finduilas to try to make her move out of his way. She raised a hand to keep Marlong from going after the man.
'I will speak to Denethor later. Hallatan will rue his discourtesy to me.' Marlong reluctantly obeyed. Finduilas called the other women to her and they returned to the Stewards House and went to her study. Marlong excused himself to speak with Beregar and Hunthor, no doubt to inform them about Hallatan's actions. Finduilas poured them all wine and raised her glass to Wren. 'Here is to the new Governor of Anórien, Mistress Wren!' 'Hear, hear!' Moraen and Aiavalë called out while Wren bowed. They took their seats before the hearth.
'So what are you going to do, Wren?' Moraen asked.
'I will be more often in the City, I suppose, to report to the Lord Steward,' Wren answered. The appointment was not a surprise to her, Denethor having asked her before mettarë if she would take it. 'I always rode with Marlong when he was garrison captain, going to the villages and listening to their business, and kept doing that after he became Captain-General.'
'But now you have more reason to be with us, little sister,' Aiavalë said.
Wren gave the Archivist an appraising look. 'I will be here when I should be. I've been too long away from Anórien as it is.'
'You don't miss us, Wren?' Finduilas asked. 'We miss you terribly! I don't know what I would have done these last few months without you.'
'Of course I miss you, but...' Wren shrugged. 'I like not being a little sister all the time, and Anórien is where my farm is. Until I reclaim the one in Ithilien, that is. Besides, someone has to keep an eye on Beruthiel.'
Minas Tirith, Late May, 2985 T.A.
The winter had passed with no worse weather and the spring was milder than the two previous years, though still too damp. Finduilas was getting used to having a constant cough once more. The worst part was not being able to sleep soundly, for the choking sensation would wake her up.
Denethor had been silent for a day after hearing of Hallatan's threat. Finduilas suspected he was angered more by the man's rudeness to her than his complaints about the new governors. Since then, the reports from Halwen always had a few lines in them about Lord Hallatan's failing fortunes in trade and increasing evidence of tax evasion.
A few days ago, Imrahil had returned from a journey to central Gondor, traveling to Ethring, Calembel, Lamedon and Morthond. He had stopped briefly in Dol Amroth and had come back on a small ship along the coast. He had been closeted with Denethor, Marlong and Borondir since he set foot in the City, but had finally earned his freedom and was coming to visit her for an afternoon. Imrahil came in five minutes after the bells rang, greeting her cheerfully before flinging himself upon a couch. 'I beg you sister, please tell your lord husband to have pity on his brother-in-law and give me a few days' rest,' he teased. He was lean, almost gaunt, from the travels, and his silver hair was shaggy.
'If you wish, I shall plead your case, little brother, but I think you prefer to be always upon the road,' she teased in return.
His smile faded and he sat up. 'Aye, perhaps I do. There is much to be seen. But,' and the twinkle came back to his eyes, 'for the moment, I wish to be here, if only for a few days.' Imrahil rose and retrieved a bag he had dropped by the door. 'Mother sent you a present.'
'She was cleaning out a chest that had belonged to Prince Aglahad and found these.' Imrahil pulled out a bundle of wrapped in silk. He pulled back the cloth to expose a small stack of letters. 'She had them all copied, of course, and only sent a few, the ones in good condition.'
'What are they letters about?' Finduilas asked, laying the stack on the low table before them.
'They are by Grandfather when he was in service to Steward Túrin. It is not all of them, even counting those still in Dol Amroth, just those his father chose to keep. I read these all on the ship. Such amazing tales, and some of them may even be true!'
'Pick a good one and let us read it together,' Finduilas urged.
Imrahil looked trough the selection, careful with the brittle paper. 'Here is the one I like best.' Imrahil flattened the sheets out.
15 March, 2905
My lord father,
Greetings dear lord. To forestall worry and questions, all of us are hale and Lindórië is already planning the journey to Dol Amroth with the children. She sends her fondest greetings to you and Mother. Warden Turgon also sends his regards, and hopes that you are well.
The spring has been quiet, for which we are grateful after the Uruk attacks last fall. The brutes have only grown more bold in the last year. Even a water rat like myself wishes for a bridge to get our troops over Anduin more quickly and in larger numbers. Had there been one, I don't think we would have had to abandon the province. Even so...
...Before I forget, I must tell you of my latest acquaintance. It is a perian! A pert fellow with the biggest feet I've seen on any creature. Their soles are as tough as leather and he needs no boots. His name is Isengar, son of Thain (for that is the title they give their lords) Gerontius of Tookland, a strange country far in the north. He tried to show me the land on a map, but we could not locate the exact spot. Somewhere in the west of where Arnor once lay, I gather. His speech is odd and he sounds like a Rider at times. He showed up in the company of the old wizard, Mithrandir, not that he knows any magic himself - save perhaps the ability to make a mug of free ale appear at his elbow in any tavern in payment for his tales! I told him he should go to Dol Amroth and tell you his tales...
...Both Túrin and Turgon are concerned over the increased attacks out of Mordor. Turgon in particular says he thinks there is something greater, like the feeling in the air before the storm clouds gather. The wizard spoke with the Steward, and Túrin was grave for a week afterwards, though he would not divulge the wizard's council.
The children are eager to see you once more and I shall beg parole of our Lord Steward so I may see you and Mother again this summer.
Your obedient son,
'Grandfather saw a perian,' Imrahil said, shaking his head. 'I always thought they were legends.'
'Oh, no, they exist. The Dwarves told us a story of one when they were our guests for supper. According to Master Nori, they used a perian to spy upon the dragon who had seized their stronghold.'
'Really?' Imrahil read over a few lines of the letter. 'Small but plucky, these Periannath. I envy Grandfather being able to see one. If the Dwarves traveled with one, I suppose they are still about. Maybe I could ride...'
Finduilas only paid her brother half a mind as he chattered on about seeing a perian, thinking upon what Angelimir had also said. Two tales of Mithrandir and a perian. Two tales of the wizard involving himself in others' rule. What were you up to then, wizard, and what did you say to a Steward to cause such concern? This was a letter to show to Denethor.
Something poked her arm. 'Sister?'
'Where were you? I have said your name twice and you didn't hear me.' Imrahil gave her a stern look. 'You weren't dreaming, were you?'
'Not at all. Just thinking of the travels of short folk.'
Her brother looked unconvinced. 'There was one thing I did not understand in this letter, Finduilas,' Imrahil said, pointing to the opening, 'or perhaps I understand too well. Grandfather speaks of children. I know of no aunt or uncle.'
'You do not know?' Finduilas sighed and hugged him. 'I am sorry to be the one to speak of this sorrow. Mother told me. Our grandparents had three children, two girls and a boy, just as we are, and they all died in the terrible winter of 2911. Grandmother Lindórië nearly died of grief, and was weak for several years. Father was born late in their lives.'
'Ah, for pity!' Imrahil held Finduilas tightly. 'No, I had not heard this before. I didn't know Grandfather was wed when he was here, though I should have, I guess.' He let go of her and sat loosely, a glum look on his face. 'And now I must give attention to such thoughts myself.'
'What thoughts, Imrahil?'
'Wedding. Wives. Children.'
'You only get one wife,' Finduilas teased, but only elicited a shadow of a smile in return.
'Mother and Father each sat me down and said it was time for me to consider who would make a suitable wife.'
'Did they give you lists?'
'I asked them not to, else they would have, I'm sure.'
Finduilas sat back and studied Imrahil. 'So what fills you with such dread, brother? Lady Ivorwen?'
That made Imrahil snicker. 'No. I can always get Denethor to send me back to Harad or off to the northern wilds if I need to elude her clutches.' He waved the letter. 'Now I have a new place to go!'
'So what remains?'
'That it is present, or that it is not?'
Finduilas stifled a sigh at her brother's oblique words. 'Are you saying that you love someone who does not love you in return?' He nodded his head, staring at the floor. 'And how long have you been in love?'
'Years. I want no one but her, and she hates me.'
'Hates you?' Finduilas tried to think of any woman who had behaved meanly to Imrahil and could not think of any. Indeed, the trouble was they were all too ready to like him for no good reason. 'Who? And why would anyone hate you?'
'Moraen. I let Morvorin die when I swore I would keep him safe and she hates me.'
It took a moment for Finduilas to find her voice. 'How do you know she hates you? Did she say so?'
'No. She did not have to. It was in her face when I saw her in Pelargir when she and Borondir came to...collect Morvorin.' He sighed and dropped his head into his hands, scrubbing at his hair. 'I fell in love with her at your wedding. She was the most beautiful of all the girls, but I knew it was stupid since she was older and would be wed by the time I came of age. Then you brought her home from Ivriniel's wedding and I was happy just to look at her. She only had eyes for Thorongil, and, well, that was that. Then he left and I began to hope that, maybe...' He laughed humorlessly, sitting up. 'But she never looked at me, or treated me as more than some scruffy little boy to pat on the head and send away.'
'Did you ever say anything to her?'
'Why would I? I wasn't of age to say such things and she showed me no favor. That whole summer when we traveled and I flirted with all the girls just to see if I could get a look from her, nothing! Then...' Imrahil gestured helplessly. 'I did not protect Morvorin and have been too shamed since then to presume to speak.'
Finduilas sighed, not knowing which one she wished to strangle first, Imrahil or Moraen. 'So, you have not actually heard her condemn you for her brother?' He shook his head. A thought Finduilas did not like came to her. 'Is this why you are so eager to be away from here? To avoid Moraen?' A nod. 'Then you must ask her forgiveness for this, and not just because you love. It is not right that the High Warden runs away rather than face a judgment. I remember the promise you made, to do your best with a headstrong man, and I know you did.'
Imrahil sat, dejected, for some time. 'I wanted to call him brother. And Moraen wife.'
'Both are still possible.'
'She does not look upon me with fondness.'
Finduilas put a finger under his chin and made her brother look at her. 'Moraen's heart has been sorely tried, and much of her pride humbled, since Morvorin's death. Mayhap she does not love you, but until she speaks her mind, you will not know.'
'I'm sorry I let your brother die, please forgive me, and, oh, would you marry me?'
She growled and gave him a swat on his cheek. 'Not like that, stupid.'
'Do as I say and let her know how doubly grieved your heart has been, by the loss of Morvorin and the thought that she condemns you for not keeping your promise to protect him. Speak of nothing else at all. If she will not forgive you, well, you have your answer. If she does, do not press for more, but be glad and let her know this. I will speak to Denethor and see that you are given a long time of rest in the City; you deserve it in any case. Leave the rest to me.'
Minas Tirith, Late June, 2985 T.A.
Denethor wished for Imrahil to stay near through the summer, so Finduilas did not even need to ask. Imrahil had walked with Moraen upon the promontory a few days after his arrival and had been forgiven. That alone had left him far happier. Boromir quickly claimed his uncle as his favorite companion for adventures in the City and Faramir was always begging Imrahil to tell him stories. His nephews' attention not only delighted Imrahil, it also gave him a reason to be about the house whenever he was not needed for Tower business. As the weather warmed, Finduilas went about the City, paying calls and seeing to the Lady's Grace, and Denethor insisted that she had to be accompanied by Imrahil if he could not be with her himself. With Wren back in Anórien and Aiavalë consumed with the archives and the Tower, it fell to Moraen to be Finduilas' companion and secretary on these outings. Imrahil and Beregar dutifully followed them on all their errands.
Finduilas' cough receded as spring looked towards summer, and she declared that she wearied of doing nothing but business. 'The Lady and the Lord Steward must be seen,' she said, 'and remind people who rules Gondor.' Moraen let it be known that the Lady was looking for amusement and suddenly there were more invitations to parties and dances than could be answered. The two of them would sit in Finduilas' study and decide who would earn the honor of the Lady's company. The invitations were judged by the stature of the house, their loyalty to Denethor, whether they had been approached by Maiaberiel's faction, the number of the household in the army or serving the Tower, and whether there was a suitable unmarried man of that house. Moraen scowled at this, but Finduilas insisted. 'I shall never urge anyone upon you, Moraen, and I forbid you to wed for aught but love. Even so, all who love you wish for you to find a love and you shan't do that by staring at a ledger all day.'
'Haleth did,' Moraen cheekily replied.
'Haleth found her love by looking up from her ledgers,' Finduilas scolded gently. As you will find yours. She did not think it mere fancy that Moraen's eyes went to Imrahil more often, nor that the women's words to him were more welcoming than before. Occasionally, Finduilas wondered if Moraen was the best woman for Imrahil, remembering when the woman spoke thoughtlessly of Borondir or had been callous to pups because of their low origin. Is she worse in that regard than any other girl you have seen? Are you without your flaws, goose? It would be difficult to find another woman better prepared for the demands that would be laid upon the wife of the Prince of Dol Amroth. The years of tending the Lady's Grace had trained Moraen well for such a station. She is better prepared to be the wife of the High Warden than I was. Finduilas put aside her doubts when she saw Imrahil's gaze upon Moraen when he thought the woman was not looking. It is for him to decide the shape of his heart.
Imrahil always went to the parties, for there were as many women wishing to capture his eye as there were men wishing for Moraen's attention. Finduilas admonished him to cease his childish flirting, for Moraen would not be moved by jealousy, and to spend much of his time at gatherings attending Denethor and being the High Warden. 'Do not appear too eager for women's company, not even Moraen's,' she had counseled. 'Think of Denethor's reserve when he so subtly wooed me. She distrusts honeyed words. Treat her as you would another prince, for that is what she is.' Imrahil had faithfully followed these instructions, though it was difficult for him to avoid the attentions of eager admirers.
'This had best work, sister,' he said one afternoon a few days before loëndë. Moraen was off with Haleth and Borondir seeing to feast preparations while Finduilas rested. Imrahil sprawled on the floor of the study, building things with Faramir's blocks. 'I am more in love than ever.'
'So when will you ask her?'
'Wasn't I supposed to leave all the rest to you?'
'Until that. You have to ask for yourself.'
'Hmm.' The stack he had been balancing came down with a crash. 'I need some inspiration.'
'A beautiful girl you are madly in love with is not sufficient inspiration?'
'For the words! What did Denethor say to you?'
'He didn't. I told him I loved him and wanted to marry him.'
'What?' Imrahil sat up, grinning. 'You didn't!'
'And he said?'
'That I should marry Thorongil, he had no interest in getting married, and that I was a fool.' The look on Imrahil's face made Finduilas laugh so hard she coughed. 'I said I had made up my mind and would not be dissuaded. He realized he could not win, and asked Father for my hand the next day.'
Imrahil flopped back on the floor, laughing. 'I should have known you two could not manage to do anything in an ordinary way.'
'Are you waiting until you turn thirty?'
'No.' Imrahil turned over and began playing with the blocks again. 'I think I will ask on loëndë.'
'Don't be drunk or she won't believe you.'
'You women do not make it easy for us poor fools, do you?'
'Of course not. It is how we winnow the good from the bad.' The cough kept lingering in the back of her throat. 'Brother, will you go fetch me some tea? Dúlin knows which one to steep.'
When Imrahil returned his face was troubled, but he would not speak until after she had drunk a cup of tea. 'There is a prentice from the Houses of Healing downstairs. She says Warden Lhûn is asking for you.'
Finduilas drank another cup of tea before going with the prentice to the Houses. 'What is it, Lhûn?' she asked when brought to the healer's rooms.
'Mistress Primrose is here, badly hurt. She will live, but I am not sure how much use of her arm she will have. She asked to see you.'
'There were robbers at her shop last night, and she was injured.'
'Take me to her.' Primrose lay in a bed in a bright room attended by one of her daughters. She was pale, with dark marks across her face and heavy bandages on her left arm and shoulder. 'Primrose, it is Finduilas.'
The jeweler opened her swollen eyes. 'Take it back,' she rasped.
'What? Take what back?'
'That cursed gold.' With that, Primrose closed her eyes and turned her face away.
Finduilas looked at the daughter. 'I don't understand.'
'You have to take back the dower. It is cursed. He never wanted us to have anything, and ill-fortune follows.'
'Someone tried to steal the dower gold?'
The young woman nodded. 'Two of them. We were closing the shop and they broke in. It was me and Mother in the front. One of them started ransacking the shelves, while the other threatened to kill us if we made a noise. Then the one with the knife ...' she gulped and shook her head, 'he attacked Mother and beat her in the face, then stabbed her, cutting her arm and chest. We both started screaming. Father came in with a forge hammer and broke the robber's head in. The other one fell to the floor and begged not to be harmed.'
'Who were they?'
'The second one, he's a footpad in the circle. Everyone knows to watch their purse around him, but he's never hurt a soul. No one knows the other. The second said the other talked him into trying to get the gold. You must send one of your guardsmen to collect the gold so everyone knows we do not have it anymore.'
'But, you are goldsmiths. You have gold all the time.'
'This is cursed. Adanel lost her tavern. We don't want it any more than he wanted us.'
Finduilas nodded dumbly and left. Yes, a curse, but not of the Steward. He loved you. She is the one who wants you dead. The exiled queen of Gondor, Beruthiel.
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