Denethor stood uncomfortably, surrounded by the chattering crowd but untouched by it. This riding-party to celebrate the midsummer festival of loëndë was meant for the elder sons and daughters of the noble houses, those of marriageable age. At twenty, he was the youngest present by at least four years and would never have been invited had he not been the only son of the Steward.
I might be one of the brood mares in the stables, he thought gloomily. All that is left is for someone to ask to see my teeth, and to feel my legs!
A cheer rose from those near the gate as the horses were led in. Denethor could see his sisters standing in a cluster with their friends, waiting to mount. His oldest sister, Sellas, was a decent rider, but Malindë cared more about how she looked in her habit than how she looked on her horse. She had had to have a new outfit made for the occasion, a cause for much discussion over the supper table of whether deep green or dark plum best suited her, and whether the embroidery at the cuffs should be gold or silver – talk that Denethor considered the greatest waste of time in Arda. As long as one dressed becoming one's station, and was clean and neat, why worry about trifles? Malindë had dragged Sellas into it too. He had to admit that they did both look well, but then, their older clothes had been just as fine.
Malindë had even insisted that Denethor wear a new embroidered tunic – "At least," she had said, "then you won't disgrace Father in that disreputable old thing you've been wearing to ride in these past three years." Denethor had not thought the garment needed replacing – he had only worn it a few times, and it was in fact less than two years old. Now the fabric of the new tunic chafed him as it pulled tightly across his shoulders. He supposed it was appropriate, since everyone else present was clearly wearing new garments in honor of the occasion, but he resented the necessity.
No, not everyone. One of the young women standing with his sisters wore a deep blue tunic and trousers that, although of fine silk brocade, were not only tailored like a man's garments, but were also made in last year's fashion – his tailor had explained at tedious length that sleeves this season were narrow, rather than belled below the elbow. Denethor moved toward the girl, curious why she might be wearing such a garment at such an occasion.
She was tall, nearly as tall as he, and as slender as an adolescent boy, though her hair was longer than any man's would be, hanging in four neat plaits to her waist. She swung herself up easily onto the bay mare she was offered and leaned over to take the traditional stirrup cup from the attending groom.
"Watch yourself, Lotheluin," said one of the young men nearby.
She laughed and drained the cup. "Nothing to worry about, Baran. You still won't be able to keep up with me."
As she took up the reins to guide the mare toward the gate, Denethor saw her face fully, and blinked in surprise. She has blue eyes! He watched with interest as she moved away. And an excellent seat on a horse.
He mounted his own black mare and joined the procession leaving the courtyard, down through the streets of Minas Tirith and out to the fields beyond. They would ride through the day, pausing for a quick meal at noon, then return to dance until well past the middle of the night.
Though the party was too large for Denethor to stay near Lotheluin all day, he watched her from a distance when he could not be close. She rode better than he had ever seen a woman ride, as well as the men from Rohan who had visited the Steward the year before. He could rarely hear her conversation with those riding next to her, but what he did hear filled him with curiosity.
In the evening, as he waited with his oldest sister for Malindë to finish bathing and dressing for the dance, he asked her, "Sellas, who was that girl who wore trousers today? I don't recall seeing her before."
Sellas glanced at him. "Lotheluin? Her family is from the plains north of Pinnath Gelin. They only come to Minas Tirith occasionally; I haven't seen her for oh, three years at least, although she lived here with an aunt for quite some time, and we used to be very good friends."
"Has she always dressed so oddly?"
Laughing, Sellas said, "Yes, rather! She says she cannot ride properly in skirts. I think it is that she has two older brothers, who treated her as a boy herself, always taking her out with them riding and hunting."
"But they are not here, her brothers."
"No, I think that her eldest brother is at home, and the other – perhaps serving in the army?" She drew her brows together. "I am not sure. We did not have time to speak long today, she and I."
Denethor nodded. "Hard to talk much while riding, especially in such a large crowd."
"Yes. Why do you. . ."
But Sellas was interrupted by Malindë's sweeping entrance. "Are you ready?"
Relieved, Denethor gave one arm to each sister and led them out of the room.
The hosts of this dance were Gelion and Eilinel, the young heir to Tolfalas and his wife. Eilinel was a distant kinswoman and Denethor rather suspected that his mother had asked her to ensure that he was invited.
Most of the night passed in a heady blur. Denethor had attended only one or two such events previously, and he gave himself over to enjoying it. One span of time, though, would stand out in his memory forever.
He had managed to work his way close enough to Lotheluin to ask if she would dance with him. She wore a more conventional gown now, but very plain and unembellished compared with what most of the other ladies were wearing, and her fingers absentmindedly pleated the blue silk of her skirt as he spoke.
Lotheluin danced very well – she moved through the figures with grace, and her energy was unequaled by any other in the room. As the dance took them apart for a moment, Denethor thought, She is like nothing so much as a falcon, or some such bird – free and fierce, noticing how she gripped his hands rather than the usual tentative touch he expected from a partner. The pattern of movement brought them together again, and he found himself wondering what she would be like in bed. He flushed at the thought and firmly repressed it lest his tongue slip.
"Are you enjoying your stay in Minas Tirith?" he inquired. "My sister Sellas says you used to live here – do you miss it?"
She laughed. "It is well enough for a change, and good to see friends again, but I prefer my own green hills to these walls of white stone. But then, I cannot dance like this there – and I do enjoy dancing. You are a fine partner, sir, I must say." She smiled again and lifted a finger to brush his cheek. "For one so young."
A shiver ran through him at her touch, even as he protested that he was not so young as all that.
"Ah, but compared to me? I have twenty-seven years already, nearly half again as many as you, I'll warrant," Lotheluin said.
"Hardly that great a difference," responded Denethor. "I have twenty-one; you are of age with my own sisters." But it is enough that many would think me odd to pursue her – especially since I lack four years from being of age myself. Does that matter to her? She spoke first of the disparity. . . but I cannot think she is so tied to convention as all that.
"True enough, I admit." She was silent a moment, then continued, "Do you ride often?"
"Not as often as I should like," he said candidly. "Duty often keeps me in the city."
"You should travel more, see more of the country, then. Get your father to send you out to see the land and its people. Come visit Pinnath Gelin and I will ride with you, if I am there."
"If you are there?"
"Well, I am not always home, am I? I am not there at present, for instance."
Denethor raised a hand in concession. "As you say, lady." The music came to an end, and he bowed. "A pleasure to dance with you. I hope perhaps we may do so again – if not this evening, on some other occasion?"
"I would enjoy that," said Lotheluin, and flashed him a warm smile even as her next partner claimed his dance.
Denethor slipped outside to cool his heated thoughts. When he returned to the crowded room he had made up his mind to court Lotheluin, if she permitted. With that intention firmly fixed, he was able to dance the rest of the evening unencumbered by any concern for the future. That would take care of itself; he would pursue present happiness.
The next morning at breakfast his mother inquired how he had enjoyed the loëndë celebrations.
"Very much," he replied, filling his plate and taking a large bite of smoked fish. "You should have come on the ride at least, Mother – you're as good a horsewoman as any lady I saw, except perhaps one."
"I would have liked to, but you know I had other duties," Angwen reminded him. "Which girl rode so well?"
"Lotheluin," he said, suddenly wishing he had not spoken.
"Oh, Sellas's friend? I remember her – she hasn't been in the city for some time. Interesting girl, if a bit wild. She reminds me of your aunt Nerwen at that age, although Nerwen was never a great rider – that was I," she said.
Ecthelion entered and touched his wife on the shoulder in greeting. "Good morning, Denethor. Ready to return to work, after your late night? I note your sisters are still abed."
"Good. I'll want you this morning as scribe for the Council, but this afternoon you're to report to Captain Radhruin. Time for you to be preparing to take charge of the Guards of the Citadel – as my heir, that is your rightful command, and Radhruin would prefer to return to the borders; he's a good commander, but better suited to the woods than the city. So a year or two as his second, and you'll be ready."
Denethor hid his dismay. Two days before, and he would have been delighted at the prospect, but now – Lotheluin's offhand suggestion that he should see more of Gondor had struck a chord in him. He swallowed hard and carefully said, "I am honored that you think me ready for such a responsible post at my age, Father, but I had wanted to ask you if you might think it would be wise for me to spend some time traveling through the land, this year and next, to learn more of it before duty confines me close to Minas Tirith."
His father cocked his head. "This is a new idea from you."
"I know. It came to me last night, seeing folk from all across Gondor, and realizing that I know their lands only from reports on how much wheat or wool or wine they produced in a given year. Maps I have seen, but even the best of maps is not the same as traveling across the land oneself."
"Hm." Ecthelion glanced at his wife, who nodded. "Give me a day or two to consider. I shall have to speak with Radhruin; he was expecting your help soon, but I imagine other arrangements can be made."
The next two days passed in a fever of impatience on Denethor's part, waiting to see if his father would accede to his proposal. In the meantime he managed to learn through Sellas that Lotheluin would be returning home at the end of Cermië, in less than a month. He pored over maps, planning what route he might take to bring him to Pinnath Gelin by mid-Urimë following. At last Ecthelion summoned him to say that he gave permission.
"I expect you to write up what you see in full detail," said the Steward. "An outside view of matters is likely to be more accurate than that of the local lord; not that I mistrust them – most of them – but I always seem to hear from Gelion in Tolfalas that the fish runs are less than usual, and from Duinhavel of Morthond that the snows lingered late and so the crops were poor, and so on. They all want to reduce their taxes, of course, but they cannot always be in trouble. An unbiased report this year would be valuable to me. Make two copies, keep one, and send me the other every few weeks, if you will."
"Of course, sir," promised Denethor. The request was no more than he had expected; he had to justify his absence from Minas Tirith in some tangible way. "I will do as you ask. I will leave the day after tomorrow, if I may?"
"Whenever you like," Ecthelion said. "I presume you mean to travel with no more than one servant, on horseback? Ask your mother for suggestions on what you should take. She's very good at that sort of thing."
Denethor agreed, though he privately doubted it. He listened with only half an ear to Angwen as she rattled through lists of clothing and other gear that he ought to take, but when he began to pack, he realized that his father was correct and his mother did know what she was talking about.
The first eight weeks of his tour would ever after be vague in Denethor's memory. He and his man Ciryon took a ship to the coast of Andrast, where he purchased three of the local horses using the Steward's letter of authority, not having deemed it worthwhile to subject his own to the rigors of a voyage. They rode north along the coast to Drúwaith Iaur as far as the River Isen, then turned and went southward again, through the gap in the mountains, crossing the Lefnui to the plain of Pinnath Gelin, staying sometimes with the local lord and sometimes at inns in the towns and villages. Though he diligently noted of what he saw, and made a fair copy of his scribblings to send to Ecthelion when he had the chance, even rereading those descriptions could never recall anything to his mind. It was not until he rode through the plains of Pinnath Gelin, with Ciryon and the packhorse as usual trailing slightly behind him, that his senses seemed to come alive. Súrion and Rían made him welcome, but he could see only their daughter Lotheluin. He had forgotten how blue her eyes were, the deep blue of the sky in summer just as the sun sinks behind the land, and while he greeted her with all due courtesy, he thought he might be lost.
"I'm sorry that neither of our sons is here at the moment," said Súrion. "Eradan usually would be, but he is at Ethring just now, on business for me."
"Perhaps I will see him there, when I travel eastward," said Denethor politely, but he did not mind that Lotheluin's brothers were absent. Though her mother has sharp eyes. Well, I am the Steward's Heir, am I not? A fine alliance for any young woman. If Rían suspects my motives, I doubt she will try to thwart me.
"Oh, he should be returning within a week, if you stay here that long," Rían assured him. "Do; Eradan would be disappointed to miss a visitor."
Conversation that night at table was general. Lotheluin had more recent news from Minas Tirith than Denethor, since she had departed the city only four weeks before, but he had better knowledge to share with Súrion of the political and trade matters that might affect his holding. After the meal, Lotheluin offered to play for them. Her instrument was a lute, and she sang while she played – delightfully, Denethor thought. The tunes she chose were ballads, full of romances and love lost, found, betrayed, and attained. He could have listened to her all night.
In the morning, he reminded her of her half-promise to ride with him, should he come to Pinnath Gelin.
"Of course I remember," said Lotheluin. She was dressed in trousers and tunic as when he had first seen her. The fabric was of the same deep and smoky blue of her eyes, though well-worn, nearly threadbare in places. "I would be pleased to ride with you."
That day and the several following, he surveyed the local farms and villages, now in varying stages of their harvests, setting out in the cool of the morning and resting through the heat of the day in inns, gathering the local gossip and news, before returning to spend the evening with his hosts. Lotheluin accompanied him. She knew all the bridle-paths and shortcuts as well as the main roads, and he appreciated her willingness to devote her time to helping him. When he thanked her, though, she laughed.
"Ah, but it gets me out from under my mother's eye, and on a horse!" She grinned at him in conspiratorial fashion. "Are you certain you cannot stay longer than this week?"
The question caught him by surprise, and he pretended to cough over his ale to give himself time to phrase an answer. "I would be delighted to do so," he said sincerely, "but I fear that the Steward would wonder at it."
The evening began delightfully. Denethor was persuaded to sing harmonies to Lotheluin's rich alto voice, although he protested that he had little talent for it. She overrode him, laughing, and he noticed that she again chose love-songs. When she had put away the lute, conversation turned to a comparison of the merits of town and countryside.
Denethor admitted that he preferred the city, being born and bred in Minas Tirith, and accustomed to its ways. "Though I do not scorn cot and farm, nor the people whose lives are there," he hastened to add. "Without them the city could not subsist."
"I liked going to the White City for the Steward's mettarë celebrations when I was a young man," said Súrion. "The whirl of folk, the excitement of it. It was a special treat, since we could only go only every few years, what with the great distance and the expense of travel and all. I thought then it would be a fine thing to live in Minas Tirith, or Dol Amroth, or even Pelargir."
"And I never thought I would come to any place so rural as this," said his wife.
"Oh?" said Denethor. "Why so?"
"My family lived in Calembel on the River Ciril; it is not a large town, but being on the road from Erech to Linhir it sees a goodly amount of traffic," Rían said. "So I was used to a certain amount of bustle, strangers passing through. Here we have only the occasional visitor such as yourself. It was quite a change to become accustomed to."
"What is your opinion, Lotheluin?" Denethor had to take care not to let her name roll too tenderly from his tongue.
"I was born here," she said. "I love the open fields, the coppices dotted among them. I love the freedom of riding where I choose, not needing to take care how I appear as I must in town."
"But as I grew to appreciate the Pinnath Gelin, so I am sure you can come to see the good things that there are there as well," said Rían.
"Doubtless that is true," agreed Lotheluin. "I have enjoyed much of the time I have spent in Minas Tirith, particularly this last visit." She smiled, Denethor thought, with especial warmth at him. "And is it not often the case that leaving childhood means leaving one's childhood home as well?"
Shall I take that as a good sign, then, if despite her love of the open country, she is willing to think well of my city of stone? Could she even be implying that she might wish to go there?
Denethor was more and more determined that Lotheluin was the woman he wanted for his wife. She was striking, if not classically beautiful; a skilled horsewoman, which would please his mother; she was a friend of his sisters; her family was not among the great lords, but high enough. Most of all, he found her delightful company, intelligent without being as formidable as Sellas was on occasion, and with a pleasing sense of humor.
That was much in evidence on the following day, when she challenged him to a race on the way back to her family's vill. It was a challenge Denethor was loath to refuse, feeling that if he could outride her, he would be sure to have her esteem – and esteem is next to love, is it not? – but his mount was the bay gelding he had purchased in Andrast; a serviceable enough animal, but hardly one on which to race. When he pointed this out to Lotheluin, she merely suggested that they exchange animals. He protested that that would make the proposed race equally unfair to her, but she insisted, dismounting and waiting until he agreed.
"What course for the race?" Denethor asked, and Lotheluin grinned at him.
"Why, back to our stable, of course."
It was a distance of perhaps a league, or a little more, by his reckoning. Denethor said, "Very well, then, on my mark? One – two – three!"
They started off, and Denethor easily drew ahead. The road had several turnings around stands of trees and up and down rises, and soon when he glanced behind him, Lotheluin was nowhere to be seen. He shrugged to himself and let Lotheluin's grey stallion slacken his pace somewhat, not wishing to risk injury to the fine animal when there was no need.
When he cantered up to the stable, his jaw dropped. There was Lotheluin, calmly unsaddling his gelding.
"Oh, there you are," she said, her blue eyes gleaming with laughter.
"What? How?" Denethor spluttered, unable to conceal his confoundment.
"A short cut, what did you think?" Lotheluin said. "But sometime we can perhaps have a proper race." She handed him the saddle to carry inside. He followed her into the hay-smelling stable, dark after the dazzling brightness of the sun.
She jests with me; would she do so if she were indifferent?
Denethor resolved that before he left, he would speak to her, ask if she returned his feelings at all. He was young, yes, too young to wed for several years, but if she did not object to waiting a little while, he could offer her much. He was to depart on the third morning hence; he would speak on the second evening.
The following afternoon Eradan returned. When Denethor and Lotheluin rode back, she saw her brother's horse in its stall and gave a crow of delight. Denethor smiled at that, thinking that such a reaction made her seem more his own age. "You are glad your brother is home?"
"Oh, yes," and the intensity of her voice made him envious that she loved her brother so well. And I love her that much, but I am not quite ready to show it so.
The hall was decked with flowers to welcome back Súrion's eldest son; white cloths gleamed on all the tables and they were laden with silver and pewter to accommodate not only the whole household but also a number of the family's dependents who lived close by. Eradan himself stood surrounded by a knot of people, protesting that he was fine, he did not wish to sit down after his journey, and they would hear all the news after the meal. Lotheluin slipped through the crowd to her brother like a rabbit darting into its hole, Denethor following.
She hugged him. "Eradan!"
Eradan returned her embrace, saying, "You will be pleased, sister, with my labor. Mother wishes to see you, but I have a message to give you later." He turned to greet Denethor. "My lord, it is a pleasure to see you again."
His formal tone made Denethor uncomfortably aware of his own youth; he bowed and said in an equally composed voice, "The same to you, sir. I trust you had a pleasant journey?"
"Indeed I did, thank you," said Eradan.
Lotheluin laughed at them both and said, "I must go see Mother, as she asked, and change for your dinner, Eradan. Denethor undoubtedly wishes to do the same."
"Yes," said Denethor, relieved, "Pray excuse me."
As the ranking guest, he was seated at the high table, next to Rían. Lotheluin and Eradan sat on the far side of their father, and he could not easily speak with them, occupying himself instead with discussing the harvest and the weather with the others at his end of the table. If all goes as I hope, tomorrow night, I will have all the time I could ask for to spend with her.
At the end of the meal Súrion rose and called for silence. "I would have liked to have had our other son Hador here tonight, but he will forgive us for not waiting until he next comes home on leave from his company. I have an announcement that brings me great happiness to make; Eradan in my stead has secured agreement with Belegond of Ethring for a marriage between our children."
These words confused Denethor, for Belegond had no daughters that he knew of. What could Súrion mean?
Súrion was still speaking. "I ask you all to drink to the happiness of my daughter Lotheluin and her future husband, Baran of Ethring!"
The room was filled with people, standing, raising their glasses, cheering for the betrothal. Denethor lifted his goblet mechanically and touched it to his lips, but tasted nothing. Too late. Had I spoken yesterday, perhaps I could have persuaded her – but that chance is gone, before I knew. He could see her, flushed and happy, accepting congratulations that he had no heart to give. My heart is already hers; I can offer her nothing now.
He edged back from the table until he could slip off through the crowd and went off to his room. As soon as he felt able, he sent for Ciryon to tell him that they would depart the next morning, rather than the following day. Then, steeling himself, he returned to the hall to give his regrets to Súrion and Rían that he could stay no longer. He thought he saw sympathy in Rían's eyes, and rejected it. If I cannot have the one I love, I will love no other; but I will not be pitied. Denethor held that thought to him like armor against the long years ahead.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.