5. Chapter 5
Ecthelion had, after a few days' thought and consideration, agreed to send out parties in answer to Thengel's request. It had taken another week before the parties were fixed, and the mounts and supplies ready. The Steward had decided to send the same group of men to both Dol Amroth and Pelargir, with horses to bear them from Minas Tirith to Dol Amroth and thence to Pelargir, returning to the White City upon the Anduin by ship. As ambassador to the cities, Denethor was in command of the party, accompanied by men from several companies of the Guard. Aragorn was amongst them; the Steward having evidently decided to treat him as a connection to Rohan. In truth he had hoped to go, wishing to travel away from the City for a while. Now, with several days' journey behind them, the group was nearing Dol Amroth, with Denethor on a black horse at the head.
As they grew closer to the coast they began to make out signs of dwellings: small villages growing larger the nearer to the city they came. Soon they were riding through pleasant streets, the buildings low and built with a light grey stone, the doors and window-frames stained bright blue or terracotta.
"I am sure Adrahil will have little to tell us," Denethor said, as Aragorn rode up beside him. "Yet I am glad to arrive. Dol Amroth is yet a fair city."
Aragorn, glancing around him, agreed. The taller buildings, evidently those used for public affairs, were carven with patterns and scenes that reminded Aragorn in some way of Imladris, far to the North. He recalled the tales that said there lingered yet some Elven-blood in the veins of the city's people, and wondered if there was, in fact, some truth in those stories.
They came through a set of gates above which hung a wooden shield bearing the insignia of a silver swan and a ship sailing on a blue background, and dismounted in a large and spacious courtyard planted with trees. Grooms came to them and took the reins of the horses, and Aragorn patted his on the nose as it was led away. Turning, he followed Denethor through another gate and inside into a great hall, panelled in light silvery wood and hung with blue and silver banners. Someone blew a trumpet, and the people in the room - there were several - turned, as a servant announced in a loud clear voice, "the Lord Denethor, son of Ecthelion Steward of Gondor."
From a chair at the end of the room, a man stood and came towards them, his arms open wide in greeting and his face wreathed in smiles. Aragorn stood with the rest of the party and watched as Denethor exchanged bows with him.
"My lord Denethor, this is a welcome visit!" the man said.
"Your Highness," Denethor said stiffly. "I am come on business from my father by request of Thengel of Rohan. I trust we do not disturb you?"
"Disturb us? No, not at all. I was merely discussing fishing rights. You and your men are more than welcome."
"Adrahil," Aragorn's neighbour said with a grin. "Prince of Dol Amroth. They say he's well-liked by his subjects."
"I can believe that," Aragorn said.
Denethor passed Adrahil a rolled scroll, presumably from Ecthelion, and Adrahil, laughing at something, took it and passed it to an advisor who laid it on the table. Now the Prince came to Aragorn and the rest of the company from Minas Tirith.
"Welcome to Dol Amroth!" he said. "Now I'm sure you're all weary and hungry. I will order a room to be made ready for you and some food - I trust none of you will refuse a more sustaining meal this evening - a banquet, perhaps?"
"Your Highness, we are come on business, not pleasure," Denethor said. "We have little time for carousing."
"But you and your men must eat," Adrahil said. "I will not be refused this, my lord. Tomorrow we shall discuss this business, but you have ridden far."
They were led away to a roomy chamber with beds laid out in rows, and as he settled down with a sigh, Aragorn reflected that there was indeed a little of the Elf in Adrahil of Dol Amroth - in the fair features and the grey eyes. But Adrahil was showing signs of age, and that was not Elvish but very much mortal. Aragorn closed his eyes and thought of Arwen as he drifted off into sleep.
By the evening, the great hall was laid out for a feast, with candles lit and the table set with silver. Adrahil was waiting for Denethor and his company as they arrived, standing by the door with a young man who clearly resembled him, and a young woman with dark hair and sea-grey eyes. "My son Imrahil, and my daughter Finduilas," Adrahil introduced them, pride clear in his voice. Aragorn, waiting at a distance, noticed Denethor's eyes suddenly linger on Finduilas as he straightened from his bow, and for the first time he wondered if it were not time indeed that the Steward's son be looking for a wife.
Denethor joined Adrahil and his children and introduced his men as they in turn filed past, and then once the formalities were over, they sat down to eat. Adrahil had provided a lavish meal - meat, soups, vegetables, as well as plentiful amounts of fresh fish baked, roasted, grilled and boiled. Following the savouries there was fruit and five different sorts of cake. The party from Minas Tirith, used to the simple diet of bread and meat on which the Guards lived, ate with relish, and there was wine aplenty also. The talk grew loud and cheerful, as Adrahil's own men exchanged stories of seafaring for stories from the city. Only Denethor was silent, watching Finduilas' animated face across the table.
Following the meal Adrahil ordered the tables to be pushed back and musicians were brought in for dancing; and when all grew tired, there were calls for tales and songs. One of Adrahil's minstrels stood up and sang the old tale of Amroth and Nimrodel, and was received with applause. Denethor was still watching Finduilas as she listened intently. Now the men of Dol Amroth called for a tale from Denethor's company, and for a moment they were silent.
"Thorongil, you should do it," someone said, giving Aragorn a push.
"I agree!" someone else added. "Give us something romantic, eh - might be that we can help something along here."
Aragorn protested, but the rest of the men were adamant, and reluctantly he agreed. But he remained in his seat, and as the hall again fell silent, said, "I will sing you the tale of Beren and Lúthien, or part of it.*" He paused for a moment, and then softly began to sing. He closed his eyes, and tried to forget his audience - he had seldom performed in the Hall of Fire in Imladris, but had heard this and other tales on many an occasion, and the words came back to him easily. He sang in Quenya, and let his mind drift back to the day he turned twenty and left 'Estel' behind; the day he wandered in the woods of the North and fell in love.
When the song ended there was an echoing silence in the hall as the last phrase rang for a second in the air and then died. And then there was a riot of applause. Someone clapped Aragorn on the back.
"I'm not going to pretend I understood all that," his neighbour said, "but by the Valar! it was good."
Aragorn nodded his thanks absently, and equally absently accepted the goblet of wine a servant brought him. As the dancing started up again, he noticed Denethor and Finduilas moving on to the floor together, and picking up the goblet he moved around the edge of the room, seeking silence and quiet.
Outside it was a beautiful evening. From the terrace of Adrahil's house there was a view over the sea, rippling silver and black in the moonlight. In the distance, lights blinked; coming from the direction of Edhellond to the northeast, and on the water itself, from ships at sail. Aragorn leant on the stone balustrade and slowly sipped his wine, letting his mind wander.
"'Tis a fair evening," a voice said by his side, a while later. Turning, Aragorn saw Denethor gripping the balustrade and gazing out even as he did.
"Indeed, my lord," he replied.
"Where do you look, Thorongil?" Denethor asked.
"Westwards," Aragorn said.
"To Númenor?" the Steward's son said.
"Beyond," Aragorn returned. "To the Uttermost West."
"I had forgot you lived in the house of Elrond," Denethor said. "Is there then much talk of the West amongst the Elves?"
"Not talk, but memories long-held and memories handed down from their fathers," said Aragorn, watching the flickering red light of a ship as it beat its way up the coast. "Of a land surpassing fair where they might find rest."
"Yet tonight I would be nowhere else than here," Denethor said, turning and facing the house, "even were I one of the Eldar."
"Finduilas?" asked Aragorn, curious despite himself, and knowing the answer.
"Even so. I have never yet seen a lady so beautiful," his companion murmured. "And not only fair, Thorongil, but sweet-natured and generous." He paused, and then laughed shortly. "Hark at me! You will be wondering if the lady has taken away my natural sobriety."
"Indeed no, my lord," Aragorn said.
Denethor raised his eyebrows. "Hmm. Well, it is late, and I have business on the morrow. Good night, Thorongil."
"Good night, my lord," Aragorn said, and watched as Denethor walked away, slowly, and deep in thought. Soon he went to his own bed, but lay awake a long while thinking.
In the morning Aragorn was called early to council with Adrahil, Denethor, and others of both Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith. The two lords spoke most, and Aragorn listened silently as they debated Thengel's doubts and the possibility of spies. It turned out that Dol Amroth had seen a few strangers arrive by ship from the South, but they had caused no trouble. By the end of the day it was resolved to question closely all strangers, and to turn back those without a valid reason for travelling North.
As they left the council chamber, Denethor turned to Aragorn.
"Do you think Thengel will be content?"
"Reassured, rather," Aragorn said.
Denethor frowned. "Well, he will have to be happy with what we have done." They walked on in silence for a minute, and then Denethor stopped again. "Thorongil, I . will you take this to the lady Finduilas?" He produced a letter sealed with a D-rune. "I trust you to be discreet."
Aragorn took the letter, surprised. "Why, yes, my lord."
"I thank you." Denethor nodded at Aragorn and hurried off.
Looking down at the letter, Aragorn smiled to himself, and turned back towards the part of the house where Adrahil and his family lived.
He had enquired of a servant where Finduilas was, and was walking slowly down a long corridor admiring the wall decorations when he met Adrahil's son Imrahil coming the other way. Imrahil, Aragorn had discovered the previous night, was yet a young man of only twenty summers or so, but already it was clear he would take after his father in looks and in nobility. As he approached Imrahil, Aragorn paused and bowed his head.
"Good evening!" Imrahil said in return. "Thorongil, is it not, who sang the tale of Beren Camlost yestereve?"
"Yes, my lord," Aragorn replied.
Imrahil smiled. "Then I am glad to have met you now. I wanted to thank you for such a beautiful tale. Few of our minstrels and musicians have the skill to sing in Quenya, and though I myself am but a student, I would ever hear more."
"It is good that some Men still wish to learn the speech of the Eldar," Aragorn said, "for one day they will pass away and it is for us to remember them. Continue your studies, my lord, and I doubt not that in a short time you too will be able to give a rendition of that tale and many others."
"I hope so!" Imrahil said. He gestured, a little timidly, at the letter in Aragorn's hand. "Are you, perhaps, seeking my sister? She is with her ladies, sewing, I believe."
"I am seeking the lady Finduilas," Aragorn admitted. "Though not on my own business."
"That of the lord Denethor, perhaps?" asked Imrahil, his grey eyes lighting up. "Is he .?"
"I believe," Aragorn said, returning the young prince's smile, "that he intends indeed to court your sister."
Imrahil looked pleased. "Go, then, Thorongil. I will hurry to spread rumours!"
Aragorn bowed, and Imrahil did the same before hurrying on his way.
Finduilas was seated with three or four other women in a room catching the late sun, a huge tapestry spread out around them. She stood as Aragorn was announced, blushing to match her rose-pink dress as he bowed formally and handed her Denethor's letter. Her ladies bent together and Aragorn caught excited whispers as he went to stand by a window, listening as Finduilas opened the letter but watching a ship sailing out of the harbour, its sails set for a southbound voyage and the golden light playing off the white canvas. Behind him there was a gasp, and then a chorus of giggles from the ladies, and a cough from Finduilas. Aragorn turned.
"Sir, I beg you to tell the lord Denethor that I would be delighted to speak with him later this evening, and that he should come here after we have eaten. Tell him ." here Finduilas glanced at her companions, before looking back at Aragorn, "tell him he may indeed hope." She paused, and then met Aragorn's eyes with the direct and intelligent glance of her family. "How well do you know the lord Denethor, sir?"
"As well as any who serve under his command, my lady," Aragorn said. "He is a great captain and respected by his men."
"But is he kind? Generous?"
Aragorn paused, trying to think of how he could describe Denethor. "I have only seen him on political and military business, my lady. I can say he is wise beyond his years, and just; more I cannot say. But I do think that he is much taken with you and that his suit is genuine. If you speak with him you will no doubt, my lady, learn more."
Finduilas smiled, lighting up her face. "I thank you, sir. Pray, then, give him my message."
"Certainly, my lady," Aragorn replied, bowing again and turning to leave the room. As he closed the door there was another ripple of talk and whispers, and he was only halfway along the corridor when a rustle of skirts and the tapping of shoes on the floor made him stop and turn.
One of Finduilas's companions had caught him up. "Sir, I have a message from the lady Rían, who, like me, is in the lady Finduilas's service. She begs to ask that she might dance with you this evening?"
Aragorn shook his head. "I am deeply sorry, but I do not dance. Give the lady Rían my apologies, madam."
The lady curtsied and ran off again, and Aragorn continued on his way, feeling a wave of isolation come over him.
*Author's notes: My Quenya is unfortunately non-existent, and I can't find a Quenya (or, indeed, Sindarin) version of the Lay of Leithian anywhere, so I'm afraid you'll have to make do without. However if anyone knows where to find this, or actually has the skill to write one, please let me know!
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