7. Chapter 7
"My lord," Aragorn replied, "they have been working against Gondor constantly, and will continue to do so. They are your sworn enemy."
"Well?" Ecthelion said to Denethor.
"I saw nothing to show that the Corsairs should be banned from our harbours, father," said Denethor, shrugging. "There clearly have been southerners seen travelling north, and I suppose we should send a message to Thengel; but I doubt that the Corsairs are involved."
Aragorn bit his lip and kept silent. Ecthelion nodded.
"Good. So be it. I shall write to Thengel this afternoon and send a rider out tomorrow morning. Do you think he will be satisfied, Thorongil?"
"I believe so, lord," Aragorn said.
"Then so be it. You may go to your lodgings, Thorongil, and rejoin your company once you are refreshed. I may require your captain elsewhere in a few days. Be prepared to take command, should I wish it."
"My lord." Aragorn bowed and left the hall. As he reached the far end, he heard Denethor say, "I need your permission, father, to court a lady," and he closed the double doors with a little more force than was perhaps needed.
As promised, within a week Ecthelion called the captain of Aragorn's company to become one of his advisors, and Aragorn found himself in charge, with new, bigger chambers and forty men under his command. The task kept him occupied, body and mind, and his days were spent training and ordering the company. He found it rewarding, and in return his men worked harder and better, and the Third Company became respected in the City. But Aragorn had less time to himself now, and the chance to escape to the slopes of Mindolluin came even more rarely.
Months passed. It was known in the City that Ecthelion had granted Denethor permission to court Finduilas of Dol Amroth, and the Steward's son rode often to the port to visit her. There was little more news from the South, and though Aragorn requested that tidings of the Corsairs be brought, none ever came. In mid-June, after a cold winter and a quick, flourishing spring, the news came to the City that Denethor son of Ecthelion, Heir to the Steward of Gondor, was to wed Finduilas of Dol Amroth, daughter of Adrahil, and that the wedding would take place within the month. Instantly Minas Tirith became a hotbed of activity. Tents and temporary shelters were erected on the Pelennor for the expected visitors, and within the Citadel, rooms were prepared for the new couple. Seamstresses were kept busy sewing, and the cooks and bakers were all ordered to start preparing food for the feast. Even the Guards did not escape the bustle, and frequently Aragorn found his men diverted from their regular duties to perform some task.
Finally, the wedding party arrived, and the day of marriage dawned. Aragorn, as a captain, attended the ceremony in the great hall of the Citadel, and the feast afterwards. Following the meal, there was dancing, and servants cleared away the tables and the empty plates to allow musicians to take up their places. Denethor and Finduilas led off the first dance, a slow, stately affair, and Aragorn sat and watched thoughtfully. At the end of the second dance, he was approached by a lady in blue who he vaguely recognised as being one of Finduilas's companions, and he accepted her request for a dance and led her on to the floor.
"I am glad to have this dance with you, Captain Thorongil," the lady said, blushing a little. "You might not remember ."
"Lady Rían, perhaps?" Aragorn hazarded, remembering the plea for a dance in Dol Amroth. "I must beg your forgiveness for my refusal on the last occasion. I am afraid my mind was rather occupied with business then."
The lady blushed. "You guess correctly, sir."
"Are you remaining with the Lady Finduilas in the White City?" Aragorn asked, letting the music guide his steps.
"Nay. I am to return to Dol Amroth within the week. In truth I will miss her, but we cannot all remain with her ladyship now she is wed. Some of us are staying here."
Aragorn asked Rían small questions about small matters whilst the dance lasted, and at the end took her across to those of his men who had been invited to the wedding, and saw her take the floor again in a moment. He found himself a seat again by the side of the floor and watched the dancing, whilst the music washed over him, and his thoughts wandered far.
"I hope I am not disturbing you, Captain?" a voice said, and he looked up with a start to see Finduilas beside him. She was wearing her wedding gown with flowers in her long hair, and her cheeks were prettily flushed.
"My lady," he said, and stood to bow. She laughed, and waved a hand towards his seat.
"Sit down. My lord Denethor is being polite and dancing with some of my ladies, so I decided to come and thank you for delivering his first message to me. I am truly very grateful."
"It was a pleasure, my lady," Aragorn said, taking his seat again. "I and all my company wish you and the lord Denethor the utmost happiness."
"And hope that soon Minas Tirith will have an heir to the heir?" said Finduilas. Aragorn acknowledged this with a smile.
"Indeed, my lady, but your happiness is more important."
"I will miss the Sea," Finduilas said, softly. "My rooms in Dol Amroth looked out over the waves, westwards. Here there is naught but grassland."
"There is the mountain, behind," Aragorn said, his heart moved to pity for the girl beside him. "And you will see that every day the grass seems different. At least here you have people coming in and out of the City; I remember in Rohan going days seeing none but the rest of the éored. This is a beautiful city, my lady, with generous and warm people. I am sure you will come to love them, in time."
Finduilas nodded. "I am sure too. It is all so strange, so new, that is all."
"New places are difficult," Aragorn agreed, "but in time you will call the City home. I promise you that, my lady."
"Then I will hold you to it!" she said, her eyes sparkling again. "And now there is another dance. I hope we can speak often, Captain Thorongil. I feel we could be friends."
She stood to cross the floor to her husband again, and Aragorn bent to kiss her hand. "I am at your service, my lady."
Finduilas nodded, and disappeared into the crowds.
The celebrations of the marriage lasted a week, with dancing and games on the fields for the people of Minas Tirith, and ceremonies and feasts in the Citadel. Aragorn watched with a sense of resigned relief as Ecthelion formally declared Denethor his heir, and blessed his son and new daughter. It seemed to him that the Steward was growing old, all of a sudden, the cares of his post weighing down on his shoulders, and talk in the City agreed. Finduilas was quickly taken into their hearts, and people flocked to speak to her as she walked around the streets and began to get to know her new home. If Aragorn happened to pass her, he made sure to greet her kindly and to ask after her, but this occurred only rarely.
Messages came from Pelargir and from Adrahil in Dol Amroth that the Corsairs had increased their traffic to the ports, and news arrived from the southernmost lands of Gondor that there had been small raids on crops and holdings. Aragorn was concerned, and made his concerns clear to Ecthelion, but the Steward seemed little bothered by the news. It was a fair autumn, and the farmers arriving from the Pelennor, the Lebennin, and Emyn Arnen had much to sell. For the moment, the attacks on Ithilien were less. The City was a joyful place in which to live.
Winter came, and Mindolluin was soon covered in snow, the white standard of the Stewards barely visible against the grey skies. The Guards now covered their uniforms in thick capes and stamped their feet as they patrolled the battlements of the Citadel, and the streets were quieter as people kept warm indoors. Yet the Gates still had to be manned, and it was on a frosty, fresh morning when Aragorn walked down to the Great Gate to inspect the guardroom there and ensure that the Guards on duty were provided for. The men seemed pleased to see him, and the inspection was satisfactory. Climbing the levels of the City back up to the Citadel, Aragorn was reflecting on the remaining tasks of the day, and so when he heard the clatter of a horse's hooves, he stepped aside without looking around to see who was coming.
The horse trotted past him, and he glanced up, and let out a cry.
The horse halted, and its rider peered around from under a pair of bushy eyebrows. "Thorongil. Just who I was hoping to see."
Aragorn hurried to the horse and held its reins as the wizard dismounted. "It has been too long, my friend."
"Too long perhaps, but I have had other tasks to attend to than visiting friends north, south and west," Mithrandir replied gruffly. "The world is shifting. There are dark times ahead."
"I hope you can convince Ecthelion of that," Aragorn said, encouraging the horse to start moving again. "Messengers report trouble in the south, yet he pays little attention to it. And we have heard little from Thengel recently."
"Thengel is old," Mithrandir said, his staff tapping on the cobblestones. "Not a dotard, but he is passing more duties to Théoden every month, I gather. Isengard concerns them, and me. Saruman is not being communicative at the moment."
They reached the stables, and Aragorn instructed a stable boy to tend to the horse, which seemed pleased to be somewhere warm and dry with plenty of hay. Mithrandir patted it on the nose and unbuckled the single saddlebag.
"A room?" asked Aragorn.
"Yes. I intend to stay a week, perhaps. We shall see."
Aragorn hailed a servant crossing the courtyard, and ordered that a room be made ready for Mithrandir. "In the meantime, come and take a cup of wine, unless you are desperate to see the Steward at once," he said.
Mithrandir shook his head. "Not at once. I am too weary to argue today."
In Aragorn's chambers, he poured them both a cup of red wine and passed one to the wizard, who took it gratefully. "New rooms for the new rank?" he asked.
Aragorn sat down opposite, and nodded. "Aye. Though at times I wish I did not have the rank."
Raising his eyebrows at Aragorn, Mithrandir pulled out a pipe, filled it and lit it. "It is a great honour, is it not?"
"It confines me to the City," Aragorn said. "But I must not complain, for there are essential tasks here as elsewhere." He drank. "Come now, my friend, you can find out the news of the City tomorrow. Tell me of the North."
"The North?" the wizard said. "What of it? Well, I returned whilst Elladan was away, and stayed awhile with Elrond. The news that came of you was welcome, though Elladan said nothing of captains."
"I was promoted on my return," Aragorn said.
"I guessed as much. Elrond shares my concern about Saruman, and this business with spies from the South is extremely worrying. I cannot understand why Ecthelion refuses to cooperate."
"He sees Rohan as insignificant, that is all," returned Aragorn. "As yet Gondor is not threatened."
Mithrandir made a noise that was half a grunt and half irritation, and drained his cup of wine. "Well. I suppose my room will be ready now? I should go and see Ecthelion and remind him what good counsel is. And I must not detain you from your duties." He stood up, leaning on his staff. "I shall bid you farewell for now, then, Estel, and no doubt we shall see one another later."
Aragorn went to open the door. "I suppose we shall." He watched the wizard cross the courtyard, and then turned to don his cloak again and return to his tasks.
During the afternoon Aragorn received a message from the Steward to attend dinner. He frowned, and accepted, but not without wishing he could have eaten with his men as he had planned; and those he spoke to throughout the rest of the day expressed their disappointment also. Aragorn tried to make dining with his company a regular occurrence, to maintain the camaraderie of the men and thus the better functioning of the group.
After dark, his duties ended, he dressed in his newest uniform and headed to the rooms used by the Steward and his family to live and dine in. Ecthelion, seated alone by a fire, greeted him warmly. "I am glad you came, Thorongil."
"My lord Steward," Aragorn said, bowing.
"I have been speaking with Mithrandir. He tells me he thinks your warnings and worryings with regard to the South and Saruman are not without reason: that, in fact, you have been counselling me wisely all along." A servant proffered a cup of wine, and Aragorn took it. "Naturally I have always valued your counsel, Thorongil, but hearing it supported by the lord Mithrandir is indeed a worthy recommendation. What is the latest news from Pelargir?"
Aragorn told him, and Ecthelion listened and nodded and asked questions. They had only a short while to talk, however, as midway through the conversation Denethor and his lady arrived, Finduilas in a deep blue velvet gown. They exchanged formal greetings and Denethor made polite comments about the weather, before Ecthelion drew his son aside and fell into conversation.
"I trust the snow does not depress you, my lady?" Aragorn asked Finduilas. She smiled and shook her head.
"Nay, captain. I think it is beautiful, particularly viewed from inside a window with a fire burning. I pity those who must work in it, such as your Guards."
"They are well-trained and have warm clothes," replied Aragorn, touched by her thoughtfulness, "but I shall be sure to tell them of your concern, my lady. It will raise you even further in their esteem."
Finduilas blushed. "I am glad to have their esteem."
"If you have it," Aragorn said, "it is only because you have earned it."
She smiled. "You flatter me, captain. But tell me," she added, changing the subject deftly, "I hear we have a guest in the Citadel this evening."
"Aye, the lord Mithrandir arrived this morning," Aragorn said. "Indeed, if I am not mistaken, he will be dining with us tonight."
"They say you know him well?" Finduilas questioned.
"Not well," Aragorn said.
"But better than some," a voice cut in, and they both turned to see the wizard behind them. He had left off his hat and cloak, but carried still his staff, and his eyes were now twinkling. "The captain is too modest, my lady."
"Mithrandir, this is the lord Denethor's wife," Aragorn said, "Lady Finduilas of Dol Amroth. My lady, the lord Mithrandir."
Mithrandir bowed, and Finduilas swept a courtesy. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance, my lord," she said. "I have heard much about you."
The wizard's eyebrows went up. "And none of it flattering, I'd warrant," he said. "I, on the other hand, have heard little about you, my lady, having been absent from Gondor these last months. But I am happy to see that the lord Denethor has chosen a beautiful wife. May the blessing of the Valar be upon you both."
Denethor, coming over for the last words, smiled an unaccustomed smile and slipped his wife's arm through his. "I thank you, my lord. My father says we should go to table, for dinner is served."
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