1. The Temptation of Hope
The night was fair beneath the rising stars, the sea breeze pleasant, the keep of Dol Amroth bedecked for Mettarë, and Prince Adrahil had just offered me his daughter.
"My lord," I said, needing to be sure I had properly understood the Prince. "Of what kind of union do you speak? I hardly know the lady Finduilas."
"I have had my eye on you, Thorongil," Adrahil answered. "And so has Ecthelion. We both see more than a captain. So do not tell me again that you are a common sell-sword; there is nothing common about you. I am certain you carry the true blood of Westernesse. You are destined to be a lord of men, not to serve one. And you have a good heart to match your skill at arms."
Adrahil himself had more than a fair portion of Númenorean blood. Could he know that my lineage was higher even than his own? "Your praise is most kind, lord" I said, to redirect the conversation before Denethor, who dallied at the far end of the tiled courtyard with the Prince's three children, could get wind of it. "But there are many lords of Númenorean lineage who have proven names and lands to offer."
"Hah!" The Prince snorted rudely. "Don't think I haven't noticed him--" he indicated Denethor with a contemptuous sweep of his blue-robed arm, "Stalking after Finduilas on those long shanks of his like a great black stork. He wants her; and thinks no one will gainsay him because he's the Steward's son."
"Does he not care for her?" I replied, looking full at the lord of Dol Amroth. I had no wish to be made a pawn in any game played between Adrahil and Ecthelion.
"Perhaps, in his way," Adrahil admitted. "But he'll be no good for her, my friend. She's a maid who wants more than riches and honors. He will seize her, chase other men from her out of dogged jealousy if they even look at her, then leave her in a lonely bed while he broods in some dark corner. I don't want my little girl to be alone in the White City, where the Enemy's darkness looms over the Ephel Dúath."
Adrahil had never shown any particular friendliness towards Denethor, which had long surprised me, since the Prince was a kindly man. "Denethor is a man both wise and valiant, lord," I countered, taking care to betray no emotion. I would not let Adrahil to think that I sought to curry favor with him by finding fault with Denethor. Nor could I show disrespect for his opinion.
The Prince laughed shortly. "Aye, he is no craven, and knows more of the history of Gondor and Númenor than I ever bothered to learn. Yet..." he lowered his voice. "I have known Denethor since he was a child, and there has always been something in him that caused me to wish he would look elsewhere for a bride than either of my girls. Denethor is not an evil man, but--" he struggled for words. "His heart is like a fist, to trap and hold."
I remembered that Ecthelion had practically shoved Denethor in the path of Adrahil's older daughter, Ivriniel, when the Prince Angelimir, now dead, had brought his family to the White City three years ago. But naught had come of it, despite the Steward's admiration of both Ivriniel's figure and her dowry.
Denethor never forgot anything that caught his attention, be it the details of the Ithilien Rangers' supply lines, the history of the House of Anárion, or Adrahil's younger daughter. His glance had lingered long over Finduilas during her time in Minas Tirith. In the past half-year, the Steward had sent his son and me on three journeys to Dol Amroth on business of state. While Adrahil had cheerfully cultivated my friendship, Denethor had cultivated a cautious acquaintance with Finduilas. Though evidently, it was less cautious than I had thought!
"And I want my daughter to have hope." Adrahil finally declared, his keen grey eyes matching my gaze.
I shivered inside. How much did the sea-lord know, or guess of my names, my true past? It was said that the line of Dol Amroth was mothered by an Elf, and looking at Adrahil's children, I could believe it. Ivriniel was a pretty but purely mortal woman, with blue eyes, plump breasts, and a merry, chattering voice. The fair-faced boy, Imrahil, stood close to my height, and had a nigh-elven quickness of gait. But Finduilas differed. A tall and slender woman, she moved gracefully, as if to savor every moment. Her hands were beautiful, and so was her voice, which I had heard raised in song. Strength and delicacy mingled in her face in a most appealing way. Finduilas' large eyes, bright grey with a hint of sea-blue, were Elvish indeed, as was her glorious raven-black hair. And she was wise for so young a woman, with knowledge that comes as much from watching and listening as from reading books.
I sighed. What attracted me most to Finduilas of Dol Amroth was her resemblance to another lady known long ago. Finduilas carried a hint of that elven beauty, a little of that soul-piercing elven wisdom, an echo of the fairest lady born into Middle-earth since Lúthien herself: Arwen Undómiel. Arwen had not returned my love, but I had kept her in my heart for nigh on twenty-five years. Was it time to stop waiting for what would probably never be?
"You are a man worthy of my daughter, Thorongil," Adrahil's voice recalled me to the present. "More worthy than any other, I deem. If you ask for Finduilas' hand; you shall have it. She will learn to love you. And I know that you would give her a better life, either here or in the North, than Denethor ever could."
I was unable to disguise my Northern accent completely from my words, not even after so many years in warmer climes and especially not from a man who could speak four languages. Most men thought me a Dalesman. Ecthelion guessed that I had been born in Arnor among his long-sundered kinsmen. Denethor appeared to care little where my homeland was, but obviously wished me returned to it. I never denied that I was of the North, though I loved the land of Gondor with all my heart.
And now, this prince could give me Gondor with his daughter's pretty hand. For who could resist my claim to the throne if I became the son-by-marriage of the greatest lord in Gondor saving only the Steward, and then presented myself as I truly was, the heir of Isildur and Elendil, rightful King of this realm? Adrahil would back me, to make his daughter a Queen. Ecthelion would swear fealty to me; I believe he suspected my origin already. Even Denethor, sullen, spiteful Denethor, would not risk a civil war for the envy he had long borne me, for he still loved Gondor more than he hated me. As for Finduilas, I knew not if I would come to love her, but I would care well for her, and always respect and cherish her. She would make a most worthy Queen, and give me fine sons.
My heart quickened. It could happen! No more hiding my name. No more serving other lords while my own Dúnedain struggled for proud but threadbare lives. No more watching and waiting patiently while other men wedded, made homes, rejoiced in the laughter of their children. No more! I could reclaim the throne of my fathers, and from it unite the West against our common Enemy!
I looked over to where Finduilas stood beneath a lemon tree. Her brother and sister had left her side, but Denethor remained. They looked oddly alone and yet serene, she in a gown of blue so pale as to be almost silver, and Denethor in his usual black and grey, leaning down slightly to catch her words amidst the noise of the revels. She laughed, then, and picking up a gooseberry tart from a plate that Denethor held, pushed it daintily to his lips. The Steward's son let her feed him the pastry, then, almost playfully I would have said, save that it was Denethor the Dour, caught her by the wrist and brought her fingers to his mouth to kiss them.
Adrahil grunted angrily. "Well, Thorongil?" He asked impatiently. "'Tis not every day I offer my daughter's hand, and all that goes with it. She is a jewel among women!"
"Well do I know it, lord," I answered. "And such a jewel should not be considered lightly or swiftly."
Her father would dower her well, with lands and wealth that could further my cause. I looked upon Finduilas again. She was mine for the asking. All I had to do was say the words to Adrahil.
But the words would not come. I watched Finduilas and Denethor and descried the tenderness in their faces as they looked upon each other, and the way their hands sought to clasp. She saw, or felt, my gaze upon her and looked me straight in the eye. Finduilas smiled the gentle, happy smile of a woman who wishes to share her joy with others. Perhaps there was also a look of caution; warning her father and I away from any plans for her that did not include Denethor.
Suddenly she shivered, as the wind seemed to cool. Denethor stared balefully at me, and then turned to the lady. He set down the plate, took up a beribboned package that had lain by the tree, then gave it to Finduilas. I watched as she opened the coverings, and pulled out a long garment that appeared to be a dark sea-blue color. She spread it out in her hands, revealing a cloak which glimmered as if spun with stars. Finduilas lifted her face, bright with gladness, to kiss Denethor's cheek. He took the mantle and fastened it proudly upon her shoulders. She stood tall and fair, and his grim countenance lightened.
I could not give Adrahil the answer he wanted; the answer I thought I wanted. If I did, I had no doubt that Finduilas would obey her father; become my queen, bear me good company and fair sons, and walk the rest of her days with half a heart. And though I bore no love for Denethor, I loved his father, and owed Ecthelion's son more than a theft of what seemed to be the only light in his life. I could not found my kingdom by stealing what was not mine. Finduilas deserved to make her own choice, even, as I thought Adrahil might be right to fear, if that choice brought her sorrow as well as joy. No. Let them know love while they could. I, who had aspired vainly to love, should not begrudge its kindling in others.
Sorrowfully, I turned away from the lovers, and faced Adrahil. "My lord, I would gladly seek your fair daughter's hand, but it is not for me. She has already bestowed her heart elsewhere; and you are too good a father to break it."
He was saddened, but wise enough, I thought, not to play the petty tyrant.
I made my duty to both Prince and Steward and left the courtyard. Ecthelion pressed a bottle of Dorwinion into my hands as a Mettarë gift, and went to join his son and Finduilas by the tree.
Later, I sat on the walls of the keep, smoking my pipe and staring out at the peaceful sea. I had chosen the right course. Yet I was so weary of this cursed loneliness!
I then resolved to cease biding my time. Instead, I would make time my servant. I would hasten the accomplishment of my plans, and leave Gondor better protected than I had found it. It should not take too many more years. Support for a strike on Umbar was building. I would go north once more, in the direction my heart had always truly pointed. And I would win Arwen's love, or forever foreswear the hope for which I had been named.
1. This story occurs at the end of the year 2975. Aragorn is 44 or 45 years old, Denethor a year older, and Finduilas about 25. Imrahil would be about 20; and Ivriniel 28. Adrahil is 58.
2. Angelimir: For the purpose of this story, Adrahil is now the reigning Prince of Dol Amroth, I moved the date of his father's death back by about two years, so that his family is no longer in mourning.
3. Ivriniel: Her death-date is not given in HoME (History of Middle-earth) volume 10, where her existence is announced on the Dol Amroth family tree; but neither are the death-dates given for Imrahil's children Erchirion, Amrothos and Lothíriel, all of whom have been written of in fanfiction, so I believe it is possible to assume that JRRT did not mean the lack of a death or marriage date to necessarily indicate Ivriniel died in infancy.