Disclaimer: Characters and settings belong to the estate of JRR Tolkien.
Notes: A list of original and minor book-derived characters can be found at the end, together with a few explanatory and textual notes (which contain plot spoilers). Thanks are owed to Una for reactivating my interest in Tolkiens works, for her insightful writing about the Stewards family, particularly The Burial of the Dead, and for advice on turning ideas into words; to Sean Bean for a performance that made me reassess the character of Boromir; to Catherine Merriman for believing in my writing; to the unknown writer of the Song of Solomon for some of the most beautiful love poetry ever translated into English; to JS Bach and Steve Reich, two very different composers whose styles influenced this story; and to various members of the Henneth Annûn archive and list for inspiration and beta assistance -- all remaining infelicities are my own (21 May 2003).
She is come, your lady of the bright hair, come to your bed tonight. You scatter your papers heedless onto the floor, take her in your arms, long tresses gleaming gold in the lamplight, soft beneath your fingers. And as you murmur words yet softer against that ivory skin, the years diminish, melting like snow cast from your cloak by the fireside, and you know with the joyous certainty of love everlasting that you are young again to her, your body as sweet for her today as the day you wed. My love, you whisper, my love, my life -- say youll never leave me.
But in the morning sun your bed lies cold and barren, and as you stoop to tidy the papers scattered across the floor, your limbs are stiff and brittle, frozen in a sudden frost no fire can melt.
My life has been defined by absences: my childhood by the absence of a mother, whose face I can barely recall; my manhood by the absence of the King, which made of my father, a ruler, and of his sons, captains of men. Or so I thought sometimes, though more often I was content simply to busy myself with those tasks that fall to the hands of a captain of men.
Now the King is returned, my Lord and father lies dead by his own hand, and in place of a mothers embrace, soon shall I take a bride into my own. Yet now that my betrothed had returned with her brother to her own country, I found myself full of fear. Not that the Lady Éowyn would forget me -- no, I shouldered not the burden of that doubt. Rather, somehow, that a life of absences had been but poor preparation for the robust presences of the King Elessar of Gondor and Arnor, and of the White Lady of Rohan.
I sighed, and put away such thoughts. Today was the Sabbath, official duties did not press overmuch -- I decided to occupy hands and mind with a task that I had long been postponing.
I had not known that my brother kept any journal. Quick enough in speech, capable of rousing orations when the need arose, he was not a man much given to writing. His reports were terse, his letters brief, and in all my life I had never seen him pick up a pen for pleasure, rather than duty. Yet, though the leather-bound volumes bore no name, this was without doubt his hand: I recognised the cramped letters born of scribbling messages in the field upon the most inadequate of scraps, and those heavy stems, slightly more upright than was customary in an educated hand, despite the pages of examples that our tutor had made us both copy as youths. Most tellingly, that flourish on the initial B, whether it start his name or another word, was my brothers alone: I had always deemed it an amusing touch of vanity in a man who took little thought for matters of appearance.
I took up the most recent journal, riffled through, seeking the end -- creasing the thin sheets in my eagerness to read the last thoughts of my brother, and to see whether they might explain his stubborn insistence to take up the quest to seek Imladris in my stead. But there was nothing, save a bald account of the defeat at Osgiliath which ended in mid-sentence, and I realised that the final pages must have been removed. Indeed, on closer inspection, sheaves of pages appeared to be missing throughout two of the three volumes that I had unearthed, locked into a drawer in this, my brothers private chamber, high above the city.
The pages were cut, not torn, I noticed, examining the bindings in the shaft of light cast onto the desk by the south window. Not the action of a man in a hurry, though almost any man of Gondor might carry a knife at his belt even within the city in these unquiet times. In the former unquiet times, I corrected myself: now that the shadow of Mordor had lifted and the banner of the White Tree fluttered above the Tower of Ecthelion, it was to be hoped that the period of unrest which had lasted all my manhood might finally be drawing to a close.
I settled into my brothers chair, rested my elbows upon its carven arms, opened a volume at random, and -- my mood alternating between laughter and tears -- read of ale rations run short and camps washed away by sudden rain, of men serving under my brothers command and women serving him in quite a different capacity, of his fathers orders and my own first commands, till the light on my pages fell instead from the window that faced towards the west, and the sun loomed low over the shoulder of Mount Mindolluin. But I could see no pattern to the missing leaves, though their number increased as the years wore on in my brothers account, and I could hazard no guess as to why they might have been removed -- nor by whom.
I sighed. Oft-times tis the spaces that define the truth. I would need to compare the dates with the Record of Days in the library archives, as well as the volume upon volume of my fathers own meticulous notes, which filled most of a bookshelf in my fath---the Stewards chambers on the floor above.
Now, however, a more pressing duty called: the King had summoned his Steward to an audience, and I must needs bathe and put on my court clothes.
I towelled my hair vigorously, cursing the tight cut and heavy cloth of my best doublet, which seemed designed to restrict the movement of the wearer, and rehearsed in thought all the many official matters upon which the King might require my briefing. But my mind kept returning to the riddles posed by my brothers journal. What tale lay behind those missing pages? What drove my brother to undertake the quest that claimed both life and honour?
A footfall in the chamber behind me---I whirled around, reaching without thought for the weapon that no longer lay at my side, and resting my back against the wall.
Sir, said Galrennieth, seemingly unperturbed by my hasty motion. She set her tray down upon the table by the fireplace and withdrew quietly for once. I had ordered nothing, but the sharp scent rising from the cup cleared my head; it seemed that even the servants understood my moods better than I did myself. I sweetened the camomile tea with honey and breathed deep the familiar fragrance. Then I seated myself by the unlit hearth, sipping tea and scanning reports, till the evening watch was rung, and the time was come for my audience.
The King met me in the passage outside the Great Hall. To my shame, he was clad in dark grey after the fashion of the Northern Dúnedain, and I thought his lip curled slightly at my finery, but all he said was, You will need a cloak, I imagine, after sundown, even in Lótessë.
You wish to inspect the progress in repairing the breaches in the City wall, your Majesty? I enquired, wishing he had made his intentions clear earlier, that I might have ensured that the Clerk of Works would yet be there. Though I recalled old Cenethion had applied some choice words when informed of the Kings suggestion that we should employ Dwarven craftsmen from Erebor to fashion the new City gates, so his absence might perhaps be considered fortuitous.
I took a cloak from the Door Wardens stores, and we hastened together across the Fountain Court; I thought that the King turned his face aside from the withered tree, whose pale limbs reflected the last remnants of sunlight. But the King turned not towards the Citadel gate, but rather headed up towards the battlements.
Only from above, said the King, as we mounted the steps side by side. I thought we might get some fresh air, he added. I have not dwelt in a city for many years.
They say that you were raised in the Elven stronghold of Imladris, my Lord? I ventured; then hearing my own words, immediately cursed myself for sounding as if I paid heed to the tales of City gossips.
Aye. He chuckled. But Imladris is to Minas Tirith as a mountain stream to the great Anduin. He ran his hand lightly along the embrasured parapet beside which we now walked. Not all the strength of this world has lain in bright swords and stone watchtowers.
Though I was considered learned in lore, and had travelled as widely as any man of Gondor, save my brother, and seen many sights strange and wondrous, the Kings words oft made me feel like an ignorant lad included, by some chance, in a Council meeting whose business he is too young to comprehend. I wondered -- and not for the first time -- why King Elessar had chosen to confirm my position as the Steward of the City.
Though stone watchtowers have their place, he added. Especially when they boast such a view as this one.
Our walk had taken us to the very end of the battlements, to the east-most point where the ground dropped off steeply on three sides and the city spread herself out beneath our feet. I rejoiced to see the pinpricks of light tracing their familiar concentric circles in the twilight: the street lanterns had been darkened for too long, for fear of aiding the arrows of our foes. The breeze here lifted strands of my hair, still slightly damp, and I wrapped my borrowed cloak closer about me, thinking even as I did so that its owner was probably one of the slain at Pelennor, or Cormallen, or Osgiliath. Even in the proudest place in this proud city, is there no escape from the past.
We stopped by a niche in the parapet at a little distance from the sentry post. The King seated himself, and gestured for me to join him. He reached within his cloak, drew out a flat loaf and a small round cheese wrapped in paper -- goats, by the pungent aroma that rose as he unwrapped it. He split the loaf and offered me half. Ill warrant that you did not find time to take supper before our meeting, he said.
Though he was correct that I had not eaten, the reminder of an entire day spent away from my official duties -- a familiar voice whispered, wasted -- brought a flush to my cheeks.
I fear I offer but paltry provisions. In this garb, the store-keeper recognised me not when I paid a visit to the buttery as I walked up here, and I gleaned only the rations of an ordinary guardsman. He took out a knife, sliced into the cheese. And for one alone, at that!
I am sorry, my Lord. I will ensure--- I choked back my words of apology when I saw that the King was laughing.
So much for my new-found fame, he said dryly. Would that the anonymity might last. He offered me a wedge of cheese. Here.
We offered thanks, and shared the supper without further words. I had played such games too many times before with fresh recruits not to perceive all this simply as a gesture designed to place me at my ease -- which of course only put me even more on edge. Our meagre portion served as a reminder that the feasting attendant on the coronation last week had depleted still further the city stores, while even if the King himself desired to walk his city unrecognised, the very fact that he had needs walk the city at all felt like a reproach. He was lodging with Prince Imrahil in the fifth level, the royal apartments within the Citadel having long fallen into disrepair. Until the King shall return: so had my predecessors all sworn, and yet we had failed in our trust.
Supper consumed, King Elessar drew his long legs up close to his chest, scattering crumbs as he did so. Éomer, ere he rode yestermorn, told me that I should wish you joy, he said.
I thank you, your Majesty. I sensed a tension behind the pleasant words; perhaps I should have been better advised to inform my King personally that his Steward was pledged to wed the sister of his ally, but I had not found the words in any of our meetings. In the silence that followed my over-formal response, I gazed at the flickering lights below us till my eyes played tricks, doubling or blurring them as if I had taken too much wine, and wondered who might be the lady who had captured the Kings heart, that he regarded not my fair Éowyn. Some maiden of the Northern Dúnedain, doubtless.
My heart rejoices that you have found comfort, Faramir, the King said slowly, for I know you have suffered grievous losses these past months.
Pale Lóriniel wasting away in despair at the shadows that had fallen across our lands---brave Boromir falling to the power of the Enemys Ring---and my father---
Grievous indeed, I thought; and my heart was bitter, and I could find no words to respond to my King.
I was with your brother, ere he died, he said.
I looked up sharply. I had not heard him speak of Boromir before. In the darkness I could scarce see his face, save as a pale shape against the solid black of the parapet behind.
I did not know, I said, and the words seemed to catch in my throat. If this man tells me Boromir fought valiantly and died a hero, then -- my King or no -- I fear I shall strike him. I looked out across the city again.
He died at peace, he said, with the name of his city on his lips.
I laid my hands flat on my lap, let out a breath.
We -- Legolas, Gimli and I -- arrayed him for funeral I---
He broke off, fumbled again under his cloak, and for a moment I thought he might offer me the excised leaves that I had sought earlier. But he drew out only a slip of parchment, twice folded, and some small trinket whose nature I could not quite make out in the dimness, and placed both into my hands. He struck a light, and I saw that the paper was sealed with Boromirs signet ring and marked with the annûn sign, whose grim import all peoples respected, save those of the east. I turned it over, and read my name in the same hand I had been reading all afternoon.
There was naught for the Lord Denethor?
Not that I found.
The trinket was a brooch, the paired swans of Dol Amroth in silver, set with tiny pearls; I knew it well, but not that my brother carried it.
I decided to answer the question that I knew he would never ask. It belonged to the Lady Lóriniel. Our sister.
It had been a long day, and I was weary to my bones. Determined to make up for yesterdays ease, I spent the first watch reviewing the works on the palace. Though much of the gilding had disappeared, and the tapestries were so faded, stained from roof leaks and nibbled by rodents that their original subjects were hard to discern, the apartments proved to be in far better shape than I had expected. Cenethions gloomy report had claimed it would require six months and thirty skilled craftsmen to make it habitable, and I was forced to wonder whether this man I had known since I was a youth was corrupt or simply incompetent. A meeting of the High Council occupied the afternoon watch, and after supper I had searched, fruitlessly, among the City archives till the midnight bell rang and the Keepers yawns moved me to pity.
I bore my brothers words close to my heart all day -- both in thought and truth -- and though by now I had little need to consult the parchment, I drew it out anyway, smoothed out the creases for the hundredth time and began to read, my bedside candle casting crisp shadows across the paper.
I have carried more of these letters back to Minas Tirith than I care to remember, as I am sure have you, my dear brother, yet never do I know what words to write when it comes to my own farewells. If this should reach you, then you will surely learn from its bearer all that has now come clear about the lines that sent me on this weary journey, and I shall not write more here, for fear that my words should miscarry and fall into the hands of our enemies. I would describe this place for you, but you know I am no wordsmith, and some sights defeat the wit of plain men such as I. You were always the poet of our family, and I am sure that you would find meet words for the splendours of the golden mallorns upon Cerin Amroth and the white city of the Galadhrim -- though for myself, I would that we had never trespassed in these woods so fair and so perilous, nor yet spoken with their Lady, whose words slip and twist in the fingers beyond the fathoming of mortal man. It were better that some paths should be hidden.
If you are reading these words then never again shall I ride through the gates of our proud city, the White Tower glimmering like a pearl in the first morning light, as fair a sight as any in this enchanted land: and the thought cuts me to the heart. Yet still more does it grieve me that, should I see you again, it will be beyond the reaches of this world---if you still believe in those tales. For my part, oft do I think that -- if I must die -- it would be better to go into that dark in which there are no memories and from which there is no awakening. Forgive my sombre mood: some magic in the air here worms into a mans dreams and gnaws at his very soul. I long to leave this ensorcelled place behind me, and to feel again the sun beat upon my brow, the wind stir in my hair and my sword-hilt in my hand.
Ai, poor Boromir! Why didst thou seize the quest that should have been mine? What spells did the Lady of the Golden Woods cast that made thee long for a dark end, untroubled by memories?
He died at peace, I reminded myself, with the name of his city on his lips. I settled more comfortably against the pillows, and finished the letter.
Give my farewells to all my men of the First Company of the White Tower, and to Turgil and Galrennieth of the household. Say to my Lieutenant Malroth that if he only thrust his sword as surely into orcs as he does his prick into the girls of Madame Lúthiens house, then would the Enemy be defeated in a single day, and tell Anbold---well never mind, I am sure you will think of something fitting. You will find my papers locked in the desk in my chamber. All should be in order -- I will not wear out either my quill or your patience in repeating that which I know to be written there. Tell our sister that she is oft in my thoughts, and that I am sorry. All that then remains is to say,
Farewell, my dear brother, and grieve not for me
Written at Lothlórien, this fifteenth of Nénimë, in the year nineteen
Like the journals, on careful reading the letter brought more questions than answers. Again it was an absence that now struck me: Boromir had left no words for our father, unless another message had somehow miscarried. Even had such been the case, whether because he was proud of his lineage or simply because Boromir was no uncommon name in the city, my brother habitually signed his name son of Denethor.
And what meant this strange message to our sister? I knew of no quarrel between the two. I picked up the little swan brooch, thinking perhaps to send it to Rohan as a token to my own lady. It had doubtless been my mothers, before my sister wore it, and such heirlooms were traditional betrothal gifts. But I saw that one of the seed pearls was missing, and the clasp was damaged, bent out of true. A wisp of cloth clung to the pin still, near black under the candle, but perhaps dark blue in daylight.
Whatever Boromirs last words to her denoted, they came too late: the Lady Lóriniel died of the wasting sickness last winter, before een he had written them.
I enter his dressing room ere the first watch is rung to find my brother seated before the glass hacking at his hair with a hunting knife. The fire is lit, though it is summer, and the small chamber feels stifling. Best to avoid tangles when journeying alone in the wild, I say lightly, as another long dark lock falls to the ground, but is the City so lacking in barbers to meet your discriminating taste that you need take the task into your own hands?
Better this way, he says, and the face in the glass looks more weary than I have ever seen it. I recall all the hours he has spent closeted in the Stewards chambers these past days, and feel sure that he and the Lord Denethor have come to harsh words over this quest.
I take the knife from his hand and do my best to tidy the remnants. When I am done I place both hands upon his shoulders and say quietly, You know that you need not go.
I must go, he says.
I remember the fell shadow, like unto a black horseman, and the terror upon the face of my brother as we cast ourselves into the river, last of our company. It needs neither prophetic dream nor riddling words to foresee that, soon enough, here in the heart of Gondor will there be brave deeds to fill the belly of the most valiant of men.
Boromir twists away from beneath my hands, retrieves a lock of hair from the ground and casts it upon the fire. The stench, as from a funeral pyre, fills the room. I must go, he repeats, and I know when to hold my peace.
I stifle my cough and lay my hand on his arm. Let the servants see to that, I say.
He collapses onto his chair again. Our sister must leave the City, he says and, well as I know my brother, there is aught in the face staring out of the glass at me that I understand not. Promise me you will take her to Dol Amroth, to her uncles care. Perhaps by the sea will she grow well again.
You know that I can make no promise to accompany her. With you away, no doubt the Steward shall require my presence in the City.
Lóriniel must not stay here to wither away, like her mother, as the shadow grows! You must promise---
I promise I shall see to it, I say, and some of the tension drains from my brothers face. And I am about to ask him something -- I know not quite what -- when the clamour of the bell announcing the first watch cuts through our silence and my brothers valet knocks and enters and the moment is buried beneath a flurry of surely you will want your second-best boots, sir and have you enough spare shirts, sir as Turgil expresses his concern for his master in the only way that custom allows.
Later, outside the stables, I hold Rohinniels reins in the steel-grey first light as Turgil stows my brothers gear into saddlebags already bulging. Then he takes the reins from my hands and turns aside to fuss the animal, while I embrace my brother.
Fare thee well, Boromir, I say. May the Valar watch over your journey, prosper all your doings and speed your return. I shall look for you riding up to the City in the morning light.
And I for you, he replies. He mounts his horse, and I walk by his side through level after level, the wardens saluting their Captain as we pass each gate, till at last we stand before the twin towers of the City gatehouse. Forget not your promise, he calls as the great iron doors swing aside before us. Then he digs his heels into Rohinniels flanks and I wait till the gates clang shut behind him and I can see him no more.
But our father comes not.
I woke suddenly from my dream, shaking, but there was no inhuman chill to this vision, just the all-too-human ache of loss, of chances failed and connections missed. And if dream memory spoke true, then all paths from my brother seemed to entwine with our sisters fate -- might I then uncover the truths of his life and death by investigating hers?
Lóriniel was as like to our mother as if they had been twins, so Boromir told me once. Tradition allowed no images of the Stewards consorts to stand among the statues of Stewards and Kings lining the Hall of the Tower, and if my father ever kept any likeness of his wife, then I had yet to find it. I myself barely recalled the appearance of the Lady Finduilas, who had passed away before my fifth summer, when my sister was but a babe in arms. Mother and daughter, I knew, both shared the pale golden hair that was almost unknown within the City, but flowered occasionally amongst the women of Prince Imrahils house. Mayhap a sign of the fabled Dol Amroth elven blood, some said, though others derided it as the taint of Rohan, and a voice whispered within me, What will they say in the City when the news of your betrothal is announced?
I shook my head, and sought to bury my fears for the future in recollections of Lóriniel -- but the memories I sought proved elusive. Indeed, beyond the bare facts of birth and death, in truth, I knew scarce more about my sister than our mother. My father had evinced little interest in his youngest offspring -- whether from grief or from inattention, even then, to anything or anyone not concerned directly with the welfare of our great City, I knew not. By the time Lóriniel was deemed old enough to leave her wet-nurse and join the Stewards family, I myself was old enough to have learned to prefer those pursuits that pleased my father and would always be closed to my sister, or any nobly born lady of Gondor.
First watch was called as I dozed, and soon followed Galrennieths knock. I heard her enter the outer chamber, and then her shrill voice announcing, Coffee, sir! She did not trouble to conceal her triumph: there had been no coffee to be had in the City since last winter. Coffee indeed, the rich aroma was already seeping beneath my door. I struggled into my robe and dragged my fingers through my hair.
Galrennieth grinned broadly as I joined her, adding deep creases to a face already as shrivelled and crinkled as a preserved peach. I knew as that ud get you up, sir, she said. Ive made it just the way you like it.
Knowing full well my part in this performance, I enquired, How came you by the beans, mistress? and she commenced a lengthy tale of how her grand-niece, who worked a stall in the third-circle market -- just till she married, I understood -- had heard that they might be found at the corner of Ship Street on the second level, and so on, till the history of the coffee beans encompassed near a quarter hour and a fair proportion of Galrennieths extended family. I suspected that she must have spent the entire Stewards household expenses for Lótessë on a single rapidly-chilling pot of coffee, which I could not even share with my benefactor -- the one time I had persuaded her to try a cup, she had spat out her first sip, declaring it an evil brew.
At last her tale seemed to be nearing its natural end, and before she could start fussing about the shadows that no doubt lay beneath my eyes this morning, as so many others, I prompted, My sister always loved her coffee.
That she always did, sir, twas the only thing that ud get her out of her bed some mornings. Just like you that way she was, may her soul rest in peace. She made a little gesture towards the West to honour the dead, then enquired, Does your lady drink it?
I must own that I have no idea whether the Lady Éowyn has ever tasted the stuff! I laughed aloud at the thought of her nose wrinkling up the way it always did when she found something distasteful and, of a sudden, I wished that we might be married tomorrow, and be damned what all the City gossips might say.
And after Galrennieth had left me in blessed silence to fetch boiling water for my toilet, I bethought myself of an expedient to take advantage of Prince Imrahils prolonged stay in the City to pursue word about my sister.
It was the Princess Nimwen, not my uncle, who rose to greet me as the pageboy announced my entrance, resplendent in a crimson velvet gown, heavily embroidered, with her plaits coiled upon her head in an elaborate style. The rich colour set off her dark hair well and brought out the faint rose blush of her cheeks, though I thought it perhaps a little over-ornate for receiving morning visitors in the Princes private apartments. My cousin, the Princess Lothíriel, bounded forward as if to embrace me, as was her custom, but her elder sister-in-law made a restraining gesture, and instead she curtsied, and took her seat in silence. Lothíriel was attired more modestly, as befitted her youth, but the simple white dress only highlighted a figure grown to womanhood in the months since I had seen her last.
The City is always so hot at this time of year, remarked Princess Nimwen, once we had repeated all those courteous enquiries that custom demanded. My family always used to pass the summer months in the country.
I recalled that, before her marriage to Prince Elphir, my uncle Imrahils heir, the Princess had belonged to a wealthy mercantile family in the City; her great-grandfather had traded in wines and sherries, and had been promoted to the High Council for some service to my grandfather.
The weather is very fine, I responded, and smiled in my cousins direction, as Lothíriel put her hand to her mouth and mimicked stifling a yawn.
If it had not been for the King coming, then I am sure we had best have stayed in Belfalas. Summer is such a bad time for travelling, always so dusty---and the roads! They were in a terrible state after we passed through Pelargir. You will hardly credit it, but there were one or two places where I actually thought we were going to have to get out of our carriage and walk!
A servant brought cinnamon cakes and a flagon of spiced wine, and Princess Nimwen broke off her monologue to offer me a cup. May your house prosper, she said.
I took a sip from the cup. May your house prosper, I repeated, reflecting that the War must have passed lightly indeed over the Dol Amroth principality if its Princess had truly failed to anticipate that the roads beside the Anduin might be in poor condition---and then at last my uncle Imrahil entered.
I recognise this, he said, once we had exchanged greetings and I had brought out the brooch that formed my excuse for visiting. It was my fathers gift to Finduilas on her betrothal to your father. See, the two swans face each other, beak to beak, signifying matrimonial love. It is a fine piece.
I wondered if your craftsmen might be able to repair it, I said. Or perhaps fashion a similar piece? I wish to give the Lady Éowyn a fitting gift to mark our betrothal.
And you thought the style of Dol Amroth might be more pleasing to your lady than that of the City? My uncle smiled. I will send to the workshops of Master Sarothos, he always keeps the choicest seed pearls. Though like all our silversmiths, he has no doubt turned his attentions to forging chain-mail of late.
Sarothos fashioned an exceeding fine necklace for my wedding apparel, said Princess Nimwen. Rows of pearls and diamonds set in silver, and the central stone was---
Indeed, if I am not very much mistaken, continued my uncle, paying no heed to his daughter-in-laws interruption, I would swear his father crafted this piece. He turned the brooch over and examined the reverse minutely by the light flooding into the parlour from the arched east windows. Yes, that looks like his mark. How came you by it? I did not think Denethor kept any tokens of my sister, after
King Elessar brought it from my brother, I said. I know not how Boromir came by it, but Lóriniel oft used to wear it.
Aye, I remember it was a favourite of hers, said Lothíriel softly. She had ever been a friend to my sister, despite the decades difference in years between them.
Do you recall aught of my sisters mood when first she arrived with you, Cermië last? I asked.
So much has passed since then that it is hard to recall aright, replied my uncle. But I am sure there was naught amiss then. He shook his head. She was quiet as ever, and oft kept to her chambers, save when she assisted in the Houses of Healing.
She always loved playing with little Alphor, added Princess Nimwen, bouncing the sturdy toddler so named upon her knee. But who could not? He was such a beautiful baby, always so precocious---
Who could not? exclaimed Lothíriel. Perhaps one who worn out more summers than you have without ever a chance of either marriage or motherhood!
Lothíriel! chided my uncle. Remember to whom you speak.
I just remarked that she enjoyed playing with Baby, repeated Nimwen placidly.
I edged my chair a fraction closer to Lothíriel: I was sure that there was more to her impassioned outburst than simple resentment of an elder sister-in-law who had, no doubt, been forced to take on a mothers duties after the passing of Prince Imrahils wife. What didst thou mean, little Daisy, I probed, using the nickname that Boromir had given our young cousin when first she visited the City, a lass of five or six summers. He had jested that, between her pale hair and her inclination for appearing in the most inappropriate of places, this Flower Maiden was more like unto a common daisy than any more august blossom.
Lóri was ever pale and quiet, but when she arrived last summer she scarce spoke a word to anyone, not even to me. At first I thought it was just being caged, year upon year, in that great tower of yours---
Let her speak freely, uncle, I beg of you.
---which would surely drive any maiden to silence. But then she took to taking long walks along the seashore during the night-watch hours, always alone, and never would she say a word about what grieved her.
I knew not this, said my uncle.
But might you hazard as to what might be the root of her grief? I asked, unwilling to air my own barely formed thoughts about her estrangement from my brother before this company.
No, not really, though---
But anything my cousin might have been about to add was interrupted by a howl, as the smallest Dol Amroth prince decided to announce his boredom to the room. Lothíriel was drafted into amusing her nephew and, when I saw no prospect of speaking in private with her, I took leave as soon as I might in politeness. As I crossed the courtyard beside Prince Imrahils apartments to regain the street, my head was full of thoughts of my sister -- so much so that when I rounded a jasmine-wreathed pillar to find myself but a hands breadth from the King, I was at first at a loss.
Your Majesty, I said, sketching a bow to hide my confusion. It is not fit that the King should stay in this house, I thought.
I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime, said the King, but I think "Your Majesty" may be my least favourite. Then with that swift switch to gravity that so oft characterised his words, he continued, I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, and I would that you would call me so.
I bowed deeply, and a sudden inspiration gave me a fitting response. These past days Aragorn I have been clearing my brothers rooms in the White Tower -- they are not large, and very simply furnished, but they lie near the Stewards chambers and command a fine view of the City. Would you prefer to stay there, until the refurbishment of the palace apartments is completed?
Get me out from Imrahils feet, you mean? I should be honoured, Faramir. He grinned. Especially as his daughters have just arrived in the City. Princess Nimwen could talk the hind-legs off a donkey, as they say in a certain tavern I used to frequent in Bree.
My dearest Éowyn, I write, but then I stall. The words on the page look strange -- whether because Westron is a language for servants and farmers, or simply from inexperience in penning words of love, I know not.
I grit my teeth, and write of riding upon the Pelennor plains in the shadow of Mount Mindoullin with my Dol Amroth cousins, and wonder what the White Lady of Rohan will make of a Gondorian ladys side-saddle. I describe my old nurse Galrennieth, and pose her question about beverages. I mention the plans to honour King Théoden with a bronze statue in the sixth circle of the City, as no other King of the Mark save only Eorl the Young has been remembered in all the long history of Gondor. I tell of my frequent chance meetings with King Elessar upon the stairs of the White Tower, and relate some of his more tasteful anecdotes for my ladys amusement. I write of the many official tasks that call upon my time, not least that coffee beans are not the only goods from Harad to have entered the Citys markets now that the trade routes via Pelargir have reopened, and reflect that it seems best to accustom my lady early to the minutiae of life for the Steward of the City and, no doubt, the Prince of Ithilien.
Ic lufie thé, I write, the result of more time than I care to own delving into yellowing Rohirric scrolls in the archives, though I am still unsure whether the verb I have chosen bears the right sense, and I have none to ask. I have heard the King -- Aragorn -- speaking with King Éomer in what sounds like fluent Rohirric, and I wonder how he came by his knowledge, for I did not think that the Rohirrim rode to the North. But I cannot ask him how to express my feelings to my betrothed lady -- at least not without rather more wine than I care to consume after supper! Boromir oft travelled among the Rohirrim, and counted many Riders of the Mark among his friends -- but him I cannot ask either.
My sister continues to elude my grasp -- an inverse shadow, pale and silent, that ever flits around the edge, and never fills the centre.
I write not to my lady of her.
The meeting had started badly. Prince Imrahil moved to offer formal congratulations from the High Council to the Lord Steward and Prince of Ithilien upon the occasion of his betrothal to the Lady Éowyn of Rohan, and King Elessar added his own words of felicitation -- but as I spoke the appropriate words of thanks, more than one Councillor chose to express their disapproval of the match by mutterings behind their hands as to why the news had not been formally announced earlier. Then Lord Valanthor -- my fathers brother-in-law and one of his staunchest supporters -- rose first, as was his right as the longest-serving Council member, and delivered a lengthy speech suggesting that now the King is returned the Council discussions should surely proceed in Adûnic, as befitted the honour and glory of the descendants of Númenor at the dawn of this new age. Whether by chance or from years of practice, his high voice was perfectly pitched to resound around the vaulted Council chamber, so that each word, though soft-spoken, was distinctly audible. Valanthor was well aware that the Kings acquaintance with Adûnic had so far been academic in nature, of that I was sure, and his words could only be interpreted as a lightly-veiled attack on the Kings close alliances with Elves. Though it was but the second time that he had presided over the Council, Aragorn handled the situation smoothly, saying, his face inscrutable, that it was full early to change customs that had endured many centuries. Then Lord Húrin, Warden of the Keys, and ever the peace-broker at our meetings, moved that we might translate the public records of Council business into Adûnic, as well as Westron, and when the Council vote fell with the compromise, sighs of relief were heard all round the table. Few Council members, save those from the City itself, were themselves fluent speakers of the ancient language of our forefathers.
I relaxed somewhat as we proceeded to the main Council business and Cenethion announced, to general applause, that the Rammas Echor again stood unbroken: good news always formed a welcome start to any Council meeting, and it had been in short supply these past weeks. He reported that the various rebuilding works within the City were running ahead of plans, and I rejoiced that my stern warning of a few days earlier seemed to have taken effect. I raised the problem of the black-market trade in Haradian opium, and we debated measures to control undesirable imports without preventing the renewed trade in coffee, fine teas, perfume oils, silks and hardwoods from the southern lands of Harad and Khand. Ormrod of Lebennin rose to his feet, a full head shorter than any other man in the Council chamber, and drew the Councils attention to the urgent need to purchase adequate seed corn in advance of the autumn sowing, lest next years main harvest should fail, reporting that most of the stores outside the City had been torched by the invading armies. The Council moved to accept Prince Imrahils generous offer of seed from the Dol Amroth granaries after only desultory discussion about whether salt-adapted Belfalas grain might flourish in our more sheltered fields.
The resettlement of Ithilien and Emyn Arnen was the next head of discussion. If adequate seed can be made available, I said, bowing to my uncle opposite, then the first group of settlers might set out as early as Yavannië, if my Lord the King should agree? and I turned towards ebon chair of the King to my right, with its winged canopy, to find its occupant inattentive, his head slumped forwards. My uncle coughed sharply and Aragorn started to full consciousness, but I saw that Valanthor, Telendur and others of their set were laughing behind the cover of their sleeves.
Dol Amroth could readily provide seed for the first settlers of the Ithilien princedom by Yavannië, if that should be the Kings desire, my uncle interposed.
Aragorn responded at last, Yavannië seems a propitious month for renewals -- but over his words I heard from the direction of Valanthor, a hissed Thorongil was ever more alert on the battlefield than in the Council chamber.
I am sorry, my Lord Valanthor, said Aragorn. I interrupted you -- did you have aught to add?
Given the other commitments of the City, at the present difficult time, perhaps the resettlement might be more expediently delayed until next spring? said Valanthor coolly, but I was certain that he had intended his earlier whisper to be overheard. I looked across at my uncle to find his face oerspread with confusion as he stared at the King.
Perhaps we might leave the final decision to another occasion, I said, and the meeting continued -- though I would have to consult the minutes to discover what other matters fell under discussion that afternoon.
Thorongil, Thorongil Surely the Lord Valanthor could not mean the Captain Thorongil who had served under my grandfather, what forty years ago, now? I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime. Valanthor, whatever his faults, was never one to make inaccurate or unfounded accusations, and my uncle Imrahils face was confirmation enough, if any further be needed.
Why had he not told me?
I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime.
I dragged my concentration back, with no little difficulty, to the dry words of the official transcript of yesterdays High Council debates, which lay before me upon the broad oaken desk that I still called my fathers. I was supposed to be marking passages to be excised before they were copied for the public records, but my mind wandered so oft to the King whose true name I no longer rightly knew that my progress was slow.
My first wild thought yesterday had been of some strange conspiracy -- that everyone knew the truth, save only I. But as we left the Council chamber side by side, the watch bell tolling high above our heads in the still evening air, my uncle Imrahil had sworn that he had never before realised. I only met the man a few times, he had said. Damn it, I had only just come of age at the Battle of Umbar! If it is Thorongil -- which I doubt -- then he has scarcely aged a day!
And when the brisk knock resounded through the Stewards chambers, I was certain that it could be none other than the King---then for one long moment, as the door swung open, I saw my sister in the opening wrapped in the midnight-blue robe with stars at the throat that oft she wore. Then my vision shifted, and in her place stood my young cousin.
Daisy! What chance brings you to the Stewards chambers?
Dont look so disapproving, Fari, said Lothíriel, effortlessly reading in my countenance my doubts as to the propriety of a girl so young walking the City unattended -- doubts that, experience had taught me, were fruitless to express to my cousin. Mistress Hathil should be less interested in the lacework on display in the upper market and more attentive to her duties.
I sighed. You did not give your nurse the slip again? I rang the bell, and commissioned Turgil to deliver a message to Prince Imrahil that his daughter was safe, lest he should hear tales and set to worrying, and also to send Galrennieth to locate Mistress Hathil, and placate her if she could.
My -- have we grown pompous now that we are the Lord Steward of the City! my visitor mocked, as soon as the door had closed behind Turgil. You can save your lecture, its on your account that Ive come.
One day you will come to understand that behaviour that is charming in a young lass of ten is unseemly in a maiden of near one-and-twenty. And one whose hand would soon be as oft sought in marriage as any woman in Gondor. Long had I thought that Imrahil might consider my brother a suitable match -- though Boromirs journals gave the lie to any inclination on his side -- and now I contemplated whether my uncle might be aiming yet higher for his only daughter.
I know, I know, she said. But I have yet ten months till they come to affix my leg-shackles, and Papa has promised that I might go with them to Rohan to attend your wedding.
She plumped down upon the cushions on the window ledge behind the desk, one of the few changes I had made to my fathers arrangements in all the weeks I had lodged in these apartments: I loved to read with the city spread out beneath me. She seemed entranced by the view, and sat for a while in silence. The sun was high, and the light streaming through the window panes made of her hair a coronet of gold. Is she very beautiful, your Lady of Rohan? she asked at last, her voice wistful.
As proud and fair as the sunrise over the Anduin.
And do you love her?
None had dared ask me that question before, but then none else had called me Fari since I practised with a wooden baton in place of a sword and mixed up the order of my letters. I love the Lady Éowyn with all my heart, I said, as gravely as she had spoken.
I am glad -- so glad! Papa thought it might just be a political match -- but I declared that you would never countenance such a thing.
And nor would the Lady Éowyn! I said, and laughter bubbled up within my belly at the thought of any man disposing the Lady of the Shield-arm where her inclination lay not. But did you subject your nurse to a nervous attack simply to quiz me about my lady?
Nay, she said. Though well she deserves it -- she nags at me constantly about whether my fingernails might snag on my new silk--- She broke off abruptly, rose from her window seat. This room is stifling! she exclaimed. I wonder that you can bear it! Might we walk out together? Or are the Stewards duties too onerous?
I shuffled the papers on the desk, mindful of the tasks piling up due to my inattention that morning. I have borne many names in many countries in my lifetime. I got to my feet. I am sure that they can wait, I said.
I have been pondering the question you asked about your poor sister all week, said Lothíriel, when we walked together beneath the rustling beeches of the gardens of the Houses of Healing, the air heavy with the scent of roses and peonies -- for all the flowers of the garden seemed to have bloomed at once after that day when the Shadow had lifted. And so well did I remember walking here, time upon time, with two other maidens whose hair fell pale as wheat that almost they seemed to be walking alongside us upon this short-cropped turf that made no sound and bore no impressions, twin spectres of my past and my future.
Lóri never made any complaint, nor mentioned any name, continued Lóthiriel, recalling me to the present, but I thought perhaps there might be another lover whose suit your father would not countenance.
Another? I echoed. As far as I remembered, no man had ever offered formally for my sister. And, of a sudden, I wondered why the strangeness of that fact had never before struck me: though not titled a princess, the Lady Lóriniel in life was quite as eligible a maiden as my cousin. Though, as the good-wives of the City loved to repeat, Never do you see the jewel lying by your own hearthside.
Yes, after your father saw fit to turn poor Elphi away.
Why, did you not know? Elphir offered for Lóri -- at harvest time that long scorching summer when she stayed with us oh, it must have been the year fourteen.
In the name of all the Valar, what reason did my father give? I asked, for I could conjure none for myself -- it would certainly have been a most unexceptionable match. Though Lothíriel was not the only one of my Dol Amroth cousins to exhibit a degree of youthful irresponsibility, Prince Elphir had always been considered the serious one of the family; he had commanded the Belfalas fleet since he had come of age, and I had never heard my father speak ill of his judgement.
That Elphi was far too young to consider marriage, my cousin replied. I suppose he was but seven-and-twenty. But he married that milch cow Nimwen -- and dont tut like that, Fari, I am sure you think her so too -- only the next summer, though Im sure his heart still inclined to your sister.
Why had I not been told? I could invent no reason that made a scrap of sense. That had been the year when orcs and other foul beasts from Ephel Duáth had first crossed the Anduin by Cair Andros; I had taken on the Captaincy of the Rangers of Ithilien at my fathers bidding, and had oft been from the City. I wondered whether Boromir had known -- why might he not tell me? -- and recalled the missing pages scattered through his records for the last months of that year. Whether he had known or no, my brother had observed something that he -- or someone else -- did not wish other eyes to see.
Did you read aught of her feelings towards him? I asked, shame crimsoning my cheeks at having to frame such a question, even of my cousin. If her heart lay elsewhere, then mayhap my father would have given such an evasive answer.
To spare her blushes? Your father? Lothíriel did not trouble to conceal her sarcasm. I dont recall him ever acting with such consideration, not for anyone!
True enough, whispered my heart -- though, as I had discovered from my reading, the Lord Denethor had smoothed over one or two indiscretions of my brothers that might have besmirched the honour of the Stewards family.
Lóri ever kept her own counsel, she continued, yet I thought she seemed to welcome Elphis company. Certainly she enjoyed learning to sail in the bay!
Elphir took Lóriniel out in one of those flimsy cockle shells that he has the audacity to call a sailing boat? It was almost as surprising as the idea that he might have offered for her hand.
Yes---and she neither disgraced herself by taking a dip when the boom came about, as you did, nor by turning a most unbecoming shade of green when the wind picked up, as Bori did!
Sir! exclaimed Galrennieth, emerging, as I entered, from beneath an expanse of white linen that seemed to dwarf her shrunken frame. I saw that she was embroidering stars in gold thread above the Tree of the City upon the border of the cloth, and guessed that it must be intended for the newly established palace linen stores. I didnt expect to welcome you here, sir, now that you are become the Lord Steward of the City, and are so busy.
I realised with shame that I had not visited Galrennieth in her own chambers in all the years that I had been a Captain in Ithilien. The tiny cell on the ground floor of the womens quarters in the Citadel had changed but little; it had always been almost as sparsely furnished as the barrack-rooms on the opposite face of the court -- though at least this room boasted two or three colourful woollen rugs which covered the stone flags of the floor. Festooned over the top of the little looking-glass I noticed a delicate ladys scarf, sea-green and tasselled, such as I recalled Lóriniel had wrapped about her neck sometimes on feast days, while from the washstand hung a quartz pebble, rudely polished and pierced through with a leather thong, that might once have belonged to my brother -- as a child he had much treasured such baubles. I realised abruptly, and rather belatedly, that my sister and brother must have been akin to family to this woman, who had nursed them both from children, and vowed to go through the chest of personal effects from Boromirs apartments once more, to see if I might turn up any more fitting keepsake. Lóriniels things I had not: my father must have disposed of them in the months since her passing.
As I pondered these matters, Galrennieth was bundling up her sewing, and starting to dig herself out of her armchair, and I realised that I had been far too long silent.
Do not trouble yourself, mistress, I said hastily. And by no means let me interrupt your work! I have merely brought a little token of the Princess Lothíriels gratitude for your great kindness in looking after her nurse.
I gave her the ornamental thimble, ivory chased with silver, that my cousin had picked out in the market. The stall-holder had said that it had been fashioned from the tusks of one of the great mûmak beasts of Harad that had been slain at Pelennor. Having observed what those tusks could do to a man, I thought it a rather gruesome memento, but Lothíriel had been much taken with it, and had purchased several to give to her own nurse and to others among the Dol Amroth servants.
Twas no trouble at all, sir, said Galrennieth. It did my heart good to talk about old times together, though Mistress Hathil was but a child when I left the castle.
Galrennieth had been a maidservant of my mothers, I knew. She had come from Dol Amroth with the Lady Finduilas on her marriage and, as far as I was aware, she had never crossed the Rammas Echor in the forty or more years since that date -- indeed I thought that she had scarce left the City precincts. I let her chatter on for some minutes, intermingling her gratitude for the little thimble with the sayings of good Mistress Hathil and with reminiscences about her own youth in Dol Amroth, before deciding to steer the conversation onto the subject that interested me -- the evening drew on, and I had yet to finish checking the Council transcripts.
Seizing upon Mistress Hathils comment that my cousin had grown into an uncontrollable little scamp, I ventured, The Princess Lothíriel was telling me all about my sisters suitors, for I was certain that Galrennieth would know all the gossip on that subject that there was to be gathered within the City.
With respect, sir, Im sure as the Princess mustve been mistaken, she said. My lady never looked at a suitor in her life, sir, I dont think, she was always too wrapped up in looking after your brother and the Lord Steward. Your brother, may his soul rest, was never any trouble, a kinder, more considerate soul never breathed, but the Lord Steward ud scarce let a servant into his chambers, cept for spring cleaning, he was that fussy, and your sister had to fetch and carry, and deal with all his linens. Some days she was up and down those Tower stairs till I thought her pretty little legs ud wear away.
Was this, then, the reason behind the strange apology in my brothers letter? I cursed the duties that had taken me from the City so often during the past years -- perhaps together, Boromir and I might have prevailed upon our father to treat our sister more fittingly.
I thought it awful hard, sir, Galrennieth was continuing, with hardly a pause for breath. Especially when your father, the Lord Steward, I mean, well, saving your presence, sir, but he was never an easy master, and he seemed to get more and more difficult as he got sicker and sicker.
I had not known that the Lord Denethor had been ill? I exclaimed. My father had always looked upon sickness as a weakness barely tolerable in others, and certainly never in himself -- it was perhaps no wonder, then, that he concealed his infirmity from his sons.
That he was, sir, though there ud be some in the household as ud call it a blacker name. Galrennieth lowered her voice to a harsh whisper, and I knelt close by her chair to hear her. Oft of an evening, the Lord ud come charging down the Tower stairs as if the Dark Lord hiself were behind him, she said. I saw him up close once, Ill remember the sight till the day I die, his face was grey as any corpse, and I swear as his eyes well, they seemed to flash fire. He scarce seemed to recognise me -- me who ud only served in his household these forty years! I made sure as never to be around the Tower in the evenings again if I could help it, I can tell you, I was that afeard hed put the Evil Eye on me.
Mithrandir had informed me about my fathers ill-advised use of the palantír of Anárion in his long and desperate search for counsel against the Enemy, and it was clear that the fell symptoms Galrennieth described must have their root there -- though the wizard had been more than usually tight-lipped about the effects of using the Stone, saying only that some matters were best left undisturbed. I had learned what little I knew from the youngest halfling, Peregrin, son of Paladin, who, strange though that fact seemed, had been the companion of my fathers last hours.
Turgil and the other men of the household used to have to restrain him sometimes, she continued, and I durst not be in their places, not for a hundred silver pieces. But it was only my lady who could calm him, she could coax him back to his chambers, an make him sleep, sweet as a babe in arms -- though what it was she did, no-one ever knew.
Here Galrennieths flow of words sputtered to a stop, and so unusual an event was this that I searched her face for some explanation -- but my old nurse would not meet my gaze.
But you had your suspicions, mistress? I prompted gently.
My companion was long silent; her fingers alighted on a skein of gold silk, and she began to unravel the end. Most like shed got some herbal draught from the healers that had the power to lull to sleep, she replied eventually. Your lady sister often visited the Houses of Healing, as well you know, sir. She most kindly gave me some potion, of valerian root I think it was, sir, to drink before retiring -- for I have terrble restless nights now and again, now Im getting on
I allowed the good mistress to ramble from insomnia onto her aching joints and the many other symptoms of her increasing years, with which I was as familiar as with my own aches and pains -- nay, more familiar, for I had still to grow accustomed to the weaknesses that lingered in my frame as an ever-present reminder that I had only survived this War, alone of all my family, by the grace and skills of my Lord the King. Yet not once would she meet my eyes, not even when I took my leave, and I knew in my heart that I had not got the truth from her this evening.
The tiny figure is dwarfed by the grand state-bed she lies in, and when I push aside the heavy crimson hangings, embroidered with ship and swan in silver thread, I scarce recognise my sister, so pale and thin has she grown.
I take one hand in both of mine. Lóriniel, my dearest sister, I am come, I say, but she tosses from side to side, and makes no sign of hearing.
My father sits, head bowed, at the other side of the bed, and he greets me not.
Nimwen places a cool compress against her forehead, smoothes her sweat-darkened hair. Hush now, she says. Hush now, Lóri dear. Your brother is here.
It is Faramir, your brother, I say. I came as soon as I heard. Her hand lies hot and damp in mine, and in the corner of the chamber, Lothíriel sits weeping.
Father sent as soon as she took to her bed, whispers Nimwen. But she has fallen so very fast.
My sister coughs and coughs, and Nimwen holds a basin to her mouth. The spittle comes thick and red and evil-smelling, and the soldier in me knows that she is dying.
Our return is unexpected, our news unwelcome.
My brother goes ahead to break the ill tidings to our father, his duty as the eldest, while I wait below in Boromirs chambers, and gaze out into the darkness that presses against the window pane, and my flesh remembers that other darkness, the darkness that pressed into my very spirit as my horse bolted from beneath me amidst the ruins -- as the bridge cracked and swayed and broke behind me -- as fear tore me from my duty and cast me into the Anduins chill embrace.
Raised voices come from the Stewards chamber -- a crash -- a cry like that of a woman -- doors slamming.
Father has taken the news of our defeat even worse than we expected, I think.
Fathers physician bled her this morning, whispers Nimwen. She soaks the linen cloth and places it again to her forehead. But I fear it has done little good.
The brother in me clings tight to her hand. I came as soon as I could, I say.
Waves crash against the sea-wall below, but my sister hears them not.
She is running down the stairs of the Tower, running, running, her midnight-blue robe clutched tight about her throat, as if deathly afraid.
Lóriniel, I call after her. We are back safely, Boromir and I -- you need fret no more!
But she neither stops nor turns.
They close the shutters, shut out the roar of the waves. The formal words have all been said, but still my father kneels beside the bed.
You said youd never leave me, my love, keens a voice that bears little resemblance to his. You said youd never leave me, Finduilas, my love, my life, he repeats, and I wonder if his grief has turned his wits that he should so confuse the deathbeds of his wife and his daughter.
I woke shivering, sweat-soaked linen clutched in my fingers chill against my skin. Background turns to foreground, shadow to bright sun. Retched, straining for the basin beneath the bed, eyes squeezed tight shut. The world turns about its axis while I am still. No more need I seek for pages missing, meanings hidden -- the pieces of this puzzle lay in my memory, in my very blood.
I sat up, kicked the tangled sheets from my limbs. Spied the traitorous little brooch on the chest beside the bed -- my fathers bed -- the wisp of dark-blue wool still clinging to the pin. Crushed it in my fist, as if that might somehow alter the messages from the dead it bore.
My uncle had spoken true when he had called Sarothos a master jewel-smith: the piece that he had delivered into my hand this evening for a betrothal gift was most cunningly fashioned. So lifelike were the paired swans that almost they seemed about to fly away, and they fixed each other with a gaze both proud and fierce. The leftmost bird bore upon its wing the White Tree worked in diamonds, while the rightmost was emblazoned with the device of the running horse, so that the brooch represented an alliance between all three Houses.
No emblem this, the White Tree that flowered before me in this ancient courtyard. Though it stood no higher than a child of five or six summers, fair indeed was the sapling of the line of Nimloth that derived, so stories told, from a fruit of Telperion of Valinor itself. Its long leaves seemed dipped in mithril-silver, and its snowy petals outshone by far the choice pearls glistening in my hand in the lamplight. And even here, in the tranquil haven of the Court of the Fountain, was there no respite from the roar of the revelry in the Great Hall of Merethrond: I suspected that the sound echoed throughout the upper circles of the City.
I had done my part this day. I had stood by while King Elessar had planted the new sapling, and cheered with the crowd when he had spoken of hope renewed. I had followed the funeral bier of the uprooted tree along the Rath Dínen, past the fire-blackened ruins of the House of Stewards, to the very end, to the mansion of the Kings. I had spoken fitting words as the tree that had withered and died above a century before my birth was at last laid to rest. I had organised a feast whose magnificence even the two younger halflings had praised, and partaken of it, especially of the fine wines of Lebennin and Lamedon from the Stewards cellars. I had ordered the musicians for the dancing, flutes, viols and tambours, and danced one measure with my cousin Lothíriel and another with the prettiest of Lord Valanthors granddaughters. I had watched the King, as merry and carefree as one of the stable-lads, sup and drink and dance.
And now I sat alone by the edge of the pool, the grass damp with the plash from the fountain, chill seeping through my fine wool mantle.
Those few who had noted my mood that evening had laughed and clapped me upon the back, saying with sympathy, or with knowing looks, that I must be missing my lady. I recalled the latest note from her, which had arrived this morning, and her words chiding me for making no reply to her earlier letter. For my brother tells that men are always poor at writing letters in proportion to their skill in feats of arms, she had written, yet I thought in you that saying would be disproved.
What words could I send to my lady when my heart was so full of shame? The White Lady of Rohan was as pure as the melt-waters of Ered Nimrais that had nurtured the sapling of Nimloth, as unstained as the heroes of ages past whose valiant deeds the bards of the City recounted on feast days. And I -- my brother a traitor, my sister a whore, my father---
What right had any son of Denethor to sully that pure flame? The very thought of touching her seemed loathsome -- made my flesh crawl, the bile rise in my throat till again I retched like a dog that had wolfed down tainted meat. I tried, as I had tried all week, to construct the phrases to write to the Lady Éowyn that I was not worthy of her, that her hopes must lie elsewhere, that I could not marry her---but, coward that I was, the words would not come.
Then came a splash, louder than the incessant gentle tinkle of the fountain spray falling into the pool, and I realised that the betrothal token must have slipped from my fingers into the water---and thoughtless I reached for it, the pure water icy on my forearm. I felt rather than observed the shadow fall across me, and I knew, as if my action in daring to touch that hallowed water had summoned him, that it was the King who stood beside me. I did not look up.
My Lord Steward, said the King, and he squatted down close by me beside the pool, so that I could scarce evade his gaze. And I saw now, by the light of the lanterns, that the weight and wisdom of many decades lay in those dark eyes. Whether Elessar, King of Gondor and Arnor, or Aragorn, Chieftain of the North, or Thorongil, Captain of Gondor, this man was older by far than I had first thought -- and for the first time, the proud cast of his features reminded me of my father, though he was clad in white, a colour that my father never wore.
What brings you here alone and grave, when all are feasting and making merry? he asked, and at his inoffensive, light-spoken words, something seemed to crack within me.
Why did you not tell me? I said, and I rose to my feet and walked a little apart, turning my back upon fountain, Tree and King alike.
Ah, he said, and I heard his joints creak as he too rose. I wondered if you might have heard that -- but you said naught.
What could I say? If the King chooses not to trust his counsellor---
He laid his hand on my arm. It was never that.
I shook off his grasp. Then what?
To be honest, the comings and goings of over forty years past never truly seemed relevant! But I forgot that men of Gondor bear long memories -- and even longer grudges. The Lord Valanthor was never my friend.
I wonder that you retain him in your High Council when he insults you so publicly.
A man of such seniority who is also the uncle by marriage of my Lord Steward? I have no desire to find another war upon my hands!
And it came into my head to ask the question that had defeated me since first I had understood the import of Lord Valanthors whispered words. Why did you not claim the throne of Gondor then? I said, my tongue no doubt loosened by the wine I had taken earlier -- and I reflected that all the bitternesses of my life might be traced to that one choice. For if my father had never become the Ruling Steward, then would he never have looked into the palantír, and all my family might yet be living.
The time was not right. Mithrandir and Master Elrond both counselled me sternly against it.
The time was not right. The time was not right! If you had taken the White Crown forty years ago, then would none of this have happened.
That may be so, but other things yet worse might have come to pass. If one takes council with the Wise, it is ever wise to listen to what they say.
You dont understand, I said, and my words were pregnant with all the putrid shame of the past week, a pus-filled wound ripe for the leechs lancing.
I understand, he said, as if comforting a child.
His calm infuriated me more than any angry words could have done. You cannot understand! The Lord Denethor, my father---
The King placed one hand upon my shoulder, though still I turned away from him. Do not speak of it, Faramir, he said, and though his words were quiet, still they bore the tone of a command. Before ever I came to the City, at the Hornburg, I looked into the palantír of Orthanc, for I deemed that I was the lawful master of the Stone. A grave struggle for mastery I had with the Lord of Barad-dûr himself -- yet I was the victor, and I learned many things, some useful, like the unforeseen attack of the fleet of Umbar upon Pelargir. And some not so useful.
And I began to understand, for it was written that the seven Stones ever called to one another. Might perhaps he who mastered one see even into the secret thoughts of he who looked into another? For the heir of Elendil would be the rightful lord of the palantír of the White Tower, also. And I fell silent.
Do you not think that dissension within the Stewards family met Saurons purposes rather well? said the King. Ever loved the Enemy to pervert those things that are by nature right and honourable, and to twist them to his own foul ends.
And somehow, at that thought, the chill hand that clenched over my heart relaxed its hold a fraction. For even the proudest of sailing ships would oerturn in a tempest, even the brightest of gold might be melted in a hot enough furnace, and even the mightiest of oaks could be felled by an axe.
I struggled in thought with the Lord of Barad-dûr but once, and it was a struggle grimmer by far than any of the battles in which I have fought. He dropped his hand from my shoulder, and without willing so, I turned to face him.
If Thorongil had claimed the Kingship back in your grandfathers time, he said, his voice harsh, sardonic even, then think you that the Lords Denethor and Valanthor, and their like, would have sworn allegiance? He laughed, and the harsh note melted away. To an upstart from the North with manners better suited to a tavern in Bree than to the Hall of the Kings? The Lords of Minas Tirith would have been looking inwards, weak and divided, when the Lord of Barad-dûr sent out his Wraiths to seek the Ring---so counselled Mithrandir and Master Elrond. And I hearkened to them, though bitter indeed it was to turn my back on the fair City that I had come to love. He paused, as if caught up in some memory, though from his face it seemed more joyous than sorrowful, and turned back to the pool, to the sapling that gleamed in the lamplight, and he knelt and ran his finger along the top of one of the leaves, as gentle as a lovers caress.
Mithrandir said to me once, continued Aragorn, his voice so soft that I had to strain to catch his words, when I despaired of this day ever dawning, that I am not Isildur, though his blood flows in my veins. Oft may history repeat the theme, but sometimes the pattern is inverted, like the ricercare that they love to play in Imladris.
And though I knew not the word, the message was clear. You are not your father.
I wake as the morning sun bathes the bed, our bed, bright strands of gold spread across the pillow, your body slumbering still stretches warm against mine, and again I feel that familiar--unfamiliar ache that starts in my groin but seeps out to encompass my all, from the tips of my fingers to my head and my heart.
Love, I name it, my love.
You stir, open clear grey eyes. This is the hand that struck the Witch King, here, stroking my cheek. I capture the fingers, press them to my lips. You are fairer by far than the City in the first morning light, more precious than any Ring of the Enemys devising, more terrible than an army with banners, be it headed by the heir of Isildur himself.
Wife, I name you, my wife, and at the unfamiliar name you laugh, glimpse of coral tongue and pearl teeth.
Husband, you name me, my husband, and you poke out that coral tongue, add And what wouldst thou do about it?
I straddle you swiftly in answer. I love thee, Éowyn, I say.
I love thee too, Faramir, you say, and all that I am melts like wax in the flame of your smile, and all my absences are filled.
I do not personally consider this story to be AU, though others might. Though no daughter of the Stewards family is ever mentioned, the sex ratio of the Númenorean and Gondor nobles mentioned in the Appendices simply would not support species survival. The marginalisation of women in The Lord of the Rings and in Gondor society is a theme of the story, and the circumstances of Lóriniels life and death would tend to contribute to the silence about her.
I have broadly followed the timings from The Steward and the King in RotK, which appear to conflict with the timeline for the end of the Third Age given in Appendix B.
A couple of quotations from The Lord of the Rings inspired particular chapters:
his locks were shorn about his shoulders (of Boromir) The Council of Elrond, FotR
when I had mastered the Stone, I learned many things (Aragorn) The Passing of the Grey Company, RotK
OCs & minor characters
Prince Alphor: two-year old son of Prince Elphir; Prince Imrahils grandson
Anbold: one of the men who served under Boromirs command
Cenethion: Clerk of Works in Minas Tirith; High Council member
Daisy: Nickname for Lothíriel
Prince Elphir: eldest son and heir of Prince Imrahil
Galrennieth: female servant of the Stewards chambers, former nurse to the Stewards family
(Mistress) Hathil: Lothíriels nurse
Lord Húrin: Warden of the Keys of Minas Tirith
Lady Finduilas: Denethors wife; sister of Prince Imrahil
Lady Lóriniel: Boromir and Faramirs younger sister (gold maiden)
Princess Lothíriel: daughter of Prince Imrahil; she later marries King Éomer (in 3021); the name translates flower maiden
Lieutenant Malroth: one of the men who served under Boromirs command
Princess Nimwen: wife of Prince Elphir and daughter-in-law of Prince Imrahil (white maiden)
Ormrod of Lebennin: High Council member
Rohinniel: Boromirs horse
Sarothos: a Dol Amroth silversmith
Telendur: High Council member
Captain Thorongil: the alias used by Aragorn when he served in Gondor around 40 years earlier
Turgil: male servant of the Stewards chambers
Lord Valanthor: High Council member; brother-in-law of Denethor
Bold = book-derived minor character; italics = original character
annûn denotes sunset, west in Sindarin
ic lufie thé is my (amateur) translation of I love thee into OE, which Tolkien used to translate Rohirric
ricercar (pl: ricercare or ricercari) is an elaborate type of fugue, often featuring contrivances such as augmentation, diminution or inversion of the theme (from the Italian, to search out)
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