LotR fic: Courting the Lady, chapters 4-6 [Denethor/Finduilas, general]
Title: Courting the Lady Chapter 4, "The Steward's Heir Consults"; chapter 5, "A Dinner-Party"; chapter 6, "Epistolary Seasons I" Author: celandineb Fandom: LotR Characters: Aragorn [Thorongil], Denethor, Finduilas; also Imrahil, Adrahil, Ecthelion Rating: general Summary: How did Denethor ever end up married to Finduilas of Dol Amroth? Note: The letters that follow in the sixth and two later chapters self-evidently do not include all correspondence between the parties, but are rather merely a selection of their letters. On occasion individual letters have had digressive passages silently omitted as well.
4. The Steward's Heir Consults
Walking through the tunnel that linked the sixth and seventh circles of the city, Denethor reflected on the afternoon's events. The theft of Finduilas's collar had shaken him. I imagine that no such unfortunate occurrence happened when she spent yesterday with Thorongil. I hope she does not blame me? At least she seemed to take the loss well, after the initial shock. It did give me the opportunity to present her with a replacement as an impromptu gift, of course, but to have had such a thing happen in my presence reflected ill on me and on the Steward's rule.
He nodded to the men sweating on the practice field as he passed by. There was not time enough before the evening meal for him to join them; instead, he decided, he would go to his rooms and finish the work he had left undone in order to spend the afternoon with Finduilas. Ecthelion was almost certainly either still in council or carrying out his own administrative duties, and though Denethor needed to speak with his father, he wished to do so privately.
Upon entering his room in the White Tower he wrote a note to Ecthelion to say as much, and added that he hoped they could discuss matters that evening. He despatched a servant with the message and settled in to work.
The high table in the Great Hall was crowded that evening. Denethor reached it somewhat late, after the Standing Silence. He performed the ritual on his own, then caught Ecthelion's eye as he seated himself at the very end of the board. The Steward nodded and inclined his head towards the family apartment upstairs, indicating that he had received the note and would meet with his son there sometime after dinner. The younger man breathed a silent sigh of relief.
Now that I have made my decision, I would prefer not to delay in executing it. With the assurance that he would be able to speak with his father that very evening and declare his intention to wed Finduilas, Denethor relaxed slightly and attacked his food with relish until his hunger was somewhat assuaged. He glanced down the board and across the great room, pleased to note the absence of Captain Thorongil. Whether the man ate with his company in the soldiers' mess or had already departed with them back to Ithilien mattered little to Denethor, so long as Thorongil was out of his sight.
The lady did speak of him with apparent affection. I hope that does not mean he has already laid some claim to her heart. Ah, well, if he is gone back to his post in the wilds where he belongs, it will be of no concern.
Buoyed by that thought, he lost interest in his meal and finished quickly, slipping away back to his room to pace restlessly as he considered how to approach Ecthelion with the news that he wished to marry. To be straightforward, he concluded, would be best, given that it had been his father's command that had precipitated the whole business. The Steward would no doubt be pleased that he had acted so quickly, and surely Finduilas of Dol Amroth would be an acceptable choice as his bride.
The summons to Ecthelion's chamber came about an hour later. Denethor rapped smartly on the door, and at his father's bidding entered and seated himself on one of the high and heavy carved wooden chairs.
"What is it you wished to discuss?" asked the Steward formally.
His son leaned forward. "Some weeks ago you told me that this season I must choose a bride to marry. I have found the woman I wish to wed, and with your approval I will speak to her father tomorrow. She is Finduilas, the daughter of Prince Adrahil of Dol Amroth."
Ecthelion stroked his beard thoughtfully and said, "What made you determine on this girl? She is beautiful, but still quite young, and I do not recall you had ever met her until this winter. I would have expected you to choose a woman of more mature years, perhaps one whom you already knew well."
The question gave Denethor pause. Why have I chosen Finduilas? I have spent only a handful of hours in her company, after all. She does remind me of Lotheluin in my youth – perhaps now I have a chance to make good what my hesitation then denied me? And yet it is different from how I felt for Lotheluin – when Finduilas was robbed, I wanted to find the knave who did it and see his thieving hand cut off, then and there, for having dared such an assault while the lady was under my protection. She seems not so young, either – she took an intelligent interest in the trade of the city, her head is not filled with clothes and gossip like so many of the lords' daughters. It is not for just her pretty face that I consider her; she would be able to take up the burdens of a Steward's lady. That is how I can put it to Father. He will expect me to have thought in practical terms, not to have been swept away by feeling.
Aloud he said, "Her blood is noble enough to make her more than eligible, despite her youth. And she is not so very young, either; I believe she is about six-and-twenty. As the daughter of Dol Amroth, she is accustomed to the kind of life that a ruler must lead, with all of its restrictions and limitations. Moreover since her mother has been lately unwell she will have had to take on some of the cares of supervising a large household, and thus have experience useful to a Steward's lady. From conversing with her today I found her to be as educated and well-read as any lady of her age I have met, and very sweet-tempered withal; altogether I think she would make an admirable wife."
Ecthelion raised his brows at this recital of Finduilas's virtues. He said, "All you say of the girl is no doubt true. But though there are many pressing reasons for you to marry, and this would be an excellent match politically, I do not want you to marry a woman with whom you would be unable to live for the rest of both your lives. Tell me, Denethor, will that be so for you? Do you find the girl attractive enough in both mind and body that you believe your marriage to her will endure? For it would be unacceptable in the Steward to fail to set an example in this matter as in others. My son, do you love her, or will you grow to love her? Love need not precede the union of man and woman, but if it come not after, then your life will be harder than it should. I would not see that happen to you."
Denethor flushed at his father's open questioning. Do I love Finduilas? He thought of her appealing sweetness, her lovely voice, her graceful carriage. He felt no urgent desire to bed her, but the idea did warm his mind. And more than any physical attraction, the beauty of her nature appealed to him. He could imagine being able to converse with her – not about all the details of the present government of Gondor, perhaps, rather about the lore he studied in his spare time. The thought of hearing her speak in her soft tones of such old matters, of the heroism and bravery of past ages, attracted him. Is this love? I am not sure.
"I have no doubt that this match will be a good one for me," he replied evasively, uncomfortable.
"No, Denethor, this is too important to turn aside. You know Finduilas only slightly – can you know yet if you love her, or will learn to love her? Though I wish to see you wed, I do not want you to choose hastily, only to repent of your choice later. There are considerations beyond political alliance, my son."
First he tells me I must marry, and now he bids me to pause and consider? I wish my father would make up his mind.
"Yes, Father. I understand your concerns, but there is no need. Finduilas is the woman I know I wish to marry," said Denethor, his chin lifted.
Ecthelion eyed him narrowly, saying, "Very well, then. I will be pleased to see you wedded, and with an heir to continue the line of Húrin of Emyn Arnen. The line of the Kings may have ended in Gondor, so that of the Stewards must endure in its stead. Seek Adrahil's permission to wed his daughter as soon as you will. If he wishes to know if I approve, you may assure him on that point. He is expected in council tomorrow, but not until late morning."
Denethor rose and bowed to his father. "Thank you, sir. I will seek the Prince early in the day and ask his leave."
He turned to depart, but Ecthelion's voice stopped him.
"I wish you all happiness, my son," said his father quietly. "It is not something I think you have yet found as I would have hoped; I trust your judgment that this marriage will bring it to you."
The remark so surprised Denethor that he could not answer; he merely bowed again and escaped into the passage, closing the heavy door noiselessly behind him.
I would not have expected him to be so concerned about my happiness, after all he said before. He did seem pleased at my choice despite that reservation – well, I shall have to show him that his doubts are misplaced.
He strode away back to his own rooms, there to work until his eyes would no longer serve him in the flickering light of the candles, and he must needs sleep.
In the morning he ate a hasty breakfast and walked briskly down through the city to see if Adrahil was free. The message Denethor had left with Finduilas had reached the Prince, who was thus unsurprised to see the Steward's Heir appear even at this early hour. Adrahil offered refreshment of wine or hot tea to his guest, and Denethor accepted the latter politely.
"So, concerning what did you wish to consult me?" inquired Adrahil, setting his cup aside. "I am to be in the Citadel later today in any case, so I presume this has nothing to do with the Council discussions?"
"You are right, sir. As you of course know, I am yet unmarried, but the Steward has told me that I must alter that state. Of all the women in Minas Tirith this season, I have met none to tempt me to do so except for your daughter – so I am here to ask for your permission to wed her," said Denethor, the firm tones of his voice somewhat belied by the tension in his posture.
Adrahil looked at him sharply. "That is a quick decision. You are aware that Finduilas is only three-and-twenty, not yet of the usual age for marriage?"
"I had not known that, no. I thought her somewhat older, from her ease and poise at the feast three nights past," Denethor said, chagrined. And from her behavior yesterday – but I do not know if she will have told her father of that incident.
The implied compliment to Finduilas did not alter Adrahil's purpose, and he continued, "I would not urge her to wed so young, nor where her heart is not inclined. Now," he held up a hand to still Denethor's movement of protest, "I do not know for whom she might feel the affection proper for an intended spouse. She may indeed have such feelings for you, even on such short acquaintance, but she has not told me. Therefore what I say is this. I am more than pleased to allow you to court her, and I will encourage her to think well of you, for my part. But I will not command her; I love her too well to bid her wed someone for whom she does not believe she has the appropriate affection. Moreover, too soon she will be the only living memory in Dol Amroth of my wife. You would not deprive me of that comfort, would you?"
Denethor could only shake his head mutely. This was not going at all as he had hoped, though he did feel some relief that Adrahil had not rejected his suit altogether on grounds of age and told him to seek elsewhere for his bride.
"I thought not. Shall I call Finduilas now and put this to her? Or would you prefer that I speak to her privately later?" said Adrahil.
I would most like to speak alone to her myself of my intentions, but clearly the Prince is not going to allow that, for some reason. I hope it is not that he thinks she would react badly. Clearing his throat, Denethor replied, "Whichever you think the lady herself would prefer."
"That is thoughtful of you, to consider her wishes," approved Adrahil. "Do you think your suit will be a surprise to her, as it was to me?"
"I imagine so," acknowledged Denethor. "Though we spoke much together yesterday as we walked through the city, I said nothing then of my wish to wed her. I would not speak of such matters without your knowledge and consent, nor where we could be easily overheard."
"In that case, I believe it would be best if I spoke with her alone. We will be departing Minas Tirith in only a few days; my wife Nimíril will be looking for our return. Would you agree to carry out your courtship by letter, until either my family can come back to the city or you may be able to travel to Dol Amroth yourself?" Adrahil asked.
"That would be acceptable to me; of course I would prefer to see the lady Finduilas in person, but I am more than willing to write rather than to have no contact at all. I thank you for your understanding, lord Adrahil," said Denethor.
He rose. "Would it be possible for me to greet her, at least, before I must return to my duties this morning?"
"Certainly. Ask one of the servants to find her, if she has not yet left; she was planning to visit with what's-her-name, Forlong's girl, this morning. You may speak with her in this room, if you wish. I must collect a few things and then I will be off to the Council. I will wait for you that we may walk up together," said Adrahil, standing up himself.
A word with the servant waiting in the hall unfortunately failed to bring the desired result; it appeared that Finduilas had already gone off to meet Elerrína for a walk through some of the gardens of the city, cold and barren though they mostly were at this season. Disappointed, Denethor walked with Adrahil back to the Citadel.
To assuage his disappointment, he began to ponder how he might contrive to see Finduilas another time before she departed, and speak to her about corresponding once she was back in Dol Amroth.
Such a correspondence may take a good many hours of each month, but I imagine that courting the lady in person, were she present, might occupy me as much or more. Though it would be time well spent, indeed, and I would not begrudge such hours if given to her. I wonder if it would be untoward to talk with Father about inviting the Prince and his family to share the evening meal before they leave? I do wish to speak to her once again. It was my fear and failure to speak timely that lost me any chance with Lotheluin; I could not bear to repeat that.
5. A Dinner-Party
Thorongil swore under his breath as he stared at the piece of parchment in disbelief. Sealed as it had been with the plain white wax of the Steward, he had assumed it was some last-minute order before he left the next day to return to Ithilien. Instead it was an invitation to dine that night with the Steward, his Heir, and the Prince of Dol Amroth and his children.
What purpose will my presence serve, in that group? He shook his head. But I shall have to attend.
Gesturing to the messenger to wait, he quickly wrote out a polite note of acceptance, letting none of the surprise he felt show through in the formal phrases. He sealed it with a hasty drop of red wax and thrust it into the man's hands with a small coin.
"To the Steward, of course, and thank you."
I could wish that Denethor would not be present – Adrahil's children will be good company, and it could be a pleasure to discuss military or political matters. But Denethor. . . Is he not right to look on me askance, if he but knew it? Am I ready to lay bare all my heart and mind and will with respect to Gondor?
Thorongil rose and paced about the chamber. I could play an honored role as Thorongil. The rumors of kinship with the Steward would be enough to secure trust, and explain why I do not speak of my heritage. But to become king – that would mean confiding in Ecthelion, and inevitably in Denethor. He rubbed at his cheek. Ecthelion is a good Steward of this land, and his son well-trained to follow him. There would be no purpose at this time in my stepping forward. Gondor has endured kingless for centuries – would she accept a king again, especially if her Steward did not? Would I risk a civil war for the sake of kingship? He stared out the window without seeing anything for several minutes before recollecting himself and turning to finish packing his things for departure.
At the appointed hour that evening, Thorongil presented himself at the Steward's private quarters and was shown to a richly furnished room, lit in part by the last rays of the setting sun and in part by great white tapers. Ecthelion and Denethor were already present, and from the set look on the latter's face, it appeared that father and son had been having words. Thorongil ignored the tension and greeted them.
"Ah, Thorongil. A pleasure to have you here," said Ecthelion. Denethor echoed him with a similar phrase of welcome.
"I asked you here," said Ecthelion, "because. . . well, as soon as Adrahil and his family arrive, we will discuss it. In the meantime, would you care for a glass of wine? From Dorwinion – a rare vintage, I think it very fine."
Thorongil accepted a goblet from the unobtrusive servant hovering nearby. Tasting the rich flavor, he complimented the Steward on his choice.
Ecthelion waved him to a seat. "Yes, the pressings of Dorwinion's vineyards produce headier draughts than any in this country. One must be careful with them – they are not for ordinary occasions. But at times one wishes to be extravagant, and tonight there is ample justification. Ah, I think I hear the Prince now."
All three men rose, and Denethor and Thorongil bowed, as the door opened and Adrahil entered, followed by his daughter and son.
Ecthelion held out his hand in greeting. "Welcome, my old friend. Come in, be seated. Take a glass of wine. Finduilas, Imrahil, do not be shy – come and take a chair."
Amid the bustle of service Thorongil noted that Denethor's eyes lingered on Finduilas as she spread her skirts to sit, and that when she glanced back, she had visibly to compose herself, her hand rising to the piece of white lace at her neck. What is this, then? He intended to change his first seat for one nearer the lady, but Ecthelion beckoned him. Perforce he had to leave Finduilas to the company of Denethor alone, the two men of Dol Amroth being already in close conversation with the Steward.
"I had not expected this so soon, my lord," Adrahil was saying. "His mother will be distressed not to see him again before he takes up his post."
Imrahil's face was eager. "Yes, Father," he said, "but it is far more sensible for me to leave directly from Minas Tirith than to journey home and then turn around and leave again immediately. Captain Thorongil," he looked over, "it would seem that I am to join your company."
This came as a surprise; usually Ecthelion would have given some warning that a new officer was to be appointed. "I see," said Thorongil. "Well, I shall certainly be pleased to have you. What rank will you hold?"
Ecthelion intervened. "He will begin without any rank, Thorongil. This is by his own choice and request; he wants to see how the common Rangers experience their duties. So if you can, do not treat him out of the ordinary way. I do not believe any of the men presently in your company are from Belfalas, much less Dol Amroth?"
"Good. Then Imrahil can remain anonymous to them for the time being. If and when you need an additional junior officer, and assuming that you think him up to the task, then promote him, of course."
Imrahil grinned. "I know I have not the experience, yet, to justify placing me in command. Better to learn things from the bottom up, don't you think?"
Thorongil smiled back. "If that is what you prefer, I am happy to accommodate you. I have no need for an extra officer at the moment, in point of fact, but we can always use more men on patrol. I will talk to you about your skills and abilities as we travel; no need to do so tonight. Are you prepared to leave tomorrow? I am already a day delayed from my intended departure, and I would rather not wait any longer."
Imrahil nodded firmly. "All my fine things are packed up, ready to be taken back to Dol Amroth; I have kept out only what would be practical for my new duties." He laughed and plucked at the blue silk of his sleeve. "Except for tonight's attire, of course."
Adrahil sighed. "Had I known your intention, I might not have brought you to meet with Lord Ecthelion this morning. Well, since you are determined, Imrahil, I shall have to let you do this. But do write a message to your mother that I can take. You know she will be worrying about you."
"Of course," said Imrahil with mild indignation. "I have already done so; Finduilas has the letter."
"It is all settled, then," said Ecthelion. "Let me interrupt the pair over in the corner, and we may dine."
Dinner was an elaborate affair, punctuated with conversation mostly about the events of the past month of Ringarë: which families had been in Minas Tirith, what parties and balls had been held, what alliances and contracts concluded. Thorongil listened with only half an ear, as the niceties of social engagements held little of immediate interest to him. He would have liked to speak with Finduilas, but she was seated at Ecthelion's right hand, cornerwise across the table and half-concealed behind a great silver epergne, while he sat between her father and brother.
"Why did you decide to take up your post so soon?" Thorongil quietly inquired of Imrahil when the latter paused from narrating the outcome of a race he had run the past week against Duinhir of Morthond.
Imrahil looked uncomfortable, speaking in an undertone. "Two reasons, really, one that I would prefer not to discuss just now." More audibly, he continued, "In part because it was a chance to serve under you, sir, and I have heard you spoken of very highly as a captain. They say that you use every man to his best advantage and yet hardly lose one even in the worst situations. And they say that training under your supervision is as good as training under any other three – well, nearly," he added with a glance at Denethor across the table, who was looking grim at the compliment to Thorongil.
I wonder what the other reason could be? On the journey, perhaps, he will be willing to speak more freely. If he is trying to avoid the consequences of some scrape, I want to know. "Well, for whatever reason, I am pleased to have you. Have no fear that I will coddle you; there is no room for that among the ranging companies. Each man must bear his full share of duty out in Ithilien."
The Steward's Heir listened to his words. Thorongil tried not to mind the cool stare, and was glad when the man returned his attention to Finduilas for the rest of the meal.
When the table had been cleared and they were once again mingling more freely, Thorongil was able to snatch a moment to speak with Finduilas. "Did you encourage your brother to join my company?" he asked.
She blushed and admitted it. "But he was bound to join one of them, sooner or later," she pointed out. "All I did was speak highly of you as a friend; he made his own decision. Though I am glad of his choice."
"You will probably receive less interesting letters this way, you realize," he warned. "We shall undoubtedly have similar things to tell you."
"Oh, I do not worry about that," Finduilas replied, "so long as I hear from you both to know that all is well – or as well as can be expected. Moreover I shall certainly feel less concern over my brother's welfare knowing that you will look out for him – and the other way around, as well," she said, looking Thorongil in the eyes. "I would be devastated to lose both of you at once."
"Both your brothers?" jested Thorongil.
"Yes, both of you," she said.
Both, she says, but says not "brother." No, do not read into that more than she might mean. Remember what Gethron said – I am a stranger here, and for all her kindness Finduilas will not have forgotten our respective positions. She could not think of me as anything more than a brother – it is remarkable that she would consider me as highly as that to begin with.
At that moment Imrahil came up to them and claimed his sister's attention, dragging her off to answer a question that Denethor wished to ask her.
Thorongil murmured to the servant to refill his cup with water, not wine, and moved to speak to Ecthelion and Adrahil.
"I hope to hear good news of my son," said Adrahil, "once he has had a chance to prove himself."
"Oh, I doubt not that he will turn to good account, sir; you are known as an excellent swordsman yourself, and I am sure that you have seen that Imrahil has had all the proper training. Granted, practice and reality are far different, yet I would expect him to do well," Thorongil said politely.
The Steward added, "Though he is a bit young yet, that will make little difference since he starts among the ranks rather than taking an officer's post. I remember that I had difficulties with that, being younger than any man I commanded when I first held an appointment. Your son is wise, Adrahil, to choose the path he has."
The three of them turned to look at Imrahil, gaily recounting a story to his sister and Denethor. Finduilas was laughing and even Denethor smiled.
"Though this has been a most pleasant evening, I fear the hour begins to grow late," said Thorongil. "If you will excuse me, my lords, I would like to oversee my last preparations for departure and enjoy a last night in a soft bed."
"Certainly," said Ecthelion genially. "Have you told young Imrahil when and where to meet you in the morning?"
"I will do so now, and then go," Thorongil replied. "I thank you, my lord Steward, for asking me to be in your company tonight. Lord Adrahil, it was a pleasure to see you again. Please convey my best regards to your lady; I understand she is not well at present, and I am sorry not to have met her this season."
"Thank you," said Adrahil gravely. "I appreciate your kind thoughts."
Thorongil moved over to the younger party and waited for a break in their conversation. "Imrahil," he said, "I will come by your father's house to meet you shortly after dawn tomorrow. Have you your own horse here? If not I can assign you one."
"I do," said Imrahil. "She is stabled at the Great Gate. I will be ready to meet you as you say, and will send word to have her saddled and waiting."
"Lady Finduilas, it was my pleasure to see you again. May your journey home be swift and safe," and he bowed over her hand.
"Thank you, Captain Thorongil," she said. "May yours be so as well."
They bowed stiffly. Rising, Thorongil nodded once more to the company and departed.
So I am to have her brother with me, then. I will have no excuse not to write often. He sighed. This may prove more tangled than I had anticipated when I first agreed to Finduilas's proposals. What can she be thinking? She calls me brother, sometimes, but is that indeed how she sees me? Do I think of her as sister, or friend, or something else entirely? As Thorongil I can have no greater aspirations than my present circumstances. But if I were to claim my true name and heritage? My foster-father once said that I must prove myself worthy before I could betroth myself to any man's child. . .
6. Epistolary Seasons I
16 Narvinyë 2974 (1)
My dear Imrahil,
As I am sure you could have guessed, Mother was very disappointed that you decided to take up your post immediately, rather than coming home to see her first. But Father reminded her that it made far more sense to send you with your new commander rather than doing all that extra traveling, and I think she has accepted the situation. You might want to write her just a short note though, when you have a chance, and apologize. She is not looking very well; I think while we were all gone she did not eat and sleep as she should have. But our return has cheered her up.
Being home without you seems very strange. I keep wanting to talk with you, and being unable. Mealtimes are most peculiar without you there to scrape the last remnants from each dish and look for more. I think we will find a great lessening of household expenses in the next quarterly accounts, in your absence. . .
It has been quite rainy and gloomy here, our usual winter weather. The tides are running exceptionally high and all the older folk of the city shake their heads and predict bad weather for the whole of the year. I do not believe them. We had even higher tides when I was a little girl – I think you were just two – and I remember that summer as being wonderful. I recall pulling you around the gardens on your little wheeled horse!
Lord Denethor has already sent me a letter; he must have written it only a day or two after we departed. Father encouraged me to respond quickly and so I wrote back to him even before writing to you. It was difficult, though. The letter was no less than kind, yet it was more formal than I would have expected from one who would be a suitor. I know that Father would be pleased if I were to decide that I would marry the Steward's Heir, but he is not pressuring me except to tell me to be polite and answer without delay. I confess myself surprised at Denethor's interest, given the disparity in our ages, but until he should speak openly I will not presume.
I miss you, brother. Write to me as soon as you may.
Your loving sister, Finduilas
29 Narvinyë 2974
As you were most urgent that I should write soon and often, I am complying to the best of my abilities. Having been gone for some weeks from my company it was a little time before I was able to snatch a spare moment for myself to write to you.
You will want news of your brother. He was an excellent companion on the road with the several other new recruits: cheerful, carrying out his assigned tasks without complaint, keeping his gear in order. His skill with weapons is good for one of his age, although like all of us, he will improve further with practice. I do not think it likely that he will have difficulty finding his feet among the company, and I fully expect to be able to promote him on the field within two years. That may seem long to you, but believe me, it is rapid indeed.
Ithilien at this season is sad – the rains of winter strip the leaves from the trees and leave them blackened and barren, reaching for the sky as if longing for the return of the sun to warm them again to life. We move among the dells like cats, silently stalking. Luckily winter is a season when little fighting occurs, and both the enemy and we stay close to our camps and fires much of the time.
I meant this to be a longer and more cheerful letter, but I fear that I have not time to write further if I wish to send it with a messenger tomorrow. I hope that your journey home was safe and that all is well with you and your family.
Kindest regards, Thorongil
11 Nénimë 2974
Your letter was most welcome to me. I am sorry to hear that your lady mother remains unwell, but I trust that with you and your father there she will take comfort. Please convey my best wishes for an amendment in her health soon.
I was reading the other day in the early records of the realm and was reminded that many of our great philosophers and thinkers wrote in Quenya instead of Sindarin. Do you read Quenya at all? I assume you know at least some Sindarin, since your father is fluent. If you would be interested I could have a copy of Aegnor's treatise on moral metaphysics sent to you, either in the original Quenya, or translated into Sindarin or Westron, whichever you would prefer. (2)
You asked how it felt to be the Steward's Heir. I am not certain how I can answer that; I have never known aught else. How do you feel as the daughter of your father? It is a great responsibility. It pleases me to ensure the safety and prosperity of Minas Tirith and Gondor. I feel it to be my foremost duty. Not all give such thought to our well-being. You will remember, for instance, Beleg's refusal to become an armorer for the army. Such checks upon fulfilling my duties are burdensome. What are your thoughts on such matters? I am sure you would have sound advice on this.
Your humble servant, Denethor
24 Nénimë 2974
Your letter did cheer me, though it sounds like Ithilien is as dull in winter as anywhere else. Has my lazy brother not been able to find time to write, with all his practice at arms and scouting? Would you act on my behalf and encourage him to do so?
I have spent a few days nursing a cold. I have not been really ill, just have a touch of sore throat, so I am keeping mostly to my room and drinking linden tea. To amuse myself I have been trying my hand at a new translation of the "Lay of Nimrodel." It is not as easy as one would like, to translate verse and keep both the form and the sense of it!
Despite the rainy weather of this season, the sea is beautiful. I wish that you could be here to see and enjoy it with me. Sometimes I think I love the waters best when the skies are cloudy, for then there is no glittering surface to distract from the complexity of its depths. There is a hill not far away – Imrahil knows of it – where I go to stand and watch the shifting greens and blues and greys of the water, and can almost believe that I swim among them. In warmer seasons I do swim in the sea, naturally. At times I have imagined that I have heard the Voices of the Sea. Have you ever thought that you have heard the call of one of the great Powers beyond humankind? Am I simply being a flighty girl? But truly, I have wondered if they care yet for mortals, or if they have turned their backs on us and all our woes. It is a lonely feeling, to think that we might be abandoned to our unknown fate. There may be a drop of Elven-blood yet in my veins, but I have never seen an Elf or Dwarf myself – I am told such creatures still live, but it is hard to believe. Have you ever met any?
I apologize for my ramblings today. I trust that all is well with your and your company.
3 Súlimë 2974
Please forgive your tardy brother. Since you laid such emphasis on the need for me to write to Mother as soon as I could, she got the first letter, and I have had little spare time since. Not that I had much news to tell her, but it is probably just as well that you receive this one since there is some news, and not all good. Maybe you can read it to her and omit what you think best.
Choosing to be anonymous was a wise move. I hear a lot of griping about how the officers are chosen half the time from among the young bloods, without much regard for their abilities, while some more worthy men are ignored because they haven't the right family connections. Well, I can see that for myself in a few cases already. It is hard to know how to improve things, though. Not that I could do anything now, mind you, but someday if all goes well I'll have a command of my own, and of course eventually I'll rule in Belfalas – though I hope that is many years away! The tricky thing is that officers have a duty to help finance their company's expenses, so the higher your rank, the greater your resources must be. If you have no family wealth, you must find a patron or sponsor to help out. I think Ecthelion is sponsoring this company – Thorongil doesn't discuss it, but I've heard rumors, and certainly he doesn't seem to have any significant funds of his own – his beautiful horse and his few fine clothes all seem to have been gifts.
Now that spring is near, and it's easier to move about the country, we are starting to see some fighting. I was in my first real skirmish last week. There were eight of us on a doubled patrol, and we ran across a dozen Orcs. We took them by surprise and won handily – one of our fellows received a nasty wound in the leg, but the rest of us were hardly scratched (reassure Mother of that, please!), and we killed all the enemy. It wasn't quite what I expected it would be like, though. I wasn't scared while I was fighting, but afterwards, I threw up. Don't tell that to Mother or Father, though.
I can see already that Ithilien must be glorious in other seasons. Even now, with the trees barren and the cold winds, the shape of the land is beautiful. The contours of the hills swell against the sky as if to touch the very stars themselves. When I am on watch at night, I think of the folk who lived here, and how it must have wrenched their hearts to leave. We come across abandoned farmsteads often, and though most have been long-pillaged by Orcs and such foul creatures, it is clear that their former owners had left them with great reluctance and care, storing what they could not take, in hopes of someday returning.
But most of the time I am far too busy for such sad thoughts. I was quite proud of my fighting skills before I arrived, but compared to many men here I'm not much. Thorongil, of course, outstrips all of us by far. I wonder where he learned to fight? Perhaps in Rohan, because he certainly has tricks no one else has ever seen. He has undertaken to give me and several of the other fellows extra training, which is generous of him considering the demands on his time. I'm glad that you suggested I ask to join his company – it's been a good choice so far and I'm sure will continue to be.
There, now wasn't that worth the wait? I've filled three leaves of parchment, and I'm afraid you'll have to pay extra for the carriage of such a long letter. I'll try to write sooner next time, honestly.
25 Súlimë 2974
Dear Lord Denethor,
I look forward to the treatise by Aegnor, whenever the translation is completed, but you need not apologize for the delay. The poem you sent me on the fall of Númenor in the meanwhile is lovely – I particularly like the image of the drowning queen with pearls in her hair. I believe I read that once before, many years ago. Have you ever considered writing your own verses?
Spring is fully upon us here in Belfalas. The niphredil blooms in the palace gardens – it grows almost wild, here, at least no one tends it, but I have been told that it flourishes nowhere else in all of Gondor save close to Dol Amroth. But all sorts of other flowers flourish – the apricot trees' bloom is nearly over, but the lilies are reaching their peak. What is the spring like in Minas Tirith? I have seen her gardens only in winter, and had difficulty picturing those stone-walled spaces full of light and leaf and color. . .
As for your questions, I suppose it was a bit presumptuous of me to ask how it felt to be the Steward's Heir when I cannot very well answer the same sort of question about myself. It is indeed a great responsibility, to feel that one has the well-being of all the people of this land in one's control. When I find myself stymied by the stubbornness of others, I remind myself that each must bear the responsibility for his own choices. Just as a mother must let her child make mistakes in order to learn from them, so a wise ruler will behave towards his people, while being ready to step in if their errors will lead to harm to others. Would you not agree?
I remain, etc. Finduilas
14 Víressë 2974
Spring in Minas Tirith is as fine as can be found anywhere in Gondor, or so I deem. She is of course a city built for defense, not beauty – though I see great loveliness in her proud white walls and sturdy gates and spacious streets. While the pale niphredil does not flourish here, our garden walls are graced with roses of many colors. Our greenswards and trees lie below us in the Pelennor, visible from any tower, and flowers of all sorts are sold in the streets in the lower circles.
Regarding which, we have recently made those streets safer than they were when you were here and had that unfortunate incident. The penalty for thievery has been changed. Now, those apprehended and convicted are set to hard labor, such as building defenses or repairing roads. If there are mitigating circumstances, such as a mother stealing a loaf to feed her child, a lesser punishment may be imposed. Further, we have increased the numbers of the City Watch, and they will henceforward patrol during daylight hours as well as after dark. I believe all of these changes will improve life in the city as well as preventing occurrences such as the one you experienced.
I do agree with you that a ruler should intervene when necessary, but I consider it better still to set up circumstances so that a mistake or misconduct is less likely to occur in the first place; hence the altered penalty, which I hope will deter many from petty theft.
With this letter I send Aegnor's treatise, now translated for you. I hope you enjoy it. As you hinted strongly that I should try writing a bit of verse of my own, I have acceded to your will. I shall let you be the judge of my humble efforts.
Whither the lady Wanders, there my road leads me. My step falters not.
Hair dark as nightfall, Moonlight her face, dawn-grey eyes. Her smile is my sun.
Another time I may perhaps try a lengthier form, but for now this is my limit, I fear. It is a form that was popular in the twelfth century, when there was a fashion for poetry in the style of the Haradrim.
Your obedient servant, Denethor
8 Nárië 2974
I fear at least one letter you sent must have gone astray, as I just received your last in which you asked if I no longer have the time or inclination to correspond with you. Far from it! I greatly enjoy hearing from both Imrahil and you – though he is in your company and I imagine does many of the same things day to day, the two of you write very different sorts of letters. His say more about what is going on in camp and on patrol, while your poetic descriptions tell me much about where you are. And I must thank you for convincing Im to write more often, too. I read portions of his letters to our mother, who appreciates them no end.
How do I keep busy, you ask? I expect I am at least as busy as you are! Mother still does all she is able, but a good part of the supervision of the household is on my shoulders now. She keeps the account-books, but I must check them too, against daily expenses, for instance. Why, I get up at dawn, most days, and if I am lucky I can find a bit of time in the evening to write a letter, or read a story or a poem. What nonsense is my born brother trying to feed my adopted brother now, suggesting that I gad about all day?
I am afraid that I have not had time to continue my work on the "Lay of Nimrodel." I have recently begun reading a treatise on moral philosophy – interesting, but difficult, so I progress slowly.
13 Nárië 2974
I can see why Thorongil's men are so devoted to him now. Of course I have admired him since I joined this company, and before by reputation, but. . . well, let me tell you what happened last Aldëa.
The Rangers in Ithilien have a number of more-or-less permanent camps, but we don't always stay at the same one. It's thought to be good to shift the companies around occasionally so that we learn different parts of the country and don't grow stale going over familiar territory all the time. Last week was the first time we had shifted since I arrived, though. It's a fairly substantial undertaking and we had to borrow horses, mules, and wagons from several other companies to haul everything. Obviously moving makes us more vulnerable to attack as well, and the Orcs are clever enough spies to have discovered our procedures. They set an ambush for the wagons while we were all strung out along the trail, but you would have thought the captain expected it, because he brought the leading group back at just the right moment to catch the foul creatures in their own trap and kill them all. A very satisfying thing, that!
I find that I enjoy many things about this service – having friendships with other soldiers, seeing the beauty of these lands, knowing that what I do defends my home. But I cannot love the sword for its own sake. Many seem to do so. A few of my companions go into a kind of frenzy in battle, hardly seeming to know what they do, ignoring wounds in their lust to fight and kill. It's effective, I suppose, but rather dreadful to witness. I think Thorongil feels as I do – glad to serve our people as he is most needed, but regretting that this must be the way of things.
But enough of these serious musings! There are lighter incidents as well. The fellow who generally dosses next to me is becoming known as a practical joker – one night he switched around every man's boots, so that in the morning we all found they were too large or too small and had to scurry around trying on pair after pair to find our own again. Baldor was given four weeks on latrine duty, plus night watches, for that one, and a warning that if his jokes continued to endanger his comrades he could be dismissed in disgrace.
It grows warm, here, and I find I miss the sea-breezes and think enviously of you. Who do you go to swim with now, in the evenings? I wish I were there for it. A quick wash in a stream just isn't the same.
With love, Imrahil
2 Cermië 2974
I apologize most heartily for my unwarranted leap to the conclusion that your silence meant you no longer wished to write. Out here in lands rapidly returning to wilderness, I should have known better than to assume every letter written will be delivered to the intended recipient. To reach us here, yours go first to Minas Tirith and then travel by courier, if we are lucky, or with resupply trains if we are not. And the same applies in reverse; so there are plenty of opportunities for a message to go astray.
I thought you might enjoy this verse as a change from your moral metaphysics. My apologies for its old-fashioned air; the one or two volumes of poetry here in camp are quite elderly, having been salvaged from an abandoned farmhouse, and it appears that my own mode of expression has been influenced by those antiquated turns of phrase.
So is it not with me as with that muse Stirred by a painted beauty to his verse, Who Aman itself for ornament doth use And every fair with his fair doth rehearse, Making a couplement of proud compare With sun and moon, with earth, and sea's rich gems, With tuilë's first-born flowers, and all things rare That heaven's air in this huge rondure hems. O let me, true in love, but truly write, And then believe me my love is as fair As any mother's child, though not so bright As those gold candles fixed in heaven's air. Let them say more that like of hearsay well; I will not praise that purpose not to sell. (3)
There is little of note to report. Our celebration of loëndë here was, I am sure, nothing like yours. Save for those who by ill-luck must play guard to the camp, the men mostly indulge in drink and song. I believe Imrahil had a sore head yesterday in consequence, but you probably should not tell him I said so!
Fraternally yours, Thorongil
17 Cermië 2974
I fear I have ill-news for you this time. Mother is not at all well – even the kindly warmth of this season has done little to restore her health. There have even been days when she has been unable to leave her bed – and you know how unthinkable such a thing has always been for her. I really begin to fear that she may not live to this year's end. I will write as often as I can to keep you informed of her condition. Do you think there is any chance that Thorongil might grant you leave to come home before the end of the year? Can you ask him, please?
One of the few unmitigated pleasures I now have is in receiving your letters, and others'. Denethor proves a surprisingly engaging correspondent, who has even sent along a few bits of verse, although he is not light-hearted as you are nor as lyrical as Captain Thorongil. I often take my letters outside to read and reread in the soft breezes of the evening, just before the sun sets.
As if it is trying to make up for the sadness within the walls, the garden is blooming as I have hardly seen it before – walking among the roses, more than once I have been dizzied by their fragrance. I have pressed several of the deepest red blooms to preserve them, and as you can see have enclosed one for you. A foolish thing, I know; you have little place for such frivolities as a Ranger. But bear it in memory of
your loving sister,
24 Urimë 2974
As my lady desires, so must I oblige.
Alone before, I saw you moving near – All dressed in white like foam upon the shore, When your enchanting voice I first did hear I knew I'd love another nevermore. My heart had long been shuttered, as a door Does hinder light from entering a room; Now opened through your kindness. I implore You not to leave and resurrect my tomb. The stars above are gleaming through the gloom Of night, as your face outshone all the rest When first I saw you, as it were a bloom Of evermind in the undying West. How can I end these words I say to you? Except to say my love is always true.
Ever at your command, Denethor
(1) Regarding dates and seasons:
In the later Third Age, Gondor followed the Stewards' Reckoning, in which each month had 30 days and there were five days of holiday (six in leap years) that were counted outside the months.
The names of the months, beginning in midwinter, were: Narvinyë, Nénimë, Súlimë, Víressë, Lótessë, Nárië, Cermië, Urimë, Yavannië, Narquelië, Hísimë, Ringarë.
The holidays were: yestarë (the day before Narvinyë), tuilérë (between Súlimë and Víressë), loëndë (between Nárië and Cermië – doubled in leap years, and then called the enderi or middle-days), yáviérë (between Yavannië and Narquelië), and mettarë (day after Ringarë).
The days of the week were: Elenya (Stars' Day), Anarya (Sun's Day), Isilya (Moon's Day), Aldëa (White Tree's Day), Menelya (Heavens' Day), Eärenya (Sea's Day), Valanya (Valar's Day). Valanya was sometimes called Tárion, the Powers' Day, and corresponds most nearly to modern Sunday, though it had no religious significance.
The seasons were: tuilë (spring), lairë (summer), yávië (autumn/harvest), hrívë (winter); two additional terms used for late autumn or early winter were quellë and lasselanta.
[All this information is from Appendix D in The Return of the King.]
(2) "Moral metaphysics": shades of Immanuel Kant here, yes. I really do not know his philosophy well enough to discuss it, I have merely borrowed a phrase.
(3) This is really William Shakespeare, sonnet 21, with a couple of words modified. I fear I cannot write sonnets of sufficient quality for Thorongil, so I have had to borrow. With his early years having been spent among the Elves of Imladris, he would have had a keen sense of image, as well as rhythm and phrasing. (Denethor's verse, on the other hand, is his own, and shows his limitations.)