|Celandine's Chronicle (celandineb) wrote in cels_fic_haven,|
@ 2007-08-08 14:37:00
A shame that Merethrond is used so seldom. Denethor took a last look around the Hall of Feasts to assure himself that all the preparations were complete. The tables were spread with linens as white as the stone that gave Minas Tirith her epithet, and set with more china, glass, and cutlery than Denethor thought could possibly be needed, though he had been assured it was. In the days of the kings this hall was the heart of the land every day, not only at times of festival. It is unfortunate that the first Stewards let that custom lapse. Restoring it now would seem presumptuous, as if we aspired to kingship.
Green boughs and banners of all colors, representing every noble family in Gondor, adorned the walls. Denethor had ensured that the white swan of Dol Amroth hung next to the Steward's own banner, as a subtle compliment to his lady – and his future father-in-law. Adrahil had greeted him as a son when he had called on them the day before, and he wished to show the prince every suitable courtesy.
Servants stood ready throughout the room, and the musicians at its end had begun a soft tune. All was prepared. Denethor let out his breath in a sigh, brushed a hand over his dark hair, and needlessly straightened the deep blue damask tunic he wore before retreating to the entrance where he and Ecthelion would wait to greet their guests.
The one Denethor most wished to see arrived when two-thirds of those invited had already passed through the doors, but when Finduilas entered the Hall of Feasts on Adrahil's arm, she had never looked lovelier. Or so Denethor thought, complimenting her on the beautiful pearl-and-silver coronet she wore.
"It was my grandmother's," she responded. "Mother wore it once or twice, too. Father gave it to me this season, and I wanted to wear it to honor them."
"A thoughtful thing to do," Denethor approved. "It suits you well." He lowered his voice. "Are you ready?"
"I am," she said, in tones that matched his. "When will your father speak?"
"At the end of the feast, before the dancing. You are to be seated near me at the high table, and when he signals, I will come stand beside you."
Finduilas nodded, and passed on into the hall. Denethor continued to meet and greet next to Ecthelion until the last straggler had entered. He stepped outside for a moment into the chill freshness of the evening air before he would have to enter the crowded hall. Clouds obscured the sky to the north, though the southern horizon still showed stars flaming against the dark fabric of the heavens. It is clear above my lady's home, I'll warrant. But no. From now, Minas Tirith shall be her home. And I will do my best to make her days – and nights – bright.
Breathing deeply, he returned inside and took his place at the high table for the Standing Silence. Finduilas was five places down to his right, next to her father. Denethor glanced around the room. At the near end of the closest table sat Thorongil, who caught Denethor's eye and nodded before his gaze slipped over to Finduilas. Denethor fought to keep his face calm and made polite conversation with the lords seated on either side as the first dishes were brought to the table. He allowed himself to be helped to quail stuffed with mushrooms and a delicate salad of greens forced in the glasshouses, but refused a second glass of wine when it was offered him.
At length the meal was over. All that remained on the tables were the dishes of nuts and comfits for those who felt the need for assistance with their digestions. Denethor glanced at Ecthelion several seats away, wondering when he would speak. The Steward's attention was engaged by Lady Eilinel, but finally he rose to claim the silence of the room.
"My ladies – my lords." Ecthelion's voice filled the great space without shouting. "Before we begin the dancing tonight, I have two announcements to make to you."
"I know you are concerned for the safety and future of our lands, as I am, but what I have to say should set your minds at ease." The Steward began to walk along the table, and Denethor felt the air move behind his chair; but Ecthelion did not stop, instead continuing until he reached the end of the dais and stepped down. "First, I should like to say that Captain Thorongil has been promoted. He will be transferred from Ithilien to command our forces in the south, both on land and sea, to repulse the Corsairs. Please join me in congratulating him."
Applause burst out around the room. Denethor could see nods of approval from many. He leaned forward to look at Thorongil, but the man was turned slightly towards Ecthelion behind him, and all Denethor could see was the bright reflection of the silver star on Thorongil's shoulder. Why? Why tonight? He could have waited. . .
Ecthelion was continuing. "War, however, is a sadly ever-present subject in these days, but not one we wish to emphasize at a time of festival. Therefore I conclude with an even more pleasant announcement." He beckoned to Denethor to stand and join him, and retraced his steps along the table to lay a hand on Finduilas's shoulder. "It is with great happiness that I make known to all of you the betrothal between my son, the lord Denethor, and the lady Finduilas of Dol Amroth."
If the applause for Thorongil had been loud, now it was twice so, almost obscuring Ecthelion's final remark, "They will wed at tuilérë." The musicians struck up the traditional wedding melody – legend held that it dated back to the rule of Tar-Meneldur in Númenor – and played through it once before segueing into a more seasonal tune. Denethor took Finduilas's hand and led her to the top of the room, as servants hastily cleared the few tables there and removed them for the dancing.
Denethor was thankful that the opening dance was far less energetic than that in which they had participated together at Forlong's ball. He knew the steps well, and could watch Finduilas's face instead. She smiled like the sun shining on the white peaks of the mountains, her head high and her bearing upright. The rich green of her gown set off her fair skin, and she blushed at some of the remarks made as they danced through the lines.
As soon as the first dance ended, both Finduilas and Denethor were surrounded by young men and women who wished the luck of dancing with the newly betrothed. A silly thing, like any superstition, but at any rate harmless, thought Denethor tolerantly as he gazed at the gaggle of girls and held out his hand at random. He had never felt so popular in his life, not even at the first ball he had attended after he had come of age, when every eligible girl in Gondor – and a few from Rohan – had been paraded in front of him. Absently he noticed that Thorongil was dancing little, but had a knot of lords and a few ladies clustered about him, intent on earnest conversation.
Five hours later, Denethor's patience was running thin. He felt as if he must have danced with every woman present, but not with Finduilas since their opening promenade. At least now the crowd had thinned – the children had long since been taken off, most of the elderly had also gone, and it was the young and some of those of middling years who yet remained on the floor. Politely Denethor thanked the lady on his arm, whose name escaped him, giving her over to a young man who seemed delighted by the opportunity, and made his way to Finduilas. She had just finished dancing with Duinhir of Morthond.
"Would you care for another dance, my lady?" said Denethor from behind her. His heart lurched as he saw the joy in her face as she turned.
"Most certainly, my lord," she said, the gravity of her voice belying the light in her eyes.
"How has your evening been, Finduilas?" Denethor allowed his hand to linger on her waist longer than courtesy usually permitted. "I am sorry that my father chose to spoil our news by speaking of Thorongil's appointment first. You should have been the center of all attention tonight."
Finduilas's laugh rippled through the air. The dance parted them then, but when they were able to speak again she was still smiling. "You need not be concerned about that, Denethor."
How my name sounds on her lips!
"Truly," she continued, "had the Steward not done so, I imagine I should have had to dance with even more young men than was the case – we could have been here all night." Her tone had been teasing thus far, but now she became serious. "I do not wed you so that I will be known to all. I would be perfectly happy to avoid this fame – but because it is necessary to your position, I accept it. It is the man Denethor who I wish to marry, not the Steward's Heir."
Denethor swallowed hard to hear her say such words. He could not reply as he would wish in the middle of the floor, where the music was once again separating them, but as soon as the dance ended, he took her hand and hurried them out of the hall, slipping along the shadowed edges of the corridor to a side door. It is cold. . . but we will only be here a moment.
The sky was dark with clouds, but enough light from the torches at the front of the hall escaped around the corner that Denethor could see Finduilas's face as she looked up at him.
"Finduilas," his voice was rough, and he bent so that his lips touched hers, his arms pressing her slight body against him.
"Denethor," she said when the kiss ended, and turned her head to lean it against his shoulder. The blood surging in his veins prevented Denethor from feeling any chill himself, but at Finduilas's shiver he drew her back inside.
"Our absence will be noticed, if we stay long," he said, regretting the necessity.
"I know." Finduilas squeezed his hand. "It will always be so. . . but after we are wedded, we will find time to be together, I have no doubt."
How did a woman so sensible and so beautiful both ever agree to marry me, when she could have had her choice of any young man in Gondor? Denethor wondered as they returned to the great hall and the remainder of the mettarë celebrations. Why does she love me? For clearly she does – perhaps even as much as I love her. Perhaps it is one of the mysteries of life, and it would be better not to pursue it. He let her lead him into the light of the room.