Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search
swiss replica watches replica watches uk Replica Rolex DateJust Watches

Or Perchance, When the Last Little Star  by Larner

Shall we dance?  On a bright cloud of music shall we fly?

Shall we dance?  Shall we then say good night and mean goodbye?

Or perchance, when the last little star has left the sky,

shall we still be together with our arms about each other....

            from The King and I by Rodgers and Hammerstein

 

Or perchance, when the last little star ...

 

Mettarë Ball in Dol Amroth

Mettarë, eleven years before the death of the last Ruling Steward of Gondor and the return of the King

            Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin peered into the chamber given her parents for their stay in Dol Amroth and asked, “Naneth, have you seen my ball gown?  I was certain I packed it....”

            Her mother waved her hand negligently.  “Your blue one?  Oh, but dear heart--I took that out of your things.  You could not wear that again, you know--you wore it three months ago at----”

            “But who would even remember it, if they saw it?”  Lynessë’s heart fell, for if her mother had removed the blue gown, that left only....  She closed her eyes in frustration and shuddered.  “You intend I must wear the silver one, then.”  It was less a question than an accusation.

            “But you look so well in it!” her mother returned blithely.  “It so shows off your beauty!”

            “It is the most uncomfortable gown I have ever owned!  How am I to dance in that--that horror?  Why did you insist on bringing it?”

            Endorë, sister to the Lord of Pinnath Gelin, took her daughter by the shoulder and drew her into the room, giving a swift look to make certain no one, not even the least of servants, was lingering in the hallway where they might overhear before shutting the door decidedly behind her daughter.  “Now listen, Lynnessë,” she said in a determined whisper.  “You are now of marriageable age, and I am determined to see you marry well.  We are not so well off, your father and I, that we can offer a large enough dowry to attract a suitor of such high estate as we believe you deserve.  Therefore we must beguile them!  You are lovely--so much more lovely than I ever was.  All it will take will be for one of high rank to see that loveliness as your father and I do, and the lack of suitable dowry will mean nothing.  And you have heard your uncle bemoaning that he must provide dowries for all five of his daughters--he has made it all too plain to me he will not do so for you, too.”

            She leaned forward to breathe directly into her daughter’s ear, “And the Steward himself is here--and with his whole household!  Do you realize what that could mean?  To attract the eyes of the Steward or either of his sons?”  She straightened and looked her daughter in the eye.  “You could end up the Lady of Gondor, my sweet one!”

            Lynessë considered her mother with horror.  “You would see me perhaps attracting the attention of Lord Denethor himself?  But Naneth--he is older even than you or Adar!  He barely smiles, and if he has a sense of humor I have certainly heard no tales of it!”

            But Endorë was shaking her head decidedly.  “I doubt, actually, any will again draw his heart, for in him the Dúnedain blood runs strongly, and such do not love more than once, or so it is said.  But both Lord Boromir and Lord Faramir are here, and there has never been word either had settled his attentions on any one man’s daughter.”  She frowned at the growing upset on her daughter’s face, and placed her extended index finger on the neck of her daughter’s dress.  “Your adar and I went to great lengths to be included in the party to attend on your uncle when he came here to Dol Amroth to join the Mettarë celebrations, and now it is up to you to play your part.  And there are certain things you shall not do--you shall not sit in your bedchamber and refuse to attend the ball; you shall not attend and sulk and refuse the attentions of any who approaches you; you shall not claim discomfort in your leg and refuse to dance as you did at the wedding feast of your cousin Erolieth.  Do you understand?”

            “Even if it is that lecherous Lord Tervain from Langstrand who approaches me, Naneth?” Lynessë shot back.  “You would see our house allied with his when he played his last lady false and drove her to an early grave?”  She was shaking her head and fairly shaking throughout with suppressed fury.  “Not even should the Lord Steward himself order me to do so would I accept such as he!”

            “But my beloved daughter, no one is asking that you should accept someone whom you could not love....”

            “But I must not beg off any who asks me to partner him?”  The young woman’s anger was so intense it caused her mother to take a half step backward.

            “It’s not that----”

            “But you just told me I must not refuse the attentions of any who approaches me, and I saw Lord Tervain entering the keep here as we arrived.  I tell you, Naneth--I will not dance with him, or anyone with similar tendencies.”

            It was difficult for Endorë to know what she could say that could not be seen as capitulating to her child, although in her heart she knew that Lynessë had reason to fear the attentions of Tervain.  The man was a rake--there was no question of that!  At last she took a deep breath.  “All the more need, then, my dear one, to appear at your most alluring, and draw to your side one whose honor is not in question.  Lord Boromir would be a most satisfactory catch, you know.”

            “Lord Boromir?  But he cannot speak of anything but weapons and battles and horses!  I would have nothing in common with him!”

            “You need nothing in common with a man when he is so rarely in his own home due to his responsibilities to the realm, my love.”  Why could her daughter not be reasonable? wondered Endorë.  “With him gone so often you could order the house as you please and fear little if any interference in the raising of your children.”  It was such a simple, obvious arrangement.  “And I will remind you, if you are so desirous of a marriage in which you can admire the intellect of your husband, that Lord Faramir is also unwed and you might do well to put yourself in his way.”

            Lynessë threw up her hands in frustration.  “Now I am to entice a man to me with naught but feminine wiles, am I?”

            Endorë stood back slightly, folding her arms across her ample bosom.  “All the more reason to wear the silver gown.  It shows you off so well!”

            Unable to bear it another moment, Lynessë stormed to the door and threw it open.  She half turned toward her mother, but unable to find the proper words to fully express her outrage she just shook her head and went out, returning in a welter of upset to her own chamber.  Tersiel, the maid who’d accompanied the family, looked up in question.

            “It’s no good--Naneth removed the blue gown from my luggage herself.  She is so intent to see me tricked out in that--that travesty!”  Lynessë waved her hand at the offending garment where it lay across the bed.

            “It does become you,” Tersiel suggested tentatively.

            “And what good does it do to become me if I cannot breathe while I wear it?” Lynessë demanded.  “It is so tight!”

            “To appear beautiful is oft times painful,” Tersiel said philosophically as she lifted the dress and examined it.  She sighed.  “There is simply not enough fabric to let it out sufficiently to be fully comfortable, or I should do that, at least, for you.  Come--the ball is to begin in less than a mark, and there is yet your hair to dress.”

            Seeing no other way out of this, Lynessë finally allowed the maid to assist her out of her riding dress.  Already the basin of hot water Tersiel had brought before the encounter with her mother had gone tepid, she knew.  It would be an uncomfortable sponge bath she would now have.

*******

            She held to the bedpost, her face pale with discomfort.  “You must draw it tight this time, or be done and I shall retreat to my bed and plead indisposition,” Lynessë directed Tersiel.  “I cannot bear more than one more try.”

            The maid nodded her understanding.  “Then take in as deep a breath as you can, my lady, and I shall be as quick about it as is possible.  Ready?  Now!”  So saying, she drew the laces on the right side of the dress as tight as they would go, managing this time to get them tied before her young mistress moved enough to leave them loosened.  “There!” she said.  “It is done!”

            “At last!” Lynessë gasped, “Although I cannot bend my waist, I fear.  Ah--how am I to converse with anyone when it is all I can do to take a breath?”

            Tersiel gave her a wan smile.  “Here--sit and I shall do the last needed for your hair.”

            But sitting proved equally difficult, and she could not even properly bend over to allow Tersiel to do the top of her head.  At last Tersiel stepped back.  “That is all that I can do for you, Mistress.  This must be enough.  Had your mother allowed you the other gown there would be so much more scope.  Although this one does certainly show off your shape well.”

            “As if,” Lynessë commented bitterly, “that were the only aspect of a woman that were worthy of consideration.  But my mother appears to believe that no man will consider me if I am not shown off like a prize cow.”  She looked at her maid with envy.  “At least you do not need to do this to maintain your position, and your Beldorn would love you no matter what.”

            Tersiel colored, but was beaming as she ran a brush over the dress.  “We are to wed in the spring, my lady.  Your father has promised to see us bound.”

            “I will look forward to that time,” Lynessë said quietly.

            At that moment there was a knock at the door, and at a nod from her mistress Tersiel went to the door to open it, admitting Lynessë’s father and Lord Elstror of Pinnath Gelin, Endorë’s brother.  She curtseyed deeply.  “My lord, Captain Telorin.  Mistress Lynessë will be ready in a moment.”

            Telorin had been younger brother to a lesser lord in Anórien before he joined the Guard of the Citadel where he’d risen to the rank of Captain, finally marrying Lord Elstror’s younger sister and leaving the Guards to settle with his wife in Pinnath Gelin.  He examined his daughter with interest.  “I thought you were planning on wearing your blue dress, my dear one.  What happened?”

            “Naneth happened,” she responded with some bitterness.  “She says she took it out of my things herself, and has left me having to wear this one.”

            “I must say,” her uncle said with appreciation, “that it is most becoming.  Perhaps it is not so bad a choice....”

            “Perhaps since you are not required to wear it, Uncle,” she interrupted him.  “It is the most uncomfortable garment it has been my misfortune to wear!”

            Tersiel meanwhile had brought out a silver shawl.  “Here, Mistress, you should wear this--the passageways are rather chilly at the moment, you know.”

            Lord Elstror took it from the maid.  “Thank you, child.  I shall help my niece with this.  Come, Lynessë--your maid is correct about the state of the hallways, although as crowded as the hall is likely to be it should not be cool there.  And if you will allow me to serve as your escort tonight--it should relieve me from having the maidens quarreling at to which one of them I love best of all my daughters.”

            Lynessë laughed for the first time since her arrival.  “Meaning that you dislike them all equally, then, Uncle?  Ah, yes, I shall welcome your company--that and that of my father!”  She turned.  “Thank you so, Tersiel.  I could never have been ready in time were it not for your efforts.”

            The maid curtseyed and beamed, particularly after Captain Telorin echoed his daughter’s sentiments.  “And thank you,” she said.  “Yes, sir, I shall make certain the fire is kept up that your daughter not be chilled when she returns.  May the evening profit you all.”  She saw them all out of the chamber and the door closed quietly after them, her last glimpse of her young mistress being of Lynessë sharing a laugh with her father and uncle over some quip the latter had just shared with his companions.

*******

            Faramir closed his chamber door behind him and looked to see who else might be heading for the Great Hall of the Keep of Dol Amroth.  The only one he could see was his much older cousin Húrin, who’d served as Warden of the Keys to the Citadel for as long as he could remember.  Húrin was rather self-consciously rearranging his cloak over his left shoulder, seeking to obscure the fact that he’d lost most of his left arm to a Southron sword many, many years earlier during his first battle.  There was a frown on his handsome face as he examined his reflection in the glazing on the window opposite that looked into an inner courtyard below.  At the tap of Faramir’s boots approaching he cast his kinsman a glance, then looked back again at his reflection.  “I do not know why I decided to accept the invitation to attend tonight’s ball,” he said in soft tones.  “It is not as if I will dance much.”

            “And why should you not dance much?” Faramir asked, raising one eyebrow meaningfully.

            “Once the ladies realize I have but one arm they all seem to find too many things other than me to look upon, and a good many pretend not to hear when I ask if they would consider dancing with me.”

            “There will be one for you, of that I am certain, Cousin,” Faramir said.  “And when that one sees you and you see her, we shall all feel Manwë’s winds filling our hearts with joy.  A jewel among women shall she be, the one who looks on you and sees not an empty sleeve but a man, more whole of spirit than many most deem to be complete.”

            Húrin stared at his younger cousin, his mouth partially open in surprise.  “And has the gift of foresight come upon you, Faramir son of Denethor?” he asked at last.

            Denethor’s younger son smiled mysteriously.  He reached out to lay his hand on the Warden’s shoulder.  “I have faith in you, Cousin.  Now--have faith in yourself!  Plus,” he added as they began walking together toward the stairs down from the upper guest wing, “I gladly bequeath to you the very first of those maidens whose mothers are intent they put themselves in my way tonight.  Boromir and I--and I must assume our Dol Amroth cousins as well--have been rather overburdened by such creatures for the past ten years or so, and I admit I feel rather jaded at this point.”

            Húrin cocked an eyebrow at his younger cousin.  “You, who are merely twenty-four years of age, have known the pursuit of predatory women and their mothers so long?  Ten years?”

            Faramir laughed and flushed.  “Well, it feels so long.  Although as you know there have been some who have been seeking to have Father betroth us to suitably born girlchildren from our earliest childhoods.  And had the Minister of Protocol been listened to, we should have been betrothed from the moment it was known we were sons.”

            “And where are your father and brother?”

            “They went down with Uncle Imrahil some time ago.  There was some emissary from Pelargir he would have them meet before they came to join the ball.”

            Continuing to talk, they descended the stair and headed toward the Great Hall.

            Swan knights in full uniform admitted them to the chamber, and Prince Imrahil’s herald proclaimed their names and titles.  Voices within the room had quieted at the click of the herald’s staff, and became a steady buzz of comment as the two men entered the room.

            “That is Lord Faramir, is it?  Oh, but he is as tall now as his brother!”

            “I did not know that Lord Húrin made a point of attending such festivities as this.”

            Húrin heard that statement and felt himself cringing inside.  Faramir gave him a glance of understanding with just enough of a wink to hearten the older man.

            “It’s plain he, too, is of the house of Húrin.  He is quite distinguished.”

            “What a graceful manner in which to wear his cape!”

            “Well, he does it to hide....”  At which the lordling involved leaned over to whisper into the ear of the lady with whom he was conversing.  Húrin hoped he was not flushing, but held his head more proudly as he saw the lady press her hand to her chest with dismay.

            As the two of them approached Faramir’s cousin Elphir, heir to his father’s princedom, the Warden of the Keys commented softly, “And there goes my chance to dance at all this evening.  Watch--she is now telling that group of three maidens.  What would you wager that if I were to walk that way they will oh, so gracefully melt into the room?”

            Elphir followed the glance of the two lords from Minas Tirith.  “Lady Estelieth?  Is she gossiping again?  About what?  About your arm?  Ah, but then you are safe, my Lord Húrin, for none listen to her--or those who do are not worthwhile approaching to begin with.”  He smiled at them.  “I welcome you in my father’s name, my lord, and rejoice you have accompanied my two scapegrace cousins as you have.  It has been far too long since you last left the White City.  Come with me, and I shall rejoice to see each of you with some of the mulled wine.”

            “Thank you for both the welcome and the drink,” Húrin answered.  His gaze swept the room while Elphir swept two cups from a passing servant’s tray, and having accepted his wine he returned to his survey.  “I see that Lord Angborn and his older son are here, as are several from Langstrand and Lebennin.  Did Forlong arrive?  I understood that--ah, but there he is, just entering.  So, he made the journey after all, did he?  I hope he came by coach, for I find I would pity any steed who must carry his bulk all the way from Lossarnach!  Not, of course, than I am sorry he came--a fine, canny man, Forlong.  And is that Hirluin there?  I think it is perhaps eleven years since I saw him last.”

            He paused as he saw a familiar individual enter in the black with silver bars at the shoulder that indicated one retired from the Guard of the Citadel of Minas Tirith, accompanied by Elstror of Pinnath Gelin, on whose arm walked a veritable vision.  Barely anyone appeared to be listening as the names were announced, not that they could be heard from this distance.  “Captain Telorin accompanies Lord Elstror, I see,” he commented quietly to Elphir, who leaned in close to hear his words.  “But the lady on his lordship’s arm--I fear I do not recognize her.”

            “Oh, it would be many years since you saw her last, I fear.  How long has it been since Captain Telorin left the Guard and came south with his wife to accept the living offered them by Lord Elstror, do you think?  About fifteen, I believe.”

            “Sixteen, if my memory does not play me false.  Are you saying that that beautiful young lady is little Lynessë?  The last I remember of her is finding her climbing the cherry trees behind the Citadel there.  She was--what?  She could not have been more than four, or so I would think.  I must say that she has become a woman indeed in the years since.”

            “She was six when her father left the service of the Guard,” Faramir said smiling.  “If I recall correctly you found her in the tree only because I had coaxed her there.  Ah, and there is her mother, who--oh, but of course, she is approaching her daughter and preparing to loose her in this direction.  See her nodding this way?  She must know you are betrothed, Elphir; so it appears she is meant to approach me!  No, but wait--the young woman is shaking her head?  Perhaps I should approach her after all, if she has the taste to avoid me!”  He laughed.

            Elphir cast a glance at Endorë of Pinnath Gelin where she was quietly remonstrating with her daughter.  “See Lynessë frown.  It would appear she does not relish being aimed like a bolt intended for your heart, Cousin.  Nay, it would appear she has other ideas.”

            The musicians suddenly played a trill of music, and all went quiet, turning toward the door.  The herald tapped his staff.  “Erchirion of Dol Amroth with his sister, the Lady Lothiriel.  Amrothos of Dol Amroth.”

            Elphir’s next younger brother entered with his young sister, who was now eight, on his arm.  Her hair was dark, as befitted a princess of Dol Amroth, but had uncharacteristic auburn highlights that made it appear like dark copper in the torchlight that illuminated the chamber, a legacy of her mother’s Lossarnach background, perhaps.  Amrothos, who also was yet a child, followed his brother and sister gracefully enough, but with clearly barely suppressed energy to him.  This was a boy who would far rather be running along the beach than having to behave decorously before a room filled with lords and ladies, great and small, or so Húrin judged it. 

            The staff clicked again.  “Lord Boromir son of Denethor, Captain of the forces of Osgiliath and Anórien, and High Warden of the White Tower.”

            Throughout the room Men were bowing and women curtseying, and Húrin saw the pride in Faramir’s eyes as those within the room offered his brother the honor they’d barely shown himself.  “He looks so fine tonight,” Faramir murmured approvingly.

            Again the staff.  “Prince Imrahil and Lady Indiriel of Dol Amroth!  Dervolon, Master of the Guild of Traders from Pelargir; Captain Valdamir, Master of the Guild of Merchant Adventurers for Minas Tirith and Gondor, and his wife.”

            Elphir smiled with relief to watch his parents pace down the length of the Great Hall toward the chairs prepared for them and their most honored guests, accompanied by the two guild masters.  “So, Captain Valdamir is from Minas Tirith itself, is he?”

            “Ah, yes, a fine man and a canny Master to his guild.”  Húrin smiled.

            Again the staff.  “Lord Denethor son of Ecthelion, Lord Steward of Gondor!”

            A trill of trumpets, and Faramir’s father entered.  The pride in the eyes of the man’s younger son showed more clearly as Faramir stood even straighter.  All bowed with grave respect at Denethor passed them to join the family of his wife’s brother and the two notables among the merchants on the dais. 

            Imrahil stepped forward.  “It is with joy we greet you this night as the days again begin to grow longer, and as all look to see the light returning unto us.  May all gathered here rejoice on this day hallowed as ever to the hope of returned glory and peace once again!”  He made a gesture to the musicians.  “Let our revels begin!”

            Music began, and Prince Imrahil led his wife out for the first dance, while Erchirion led out his sister.  Soon many were leading out partners to form sets.  Húrin glanced around and saw Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin standing, her lovely face set with an expression of discomfort, not far from her parents.  Her mother had retreated to her father’s side and was apparently relating to him how recalcitrant their daughter had proved, considering how her gaze went from his face to the form of the young lady.  Captain Telorin appeared partially amused and yet uncomfortable, and Húrin realized that as her father Telorin sympathized with his daughter and yet dared not say so to his wife.

            He looked back to the younger lady just in time to see a swift look of horror cross her features, although it was immediately schooled away.  He could not tell what it was that discomfited her, then realized an older man was approaching her, apparently intent on leading her into the forming sets.

            He nudged Elphir.  “Who is that?” he asked with a brief indication of the Man whose eyes Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin was avoiding.

            Elphir gave a quick glance, and his usually pleasant expression hardened.  “Tervain?  My father allowed that one here?  One who feeds on innocence, Tervain of Langstrand!”

            Faramir’s attention followed that of his two cousins.  “Tervain?  He who was married to Anidril of Lamedon?  He played her false, did he not?”

            “Indeed, and with my cousin Indis, no less.  Then after Anidril died and Indis thought he would do what was right and marry her, he told it among his friends that my cousin was of easy morals, and several sought to dally with her, convinced she was naught but a lightskirt.  By then he’d begun to stalk Lord Angborn’s niece, then Duinhir and Dunhil’s sister, though she was but fifteen.  We warned him away from the maidens of Dol Amroth, my father and I.  He’d thought to approach Lord Elstror’s oldest daughter, but she is promised to Hirluin the Fair, who already hates him.  So, it appears we see his next intended target.”

            “Will you succor her, then?” suggested Húrin of his younger cousin.

            But Boromir was approaching with Forlong of Lossarnach and his niece, apparently intent on seeing to it that Faramir was partnered for much of the evening.  Faramir looked from the party that was descending on him toward Captain Telorin’s daughter, then gave his older cousin a twisted smile.  “It appears I shall be otherwise involved,” he said with a conciliatory shrug.  “Nay, my Lord Húrin, I fear it falls to you.  Did I not say that I should bequeath to you the first maiden whose mother sought to put her in my path tonight?”  He glanced back to see Tervain was fast approaching his quarry.  “You had best move quickly--I fear the evil-minded creature intends to make her his partner whether she will or no.”

            And so it was that without realizing quite how it had come to pass Lord Húrin, nephew to the Lord Steward Denethor by his eldest sister and Warden of the Keys of the Citadel and the White City, thrust his half-emptied cup of mulled wine at his cousin Faramir and found himself moving swiftly to intercept the daughter of Captain Telorin before she could fall into the hands, no matter how temporarily, of Tervain of Langstrand.

*******

            He was watching her--that foul Tervain was watching her!  Lynessë felt herself grow cold again in spite of the number of people among whom she stood.  Fortunately the crowd was beginning to shift to make room for the dancers and she could do so with them, moving out of his way.  Ah--now he was looking to see where she might have disappeared to and was turned away from her--she could move to the left....

            But she could not continue avoiding him forever, of course.  Her attempt to move behind the gaggle of her uncle’s five daughters unfortunately did not serve to hide her effectively as she was taller than all of them.  As she emerged from behind Lord Hirluin, known to so many as Hirluin the Fair, who was paying court to his beloved, she found herself almost face to face with Tervain from Langstrand, who had a smug look of triumph on his face.  “Mistress Lynessë,” he purred as he seized her hand, “at last I have found you within the crush.  Ah, but how delightful!  Now, you must dance with me--I promised myself I should enjoy your company this night after the disappointment I knew last at----”

            “Ah, so here you are!” said another voice as a hand drew Tervain away from his victim.  “You found her for me, did you sir?  Thank you for not allowing her to go unescorted in such a crowd.  Now, Mistress Lynessë, did you not promise me the first dance you should know this evening?”

            The face was that of a nobleman, tall and enigmatic, and clearly one of strong Dúnedain heritage.  He took his hand from Tervain’s shoulder and extended it toward her, and she immediately fell in with the ruse.  “But of course--after all, I could not begin to go back on such a promise.  You do understand, do you not, my lord?” she said coolly to Tervain as she pulled her hand from his grasp to offer it to her savior.  “Now, we had been speaking of your stable, had we not?” she continued as she came to the nobleman’s side and they moved out to join an unfinished set.  She noted that his lip twitched in admiration at her willingness to play the game.

            “Indeed, although I have but two horses, and the stables are not precisely my own,” he answered as he took his position and nodded to hers.

            She noted the cape worn over his left shoulder and wondered briefly at it.  A second repetition of the figures of the dance began and all within this set joined the dancing already in process in those sets that had formed first.  As she lifted her skirts to skip to the right she suddenly realized that the cape failed to hide his left hand and arm--indeed that he had apparently lost them, probably in battle against the enemies of Gondor.  She realized she ought perhaps to feel disconcerted and uncomfortable, but instead she found herself proud to be with this one.  He, at least, had fought for the freedom of her land, unlike Tervain of Langstrand!  He was a handsome fellow, although regrettably he had to be at least twice her age, she thought.  And there was something familiar about him and that empty sleeve hidden by the cape, although she could not think what it might mean.  When he extended but one hand to her when others held out two she smiled and took it with both of hers, and she was gratified by his surprised look of delight.

            It took some quick thinking at times, but together they managed to finish the dance, and the other ladies within the set followed Lynessë’s lead and found ways to accommodate the fact he had but one arm.  He and she were laughing as the set broke apart and he put his right arm about her to escort her to the side, but she found her laughter stifled by the tightness of the gown.  “Ah,” she managed to gasp out, “I fear I am too breathless--to join in the next dance.”

            “I wished to thank you,” he responded, “for dancing with me at all.  But if you should wish to not continue....” He’d become rather stiff and formal, and she realized that he mistook her reluctance to dance again for dismissal of him.

            “Oh, no,” she said, taking as deep a breath as she could in spite of the dress.  “It is not you, for indeed you are a delightful partner.  When I say I am breathless--well, it is true!  My naneth--she would insist I must wear this.  It is so--so tight!  I can barely take a decent breath in it.  Indeed, it shall be difficult even to sit!”

            He appeared surprised.  “Your gown?  Ah, it shows off your figure well, but I must say it does appear somewhat uncomfortable.”

            She gave a short laugh.  “Somewhat?  Oh, if you only knew.”

            “Would you wish something to drink?”

            “Oh, but yes, although I fear I shall not be take much in the way of refreshment.”

            Together they moved off in search of one of those serving drinks.  “I had a cup of wine, but fear I left it in my cousin’s hands when I set out to rescue you,” he explained.  “Ah--here!”  He lifted a cup from a passing tray and handed to her, then realized that the servant carrying it had not lingered long enough to allow him to take another.

            She felt disappointment.  “Then you know of Lord Tervain’s reputation,” she said.

            “It was told to me.  I fear I have not met him before, although now that I think of it I believe Prince Imrahil discussed him with my uncle when last he came to the White City.”

            “Then you are from Minas Tirith?  No wonder, then, you have no stable of your own.”

            “Indeed.  Although my horses are housed in the stable in the Sixth Circle.  There are a few private stables within the city, but not many.  Most keep their beasts at their manors or board them on the Pelennor, well outside the city walls, and use the public stable within the First Circle when they must have them near at hand.  There have been plans to rebuild the great stable outside the walls of the city, but we cannot do that while the Enemy grows in strength.  Should he attack the city it would only serve as possibly a point of entry.”  He looked about and saw another tray of drink nearby and led her in that direction.  In a moment he had a drink, too, then spotted seats to the side of the room.  With a nod of his head he indicated his objective, and dutifully she followed him.

            She saw him wince as he saw how carefully she sat, then sat beside her.  “I am sorry,” he said sympathetically.  “Perhaps we should have sought a chair with a higher seat.”

            She gave him a wry smile.  “I am settled now, so there is no need to worry.  But if Naneth ever does such a thing again you can trust that she will never hear the end of it.  I purposely packed my blue gown, and she would insist on this--thing.  And it was horribly expensive as well, and so we shall eat far less meat for a month at least.”

            Again he winced at this reminder that coin was too often tight enough among the lesser nobility and upper gentry, for it was difficult to effect proper trade when the constant assaults by the enemies of Gondor disrupted traffic upon the Sea and great river and even could make land journeys difficult.  Too much money must go to build armies and stocks of weaponry; there was not enough left over to properly maintain the roads and support appropriate hostelries along the way.

            They heard the laughter of menfolk nearby, and looked to the right where Faramir now stood with Lords Forlong, Boromir, and Elphir as well as a small bevy of beauties.  Lynessë looked at them with reluctance.  “My mother would have me put myself in the way of the sons of the Steward,” she said regretfully.

            “Oh, I am certain she would,” her escort sighed.  “And know she is not the only one this night hoping to draw their attention to a marriageable daughter.”

            She was surprised.  Did she detect a hint of regret in his voice?  She decided to continue on.  “I must suppose Lord Faramir is nice enough, but Lord Boromir does not appear to have a mind to romance--save for providing such a thing for his brother, at least.  His heart appears to have been dedicated solely to the arts of war and weaponry.”

            “Oh--he has a mistress,” he assured her, but looking beyond her toward the subject of their conversation.  “She is Gondor herself, and particularly as personified by the White City.  And he would guard her honor and integrity above all other loves.”  He looked back to her, almost apologetically, she thought.  “I fear no lady of mere flesh and blood holds much of a chance at his heart--not until the conflict with Mordor ends.”

            “You sound as if you know him well.”

            “Well enough.  After all, I was there when he was born.”

            “Within Minas Tirith?  Do you work in the Citadel, then?”

            He searched her face, and a slight smile could be seen working its way into his eyes.  She rather thought he appeared amused and pleased.  “In the Citadel?  Well, yes, I do.”

            “Then you traveled here with the Steward’s party?”

            “Yes.”

            “Naneth would be fully pleased if I should manage to capture his eye as well.  Although I fear I see him as rather old for me--old and grim.”

            Now what had she said?  It appeared the pleasure in his eyes had retreated.  “You do not know him, then.  Grim?  Considering the threats that multiply daily about our borders, what do you expect?  These are anything but comfortable times for the realm.  But he is not totally without humor.  It is only that his humor tends to be rather dark, and quite subtle.”

            “Dark?  Like the times?”

            He gave a solemn nod.  “Indeed.”

            She looked about, and caught a glimpse of the Lord Steward standing with a number of officers of the realm near the table where refreshments were laid.  “I barely remember him from my early childhood.  I was born there, you see, there in Minas Tirith.  My father was a captain of the Guard of the Citadel.”

            “Captain Telorin.  Yes, I remember him well enough.”

            Confirmation he was indeed one who served within the Citadel.

            He continued, “Do you remember much of that time?”

            She shrugged as much as her gown allowed.  “Not a great deal, I fear.  I was very young when Ada chose to retire and we came south to Pinnath Gelin.”  She thought a moment.  “I remember,” she said slowly, “that at times I would play with Faramir in the gardens of the Citadel.  His nurse did not appear to disapprove of me as a child unfit as a companion, although I will admit I lived somewhat in terror of the Steward himself.”

            He laughed in spite of himself.  “And at times you would climb into the cherry trees.”

            “You know that?”

            He smiled ruefully.  “I fetched you down one time myself when you caught your dress upon a broken branch.  And that was a difficult feat, considering I had but one arm to use in climbing up to free you.”  His smiled broadened at the memory.  “Faramir would challenge you to sometimes do things I suspect you would never have thought of yourself.”

            “Indeed.”  She was smiling into his eyes.  He had lovely eyes, she thought.

            The musicians were preparing to begin another dance as they finished their drinks.  He set his empty cup down on a nearby table.  “Would you flatter an older man and dance with me again?” he asked hopefully.

            She caught the wistfulness of his expression and wondered at it.  “But of course,” she said.  “You are a wonderful partner,” she added, and was pleased to see the pure delight that brought to his expression.

            He took her cup and set it on the table by his, then gallantly led her out to dance again.

******* 

            “Where is Lynessë?” fumed her mother Endorë as her husband appeared with a small plate of flatbread, cheeses, and cold meats, along with segments of citrus fruits and a small bunch of grapes.

            “She was dancing with Lord Húrin as I passed them.  I must say our Lord Prince appears glad to see the Warden of the Keys enjoying himself.  Would you like a cup of the punch as well, my dear one?”

            She accepted the plate absently as she searched the sets, finally spotting her daughter and Lord Húrin in that closest to the dais.  She searched further, then sighed with relief.  “Oh, but that is good--our Lord Faramir is also a member of that set, and he cannot help but partner her at least briefly during the changes.  What was that you said?  Some punch?  Oh, I suppose a single cup would not be too much.”

            When the dance was over, Lynessë disappeared once more, but not with either of the Steward’s sons, or anyone else Endorë of Pinnath Gelin deemed a suitable match.  The group of young women about Lords Faramir and Boromir appeared to be unchanged from how it had been earlier in the evening.  Some who clustered close to the edge of the small group were empty-headed flirts who simply didn’t deserve the attentions of either young Lord Faramir or his brother the Heir, and others relatives of the Steward.  But at least three with whom they’d danced most frequently she knew were trothplighted to men serving elsewhere about the borders of the land who had been unable to return for the feast.  That was interesting, that Lords Faramir and Boromir were associating mostly with maidens none would expect them to grow serious about.  Interesting, and frustrating!

            When the company was led in for the late meal she noted that Lynessë was seated with others of her own age.  Lord Tervain, she noted, was eying Lynessë’s table with a rather predatory look, one usually reserved, she knew, for game.  However, when the meal and entertainment offered with it were over, it was again Lord Húrin who claimed her daughter’s company, leading her back to the Great Hall and again partnering her in those dances that the two partook of.  Tervain watched after the two of them with a most satisfactory expression of frustration and rising anger on his face, a face that had been growing increasingly dissolute over the past five years or so.  Thinking on that, Endorë found herself suddenly glad of Lord Húrin’s attentions to her daughter this evening, even as she felt exasperated Lynessë did not appear to be working at the project of attracting a suitable mate.  What was a mother to do?

*******

            They retreated from the Great Hall to the library, although they certainly were not the only ones who chose this as a preferable place to continue their conversations.  Here and there throughout the room couples and small parties sat at tables or in comfortable groupings where they might talk and not have to compete with the musicians and countless others to be heard.  An elderly relative of Princess Inidriel sat conspicuously near the fireplace, seeing to it the fire remained warm and serving as reminder that their hosts would brook no impropriety here.

            “It is cooler here,” she commented.

            He smiled wryly.  “And quieter.”

            She examined his face yet again.  It was somewhat angular, with the high cheekbones common to the descendants of Númenor, his eyes typically grey, his hair dark with hints of silver at the temples.  The jaw was firm, but there was humor and a hint of wistfulness she found promising.  “You have no lady accompanying you here from Minas Tirith,” she noted.

            He looked down and gave a slight shrug.  “Few appear to see past the empty sleeve,” he answered, then returned his gaze to hers almost in challenge.

            “Then only those few prove themselves to be truly discerning,” she said, her head held straighter.

            He was searching her eyes, then smiling, and she felt her pulses quicken....

*******

            She opened the door to the bedchamber assigned her while yet exhilarated by a far more enjoyable evening than she’d foreseen.  To find someone she could talk with as she had with the one she’d spent the evening alongside....

            “Well, you have been quite late in returning!”

            At her mother’s disapproving tone, Lynessë’s elation fled.  Endorë sat in the chair by the fireplace, her eyes raking her daughter’s appearance.

            “We had a good deal to speak about, my escort and I.”

            “What about your agreement to dance with the Steward’s sons?”

            “You asked only that I not refuse to dance with whoever asked me, and I will have you know I did dance with Lord Faramir, shortly before I returned here.  He said that anyone who could capture his friend’s attention as I did must be one to know better.”

            “You could have spent a good deal more time in his presence----”

            “Along with the empty-headed maidens who could simper no more than ‘Oh, but how thrilling, Lord Faramir’ all evening?  At least when he asked me to dance it was because he perceived me not to be but a simple husband seeker!”

            “But what future could you expect with a cripple such as Lord Húrin...?”

            Lynessë interrupted her.  “He is not a cripple!  He lost his arm honorably in battle in defense of our land, an activity Lord Tervain has never taken part in, much less many others from the southern realm between here and Langstrand!  And--wait.”  She felt surprise go through her.  “That was Lord Húrin?  Our Lord Steward Denethor’s nephew?  But he should be quite old!  He was old when we lived there in Minas Tirith, even.”

            “He is not as old, perhaps, as your father, but certainly at least as old as I am.  He was one of those present at the first ball I attended when I was sixteen, here at Dol Amroth, in fact.  It was during the time Lord Denethor was courting Lady Finduilas.”

            Lynessë shrugged, confused.  “He does not seem old enough to be of an age with you or Adar.”

            “He is of purer Dúnedain blood than we have, Lynessë.  Such age more slowly than common Men.  Indeed, it is said that of old those who were King often lived to see two centuries, not that many pass a hundred and a score nowadays.  Why, our Lord Steward himself must be somewhere around eighty years now.”

            Lynessë looked thoughtfully toward the door, her distress receding noticeably.  “I see,” she said.  “He is certainly comely and distinguished enough.”

            “Indeed--but you must needs think of yourself now.  After all, he is not--whole.”

            Her daughter looked at her with concern.  “You mean that he was unmanned also?” 

            Endorë felt herself flush.  “Oh, no--not to my knowledge, at least.  Nay, it was but his arm he lost to the Southrons, I believe.  But think, sell nín--there is so much one with one arm cannot do----”

            “I have not seen much worth doing he has not shown himself capable of, Naneth.  He dances most gracefully, serves others well, can steady one as we walk, and he tells me that he rides and hunts with a spear or hawk.”

            “But how can one with one arm hunt while riding?” Endorë asked uncertainly.

            “He rides a horse trained in Rohan to be ridden by horse archers and guided by the knees, or so he told me.  He described how it was that his first such steed was a gift given him by his captain from when he was in the Rangers of Ithilien.”

            “Oh.”  The mother paused in thought.  “But I had such hopes you might come to the Citadel as a bride....”

            Lynessë was flushing with anger.  “Always you would see me in the Citadel!  Perhaps I do not wish such a high estate.  Look at what occurred when it was the Lady Finduilas came there.  Save for her sons, what joy did she find in being the Lord Steward’s Lady?”

            “Do not say that--she loved her husband dearly!”

            “Perhaps.”  The younger woman’s anger relaxed.  “Nay, she must have loved him to leave Dol Amroth and go with him to the capital and become his wife.  But all have told me she did not fare well, ever in the sight of the Enemy’s stronghold, and seeing the weight of cares increasingly burden her husband.”

            “You are stronger than she!”

            “Am I, Nana?”

            Endorë straightened.  “Oh, yes, but you are.  Do not question that, daughter.  Now, you must rest.”

            “Not until I am free of this gown--which is another matter--I shall never wear it again!  It is too tight, and it has been all I could do to move or sit--or even breathe!  If you will call for Tersiel....”

            Again flushing, the older woman shook her head.  “I already sent her to bed.  And I can certainly help you out of this gown, beloved.”  So saying, she moved to undo the laces, only to realize just how tight they were, and to see firsthand the relief in her daughter’s face and posture once the dress was finally loose and pulled over her head and away.

            Lynessë took a long, relieved breath.  “Thanks be to the Powers!” she sighed, stretching.  “Never, never again will I wear it, or even see it.  So, take it away, Nana, or I shall throw it out into the Sundering Sea to be rid of it!”

            Endorë carried it away, held protectively over her arm.  Had it done its job, she wondered?  Time would tell.

Ride Interrupted

            The invitation for Telorin and Endorë to take the noon meal with the Steward was a surprise, but Endorë immediately took heart from it.  “He has noticed her!” she said, well pleased.  “Ah, my Lynessë has caught the attention of the Steward himself!  Perhaps he wishes to have one of his sons spend time with her!  After all, she behaved very well last night, and all could see she is graceful at dancing and was able to speak intelligently with those about her----”

            “And she kept the attention of Lord Húrin well enough,” interrupted her husband.  “Although she did not dance nearly as much as I’d expected.  She was afraid she would not be able to dance a great deal due to that dress you forced upon her.”

            “But, husband, what was I to do--allow her to wear again the gown she wore three months back?  All would have remarked upon it!”

            “Nonsense!  It well became her then, and it would have continued to do so.  She looked a bright star in a velvet night sky in that dress!”

            “She looked beautiful last night, also,” insisted the maiden’s mother.

            “Indeed, so it proved; but was it worth it when she could not finish her meal, and she must be in misery so much of the night?”

            “She didn’t look to be that much misery spending so much of the evening by the side of Lord Húrin.  Where is she now?”

            “I believe still sleeping.  And the younger folk are to ride out today to take luncheon in the village of Veridian, an hour’s ride north of the city.  Does she have a suitable riding skirt with her?”

            “Why, yes--her brown dress, and the fur-lined cape given her by her cousin last year.”

            “Good.  The weather has cleared after last night’s rain and wind, and all should enjoy themselves.”  He sighed.  “And now I must redon my black surcoat once again.  Well, you’d best have your tirewoman assist you, if we are to be on time for the noon meal.”

            As Captain Telorin and his wife prepared to leave for luncheon, they found their daughter garbed for riding, waiting with her cousins.  “Hirluin almost called him out,” the eldest of Lord Elstror’s daughters was saying.  “Tervain was being most crude in what he was saying.”

            Lynessë’s features were flushed, but she was maintaining her dignity.  “How hateful he is!” she said.  “What stopped Lord Hirluin from doing so?”

            Her cousin’s lip twitched.  “Lord Angborn overheard a good deal of it, and took Tervain aside.  Afterward he left the Great Hall completely and was not seen the rest of the night.”

            “No great loss,” commented the second daughter.  “I hate how he looks at you and me, Lynessë, as if we were dainties he intended to consume.”

            All present shuddered as Lord Hirluin appeared to escort his intended.  Captain Telorin paused to speak with the young nobleman.  “You will watch out for the maidens, will you not, my lord?”

            “Against Tervain?  Oh, but you can count upon it.”

            “Thank you, my lord.  I appreciate it.  The man has a reputation to make wargs ashamed.”

            The youthful lord nodded his understanding, and turned to the party of young women.  “If I might escort the group of you?” he said, extending one arm to Elstror’s eldest and the other to Lynessë, then turning to lead the rest toward the side entrance closest the stables.  Lord Húrin, however, was now coming down the hallway toward the group followed by his aide, and in moments Lynessë was transferred to Húrin’s arm, and the two lords were conversing as the Warden of the Keys officially joined the party.  Telorin watched after with interest, Endorë with concern.  Where would this lead?

            But then they were on their way to their own luncheon.

            They were met at the door to the private salon where they were to eat with the Steward by Lord Denethor’s manservant.  “Captain Telorin?  It is an honor to see you again.  It has been too many years since you visited the White City.  Mistress Endorë--how wonderful to greet you after so long!  Come this way--our Lord Steward awaits you.”

            Denethor sat at the intimately small table, which was already set in anticipation for their arrival.  With a wave he indicated they could stop their bows and curtseys, and that they should join him.  For a time they ate and indulged in polite conversation expected during such an encounter, until at last the Steward straightened in his chair, indicating he was now willing to come to the point of this meeting.  “I had thought perhaps that my sons would join us, but it appears they have other commitments.  Faramir has joined those who have gone riding this morning, along with my nephew Húrin, I understand.”

            Endorë felt a thrill of renewed hope that something might happen between her daughter and Denethor’s younger son after all.

            “But it is due to Húrin’s recommendation I decided to approach you this day.  As you are undoubtedly aware, I have used a variety of noblewomen as hostesses for feasts and visits by those who live outside the White City or the realm for when they stay within the guest quarters of the Citadel.  Lord Forlong’s niece was the latest of these, but she has requested permission to return to her home as her mother has become seriously ill and there is need for her there.  Lothiriel is yet too young for such duties, and I’d been at a loss as to whom to approach who might perform the role properly.  From what my nephew tells me, he believes that your daughter would be eminently suited to the position.  She is intelligent, able to think rapidly, shows tact and courtesy and discretion, and is pleasantly attractive yet not a coquette.  I had considered asking Lady Aldúnieth of Anórien, but have thought better of the idea.  She is not referred to as the Diamond Butterfly for nothing, after all; and has already a reputation for being rather predatory toward men of position.  No, I need someone who is unlikely to use the position of honorary chatelaine to further her own agenda.  It would appear that your daughter would be eminently suitable for this honor, and I wished your permission to approach her with the proposition.”

            Endorë felt her jaw drop, although she made pains to curb her expression to make it appear she had expected such an honor for her daughter.  So it was that Telorin first answered.  “Will none be surprised one not directly a member of the nobility receives such a preference, my lord?

            Denethor cocked an eyebrow, indicating his disdain for such folks.  “She is the granddaughter of a minor noble, and has an excellent reputation.  Nor, being in her mid-twenties, is she likely to prove either callow or particularly naive.  I would like to interview her myself, of course, to assure myself she is indeed as qualified as Húrin believes.  However, the brief time spent in her company last night assured Faramir that his cousin is correct in his evaluation.”

            Telorin and Endorë exchanged looks.  “It sounds promising, does it not?” the Captain asked.

            “Indeed, yes,” his wife agreed. 

            Both turned to the Steward.  Telorin spoke for both.  “You indeed have our permission to suggest this to our daughter and to see how it is she will accept such a position, my Lord Steward.  However, I would advise you she is but twenty-two--not precisely in her mid-twenties as you said."

            But Denethor's casual flick of the fingers dismissed that comment.  "Any woman who comes recommended by both my nephew and my younger son as one of discernment and discretion I will take seriously, Captain Telorin.  She appears to do you proud, at least.  And I must say that I have missed your service these last sixteen years."

            Telorin felt suitably flattered while his wife was plainly thrilled with the turn of affairs.

******* 

            Tervain of Langstrand sat his horse near the bridlepath, watching the bright party of twelve or so, well wrapped against the cool weather, ride out.  Ah--but there she was, that chit of a girl, that mere Captain’s daughter!  She thought to avoid him, did she?  Well, he’d been to the stable and had removed all but two of the nails in her mare’s shoe for the front off hoof, leaving it loosened.  That should help separate her from the others!

            Pleased with his plot, he turned to parallel the other riders, waiting impatiently for the mare to cast her shoe....

*

            When her mare suddenly stumbled, Lynessë pulled her to a halt, and swiftly dismounted to check as to what might have happened.  Realizing she’d fallen out of the cavalcade, Húrin dropped back, speaking briefly with his aide before turning his own horse to learn what might have caused her to halt as she did.

            She looked up at him, kneeling carefully as she examined the mare’s hoof.  “It is her shoe--she’s lost it.  I do not understand--our farrier examined her before we left Pinnath Gelin, and all was well then.  Certainly I saw nothing untoward in her gait when I gave her over to the grooms for Prince Imrahil’s stable!”

            Húrin backtracked along the road they’d been riding until he found the lost shoe, and dismounted to examine it and the area about it.  “You are certain he checked all the shoes before you left?” he called to her.

            She’d risen from her crouch and was soothing her steed.  “Of course, my lord.  Why, I was with him part of the time.  Nicoldorn is very painstaking about such matters, and my adar would never think to leave our home for such a journey without having him see to it our horses’ hooves are trimmed and the shoes properly seated.”  So saying, she approached him, leading the mare.

            He knelt to feel about the area where the shoe had fallen, and at last lifted it.  “It is a strange thing, then, that I find but two nails, and it appears that at least one of them has been tampered with.”  He indicated where it appeared a pincer had been used to pull on the nail head.

            She took the shoe from him and turned it in her hands that both of them could see it from all sides.  “Something was set here,” she noted, indicating an area where obviously a tool with a point had been placed as a wedge, leaving a new score on the iron.  “But Nicoldorn would never have pried it there, for that is not the best place to do such a thing.  Ever he forms his shoes with a notch here where he might work the shoe loose with the least discomfort to the horse.”  She indicated the proper place, and he nodded his recognition of this wisdom.

            “It was done of a purpose,” he said grimly.

            “But who--?”  She did not bother finishing the question, for the obvious answer had occurred to both of them at the same time.

            “He wished you to fall out of the riding,” he said quietly.  “He wishes to come upon you alone.”  His face took on a look of determination.  “Then, if you will allow it, we will let it appear his wish has been granted, and see what comes of it.  Are you willing?”

            She thought, then nodded once with decision.  “Yes.  Let us see if Lord Tervain should just happen upon me.”

            He looked about, considered which would be the more likely side for Tervain to be paralleling the riding, and then led his own steed behind shrubbery that hedged in the road on the opposite side.  Once there, he mounted his horse and loosened his sword in its sheath.

            It took little enough time for them to hear the sound of hooves upon a side trail leading onto the road.  He had correctly predicted the direction from which Tervain was likely to appear.  He permitted himself a feeling of satisfaction, then set himself to observing and listening.

            “My lady!”  Tervain’s voice was suitably surprised, he thought.  “I thought you were riding with the rest.  They have left you behind?”

            “My mare has thrown a shoe, and I would not have them miss their own nuncheon just to keep me company,” she said coolly enough.

            “How distressing,” he said.  “Oh, but you must allow me to assist you.  I would be glad to take you before me upon my steed and lead your horse back to the keep in Dol Amroth.”

            “That is most gallant of you, sir, but I fear I could not allow such a thing.  Nay, it is not too far to walk back myself.”

            “But you had not yet begun the walk back,” he pointed out reasonably enough.

            “Perhaps not, my lord, but I had first to find the shoe that it might be refitted.  Also, our farrier will be much distressed should I not return with it so he could determine how it was she came to lose the thing.”

            “Would he indeed?  Is iron so dear there within Pinnath Gelin that you cannot afford to have lost a single horseshoe?”

            Her voice was now cold.  “My lord, my family is not without means, but we are not so rich that we can afford to merely throw away even such a thing as a horseshoe when it can be found and reused.  If we fall to such lack of economy, in the end we shall run the risk of losing far more than simple horseshoes.”

            “I must still insist you allow me to carry you back to the Prince’s keep.”

            “My lord, I tell you again I cannot in good conscience accept your offer of assistance.”

            He paused, and through the twigs Húrin could see the anger building in the lordling’s expression.  “In good conscience you cannot accept my offer?  And how is it that in good conscience you can turn down aid offered freely?”

            She examined him thoroughly.  “Two days ago, Lord Tervain, our farrier saw to it that all of our steeds were properly shod for the journey we proposed.  Today several nails are missing from the shoe, and those remaining have been tampered with.  How am I, woman that I am, to know who it was that deliberately loosened my mare’s shoe?”

            “Are you accusing me?”  His voice was dangerous.

            “I cannot say whom I must accuse, my lord.  I know that you have been dogging my steps for the better part of a year, were distressed I would not dance with you three months ago and again last night, and although you had expressed no interest in traveling an hour to eat the noon meal away from Dol Amroth you are yet nearby when my horse casts her shoe.  Do you wonder that I find it all perhaps too providential?”

            “You would see me as dishonorable?”

            “When you played your wife false, was that an honorable thing to do?  When you would not marry your mistress but named her to your friends as a woman of easy virtue, although she had accepted no man’s attentions other than yours, and instead you chose to then pursue another, was that the act of a man of honor?”

            “And you are too good and virtuous a one to accept the attentions of one who sees you as beautiful and desirable?”

            “Would you marry me then, Lord Tervain--make me your wife and the mistress of your demesne?  What then--would I too find your eye wandered once you tired of me, as you sought new maidens to beguile and betray?”

            He swung out of his saddle and advanced on her.  Through gritted teeth he said, “You shall allow me to seat you upon my horse.  You will allow me to take you back to the keep.”

            “I have told you I will walk.”  Her voice was a match for his in determination.

            He grabbed for her cloak, and she slipped herself out of it, standing there in her brown riding habit, well out of reach and eyeing him with open distrust.

            At this point Húrin had seen enough.  He kneed his horse from behind the shrub and directed it between maiden and man.  “I believe, my Lord Tervain, that the lady has made it clear she does not wish your aid.”

            “And you would stop me?” Tervain said, his tone contemptuous.  “You, a one-armed man, would stand against me?”

            “I will not allow any man to bully a woman.”

            Apparently something in his tone caused Tervain pause, but after a moment his contempt returned.  “I will not allow any man to speak to me as you have.”

            The Warden of the Keys slipped from his perch, lifting his sheathed sword from its hangers and letting it fall to one side of him.  “Mistress Lynessë, prepare to take my horse and lead your mare away, please.  Apparently this arrogant fool requires convincing before he will cease to bother you.  And you, sir--let you disarm yourself!”

            Tervain licked his lips uncertainly as he dropped the cloak and slowly undid his swordbelt, allowing it to slip to the ground.

            Lynessë managed to mount the tall brown, keeping hold of her mare’s reins; once astride she guided the gelding a short way down the road, then stopped it and turned it about to see for herself what was happening.  Tervain stamped upon the dropped cloak, grinding it into the mud of the road, then threw himself forward.  Húrin easily sidestepped him, and stuck out a foot to trip him up.  Once the one from Langstrand lay prone upon the ground Húrin leapt astride him, holding him down and pressing Tervain’s face down into the stony earth beneath him.  “Swear,” he hissed, “that you will desist in this habit of stalking maidens until you finally manage to have them.”

            But Tervain managed to gain sufficient leverage to turn himself under the Warden of the Keys for the Citadel, and now was gouging at the taller man’s eyes.  Suddenly frightened for her champion, Lynessë sought to leap off Húrin’s steed, but found her hand captured by another.  Young Faramir had returned, accompanied by Lord Húrin’s aide.

            “What is this?” the younger of the Steward’s sons demanded.

            Swiftly Lynessë explained about the lost shoe, and understanding the situation, Faramir’s face became as stern as his father’s was capable of being.  “So, that is the way of it, is it?”  He turned to the two struggling upon the ground, drawing his sword from its sheath.  He rode up alongside the wrestlers, and set the tip of his sword behind the ear of Tervain, who now sat atop Húrin.  Feeling the cold steel there the lesser lord froze.

            “You will rise slowly, my lord, and return the cloak to this lady.  Cousin, you will rise and carry Mistress Lynessë back to Dol Amroth.  We shall let my father and my uncle sort the situation out, shall we?  Leonid, if you will gather their swords and your master’s cloak for him?  Thank you.”

The Trial of Lord Tervain

            With Lord Faramir on one side of him and Leonid on the other, a remounted Tervain led the return to Dol Amroth.  Many watched as the five horses, one of them riderless, clattered into the keep’s courtyard.  Faramir was already dismounted and issuing orders.  “The lady’s mare has cast a shoe--take her to her stall and see her cared for, and send for the farrier and the one who was on duty in the stable before my party rode out this morning to come to my uncle’s presence.  You--hold the head of Lord Húrin’s gelding, and assist Mistress Lynessë and my cousin to dismount.  Boy--go to my lord uncle and ask him to repair to the Great Hall if he will.  Yes, I know it is Mettarë--all the more reason to see the matter settled quickly.  And if you will ask him to request my father’s presence as well as that of Captain Telorin and the Lady Endorë?  Thank you.”

            Lynessë was impressed by the swift flow of courteous commands and how rapidly they were followed.  In moments she was being led into the Keep, Húrin’s arm about her.  She carried the cloaks of both, each having become filthy from having been stamped upon and rolled about on the road.  They were brought into the Great Hall where fires burned merrily in the great fireplace.  Lady Indiriel was there with servants, seeing it readied for the feast to be served there this evening, and turned at their entrance.  Seeing the state of Lynessë and how muddy and disheveled were Húrin and Tervain, she dispatched two to fetch clean toweling and blankets, directed another to take the fouled cloaks, and came herself to take Lynessë’s hands.  “You had a bad time upon the road?  Did your horse throw you?  How is it you are in company with our nephew and these?  Are you well, mistress?”

            She led Lynessë, Lord Húrin, and Lord Tervain to the fireplace.  “Take those and see them properly cleaned,” she directed the servant who’d taken the cloaks before indicating Leonid should lay the swords he carried before the dais.

            “I am well enough,” Lynessë told her as the servant left with the cloaks.  “Oh, but the fire is welcome!  No, Silversheen did not throw me, but she did cast her shoe.”

            “But that is impossible!” announced her father, who was entering the hall with his wife beside him, both following the servant sent to fetch them.  “Nicoldorn saw to all our horses ere we left Pinnath Gelin.”

            “I know, Adar.  But it appears the shoe was deliberately loosened.”  She brought it out from where she had thrust it into the waistband of her skirt that her hands be free and held it out to him to take as he joined her by the fireplace. 

            He swiftly found the signs that someone had deliberately pried at the shoe and ran his thumb over the scored metal.  “Someone wished for your horse to cast her shoe?  But who would do such a thing?”

            “Let me see it,” suggested another voice, and they looked up to see that Prince Imrahil and Lord Denethor had followed Lynessë’s parents into the hall, and that the lord of the keep now held out his hand to receive the shoe.  He also examined the signs of tampering, and indicated them to the Lord Steward.  “There is little doubt this was deliberate,” he commented as Denethor took the horseshoe and turned it between his hands.  The Prince turned his attention to Tervain.  “I am surprised to see you return, my lord.  Did you not take your leave of us already this morning, indicating you would be returning immediately to Langstrand?  How did you come to be in company with Mistress Lynessë and, from the signs of it, brawling with Lord Húrin?”

            Lord Tervain’s face flushed as all were now looking at him with curiosity and growing suspicion, particularly the Lord Steward.  “It would appear, brother,” Denethor said, “that there is much to be looked into in this case.”

            Imrahil nodded, his face almost as stern as that of his late sister’s husband.  “I would agree.  Would you like to officiate?”

            Denethor gave one of his economical shrugs.  “This is your demesne--I have faith you can deal with these situations well.”

            “I would appreciate it, however, Denethor, if you would sit by me and give me the benefit of your wisdom, should it be called for.”

            “If you wish,” agreed the Steward as the servants returned with the requested toweling and blankets.  Húrin’s aide stepped forward to take those brought for his master and saw to it that the Warden of the Keys was dried and wrapped warmly; while Tersiel, who’d been summoned by those who brought the blankets came after to wrap a lighter cloak about her mistress and with a comb to see to her hair while the room was readied for as formal a hearing as could be arranged on such short notice.  Once Prince Imrahil’s personal scribe arrived with vellum and ink and quills readied, the investigation into the matter began.

            Lynessë was first called upon to tell what had happened as she had experienced it.  She described how the horse had stumbled and she’d fallen back, and how she’d found the shoe had been lost.  “But I was there as Nicoldorn examined Silversheen’s feet,” she explained.  “He is always most conscientious--never would he allow a horse to leave the grounds for such a journey as this with a loose shoe!”

            “And how was it the shoe was found?”

            “My Lord Húrin had dropped out of the riding when he realized I was no longer with the group, and it was he who found the shoe and searched the ground about the place where it was found and could find but the two nails, one of which had been pried at.”

            “I see,” the Prince said, then thought for a moment before summoning one of his guards to him and murmuring to him.  The guard indicated his understanding and left the hall.  The Prince then indicated that Lynessë should carry on.

            When she was done, he turned to Lord Húrin and had him tell his tale.

            “...And when it was asked, ‘Who would do such a thing?’ both of us immediately thought of Lord Tervain.”

            “And why is that?” asked the Lord Steward, speaking up for the first time.

            “Because of his reputation,” the Lady Indiriel suggested, to which both Lynessë and Húrin agreed.  “He has shown a fascination for following and seeking to seduce young women.”

            Imrahil turned his attention to Captain Telorin’s daughter.  “Has Lord Tervain shown you such attention, Mistress Lynessë?”

            “Yes--for some months.  I first was introduced to him last spring during the hunt sponsored by Lord Hirluin; three months ago he attended the Harvest Ball in Morthond where he paid me far more court than I desired, and at my cousin Erolieth’s wedding feast I was forced to remain in my chamber and to plead indisposition in order to avoid his importuning.”

            “And you do not welcome his attentions?”

            “No, my Lord Prince--I do not.”

            The door had opened during that last interchange, and the Prince’s guard returned to murmur information to his lord.  “I see,” the Prince said.  “Have them wait outside until I call for them.”

            The guard nodded and returned to the door.

            “So, Lord Húrin, let you tell us how it came to be that you found yourself fighting with Lord Tervain.”

            When the Warden of the Keys was done, Imrahil turned next to Leonid, Húrin’s aide.  “And your part in the affair?”

            “When my master turned back, he bade me continue, assuring me he would catch up soon.  However, when we had gone a half-mile’s distance Lord Faramir realized his cousin was no longer with us, and dropped back to ask about it.  The rest halted.  It was decided that Lords Erchirion and Elphir would accompany the rest to the village, and that we would retrace our path and learn what passed with my master and Mistress Lynessë.

            “We found them rolling about on the road, and Mistress Lynessë astride my master’s horse, holding the reins to her own.  Lord Tervain had just managed to roll astride my master when Lord Faramir decided the time had come to--interfere.”

            “I see.”  Prince Imrahil.  “Well, nephew?”

            Once Faramir had told his tale, Imrahil and the Steward exchanged significant looks.  Imrahil then turned to Tervain.  “Now, Lord Tervain.  Is what has been described accurate to the best of your knowledge?”

            Tervain raised his chin proudly.  “I do not understand why they suspect me of being involved in the loss of the horse’s shoe,”

            “You do not?  Then shall we enquire as to your actions within the stable at the time you were preparing to leave the keep, my lord?”  Imrahil turned to the guards by the door.  “Let the stable boy enter.”

            A youth of about seventeen summers entered, followed by the stablemaster.  “Welcome, Gervain,” the Prince said.  “What hours did you serve in the stable this morning?”

            “From the second hour after dawn until I was summoned here, Lord Prince.”

            “And do you know which steed belongs to Mistress Lynnessë here of Pinnath Gelin?”

            “Indeed, my lord.  It is a grey mare of excellent line, a fairly young mare and well suited to the lady, if I might say so.  She was kept in the fourth stall of the----”

            The Prince held out his hand, smiling, to stay the youth’s testimony.  “I see you know precisely how she was disposed.”

            “Indeed, my lord.  I was the one who saw to her stabling.  I am often called upon to serve the horses belonging to the ladies, for I have a gentler hand than many of the others.”

            The stablemaster nodded his agreement.  “It is as he says, my lord.”

            Imrahil returned his attention to the youth.  “When you were on duty this morning, did any from among our guests enter the stable?”

            “Yes, my lord.  First there came his lordship there before you with his manservant and guardsman.  He had his guardsman see to the saddling of the horses for the three of them, and his manservant stayed by the guard as he did so to assist as might be needed.  His stallion was restive, and needed calming.”

            “His servant stayed by Lord Tervain’s horses, but he did not?”

            “No, my lord, he did not.  He wandered about the stalls, examining the mounts of others before he paused before the tool board.”

            Denethor straightened.  “Tool board?” he questioned.

            “Even so my Lord Steward,” the youth said, bowing before the Steward’s attention.  “We keep the knives and rasps for trimming hoofs there, and pincers for the removal of objects from the frog of the hoof, and tools for the removal of shoes when it is necessary, as well as other tools that may be needed for the care of the hoof or tack.”

            “Did he touch any of the tools upon the board?”

            “I believe he did, but was called away to help saddle the horses to be required by those going out with Lord Faramir here, my lord.”

            “Did he return to his own horse’s stall?”

            “No, my lord, he did not, for his horse had been led forth by his guard and manservant and was being saddled near the mounting block where his tack was stored.”

            Prince Imrahil had listened to this with interest.  “So, if he was not with his horse and he did not stay by the tool board, where went he?”

            “I next saw him coming from the third aisle from the entrance.”

            “And where was this in relation to the stall where was kept Mistress Lynessë’s mare?”

            “It was the same aisle on which was kept Mistress Lynessë’s mare, my lord Imrahil.  Certainly it was in that aisle that Lord Húrin’s aide found him when he came for Lord Húrin’s gelding and his own.  Lord Tervain accused him of being in the way of a purpose when he would leave.”

            Lord Denethor demanded of the aide, “Is it even so, Leonid?”

            “Indeed, my Lord Steward, although I had no idea at the time of the identity of the one who so spoke to me.”

            “You did not recognize him when you saw him in the forest?”

            “No, my Lord Denethor, I did not.  Never had I seen him before, and I did not mark anything about him save his impatience and that he had a rasp in his hands when I found him.”

            “Who mucked out the stall in which Mistress Lynessë’s horse was kept?” asked Prince Imrahil.

            The stable boy answered, “I did, my Lord Prince.”

            “And did you find anything unusual within the stall at that time?”

            “Well, yes, my lord--one of the sets of blacksmith’s pincers from the tool board I found within the straw as I went to fork it out of the box.”

            “And nothing else?”

            “Well, one unusual thing--a horseshoe nail.”

            “What did you do with this nail?”

            “I have with me, my lord.  There was no time to dispose of it elsewhere, so I thrust it into my scrip to bring to the attention of Master Vilthorn here when all was again quiet.  I fear I’d forgotten it until now.”

            “I wish to see it, please.”

            The youth brought out a nail, which he presented to the guard, who in turn brought it forward to present to the Prince, who then passed it to the Lord Steward.

            The two lords of the realm exchanged looks as they passed the nail between them.  “The horseshoe?” requested Lord Denethor.  He examined it fully and compared the nails to the one found by the stable boy.  “They are of the same make,” he observed.

            “Indeed,” agreed his wife’s brother.  “And they are not the work of any within the keep.  Captain Telorin--if you will come and examine this?”

            The captain came forward to accept the shoe and nails again.  “I will tell you, my lords,” he said after making his own comparisons, “that this does appear to be of the work of our smith and farrier, Nicoldorn.”

            The Prince of Dol Amroth nodded slowly but decisively.  “So--we are agreed, brother Denethor, Captain?”  He turned to the guard.  “Please call the farrier now.”

            As with Master Nicoldorn of Captain Telorin’s household, the farrier of Dol Amroth also was the main blacksmith for the place.  Once he had added his opinion that the three nails and shoe he was shown were all the work of the same man, and added he believed that man to be Master Nicoldorn, who had done his own apprenticeship under the same master as himself, there was no question in the minds of those who’d been gathering in the Great Hall that this nail had indeed come from Mistress Lynessë’s mare, and that the shoe had been loosened deliberately, and that the markings seen on both the nail found by the stable boy Gervain and one of those found with the shoe had both been made by being grasped with pincers and pulled loose from the horse’s hoof.  As for the scoring on the shoe itself--it appeared the handle of a rasp might have been used on it to pry it loose from the hoof.

            The eyes of Lords Imrahil and Denethor were both stern as the two leading lords of the land of Gondor returned their attention to the unfortunate Tervain.

            “So, my Lord Tervain,” the Lord Steward Denethor said coldly, “you made assay at the farrier’s arts this day, did you?”

            The lesser lord from Langstrand blanched.  Yet he attempted a defense:  “No man can say he saw me do such a thing this day, my Lord Denethor.”

            “Perhaps this is so, yet it remains that the one person seen within the area of the stall in which Mistress Lynessë’s mare was housed was you, my Lord Tervain, and that after you were seen near the board for the tools and before you were seen by Master Leonid with a rasp in your hands.”  Such was the tone of voice used that no one was in question that the Steward felt Lord Tervain did not deserve the title he bore.

            The door opened again, and the guards without spoke briefly to the guard at the door.  He asked a question of them, then came again through the room to speak quietly with his Prince.  Imrahil’s expression was at first surprised, and then pleased.  “Bless Master Dendril, then.  My lord brother, it appears that your son’s aide has returned with still another possible witness.”

            “Then let him be brought in that we might question him.”

            “I shall so order it, but first I would speak with Lord Tervain.”  He turned toward the unfortunate man with purpose.  “You will stand where you are, and you will keep your lips sealed and your tongue stilled, or the knight behind you will see to it the tendon behind your knee is cut that you do not easily stand again alone.  Do you understand, sirrah?”

            Tervain looked behind him, apparently surprised to learn he indeed had one of the Swan Knights behind him, and that the man was unsheathing his sword.  He looked back to the Prince of Dol Amroth, his face pale, licking his lips with uncertainty.

            “Do you understand, Tervain of Langstrand?” insisted the Prince.

            Tervain’s voice was shaking as he finally answered, “It is clear to me, my Lord Prince.”

            Those nearby could see that the point of the knight’s sword rested against the rogue lord’s leg.  Tervain swallowed.

            Prince Imrahil commanded, “Let the man be brought here, before me.”

            In a few minutes a man garbed in Lord Tervain’s livery was led through those within the room to stand before Prince Imrahil and the Lord Steward Denethor.  Tervain straightened, but a prick of the sword’s point against his leg led him to stillness.  Sweat could be seen upon his forehead.

            Denethor examined the man.  “And you are?” he asked.

            The servant paled and bowed deeply on recognizing the one addressing him.  “My Lord Steward?  I am sorry I did not recognize you at once!  Please to forgive me!”

            “You are forgiven, but the question stands.  State your name and office.”

            “Henethergil of Langstrand, my Lord Steward, Lord Tervain’s body servant.  I was told that my master might require my assistance, and that he had returned here.”

            “Indeed the latter is so.  As to how much service you might offer your master at this time--that remains to be seen.  I understand my son Faramir’s aide found you.”

            “Yes, my lord, north of here in the village of Veridian, at the wayhouse there.”

            “You were in Veridian?  Why?”

            “My master informed the Lord Prince here we would be leaving to return to Langstrand as directed by Lord Angborn; but once we were free of the keep he sent Tirgon and myself north to Veridian to await him there.  He said he had an errand to complete before he would join us, and that we were to take rooms for our party in his name, and that he would be bringing another with him.”

            Prince and Steward exchanged glances, and murmuring could be heard throughout the room.  The Prince asked, “Did he say why you were to go that way?  Is not the straighter and better road that along the coast?”

            “Indeed it is so, my Lord Prince.  But he wished to remain there for the evening with the one he would bring to join the party.”

            “Did he give you any information as to whom this one would be?”

            The man searched the eyes of the Prince uncertainly.  “Well, yes.”

            “Did he indicate who was to join you?”

            “No--he gave no names, but....”

            “But what?” asked the Steward sternly.

            Again the servant paused, apparently reluctant to respond.

            “I command you answer the question,” Denethor said in a voice that brooked no refusal.

            Henethergil went pale.  “From what he ordered me to procure, it was apparent that the one to join us would be a woman, for he asked that I find suitable night garb for a woman roughly his own height, if far more slender.  He directed I should engage the services of a tirewoman skilled as a seamstress, suggesting one he has used before who--who is known for her--discretion.”

            “Did he give orders regarding the rooms he wished?”

            Reluctantly, unwilling to answer but knowing he could not do otherwise, Henethergil continued, “Yes--the rooms were to be at the back of the place, and away from other rooms that might contain guests.”

            “Did he have any other orders?”

            “Yes--I was to have a blacksmith nearby, for he said it was possible that the--that the lady’s horse would need to have new shoes fitted.  And I was to have Lord Banthir there this evening.”

            Banthir was an older lord originally from Tolfalas.  He had given over his office years ago to his son, and had retired to the mainland where it was hoped his health would be better.  Perhaps that might have come to be had he not been given to strong drink at frequent intervals.  As it was, he was often called upon by young lords and ladies of the realm to perform marriages that the parents of such young persons might have disapproved of.  At the mention of Banthir’s name an audible groan had gone up from Lord Tervain, and Imrahil looked his way in amusement.

            “And had the lady refused to go along with the planned wedding, what would you have done, Tervain?” he asked

            The servant’s face went grey.  “You did not say he was within the room, my Lord Prince!” he said with dismay.

            “No, I did not.  However, his plans were apparently not seemly.”

            He nodded to the guard who’d accompanied Henethergil to come forward.  “Take him in charge.”  He looked to the knight standing by Tervain.  “Bring the fool forward now.”

            Once Tervain stood before him, he rose to his feet, towering over the now shaking lord, who was forced to kneel.  “So--here in my lands you would lay hands upon a guest of my household, and force her to become your bride, would you?  You would present your marriage to her parents and to her liege lord and myself and to the Lord Steward himself as an accomplished fact, when it has been made plain to many she has done her best to discourage your interest and your advances?  Why would you wish to have one who clearly fails to return your own interest?”

            Tervain set his jaw and refused an answer.

            Húrin came forward.  “My Lord Prince Imrahil, I would beg the right to challenge this one for the insult offered the lady in question.”

            Imrahil and Denethor were both examining the Warden of the Keys.  Denethor asked, “And why would you do this?”

            “No woman should be importuned by one she finds offensive, Uncle.  It was made clear many times both last night and this day that Mistress Lynessë has found Lord Tervain’s advances both unwanted and offensive, and that she has been unsuccessful at convincing him to leave her alone.  What he has done dishonors the rank and title he holds, and he must suffer the punishment he deserves for what he would have done to her and for what he has imposed upon other innocent women.”

            Imrahil appeared uncertain, but Denethor gave a twisted smile.  “Yes--that is fair enough.”  He turned to Tervain.  “You carry a sword, and it appears serviceable.”  He indicated the swords Leonid had laid at the foot of the dais.  “Do you know how to wield it?”

            “I have been taught to use it, my lord,” Tervain said shortly.

            Denethor turned to his late wife’s brother.  “I am of a mind to grant my nephew’s request,” he said.  “Let all who would watch clear to the edges of the room, and let these two each be armed with a blade.  If Húrin bests Tervain, he shall name the punishment the miscreant shall bear.  Otherwise, Tervain shall be allowed to leave the realm with mere banishment, his lands and honors stripped from him but with enough to see him settled elsewhere.  But I do not see that last happening.”

            “You think not?” asked Imrahil, an eyebrow raised in concern.

            “You have not seen my nephew fight, have you?”  Denethor’s expression indicated the confidence he had in his Warden of the Keys.

            So it was directed.  Both men were relieved of other weapons, and their swords made ready as the Prince’s men saw the growing number of spectators moved to the edges of the room, with those who were taller made to stand behind the rest.

            At last Húrin stood, dressed still in his mud-stained breeches, shirt, and tunic, to receive his sword from his younger cousin’s hand, while the Swan Knight who’d stood behind Tervain saw the other sword returned to that man.

            “We will give you a quarter mark to settle this,” Denethor directed.  “If neither of you has prevailed, then we will see to it you, Tervain of Langstrand, are returned to your own land to stand before Lord Angbor for your insolence and the offense against the peace you have practiced here in the southern fiefdoms.  If you prevail, you will be given a month to settle your affairs and gather to you such as you will need to support you outside the realm of Gondor, and you will be given another three weeks to get you gone from within our borders.  If Lord Húrin prevails, however, he shall name the penalty you shall bear.  Do you understand?”

            White-faced, Tervain nodded.

            “So be it, then.  Gentlemen, will you prepare yourselves?”

            “Naneth!” Lynessë hissed into her mother’s ear.  “The Steward cannot allow this--Lord Húrin has but one arm!”

            Her father, however, was smiling.  “Do not fear, my love.  He was trained to use his sword one-handed by the Lord Captain Thorongil.  I have seen him spar.”

            Endorë looked with surprise at her husband, while at the name of the legendary hero of Gondor’s past Lynessë felt a surge of hope.

            Denethor, however, was watching the two men preparing to spar.  “Faramir,” he said, “if you will serve as steward for the bout?”

            “Yes, Father,” the younger man said, stepping to a point midway and to one side of the two combatants.  He looked from one to the other.  “You will ground the points of your swords,” he directed.  When satisfied both had followed directions, he said, “You will use the flat of your sword, not blade or point save when you prepare to claim victory.  Do you understand?”

            Húrin nodded directly; Tervain eyed first his opponent and then Faramir before he agreed.

            Satisfied, Faramir stepped back.  Once he was out of the way, he commanded, “Begin!”

            Húrin and Tervain began to circle one another.  One of the lords standing near the family of Captain Telorin commented to his companion, “I am somewhat surprised that Prince Imrahil allows live steel to be drawn and used so, here within the Great Hall.”

            Lynessë’s expression became fearful once again.

            It was Tervain who sought first to strike, and Húrin’s sword was there in defense.  A second clash, and again Húrin defended himself with seeming negligence, although there was nothing particularly negligent about the attention he was giving his opponent.  Indeed, he was watching Tervain intently.  Then Tervain surged forward with a flurry of blows, and Húrin easily warded each one.  But when Tervain began to move forward again the Warden of the Keys had stepped aside and had managed to slap the flat of his sword hard against the lesser lord’s left side.  Tervain turned reflexively, and the next swat from Húrin’s sword caught him across his mud-stained rear.

            Any concern felt about how Húrin’s disfigurement might impede his ability to defend himself soon fell away as it became obvious that not only was Denethor’s nephew a skilled swordsman, but that he was also well conditioned and practiced.  Tervain might have had training in the use of his sword, but it had been a time since he’d faced a worthy opponent in the practice salle, and he was soon out of breath and obviously wearying.  His attacks became more desperate, while those of the Warden became more frequent and precise.  Two touches he managed against Húrin, neither of them serious, to at least eight by the one from Minas Tirith, each maddeningly humiliating.

            At another swat to Tervain’s rump the lesser lord’s temper broke, and he began a furious assault, now seeking to use the edge and point of his blade; he managed at last to catch Húrin’s left arm a glancing blow just below the shoulder and above where it ended abruptly, the sleeve sewn closed over the stump of the arm.

            Húrin gave a feral smile, and ended the affair.  How he managed it none could say, but he swiftly had Tervain upon his back on the floor, the lordling’s sword spinning away from him across the stone paving, and the tip of his sword was to Tervain’s throat.

            “I would suggest,” he said in a voice that allowed for no dissension, “that you yield, my lord.”

            Tervain swallowed visibly, and finally managed, “Don’t kill me, my lord!” in a breathless squeak.

            “Oh, I have no intention of doing that, Tervain of Langstrand.  Do you yield ye?”

            At last the man lying on the floor whispered, “Yes!” loudly enough for most to hear.  At that Húrin lifted away his sword, nodding to the two Swan Knights who had approached and now stood each to one side of the two of them.

            A servant came forward with a cup of water and presented it to the Steward’s nephew.  He handed his sword off to Faramir, who had come forward to offer what help he could, and taking the cup he drank thirstily.  He then returned the cup with thanks, and looked one last time at the thoroughly cowed man who’d been raised to his feet by the two knights and now stood between them.  “It is my right now to speak your doom.  It goes against my grain to kill any in cold blood, although perhaps it is what you deserve.  Nor do I wish to send you from our land in total disgrace, for I would not gift the enemies of Gondor with one who will bring with him knowledge of some of our defenses and the habits of some our lords and their men.  Nay, I think I will leave you under the eyes of Gondor yet, and still in possession of your sword.”

            He continued to consider Tervain for a few more minutes, then gave his own twisted smile as he made his decision.  “I only pray that my cousin here does not take offense at my disposition of you.  He has just been commissioned as the commander of our Rangers within Ithilien.  You will be given to him, to serve among the Rangers in defense of the realm.  And you will not leave his company, for if you are not where you are assigned to be by Faramir, all others under his sway will have permission to slay you out of hand.  Are you skilled with a bow, Tervain of Langstrand?”

            The man was pale.  “I have learned to wield a bow, but am not particularly skilled with it,” he admitted.

            “You had best study well, then.”

            Denethor now stepped closer to the stricken lordling.  “Know this, Tervain of Langstrand, a lord of this realm you no longer remain, for you have betrayed your rank perhaps too many times.  I now strip from you your rank and all honors and lands and wealth you have held and administered.  You will no longer be offered the courtesies ordinarily given to even the least of the nobility, and all have permission to spit upon you or your shadow as you pass.  Who is your rightful heir?”

            “My--my son.  My son Taldred--but he is yet but a small boy--he is only six years of age!”

            “Then we shall appoint a regent for his lands, and a proper guardian and tutors to see to it that he does not grow to think himself above the law as you obviously do.”  He looked to the knights.  “Take him away, and see to it that he is housed in keeping with his now proper estate.  As for the servant----”  He looked in the direction of  Henethergil, and his expression became harder.  “Let him be taken with us back to Minas Tirith where he will be questioned thoroughly regarding his former master’s activities, after which we will determine what shall be done with him.”  He looked at the growing red patch on Húrin’s sleeve.  “And allow the leech to see to Lord Húrin’s wound.  I think, brother,” he said, turning toward Prince Imrahil, “we should withdraw and allow your lady to complete her preparations for this evening.  Do you not agree?”

            Imrahil gave his wife a warm embrace and chaste kiss, then conducted his late sister’s husband out of the room; and guards and knights saw to it that those who had observed the duel were chivvied out also.  Húrin was led away to the keeping of the healers, accompanied by young Faramir; and between them Captain Telorin and his wife brought Lynessë out of the room, followed by Tersiel while Tervain and his former servant were led away by Swan Knights to the guardhouse.

            The main door opened and Boromir entered just as Lynessë was leaving by doorway leading to the passage to the guest rooms.  “And what has been happening here while I was examining the defenses?” he asked cheerfully.

            Lynessë gave a last glance at the tall, broad-chested warrior before she fully left the room.  Oh, how glad she was not to be married to him!

A Proposal Considered

            Lady Indiriel herself came to Lynessë’s chambers an hour before the evening feast carrying a dress for her to wear.  “I am told that you would not appear again in the gown you wore last night.  If it was as tight as it appeared, I do not blame you at all.  This was made for my younger sister, and I have kept it all these years in memory of her--she died shortly after her marriage, and I miss her terribly.  She was much the same size and build as you--I believe you ought to be able to wear it.”

            With Tersiel’s assistance Lynessë was ready when all were summoned to the Great Hall for the beginning of the feast.  “It is not, perhaps, the latest in fashion, Mistress,” Tersiel noted critically, “but there is no question it becomes you well.”

            Her mother appeared startled when she saw the dress on her daughter.  “Don’t you fear, child, that it appears--out of date, perhaps?”

            “I do not precisely have much of a choice, do I, Naneth?” Lynessë responded.  “At least I feel I can breathe while wearing it, so that is very much an improvement, and I am most grateful to Lady Indiriel for the loan of it.”

            Her father, however, was smiling.  “Most flattering, daughter,” he assured her.  “The young men will not be able to take their eyes off of you.”

            It was as the family was walking through the Keep on the way to the Great Hall that her father said, “Oh, there is one matter that, considering the other happenings of the day, we have not as yet raised with you.  The Steward approached us today with a request to place a proposal before you for your consideration.”

            Endorë interrupted, “It is a marvelous opportunity, and would allow you to live in the capital and in the Citadel----”

            Dismayed, Lynessë stopped short.  “I told you, Nana, I have no interest in either our Lord Steward or our Lord Boromir.  I am certain Lord Boromir is a genial enough individual----”

            Now her father grew stern.  “Lynessë, do not make a spectacle of yourself.  Anyone could hear you!  Nor do you know the details of our Lord Denethor’s request, which I assure you will not require you to marry either one of those you named.  However, I ask you do him the courtesy of allowing him to present his proposal himself and in his own way.  I assure you it is most honorable.”

            They walked on in silence, Lynessë’s mind working furiously.  It was rare that her father intervened in her life or spoke to her in such a tone of voice, and she found she was far more likely to comply with his requests than her mother’s as a result.  But if the proposal did not involve her marrying either Lord Denethor or Lord Boromir, that left but--Faramir.  Yet she had not seen any sign that Lord Faramir favored her at all.  Oh, he’d made a point of attending Húrin and herself back to the city and had certainly begun issuing commands on their return to the keep, but that was simply a matter of birth for such as he as the Steward’s son.  Or wasn’t it?

            Oh, it wouldn’t be a terrible thing, she supposed, to be married to Faramir son of Denethor; but it could easily be lonely, as he would be required to be often away from the White City leading his new command as Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien.  And that would undoubtedly throw her upon the company of his father, which she feared would be uncomfortable at best.  She was busy trying to imagine an evening spent with the Steward of Gondor in such circumstances when they reached the Great Hall and were admitted, at which time she found herself separated from her parents and shown to the table at which sat Lord Húrin.  As she saw his eyes light up at her approach all thoughts of Denethor and his imminent proposals fled from her mind, and she had no idea that others saw her straighten with delight and thought on what that might lead to.  It was certainly not lost on those watching that Húrin was obviously pleased to see the young woman wearing that particular dress, although there were a number of men throughout the chamber whose attention had been similarly caught.  It was enough for Lynessë that this one responded.  She smiled in pleasure, and he returned the smile, and she felt her heart’s delighted response.  The next day, however, she could not recall what had been served at the feast!

*******

            An hour after breakfast the next morning Lynessë was being shown into the Lord Steward’s presence.  He was standing near the window of one of Prince Imrahil’s smaller audience chambers, looking out at a party of children that included his wife’s niece Lothiriel and her brother Amrothos playing at running games on the lawn, the grey sea beyond them as restless as the children themselves.  He was neatly dressed not in court robes but in black trews and a shirt of a pearl-grey color with a surcoat over it of a darker wool worked with his monogram.

            He gave her a glance of acknowledgment and a brief nod to invite her to join him in his appreciation of the view outside before returning his attention to the children playing.  She joined him, and together they watched the children running for a time before he said in a quiet voice, “They do not know the cares that we, their elders and caretakers, embrace for their sakes.  They are little aware of the dangers facing the world.  Mordor is merely a name heard in dark stories, less to be feared than the black-sailed ships of the Corsairs of Umbar.  They care not that there are such differences between rich and poor, and do not appreciate what it means that we have lost the farmlands of Ithilien.”

            He was quiet for a time, although he did not appear to expect her to respond to his comments.  At last he turned from the window and returned to take what must be the Prince’s own chair within the room.  “Let them keep their innocence while they can,” he sighed.  “Now--to the proposal that I would present.”  Yet he did not speak immediately, instead searching her eyes.  “Yes, I see the child you once were in your face, Mistress Lynessë, the one who so often climbed the cherry trees in the gardens behind the Citadel--and at my younger son’s behest, more often than not, as I remember it.  You were not easily turned from your desires then.”

            She flushed.  “You are not the only one, my Lord Steward, to recall that.”

            He gave an ironic smile.  “No, I must suppose I am not.  I do believe a time or two my nephew had to fetch you down.  There was something about your skirts once having been caught on a branch.”

            “Yes, my lord.”

            “Would you like to return to live in the White City, child?”

            She felt her heart sink.  “I know not, my Lord Steward.  It would depend, I must suppose, on the circumstances that drew me back there again.”

            “Do you like living in Pinnath Gelin?”

            “I like being with my family, my lord.”

            He examined her shrewdly.  “Although I am given to understand that at times you find your mother’s attempts to shape your life--uncomfortable.”

            She flushed again.  “Is it not ever so when we must live within the home of our parents, sir?”

            He gave a wry smile.  “Remembering how at times I resented what I saw as the interference of my father in my own life when I was a young man, I must agree.”

            She was somewhat surprised, for she’d barely thought of Denethor as ever having been particularly young. 

            “Ah, yes, Mistress Lynessë, at one time I, too, lived under my father’s rule.  It was not always a comfortable thing for me, either.  Do sit.  May I offer you either some wine or, perhaps, some pomegranate juice?”

            “I would appreciate the juice, my lord,” she responded as she took the seat opposite him.  He courteously poured her a goblet and presented it.  She accepted it, and awaited his pleasure with some concern.

            He took some time at filling his own goblet from the crystal ewer in which the wine had been brought, and continued to sit opposite her, examining her thoughtfully as he sipped at his own drink.  At last he set the goblet on the table beside him with a note of decision.  “As I have been told, there is more than an air of competence about you.  I suspect that no matter how deep your love for your parents, you would wish to be away from them also, to know the chance to try your wings without their constant scrutiny.  Well, I would wish to offer you that chance.”

            Lynessë was uncertain what this might mean, and apparently that uncertainty was showing in her expression.  He gave her a sardonic smile.  “Oh, do not worry, young mistress--I do not intend to besmirch your honor in any way.  However, as my younger son----”

            She was alarmed.  “Please, my lord,” she interrupted.  “I do not mean to say aught that might sound like criticism of Lord Faramir, but I have not found my heart stirred at all by him.  Oh, he is a most wonderful young man....”

            Her voice fell as she realized his expression was one first of incredulity and then of that humor Húrin had assured her that Lord Denethor did indeed possess.  “Please forgive me, child,” he said.  “Had you thought I would wish an alliance with your house for my younger son?  Had you not considered that most unlikely?  True, had his heart been stirred by you I could not find a good deal to object to in the match, save that you are but the granddaughter of a lesser lord of the land and bring little in the way of political alliance or wealth in lands or goods to any possible marriage.  But when the heart of neither of you is stirred toward the other as you have just so hastily assured me and as I have seen no signs of such desire in the face of my Faramir--I will not push a marriage such as this.

            “Nay,” he continued, “it is quite a different proposal I had wished to present to you, one that serves the needs of the Citadel alone, I fear.  I have need for a new chatelaine, you see--one to serve as overseer to both the housekeeper and my seneschal and to serve as hostess to those the Citadel must shelter.  Lord Forlong’s niece must now return to her home, you see, and my niece Lothiriel is yet too young for such a responsibility.  I had thought perhaps to speak with your uncle about one of his daughters filling the post, but after seeing them I realize they would not suit.  Only his eldest is of a suitable age and has the poise to fill the role; but if I were to remove her from the area I suspect that our beloved Lord Hirluin would look on me in enmity, particularly as their marriage comes so swiftly now.”

            She was staggered by the idea.  “You would consider me to serve as chatelaine and hostess?  But are there not other lords’ daughters who would be seen as more suitable, sir?”

            He shrugged as he took up his goblet again.  “Indeed, but in each case I have fathers or other kinsmen who would think to use the lady’s role to advance their own causes at the expense of Gondor itself, and I will not do that.  Too much strife comes when ambition is so rewarded, or so my father warned me and I have found in my own right.  Your father is no lord to seek to curry favor, but instead has an honorable record in the Guard of the Citadel where he served well as Captain at the end.  He cannot expect much beyond minor favors in return, and those will not have the potential to set one faction against another or to tear loyalties.  And I do not believe you, like Lady Aldúnieth, would seek to put yourself forward before those who come into my house as guests of the nation, hoping to make yourself an advantageous marriage.”  He searched her eyes again as he sipped from his goblet.  “No,” he said at last, “as you have indicated, you will marry only when your heart is truly stirred, and it is not the likes of my sons or the great captains of our armies who will claim you.”

            Was his expression as he drank again somewhat sardonic?  She sipped at her own goblet, her thoughts churning.  Did she truly wish to return to Minas Tirith, and in such a role?

            He set his goblet aside again.  “You may bring with you a maid, or one will be assigned to you.  You will have your own quarters on the upper floor of the Steward’s wing.  You will have the freedom of my library--my nephew has assured me such would please you; and you will be asked to dine with me but a single night a week.  You will be asked to preside at the common table for most noon and evening meals, and to visit with the guests to the Citadel to ascertain they are indeed properly housed and that they find themselves comfortable with the service given them.  The seneschal and housekeeper will take care for the discipline of the servants, although they will report all infractions to you; and it will be your duty to pass on these reports to me when we dine together.

            “Other than that, your time is your own.  You will be granted three new gowns and a riding habit as well as two nightdresses and appropriate linens on acceptance of the position, and will have the right to still another gown quarterly while you remain with me.  You will also be given a stipend of two gold pieces a month for your own purposes.  I suppose you will bring your own horse?”  At her nod he continued, “Then it will be housed in the upper stable, and you will be allowed to ride daily.  And should you marry while still serving the Citadel there will be a suitable marriage gift to add to whatever dowry your parents might furnish.  Nor would your employment be necessarily curtailed, should you continue to live within Minas Tirith.  Certainly Húrin’s cousin continued to serve me for some years after her marriage.”

            She felt her face flush at Lord Húrin’s name, and saw his smile again widen.  She drank more deeply from her own cup, then set it down and accepted some cheese from the small platter he held out to her.

            It was an honor--no question of that!  But how did she feel about the idea?

            She considered as she automatically nibbled at the cheese.  She would be in a position of some responsibility, but with those under her who truly knew what was necessary--she would not be required to know every least bootboy or scullery maid, she knew.  It would be a test of the training her mother had sought to give her on the running of a household, yet without tying her to a husband or lord.  And she supposed she could bear with dining once a week with the Lord Steward--certainly he was not proving anywhere as fearsome as she’d thought.

            She found herself reevaluating the man.  Húrin plainly honored him, while it was obvious Faramir loved him and apparently emulated his sheer competence.  The sting of his dismissal of her family ties had faded immediately, as she knew he was right; yet he’d also stated that if any within his family should find his heart stirred, he would not see her lack of noble position as a deterrence in and of itself.  That more than anything else decided her, and before she’d quite realized she’d made up her mind she was folding her hands within her lap.  “If my parents have agreed to this, my Lord Steward, I believe I would be fully honored to serve your house.”

            Something in her voice as she said this appeared to have surprised him, judging from his expression.  All hints of sardonic thoughts were gone, as he was apparently evaluating her anew as she’d done of him.  Then he smiled, an honest smile this time.  “So be it,” he said with approval.  “Welcome, Mistress Lynessë, to the service of the realm of Gondor.”

            She rose, then sank into a deep curtsey.  “It is my honor, my Lord Denethor.”

New Duties

            The journey to the White City had been made in stages.  First she’d accompanied her parents home to Pinnath Gelin to hurriedly pack those possessions she would wish to have with her in her new position.  The Steward and his party had lingered three days more in Dol Amroth, and had sailed from there to Pelargir where they were guests of the port city’s officials for another four days.  There Lynessë had joined them, taking ship with them for the final journey up the Anduin to Minas Tirith.  As the escort sent by her uncle to see her safely to Pelargir stood by to farewell the ship she’d felt a pang of anxiety, leaving her parents’ protection as she was to live independently of them for the first time in her life. 

            There was little time aboard ship, however, in which to become maudlin, for she was now receiving instruction from the Lord Steward’s minister of protocol, his body servant, and from Lord Húrin, who proved to had little time to do more than give her instruction on court etiquette and some of the duties she would be expected to perform while in the Citadel’s employ.  But she found she enjoyed watching him sit in discussion over reports with the Steward and hearing him sing in the evening as all took the air together briefly before returning to the warmth of their cabins for the night. 

            He rode beside her as they crossed the Pelennor toward the White City, but there was at first little inclination by any to talk, for it was quite a chill day, with their breath coming out in bursts of white mist as they rode, and their horses’ hooves striking as loudly against the grassy verge as against the metaled road.  Lynessë found herself grateful for the warm woolen scarf her mother had pressed on her on her departure from Pinnath Gelin, a gift she’d not thought she might need.

            “It is a far more pleasant ride in springtime, when the orchards of the Pelennor are in bloom and the flowers are springing up around the villages and farms,” Húrin finally commented.  “Are you warm enough?”

            “Oh, but I am most comfortable,” Lynessë assured him.  “I did not remember all the homes that were here on the Pelennor.  As for the city....”  She turned her eyes to the White City built on the spur of the mountain.  “I’d forgotten how great a place it is.  It seems so overwhelming, looking up at it!  How it shines!  And to think that when I dwelt here as a child I thought nothing of it!”

            He shrugged.  “But what else had you known?”

            She nodded thoughtfully.  “That is true.  You realize, I never looked back--not that I remember, at least, as we left it.  Perhaps that is why it seems so surprisingly large now.”

            He smiled, but turned at a hail from his Lord Uncle, dropping back from Lynessë’s side.  One of the Guardsmen took up duty as her escort, but she had to admit to herself she felt disappointed to lose Húrin’s company.

 *******

            Balstador, first assistant to the Seneschal, showed Lynessë the choice in suites made available to her as the new Chatelaine to the Citadel.  One was the first suite to the left just inside the Stewards Wing on the upper level, one was on the lower level of the Servants’ Wing, and one was on the upper level of the Citadel over the Council Chamber.  In each case the suite boasted a comfortable sitting room and bedroom, while there was a rather small bathing room attached to that in the Servant’s Wing and a larger, more attractive one for the suite in the Steward’s wing; and in each case a large closet where a maid might be comfortably housed.  In the case of the suite over the Council Chamber she would be required to share a bathing chamber and privy with the Housekeeper, but attached to it was another room that she could use as her office; and she found that the views from the windows looking eastward across the Court of Gathering toward the Pelennor and southward toward the valley of the Anduin more than made up for the inconvenience of having to share with the Housekeeper. 

            When she indicated she would prefer these rooms Master Balstador appeared pleased.  “I suspect that having to go daily past guards to enter the Steward’s Wing would prove trying after a time.  Each time new Guardsmen are assigned to the Steward’s Wing those who serve there find they must too oft prove their identities all over again.”

            He looked about them as he led the way to the shared bathing room and privy to show her their amenities.  “These are much nicer than those in the other suites,” he explained.  “Of old, it is said, these were the rooms shared by the King’s heir and his bride once they married, before taking the Winged Crown in his own turn.  A few of the Steward’s heirs have taken these rooms for their own, but most have chosen to use the rooms on the upper floor of the Steward’s wing instead.”

            The Housekeeper appeared both awed and delighted to find the new Chatelaine taking the rooms by her own.  She was yet young, perhaps in her mid-thirties.  “My lady!” she exclaimed as she executed a deep curtsey.  “I am Gilmoreth daughter of Pergennion, Housekeeper for the Citadel.  I will, of course, remove my own soaps and possessions from the bathing chamber so as to leave it solely for your use....”

            “And why should you do that?” asked Lynessë.  “I can see no reason for you to trudge halfway across the Citadel to bathe or cleanse yourself simply because you and I must otherwise share a privy and bathing chamber!  You will usually be ready to use it, I would guess, when evening falls, while I shall need it rather in the afternoon, ere I must meet with the Citadel’s guests or with the Lord Steward.  I shall have a servant, and she shall also have need of it, I fear, and will make her own ablutions in the morning hours ere I need her for serious work.  Can this not be a satisfactory schedule for the three of us, do you think?”

            Mistress Gilmoreth colored somewhat.  “What you say is true, my lady,” she said slowly.  “But for mere servants to share the chamber with one of the nobility is not usually thought seemly!”

            “And who is to know or care, particularly as I am of the minor nobility at best?” Lynessë asked.  “I, too, am now employed by the Citadel, as much a servant to our Lord Denethor as yourself.  It may be true that you and the Seneschal shall both report to me, but that is of little import.  I will not infringe on your responsibility to deal with the lesser servants; and it shall give us both more chance to consult with one another on the needs of the servants and the guests of the Citadel should we have occasion to meet at times other than those we set formally.

            “Now,” she continued, “I am uncertain what I must do to find furnishings for my rooms.  I see that they are almost totally bare!”

            Mistress Gilmoreth smiled.  “Well, that is part of my function--to bring you to the storehouses where furniture is kept against the day it might again be required.  Come.”

            Over the centuries since the Stewards had inherited the rule of Gondor the furnishings within the Citadel had been changed apparently many times, depending on the tastes of whoever was Steward and his Lady.  Several storage halls had been built behind and slightly to the south of the Citadel itself to hold much of the furnishings that had been removed from the place, and one of these also housed the workshop area for the carpenters who kept much of the woodwork within the great edifice intact and who performed repairs on those pieces of furniture preferred by its inhabitants.  Accompanied by three footmen summoned by Mistress Gilmoreth, Lynessë was led to these storerooms and allowed to choose bedsteads, wall cupboards, chests, kists, tables and chairs and cushioned benches.  From another hall she was allowed to choose bedding, hangings, and curtains according to her tastes, then such chinaware as she preferred for her own private meals and entertainment.  Finally she was taken into a great room where there were paintings, vases and works of craft from which she might take what she desired to decorate her rooms. 

            She stopped to admire a great statue of a maiden who appeared to be dancing (“That is supposed to be a depiction of the Lady Lúthien Tinúviel as she was seen by Lord Beren,” Gilmoreth explained; “It stood once in the rooms of Lord Boromir when he was younger”), then noted that beyond the statue were cases filled with books.

            “Oh!” Lynessë breathed, and taking the lamp from Mistress Gilmoreth’s hand she went on to do some exploration.  After a few moments she stopped.  “May I look to take a few of these into my own rooms?” she asked.

            “Of course, Mistress,” the Housekeeper admitted.  “It is asked only that you keep in mind these belong to the Citadel and should return here should you look to move into your own home in time.  Of course, I suppose many of these started as the personal belongings of some of those who once dwelt in the Citadel itself, and having been abandoned when their first owners died or went forth and did not return fell into the possession of the Stewards and thus came to this storehouse.”

            It was a solemn thought, but it did not stop Lynessë from going through the shelves as thoroughly as time allowed.  She paused at one point, asking Mistress Gilmoreth, “And may I return in the future?”

            “But of course, Mistress,” the Housekeeper assured her.  “You have but to ask, and I will gladly accompany you here.”

            In the end she chose ten books--two of them books of pictures, one of Gondor and one of lands she did not recognize; one of poetry from Rohan (“I must suppose this remains from the days that Lord Thengel dwelt here in Gondor, when he visited here in the Citadel many years past, before he returned to Edoras to take up the kingship of his own land,” Mistress Gilmoreth murmured quietly when Lynessë showed her her find); one a book of stories for children entitled Tales of Elves and Dwarves (“Do you suppose that such creatures still linger in Middle Earth, perhaps in the empty lands of the North?”); one a book in Sindarin entitled On the Building of the Citadel of Minas Anor that appeared quite ancient; two books of poems common to Gondor that had been written in Westron; and then two books with meticulously crafted leather covers in brown calfskin, the older one apparently an epic poem of some sort written in a particularly elegant hand, and a much newer one with rather larger writing, its letters clear but rather spidery, as if the scribe had been elderly.  Inside the covers were inscriptions in archaic Sindarin that she promised herself she should puzzle out in time.  Lynessë had studied Sindarin, of course; but most, it seemed, both spoke and wrote in Westron in these days.  Part of what had drawn her to these was a silver stamp embossed into the leather on each, down in the lower right corner of the front cover, of a sailing ship that appeared to carry a star.

            “I must suppose this is enough for now,” she said regretfully.

            “We can return at a later date.  But you will now require shelves on which to place these, and those others you might find in time,” Mistress Gilmoreth said.  She found what she declared was the perfect bookcase, and the footmen added it to the items already set aside to be brought back to her rooms.

            By nightfall most of what Lynessë had chosen was in place and set in order; early next morning one of the seamstresses for the court arrived with samples of materials for the promised costumes to be provided as part of her recompense for the services she would render for the realm.

            “It seems odd,” she confided to the woman, “to think of my time here as being in service to the realm.  Oh, but I do like this golden silk!”

            The woman held it up beneath her face, and shook her head.  “Nay, my lady--by itself it makes you appear sallow.  But with this as a counter to it--for the bodice itself, think you?”  She held up another bolt of a bright coral, and then held the two together.

            Now it was Lynessë who was shaking her head.  “Oh, no!” she said in horror.  “Not those two together!  But the gold perhaps as an overskirt to this?” and she indicated a tawny fabric that would look well with her coloring.

            Two maids arrived as the seamstress took measurements with her knotted string and made notes as to the embroidery Lynessë had asked for along the lower hem of the skirt and about the waist for one of the planned dresses.  “Mistress Gilmoreth indicated that we should help you to hang draperies and the wall hangings you have chosen?” offered one of the young women as she curtseyed.

            “But of course!  Let me finish with these, and we will see them all properly mounted,” Lynessë said. And once she had seen the seamstress out, she and the maids soon had the fabrics placed and the furniture adjusted to her tastes.

            “I have not seen a lady’s maid in your chambers,” suggested one of the two women, lingering after her companion.

            “I must confess I have not been able to choose one as yet,” Lynessë admitted.  “My mother was loth to part with Tersiel, who served both of us in our home.  Were you offering yourself?” she asked, eyeing the young woman, who flushed slightly.

            “Oh, no, not myself, my lady, but my younger sister.  She is newly come to the service of the Citadel and so far has served in the guest quarters.  However, she finds it confusing there, for each lady who visits the Citadel has her own ways of ordering her rooms and her own tastes as to how her hair must be dressed, and I fear Cireth finds it overwhelming at the moment.  I fear that her uncertainty must bring upon her a bad report in the end, and I would hate to see her reduced to more general cleaning.  She is one who sneezes a good deal at dust, you see.”

            “Is she of a genial nature?”

            The young woman gave a slight shrug.  “We find her so, my lady, but then I suppose that is to be expected of her own family.  But she is very clever in the dressing of hair, and is excellent in the care of fabrics.  Our mother has seen to it she is well trained in this--our family, you see, has served in the Citadel for six generations, and is honored to do so.  But where I love being free to work wherever they might use me in cleaning and serving, my sister is not as I am, being more shy than I, and not being comfortable among many people.”

            Lynessë considered the proposal.  “She is younger than you are?”

            “Yes, my lady--she is but fifteen summers now, and only now does our mother feel she is ready to take her place in service to the Citadel.  Oh, it is not as if she were not familiar with the place and the duties we all serve--we were often called upon as children to help in the decking of the place for festivals and the preparations of the feast hall of Merethrond for banquets and celebrations, you understand; and oft we have been allowed to assist our mother and grandsire in their duties.”

            “It might prove well,” Lynessë said slowly, “accepting such a one to my service, as she would not have learned habits from others I would not wish to see practiced in my own presence.  Is she honest in her opinions of how one looks?”

            “Oh, yes, my lady.  And I fear that would lead her to more of a bad report from those guests of the place who wish only to hear flattery.”

            That decided her.  “Then have her come to me, say an hour after the noon meal, and I will speak with her and see if she will suit.  You say she tends to sneeze when there is much dust?”

            “Unfortunately, although she does not do so when a room is kept reasonably clean to begin with.”

            Lynessë felt rather better at that, and dismissed the young woman with her thanks, noting the hopefulness of her attitude as she left.  Knowing how uncertain she herself felt, she could too easily imagine the anxieties of this one’s younger sister.  She hoped the girl had a modest disposition and was suitable to the position.  She went then to the closet to examine the narrow bed she’d chosen for her intended maid.  A mattress had been laid upon it, and it appeared soft enough.  Linens and a warm coverlet lay folded over it, as well as two well-stuffed pillows.  And on the wall beyond the bed she’d seen hung one of the hangings she’d not found room for elsewhere, a tapestry of three women seated over their embroidery.

            There was a small window to the narrow chamber, one low enough to allow even a small girl a view over the southern reaches of the outer courts.  A windowbox could be placed there, she thought, and smiled at the idea of it blooming once spring and summer had come again.  She drew the draperies over it to keep out what cold seeped in through its glazing.

            A bell rang, marking the half hour--she’d best ready herself for the noon meal in the dining hall, where she’d was to serve as hostess.  In moments she was even more hopeful that the girl Cireth would suit as she found herself searching for where one of the two maids had set a sash and an embroidered kerchief she’d brought for her hair.  Before she was quite ready there was a knock at the door--a page had been sent to show her the way to the dining hall.  She forced a smile and nodded as if she weren’t flustered, and followed him decorously out the door and down the stairs.

            Afterwards, she returned to her rooms glad she’d not made a total disaster of it.  Here the Standing Silence was practiced before every meal, but it was rarely observed in her own home.  Almost she’d made the terrible blunder of taking up her fork before the signal was given by one of Lord Denethor’s courtiers for all to rise and face west.  She tried to watch those seated about the table to see if all appeared content with what was served them, but noted twice when a particular gentleman had rather forcefully beckoned to a server to indicate something was awry.  She watched a fork removed and replaced, and a glass of juice borne away to be poured out as unsuitable.

            She had made a point of intercepting the man before he could leave the chamber to ask about the incidents.  “There were spots on my fork--it was not polished properly,” he said, “and a fly was allowed to fall into the glass.  I could not be asked to drink after that!”

            “I see, my lord,” she said with an abbreviated curtsey.  “I will check into the incidents and try to make certain that such things are not allowed again.  I am rather surprised that there was a fly brave enough to fly about at this season of the year, however.  I suspect that if one fell into your glass it was because it is so cold out its wings ceased to flutter.”

            He did not smile at her sally, however, and she found herself suddenly worried as to what report he might make to Lord Denethor regarding her!

            She’d not been long seated in her place before the fire in her sitting room (which, she noted, had been built up while she’d been absent) before a knock came at her chamber door heralding the girl Cireth.  Cireth was most inappropriately named, as she came barely to Lynessë’s shoulder, and was delicately built.  Indeed, she looked very much a child, her face still rounded and her future curves yet undetermined.  Her eyes were respectfully downcast as she answered Lynessë’s directive to enter and gave her curtsey.

            “Mistress,” she said in an uncertain voice.  “My sister Anneth has told me you might wish to accept me as your own maid.”

            “Yes, I am looking for a lady’s maid.  Your sister has said you are trained in the care of fabrics.”

            “Oh, yes, Mistress.”

            “What would you do for the gown I wear now?”

            The girl examined the gown with a critical eye.  “When you removed it I should hang it over a boiling pot of water that the steam might release the wrinkles.  I should then hang it upon a wooden form or gently fold it in clean muslin and sprinkle lavender blossoms or blossoms of wood violets within the folds to discourage moths.”

            “And if there were to be a stain upon it?”

            The child answered.  “It would depend, Mistress, on the cause of the stain.  Some should be treated immediately with cold water while it is best that others be allowed to dry that they be brushed away.  Would the stain be due to dirt from the gardens, a spill of tallow from a lamp, or a red sauce at dinner?”

            Lynessë found she liked the girl’s bright eyes, which were more green than grey.  Her hair was a very dark brown in color and worn in a single braid down her back, with bronze pins decorated with tiny butterflies holding back the wisps that would break free on each side of her earnest face.  The grey garb of the Citadel did not suit this child, she decided.  “If you were to serve as my personal maid, might I then see you dressed otherwise?” she asked.

            Cireth blushed slightly.  “Lady’s maids are usually dressed as suits the lady they serve, Mistress.  They do not have to dress the same way as those who serve in the guest wings or throughout the rest of the Citadel.  They are asked to wear an apron over their dress to indicate they are servants, though.”

            “And can you sew?”

            “Of course, Mistress.”

            “And you are fifteen summers?”

            “I know I look younger, Mistress, but I am fifteen.”

            “Would you like to be a lady’s maid?”

            Again the girl colored.  “Yes.  The other girls look down upon me for I look so young.  My mother says it is because the Dúnedain blood we bear is very strong, and so we tend to grow perhaps more slowly than do most maidens.  Anneth was little more than my height when she began working for the Citadel five years past, but now she is quite as tall as most of the others her age.”

            “Do any tease you?”

            Cireth nodded, her expression growing disapproving.  “Yes.  They left a doll on my bed in the dormitory last week, as if I were a small child.”

            “You sleep here in the Citadel?”

            “Yes--it is the custom for those who are only beginning to serve to sleep here at least six nights a week.  I do, and spend one night a week with my parents in our home in the Sixth Circle.  For those who come from a great distance, they sleep in the dormitories every night, while those who are adults who are married or who have inherited their family homes within the City usually come up to the Citadel from their homes to work each day.”

            “Ah, so that is the way of it, then?  Would you like to see where you would sleep most nights if you become my lady’s maid?”

            Cireth appeared pleased with the bed intended for her should she accept the position, and asked if she might bring some of her own possessions and have a shelf on which to keep them should Mistress Lynessë indeed choose her as her servant.  Then she pulled aside the draperies and peered out the window.  “Oh--I can see so far!” she said.  “At home I see only the wall up to the Level of the Citadel, for our house is on the inner side of the way.  My brother’s room looks out to the south, so he can see the river in the distance.  Our house is not far from the Houses of Healing, you understand.”

            She particularly seemed to appreciate the tapestry of the three women that hung beyond her bed.  “I have wished such a tapestry for my own walls,” she said in a soft tone as she ran her finger over the work.  “To have one here--that is pleasant!” 

            She appeared very pleased by the small area in which a brazier for cooking and cupboards for storage of some foodstuffs were to be found.  “I can keep here what you would wish for herbal drinks for when your head bothers you, or such things as you would wish to enjoy when you keep to your rooms, say on the days when your courses begin.  My sister suffers greatly on those days, and will not come to work if she can help it.”  She opened the heavy doors to one cupboard built into the very wall of the building, and smiled with delight.  “A cold cupboard--see, it is of stone, and the water for the bathing room runs behind it and helps to keep the inside cool.  You could keep milk and cheeses and some meats here longer than you might think.  And drinks!  In the summer what drinks you keep within it will be cool and refreshing even on the hottest of days!”

            Lynessë had given no thought to how it was that water came to be available on the upper levels of the Citadel, but it proved that Cireth was well aware of how that came to be.  She pointed up the slopes of Mount Mindolluin.  “There is a great lake not far below the level where the snows lie in the spring and autumn, fed by what melts from the top of the mountain.  Only those like my father who are employed in keeping the water flowing freely throughout the White City may visit it--it is said that long ago the Enemy sent orcs with vials of poisons that cause dangerous illnesses to the lake that fed Osgilliath, and that many became ill throughout the city, back when the Dome of Stars still stood and there were Kings in Gondor and before they ruled from here in Minas Tirith.  So the ways to the lakes are guarded that no evil ones do such a thing again.

            “There are both open and closed aqueducts that bring water from the lake down into the city.  There is a line of buildings reaching from the mountain all the way to the Citadel itself, and a carefully wrought line of pipes they support that feeds to the roof levels of the Citadel, then drop down to the bathing rooms of the areas where there is habitation, to the kitchens and the pantries and the laundries and such.  So it is there is always fresh, cool water available.  It takes little enough effort to fill the boilers, see the fires below them lit, and so have enough for warm baths almost whenever one wishes such a thing.  And by building such cupboards as these those who designed the Citadel have made it easier for people to keep their own private stores of food for those times when they wish to remain in their own quarters.”

            Having lived in a home where water for bathing had to be carried to one’s room by a succession of maids and footmen and poured into a great copper bath set before the fire, Lynessë found herself amazed at how she could look forward to bathing without having to draw the Citadel’s servants away from their other duties.  Yet she learned that most homes and buildings throughout the City had water flowing easily into them, as well as there being great sewers taking the refuse of the city out of it first to a great cleansing pond north and east of the Pelennor, and then to the river itself.  “My father and those who work with him are charged with seeing to it that the aqueducts and sewers maintain their flows unstopped,” Cireth explained as she demonstrated within the bathing room itself how it was the water flowed into a great porcelain sink deep enough to allow her to fill the pitchers and rinse the chamber pots kept within the bedrooms, as well as how the water closet functioned.

            “I do believe,” Lynessë told her, “that I shall enjoy living here within the Citadel.”

            Mistress Gilmoreth returned to her own quarters as the demonstrations within the bathing chamber area were finishing.  On learning that Lynessë was considering taking Cireth as her lady’s maid she appeared relieved.  “That is for the good, I believe.  The poor child is treated poorly by some of the older girls, and the very same chits have been arguing since yesterday as to which should be allowed to present themselves to you as candidates for the position.  There are two most self-absorbed maidens who are particularly convinced you should find each of them eminently suitable who have been rehearsing their complaints each against the other as well as the others within the servants’ wing.  This will put paid to their airs, and remove Cireth from the torments of putting up with them.  Cireth’s mother is an overseer within the laundries, seeing to those who press garments and linens and keep such things in repair.  She is a dear woman, and she and I have been friends for many years.  Most of the older maids do not realize this, and only see that as Cireth is yet small for her age she appears ripe for devilment.  I am very pleased to have the chance to advance her before them, really, and so teach them lessons in humility.”

            Having the Housekeeper’s blessing on her choice, Lynessë suggested that the girl spend the night at home gathering such possessions as she should prefer to bring with her, and arrive the next morning well after the dawn meal to set her things in order.  That would allow her to take up her new duties after the noon meal.  The Housekeeper confirmed the order and sent the girl scampering off to the dormitories to remove her possessions there back to her parents’ home, suggesting she have a particular page assist her.  “The other maidens will think you have chosen to return home, and will not be aware of your preferment until it has been confirmed.  In that way you shall be free of retaliation from the two worst of the bunch.”

            As Lynessë was seeing the girl out of her quarters, Cireth suddenly stopped at the sight of the shelf of books.  “Oh--and you like to read?” she asked, turning hopefully toward her new mistress.

            “Indeed.  And you enjoy reading as well?”

            “Oh, yes.  I often spend time in the summers inside the archives where I read and assist the archivists.  It is very cool there, you see.”

            “So much the better, then,” Lynessë said, smiling.  “We can discuss with one another what we have read.  And if I myself am not reading one of my books, you are free to do so.”

            She was rewarded by a brilliant smile from the girl, who hurried off to remove herself from the dormitories, forgetting herself sufficiently to skip as she went.

 *******

            The evening meal went more smoothly than had the noon meal, and afterwards she met in the Housekeeper’s office near the kitchens with Mistress Gilmoreth and the Seneschal to discuss what had occurred within the Citadel during the day.

            “There was one rather critical man who dined in the common hall at the noon meal,” she began tentatively, “who sent back a fork he said was not properly polished, and a glass in which he said a fly was found.”

            The Seneschal made a face.  “Young man from Anórien, wearing a tunic of blue and green stripes?  Hair of light brown and a small, pointed beard?”

            “Yes.  It sounds as if you are well aware of him.”

            “Indeed.  Fendril of Destrier.  A member of the Guild of Lawyers in Anórien.  He was sent here by Lord Benargil of Anwar to carry correspondence.  He has proven an uncomfortable individual who seems impelled to find fault.”

            Mistress Gilmoreth, who had been growing visibly disturbed ever since Lynessë mentioned the fly, added, “And he keeps insisting that he finds flies within the Citadel and makes mention of the smells from the midden, when there is no midden or any garderobes within the confines of the city, as all goes into the sewers rather than into aught such as a midden.  And what self-respecting fly would be found abroad at such a season as this?  None hatch at this time of year, as cold as it is!  The man appears to live solely to imagine ugly things!”

            “I see,” Lynessë said, slowly.  “I do remember saying such to him--that if any fly should have found its way into his goblet it must be due to the severe cold stopping its wings.  He did not appear to have found that comment humorous.”

            The Seneschal, on the other hand, was giving her an appreciative smile.  “Well done, my lady.  But I doubt not you are right--it is questionable that Master Fendril has any humor within his makeup.  We allow his complaints but do not take them further than to humor him and do all we can to speed his departure back to his own place.”

            So saying, the three turned their attention to other matters regarding the running of the household, and Lynessë set herself to learning what she could of her new situation.

 *******

            The following morning after breakfast, as Lynessë was meeting with the cooks regarding the menus for the next week, a page entered the Housekeeper’s parlor where the meeting was taking place to summon her out.  “One of our guests, Master Fendril of Anórien who is here on behalf of Lord Benargil of Anwar, has a complaint to lodge, my lady,” he explained apologetically.  “I have taken him to the lesser audience chamber, for he has taken offense before when brought to a mere office.”

            “I see,” she said, rising.  “I apologize for this,” she explained to the chief cook and baker.  “However, it appears my duties require me to soothe such guests as this.”

            “It was Master Fendril?” asked the cook who specialized in preparing soups.  “He has three times sent back soups he swore were burnt since he came, but no one else has been able to find any hints this is true.”

            “And he insisted he’d found a weevil in the breakfast pastry he received but yesterday,” added the head baker.  “The pastries were rich in poppy seeds, and no others could see aught but such things in the pastry he returned.”

            The others shared glances that indicated there were yet more tales to share if she were to ask, and she gave one last glance around before rising and nodding her head to the company.  “So, it continues, then.  Well, I must say that I can but approve what you have already planned for the week, although if you could include some jellies and thin broths for those who might catch the colds that are beginning to make their way through the Citadel it would perhaps be appropriate.  And have we a goodly store of the orange fruits, lemons, and such things?  My mother and aunt both swear such fruits help to stave off the illness.”

            The head Cook nodded.  “So swore my mother as well.  We shall see to it there are such things included in at least one meal a day, then, my Lady.  And with your permission....”

            She gave her agreement before turning to follow the page.

            As she entered the lesser audience chamber, she found the man in question standing with his hands clenched behind his back, examining a vase that stood upon a tall side table.  “Master Fendril?  I understand you wished to lodge a complaint?”

            The lawyer turned toward her, and she noted his expression was disturbed.  “You are Lord Denethor’s Chatelaine?”

            “Yes, sir.  I am Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin, a niece of Lord Elstror.  I admit to being newly come to this office....”

            “You are far, far too young for such preferment,” Fendril interrupted.

            “Lord Denethor approached me personally to ask me to take this position,” Lynessë answered him, feeling herself grow stiff and her voice tight.

            “He himself----”

            “Yes, Lord Denethor himself invited me to dine with him in Dol Amroth that he might judge whether or not he felt I could deal with such responsibility.”

            His eyes searched hers for a moment, although she had the feeling he wasn’t actually seeing her at all.  “Well, that is as it might be.  You are yet young....”

            “As, Master Fendril, you also appear to be.”

            He stopped at that, and appeared to be plumbing the meaning there.  “It is only that I did not wish to bring before the eyes of one as innocent as you must be such horrors as I have found.”

            “Horrors?  You have found horrors here within the Citadel of Minas Tirith?”  She didn’t know whether to be shocked or merely to laugh.

            “Well, of course.  This vase....”  He waved his hand vaguely, apparently meaning to indicate the vase he’d been looking at on her arrival.

            She came close to look at it herself.  “Yes?  And what is there to disturb you about it?  It is the work of Dol Amroth potters, I would say, and shows a fairly typical view of the quays of Eldelhond.  It is very nicely executed, actually.”

            “But there is a swan upon it.”

            She examined it again.  “Not a proper swan, but a swan ship.  That is, after all, the emblem of Dol Amroth, recalling the days when Eldelhond was the home of the remaining Elven haven within the realm of Gondor.”

            “So much the worse, it being a swan ship.”

            She felt amazed.  “And what is horrible about a depiction of a swan ship?”

            He looked about as if to make certain none would overhear a shocking revelation, then leaned forward to whisper into her ear, “It is a death omen.  Did you not know?”

            She pulled back, not liking the feel of his breath in her ear.  “What?  And since when----”

            He looked into her eyes earnestly, his expression intent and, she thought, more than a bit fanatical.  “It is true.  The swan has ever been a symbol of the Sea, you know, and the Sea itself is a symbol of death!”

            “The swan is associated with Lord Ulmo even as the Eagle is associated with Lord Manwë...” she began.

            “Those who die are said to have fled to the west,” he again interrupted.  “Over the Sea!” he added, as if that explained everything. 

            “But, when one goes to Dol Amroth the Sea is all about one, as the city is build upon a peninsula,” she pointed out.  “They are a people that live surrounded by the Sea.  They are sailors and fishermen....”
            “And are so suspect!” he insisted, as if he had proved a point.  “This place has too much that reflects the desires of such outlandish folk!  The whole city is filled with images of the Sea and swans and stars and swords!  I cannot find a single statue of the Kings or Stewards that does not include a sword or at least a knife!”

            “But those who founded Gondor came from the Isle of Númenor, and it is not for naught they have ever been called the Sea Kings, Lords Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion.  And of course all who have ruled Gondor have borne swords and weapons, as all have been sworn to protect our lands and peoples!”

            He threw up his hands, apparently despairing of convincing her of the evils surrounding her.  “You do not understand!”

            “Master Fendril, I understand that you insist that the smell of the midden offends you.”  She felt it time to interrupt him for a change.

            “What?  Oh, yes--the middens.  I am told they have never been cleaned.”

            “Never been cleaned?”

            “Yes, so the Housekeeper has told me.”

            “Yes, I believe her to be correct.”

            He again searched her eyes, this time actually appearing to be seeing her.  “This does not disturb you?”

            “Why should it disturb me, as there are no middens here, Master Fendril?”

            He appeared to fail to comprehend what she said.  “What?” he finally asked.

            “There are no middens within the Citadel, Master Fendril.  There are none, from what I know, anywhere within the White City, in fact.  We do not need such things, as the city is served instead by sewers that carry the waste far out beyond the Pelennor before cleansing it away.”

            “But where do the servants empty the chamberpots?”

            “Into the water closets, sir, to feed into the sewers!”

            “But there must be a midden!”

            “I assure you there is none.”

            “But I have smelled it!”

            “When?”

            “When I have opened my window.”

            She thought to the cold, grey day she’d seen outside her own window that morning as she dressed.  “And why have you opened your windows in weather such as this?” she asked.  “It is far too cold to have one’s window open, you know.  It is thought by many we shall have snow within a day or two.”

            “I know, Mistress.”

            “Then why have you opened your windows?”

            “To empty my chamberpot!”

            She looked at him, not certain she had heard him aright.  “You have emptied your chamberpot out of your window?”

            “Yes.  I cannot abide the smell of a chamberpot, so empty it ever as soon as I have used it.”

            “You did not think to put the lid upon it?”

            “And what point is there for a lid for a chamberpot?”

            “To contain the smell until it can be emptied and properly cleaned!” she snapped at him.  “And that is the purpose of employing the chambermaids and footmen, Master Fendril, in part to see to it that the chamberpots are regularly cleaned!   All you need do is ring the bell when you awaken....”

            “But I have used it far more often than merely at night,” he hurriedly said, again interrupting her.

            “You use it during the day?”  At his nod, she asked, “But why?  Why not use the water closet?  That is why such facilities are available, after all!”

            “I cannot allow my stream to fall into water--it would taint it!”

            “But it goes into the sewers and is not drunk by any!”

            “But how do you know that?” he asked, suddenly intent again.  “You have told me there are no middens, but I have smelled them, outside the window to my chamber!”

            “I am certain you have--a midden you yourself have constructed by throwing the waste from your chamberpot out of it!” she said, feeling very frustrated at this point.  “And no waters from the sewers are used for drinking anywhere within the City!”  She looked around the chamber until she spotted the bell pull, and went to it, pulling at it vigorously.  “Master Fendril,” she said coldly, turning back to that gentleman, “I grew up partly here in Minas Tirith, but mostly in Pinnath Gelin.  We have no sewer within Pinnath Gelin, but we do have cesspits into which our water closets and other drains empty.  The one place I am aware of that has garderobes, even, is the oldest portion of my uncle’s keep, and there they are no longer used save in the most urgent of situations.

            “That you would think it tenable to throw the contents of your chamberpot out of the window indicates that perhaps the realm’s engineers need to make a prolonged inspection of Anórien and see to educating your people as to how to dispose of waste in a healthful manner, rather than leaving it pooled upon the ground as do simple cattle.”

            There was a knock at the door, and she opened it to admit Master Balstador, first assistant to the Seneschal.  “Ah, sir--it would appear Master Fendril here has not appreciated the proper use of our water closets.  Is there one within the Citadel who is familiar with the water and sewer systems within Minas Tirith who can educate him as to how they function and how it is we have pure water to drink?”

            “Master Vandorn of the Lord’s Engineers has his offices within the Citadel, Mistress Lynessë.  I am certain he can explain much to Master Fendril.”

            “If he will listen,” Lynessë said in low tones between clenched teeth.  More loudly she said, “Then if you will escort Master Fendril to Master Vandorn’s offices and arrange for him to be given a careful description as to how water is brought into the Citadel and waste from the drains and water closets is removed, I will be very grateful.  It appears he imagines to use the water closets will somehow taint the water supply for the city.  And, I am sorry to say, we will require someone with a barrow, high boots, and a shovel to remove the midden from outside Master Fendril’s quarters.”

            “But we have no middens within the Citadel’s grounds,” he objected blankly.

            With a disdainful look at the offending lawyer, Lynessë explained, “Ah, but it appears that as of Master Fendril’s arrival we do.”  She turned again to the visitor.  “Master Fendril, I am sorry, but I have an inspection to carry out of the kitchens’ stores.  It appears that the poppy seeds must all be inspected to detect if any have developed legs.”

            With that she exited the room, her head held high.

 *******

            It was late in the evening, and Lynessë sat in her comfortable chair before her fire reading one of the two books bound with calfskin she had found.  It was written in Westron, she’d realized, but in a variant of the alphabet with which she was unfamiliar.  That and the rather spidery hand in which it was inscribed had made it difficult to decipher at first, but now she was reading it more swiftly, now that she was almost finished with its first section, a story entitled Joco and the Cornfield.  It was a funny, endearing tale, she thought, clearly one written for the enjoyment of children, but with a good deal of embedded wit that intended it to be equally enjoyed by adults.  She decided that she should share it with Cireth as soon as she returned from the Servants’ Hall where she’d gone for the evening.

            “You must allow her to spend time with her fellow servants,” Mistress Gilmoreth had cautioned her earlier in the day.  “To allow a lady’s maid to become aloof from other servants leads to far greater abuses than finding frogs in the ewer or serpents in one’s chamberpot.  Young Cireth has too fine a nature to allow it to be spoiled by taking on airs and being isolated from others.” So Lynessë had encouraged her to spend time elsewhere and told her that she might, during her free hours, invite one or two of her especial friends, with Lynessë’s approval, to come to these chambers to read and sew and talk.

            It was restfully quiet at the moment.  She had but one more paragraph to read when she heard the knock at her door.

            “Who?” she wondered as she closed the book about a finger and went to answer her own question.

            It proved, of all people, to be the Lord Steward Denethor himself.  She felt stupid to stand there, her feet bare, an old but favorite shawl about her shoulders, her hair loosed from its braided coronet worn earlier in the day, gaping at the man, but how was she to have foreseen such a visitor?

            “My Lord?  I mean, won’t you come in?”

            He entered, and she was certain she detected a slight smile of amusement on his face.  “I thank you, Mistress Lynessë.  But you would answer your door yourself?  I had been told that already you had chosen a girl to serve as your maid.”

            “I have, but there was little for her to do this evening, so I sent her off to the Hall for the evening’s entertainment.”

            He raised an eyebrow--he seemed very good at that!--and gave her an approving nod.  “That is good.  I have seen too many body servants within these halls who have had no companions or skills in cooperation with others.  I commend you for your good sense.”

            She could feel herself color.  “Please, to come in.  May I offer you anything?  I fear all that I have on hand is some juice of oranges to offer, but....”

            “I need nothing.”  He took her chair, and she took a place on the nearby settle.  He was looking about himself, giving small nods of apparent approval.  “You show good taste for one as young as you are.  Ah, it is nice to see that someone else likes that tapestry--it was one of my older sister’s favorites.”  He looked at the book in her hand, and held out his own.  Reluctantly she surrendered it, sighing as she saw him close it, losing her place.  He examined the cover, then glanced at the similar, older volume in the bookshelf.  “I see.  You find yourself drawn to the books from the north.”

            “These are from Anórien?” she asked.

            He gave a shrug, and there was no hint of amusement  now.  “No, further north than that.”

            “But I had not heard that the people of Rohan or Dunland read widely.”

            “Nor do they, not outside the court of Théoden in Edoras, and even there the King is nowhere as avid a reader as was his father Thengel, who spent so much time here in Gondor.  As for Dunland--I doubt one man in a hundred knows enough letters to write his name.  No, this is from much further north than Dunland.  This particular book was given my son Faramir by Mithrandir some years ago, when he was still a child.  The Wizard felt that it would amuse the boy.  He said its author was a friend in a small land that was given to farming and little else.  His friend had sent it to the one Mithrandir often described as his patron in the northlands, who had it bound.”  He rose and looked at the nine volumes left on the shelf, allowing his other hand to rest on the older book whose cover was like the one he held.

            “And Mithrandir gave you that one?” she asked.

            “Mithrandir?  Oh, no--that belonged to one of the mercenaries who served Gondor under my father.  He spent some months here in the Citadel, there before Boromir was born, and I often saw it in his hand.  The Lay of Leithien.  I do not know quite why he needed to carry the volume with him, for I swear he knew it by heart.”  So saying, he settled the book in his hand beside it on the shelf, then returned to her chair.  “So, my Chatelaine, it appears that you have had your first experience with one of our more awkward guests.”

            “I am sorry, my Lord Denethor, to have offended Master Fendril further, but it was truly too bad, trying to deal with him, I mean.  To have been throwing the contents of his chamberpot out of the window, and to be convinced he must not use the water closet?”

            “You dealt with him very well, and far better than he deserved, I suspect.  Certainly Master Vandorn gave him a most thorough description of the proper ways to see to it that human filth does not spread disease and promote the growth of flies and vermin.  And as the gardeners do not usually work at this season in the flower beds outside of the habitation wings of the Citadel, his--private midden would have gone undetected for at least another month, at which time there would have been a profusion of nasty creatures hatching from what he had left there.  I came to commend you for finding out precisely what his concerns are.”

            “He is a turmoil of superstitions, my Lord,” she said.  “He sees death signs everywhere.”

            “You have indeed caught the heart of Master Fendril,” he agreed.  “He admitted at last that the reason he would not use the water closets is because he has become convinced that doing so into moving water will somehow weaken his manhood.”

            She looked at him, aghast, and then, without volition, began to laugh.  “He thought it would somehow unman him?  He is that great a fool?”

            “Apparently.”

            “He is so afraid of flies he would see the midden cleansed daily, even as he himself creates it where there was none and no need for one; and he mistakes poppy seeds for weevils!”

            “Oh, is that why the cooks and bakers shudder at his name?”

            “Yes, my Lord.”

            He smiled again.  “I came to tell you that he will be leaving tomorrow afternoon.  I have convinced him that I need him no longer to interpret the correspondence he brought me from Lord Benargil, and that it would be needful from this time to correspond through the regular message service.  I am certain he entertained the fantasy that I would be fascinated by his brilliance and make him my personal Counsel in matters of law.  That I failed to do so he sees as a lack in my ability to discern rather than due to any lack in his own character.”

            “And those in the Guild of Lawyers within Anórien take him seriously?”

            “Lord Benargil appears to do so.”

            “The more fool he!”

            “Perhaps.  But do be careful, Mistress Lynessë, with whom you share such sentiments.  Not all are as tolerant of what is seen as lack of respect as am I.”  So saying, he rose.  “I thank you for your receiving of me.  I was surprised you had chosen these rooms rather than those in the Steward’s wing, but I can appreciate why.  You have done well, and I do believe you will continue to do so.  But if it should happen, the Powers protect us, that Master Fendril should be sent again by his lord, I do ask that you be gentle with him.  Those with his fevered imagination see evil and signs of danger on all sides, and often need careful handling.  If you will see to it that he has someone sent to aid him in his preparations to leave early, as soon after the dawn meal as possible?”  He rose, gave her a carefully measured bow, and saw himself to the door.

            She watched after for some time, leaning against the jamb and wondering how much of what he’d said was a warning to be cautious.

 

A Question of Degree

            Two days later Lynessë heard a knock on the door to her chambers, and Cireth led the Warden of the Keys into her office, where she’d been going over reports from the Mistress of the Laundries regarding apparent thefts of fullers earth from the stores.

            She rose quickly to her feet.  “My lord!” she said, feeling well pleased.  “How kind of you to visit me here.”

            “It was brought to my attention I had not as yet surrendered to you your badge of office.”  He held out the ring of keys commonly worn by those in her position.  “As Keeper of the Keys to the Citadel, it was to me that your predecessor entrusted them when she left us.  It is a relief at times to know there is at least one other who helps to oversee the integrity of the place alongside me.”

            She found herself responding to his open grin.  “Oh, indeed so.  And I am to wear the ring at my waist?”

            “So tradition dictates,” he assured her.  “Although once you don that ring you will find you cannot easily take any by surprise any more.”

            The keys jingled merrily as she turned the ring in her hand to examine them.  “So I see,” she laughed.  “Let you tell me what each is to so that if I am called upon to use them I can.”

            One, she learned, was to the doors to the common dormitories.  “This is used primarily when it is found thefts are beginning to be common.  It will be your duty to lock the doors so none may go in or out without your presence, and either the Housekeeper or the Seneschal and their aides will search each one to make certain he or she is not seeking to hide some stolen article upon his or her person.  Once all have been allowed to leave the dormitory, you will oversee the searching of the dormitory itself.

            “This one is to the doors for all the servants who have private quarters.  Only you and I have copies of these two keys, which is why they are important to guard.  This is to the still room--work within it will begin again in a few weeks’ time, and it will be your duty to admit those who work within it and to supervise their work that they not make themselves over-merry on their own brews or seek to carry aught away from the Citadel.  Although beer, ale, and wine are not commonly brewed within the Citadel, we do produce many of the dyes and tinctures used for our own purposes, as well as certain soaps and oils.  Certain tinctures and substances used in the manufacture of particular medicaments are poisonous or otherwise dangerous or mightily precious, and thus are guarded carefully.  You and I alone hold the keys to the cabinets in which such substances are stored, and you are to see that these cabinets are properly ordered and only opened when necessary.  You had best go through the stores there with the Mistress of the Stillroom next week so as to assure all is in readiness once work there commences.”

            She nodded her understanding.  Then, after thinking for a moment she asked, “And do you know of any unusual or suspicious use there might be for fullers earth?  It appears there have been thefts of such from the laundries.”  She handed him the report she’d been reading.

            She found she enjoyed the visit, and was disappointed when Cireth appeared at the door to advise Lord Húrin that his presence was needed by a member of the Lord Steward’s Council, at which time he rose reluctantly and bowed courteously, and she accompanied him to the door.  She only wished she could see more of him.  However, it appeared their duties kept each too busy to allow them to see much of one another, or so it proved for the first month of her residency within the Citadel.

            This visit was closely followed by her first dinner with the Steward himself, one held on the evening of the Highday in his quarters.  She had dressed carefully, and Cireth had taken especial pains with her hair.  As she presented herself before the doors to the Steward’s Wing the Guardsmen examined her closely, the younger one with obvious approval.  “Mistress Lynessë?” queried the older man.

            “Yes,” she said, standing straighter.

            He nodded.  “The Steward is expecting you.”  A signal to his fellow, and they held open the doors, allowing her to go between.  She started down the hallway, suddenly realizing she had no idea which door before her she should knock at.

            At that moment one to her left opened, and one of the valets emerged carrying a vase of greenery.  He appeared unsurprised to find her there.  “Mistress Lynessë?  You are arrived in good time.  The Lord Steward will be pleased.  If you will follow me?”

            He led her down the hallway to a slightly more ornate doorway than the rest, beside which was a niche in which a Guardsman stood.  He nodded to the Guard, gave a knock at the door, and at the sound of a voice from within opened it, bowing Lynessë in before him.

            The Steward’s own reception room was well appointed, with double doors at the other end leading, she must suppose, out into a private pleasure garden.  The Steward himself stood near the fireplace with a goblet in hand, looking out the window alongside the door into the intense white without.  It had indeed snowed as had been foretold by those within the Citadel whose bones tended to ache before such events, and the views from the windows were all of expanses even more brilliant white than they ordinarily appeared.  A table stood ready for the meal, with four places set upon it.

            Denethor turned to watch her reaction, nodding to acknowledge her curtsey.  “I hope you do not mind, but my sons are to dine with us this evening.  It is likely the last time Lord Boromir will join us for some weeks, as he must return tomorrow to Osgiliath.  His younger brother will remain with me for three more days before taking up his duties within Ithilien.  We are awaiting the arrival of one of our captains from the frontier between Anórien and Rohan, who will serve as his second in command.”

            “I see, my Lord,” she said politely.

            The valet set the vase upon the table and rearranged some of the boughs it contained, then took up a splinter from the fireplace and with it lit a number of tapers that he set about it.  The Steward himself drew out a chair from the table, indicating Lynessë should seat herself.  “If you will, Mistress,” he said with grave courtesy, helping place her chair before taking one himself.  “My sons will be with us shortly.”

            As he took his own seat he asked, “And has the question been answered as to who was stealing fullers earth?”

            She flushed slightly--he seemed to be aware of everything that occurred within the Citadel!  “We believe so, my Lord.  One of the men who helps lift the linens into and out of the vats has a brother who is a weaver down in the First Circle.  So far, each time it has been noticed that the bins holding the Citadel’s stores are notably lower than they perhaps ought to be it has been on the days the man has free, at which time he is known to go down into the lower city to aid his brother.  Master Balstador is preparing to follow the man and see if he carries fuller’s earth from his home in the Sixth Circle down to the lower city.  As the Citadel purchases its stores from the providers whose own storehouses are in the First Circle that would be very suspicious.  He also intends to learn if the brother is in deep debt or need.”

            “And why bother to do such a thing?”

            Lynessë was surprised by the question.  “To find whether there are any circumstances that could perhaps mitigate the guilt of our launderer, my Lord.  If his brother is poor and barely able to provide for himself and his family, then although it does not make the launderer less guilty, yet his reasons for doing as we believe he does are understandable.  However, if the brother lives well and is clearly turning a profit on his business, then both are equally guilty of stealing not only from the Citadel but from all of the citizens of the City, and as a result a sterner penalty should be sought for the both of them.”

            “So, you consider one who steals to support others to be less guilty than one who steals solely to increase profits?”

            “Of course, my Lord.  Do you not believe similarly?”

            “Theft is theft, Mistress Lynessë.  Whether the reasons for the theft are altruistic or selfish, yet the one stolen from has lost what was taken and either must go without it altogether if he cannot afford to replace it, or must pay twice for what he ought to have paid for only once.  And either way, not only is the crime perpetrated against this house, but as you yourself have pointed out, from all the other citizens of this city.  Indeed, all of Gondor pays taxes to support the Citadel and those who must live or sojourn or labor within it, no matter how short a time they spend within its precincts, which makes an offense against this house an offense against the realm.”

            She was shocked.  “You would consider the theft of fullers earth an act of treason against the realm?”

            “Do you question your own logic, mistress?”

            “It is not as if the realm of Gondor shall fall if the launderers have perhaps somewhat less fullers earth than was originally purchased.”

            Voices could be heard in the hallway, and the door burst open as Lord Boromir led his brother and their cousin Húrin into the room.  “And that last arrow of yours was so well placed, my brother, that Lord Irmánion cannot question you deserve the prize!” Boromir was saying over his shoulder.  He turned to the valet.  “Belveramir, would you please set another place for our cousin, and notify the kitchens that he has joined us for the evening meal?  Would you believe, Father,” he continued, turning his attention to the Steward, “that Húrin here had planned to try to return down the ramp to the Sixth Circle in that?”  He indicated the scene outside the window, which was now darkening rapidly.  “And his cook is not within the house, so he was planning to prepare a meal for himself!  Please, Father--tell him not to be a fool and that of course he is welcome to join us!”

            Faramir had followed after the others, and was closing the door far more circumspectly than his brother had thrust it open.  He gave Lynessë a respectful inclination of the head before fixing his attention on his father, apparently not as certain as was his older brother of the Steward’s acceptance of another’s attendance at the meal.  Nor could Lynessë determine if Denethor’s expression indicated welcome or annoyance at the unexpected addition to the party.  As for Húrin himself, his own expression was that of one who has realized his younger kinsman’s desires are more a force of nature than anything else.

            “My Lord Uncle,” he said with a decided degree of fatalism to his voice.  “Your son has made it abundantly clear that I am to be given no choice in the matter.”  He turned his attention to her.  “Mistress Lynessë?  Ah but then there is one other benefit other than merely avoiding wasting away due to the poor quality of my own cooking to be gained by acceding to Boromir’s commands!”

            The valet was already setting out still another plate at the table, then drawing another chair from its place by the wall.  “Here, my Lord Húrin--let you take this place.  Shall I allow the kitchen to know you are ready to be served, my Lord?” he asked his master.

            “There is one other benefit offered you by staying,” Boromir was saying.  “By staying now you avoid sliding on the ice on the ramp and thus breaking your head!”

            “I am not as certain as are you I should slip on the ice, Boromir.”

            “Well, I am, for when I went down to practice earlier today I myself ended up with my feet flying out from beneath me, and I slid a good deal of the way down it on the seat of my trousers!”

            “Did you?” Faramir asked.

            “Why do you think that I am wearing others than the ones I donned this morning?  You were far wiser, staying on this level and practicing in the salle behind the prison.”

            “I had no intention of losing my dignity as I did in the snow two years past when I went sliding headfirst down the ramp just at sunset.  I had visions then of not being able to stop and ending up going over the wall and falling to the Fifth Circle.”

            “It was not all that slick when I walked up here this morning,” Húrin was protesting.

            “But then it was new,” Boromir said.  “As it has been packed down it has become more slippery.”  He turned again to the Steward as he settled in the chair to Denethor’s right.  “Really, Father, we must begin stockpiling sand to use on the ice of the ramp early in November.  Oh, I know we do not require it most winters; but that makes it the more needful those winters such as this one!  Someone could be seriously hurt!”

            Lynessë had to agree with Lord Boromir on this question.  The Steward shrugged his shoulder, having indicated the valet should indeed hurry to the kitchens.  Faramir held out his hand to stay the valet briefly, murmured something, and then let the man go with a slight smile and nod.

            “And have you been out in the snow as yet?” asked Faramir of her.

            “No, not as yet.  I have been surprised at how cold it has been--far more so than I remember it being when I was a child.”

            “I do believe this is the coldest winter of which I have been aware,” Boromir assured her.  “The one place I have been that is colder is in Edoras in the month after Mettarë--the folk of Rohan often fight very cold winters, and far deeper snow than this.  We have had more snow, however, in the last ten years than we had earlier in my life.”

            “That is true enough,” the Steward said.

            “And are you finding your way well enough about the Citadel?” Húrin asked.

            “I still at times find myself asking passing pages and Guardsmen where certain rooms are,” she answered.  “Although I have not as yet become wholly lost--although that may yet happen,” she added.

            “And of what boring business has our father had you speaking?” Boromir asked, having poured his goblet full from a carafe he’d brought from the sideboard.

            “We were discussing the apparent theft of fullers earth from the stores within the laundries,” she answered.

            The meal was lively enough at first, with Lord Boromir mostly leading the conversation.  He appeared to have little interest in possible thefts from the laundries, and soon after the Standing Silence was complete turned the conversation to the spring tournament to be held in Lossarnach at the equinox.  “I intend to win the gold spurs from Forlong’s nephew Daerdion,” he said.  “They should never have gone to him last year.”

            “There was no way you could have won them last spring, brother,” Faramir said thoughtfully, “with your shoulder healing as it was.”

            Húrin explained, “He wrenched his shoulder on a climbing exercise, and so was unable to take part in the tournament.  I think that is why he has worked as hard as he has in the last few months, as determined as he is to win those spurs.”

            “You ought to have won them,” Boromir insisted, his gaze on Faramir’s face.

            “I had no interest in them,” Faramir answered.  “I did take the prize for archery, which was the only one that mattered to me.”

            “And the one for stealth,” Boromir corrected him.

            Faramir’s shrug, Lynessë decided, was very much the same as was his father’s.  “I have been training for some time to take command of the Rangers, after all.”

            “And the best of captains you shall be for them, little brother,” Boromir assured him.

            And so the talk went on for some time.  Their food served, the valet had been dismissed and all ate and spoke informally, Lord Boromir pouring for the others with a liberal hand.  The subject of the tournament at last exhausted, he sat back with his goblet, turning it between his fingers, listening as his father and brother and Húrin discussed decreasing trade in the free ports to the south.  “It is an indication, I fear,” Húrin said thoughtfully, “of the Enemy’s growing influence in Harad and Khand.  And those merchants who do come to trade tend to carry goods of poorer quality, and far smaller quantities.  It would appear that the Farozi and the Klifas are putting more thought into building armies and stockpiles of weapons rather than in encouraging artisans and farmers to develop surpluses of food and mere trade goods.”

            In time the others also fell silent.  At last Faramir directed his attention toward his brother.  “You have had little to say for quite some time,” he said.

            “What can I say?  The Enemy is not yet moving, but he shifts the weight of his attention.  There have been more assaults on our trading convoys by ships that fly no flags, although it is plain that those of Harad and those of Umbar are equally involved.  Companies come and go between the Black Gate and Rhûn while we entertain simpering emissaries whose slippery words are meaningless, who then hurry back to their own lands to report on what troupe movements they have become aware.  Théoden has sent word of assaults on his horse herds and the theft ever of black steeds, and the burning of six villages since the autumn equinox that were far enough from the Gap of Rohan they ought to have been untroubled.”

            He raised one foot to rest on the corner of the seat of his chair as he turned to search the face of his father.  “The final battles keep coming closer, sir.  I find it hard to keep up the morale of the armies when we ever feel ourselves waiting under the shadow of threat from Mordor.  The desire to have something--something definite to face is there.”

            “Yet it is not up to us to move first,” Denethor cautioned his son.

            “Perhaps not, Father; but it is still a thing to be wished.”

            “The time is not yet,” Denethor repeated, turning his gaze to the wine remaining in his own cup.  “The time comes ever closer, yes.  But the Nameless One does not yet wield all the power he would have in his hands ere he makes his move on us.  Nay, he is still building his strength.  And while he builds his strength, we must do the same.”

            “With not enough income from trade?” Faramir asked, his expression matching that of his brother.  “How do we pay for new swords to be made, for new armies to be formed?  He does not care that the common folk of Khand and Rhûn and Harad must starve that resources are given instead to the warlords for the building of their forces.  We, however, will not do such things--build up strength in arms at the cost of our women, children, elderly, and artisans.”

            “Then we must do as we ever have done--make do as best we can,” Denethor said.  “If we must build slowly, then we will build slowly.  But we will build.”

            Again there was a prolonged silence.  At last Húrin sought to break it.  “So, Master Balstador investigates those who are involved in the thefts of fullers earth from the Citadel’s stores?  What specifically does he seek to know?”

            With a sideways glance at Lord Denethor, Lynessë answered, “Whether the thefts are due to need--or mere greed.”

            “Not that the thefts stemming from need make them any the less criminal,” the Steward said grimly.

            Faramir again seemed to be plumbing the depths of his father’s feelings on the subject.  “If it proves that the proceeds of the thefts are used to feed children who otherwise must starve, would you offer as harsh a punishment as you would to those who merely seek to increase already overabundant wealth?”  He seemed genuinely curious.

            “Is the loss to the victim of the theft any the less in the one case than the other?” demanded his father.

            “It is not as if the Citadel could not afford to absorb some such losses,” Faramir began, but his father interrupted him.

            “So, my son, is it incumbent on those who have wealth to allow themselves to be robbed as they can afford it?  That is a dangerous argument to make, you will find, that those who have abundance, as they can survive thefts, should therefore forgive them that those who have less may have a bit more at their expense.  And, as Mistress Lynessë pointed out to me ere your arrival, a theft from the Citadel is tantamount to treason against the realm.”

            Lynessë felt her cheeks begin to burn.  “That is not what I said.  I said that it was true a rich man who stole from the Citadel was guilty of stealing from the entire City, perhaps....”

            She saw a swiftly mastered smile of triumph on his face.  “Is a man who is poor who has stolen any less a thief than one who was rich to begin with?” he asked.  “Does a thief cease to be a thief when he is poor?”

            “Well, no----”

            “Then if one who is rich who steals from the Citadel steals from the entire City as you have admitted, and from the entire realm of Gondor as I have pointed out, then why is that not true of one who is poor?” he asked.

            She had no answer to that, and she saw that he counted the debate won.  Faramir, however, did not appear convinced, but wisely kept his silence.  Boromir looked from one to the other, and at last shrugged.  He glanced to the window, and gave a brief exclamation.  “Ah, the clouds are clearing.  It shall be a fair night.  What do you say, friends--shall we not go out and enjoy the beauty of the stars for a time?  And you, too, Mistress Lynessë--you must come out also!”

            “But my cloak and scarf and gloves are in my rooms,” she objected.

            “Then send to have them fetched!” Boromir insisted.  “Or, better yet, go and fetch them now!  It will take Faramir and myself a few moments to fetch ours from our rooms upstairs!”

            “They are right, Mistress,” the Steward said unexpectedly.  “As you pointed out regarding your little maid, it is not wise for any to isolate themselves.  Here--I shall accompany you to your rooms to fetch your things, and then you shall go out with these and enjoy the stars for a time.  It bids fair to be a clear night, and there are few better places to enjoy the glory of the heavens than here at the top of the City.”  He rose and moved purposefully toward the door.  Not knowing what else to do, she rose also and followed him.

            Outside his door the guard in the niche moved to follow in their wake, and two others who waited there fell behind Lords Faramir and Boromir as they emerged with Lord Húrin.  They turned at the end of the hall to ascend the steps to the upper levels as she followed the Steward out into the wide corridor off which the residence wings opened.  As they walked toward the passage where the steps to the upper level over the Council Chamber lay, she thought suddenly of an argument to counter his earlier. 

            “My Lord,” she began.

            “Yes?”

            “What would you name one who intruded on others as a meal was ready to be served, causing the unwitting host to need to hurriedly set out another place and to think how to divide the food prepared one more way?”

            “I would call him unutterably rude and a schemer.”

            “You should do that no matter what his circumstances were?  After all, you have indicated that the thief who looks only to feed a family that might otherwise starve is as much a thief as one who seeks primarily to increase his personal wealth at the expense of others.”

            “Yes, that is so.”

            “So, you then must consider Lord Húrin to be unutterably rude and a schemer?”

            He stopped.  “What?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.

            “You did not think to entertain him at dinner, did you?  And although it is clear he came only because Lord Boromir importuned him, still he might have insisted on returning to his own house tonight and fixing his own meal as he had purposed.”

            He searched her face for a moment, and then, unwillingly, he gave a smile--a small smile, but a smile indeed, and Lynessë knew that he admired her persistence.  It was with a barely controlled feeling of triumph that she directed Cireth to help her fetch her cloak and gloves and scarf, then turned to accompany him back to his quarters.

            There in the Steward’s reception room the three younger men were ready, Faramir helping Húrin to fasten his cloak brooch.  They turned as Denethor and Lynessë entered the room, smiling as she came to join them.  Soon enough Boromir opened the door at the further side of the room and they went out into the gardens.

            Here the snow had not been trodden down, and there was decent purchase.  Together they moved further away from the building to where they could see the skies more fully.  “It is beautiful!” Lynessë finally said, looking up at the spill of stars as they glowed above like a wide ribbon of opals.

            “That they are!” agreed Boromir, and his smile appeared almost boyish.

            Together they turned toward the Hunter.  Húrin was now beside her.  “I have ever loved the winter sky,” he said.

            “Oh, yes!” she breathed.  “I doubt there is anything anywhere as fair!”

            “Oh, cousin,” Boromir said.

            “What?” Húrin asked as he turned--only to find a fistful of snow hitting him on the cheek.

            “That was not fair!” Faramir exclaimed, and immediately he’d thrown a packed ball of snow at his brother.

            It was quite a battle that they enjoyed.  It did not last particularly long, but Lynessë was intent on making certain each of the others received his fair share of her missiles.  Then Húrin was trying to put a goodly handful of the cold stuff down the neck of her dress----

            She found herself sitting upon the ground, her legs splayed, her hair and hood and shoes filled with snow, laughing at her own plight as the rest left off the battle to gallantly help her to her feet and assist her back inside.

            The Steward looked up from the book he held in his lap, and smiled at his sons and nephew and Lynessë.  “You have enjoyed yourselves?  Ah, but it appears all of you need warm baths to melt away the snow.  But first, you three need to see Mistress Lynessë back to her own quarters.  Oh, and mistress, while I awaited you I took the liberty of borrowing this from your shelves.  I hope you take no offense.  Have you enjoyed it?”

            She realized as she accepted the volume that it was the book of children’s stories, the one containing Joco and the Cornfield.  “Considering what you told me of it, I wonder, my Lord, if I should return it to your son.”  She turned to hold it out to Faramir.  “Lord Faramir, your father tells me this was originally a gift given to you.”

            He took it, his brow creased at first, then smoothing.  “Oh, yes--Mithrandir gave it me--long ago!  But I hadn’t seen it in years!  I packed it to take with me to Dol Amroth one summer, but when I arrived I could not find it in my bags.  Where did you find it?”

            From the corner of her eye she saw an expression on the Steward’s face that made her stop.  At last she said, “I have been many places throughout the Citadel in the past few days, and I saw it lying where it must have been resting ever since it fell out of your bags as you prepared to travel to Dol Amroth.  It looked rather forlorn, I thought, so I brought it to my rooms.  Your father saw it there and recognized it.”

            He smiled.  “I enjoyed it as a child, and particularly the first story of the lad fooling the wicked conjurer and getting the best of the bargain.  Whoever wrote the story down had, I thought, a wonderful sense of humor.”

            “Oh, indeed,” she agreed.  “And I thought the trick he played on the conjurer most clever.”

            He returned it to her.  “Well, since it found a way to attract your attention while I appear to have passed right by it for years and did not see it, then I think it should stay with you.  It is a book for those who have little reason to put mirth aside, I think.”

            She looked up, surprised at the serious tone, and saw that he saw himself as one who must put aside mirth as he prepared to take on his duties to the realm of Gondor.  She accepted the book and held it to her.

            But she caught one last expression in the Steward’s eyes she’d never thought to see--relief, as quickly schooled away as his other emotions.  And she realized that this book had found its way out of Faramir’s bags that long ago day in the same way her blue gown had been removed from her things before she left Pinnath Gelin for the Metarrë celebrations in Dol Amroth.  She hoped that Faramir never realized how his father had resented that that book had been gifted to him by the Grey Wizard.

            A week later a former launderer for the Citadel and his brother stood before the Steward for judgment.  Both were large, substantial men, and the brother wore what had been expensive garb, well made, and quite attractive---or it had been before he’d spent three days in the prison to the Citadel.  It was now rumpled and well in need of being cleaned,

            Lynessë watched the trial from a gallery over the back of the Hall of Kings, and with her were a number of those who served in the Citadel, including several from the laundries.

            “You have been found guilty of stealing fullers earth from the stores of the Citadel and giving it to your brother here,” the Lord Steward said to the launderer, “for his use in the preparation of his cloth.  And in so doing you allowed him to save the cost of that substance purchased on his own behalf.  So it is that you have allowed the whole of the City--indeed the whole of the realm of Gondor--to support his business that he might make an even larger profit.  For searching the records of his business indicates that he did not pass that savings on to those who purchased his cloth, not even when the purchaser was an agent of the Citadel itself.

            “It appears that these thefts have been continuing for quite some time, and now at last you have been found out.  And it falls now to me to pass judgment upon you.”

            Lynessë listened as the launderer was sentenced to be branded on hand and forehead with a T-glyph to indicate he was a thief, and then to serve six years service in the quarries, while his brother, as a receiver of stolen goods, was ordered to be flogged, was fined a substantial amount of money, and sentenced to three years service in the quarries.

            “I would do more would the law allow it,” Lord Denethor continued, “for in stealing from this house you are betraying not only your neighbors but the whole of the realm.  But I have given you the maximum penalty granted me for your crimes.  But know this:  should either of you do similarly again, you will have all your goods confiscated and be hanged before the city as traitors.  Do you understand?”

            When all was finished, she went to return to her other duties, and realized she felt little pity for the two men, who had neither one needed to do as he had done.  Actually, she felt both should have received the same penalty--both branded and both spending the same amount of time in the quarries.  Why should one who stole goods be punished more severely than the one who accepted those goods, knowing they’d been stolen?

            And a small corner of her mind wondered, If he’d been judging himself for depriving his son of that book of children’s stories, would he have found he deserved the same punishment he meted out to the launderer?

            It was, she thought, a question to be pondered.

 

An Embassy from Rhovanion

            Over the next few weeks Lynessë found herself settling into life in the Citadel.  Now and then she would find herself inexplicably homesick for her parents or Pinnath Gelin in general; but she found a feeling of rightness in serving as the Steward’s Chatelaine she’d never expected.  She found the staff respected her, and it was easy with most guests to be courteous and helpful without worrying too much for her dignity or theirs.  During her weekly dinners with the Lord Steward she found herself increasingly appreciating Lord Húrin’s assurance that indeed Denethor son of Ecthelion did have a sense of humor, although it was constantly taking her by surprise.  Once one of his subtle witticisms managed to penetrate sufficiently to draw out an unexpected laugh he had a certain smile of satisfaction he would show, and she found she enjoyed seeing that smile a good deal.

            One day she was brought to a waiting room to speak to a delegation newly come from the northern land of Dale.  She had not heard of Dale before, and knew not what to expect, save that she’d been told hastily that he who led the delegation might be young yet, but was recognized as an eminent person from his land who sought housing within the Citadel while he and his companions worked at winning his people a trade agreement that might be profitable to both sides.

            “My lord?” she said as she was led into his presence.  “I am Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin, Lord Denethor’s Chatelaine.  You have come, I understand, on a mission to promote trade?”

            He bowed.  “I am Bard son of Brand, Lord of Dale,” he explained.

            “I must confess,” she said, “that I am unacquainted with the name of your land.”

            “Our land is actually ancient, but we were driven into exile several generations ago when the last of the Dragons came out of the north to destroy the Kingdom under the Mountain.  Since the return of the proper Lords under the Mountain and the destruction of the Dragon at my grandsire’s hands we have reentered our ancestral lands and rebuilt our city and farms.  We are a land mostly of artisans, my lady, and between us and the Lords under the Mountain and the King of the Woodland Realm we have good relationships, as is true with those among whom we dwelt for the years of our exile in Esgaroth, also known as Laketown.  We would expand our trade, however, with those from the south, and so my father has sent me here with Lord Blyn in an attempt to establish better trade with Gondor.”

            “And how many are there within your party?”

            “In all, six, my lady.”

            “How many of them servants?”

            He shrugged.  “We have but one servant with us, Master Dresser who was my governor when I was yet a child and youth, for he would not see me travel unattended.”

            “And men at arms?”

            “But one, my lady.”

            She was surprised.  “But one?”

            He indicated the serviceable blade he wore.  “We do not have enough dedicated warriors to send out of our lands on missions such at this, my lady.  We are not far enough from Dol Guldur to allow our lands to be guarded by a force lessened by taking away our greatest fighting men, and each of us is trained as a warrior as well.”  He smiled grimly at her expression.  “We are a land under threat of war, my Lady Lynessë.  We are too few to command a great standing army, so all must be willing to fight to protect our homes and people.”

            “I see,” she said slowly.  “I believe that there is a suitable suite of rooms available.  Have your credentials been given the heralds that you might be properly presented before the Lord Steward Denethor?”

            “Yes--we have done that already.  King Thranduil had advised us as to the proper protocol before we left our own lands, trusting, apparently, that it would not have changed significantly since his own emissaries last visited Gondor.  Although I am advised that was quite some time ago.”

            She found herself examining him, a young man perhaps much of an age with herself, not so tall or slender as most of the nobles of Gondor but with an inborn nobility that marked him as one born to authority.  She decided she quite liked him.  “Well, my Lord Bard, I shall then lead you to the visitors’ wing and show you the suite where you might dwell, and make certain that it pleases you and meets your needs.  If you will come this way?”

            She nodded to the footman belonging to the Citadel, who carefully gathered the plates and cups about the room and the tray of refreshments, then turned to lead the party out of the chamber and back to the wide hallway beyond the Hall of Kings off which led the residential wings.

*******

            The snow had not lingered, melting away with the rain that fell late the afternoon after the snow battle in which the Steward’s sons and nephew and Lynessë had all taken part.  The weather began to warm rapidly.  Already green tips began to be seen in the gardens, while twigs were turning pink and yellow as the sap began to flow.  Lynessë began to walk out daily, and to ride out of the city when the weather was fine enough.  And she found that Lord Bard often seemed to be in the stables seeing to his own horse when she arrived to return her mare Silversheen.  They spoke as they saw their horses groomed and returned to the Citadel together, or when they met near the rose arbor behind the residential wings.

            The Steward and his Council--and his Warden of the Keys--were seldom free, it seemed.  Now that the Steward’s sons were abroad with their men, seeing to the defense of the realm, Lord Húrin seldom lingered within the Citadel when all was done, leaving to go down to his own house usually as soon as the Steward retired to his own quarters.  Council meetings were frequent, as it seemed each day there would be reports of orc incursions along the northern borders of Anórien or sights of the black sails of Umbari slavers along the coastlines.  Lord Boromir returned with news of having fought alongside his brother’s Rangers a group of trolls that had come out of the Morgul Vale; the Rangers had then turned northward to follow rumors of a large company of orcs who’d been savaging foresters harvesting trees for use in building ships in Pelargir, while Boromir’s men had returned to their quarters in the ruins of Osgiliath and he returned to the City to make his report.  Two days later he rode north and west toward Rohan, leading reinforcements requested by Théoden King against a party of marauders come down into the Mark from Dunland.

            Early in March Faramir returned home, much thinner and sterner than she remembered him, and that night she was asked to join him and his father for the evening meal.

            “We have done well enough, Father, and thanks in good part to the help of Boromir and his men.  However, they tell me he did not return to Osgiliath, but has gone instead to Rohan.”

            “Yes--there is trouble there, and Théoden requested our aid.  With you so far away within Ithilien, it made the most sense to send a different commander to Osgiliath for now, and your brother with a picked group of men to Rohan.”

            “Then he may well not return in time for the spring tournament.  He will not thank you if Daerdion retains the golden spurs.”

            Denethor gave a decided smile.  “Ah, but Daerdion will not retain them should your brother not return in time.  You see, I sent him with your brother.”

            For the first time that evening Lynessë saw a smile on Faramir’s face to match that on his father’s.  The smile widened, and he at last leaned back and laughed aloud.  “Thank you, Father!” he finally managed.  “Otherwise there would be no means of bearing with Boromir’s complaints.”

            After the meal was over the Steward asked, “And what of the man Tervain?  Does he do well, there in Ithilien?”

            Faramir wiped his mouth with his napkin and set it beside his plate.  “He does well enough, I must suppose, for one with little skill with weapons.  As he knows he will not survive if he does not cooperate with the others, he has learned to guard his tongue and do as he is told.  I have found one of my men, Ingbold of Anorien, to be a steady soul, and he watches over Tervain most of the time and has done much to improve his skill with sword and bow.  None particularly like him, but neither do they hate him outright--which disturbs him mightily.  To be considered to be of little account offends his pride, I deem.”

            After a few moments’ thought he continued, “I visited the ruins of Emyn Arnen.  To see the keep and the city there reduced to rubble as it is makes my heart wroth.  No foes dwell there, and for that I am glad; I must suppose they found it filled with too much light for them to feel any ease or comfort.  I found myself going about the place, imagining how the keep and city might be restored to its former glory.  It is a beautiful place, Ithilien.  I could be happy, dwelling there and seeing my children grow there.  Ah, to see it once again the Garden of Gondor!”

            “Yet that may not be as long as Mordor holds the western slopes of the Emyn Muil, my son.”

            “That I accept, Father.  But I intend to do what I can to see it otherwise.”

            Denethor looked away, his expression momentarily bleak.  “Do not break your heart, Faramir, seeking to break the might of the Enemy.  That is beyond the power of any one man.  Yours is to keep his forces east of the road--that is all Gondor asks of you.”

            “I will do my best, Father.”  He turned to Lynessë.  “And you, Mistress--has any managed to equal Master Fendril for outrageous behavior?”

            She laughed.  “Thankfully, no!  But I must confess I have much difficulty understanding how anyone could become convinced that by using a water closet he can somehow manage to be unmanned.”

            Faramir shrugged as he took a sip from his goblet.  “There are many within Anórien who are descended more from the folk of Dunland and Rohan than from the Dúnedain,” he said as he placed the goblet once more on the table.  “More of the villages and keeps have no sewer systems or cesspits, relying instead on middens and occasional open latrines as is done within most of those other lands.  They look with suspicion on the practices of the southern realm, and have developed superstitions to excuse their own customs and ways.  If a child is infected by exposure to filth, they are certain that someone capable of magic has laid a curse on it rather than seeking to keep the land more healthfully.  The same if a man suffers from the grippe from eating tainted meats--it is not because the meat has begun to turn or has been visited by flies and other vermin, but because of the ill will of a supposed witch.

            “It seems most are convinced there are evil spirits on all sides at the same time they publicly deny such things even exist.  Few speak Sindarin, and fewer will admit to speaking any language but Westron as many are convinced that to speak Sindarin is to call upon evil spirits and demons of several kinds, while those who speak other tongues are often taken for spies.”

            Lynessë was surprised such things could be so anywhere within the realm, but then remembered some of the superstitions she had seen practiced in more protected villages near Pinnath Gelin, where chains of flowers were often hung from so-called “Mother Trees” when a girl sought to meet the one who would be her husband, and where blue-colored stones were left near a particular tree along a waterway if a woman desired a son, and green ones should she desire a daughter, and white ones if she merely desired any child as long as it was healthy and would thrive.

            But somehow those superstitions seemed a good deal more--pleasant and hopeful--than thinking one could be unmanned by using a water closet or thinking that there were evil spirits on all sides waiting to assault one!

            After the dinner Faramir walked her back to her rooms.  “Have you seen much of Húrin since I must be gone?” he asked.

            She shook her head.  “Not as much as I had--expected.  He is often busy on the Steward’s business, and I am told he is often called upon to deal with some of the more difficult of the lords who would see their own projects favored at the expense of the rest of the realm.  It appears he is better able to coax compromises from others than is Lord Denethor, and so our Lord Steward uses him to more gently effect his own will.  Most evenings he seems to hurry out of the Citadel to his own home in the Sixth Circle so as to make it more difficult for him to be called upon.”

            Faramir sighed.  “Alas, for it appears that Father has begun to use him again more frequently since I left to take up my duties in Ithilien.  And I assure you it can be very trying to bring certain lords of the realm out of the defenses they have erected to protect their own interests to see that such walls too oft send the dangers off to prey on their neighbors.”

            She nodded her understanding.

            “At least,” he added, “Father appears to be allowing him time away from duty once he leaves the Citadel and its grounds.  I suppose I must be grateful for that.”

            They had reached her own rooms, and she invited him in to share a mug of an herbal drink intended to aid rest.  Cireth was yet awake, reading the small storybook, and scurried off to set water to boil and prepare cups and a tray, and left the volume upon the table.  He smiled as he sat down upon the padded settle, reaching out to pick up the volume and examine it.  “It is good to see others enjoying this as I did once,” he said, having checked to see which tale the girl had been reading, then carefully replacing it where it had been left.  “Mithrandir was certain I would appreciate this one--he said that the tales had been set down by a friend of his, and bound at the request of another.  He said they came from a small land somewhere to the north.  I tried to imagine the folk who must dwell in that land, which appears from the nature of the tales to be given mostly to farming.” 

            Spotting the shelf of books, he rose to approach it, examining the others there.  “Aha--the books of pictures!  I remember those from my own childhood.  They used to be among Boromir’s favorites, although when he left to begin his serious training with the army he requested they be returned to the store room where extra books are kept that others might enjoy them.”  He pulled out one and leafed through it, then replaced it, and paused, his attention drawn by the other book bound as was his old book of tales.  “And what is this?”

            He drew it out also, opening it and looking at the inscription.  “Quenya!” he breathed.  “Not Sindarin, but Quenya.  To my younger son.  May you never doubt my love for you, although what you desire most must seem as unreachable to you as the love sought by Beren.” He examined it thoughtfully, then closed the book and turned it within his hands.  “The same binding as the other!  Then it, too, must originally have come from the north.  The Lay of Leithien.  And perhaps the finest copy of that epic that I have yet seen.  But how came it here?”  He looked up to search her face.

            “I found it among the books in the storehouses when I was furnishing my rooms,” she admitted.  “And as the binding matched that of the other book....”

            He turned to look down on the volume that lay upon the table, and she could see his jaw clench.  “I see.  Left, perhaps, by one of those from among the Lost who have served among our folk?”

            Cireth returned with a tray on which lay the two cups filled with a steaming beverage.  He returned the book in his hands to the shelf.  “And have you read it?” he asked.

            “I have picked it up but once.  I am reading another book suggested by Lord Bard from Dale.  He found it a few days ago at a bookseller’s stall in the market in the Fourth Circle, and felt I would appreciate it.  A book of tales of dragons.”

            “Ah,” he said as he resumed his seat and accepted his cup.  “Then tell me of this Lord Bard, and of what he says of Dale.”

            He did not stay much longer, but she grieved as she watched him go, for she suspected he had been able to reason out how it was that the book of childish tales had managed to “fall” out of his luggage so long ago.  What a grievous thing to think on!

 *******

            Three more days did Faramir remain within Minas Tirith, and the last night she was invited by Lord Húrin to dine at his home alongside the Steward and his younger son.  As she was walking toward the side entrance to the Citadel most often used by its residents, she was intercepted by Lord Bard.

            “My Lady Lynessë--it is a pleasure!  But, does this mean you will not be dining with us tonight?”

            She smiled.  “Lord Bard?  Ah, but I fear you are correct.  I shall be dining with others down in the Sixth Circle this evening.  Although I almost hate the thought of eating elsewhere, as I have been told there shall be roast pork tonight, and the cooks appear to do particularly well with that.”

            She heard the tapping of approaching heels on the marble flags, and turned to see her intended companions approaching, followed by a pair of Guardsmen.  “Mistress Lynessë?” said the Steward.  “Very good--you are ready in good time, then.  My Lord Bard--and how did your meetings go today with the Guild of Merchant Adventurers?”

            “Very well indeed, my Lord Denethor.  My father will be well pleased, and I believe so will the King under the Mountain.”

            “You have not spoken much about the lord of your lands.”

            “No, I must suppose not.  But then our lands are not extensive, and I suspect you would find our halls rather rustic in comparison to your own.”

            “We have had but little chance as yet to speak informally.  Wait--I have it!  You shall accompany us tonight and join us, that we might speak more of matters of home and hearth rather than trade and state.”

            Lynessë was surprised by his suggestion, then noted the sideways glance he gave her, and the small smile that accompanied it.  He is doing this on purpose, because of what I suggested regarding Lord Húrin, she realized.  I do believe he enjoys seeing others somewhat wrongfooted at times!

            “I am not certain that this would be proper,” Bard began to protest, but the Steward overrode him.

            “Nonsense.  This is an informal dinner, and a perfect chance for us to come to know more about your lands and folk and their history.”

            Realizing that he would not be allowed to beg off, at last Bard agreed, calling to a page who had been heading for his own dinner and sending him off to his suite to fetch his cloak.  Within a few minutes the elderly companion he had identified to Lynessë as having been his governor when he was younger arrived carrying a cloak over his arm, followed by the one man at arms who’d accompanied the party from Rhovanion.

            “Here, Master Bard--your cloak.  And you will use your hood, will you not?  There is a heavy mist tonight.  Your mother will not thank me if I were to allow you to take a chill.”

            Bard flushed slightly as he settled the cloak over his shoulders.  “I promise, Master Dresser.  My mother shall have no reason to chide you for your care for me.”

            She caught the shared look of affection between the two men, and then Master Dresser was indicating that the guard should follow his master as the Steward turned to lead the way toward the door.  Faramir, she realized, was eyeing his father as if weighing the Steward’s motives, although he spoke pleasantly to their new companion.

            The individual who opened to their knock was Húrin’s aide Leonid.  “My Lords?  Mistress Lynessë?  Welcome!  And--Lord Bard--welcome!  I shall advise Lord Húrin of your arrival.”  So saying, he led them into a dayroom that appeared to be equally elegant and comfortable, indicating they should seat themselves.  A servitor who appeared to be much of an age with the Steward hastily added another cup to his tray and came to offer each a choice of a particularly nice cider or mulled wine.

            They heard a clattering on the stair, and Húrin joined them, accompanied by Leonid.  “Ah, Uncle--I understand you have increased the party by one.  Lord Bard?  Leonid, please take my lord’s man at arms to the servant’s hall that he might be comfortable while he awaits his master.  And who accompanied you tonight, Uncle?  Anglor and Lessardion?  Certainly both do not need to stand without!  Let one accompany Lord Bard’s man, and he will be better set to serve later in the evening.  With this heavy mist, standing guard will be miserable work, I fear.  Here--let me take your cloaks.  Ah, fine weaving, this, Lord Bard.  Is it the product of your own folk, then?  The color is most pleasing, and it appears both warm and comfortable.”

            The servant, having set his tray upon a side table, now came to relieve his master’s arm of the cloaks laid across it and to bear them away.  In moments they were all seated, and Lynessë could hear the quiet voice of the servant informing someone that it would be needful to set another place at table.

            Húrin continued, “It is as well that Rienstra baked two sturgeon, then.  You do not mind being served fish, do you, my Lord Bard?”

            Had the young lord from Dale felt uncomfortable, that did not last in the face of Húrin’s welcome.

            “Tell us of Dale,” suggested Faramir once the meal was well begun.

            “What can I say?  We have but one city, that of Dale at the foot of the Lonely Mountain.  It is built within a ring of stone standing out from the roots of the mountain itself.  All has been rebuilt from the days of the Dragon, for Smaug had reduced most of it to rubble, I fear.  But the King under the Mountain helped in the rebuilding, and all is stouter than it was before.  And our allies from the woodland realm to our west have helped us restore the ancient groves of trees that the Dragon had reduced to charred stumps, while we have again begun cultivating our fields, orchards, and vineyards.  We ever raised sheep and goats as much for their wool as for their meat and the milk they give, and we have woodsmen who help manage the forestlands from which we take the wood for our boxes, toys, and crafts.

            “We have nearly returned to the numbers we knew before the coming of the Dragon, and there are many from Esgaroth who have joined us as well, as well as some of the woodsmen and horsefolk from further north.  We even have a few of the Beornings among us as of three years past--they came with their hives and honey and their fine baking.  We are honored they would choose to settle among us!

            “The pride of Dale, however, was restored the day our bells were returned to us, found in the midst of the mass of treasure taken by Smaug to form his couch!  We have finally finished the carillon once more, and merry are the bells when our ringers set them to chiming the tunes of our people and those of the folk of the Mountain!”

            “Bells?” asked Lynessë.

            “Indeed.  We were ever famous for our bells.  There are thirty-five of them, each tuned.  Not all of the bells were found, I will admit--three of the smallest were lost.  Whether the Dragon swallowed them or they formed part of the armor that protected his belly we do not know.  However, the folk of the Mountain have helped us replace those that were lost, and worked alongside our own folk in the rebuilding of the carillon.  And the folk of the Wood brought us wood for the framework, and fine ropes to use in the stringing of it.  We are fortunate in our alliances, we find.”

            “And there was a live dragon there, there in your part of the world?” asked Faramir, his attention fixed on the tale the foreign lord was telling.

            “Yes--Smaug is said to have been the last of the Dragons.  Long ago he came out of the north, from Angmar itself, it is said.  It has been told us that the Dark Lord himself called him to the Lonely Mountain, promising him the treasures of Dale and the Mountain for his own, and the bodies of all he could catch to consume.  Many died there, including our Lord King and most who dwelt before and under the Mountain itself.  But the son of our King escaped and was accepted in exile by the folk of the Long Lake.  A valiant man was he.  As for the King under the Mountain and his people, the few who survived went north to the Iron Hills or west across the Misty Mountains to the Blue Mountains, and we saw them not for several generations.

            “One day there was a stir within Laketown, and it was told abroad that the King under the Mountain had returned--not he who had been last King, but he who was his heir, and certain of his kindred, and they went accompanied by a small person from among the peoples west of the Misty Mountains to the Mountain itself to seek out a way to regain the lands and fortunes Smaug had stolen from them.  They awoke the Dragon, who being convinced the folk of Laketown were behind this assault on his stolen realm, came forth to take vengeance.  Only my grandsire slew him, and he fell with ruin upon the last of Laketown and lies now as he has this seventy years since, deep in the waters of the Long Lake.

            “Esgaroth has also been rebuilt upon piers sunk into the lake’s bed, and on its original site, although now there are almost as many buildings along the lake’s shore as there are over its waters.  It is a land of traders and fishermen, and their prosperity has flourished also since the Dragon died.”

            He sighed.  “If it were not for the continued presence of evil within Dol Guldur all would be well with us.  Although the Necromancer fled years ago, yet his creatures remain and continue the spread of evil and fear as they can.  Orcs, wargs, the great bats that thrive on blood--they are ever a bane to us.  And it is said that once more the great spiders begin to breed within the forest realm, troubling those who dwell there and trapping those who must travel the woodland roads as their prey.  It is said that Khamûl is lord of the evil keep now, ever a name to spread terror.”

            There was quiet for a time.  At last Lynessë ventured, “I had no idea that any Dragons remained within Middle Earth.”

            “As I told you, it is believed Smaug was the last of his kind, unless there remain a few yet to the far north, beyond the borders of Angmar.  The Witch-king may not dwell in those lands any longer, but as with Dol Guldur it remains a place of evil men and creatures, or so those who come from further north tell us, and that this is true on both sides of the Misty Mountains.  Perhaps it was on the word of the Witch-king that the Enemy knew to draw the dragon south to Erebor.  It was feared that as the Dark Lord reached his former strength at last he would use the dragon against the armies of those who would withstand him, and that he would send it possibly here, here to Gondor, to wreak what havoc he could.”  He turned to meet the Steward’s eyes.  “I suspect, Lord Denethor, that your people owe my grandsire a debt of gratitude for seeing to it that Smaug was destroyed and so could not be loosed against you.”

            Denethor nodded, somewhat reluctantly, Lynessë judged.  “Indeed, so it would appear.  But would he use such a creature against other lands?”

            “Why would he not?  It is told among us that he has in the past used great grey beasts from the south and east against his enemies, creatures as large as buildings and with what appears a strange arm hanging from their heads and great spears from their jaws.”

            Faramir gave his father a troubled look.  “Mûmakil?” he asked.

            “Most probably,” the Steward answered.

            There had been growing a sound of voices outside the house, and suddenly there was a great knocking at the doors.  Leonid went to answer, and they heard a low discourse before he returned.  “My Lord Denethor--I regret I must interrupt your evening, but a messenger comes from Dol Amroth.  Three Umbari raiders engaged one of our warships.  The messenger was sent at speed by Lord Imrahil with details and what information was wrested from the captives.”

            “Then our ship was victorious?”

            “So it would seem.”

            “I see.  Then I fear, my beloved nephew, that I must return to the Citadel immediately so as to judge the news that is brought.  Faramir--would you please attend me?”

            Leonid was calling for the cloaks of the Steward and his son, and Bard said, “I shall accompany the lady back to the Citadel, then, and see her safe to her quarters.”

            Denethor gave him a look, and at last gave a slow nod.  “Yes--please do that, Lord Bard.”  As the servant came forth with the desired cloaks he accepted his own and drew it over his shoulders, fastening it even as he strode to the door with Faramir at his heels.

            “I will follow, my lord uncle, to see to it the doors to the armories are opened to you if it is found necessary.”  Húrin sighed, turning to his remaining guests.  “I am so very sorry.”

            “Nonsense,” Lynessë assured him.  “We do understand that you must be ready to meet the needs of our Lord Steward and Gondor when such troubles arise.”

            She arose also, finding Bard had risen to draw back her chair.  She thanked him absently, and prepared to return to the Citadel herself.

            But she did notice that Húrin appeared disturbed by the fact that she walked with her arm upon that of Bard of Dale.  For some reason she found herself feeling lighter of heart at that.

 

Interference

            As she entered the Citadel with her arm on that of Lord Bard of Dale, Lynessë was met by the Seneschal.  “Mistress Lynessë, there are guests from Pinnath Gelin.”

            Her flush from her morning ride left her. 

            Bard examined her with concern.  “This is unwelcome news?” he asked.

            “If it is who I fear has come, it is not so much unwelcome as most likely awkward,” she answered quietly.  

            “But you said that you have lived most recently in Pinnath Gelin, did you not?  Then you would know----”  He paused, and his face grew more sympathetic.  “Ah, I see.  Then your parents are--difficult?”

            “Not my adar, actually.  However, Naneth is quite a different matter.  It is not so much that she is difficult as it is that she is--intrusive.”

            “I appear to have been fortunate with my own parents, then,” he said, obviously amused.  “Ah, well, as I am to attend Lord Denethor’s Council meeting in an hour’s time I will leave you to deal with the arrival of whoever it is that has come.”

            He was bowing deeply as Endorë of Pinnath Gelin appeared, hurrying to greet her daughter.  “Oh, but Lynessë, my beloved, darling child--how wonderful to see you!  How long it has been since you left us!  Are you well?  Are you happy here?  All speak well of you, by the way--I am so very proud!”  At that point she stopped, her attention arrested by the sight of a man leaning over her daughter’s hand.  Her eyes lit further.  “And who is this?”

            Embarrassed, Lynessë made introductions:  “Naneth, Lord Bard son of Brand of Dale.  He is here in the Citadel with a trade delegation.  Lord Bard, my mother, Endorë of Pinnath Gelin, sister to the lord of Pinnath Gelin.  And my adar--where is he?”

            “He is with your uncle accepting the welcome of our party to the Citadel, chick.  Lord Bard--and where is Dale?”

            Bard gave Lynessë a swift glance before returning his attention to her mother.  “Dale is a very small land far to the north, far east of the valley of the Anduin.  We lie in the folds of the roots of the Lonely Mountain.  We boast mostly artisans and farmers.  It was suggested by Gandalf the Grey and by his companion that we seek a trade agreement with Gondor, so a party was sent to do just that.”

            “Gandalf the Grey?”

            “I am told that he is known here as Mithrandir rather than as Gandalf, which is how most to the north address him.”

            “I see,” Endorë said, obviously not impressed by the mention of the itinerant Wizard.  “Then you are here to represent your Guild of Merchants, then?”

            “My cousin Blyn is here to represent our merchants, Mistress.  I am here more on behalf of my father, as King of Dale.”

            Endorë’s attitude changed markedly with this, and both her expression and her voice became far more respectful.  “Oh, I see, my Lord Bard!  And your father is the King for your people?  How wonderful!  And you were recommended to us by Mithrandir?”

            “Now that our lands are well recovered from the depredations of Smaug and our fortunes restored and even improved upon, we have need of good trading partnerships, Mistress Endorë.  I grieve that I must take my leave of you,” he added as the bell tolled the third hour, “but I promised Lord Denethor and my cousin I would attend today’s Council meeting, and I must ready myself.  Ladies....”  And with a graceful flourish he turned and retreated.

            Endorë, Lynessë noted with dismay, was watching after him with her eyes bright with her own imaginings--not a good sign when dealing with her mother, in the younger woman’s experience.

            “A King’s son,” Endorë was murmuring half under her breath.

            “Nana, please do not think of it!” Lynessë protested, knowing it was already too late for that.

            “What do you know of his kingdom?” her mother asked as Lynessë began determinedly walking toward the stairs to the upper level, the older woman hurrying to keep up.

            “Very small land in the midst of several other small lands, from what he has told me.  Now, how did you get here?”

            “We came with your uncle, of course.  There is the spring tournament approaching, and your cousin wished to see her betrothed take part in it, for of course Lord Hirluin has been invited to compete.  Has a similar invitation been made to Lord Bard, do you know?”

            “Naneth, how on earth could you expect me to know----  Oh, Lord Húrin!”  She paused there near the foot of the stairs to the upper level to allow the Steward’s nephew to complete his descent.

            His eyes brightened at the sight of her.  “Ah--Mistress Lynessë, you have returned!  Cireth had told me you had gone riding.”

            “Oh, yes--I have only now returned.  You wished to speak with me?”

            “I had intended to ask you to ride out with me this morning, but at the last moment word came of the arrival of the ship from Pelargir, and so my Lord Uncle has had me busy meeting with Lord Hirluin and Lord Elstror on their arrival.  I fear you shall need to go to greet them properly as soon as you are suitably attired.”

            She nodded thoughtfully.  “Yes, I see.  Then I had best hurry to change.  But tomorrow perhaps we can ride out together, if there is time?”

            He smiled.  “It would be my pleasure, Lynessë.”

            “It will also, I hope, give us time to confer about the Mistress of the Stillroom.”

            He gave a small, almost tired laugh.  “Yes, if you wish.”  He turned to Endorë and reached to take her hand.  “I pray your pardon, Mistress Endorë, that I must leave my greeting to you for the last, but I have but little time before the meeting of the Council and have yet to fetch certain reports that must be shared with the others.  But it is a great pleasure to greet you.  And I understand you will be attending the spring tournament?  Then it would be my great honor if you could gift me with your favor for it.”

            Lynessë had seldom seen her mother at a loss for words, and the spectacle, she decided, was well worth watching.  “Why--why, I would be most delighted to do so!” she at last managed to assure him.

            “Then I will fight the better for it, Mistress, knowing I fight as your champion,” he said gallantly, bowing over her hand.  She was flushing like a maid, and her daughter thought her mother appeared remarkably young and attractive at the moment.

            “And what events will you compete in?” Lynessë stayed him to ask.

            “Swordsmanship and javelins from horseback,” he said, smiling at her.  “I do not know if Faramir will be able to leave his post long enough to attend, after all.  And if Boromir does not return in time from Rohan then there must be someone to attend to uphold the family honor!  And your husband, Mistress Endorë--as I recall he was a master with the thrown dirk.  Could he be prevailed upon, do you think, to enter that competition?”  Then as the bell tolled indicating the half hour he straightened.  “Please to excuse me,” he said.  “It would not do to be late today.  Mistresses....”  His bow was particularly courtly, and in return Endorë sank into a most graceful courtesy as he turned to hasten on his way.

            Endorë looked after him as she rose to her feet again.  “He is a most charming soul,” she said, her eyes particularly bright.

            “I must also make haste,” Lynessë sighed, then turned to lead the way up the stairs.

            “I thought you were to have quarters in the Steward’s own wing?”

            “There were actually three suites from which I might make my selection,” Lynessë explained over her shoulder.  “I preferred this one.”

            “This Cireth----” her mother panted as Lynessë reached the top of the flight.

            “My lady’s maid.  I was allowed to choose from among the younger girls, and she is proving very suitable.”

            It was swiftly plain, however, that Endorë questioned that evaluation as Cireth held open the doors to admit them.  “Young--very young,” she commented quietly as she entered the sitting room. 

            Her daughter shot her a glare indicating she should be careful what she said as she introduced the older woman to the young maid.  “Naneth, this is Cireth, whose family has served the Citadel for more generations than I can count.  Cireth is one of the most talented individuals I have yet found to dress my hair.  My mother, Endorë, sister of Lord Elstror of Pinnath Gelin.”

            Cireth bobbed a curtsey, turning to Lynessë.  “Welcome, Mistress Endorë.  If you please, mistress, Lord Húrin was here to speak with you, and left this message for you.”  She drew from beneath her apron a folded missive and gave it into Lynessë’s hands.  “And I have a bath drawn for you and your gown set out, as you shall need to greet Lords Hirluin and Elstror, or at least their ladies.  If you will hurry I shall have time to set your hair in order.”

            Well, Lynessë thought as she hurried to her chamber to divest herself of her riding habit, her mother could find little if anything to complain about concerning Cireth’s competence as a lady’s maid.  All indeed was in order, and Cireth was already taking the discarded riding garb to the airing cupboard to be brushed and hung over pleasantly scented steam to freshen it even as Lynessë was entering the bath.  When she emerged a quarter of a mark later she found Endorë comfortably seated with a cup of sweetly scented herbal drink in hand and a plate of small cakes beside her, watching Cireth as she straightened cushions, a dusting cloth caught under her arm. 

            “I looked about a small amount, my chick,” Endorë said, setting her cup down on the small tray.  “And I must say that the apartment does appear to be beautifully kept.”

            Lynessë caught the brief hint of delight at the compliment that Cireth swiftly schooled from her face, and was glad her mother had managed to praise the girl’s industry.  “Well, I fear I must borrow Cireth to help get the laces to my dress tied and my hair properly groomed.  If you will pardon me, please, Naneth?”  And as she returned to her own bedchamber, Cireth followed obediently.

            Soon she was back, and taking the book from her mother’s hand, Lynessë urged Endorë to her feet.  “Surely you will come with me as I greet my aunt and cousins in the Lord Steward’s name, will you not, Nana?  I am certain that as of now my uncle and Lord Hirluin will have joined Lord Denethor in the Council Chamber.”  She handed the book to Cireth, smiling her thanks, and led her mother away.

            “And what are you doing with a children’s book in your collection?” asked Endorë as her daughter led the way toward the back stair down into the cross-hall off of which the residential wings opened.

            “It was Faramir’s when he was a child.  He hoped I would enjoy it,” Lynessë answered, not wishing to let her mother know how she’d come to find it in the storage room.

            At that Endorë’s expression brightened.  The younger woman realized her mother was most pleased at the thought that a foreign prince and the Steward’s younger son both appeared to favor her daughter.  Well, let her entertain her fantasies, if only for the moment.  She hurried down the stair and toward the door to the guest wing, where the guards even now were opening the doors.

            It was at the moment they began to cross the hall that suddenly there could be heard the hurried, clipped tramp of riding boots and the clink of weapons from the back entrance into the Hall of Kings as a group of armed Men entered.  “I must hurry--Father will wish me to address the Council,” said a familiar voice, and all within the hallway were suddenly bowing to welcome the unheralded arrival of the Steward’s Heir as Boromir, Captain of Gondor’s armies and Warden of the White Tower, hurried toward the entrance to the Steward’s wing, followed by two of his captains.

            “Well,” Lynessë found herself saying to her mother as she watched Boromir absently salute the guards at the doors and disappear behind them with his companions, “it does appear that he has returned in time for the Spring Tournament!”

            She turned to see another party being led by the Housekeeper halted in the halls, all eyes turned toward the doors through which Boromir had passed.  This was comprised of a number of women and a youth, on whose arm walked a young lady whose beauty was as remarkable as her height.  In fact, Lynessë thought her quite the tallest woman she’d ever seen.  She frowned.  Was this the one of whom Húrin’s note had made mention, the Lady Aldúnieth, the one so many referred as the Lady Butterfly?  Seeing the acquisitive expression in the young woman’s eyes, Denethor’s chosen Chatelaine quickly decided that she did not believe she quite liked her.

            “Mistress Tindriel--I am newly come, and will gladly bring these to their quarters,” she said smoothly, hurrying forward to relieve the Housekeeper.  She turned to the party.  “My ladies, master, I am Mistress Lynessë, Lord Denethor’s Chatelaine.  And this is my mother, Mistress Endorë of Pinnath Gelin.  She, too, is newly come to Minas Tirith this day.  You, I understand, are Lady Elantiel from Amon Dîn in Anórien?”

            The oldest of the ladies, who was some thirty years at least older than Lynessë’s mother, nodded regally.  “My granddaughter, Aldúnieth, and her younger brother Rigil; their mother Faralieth, formerly of Bavarin in Lossarnach; and my late son’s wife Argent of Lebennin.  My older son Daerloth has gone with our Lord Denethor to the meeting of the Council.”

            There was a hint of reproof that Lynessë had not arrived in a more timely manner.  She gathered about her a cordiality she did not believe she actually felt, and inclined her head politely.  “I grieve that I was not within the Citadel for your arrival, but rejoice that I am now able to greet you.  If I might show you to the chambers prepared for you?”

            The Housekeeper murmured which rooms had been chosen for the party, and Lynessë nodded her understanding.  She acknowledged the woman’s curtsey, and turned to lead Lady Elantiel and her family toward the door to the guest wing, taking them to a suite of rooms at the far end of the hall, near the reception area where guests might mingle in the evening, or entertain others during their stay.  A senior maid awaited them, curtseying as she opened the doorway for them.

            Lady Elantiel entered first, examining the common room of the suite with a cool gaze, then nodding her approval.  She then beckoned Aldúnieth and her brother inside, followed by the two older women, and at last the three servitors who had accompanied them.  “Our guardsmen have already been shown to the barracks in the Sixth Circle,” she said.  “Yes, these will do.”

            “Then I will leave you in Mistress Lindien’s hands,” Lynessë said pleasantly.  “You have seen to it refreshments are laid ready for these?” she asked the maidservant.

            “Indeed,” the woman said.  “There are fruits and cheeses and flatbread upon the table here, my lady, and both wine and fine cider from the orchards of the Pelennor.  And if there is anything else you would have me obtain for you?”

            But Lady Elantiel was examining the bedchambers.  “Ah!  Here, Aldúnieth, my dearest jewel--this will suit you well.  Do you not agree?” she asked, beckoning her granddaughter to the chamber that ordinarily would have gone to the maiden’s parents.  Two much smaller chambers she indicated would be perfect for Rigil and Mistress Argent.  A chamber smaller than that she had chosen for Aldúnieth she said would be perfect for Lord Daerloth and Lady Faralieth, who did her best to hide her frustration that her daughter was better housed than she and her husband.  She herself took the largest of the chambers, and indicated that one maid should sleep in the closet attached to her room, and the other across the door in the room she’d chosen for Aldúnieth.  The male servant took the smallest of the bedchambers, ready to serve on Lord Daerloth, and it appeared that this group was settled.  Lynessë asked if they should prefer to eat in the common hall or in their rooms, and at last withdrew to hurry to the other end of the wing where she had a far more cordial meeting with her aunt and cousin.

 *

            The Steward dined in the common dining hall that night with his guests, Lord Boromir on his right and Lord Bard on his left.  His smile seemed less sardonic to Lynessë than was usual with him, and several times she caught his subtle jests as they were delivered.  Lord Hirluin appeared glad to see Boromir returned, but the same was not true of many of the other younger lords who intended to take part in the Spring Tournament.  Lord Daerloth was congenial; his wife was pompous; his daughter kept leaning over to keep herself within Boromir’s view, so that he could admire her swan-like neck, from what Lynessë could tell; Rigil barely spoke at all, appearing abashed to be in such company.

            “And how went the campaign within Rohan?” asked Daerloth.

            Boromir paused in the lifting of his goblet.  “Well enough, my lord.  We managed to throw back the invaders, working side by side with Théoden and his son Théodred.  Most appear to have been Dunlendings, but others appear to have come from further north--their gear and their clothing was different.”

            Denethor was immediately alert.  “How so?” he asked.

            Boromir shrugged as he sipped from his goblet, then set it on the table.  “Many wore cloaks and heavy hauberks or long vests made of pelts of sheep and goats with the wool turned inwards, as if they came from far colder climes.  Many had heavy mittens and gauntlets of sheepskin, and their boots were much the same.  The work seemed very clumsy much of the time, but certainly effective against the cold.  And, yes, it was colder there near the Gap of Rohan than it is here, but not that much colder.  Mostly we were facing drizzling rain that appeared to seep into everything.”

            “Did you take any prisoners?” Denethor persisted.

            “Not many, for they proved fierce fighters who would not willingly accept defeat.  I believe that Théoden took two of them prisoner in the end, and I believe he set his young adviser, Gríma son of Gálmód, to question him.  Gálmód was himself half Dunlending, and his son knows more of the northern tongues than does anyone else within Edoras or Meduseld.  But their language is not any I have heard before.”

            “Not Adúnaic as it is spoken within Umbar?”

            “No, Father--most unlike the language of the Umbari.  Rather uncouth, really.”

            “Any common sigils among them?”

            Now Boromir shrugged uncomfortably.  “Wolfs’ heads, mostly.  And on a few a half moon and skull.”

            Lynessë could not tell whether the Lord Steward was relieved or disappointed by this news.  Many appeared disinterested in it, although Hirluin and Daerloth were sharing glances that indicated they found the information a matter for future thought and discussion.  Denethor, however, now whatever question he’d thought to answer for his own counsels apparently met, now considered his son.  “Well, at least you and Húrin will be able to uphold the family honor in the Spring Tournament, my son.  Faramir hopes to find his way to perhaps join us for at least a day or two’s attendance--perhaps the last two days while the archery contests are decided.  But there have been more assaults out of the Morgul Vale, so we are uncertain how long he might be able to leave his men there.  And you, my Lord Daerdion--are you looking forward to the tournament?” he continued politely but with the finest trace of satisfaction to his voice, or so it appeared to his Chatelaine.

            “I intend to do my best to make certain that I retain those spurs,” Daerdion said, “although I know your son at least will make me sweat heavily in the process.”

            “Then it will be a sweeter revenge when I take them back!” Boromir laughed, lifting his cup to toast his rival, who laughed in return.

            Daerdion then asked, “And you, Lord Bard--will you be attending the tournament?”

            But the Dalesman was shaking his head.  “I fear not,” he said.  “We are to return to our own lands next week, for our negotiations are now complete.  I regret that this must be in many ways, for it would be pleasant to take my father report of seeing first hand how mighty are the warriors of Gondor.  Although some of our allies from west of the Misty Mountains have assured him that indeed this is so, and that it is due in great part to the vigilance of your folk we do not find ourselves caught between the threat of both Dol Guldur and Mordor at the same time.”

            Again Lynessë noted a heightened interest on the part of Denethor.  “And what allies are there for the folk of Rhovanion from west of the Misty Mountains?” he asked, his courtesy doing a good deal to mask the hint of concern she was certain he felt.

            Bard sipped at his goblet before placing it carefully beside his plate, and when he spoke his words seemed to be carefully chosen, or at least so to Lynessë’s ears.  “And what can I say, my Lord Denethor?  The people Under the Mountain have kindred both north among the Iron Hills and west of the Misty Mountains near, I am told, the coasts of the Great Sea, and so by allying ourselves with our neighbors we share alliances with their far-flung kindred.  There is a thriving community far to the north and west known as Bree--Gandalf the Grey and the folk of the Mountain have assisted us to develop trading partnerships there.  And I understand there are other small communities hidden here and there, throughout the north and west, both great folk and small.  And Gandalf has ever spoken well of Gondor to us, when he comes among us.”

            “Gandalf?” asked Lynessë’s uncle Elstror of Pinnath Gelin.

            “Another of the names for Mithrandir,” Denethor supplied almost automatically.  “So, the Grey Pilgrim wanders both sides of the Misty Mountains, does he?”

            “Apparently.  And he is ever welcome in Dale as he is among our other friends and allies.  Certainly he is as highly honored by the folk of the Woodland Realm as he is under the Mountain.”

            Rigil suddenly asked, “Have you tournaments, there, there within your land?”

            Bard gave a slight shake of his head.  “No, for we have not that many who would take part in them, I fear.  We do have a loggers’ festival, however, once each summer; and a fair involving our woolworkers in the spring, shortly after sheep shearing and lambing is complete, where many show off the yarns and threads spun and fabrics woven throughout the winter.

            “But it is our wooden ware and our toys and musical instruments that we trade mostly with the west, for they have their own flocks and produce fine woolens in their own right.  There is a land near Bree that is said to be a producer of the best woolens in all the free lands, although I would match ours any day, of course.”

            “And what do you know of this land?” asked Elstror.

            “Very little--a farming people, mostly, or so Gandalf tells us.  The folk of the Iron Hills have traded with them for many years, passing through their lands on the journeys to see their kindred to the far west.  But they do not of their own initiative seek outside their own lands for goods.  The King under the Mountain visited their lands once, and thought little of them.  Yet many of those who helped restore the Kingdom speak highly of the industry of their people, although they admit they are an insular lot with little if any interest for outsiders.”

            “Have they a force of defense?”

            Bard shrugged.  “I know not.  I am told that there are some among them who use sling or bow, but that they have little use for weapons.  Lord Glóin is swift to praise their industry--and their food.  All praise the honey cakes of the Beornings; but he says that when it comes to taking a modest amount of food and making it not only palatable but a feast for the tongue one needs a Shireling.”

            “So they call themselves?” Elstror asked curiously.

            Bard shook his head.  “I know not what they call themselves, only how Lord Glóin and his fellows speak of them.  On the request of Lord Glóin and others we have created items for them, mostly but small things.  It would appear that the folk of the Mountain who travel through their land have found that to earn the good will of the people there it is mete to give out favors to their children.”  He took a bite of his venison.  “And you, my lord,” he said, after he’d swallowed his food, “tell me more of Pinnath Gelin.  What are your summers like there?”

            But Lynessë found herself wondering why these two peoples, both apparently living there at the foot of this mountain together, did not combine into one land.

            Curious.

 *

            “Mistress,” said Cireth softly, tapping Lynessë’s shoulder, “I grieve to disturb you, but your mother has come.”

            Lynessë groaned, pulling the coverlet up over her face.  “What does she seek to do this morning, do you think?” she murmured.

            “I know not, but she is rummaging through the cool storage now.  She came with pastries and other things from the larders.”

            “No!”  Throwing off the coverlet she whispered, “She did not bring with her any of the lime fruits, did she?”

            “Yes, Mistress, and stalks of celery and a small bunch of radishes.”

            Lynessë could feel herself paling as she reached for a robe to pull over her nightdress.  “She will be wanting to fix her special morning drink for me--it would be good if it were only the juice of the lime and honey—even with the addition of the celery; but with the radish it is awful!  She has it in her mind that it wakens the senses and sharpens the wit, and helps to avoid illness.  But how could she have found radish at this time of year?”

            “There is a farmer upon the Pelennor who has a great glass house in which he grows some vegetables throughout the year for the Citadel.”

            Lynessë nodded her understanding as she stood up and fastened the ties to the robe about her.  She had not thought about the presence of some foods that were out of season at meals, but now she understood.  She allowed Cireth to run a quick comb through her hair, then moved to the small kitchen area.  Sure enough, Endorë was busily squeezing crushed radish between folds of fine muslin to extract its juice, allowing the liquid to drip into a small flagon.

            “Ah, but there you are, my sweet one,” her mother greeted her.  “You appeared pale to me last night, and I thought to see you better this morning.  I should be finished shortly.  And I shall be certain to teach your maid how to prepare this herself that you not fail in health ere the full spring comes.”  So saying, she returned her attention to her task.

            Lynessë, greatly alarmed, did her best to indicate to Cireth that this was one lesson she would prefer the girl not take to heart, but was forced to abort her attempted signs when her mother turned to smile at her anew as she squeezed the last of the pulp from the cloth.  “You are so careful of me, Naneth,” she sighed, watching her mother stir the draught.

            “But, of course,” her mother answered.  “After all, you are the one child given me, and to me you shall ever be my beloved chick.  Now, here:  drink this!”  She picked up the flagon and pressed it into her daughter’s hands.

            Doing her best to hide her grimace of disgust, Lynessë reluctantly accepted the cup and gulped down the liquid as rapidly as possible.  Shuddering, she turned to Cireth, who had poured out a small tumbler of water and held it out.

            “I don’t know why you feel you must wash down the drink with water,” Endorë commented disapprovingly.  “I fear it will serve only to dilute the goodness to be obtained from the radishes.”

            “That is what I would wish,” muttered Lynessë, gladly surrendering the flagon for the tumbler.  Once she had cleared her mouth of the cloying taste of the radishes, she shook her head and straightened.  “I have done very well here, my lady mother, without the drink, you know.”

            “And then why are you so pale?” her mother demanded.

            “I am not pale, Nana!” Lynessë objected, but her mother was already pursuing other objectives.

            “And shall you ride out today with Lord Bard?” she asked, speaking over her daughter.

            “I am to ride out today with Lord Húrin.”

            “But my child----”

            This time, however, Endorë heeded her Lynessë’s indication of Cireth’s presence, realizing that this child might have a sense of responsibility to Lord Denethor’s nephew, and changed her attack.  “And perhaps young Rigil might join the two of you,” she suggested with a smile of enthusiasm her daughter knew was an indicator of her plotting.

            “He is very young, Naneth—much younger than I,” Lynessë reminded her.  “And it is young Mistress Aldúnieth that I suspect their grandmother wishes to see married first.”

            Endorë was now dividing the pastries she’d brought with her into two shares, and shrugged slightly as she contemplated the odd pastry she found she had left.  Lynessë removed it from her mother’s hand and pressed it upon her maid.  “Here, Cireth,” she said.  “Enjoy this, and then help me dress before making ready my riding dress for later.  I should be riding out with Lord Húrin late this morning.”

            Recognizing the dismissal, the maid curtseyed and went out.  Endorë watched after her with a slightly furrowed brow.  “You should not spoil her,” she commented.

            “And how is one pastry spoiling her, Naneth?  She is yet a growing girl, and needs her nourishment, as you told me when I was her age.  She works very hard to keep me comfortable, and I rejoice to reward her for her industry.”

            “I doubt that the servants of the Citadel are given short rations,” her mother noted with a sniff.

            “Nor are they; but neither are they fed heavily.”

            Certain that the girl was no longer able to overhear them, her mother sought to return to an earlier subject.  “There is nothing to be lost by looking at all the matches that are available to you here.  I am told that Anórien is a rich fiefdom, and Amon Dîn an important stronghold….”

            “And he is from a fiefdom that is filled with mindless individuals who believe that to relieve themselves in running water will somehow steal away their manhood,” Lynessë interrupted her.

            “What?”

            “I have seen it, Naneth, or I would never have believed it possible.  Now, I am not saying this is true of young Rigil, but I have been assured it is a common enough belief throughout Anórien.  Also, it is often invaded by those from Dunland who evade the patrols of Rohan, and has been entered from the east by Mordor’s folk.  I am told there are frequent raids on farms near the river, and that cattle and sheep are often stolen away, as well as great stores of grain.  Reports on this are brought ever to Lord Denethor’s attention, along with reports on thefts of horses from the Eastfold of Rohan.”

            “Lord Denethor speaks of this with you?”

            “I dine with him at least once a week, and often with what lords there are within the White City.  And as the mistress of his table, I hear the talk that goes on between those who are housed within the Citadel.”

            For the first time Lynessë noted true concern on her mother’s face.  Good, if it should deter the older woman from pressing Rigil of Amon Dîn upon her!  She was just glad that Fendril of Destrier was no longer in residence, or the chance was her mother would be beseeching her to look favorably upon him!

 *

            Two hour later Lynessë managed to give her mother over into her aunt’s capable keeping, and saw to the day’s distress from the stillroom.  One of the women who helped there had asked for permission to make a common simple for a friend among the senior housemaids who was suffering from distress associated with her moon cycles, and the Mistress of the Stillroom had immediately raised a quarrel, insisting that it could possibly hurt any child she might be bearing.

            “But if she is having heavy bleeding already, it is obvious either she is not pregnant or has already lost whatever child she might possibly have conceived,” insisted the other woman.  “If you do not believe me, then ask any who work in the Houses of Healing!”

            The argument was escalating rapidly when Lynessë finally came between them.  “She is right, Mistress,” she said to the self-righteous woman who ordinarily ruled this portion of the Citadel.  “I have been so counseled by the healers who serve my uncle’s keep as well.  If her bleeding is particularly heavy at this time, she would do well with a simple that will help to fully expel the irritant within the womb that is causing this.  Otherwise it could cause festering and could cost her dearly—and even make it impossible for her to bear successfully in the future.  Or,” she added, noting the woman’s thin-lipped expression, “I could send her to the Houses of Healing to receive the very simple we can make as well here.”

            At last the Mistress gave way, but it was obviously with the greatest of reluctance.  Lynessë cautioned all who worked there to remember that many of the products of this room were dangerous to women who might have conceived and that they should not be dispensed lightly, and then found another project with which to distract the Mistress before finally fleeing the room in relief.

            She met Lord Húrin on the stairs up out of the Stillroom.  “Another quarrel today?” he greeted her.

            “Yes, as there seems to be more days than not,” she sighed, glancing briefly behind her.  “I think some days the very fumes of the place enflame the brain of the Mistress, who always foresees calamities, or so it appears.”

            “I came to see if you would be free to ride out with me this morning.”

            She smiled.  “Oh, I would be most glad to do so.  Anything to make myself unavailable for a time.”

            He laughed.  “I have felt much the same at times.  There is a small inn beyond the walls of the Pelennor leading toward Lossarnach where they serve a very good trout, and word has come to me that they had a fine catch during the early morning hours.  If you should care to dine there with me?”

            “Give me half a mark to ready myself—this dress is not conducive to riding astride,” she said.  “I will leave a message to our Lord Steward to let him know I will be gone through the early afternoon….”

            He shook his head.  “I’ve already let him know,” he assured her.  “And he agrees that getting away for much of the day will serve you well.  He sends word he hopes you enjoy the ride.  Shall I meet you at the front steps to the Citadel in half a mark?”

            When she came forth, however, she was met first by young Rigil of Amon Dîn.  “Mistress Lynessë!  Are you going forth to ride out upon the Pelennor, then?  Your mother indicated that perhaps you might, and that you might appreciate someone to attend upon you.”

            “I assure you, young Lord,” Húrin said as he emerged from the hallway to his office adjusting the lie of his cloak about his shoulder, “that Mistress Lynessë will be well attended.”

            The youth looked crestfallen.  “Oh, then I should remain here?  I’d so hoped to see something besides the inside of the Citadel during this visit.  My mother seems to keep me the closer to her, the more our grandmother seeks to manage the future for Aldúnieth.  Would you truly mind if I were to accompany the two of you away from the city?  My father already gave his blessing, and so Mother could not easily tell me no after that.”

            Lynessë could see the sympathy rising in her intended escort’s eyes, and could hardly say no herself, considering how her mother was seeking to rule her own fortunes.  She did her best not to give an audible sigh.  “If it pleases Lord Húrin,” she conceded.

            “If you will assist me to don my riding glove,” agreed the Warden of the Keys to the youth.  “That is one task that is suitably difficult for me to achieve on my own—to don my own glove.”

            It appeared that the youth had not realized this would be difficult for anyone, and he flushed as he agreed.  Soon enough the three of them were riding down through the city on their horses, the young man chattering away like any equally young maiden, as if with the enforced curb he must keep on his tongue when with his parents and grandmother now being lifted, the words stored up inside his heart must find release, like the air escaping from a bladder after it has been blown up to entertain a small child.  “I’ve only ridden upon the Pelennor when we’ve come to the city with my grandmother,” he confided as they rode.  “I’m hardly ever allowed to ride out upon my own.  My grandmother says it is undignified to race with the other youths my age.  Do you think that is so?  I don’t see that the rest consider it undignified—the sons of my father’s men at arms seem to admire those who will race with them, and look on me as if I were someone incapable of doing so.  I’m a good rider, so I should beat them all, if I were only given the chance, at least.”

            Lynessë and Húrin exchanged looks, and he spoke her heart also as he assured the young man, “Then we shall see to it that we share a gallop once we are outside the City, then.”

            By the time they were free of the main gate Lynessë was feeling famished, and was glad of an excuse to race across the White City’s townlands.  Húrin indicated the first landmark to make for, called for them to Go!, and the three of them were off.  Rigil was the first to come abreast of the agreed upon tree, but not by much of a lead.  His eyes were sparkling as he turned to await Lynessë’s arrival, and he fell in happily beside her as they continued on southwestward.  “Did you see that?” he enthused.  “I told you I was a good rider!”

            “That you are,” agreed Húrin.  “I must remember to tell of this to Leonid, who serves as my aide.  He is certain none can best me in a race, and now I must tell him that he is mistaken.”

            Rigil’s eyes were shining with pride at that, and they gladly let him ride ahead of them once Húrin was assured he knew their next immediate destination at the gate from the Pelennor.  “He is a goodly lad,” the man commented quietly to Lynessë as they rode.  “Too closely held by his family, I deem, and capable of much if he were only trusted to do anything of worth.”

            “Are there races held during the Spring Tournament?” she asked.  “He would do well in them, I think.  He needs to do more to build his reputation as one worthy of being followed if he is to one day be seen as a competent officer in his own right.”

            He nodded, watching after the younger man thoughtfully.  “I shall speak to his father, within my uncle’s presence, or that of Boromir, about allowing him to take part in the races and about the need to practice daily in arms before the contest.  The more he is seen by others doing well in riding or with arms, the better he will trust to his own capabilities when the day is come to take on the role of a man.”

            There were a number of younger men within the inn when they came to it, also lured from the city by word of a good catch at the Captain’s Table.  One approached Rigil and invited him to join them, and so Húrin and Lynessë were able to share a table with but one another, although by unspoken agreement both watched the younger men to see to it that no unseemliness should ensue.  Watching Rigil’s uncertainty fade away as he became more comfortable with these other youths so much closer to his own age, Lynessë noted, “It appears he can hold his own in conversation with such as these.”

            “Indeed,” her companion agreed, looking up to thank the woman who came from the bar with a glass of wine for each of them.  “Have you enough of the fish for the two of us?” he asked.  “And what comes with it?”

            Once the serving wench was gone, they returned their attention to Rigil.  Húrin watched the young man’s laughter and swift response to some witticism offered by one of his fellows, and said thoughtfully, “I do not understand those who feel they must press down their own progeny.  I fear had I Lady Elantiel for a granddame I should wish to flee her presence as often as possible.”

            Lynessë certainly agreed.  But as she sipped at her wine, she found herself thinking again of the Steward and his removal of that book from his son’s luggage so many years past.  I hope I never try to do similarly with my own children, she thought.

            But at that the serving maid arrived with their plates of trout, and her thoughts turned to other things.

The Spring Tournament

            For several days Lynessë was unable to ride out upon the Pelennor, as she found herself in constant conferences with the Seneschal, Lord Húrin, and the steward of Lord Forlong of Lossarnach regarding housing for the current residents of the Citadel for the Spring Tournament.  Other lords arrived from the outer fiefdoms, but most of these stayed temporarily either in their own townhouses in the Fifth and Sixth Circles, or they accepted the hospitality of friends and relatives either within Minas Tirith, upon the Pelennor, or near the site where the tournament would be held just outside the city of Bavarin.  Lord Forlong had a hunting lodge near the field where the tournament would be held where Lord Denethor and his immediate household would stay, and some of his immediate vassals were to host the guests from the Citadel.

            Some excitement was stirred when Lord Théodred of Rohan arrived unexpectedly to attend the tournament as the special guest of Lords Denethor and Boromir, and many of the arrangements already made had to be hastily amended.

            The one good thing to come from this period of intense negotiation was that there was no time for Lynessë to have to face whatever assignations her mother might seek to concoct.  However, it left her mother with more time to plot, although the arrival of the son of Théoden King set many of her previous plans at naught as she found herself scrambling to imagine ways to set Lynessë in the path of Théodred.

            Prince Théodred was accompanied by a man he introduced as the representative of Curunír of Isengard.  Lynessë was introduced to the two of them by Lord Denethor himself.  “My Lord Théodred, Master Erdeon, if I might introduce my Chatelaine, Mistress Lynessë.  Mistress Lynessë is most recently of Pinnath Gelin, although she was born here in the White City, gentlemen.  Master Erdeon, if you will place yourself in her capable hands, she will show you rooms consistent with your position.  Lord Théodred, if you will follow me this way—the rooms for Eorl’s descendants have ever been on the upper level of this wing.  It is an honor to welcome you here!”

            Lynessë had the distinct impression that Master Erdeon was not pleased to be separated from his Rohirric companion, although she was certain that the same could not be said of Prince Théodred.  Oh, on the contrary, she was certain he straightened noticeably as if a weight had been taken from his shoulders as he followed the Lord Steward of Gondor toward the stairway to the second level of the guests’ wing.  She turned to her own charge.  “Master Erdeon, if you will follow me?  We have a suite in keeping with your honor that is still empty.  Berenthien—if you can get one of the other maids to assist you in preparing the blue suite?  Have you any attendants, Master Erdeon?  No?  Then I will instruct one of the valets to attend upon you.”

            Berenthien hurried ahead of them to open the indicated suite to the left of the hallway, and Lynessë led the envoy into it.  “There is a main bedroom there, and a room here for any companion you might have.  There is a privy, although I regret to tell you that there is no private bathing room for the suite, although you may take advantage of the general bathing room through the next door down the hallway, should you find it unoccupied.  From what the servants for this wing tell me, it is generally open in the afternoons from the time of luncheon to about two hours before the daymeal.  Would you prefer to dine here in your rooms, or in the common dining hall?”

            Berenthien and another of the maids for this wing were swiftly bustling about, seeing to it that the wood laid on the hearth was lit as well as candles, for the day was somewhat grey, as well as bringing refreshments for the guest’s enjoyment.  All was clean and ready for occupancy, Lynessë noted, and she determined to tell the housekeeper just how pleased she was to see all so well kept.

            “Is all pleasing to you, Master Erdeon?” she asked as she prepared to leave the room.

            He was, she realized, looking at her with a good deal more consideration than she felt was due her.  “Indeed, Mistress—Lynessa?  No—Lynessë.  That is how Lord Denethor named you, is it not?”

            She found she did not like his voice.  It was low, but rather oddly accented, and its tone almost—suggestive.  Yes, suggestive.  Definitely suggestive!  She did all she could to keep her own tone properly polite and concerned for his comfort.  “Yes, that is my name.”

            He gave the briefest of nods, one she judged to be somewhat arrogant.  “I see.  And you are a kinswoman to our Lord Denethor?”

            “If so, sir, then it is too long ago to count for aught in this time.  He has taken a series of lesser noblewomen and gentlewomen as his Chatelaine since the death of his lady wife, and I am merely the latest of these.”

            “But you are in his counsel?”

            She felt amazed at such a suggestion.  “In his counsel?  I fear there are no women on the Council of Gondor, sir,” she answered, choosing to deliberately misunderstand him.

            “But does he—what is the word?  Confide?  Does he confide in you?”

            “I eat with him privately at least once each sevenday, sir.”  It was as much as she felt she could say, one way or another.

            He gave a smile.  “Perhaps you could join me, eat with me here in my chambers, this night.”

            “I am honored,” she said slowly, “but I cannot do so this night, nor during the time before the court removes to Lossarnach for the Spring Tournament.  My duties forbid it, sir.”

            He nodded, then gave that slightly arrogant, rather sly smile.  “Then perhaps when we are in Lossarnach?”

            “I can make no promises, Master Erdeon.”

            It still took some time to extricate herself from his company, and she took a moment, once she was able to do so unobserved, and wiped her forehead before hurrying off to oversee the packing of goods to be taken with them.

*******

            It was quite a party that set off for Lossarnach a few days later.   First went a vanguard of mounted knights from the city and northern Lebennin, followed by a battalion of men at arms.  The Steward and the nobles both from the White City and those who had been his guests came next, accompanied by their ladies and heirs.  Accompanying these were a number of warriors from Anórien as well as those from the garrison within the ruins of Osgiliath and Cair Andros that could be spared.  Prince Théodred rode with his own small escort and Boromir and his captains, Master Erdeon having found himself riding with the contingent from Amon Dîn.  Many of the younger sons who would not be taking part in the tournament and the younger ladies rode together in the group to which Lynessë found herself assigned.  These were attended by a troupe of Guardsmen from the Citadel, several of whom would be taking part in the contests involving swordsmanship and the use of pikes and axes.  And with them rode, to Lynessë’s pleased surprise, Lord Húrin.

            “I could not bear riding amidst the company surrounding the Steward today,” he confided quietly.  “I do not think I can deal the stuffiness of Lord Daerloth for much longer.  He is rather too fond of offering counsel on subjects he’s not been consulted upon.  I rather pity your uncle and father that they must bear with him, although he does appear well disposed toward your father in spite of the fact he is not of high noble blood himself.  It seems that he considers himself indebted to your father for rescuing him in the midst of battle some years ago, when both fought against orcs near the Mering Stream.”

            Lynessë was surprised, for she’d never known that her father had taken part in any campaigns within Anórien.  But before she could respond, the youthful Lady Aldúnieth had spurred her horse forward to ride upon Húrin’s other side.  “My lord, I wished to thank you for the kindness and sponsorship you have showed my younger brother.  Rigil is seen as young and impetuous in the eyes of our parents and grandmother….” 

            She was smiling winsomely into Húrin’s eyes, and was arching herself in such a way she was clearly presenting her curves for his inspection and appreciation.  Lynessë found herself wanting to take the chit by the nape of the neck and send her off with a swat to the rump to remind her that she was yet a young thing in the eyes of her elders!  But she held herself in check, knowing that she had no such authority.  Indeed, such an action could not only cause her to be sent home to Pinnath Gelin in disgrace, but could cause serious repercussions to fall upon her parents and uncle’s family as well.  So she bit her lip and did her best to appear delighted the young lady had availed herself of Húrin’s proximity to put herself forward.  But as the girl continued to monopolize Húrin’s attention she grew increasingly frustrated, knowing relief only when Boromir turned to call his cousin to join their company so as to answer a question put forth by Théodred of Rohan.  So it was she was in a perfect position to note the exasperation the youthful Lady Butterfly showed as Húrin rode off in obedience to the Heir to the Steward.  Lynessë carefully schooled her own expression, not wishing for the girl to realize just how closely her plays were being watched.  And when both Lynnessë and Rigil were called to join that party a few moments later she did her best to hide her own elation.  She was aware that Aldúnieth was looking daggers at her as she rode forward.  But for the sake of policy she did return to the group of families and maidens shortly thereafter, happy to leave young Rigil basking in the glow of attention from these attested warriors.

            They stopped at midafternoon for refreshments, and Lynessë was gratified to find that Húrin was there to help her from her horse.  Aldúnieth was apparently unhappy with this state of affairs, however, and brought her own palfrey up alongside the Warden of the Keys upon his other side, causing it to sidestep against him slightly to draw his attention.  As she went to dismount, she purposely turned her foot and started to fold with a cry of assumed pain.

            “My ankle—I have turned my ankle!” she insisted.

            What could Húrin, as the closest gentleman to her, do but to offer her a supporting arm?  And Lord Denethor, a particularly sardonic smile upon his face, encouraged the girl with, “Oh, but how fortunate for you, my lady, that my nephew is here at hand to offer you his aid.  Carry on, Húrin.  Young Rigil—if you might offer your arm to Mistress Lynessë?”

            It was Rigil, however, who saw his sister’s ruse made plain.  As he brought a goblet of wine to Lynessë he stumbled and spilled some of the drink across Aldúnieth’s shoulders.  The girl pulled herself abruptly from Húrin’s arm as she turned to strike at her brother’s head, standing firmly upon both feet.  Húrin looked down at her dainty boots, and smiled.  “How wonderful, my lady, that you have recovered so swiftly.  I will leave you, then, to the further chastisement of your brother.”  And with a brief bow he withdrew to his uncle’s side, leaving Aldúnieth gawking after him stupidly.  Lynessë had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing outright in delight.

 *******

            They arrived at the hunting lodge as Anor dipped to touch the horizon.  Here the Steward’s party was greeted by Lord Forlong’s dowager mother, a ponderously heavy woman with eyes that seemed to start in their sockets, a protruding lower lip, and a neck lost in multiple folds, and a personality that Lynessë found herself warming to immediately.

            “My Lady Anamarieth, it is a great pleasure to see you once again,” Lord Denethor said as she presented not her hand to be taken, but instead her cheek to be kissed, which he did with great dignity.  “And you remember my son, Boromir?”

            “But of course!  Come, dear boy, and give me a buss as you did when you were yet a child!” 

            Blushing, but obviously pleased to do as she bade, Boromir not only kissed her cheek but hugged her as well.  “Oh, but it is good to see you yet again, Aunt Marieth,” he said with a smile.  “And may I introduce to you Prince Théodred of Rohan?”

            “So, you are Théoden’s son, are you?  I knew your father as a child, for he was a favorite of my husband and myself when we visited in Minas Tirith.  Your grandsire was quite the man, you know—so handsome and so pursued by the ladies, although the only one he had eyes for, once he’d seen her, was our Morwen.  She and I were close friends when we were girls together, you know.  Know that you are welcome, as if you, too, were my own nephew, for I often thought of your grandmother as my sister—certainly I was far closer to her than I was to my true sister, silly wench that she was.”

            Lynessë stifled the laugh she felt building in her at Théodred’s expression, for he also appeared to be totally taken by surprise by the lady’s familiarity.  He, too, was induced to kiss her cheek, after which Húrin stepped forward with no prompting at all to follow suit.

            “And do not think that we are at all discomfited by you, Aunt Marieth,” he said, holding her shoulders afterwards.  “You are a dear and a treasure, and well we know it.  But we have been riding all day, and would be glad to be shown to our quarters.  If you will see to the needs of Mistress Lynessë there, I assure you that we will ever be in your debt.”

            “Show you to your rooms?  Oh, but Forlong, you and the servants will see to that, won’t you?  So, you are Lynessë, daughter to Captain Telorin and Endorë are you?  Ah, but it has been many years since I last saw you playing with young Faramir among the cherry trees behind the Citadel.  You have become quite the beauty, haven’t you?”

            Lynessë caught the poisonous glance shot at her by Aldúnieth as one of Forlong’s vassals arrived to lead the party from Amon Dîn to his home, and followed Lady Anamarieth into the lodge, her arm held possessively by her hostess.  “That was Elantiel’s granddaughter, eh?” asked the older woman in a confiding murmur.  “The elegant one who is rather too closely laced in her gown?  I am surprised she could even sit astride a horse without popping her laces.  Elantiel always had far too high an opinion of herself and her husband, I thought, and it appears she is trying desperately to encourage that child to put herself forward so as to make a good match and to Mordor with propriety.  How typical of her!”

            Lynessë found herself laughing aloud, and Anamarieth laughed with her, continuing with, “I must say that other than some of the lady’s maids I saw riding toward the rear, you are one of the few true women I’ve seen this day.  And Denethor chose you as his Chatelaine, did he?  At least he shows good taste as well as sense when he chooses those to see to the running of his house.  Now, tell me all of the gossip from Minas Tirith—I’ve not had a good talk with a woman from the White City in an age, I’ll swear!”

            Knowing that her parents were staying the night with the retired captain of Lossarnach’s guards, Lynessë felt herself relax as she was led to Lady Anamarieth’s solar and settled into a most comfortable chair and had a warm drink pressed into her hand as a maid whisked away her cloak.  Somehow she knew that in no time at all she, too, would be thinking of her hostess as Aunt Marieth.

*******

            “Mistress, would you like some water?”

            She did not recognize the voice, and was not certain she wished to open her eyes to see for herself who it was who stood by her bed.  She and Lady Anamarieth had spoken late into the night, and, she remembered woozily, imbibed far more heavily than was Lynessë’s wont.  She’d not felt like this since her oldest cousin and she had stolen some wine from Uncle Elstror’s cellar and hidden behind the garden shed to drink it between them.  It had been a sweet aperitif intended for gatherings of her aunt’s companions, which was why they had been certain it would be all right for the two of them to try it.  Some hours later one of the gardeners had found the two of them seated, almost insensibly drunk, and had called for Uncle Elstror, who had seen them both to bed with basins beside them.  They’d been put on bread and milk for three days each, not that Lynessë had minded for the first two.  It had been a far more instructive lesson than all of her mother’s lectures on the virtues of moderation put together, as she remembered it.

            Why had she not remembered that last evening?

            She squinted her eyes to note that a mature lady’s maid stood by her bed with a cloth and basin of rose scented water with which she might freshen herself.  She smiled, wanly she was certain, and clumsily swung her feet out from beneath the sheets.  The maid set the basin and pitcher on a nearby table and poured her a measure of water, which Lynessë gulped rather greedily, then helped her to cleanse her face of the sweat of the night, and at last to rise and dress, preparing for the day.

            Breakfast, she noted with a measure of thanks, was fairly light.  Lady Anamarieth sat at the foot of the table, smiling with satisfaction at her as she took her place amongst the menfolk.  “We did have a delightful evening, didn’t we, Mistress Lynessë?  I do say, Denethor, that when you next come to call you must bring her with you again.  A most refreshing change from many of the affected creatures my son used to bring home, and that my grandsons seek to present me with now!  I do recommend the eggs and fresh pork, Mistress Lynessë—it will do you remarkable good.”

            To Lynessë’s surprise, the lady’s advice proved sound, and she was feeling decidedly better when she went out to mount for the ride to the tourney grounds.  She rode now beside Lady Anamarieth and Lord Forlong’s longsuffering wife, who gave Lynessë a jaded smile as they were introduced, and listened as the dowager gave a discourse on the history of the city of Bavarin and the excellence of those who practiced their crafts within its boundaries.  “The Master of the city has done well to draw such folk to it,” she noted, “as many travel here to purchase the best coaches and amongst the finest porcelains produced throughout the whole of Gondor.”

            She was moved on her arrival at the tourney grounds to be met by young Rigil, dressed in the colors of Amon Dîn, who presented her with a nosegay of narcissus and hyacinths and who begged a favor of her to carry with him during the race he was to ride.  She had brought a few silk kerchiefs with her, and gladly surrendered one to the youth, who fastened it proudly to his belt and gave her a deep bow before hurrying off to join his own parents in the stands until the race should be run, shortly after the noon break was over.  Moments later Húrin appeared, with a spray of apple blossoms, and soon he was sporting a second kerchief, his attached to the baldric he wore slung over his shoulder.

            “You do well to give your favors to more than one,” commented Lord Denethor, who had appeared unnoticed at her shoulder.  “And I deem yon youth will rejoice to bring you the wreath he will win in the races.”

            “You have watched him practice?  How wonderful!  He appears a born horseman, and his gelding has a fine gait and pace.”

            “So my nephew tells me also.  And what think you of our guests from Rohan?”

            Much of her pleasure in the morn’s activities decreased as Lynessë found herself contemplating what answer she might give.  “Lord Théodred and the men of his household appear high of heart and comfortable with one another and with our hospitality.”

            “And the envoy from Curunír?”

            It was a moment before she answered, “I know not quite what to say of him, my lord.  He is courteous enough in his speech, I suppose; but I feel rather forward in his attitude toward me.”

            The Steward nodded, as if this confirmed what he’d already divined of the man.  “I see.  Has he asked anything of you that you would consider unseemly?”

            “No, my Lord Denethor.  However, he has asked whether or not I am deep in your confidence.  I am uncertain whether he wishes to learn details he supposes to be privy between us, or if he wishes me to pass on suggestions from him couched as if they were my own.”

            They stood apart from any others, and their voices were low.  Otherwise she knew she would not have spoken so frankly regarding Erdeon’s importune behavior.  He nodded his understanding.  “An unknown quantity, this Master Erdeon.  But Lord Curunír is not one to either ignore or insult—neither is a wise move when dealing with Wizards.  I am told that he has done much to make of Isengard once again an active fortress, and that he now has men at arms housed within its walls.  For one who was granted the tower of Orthanc as a place of study and retreat from the warlike ways of Gondor and Rohan, it appears he is nevertheless being infected by the martial spirits of his neighbors.  Both he and his envoy bear watching.

            “Oh—but you carry narcissi!  May I beg a blossom of them from you?  They were a favorite of my beloved wife….”

            She offered him his choice, and he took a spray with three blooms, smiling disarmingly at her as he fastened it to the brooch that held his cloak closed upon his left shoulder.  “I thank you, Mistress.  Will you be sitting with your family, then?”  With that he turned to meet the approach of the party from Rohan.  “Welcome, my lords!  Master Erdeon—I was hoping that you would sit by me for the morning’s contests.  You will not be competing, will you?  Ah, but I thought not….”  And with his hand on the envoy’s elbow he led the man away.

            “Hold your friends ever close, but your potential enemies even closer,” muttered Théodred half under his breath, and Boromir, who walked beside him, nodded.

            “Yes, so my father has ever held.  Come, friend, and we shall go down to the lists to see you entered in the contest for archery from horseback.  Good day to you, Mistress Lynessë!”

            *******

            She chose indeed to sit with the party from Pinnath Gelin, and a merry time was known by all as the contests went forward.  The first contests were for swordsmen, and none was surprised when Lord Boromir managed to best every opponent set against him.  Eight sets were held that morning, with word that eight more would close the day, and still more the following day.  Young archers followed the fencing, after which there was a break for the noon meal.

            The first of the races, those of the youngest riders, was held early in the afternoon, and a closely contested run it proved.  In the end Rigil managed to pull forward of his closest rival, a youth wearing the colors of Pelargir, and crossed the line a half-length in front.  When crowned with the victory wreath he was all smiles, but then he was off walking his steed himself as a good horseman does, and returning him to the tents that served as stables to curry the great hearted beast himself and see him properly cared for before returning to the stands.  Lynessë found him beside her during the contests between those who fought with pikes, his color still high with triumph.  “I wished to thank you, Mistress Lynessë, for your courtesy toward me, and to present you with this,” he said in a clearly rehearsed speech, holding out the wreath toward her.

            Lynessë glanced over at the place where the party from Amon Dîn sat, suggesting, “Don’t you think it might be more politic to offer this to your lady mother?  I think she would be honored to receive it from you.”

            He leaned forward confidingly, and murmured in her ear, “It is not intended to show you that I care for you in any way that is not proper for one of my age, Mistress, but merely a sign of thanks, for you and Lord Húrin have offered me your friendship and sponsorship, and for that alone am I grateful.”  He glanced about, and whispered, “I have found my eye caught indeed by a maiden from Lebennin whose father is captain of the Guard for Passaurin.  I would possibly have offered it to her, but such would only serve to draw my family’s attention to her in a manner that would be uncomfortable for her.  So, if you would deign to accept it?”

            She suppressed a laugh, merely pulling back and saying solemnly, “Well, Master Rigil, having put it in those terms, I would be most honored to received the wreath from you.”

            He settled it upon her head with some ceremony, then gave her a brilliant smile before disappearing back into the crowd, hopefully, she suspected, to return to the side of the maiden who’d managed to capture his interest.  Lynessë caught her mother smiling with satisfaction as she turned her attention back to the contests.  Ah, Naneth—how high your hopes ever are, she found herself thinking.

 *******

            Late on the second afternoon arrived a group of men from Ithilien and Osgiliath, including Lord Faramir and several of his Rangers.  The Lord Steward Denethor withdrew for a time from his guests in the Steward’s Box to speak with his younger son, and it appeared that he was not fully happy with Faramir’s arrival.

            Lynessë, who with her cousin had been fetching refreshments for those in their own party, was passing nearby in time to hear Denethor remonstrating with his son.  “I don’t know why you chose to bring him!  I already am forced to dance with one Wizard’s agent, and you bring another with you?”

            “But he was arriving at the city gates when we reached the stables in the First Circle to exchange mounts, Father.  What were we to do?  Leave him there unsupervised to go through the archives for information you would as lief know about immediately?  For have you not always said that the Grey Wizard is ever in search of information it is wise for the Steward to know as well?”

            The Grey Wizard—here?  Would she finally be able to meet with the infamous Mithrandir?  Much had she heard of him over the years, usually spoken in low voices, uttered behind the backs of hands.  But, she thought, he had been kind to the child Faramir, bringing him that book of tales from far away….  She found herself filled with curiosity to meet the man himself.

            Which she found herself doing within moments, suddenly finding herself face to face with a tall soul in grey robes and with the most absurd of hats upon his head!  At her second look at his face she could not understand why her first impression of him was of a youth with a flaming sword; he bore no sword, but instead carried a staff of gnarled wood with a twist of roots at the top as if it were the flame of a great torch.  And certainly there was nothing youthful in the bearded face with its jutting eyebrows and wrinkled skin.  What could be seen of the mouth indicated this was one prone perhaps equally to laughter and severity, one who could appreciate the absurdities of life even as he sought to reprove those who were given to twisted reasoning.  It was the face of one who had seen a great deal in a long and rich life even as he found himself filled with curiosity about an often contrary world.

            She found herself going into a profound curtsey in spite of herself.  “Lord Mithrandir?” she ventured.

            He appeared surprised and, dare she hope? flattered as well.  “You have the advantage on me, Mistress, although I will tell you I am no lord here within Middle Earth.  I will advise you not to address me so in front of Lord Denethor, as I fear it would offend him to hear me so named.”

            “I am Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin, daughter to Telorin of the Guard and Endorë.”

            “Telorin’s daughter?  Ah—I remember your father well from earlier visits to the White City—a most responsible man.  I am pleased to meet you, then, Mistress Lynessë!  And have you seen Lord Denethor?  Can you direct me his way?  Ah, but never mind—I see him there with young Faramir.  How well the lad has grown in the years since my last visit to Gondor!  If you will excuse me?”  And so saying, he bowed to her and turned to join Faramir and his father.

            He and Faramir joined the party returning that evening to Forlong’s hunting lodge, riding easily between Denethor and his younger son, apparently telling some absurd tale that had the Steward looking at him askance and Faramir laughing outright.  Húrin leaned forward to confide, “I must say that it is far preferable to have the Grey Wizard here in fact than it would be to have to host his brother the White.  It is bad enough trying to hold one’s tongue with this Erdeon, I find.  Mithrandir may not tell you all he knows, but neither does he look down his nose at those with whom he finds himself, nor speak in veiled threats and ambiguous hints as Curunír and this envoy of his are prone to do.”  She nodded.

            Lady Anamarieth had not chosen to attend the day’s meet, having announced that her back was aching her, so she would stay in the lodge for the day where she had a comfortable chair to support her.  She sat, her stick between her hands, and smiled with satisfaction when she saw that this time Denethor entered with a son on each side, accepting the kiss of each and tousling Faramir’s hair as if he were an urchin of eight rather than Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien.

            “My dear boy—how wonderful that you could break away from your duties to join in a few days of frivolity such as is offered by the Spring Tournament.  Your usual room is already prepared for you, you will find.  I remonstrated with your father that he would even imagine that you would stay away!  You will be taking part in the tracking tomorrow and the archery contests of the day after, won’t you?  And who attends upon you?”

            “I have as my esquire one of my men who is to spend most of his time in my company, Aunt Marieth.  I only hope that Mistress Lynessë is not too discomfited with his possible presence within the house, for at their last meeting he offered her distinct offense.  However, he is proving himself capable of learning from his mistakes and the correction offered him, and has steadied well in the past few months.”

            “And who else comes?  Oh, but of course!  Mithrandir!  You are most welcome indeed!  Forlong, is there yet the room at the end of the hallway ready to house Mithrandir?  Good enough!  Nay, and do not speak of sleeping within the stable with your mount and the guardsmen, my friend.  What?  You do not wear your sword?  But you have it with you, do you not?  He’s a fine swordsman, I assure you, Denethor, and could undoubtedly teach some of the young whelps taking part in the tournament a thing or two.  I remember when that group of orcs came out of the White Mountains when we were traveling to Angbor’s keep some years ago—he wielded it very well indeed!”

            “Ah, my beloved Lady Anamarieth!” the Wizard finally managed to interrupt her to say.  “My sword is with my horse and tack.  It is usually more comfortable when I must ride to fasten it to the pommel of my saddle.  And, yes, this time I did ride.”  He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, murmuring loudly enough for Lynessë to hear, “And you are as beautiful and charming as always, my dear Marieth.”

            “And you know, do you not, dear fellow, that when you say this I find I can believe it in my heart?  Thank you for brightening my failing days, Mithrandir,”

            And in her smile at the Wizard, suddenly Lynessë could see the woman she must have been in her youth, handsome rather than merely beautiful, her open heart easily discerned by Lord Forlong’s father and all others, her eyes alight with humor and character.

            At dinner Faramir was indeed served by Tervain of Langstrand, even as he had hinted he would be earlier.  But as he had also indicated, Tervain was not as he had been in his previous life.  He had become slimmer, almost gaunt, even; and his chest muscles were now more pronounced.  He gave Lynessë but a passing glance, most of his attention fixed upon Faramir and what he might need.

            As for the Wizard, he was apparently fully at home with the protocol required in the Steward’s court, his manner courteous and appropriately sedate, obviously fully aware of the proper use of napkins and tableware.  He spoke little enough during the meal, appearing to be content to listen to the conversations of others.  He ate well enough, and drank enough wine to meet the requirements of courtesy but no more, choosing to drink water for most of the time he sat at table.  At length Lord Forlong asked, “And you are content with your quarters, Master Mithrandir?”

            “That I am, and thank you for sending the wherewithal to refresh myself after my long journey.”

            “And where did you come by that fine horse you rode?”

            “He was given me by a farmer in Eriador in thanks for my help in repelling lawless men who had thought to assault his home and steal his harvest and stock.  It is likely they had intended to slay him and his grown son and to take the remains of his household into slavery, perhaps selling his younger children and wife in Dunland or Angmar, or perhaps even further afield.”

            Lynessë was startled by this news.  “But I thought that Angmar was no more.”

            “The Witch-king no longer resides there as he once did, but I assure you that those who live north of Eriador remain in spirit much as they were during the time he was their direct lord.  They have begun to return to numbers similar to those they knew when the Nazgûl lived among them, and they often harry the borderlands in which the scattered peoples of the northern free lands dwell, often allying themselves with certain tribes of orcs from the northern Misty Mountains.  And they practice slavery.”

            “So you have come from the northlands?” asked Denethor.

            “Most recently, yes.”

            “And what did you do there?”  The Steward’s expression was suspicious, or so Lynessë saw it.  And just what might Lord Denethor think that the Wizard did in the empty lands to the north?

            “I travel through all lands,” Mithrandir said, his voice and expression giving nothing away, or so she thought.  “All lands in which the Free Peoples dwell are my concern, even those in which few live.  And I will oppose all that seek to rob even a single individual of his—or her—freedom or life.  It is not an easy thing to carve a life in the lands the Witch-king’s people despoiled so long ago, but some hardy folk have done their best to do so.  I have vowed to assist all who would live free of the Shadow, and that means even those who seek to take empty lands and once again give them life.”  His gaze met that of the Steward squarely.  Lynessë was impressed by the level of responsibility she saw in him, and saw his dignity as a match for that of the more dour Lord Steward of Gondor.

            Denethor gave a wordless grunt and returned his attention to his plate, and the conversation shifted to speculation on how the contests of the last two days of the tournament might go.

            After dinner most of the menfolk remained in the hall to talk, although Mithrandir accepted Lady Anamarieth’s invitation to join her in the solar.  Lynessë saw Lord Denethor give Faramir a significant glance, and saw the resigned nod the younger man gave his father in return before he rose heavily and followed the Wizard, indicating Tervain was to accompany him.  Unbidden, Faramir took a seat at the edge of the room, while Tervain stood at attention inside the door, ready to follow any orders his captain might give him.  Lady Anamarieth nodded Lynessë into a chair by her own next to the hearth, and indicated another across from her for the Wizard.  “Now, you must tell me all you have done since I last saw you,” she directed Mithrandir.

            “All?  Ah, but my lady, that is far more than a mere evening can allow for!  I have been here and there about the West, on both sides of the Misty Mountains, including the lands of Dale and the Beornings and to Esgaroth on the Long Lake in what was Rhovanion, and beyond the crossings of the Hoarwell at Tharbad and even beyond the Breelands to the north, and to lands both east and west.”

            “Ah—the Breelands.  Then, tell me of that land, for it is but a name spoken of by some of the merchants who wander afar in search of exotic goods.”

            “What can I say, my lady?  It is one of the more heavily populated areas in all of Eriador, at the crossing of the East-West Road that of old ran from the ancient Elven havens on the Firth of Lhûn to the High Pass over the Misty Mountains into the upper vales of the Anduin, and the Greenway, what was once the high road built by Elendil and his sons to allow swift passage from those lands administered by Gondor to the northern capital of Annúminas.  There has always been a settlement there, sometimes rough and sometimes quite sedate.  You would, I am certain, find it quite quaint and rustic at this time.”

            Lynessë listened as he described the four villages that made up this land, and began describing his favorite tavern, the Prancing Pony in the village of Bree behind its wooden palisade.  She could see the fondness he felt toward the people of this land reflected in his eyes, and understood better his statement made to Denethor earlier in the evening that all of the Free Peoples were equal in his concern.  And she noted that both Faramir and Tervain were also listening intently, equally fascinated by his description of this far land, rough as it might appear to the urbane folk of Gondor.

            Faramir asked, as it appeared the Wizard was ending his description of Bree, “And there are other settled lands as well?”

            But Mithrandir was shaking his head.  “A few, but most are far scattered, with villages and farms usually separated by many leagues of wilderness.  Some are in league one with the others, but most are highly isolated and must be mostly self-sufficient.  A few hardy folk seek to patrol the ancient roads to protect travelers and the scattered settlements and farmsteads, but they are few in number and cannot protect all as they might be needed.  So it is that when I travel through those lands I do much the same, keeping my eye out for signs of predation and interfering when I can.  Evil is growing once again, however, and many have abandoned lands their families had taken generations ago and retreated into the Breelands or to the far west where the lawless ones rarely travel, seeking to settle lands nearer the shores of the Sundering Sea.  It is often worst along the feet of the Misty Mountains, for the orcs and goblins have many havens beneath the high places, and such have ever been in league with the more evil clans of wolves and wargs.”

            “I’d wondered,” Faramir said slowly, “where it was that you came upon the sword you often wear.  Was it given to you by the rulers of Gondor long ago?  It is a beautiful weapon.  You said you have it with you?”

            “Yes—it is now in my room.”  Mithrandir searched the young man’s eyes.  “Would you like to examine it?”  At Faramir’s nod, he started to rise, but Faramir shook his head.

            “Tervain,” he said with a look to his fellow, “with Mithrandir’s permission I would send you to fetch his sword, although I caution you not to touch any of his other goods or possessions.  It is not wise, I will remind you, to meddle in the affairs of Wizards.  Is that all right with you?” he asked the Wizard.

            Mithrandir gave a wry smile.  “Yes, it would be acceptable for him to fetch it.  You will find it inside the room, leaning against the wall just behind the door.  There will be no need to go further than that, you will find,” he cautioned Tervain.

            Tervain looked back and forth between his Captain and the Wizard, and then gave a bow and withdrew, returning within a scant few minutes with the scabbard in his hands, and bowing as he presented it to the Wizard.

            There was but the whisper of a sound as the sword was withdrawn from its scabbard, which appeared somewhat worn but yet showed signs of excellent care.  Mithrandir turned the blade to catch the light upon its runes and along its keen edge before offering it to Faramir, who’d risen and come forward eagerly to look more closely on its workmanship.

            “I don’t think I have ever seen so beautiful a sword,” Faramir murmured.  He smiled.  “Glamdring?” he asked.  “That is its name?”

            “Indeed.  Foe-hammer it is, although the orcs of the Misty Mountains have called it Beater.  It was one of a pair, Orcrist its mate lying atop the tomb of its last bearer as tribute to his skill in wielding it.”

            “And how did you come by it?”

            The Wizard laughed.  “It was found in a hovel of a place in the Trollshaws not far from the beginning of the High Pass.”

            “And how came it there?  Did the ones who inhabited it give it to you?”

            “Give?  No, they were not in any position to give anyone anything, I fear, having turned to stone at the rising of the Sun.  Oh, yes,” he said in answer to the surprise in the eyes of his listeners, “it came from a troll’s hoard.  The Trollshaws are aptly named, you see.  As to how they came by it, that I cannot say.  It is guessed that the trolls may have found an ancient dragon hoard and appropriated the blades from that.  It is unlikely that such creatures as trolls might have otherwise come into possession of such things.”

            “Were they the work of the folk of Númenor?” asked Tervain, who had come alongside Faramir to examine the weapon as the young Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien turned it in his hands.

            Mithrandir was shaking his head.  “Nay—this is far more ancient than the Land of Gift,” he said sadly.  “It is likely that Maeglin of Gondolin himself may have wrought both Glamdring and Orcrist, if not Celebrimbor Curufinion.  Certainly the finding of the two blades in the troll’s hoard is the first time they have been seen by any of the Free Peoples since Morgoth’s folk laid waste to Turgon’s hidden city before the end of the First Age.”  He smiled as he met the former lord from Langstrand’s eyes.  “Oh, yes—this is an Elf-wrought blade, ancient and blessed by the greatest of lords of the Elves.”

            “But I’d thought that Elves were but the creatures of legends and tales,” Tervain said, his eyes filled with dismay.

            “Best be careful not to say that to any Elf you might come across,” Mithrandir said, holding out his hand to take back the sword.  “You should remember that Elven blood runs in the veins of the descendants of Númenor, including your young Captain here, and his father and brother.”  He ran the sword back into its scabbard, and smiled kindly at the others in the room.  “If you will excuse me—I have just completed a longer ride than I’d planned for, having intended to rest this day in Minas Tirith but instead having been prevailed upon to accompany young Faramir here to this tournament.  My bones are ancient, and are telling me they want their rest.  Good night to you all.”  He leaned down to kiss Lady Anamarieth’s cheek once more, and gave perfunctory bows to the rest before leaving the solar.

 *******

            Faramir took the honors both in tracking and in archery, and he took part in an exhibition of sword dancing on the last afternoon of the Spring Tournament that left all in awe, performing alongside Hirluin the Fair and Erchirion and Prince Imrahil himself.  Húrin took first in lance work and swordsmanship from horseback, while Boromir easily took first place in swordsmanship, insisting afterwards that had Faramir competed against him he’d have been hard pressed to do as well as he did.

            As they rode back to Minas Tirith once more, Boromir rode alongside Daerdion and Théodred, who had taken honors in archery from horseback, wearing the golden spurs that marked the one who took first place in swordsmanship for the Spring Tournament.

 





Home     Search     Chapter List