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Faramir found him in the garden. The day was cloudy; the fog lay thick in the air. They sat in silence for some time, as dew trembled on the White Tree. When Faramir finally spoke, he did so with unusual hesitation. “My lord, did you know my mother?”
Aragorn raised an eyebrow, recalling suddenly just what day it was. “I did.”
“Would you – my lord, I wonder if you might tell me of her.”
Aragorn let out a puff on his pipe. “I can only tell you what a humble captain of Gondor saw and heard. The feast was grand, when I first beheld your mother. A great victory had been won, and so I was invited to the high table, down a few seats from Prince Adrahil, his sons, and the lady Finduilas.”
The air was overly warm. Thorongil shifted in his seat, wishing he were out on the city streets. There was much left to be done – all the work of a company coming home. But the victory had been his company's and Ecthelion had insisted he come to the feast. So Thorongil held his peace and filled his stomach, counting down the minutes until the dinner would disperse.
“Suddenly, a man's laughter rose above the noise. Deep, it was, with the roar and tumult of falling waters and in it was an honest joy. I recognized the voice – it was your father.”
All heads turned at the sound of Denethor's laughter. The steward's son was well known throughout the court for his solemn mien. Thorongil looked as well, though he turned away swiftly, lest Denethor catch him gawping and take offense. But the steward's son was for once not aware of his surroundings, nor the audience his laughter had gained him. He leaned closer to the woman at his side, and for his remark won her returned laughter.
“The lady who had brought him to merriment was, of course, your mother. I had the privilege of speaking to her after the feast.”
Thorongil looked up in surprise. A noblewoman was striding towards him, her skirts swishing through the air. She stopped before him, a little short of breath.
“My, but you do walk fast!” she said.
“Strider, they used to call me in the North,” Thorongil said and his remark brought a smile to her face. She was, he thought, a woman moved easily to smiles.
She was studying him now, curious. “My name is Finduilas. I am Prince Adrahil's daughter. And what am doing, you may well be wondering, accosting you in a hallway?” She laughed. “It's like this. After we broke up for dancing, I found myself swarmed. 'Finduilas' they said to me, 'what magic do you have, to make the solemn steward's son break a smile? Only our eagle has yet won that same honor.' I asked them, 'Do you speak in riddles? What eagle is this?' The captain, they tell me, Captain Thorongil.” She broke off and brought her hands out in a wide gesture. “I thought I'd meet this one. For, what do you say, you can be my partner in jest, and together give the lord Denethor laugh lines instead of frowns.”
“I was gladdened to speak with her, for she was merry and bright of spirit.”
“I fear they overestimate my wit,” Thorongil said. “No one, lady, has brought such easy laughter to the lord captain as you.”
A sudden frown overtook her face. “Is Lord Denethor's humor truly so strange a sight? I do not consider myself a worker of miracles.”
“Perhaps you are a miracle yourself,” Thorongil said, gracing her with a short bow.
The lady laughed. “Are all the men of Gondor as charming as you?” she asked him.
Thorongil opened and his mouth and then closed it, suddenly awkward. “Lady, let me only say this. Though the Lord Denethor be far above me, yet I count him a friend. It gladdens my heart to see him happy. I only hope that you will stay in court a little longer.”
Finduilias' eyes narrowed and Thorongil was subjected to the full force of her contemplation. The blood of Numenoir showed in the sharpness of eyes as she studied him. “Then be glad, for I have no plans to leave. You are a strange man, captain, but a true friend to his lordship, I deem.”
“The Lady Finduilias stayed on at court, even as her brothers returned to Dol Amroth. Soon it was common knowledge, even as low as the first circle, that the Lady Finduilas and the Lord Denethor would be wed.”
Thorongil stood in Denethor's study, patiently awaiting Denethor's response, but when no answer was forthcoming he spoke softly, “My lord?”
Denethor started. “Yes Thorongil?” he said briskly, as if sharpness of tone could make up for his lack of attention.
“The placements of the companies in Osgiliath. We await your approval.”
“These will do fine,” Denethor said shortly, glancing down at the map on the table. Under Thorongil's intent gaze his cheeks reddened slightly. “You will pardon my distraction,” he finally said. “For in six days I shall be a married man.”
“I know, my lord,” Thorongil said. “And I am glad for you.”
His words, though simple, were sincerely meant. He was surprised, therefore, when Denethor's head shot up, his dark gaze piercing him. “Are you?” he asked. “Or will you not say I make a mistake?”
Thorongil was taken aback. “I would not say such a thing. I know of no mortal woman who excels the lady Finduilias in beauty, intelligence and wit. And indeed, even if that were not so, it is clear that she pleases you and lightens your heart. For that alone I would say you make no mistake.”
“And of course, it is no ill thing that she is Lord Adrahil's daughter,” Denethor said sardonically.
Again, Thorongil was startled and hardly knew what to say. “She is of no low birth,” he said cautiously. “But my lord, forgive me any impertinence, I believed that this was a match of love?”
“Love!” Denethor said explosively. He rose from the table in a single abrupt movement and began to pace the small chamber. “Everybody speaks of it – the poets, my father, the woman of the court. Yet no one speaks of it the same way. It is when her eyes shine like the moon – folly. It is when there is fire in your chest – folly also. It is trust, they say, a singular intimacy.”
His mouth twisted. He continued bitterly. “Do I love Finduilias? I think she is very beautiful – you say the same. I find her conversation pleasant and stimulating – why should I not? She is easy to speak with, and understands me well. I have every confidence in her ability to manage a household and to aid me someday in the running of Gondor. This does not seem to me like love, as the poets speak it!”
Then he paused. “But what need have I of poets? Tell me this, Thorongil, for I ask not as your lord, but as your friend, if it is friendship I have won from you. Have you ever been in love?”
Thorongil had been silent throughout Denethor's outburst. Now he tried to marshal his thoughts. “I count you a friend,” he said slowly, “so I will answer you as best I can. Yes. I have been in love, and I still am. It is a love that tears at my heart and troubles me waking and sleeping; it is the most beautiful thing that I have felt in all my years in this world. When I think of the one that I love it is hard for me to breath. Her every movement draws my eye, and I find it hard to look away. Yet to be in her company is the most simple and fitting of things. That is all I can say of love,” Thorongil finished. “I am sorry I do not have better words.”
Denethor was watching him intently, a queer light in his eyes. “Thank you, Thorongil,” he said quietly.
Thorongil gave a hasty bow and took his leave, wondering what demons could be troubling Lord Denethor on the eve of so great a happiness.
“The days to the wedding counted down quickly.”
The 3:00 watch was a bitter one, dark and exceedingly cold. Thorongil did not have to take it – his seniority more than gave him the right to choose a more pleasant hour. But it was good for the morale of his company that their captain took his share of unfavorable watches. Besides, the early morning quiet gave him time to tend to his thoughts.
He did not realize he was no longer alone until a voice spoke at his side: “As attentive as ever, I see.”
“Lord Denethor,” Thorongil said, smiling. It was a rare thing to have company at this hour. “What brings you out so early?”
“My sleep has been troubled of late,” Denethor said. “How goes the watch?”
Thorongil gave him a bemused smile. “They call it the graveyard shift, my lord. Nothing stirs but ghosts of the dead.”
Denethor sniffed, stepping up to Thorongil's side. “It can hardly be called a watch when it's dark enough that no man can see past an arm's length.”
“I see well enough by the moonlight,” Thorongil returned amiably.
Denethor turned to him. He was cloaked by shadow, but the moonlight bared Thorongil's own face.
“Quite,” Denethor said finally, sounding oddly out of breath.
“Have you come for counsel?” Thorongil ventured, trying to understand what impulse had drawn Denethor hither.
“Counsel? What do you mean?” Denethor's voice always grew harsh when he was surprised.
“You say your sleep has been troubled. Often when this is the case men wish to speak of their troubles, and so lay them to rest.”
“You think I have come to offer up my troubles? That I esteem you over all other listening ears?”
“I think nothing, my lord,” Thorongil said, “only that you are here.”
“Yes,” Denethor said. He spoke softly, as if to himself. “I am here.”
“At last the day was nigh. Finduiluis was clad in the purest whites, and your father was resplendent in his attire of choice – ceremonial mail, bearing the white tree. My heart rejoiced to see them together.”
“Who is she?” Denethor said suddenly, as they watched the companies spar in the yard below.
“My lord?” Thorongil replied, taken slightly aback.
Denethor's hands clenched tightly against the railing. “The woman. The one you love. Do not play coy with me, Thorongil, I do not have the patience.”
“She is a lady of the north, far from here,” Thoringil answered cautiously.
“Why are you here, if your love lies in the North?”
Thorongil paused before answering, studying the other man's face to see if the question had some hidden motive. But he could discern no true hostility in Denethor's gaze, only a powerful curiosity and the faintest edge of desperation. He answered carefully all the same. “I am afraid that she is far above me. My love for her is a flame that I can only nourish in my heart. I do not think I shall see my love returned.”
“So this lady does not love you?” Denethor said, disbelief edging his statement into a question.
“She does not,” Thorongil said heavily.
Denethor looked away. “Then she is a fool.”
“You know the end of this tale better than I, for I left the White City before your mother fell to grief. For that I am glad.”
Answering the imperious knock at his door, Thorongil had not expected to find the steward's son. Denethor's hair was disheveled and his cheeks were flushed.
“You are drunk, my lord,” Thorongil concluded, surprise spilling the words from his mouth before he could consider whether this truth was one that should voiced.
Denethor laughed, a quick bitter bark. “So you dare say it, Thorongil. Yes, I am. But was it not your oath to be silent?”
Thorongil was taken aback at the question. “To speak, and to be silent. Yes, lord. So I did swear.”
“Ha! And did he not then say, my father, that he would punish oath-breaking with vengeance and fealty with love.”
“You know the oath as well as I.”
“Fealty with love,” Denethor repeated. “Aye.”
He looked at Thorongil, long and deep. “Would you say there are different kinds of love, Thorongil?”
“The love of a parent, the love of a child, the love of a liege lord, the love of a friend, the love of a wife?”
“As you say,” Thorongil replied, trying to understand the turn their conversation had taken.
“And which would you call the greatest of these?” Denethor demanded.
“The greatest,” Thorongil hesitated. “My lord, I am not sure any man could judge between them.”
“Try.” Denethor spoke the command in a single sharp staccato.
“If I must place one of these before all others, then I will say the love of one's own people. But I answer as a soldier, who has not truly known what it is to love a child.”
Denethor has remained motionless as he spoke. Now he stirred. “I would answer the same way you have answered. For I will lead Gondor when my father's time is passed. She is my true bride.”
“As you say, my lord.”
Denethor hesitated, as if there was something further weighing on his mind, but before Thorongil could put another question to him, he turned and slipped away down the corridor.
“In my memory Finduilias will always be that smiling young maiden, with all the years of her life ahead of her.”
Thorongil had received the lady Finduilias's summons with some apprehension. Returning to the city from a month-long ranging in Ithilien, he'd been greeted with uneasy rumors. Few were specific, but all centered around Finuilias and Denethor, and some strange discord in the steward's house.
When he entered the room, Findulias spoke. “Do you know what you do to him?” she said. She was facing away from him, staring out the window. “This is how he stood yesterday morning, watching the gates when you rode in.”
“My lady?” Thorongil said hesitantly. He knew she was speaking of Denethor, but her words made no sense that he could grasp.
She turned and beheld his confused expression. A faint smile crossed her face, but he thought it wilted and bitter, like a flower denied rain. “I see from your face that you do not understand. Well, how should you, when I do not, and perhaps neither does he? All I know is that you are a poison upon him. When he hears your name he falls into brooding, a deep silence I cannot shake him from. And when he speaks of you he grows wild and fey, and takes my every word as an attack.”
Thorongil grew still, deeply troubled by her words. “It is true that his manner towards me has changed of late. He has grown cold. And yet, within that coldness, sometimes I have the impression of hidden heat, like a flame nourished in ice.”
Finduilias shook her head. “I do not know what has passed between you, nor what lies in my husband's heart. But if you have any love for him, or me, or if for neither of us, then for this city, you will put yourself far from him, so that this sickness may run its course.”
She looked at him then, and though he tried, in her weary expression he could find little of the laughing woman he had met just years ago.
“And your father – I choose to remember him as the young man I knew, stern and yet kind, aloof and yet warm. I cannot condemn him for the despair he fell into. For his path was no easy one to walk.”
They departed at dawn.
“Fair sailing, Eagle,” Denethor said, as they stood on the city's docks. His hand found Thorongil's shoulder, and stayed too long.
I am sorry, Thorongil wanted to say. But he did not know what for, and he said nothing.
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