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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?”
“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.
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