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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.”
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