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Or Perchance, When the Last Little Star  by Larner

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  “Don’t you fear, child, that it appears--out of date, perhaps?”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.”





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