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Or Perchance, When the Last Little Star  by Larner

The Spring Tournament

            For several days Lynessë was unable to ride out upon the Pelennor, as she found herself in constant conferences with the Seneschal, Lord Húrin, and the steward of Lord Forlong of Lossarnach regarding housing for the current residents of the Citadel for the Spring Tournament.  Other lords arrived from the outer fiefdoms, but most of these stayed temporarily either in their own townhouses in the Fifth and Sixth Circles, or they accepted the hospitality of friends and relatives either within Minas Tirith, upon the Pelennor, or near the site where the tournament would be held just outside the city of Bavarin.  Lord Forlong had a hunting lodge near the field where the tournament would be held where Lord Denethor and his immediate household would stay, and some of his immediate vassals were to host the guests from the Citadel.

            Some excitement was stirred when Lord Théodred of Rohan arrived unexpectedly to attend the tournament as the special guest of Lords Denethor and Boromir, and many of the arrangements already made had to be hastily amended.

            The one good thing to come from this period of intense negotiation was that there was no time for Lynessë to have to face whatever assignations her mother might seek to concoct.  However, it left her mother with more time to plot, although the arrival of the son of Théoden King set many of her previous plans at naught as she found herself scrambling to imagine ways to set Lynessë in the path of Théodred.

            Prince Théodred was accompanied by a man he introduced as the representative of Curunír of Isengard.  Lynessë was introduced to the two of them by Lord Denethor himself.  “My Lord Théodred, Master Erdeon, if I might introduce my Chatelaine, Mistress Lynessë.  Mistress Lynessë is most recently of Pinnath Gelin, although she was born here in the White City, gentlemen.  Master Erdeon, if you will place yourself in her capable hands, she will show you rooms consistent with your position.  Lord Théodred, if you will follow me this way—the rooms for Eorl’s descendants have ever been on the upper level of this wing.  It is an honor to welcome you here!”

            Lynessë had the distinct impression that Master Erdeon was not pleased to be separated from his Rohirric companion, although she was certain that the same could not be said of Prince Théodred.  Oh, on the contrary, she was certain he straightened noticeably as if a weight had been taken from his shoulders as he followed the Lord Steward of Gondor toward the stairway to the second level of the guests’ wing.  She turned to her own charge.  “Master Erdeon, if you will follow me?  We have a suite in keeping with your honor that is still empty.  Berenthien—if you can get one of the other maids to assist you in preparing the blue suite?  Have you any attendants, Master Erdeon?  No?  Then I will instruct one of the valets to attend upon you.”

            Berenthien hurried ahead of them to open the indicated suite to the left of the hallway, and Lynessë led the envoy into it.  “There is a main bedroom there, and a room here for any companion you might have.  There is a privy, although I regret to tell you that there is no private bathing room for the suite, although you may take advantage of the general bathing room through the next door down the hallway, should you find it unoccupied.  From what the servants for this wing tell me, it is generally open in the afternoons from the time of luncheon to about two hours before the daymeal.  Would you prefer to dine here in your rooms, or in the common dining hall?”

            Berenthien and another of the maids for this wing were swiftly bustling about, seeing to it that the wood laid on the hearth was lit as well as candles, for the day was somewhat grey, as well as bringing refreshments for the guest’s enjoyment.  All was clean and ready for occupancy, Lynessë noted, and she determined to tell the housekeeper just how pleased she was to see all so well kept.

            “Is all pleasing to you, Master Erdeon?” she asked as she prepared to leave the room.

            He was, she realized, looking at her with a good deal more consideration than she felt was due her.  “Indeed, Mistress—Lynessa?  No—Lynessë.  That is how Lord Denethor named you, is it not?”

            She found she did not like his voice.  It was low, but rather oddly accented, and its tone almost—suggestive.  Yes, suggestive.  Definitely suggestive!  She did all she could to keep her own tone properly polite and concerned for his comfort.  “Yes, that is my name.”

            He gave the briefest of nods, one she judged to be somewhat arrogant.  “I see.  And you are a kinswoman to our Lord Denethor?”

            “If so, sir, then it is too long ago to count for aught in this time.  He has taken a series of lesser noblewomen and gentlewomen as his Chatelaine since the death of his lady wife, and I am merely the latest of these.”

            “But you are in his counsel?”

            She felt amazed at such a suggestion.  “In his counsel?  I fear there are no women on the Council of Gondor, sir,” she answered, choosing to deliberately misunderstand him.

            “But does he—what is the word?  Confide?  Does he confide in you?”

            “I eat with him privately at least once each sevenday, sir.”  It was as much as she felt she could say, one way or another.

            He gave a smile.  “Perhaps you could join me, eat with me here in my chambers, this night.”

            “I am honored,” she said slowly, “but I cannot do so this night, nor during the time before the court removes to Lossarnach for the Spring Tournament.  My duties forbid it, sir.”

            He nodded, then gave that slightly arrogant, rather sly smile.  “Then perhaps when we are in Lossarnach?”

            “I can make no promises, Master Erdeon.”

            It still took some time to extricate herself from his company, and she took a moment, once she was able to do so unobserved, and wiped her forehead before hurrying off to oversee the packing of goods to be taken with them.

*******

            It was quite a party that set off for Lossarnach a few days later.   First went a vanguard of mounted knights from the city and northern Lebennin, followed by a battalion of men at arms.  The Steward and the nobles both from the White City and those who had been his guests came next, accompanied by their ladies and heirs.  Accompanying these were a number of warriors from Anórien as well as those from the garrison within the ruins of Osgiliath and Cair Andros that could be spared.  Prince Théodred rode with his own small escort and Boromir and his captains, Master Erdeon having found himself riding with the contingent from Amon Dîn.  Many of the younger sons who would not be taking part in the tournament and the younger ladies rode together in the group to which Lynessë found herself assigned.  These were attended by a troupe of Guardsmen from the Citadel, several of whom would be taking part in the contests involving swordsmanship and the use of pikes and axes.  And with them rode, to Lynessë’s pleased surprise, Lord Húrin.

            “I could not bear riding amidst the company surrounding the Steward today,” he confided quietly.  “I do not think I can deal the stuffiness of Lord Daerloth for much longer.  He is rather too fond of offering counsel on subjects he’s not been consulted upon.  I rather pity your uncle and father that they must bear with him, although he does appear well disposed toward your father in spite of the fact he is not of high noble blood himself.  It seems that he considers himself indebted to your father for rescuing him in the midst of battle some years ago, when both fought against orcs near the Mering Stream.”

            Lynessë was surprised, for she’d never known that her father had taken part in any campaigns within Anórien.  But before she could respond, the youthful Lady Aldúnieth had spurred her horse forward to ride upon Húrin’s other side.  “My lord, I wished to thank you for the kindness and sponsorship you have showed my younger brother.  Rigil is seen as young and impetuous in the eyes of our parents and grandmother….” 

            She was smiling winsomely into Húrin’s eyes, and was arching herself in such a way she was clearly presenting her curves for his inspection and appreciation.  Lynessë found herself wanting to take the chit by the nape of the neck and send her off with a swat to the rump to remind her that she was yet a young thing in the eyes of her elders!  But she held herself in check, knowing that she had no such authority.  Indeed, such an action could not only cause her to be sent home to Pinnath Gelin in disgrace, but could cause serious repercussions to fall upon her parents and uncle’s family as well.  So she bit her lip and did her best to appear delighted the young lady had availed herself of Húrin’s proximity to put herself forward.  But as the girl continued to monopolize Húrin’s attention she grew increasingly frustrated, knowing relief only when Boromir turned to call his cousin to join their company so as to answer a question put forth by Théodred of Rohan.  So it was she was in a perfect position to note the exasperation the youthful Lady Butterfly showed as Húrin rode off in obedience to the Heir to the Steward.  Lynessë carefully schooled her own expression, not wishing for the girl to realize just how closely her plays were being watched.  And when both Lynnessë and Rigil were called to join that party a few moments later she did her best to hide her own elation.  She was aware that Aldúnieth was looking daggers at her as she rode forward.  But for the sake of policy she did return to the group of families and maidens shortly thereafter, happy to leave young Rigil basking in the glow of attention from these attested warriors.

            They stopped at midafternoon for refreshments, and Lynessë was gratified to find that Húrin was there to help her from her horse.  Aldúnieth was apparently unhappy with this state of affairs, however, and brought her own palfrey up alongside the Warden of the Keys upon his other side, causing it to sidestep against him slightly to draw his attention.  As she went to dismount, she purposely turned her foot and started to fold with a cry of assumed pain.

            “My ankle—I have turned my ankle!” she insisted.

            What could Húrin, as the closest gentleman to her, do but to offer her a supporting arm?  And Lord Denethor, a particularly sardonic smile upon his face, encouraged the girl with, “Oh, but how fortunate for you, my lady, that my nephew is here at hand to offer you his aid.  Carry on, Húrin.  Young Rigil—if you might offer your arm to Mistress Lynessë?”

            It was Rigil, however, who saw his sister’s ruse made plain.  As he brought a goblet of wine to Lynessë he stumbled and spilled some of the drink across Aldúnieth’s shoulders.  The girl pulled herself abruptly from Húrin’s arm as she turned to strike at her brother’s head, standing firmly upon both feet.  Húrin looked down at her dainty boots, and smiled.  “How wonderful, my lady, that you have recovered so swiftly.  I will leave you, then, to the further chastisement of your brother.”  And with a brief bow he withdrew to his uncle’s side, leaving Aldúnieth gawking after him stupidly.  Lynessë had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing outright in delight.

 *******

            They arrived at the hunting lodge as Anor dipped to touch the horizon.  Here the Steward’s party was greeted by Lord Forlong’s dowager mother, a ponderously heavy woman with eyes that seemed to start in their sockets, a protruding lower lip, and a neck lost in multiple folds, and a personality that Lynessë found herself warming to immediately.

            “My Lady Anamarieth, it is a great pleasure to see you once again,” Lord Denethor said as she presented not her hand to be taken, but instead her cheek to be kissed, which he did with great dignity.  “And you remember my son, Boromir?”

            “But of course!  Come, dear boy, and give me a buss as you did when you were yet a child!” 

            Blushing, but obviously pleased to do as she bade, Boromir not only kissed her cheek but hugged her as well.  “Oh, but it is good to see you yet again, Aunt Marieth,” he said with a smile.  “And may I introduce to you Prince Théodred of Rohan?”

            “So, you are Théoden’s son, are you?  I knew your father as a child, for he was a favorite of my husband and myself when we visited in Minas Tirith.  Your grandsire was quite the man, you know—so handsome and so pursued by the ladies, although the only one he had eyes for, once he’d seen her, was our Morwen.  She and I were close friends when we were girls together, you know.  Know that you are welcome, as if you, too, were my own nephew, for I often thought of your grandmother as my sister—certainly I was far closer to her than I was to my true sister, silly wench that she was.”

            Lynessë stifled the laugh she felt building in her at Théodred’s expression, for he also appeared to be totally taken by surprise by the lady’s familiarity.  He, too, was induced to kiss her cheek, after which Húrin stepped forward with no prompting at all to follow suit.

            “And do not think that we are at all discomfited by you, Aunt Marieth,” he said, holding her shoulders afterwards.  “You are a dear and a treasure, and well we know it.  But we have been riding all day, and would be glad to be shown to our quarters.  If you will see to the needs of Mistress Lynessë there, I assure you that we will ever be in your debt.”

            “Show you to your rooms?  Oh, but Forlong, you and the servants will see to that, won’t you?  So, you are Lynessë, daughter to Captain Telorin and Endorë are you?  Ah, but it has been many years since I last saw you playing with young Faramir among the cherry trees behind the Citadel.  You have become quite the beauty, haven’t you?”

            Lynessë caught the poisonous glance shot at her by Aldúnieth as one of Forlong’s vassals arrived to lead the party from Amon Dîn to his home, and followed Lady Anamarieth into the lodge, her arm held possessively by her hostess.  “That was Elantiel’s granddaughter, eh?” asked the older woman in a confiding murmur.  “The elegant one who is rather too closely laced in her gown?  I am surprised she could even sit astride a horse without popping her laces.  Elantiel always had far too high an opinion of herself and her husband, I thought, and it appears she is trying desperately to encourage that child to put herself forward so as to make a good match and to Mordor with propriety.  How typical of her!”

            Lynessë found herself laughing aloud, and Anamarieth laughed with her, continuing with, “I must say that other than some of the lady’s maids I saw riding toward the rear, you are one of the few true women I’ve seen this day.  And Denethor chose you as his Chatelaine, did he?  At least he shows good taste as well as sense when he chooses those to see to the running of his house.  Now, tell me all of the gossip from Minas Tirith—I’ve not had a good talk with a woman from the White City in an age, I’ll swear!”

            Knowing that her parents were staying the night with the retired captain of Lossarnach’s guards, Lynessë felt herself relax as she was led to Lady Anamarieth’s solar and settled into a most comfortable chair and had a warm drink pressed into her hand as a maid whisked away her cloak.  Somehow she knew that in no time at all she, too, would be thinking of her hostess as Aunt Marieth.

*******

            “Mistress, would you like some water?”

            She did not recognize the voice, and was not certain she wished to open her eyes to see for herself who it was who stood by her bed.  She and Lady Anamarieth had spoken late into the night, and, she remembered woozily, imbibed far more heavily than was Lynessë’s wont.  She’d not felt like this since her oldest cousin and she had stolen some wine from Uncle Elstror’s cellar and hidden behind the garden shed to drink it between them.  It had been a sweet aperitif intended for gatherings of her aunt’s companions, which was why they had been certain it would be all right for the two of them to try it.  Some hours later one of the gardeners had found the two of them seated, almost insensibly drunk, and had called for Uncle Elstror, who had seen them both to bed with basins beside them.  They’d been put on bread and milk for three days each, not that Lynessë had minded for the first two.  It had been a far more instructive lesson than all of her mother’s lectures on the virtues of moderation put together, as she remembered it.

            Why had she not remembered that last evening?

            She squinted her eyes to note that a mature lady’s maid stood by her bed with a cloth and basin of rose scented water with which she might freshen herself.  She smiled, wanly she was certain, and clumsily swung her feet out from beneath the sheets.  The maid set the basin and pitcher on a nearby table and poured her a measure of water, which Lynessë gulped rather greedily, then helped her to cleanse her face of the sweat of the night, and at last to rise and dress, preparing for the day.

            Breakfast, she noted with a measure of thanks, was fairly light.  Lady Anamarieth sat at the foot of the table, smiling with satisfaction at her as she took her place amongst the menfolk.  “We did have a delightful evening, didn’t we, Mistress Lynessë?  I do say, Denethor, that when you next come to call you must bring her with you again.  A most refreshing change from many of the affected creatures my son used to bring home, and that my grandsons seek to present me with now!  I do recommend the eggs and fresh pork, Mistress Lynessë—it will do you remarkable good.”

            To Lynessë’s surprise, the lady’s advice proved sound, and she was feeling decidedly better when she went out to mount for the ride to the tourney grounds.  She rode now beside Lady Anamarieth and Lord Forlong’s longsuffering wife, who gave Lynessë a jaded smile as they were introduced, and listened as the dowager gave a discourse on the history of the city of Bavarin and the excellence of those who practiced their crafts within its boundaries.  “The Master of the city has done well to draw such folk to it,” she noted, “as many travel here to purchase the best coaches and amongst the finest porcelains produced throughout the whole of Gondor.”

            She was moved on her arrival at the tourney grounds to be met by young Rigil, dressed in the colors of Amon Dîn, who presented her with a nosegay of narcissus and hyacinths and who begged a favor of her to carry with him during the race he was to ride.  She had brought a few silk kerchiefs with her, and gladly surrendered one to the youth, who fastened it proudly to his belt and gave her a deep bow before hurrying off to join his own parents in the stands until the race should be run, shortly after the noon break was over.  Moments later Húrin appeared, with a spray of apple blossoms, and soon he was sporting a second kerchief, his attached to the baldric he wore slung over his shoulder.

            “You do well to give your favors to more than one,” commented Lord Denethor, who had appeared unnoticed at her shoulder.  “And I deem yon youth will rejoice to bring you the wreath he will win in the races.”

            “You have watched him practice?  How wonderful!  He appears a born horseman, and his gelding has a fine gait and pace.”

            “So my nephew tells me also.  And what think you of our guests from Rohan?”

            Much of her pleasure in the morn’s activities decreased as Lynessë found herself contemplating what answer she might give.  “Lord Théodred and the men of his household appear high of heart and comfortable with one another and with our hospitality.”

            “And the envoy from Curunír?”

            It was a moment before she answered, “I know not quite what to say of him, my lord.  He is courteous enough in his speech, I suppose; but I feel rather forward in his attitude toward me.”

            The Steward nodded, as if this confirmed what he’d already divined of the man.  “I see.  Has he asked anything of you that you would consider unseemly?”

            “No, my Lord Denethor.  However, he has asked whether or not I am deep in your confidence.  I am uncertain whether he wishes to learn details he supposes to be privy between us, or if he wishes me to pass on suggestions from him couched as if they were my own.”

            They stood apart from any others, and their voices were low.  Otherwise she knew she would not have spoken so frankly regarding Erdeon’s importune behavior.  He nodded his understanding.  “An unknown quantity, this Master Erdeon.  But Lord Curunír is not one to either ignore or insult—neither is a wise move when dealing with Wizards.  I am told that he has done much to make of Isengard once again an active fortress, and that he now has men at arms housed within its walls.  For one who was granted the tower of Orthanc as a place of study and retreat from the warlike ways of Gondor and Rohan, it appears he is nevertheless being infected by the martial spirits of his neighbors.  Both he and his envoy bear watching.

            “Oh—but you carry narcissi!  May I beg a blossom of them from you?  They were a favorite of my beloved wife….”

            She offered him his choice, and he took a spray with three blooms, smiling disarmingly at her as he fastened it to the brooch that held his cloak closed upon his left shoulder.  “I thank you, Mistress.  Will you be sitting with your family, then?”  With that he turned to meet the approach of the party from Rohan.  “Welcome, my lords!  Master Erdeon—I was hoping that you would sit by me for the morning’s contests.  You will not be competing, will you?  Ah, but I thought not….”  And with his hand on the envoy’s elbow he led the man away.

            “Hold your friends ever close, but your potential enemies even closer,” muttered Théodred half under his breath, and Boromir, who walked beside him, nodded.

            “Yes, so my father has ever held.  Come, friend, and we shall go down to the lists to see you entered in the contest for archery from horseback.  Good day to you, Mistress Lynessë!”

            *******

            She chose indeed to sit with the party from Pinnath Gelin, and a merry time was known by all as the contests went forward.  The first contests were for swordsmen, and none was surprised when Lord Boromir managed to best every opponent set against him.  Eight sets were held that morning, with word that eight more would close the day, and still more the following day.  Young archers followed the fencing, after which there was a break for the noon meal.

            The first of the races, those of the youngest riders, was held early in the afternoon, and a closely contested run it proved.  In the end Rigil managed to pull forward of his closest rival, a youth wearing the colors of Pelargir, and crossed the line a half-length in front.  When crowned with the victory wreath he was all smiles, but then he was off walking his steed himself as a good horseman does, and returning him to the tents that served as stables to curry the great hearted beast himself and see him properly cared for before returning to the stands.  Lynessë found him beside her during the contests between those who fought with pikes, his color still high with triumph.  “I wished to thank you, Mistress Lynessë, for your courtesy toward me, and to present you with this,” he said in a clearly rehearsed speech, holding out the wreath toward her.

            Lynessë glanced over at the place where the party from Amon Dîn sat, suggesting, “Don’t you think it might be more politic to offer this to your lady mother?  I think she would be honored to receive it from you.”

            He leaned forward confidingly, and murmured in her ear, “It is not intended to show you that I care for you in any way that is not proper for one of my age, Mistress, but merely a sign of thanks, for you and Lord Húrin have offered me your friendship and sponsorship, and for that alone am I grateful.”  He glanced about, and whispered, “I have found my eye caught indeed by a maiden from Lebennin whose father is captain of the Guard for Passaurin.  I would possibly have offered it to her, but such would only serve to draw my family’s attention to her in a manner that would be uncomfortable for her.  So, if you would deign to accept it?”

            She suppressed a laugh, merely pulling back and saying solemnly, “Well, Master Rigil, having put it in those terms, I would be most honored to received the wreath from you.”

            He settled it upon her head with some ceremony, then gave her a brilliant smile before disappearing back into the crowd, hopefully, she suspected, to return to the side of the maiden who’d managed to capture his interest.  Lynessë caught her mother smiling with satisfaction as she turned her attention back to the contests.  Ah, Naneth—how high your hopes ever are, she found herself thinking.

 *******

            Late on the second afternoon arrived a group of men from Ithilien and Osgiliath, including Lord Faramir and several of his Rangers.  The Lord Steward Denethor withdrew for a time from his guests in the Steward’s Box to speak with his younger son, and it appeared that he was not fully happy with Faramir’s arrival.

            Lynessë, who with her cousin had been fetching refreshments for those in their own party, was passing nearby in time to hear Denethor remonstrating with his son.  “I don’t know why you chose to bring him!  I already am forced to dance with one Wizard’s agent, and you bring another with you?”

            “But he was arriving at the city gates when we reached the stables in the First Circle to exchange mounts, Father.  What were we to do?  Leave him there unsupervised to go through the archives for information you would as lief know about immediately?  For have you not always said that the Grey Wizard is ever in search of information it is wise for the Steward to know as well?”

            The Grey Wizard—here?  Would she finally be able to meet with the infamous Mithrandir?  Much had she heard of him over the years, usually spoken in low voices, uttered behind the backs of hands.  But, she thought, he had been kind to the child Faramir, bringing him that book of tales from far away….  She found herself filled with curiosity to meet the man himself.

            Which she found herself doing within moments, suddenly finding herself face to face with a tall soul in grey robes and with the most absurd of hats upon his head!  At her second look at his face she could not understand why her first impression of him was of a youth with a flaming sword; he bore no sword, but instead carried a staff of gnarled wood with a twist of roots at the top as if it were the flame of a great torch.  And certainly there was nothing youthful in the bearded face with its jutting eyebrows and wrinkled skin.  What could be seen of the mouth indicated this was one prone perhaps equally to laughter and severity, one who could appreciate the absurdities of life even as he sought to reprove those who were given to twisted reasoning.  It was the face of one who had seen a great deal in a long and rich life even as he found himself filled with curiosity about an often contrary world.

            She found herself going into a profound curtsey in spite of herself.  “Lord Mithrandir?” she ventured.

            He appeared surprised and, dare she hope? flattered as well.  “You have the advantage on me, Mistress, although I will tell you I am no lord here within Middle Earth.  I will advise you not to address me so in front of Lord Denethor, as I fear it would offend him to hear me so named.”

            “I am Lynessë of Pinnath Gelin, daughter to Telorin of the Guard and Endorë.”

            “Telorin’s daughter?  Ah—I remember your father well from earlier visits to the White City—a most responsible man.  I am pleased to meet you, then, Mistress Lynessë!  And have you seen Lord Denethor?  Can you direct me his way?  Ah, but never mind—I see him there with young Faramir.  How well the lad has grown in the years since my last visit to Gondor!  If you will excuse me?”  And so saying, he bowed to her and turned to join Faramir and his father.

            He and Faramir joined the party returning that evening to Forlong’s hunting lodge, riding easily between Denethor and his younger son, apparently telling some absurd tale that had the Steward looking at him askance and Faramir laughing outright.  Húrin leaned forward to confide, “I must say that it is far preferable to have the Grey Wizard here in fact than it would be to have to host his brother the White.  It is bad enough trying to hold one’s tongue with this Erdeon, I find.  Mithrandir may not tell you all he knows, but neither does he look down his nose at those with whom he finds himself, nor speak in veiled threats and ambiguous hints as Curunír and this envoy of his are prone to do.”  She nodded.

            Lady Anamarieth had not chosen to attend the day’s meet, having announced that her back was aching her, so she would stay in the lodge for the day where she had a comfortable chair to support her.  She sat, her stick between her hands, and smiled with satisfaction when she saw that this time Denethor entered with a son on each side, accepting the kiss of each and tousling Faramir’s hair as if he were an urchin of eight rather than Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien.

            “My dear boy—how wonderful that you could break away from your duties to join in a few days of frivolity such as is offered by the Spring Tournament.  Your usual room is already prepared for you, you will find.  I remonstrated with your father that he would even imagine that you would stay away!  You will be taking part in the tracking tomorrow and the archery contests of the day after, won’t you?  And who attends upon you?”

            “I have as my esquire one of my men who is to spend most of his time in my company, Aunt Marieth.  I only hope that Mistress Lynessë is not too discomfited with his possible presence within the house, for at their last meeting he offered her distinct offense.  However, he is proving himself capable of learning from his mistakes and the correction offered him, and has steadied well in the past few months.”

            “And who else comes?  Oh, but of course!  Mithrandir!  You are most welcome indeed!  Forlong, is there yet the room at the end of the hallway ready to house Mithrandir?  Good enough!  Nay, and do not speak of sleeping within the stable with your mount and the guardsmen, my friend.  What?  You do not wear your sword?  But you have it with you, do you not?  He’s a fine swordsman, I assure you, Denethor, and could undoubtedly teach some of the young whelps taking part in the tournament a thing or two.  I remember when that group of orcs came out of the White Mountains when we were traveling to Angbor’s keep some years ago—he wielded it very well indeed!”

            “Ah, my beloved Lady Anamarieth!” the Wizard finally managed to interrupt her to say.  “My sword is with my horse and tack.  It is usually more comfortable when I must ride to fasten it to the pommel of my saddle.  And, yes, this time I did ride.”  He leaned forward to kiss her cheek, murmuring loudly enough for Lynessë to hear, “And you are as beautiful and charming as always, my dear Marieth.”

            “And you know, do you not, dear fellow, that when you say this I find I can believe it in my heart?  Thank you for brightening my failing days, Mithrandir,”

            And in her smile at the Wizard, suddenly Lynessë could see the woman she must have been in her youth, handsome rather than merely beautiful, her open heart easily discerned by Lord Forlong’s father and all others, her eyes alight with humor and character.

            At dinner Faramir was indeed served by Tervain of Langstrand, even as he had hinted he would be earlier.  But as he had also indicated, Tervain was not as he had been in his previous life.  He had become slimmer, almost gaunt, even; and his chest muscles were now more pronounced.  He gave Lynessë but a passing glance, most of his attention fixed upon Faramir and what he might need.

            As for the Wizard, he was apparently fully at home with the protocol required in the Steward’s court, his manner courteous and appropriately sedate, obviously fully aware of the proper use of napkins and tableware.  He spoke little enough during the meal, appearing to be content to listen to the conversations of others.  He ate well enough, and drank enough wine to meet the requirements of courtesy but no more, choosing to drink water for most of the time he sat at table.  At length Lord Forlong asked, “And you are content with your quarters, Master Mithrandir?”

            “That I am, and thank you for sending the wherewithal to refresh myself after my long journey.”

            “And where did you come by that fine horse you rode?”

            “He was given me by a farmer in Eriador in thanks for my help in repelling lawless men who had thought to assault his home and steal his harvest and stock.  It is likely they had intended to slay him and his grown son and to take the remains of his household into slavery, perhaps selling his younger children and wife in Dunland or Angmar, or perhaps even further afield.”

            Lynessë was startled by this news.  “But I thought that Angmar was no more.”

            “The Witch-king no longer resides there as he once did, but I assure you that those who live north of Eriador remain in spirit much as they were during the time he was their direct lord.  They have begun to return to numbers similar to those they knew when the Nazgûl lived among them, and they often harry the borderlands in which the scattered peoples of the northern free lands dwell, often allying themselves with certain tribes of orcs from the northern Misty Mountains.  And they practice slavery.”

            “So you have come from the northlands?” asked Denethor.

            “Most recently, yes.”

            “And what did you do there?”  The Steward’s expression was suspicious, or so Lynessë saw it.  And just what might Lord Denethor think that the Wizard did in the empty lands to the north?

            “I travel through all lands,” Mithrandir said, his voice and expression giving nothing away, or so she thought.  “All lands in which the Free Peoples dwell are my concern, even those in which few live.  And I will oppose all that seek to rob even a single individual of his—or her—freedom or life.  It is not an easy thing to carve a life in the lands the Witch-king’s people despoiled so long ago, but some hardy folk have done their best to do so.  I have vowed to assist all who would live free of the Shadow, and that means even those who seek to take empty lands and once again give them life.”  His gaze met that of the Steward squarely.  Lynessë was impressed by the level of responsibility she saw in him, and saw his dignity as a match for that of the more dour Lord Steward of Gondor.

            Denethor gave a wordless grunt and returned his attention to his plate, and the conversation shifted to speculation on how the contests of the last two days of the tournament might go.

            After dinner most of the menfolk remained in the hall to talk, although Mithrandir accepted Lady Anamarieth’s invitation to join her in the solar.  Lynessë saw Lord Denethor give Faramir a significant glance, and saw the resigned nod the younger man gave his father in return before he rose heavily and followed the Wizard, indicating Tervain was to accompany him.  Unbidden, Faramir took a seat at the edge of the room, while Tervain stood at attention inside the door, ready to follow any orders his captain might give him.  Lady Anamarieth nodded Lynessë into a chair by her own next to the hearth, and indicated another across from her for the Wizard.  “Now, you must tell me all you have done since I last saw you,” she directed Mithrandir.

            “All?  Ah, but my lady, that is far more than a mere evening can allow for!  I have been here and there about the West, on both sides of the Misty Mountains, including the lands of Dale and the Beornings and to Esgaroth on the Long Lake in what was Rhovanion, and beyond the crossings of the Hoarwell at Tharbad and even beyond the Breelands to the north, and to lands both east and west.”

            “Ah—the Breelands.  Then, tell me of that land, for it is but a name spoken of by some of the merchants who wander afar in search of exotic goods.”

            “What can I say, my lady?  It is one of the more heavily populated areas in all of Eriador, at the crossing of the East-West Road that of old ran from the ancient Elven havens on the Firth of Lhûn to the High Pass over the Misty Mountains into the upper vales of the Anduin, and the Greenway, what was once the high road built by Elendil and his sons to allow swift passage from those lands administered by Gondor to the northern capital of Annúminas.  There has always been a settlement there, sometimes rough and sometimes quite sedate.  You would, I am certain, find it quite quaint and rustic at this time.”

            Lynessë listened as he described the four villages that made up this land, and began describing his favorite tavern, the Prancing Pony in the village of Bree behind its wooden palisade.  She could see the fondness he felt toward the people of this land reflected in his eyes, and understood better his statement made to Denethor earlier in the evening that all of the Free Peoples were equal in his concern.  And she noted that both Faramir and Tervain were also listening intently, equally fascinated by his description of this far land, rough as it might appear to the urbane folk of Gondor.

            Faramir asked, as it appeared the Wizard was ending his description of Bree, “And there are other settled lands as well?”

            But Mithrandir was shaking his head.  “A few, but most are far scattered, with villages and farms usually separated by many leagues of wilderness.  Some are in league one with the others, but most are highly isolated and must be mostly self-sufficient.  A few hardy folk seek to patrol the ancient roads to protect travelers and the scattered settlements and farmsteads, but they are few in number and cannot protect all as they might be needed.  So it is that when I travel through those lands I do much the same, keeping my eye out for signs of predation and interfering when I can.  Evil is growing once again, however, and many have abandoned lands their families had taken generations ago and retreated into the Breelands or to the far west where the lawless ones rarely travel, seeking to settle lands nearer the shores of the Sundering Sea.  It is often worst along the feet of the Misty Mountains, for the orcs and goblins have many havens beneath the high places, and such have ever been in league with the more evil clans of wolves and wargs.”

            “I’d wondered,” Faramir said slowly, “where it was that you came upon the sword you often wear.  Was it given to you by the rulers of Gondor long ago?  It is a beautiful weapon.  You said you have it with you?”

            “Yes—it is now in my room.”  Mithrandir searched the young man’s eyes.  “Would you like to examine it?”  At Faramir’s nod, he started to rise, but Faramir shook his head.

            “Tervain,” he said with a look to his fellow, “with Mithrandir’s permission I would send you to fetch his sword, although I caution you not to touch any of his other goods or possessions.  It is not wise, I will remind you, to meddle in the affairs of Wizards.  Is that all right with you?” he asked the Wizard.

            Mithrandir gave a wry smile.  “Yes, it would be acceptable for him to fetch it.  You will find it inside the room, leaning against the wall just behind the door.  There will be no need to go further than that, you will find,” he cautioned Tervain.

            Tervain looked back and forth between his Captain and the Wizard, and then gave a bow and withdrew, returning within a scant few minutes with the scabbard in his hands, and bowing as he presented it to the Wizard.

            There was but the whisper of a sound as the sword was withdrawn from its scabbard, which appeared somewhat worn but yet showed signs of excellent care.  Mithrandir turned the blade to catch the light upon its runes and along its keen edge before offering it to Faramir, who’d risen and come forward eagerly to look more closely on its workmanship.

            “I don’t think I have ever seen so beautiful a sword,” Faramir murmured.  He smiled.  “Glamdring?” he asked.  “That is its name?”

            “Indeed.  Foe-hammer it is, although the orcs of the Misty Mountains have called it Beater.  It was one of a pair, Orcrist its mate lying atop the tomb of its last bearer as tribute to his skill in wielding it.”

            “And how did you come by it?”

            The Wizard laughed.  “It was found in a hovel of a place in the Trollshaws not far from the beginning of the High Pass.”

            “And how came it there?  Did the ones who inhabited it give it to you?”

            “Give?  No, they were not in any position to give anyone anything, I fear, having turned to stone at the rising of the Sun.  Oh, yes,” he said in answer to the surprise in the eyes of his listeners, “it came from a troll’s hoard.  The Trollshaws are aptly named, you see.  As to how they came by it, that I cannot say.  It is guessed that the trolls may have found an ancient dragon hoard and appropriated the blades from that.  It is unlikely that such creatures as trolls might have otherwise come into possession of such things.”

            “Were they the work of the folk of Númenor?” asked Tervain, who had come alongside Faramir to examine the weapon as the young Captain of the Rangers of Ithilien turned it in his hands.

            Mithrandir was shaking his head.  “Nay—this is far more ancient than the Land of Gift,” he said sadly.  “It is likely that Maeglin of Gondolin himself may have wrought both Glamdring and Orcrist, if not Celebrimbor Curufinion.  Certainly the finding of the two blades in the troll’s hoard is the first time they have been seen by any of the Free Peoples since Morgoth’s folk laid waste to Turgon’s hidden city before the end of the First Age.”  He smiled as he met the former lord from Langstrand’s eyes.  “Oh, yes—this is an Elf-wrought blade, ancient and blessed by the greatest of lords of the Elves.”

            “But I’d thought that Elves were but the creatures of legends and tales,” Tervain said, his eyes filled with dismay.

            “Best be careful not to say that to any Elf you might come across,” Mithrandir said, holding out his hand to take back the sword.  “You should remember that Elven blood runs in the veins of the descendants of Númenor, including your young Captain here, and his father and brother.”  He ran the sword back into its scabbard, and smiled kindly at the others in the room.  “If you will excuse me—I have just completed a longer ride than I’d planned for, having intended to rest this day in Minas Tirith but instead having been prevailed upon to accompany young Faramir here to this tournament.  My bones are ancient, and are telling me they want their rest.  Good night to you all.”  He leaned down to kiss Lady Anamarieth’s cheek once more, and gave perfunctory bows to the rest before leaving the solar.

 *******

            Faramir took the honors both in tracking and in archery, and he took part in an exhibition of sword dancing on the last afternoon of the Spring Tournament that left all in awe, performing alongside Hirluin the Fair and Erchirion and Prince Imrahil himself.  Húrin took first in lance work and swordsmanship from horseback, while Boromir easily took first place in swordsmanship, insisting afterwards that had Faramir competed against him he’d have been hard pressed to do as well as he did.

            As they rode back to Minas Tirith once more, Boromir rode alongside Daerdion and Théodred, who had taken honors in archery from horseback, wearing the golden spurs that marked the one who took first place in swordsmanship for the Spring Tournament.

 





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