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... and hear the song of salt and sea  by Cuthalion

… and hear the song of salt and sea
By Cúthalion

Minas Tirith, 1388

She knows that he loves her. But loving does not always mean understanding, especially in this case.

He married the daughter of an old and noble family and sister of a prince. She did not love him at first sight, but he took his time and showed her what lay underneath the surface of power and stern discipline, and she couldn’t help opening her heart to his silent loneliness. He longed for warmth and devotion, and to her shy delight he actually longed for her. She was surprised and deeply moved that of all women she should be the one to fill the emptiness within him... the void she could feel so painfully clear.

In the hour before dawn she stands at the window of her bower; the polished marble floors are covered with many carpets. She is cold… she is always cold now, and even fur-lined velvet robes and thick woolen shawls don’t banish the inner frost that makes her constantly shiver. She detests the winter in Minas Tirith, but the warm season is not any better. During the summer days the White City saves the heat of the sun like an oven and the walls radiate it during the nights and make it impossible for her to sleep.

In earlier years – when her lord was more patient – she often took her sons to Dol Amroth and they spent a month or two in the swan palace. She used to walk through the gardens, inhaling the scent of roses, mimosas and the ever present, reviving hint of seaweed, and her brother walked beside her, asking questions and studying her face when he thought she wouldn’t notice. Are you happy, sister? Does he treat you well? Why are you so silent? And she looked at him, giving him the lovely, vague smile that had become a part of her mask. Yes, brother, I am happy. No woman could wish for a husband more amicable and tender. I am silent because I enjoy the quiet.

Strangely enough it was not a lie – at least not completely. No woman could wish for a husband more amicable and tender indeed… his love for her never faded, she knew it well, but the cruel demands of the stewardship hardened his eyes and darkened his heart. And she – who should ease away the growing troubles bending his shoulders – was now stumbling under her own burden, and it grew heavier every day.

She muses, staring down over the sleeping circles of the city to the night-darkened meadows and fields of the Pelennor. The river is a thin, silvery line on the horizon.

When did her life start to become this confusing walk through an endless labyrinth of choices and decisions? Everything had been so easy in the beginning… she had just become the wife of the steward, of that tall, earnest figure with the dark hair and the deep eyes. She had teased him with her dry, demure wit, and she had made him laugh, actually laugh… and when he laughed, he was a completely different man. So many discoveries still to make, so much joy still to share… but the years came and passed by, and his laughter rang more and more rarely through the palace under Ecthelion’s tower. The joy had trickled out of her heart, slowly, ceaselessly… and now it was gone, never to return.

The dawn stretches slender, misty fingers across the sky and a sudden wind from the north takes away the last clouds of the night. Soon the first harbingers of sunrise will paint fleet traces of pink and gold on the silent, white walls, but just for a few moments the light has a rare quality it turns the meadows beyond the city to a vast, gray-blue eternity of rolling waves. For a few precious seconds what lies beneath her feet could easily be the ocean, and when she narrows her eyes and holds her breath, she can nearly convince herself that she is home again… home, where every window opens to the sea.

To the sea.

They married 1376, and the waiting for an heir began. It took her more than one year to conceive, and she was well aware of the ladies on the court of the Steward of Gondor, whispering behind her back and following her with their eyes. She was still blissfully happy then, happy enough to ignore their polite enquiries for her health, their soft voices, their clandestine glances. She laughed together with her lord, and then she was finally pregnant, and he sat with her in the bower after long days of work for the realm he governed like his forefathers. He held her hand and stroked her growing belly, a fierce pride and shining hope in his eyes, painting the image of a glorious future for his son to come.

A son, of course, not a daughter, and he got his way; the baby born on a cool autumn morning in 1378 was a boy, healthy and strong, with a mop of dark hair, kicking, strong legs and grasping fists. She would have breastfed him herself – as her mother had done, the legendary, battlesome Morwen of Dol Amroth, who had stubbornly refused to notice the shocked healers lecturing her about the necessity of wet-nurses and the proper behavior of a woman of her ancestry.

But a sudden fever foiled Finduilas’ plans, and her newborn son was given into other hands. And things didn’t change very much in later years… he was a frequent guest in the quarters of the guard, eagerly watching the instruction and training of the men. When he was six, his father gave him his first little knife, and he could barely await his first lessons in swordplay. She loved him dearly, she was in surprised awe of his strength and daring, clearly viewable even in a boy of his young age), but she always had the feeling that something was amiss… there was care and even tenderness between them, but first of all he was the son of Denethor.

She steps back from the window and opens the door that leads to a graceful balcony. During hot summer nights there’s always a chair out here, with pillows and thin blankets, and often she lies under the stars, hungry for space and fresh air.

Faramir was born five years later. Again she held a dark-haired boy in her arms; still, this time everything was different. She saw the bold features of her lord, but she also saw herself mirrored in the clear eyes and the shape of brow and cheeks. No fever came between her and this wondrous child, and he lay at her breast, drinking his fill and falling asleep, a tiny hand closed around her finger. Sometimes she had the feeling that they both lived in a delicate, dazzling bubble, separated from the challenges and fears of a normal life; no endless presentations the court, the growing threat from the East reduced to a mere, indistinct shadow, and the white marble walls no longer a cage to hold her in. With Faramir beside her she could breathe freely.

But there was a price to pay for this absolute closeness. It made her neglect her lord’s needs, the needs of her firstborn, the needs of Gondor. As times grew darker, Denethor changed. It had never been easy to break through his defense, but now the armor grew even more rigid and impenetrable. And sometime between Faramir’s birth and his fifth birthday she slowly realized that they had lost their ability to open their hearts to each other.

He was polite, yes… considerate, too, and even passionate when he found the way into her bed. But moments like these grew rarer and rarer, and the day came when all she saw was a tall stranger, his hair streaked with gray, holding her hand without any loving pressure as he guided her to yet another banquet with ambassadors from abroad. She studied his face with a kind of tired, dim concern, searching for the lost traces of love and affection, but all she found was the mask of the Steward. Her lord was still there, but her husband was gone.

Or perhaps it was she herself who had gone away. Sorrow and exhaustion mingled in her mind to a mist, clouding her thoughts. If Denethor was searching for his lost wife, for the intimacy of their earlier years, she didn’t notice it anymore. She walked through her days like a puppet on a string, a lovely sight, but strangely lifeless. The people of Minas Tirith who had welcomed her with open arms and hailed her for the gift of two sons for the Steward started to whisper… of ghosts, haunting their beloved lady, of a beautiful flower, withering before their very eyes.

She remembers Faramir singing a song she wrote only half a year ago. He has no idea that there are three verses; he only knows the first one. She taught it to him, and he easily learned the tune and the words. He learns easily anyway, he’s the joy and pride of his teachers. His voice is high, clear and beautiful, and it still echoes in her soul.

I feel the sand beneath my feet
See gulls draw circles on white wings
Under the waves the mermaid sings
This is where you and I shall meet.

He has always loved the sea, and he has enjoyed their escapes to Dol Amroth nearly as much as she does, seeing them as a highly welcome holiday. His adored elder brother has time for him there, and a beloved uncle is always present to take his hand for a walk through the gardens and along the beach.

Next summer they won’t travel to the shore. Denethor put his foot down and ordered her to stay. It was the first time for years that he was actually angry at her: “You are spoiling the boy.” he said in an icy tone. “I won’t tolerate your pulling him into your world of illusions any longer. Songs and poetry are well and fine for peaceful times, but Gondor is in constant danger, threatened from all sides. He has to face reality when he grows older, and soon. He needs to be a warrior.” She bowed her head in helpless obedience and watched him as he turned around and left the room, leaving behind a palpable atmosphere of disappointment and anger. She knew she was losing the fight, but there was nothing she could do to prevent it. He would take Faramir away from her… and her last connection to what she once had been would be lost forever. Maybe he was right… but she couldn’t bear the thought.

She is standing close to the balustrade now… the sky is pale and translucent, and now it is happening again. In the bluish light the meadows beyond the White City are miraculously changing to ebb and tide, breathing, breathing… and her home, so painfully missed and desperately longed for, seems to be very close. She hesitates as if waiting for a sign no one besides her is able to hear… but then she climbs up on the broad banister made of stone, carefully pushing aside a marble flower pot with wintergreen. She is standing upright now, her warm cloak gently moving in the early morning breeze. She undoes the long braid hanging down her back… as she has done countless times before when she stood on her favorite place in Dol Amroth, where the sea forms a natural pool of turquoise blue water, surrounded by sand and pebbles, washed to perfect smoothness by the tiny waves. She starts to sing, her voice unsteady after long silence, a little hoarse, but then she finds the tune to her own words again, and now she will sing all the verses.

I feel the sand beneath my feet
See gulls draw circles on white wings
Under the waves the mermaid sings
This is where you and I shall meet.

Voice of the ocean, siren-soft
Come home, sea daughter, to the shore
Come, and thou shall hunger nevermore
For beacons built on cliffs aloft

Finduilas spreads her arms like wings, a joyous smile on her face. This must be a winter morning in Dol Amroth – there is the soft, regular rushing of the waves, the air is fresh and cold, filled with the sharp scent of salt.

I shall escape, I shall be free
Trade lifeless stone for marram grass
I’ll see my sorrows fade and pass
And hear the song of salt and sea

She steps out into the emptiness and falls without a sound.



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