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The Dancer  by annmarwalk

The Dancer

It seemed as though I had known the Lord Denethor all my life – he was my older brothers’ closest friend, after all – but I did not fall in love with him until I was twenty-four years old, at my first Mettarë ball.

I was nervous that evening, I remember, clasping my hands together tightly, trying to dry my sweating palms – so unladylike!- and not gawk like a Lossarnach tradeswoman. I wanted to take in everything at once – the thousands of candles, the greenery and flowers, the heady scent of perfume. My twin brothers, Alcarin and Surian, were with me, for it was the custom that young women should be first escorted into society by our brothers or kinsmen closest in age. It was to their peers that we were being presented.

“Denethor!” Alcarin whooped as Surian waved. Such behavior would have been disgraceful in young women, but in high-spirited young officers it was considered charming. Denethor, hearing them, turned and quirked his lip in their playful sign of recognition. His eyes grew wide with surprise when he noticed me. I tried not to fidget as he joined us, clasping my brothers on the shoulder as was their custom. I had seen this greeting a thousand times, from when I attended my first tournaments and sporting events at sixteen. Tonight, though, everything seemed strange: the unfamiliar rituals of an unexplored land. Then Denethor turned toward me, taking my hand as I rose from my deepest curtsey. Please, I remember thinking, do not let me stumble, do not let me topple like a toy soldier.

You, who have only known Denethor in his later years, when his burdens lay heavily upon him, can scarcely imagine him in the glory of his youth. He was a magnificent figure of a man, lithe and powerful, as graceful as a cat. His raven hair, usually held back in a queue, tonight fell elegantly curled to his shoulders. And he danced magnificently, as though moving to the music were as instinctive to him as breathing; I could hardly take my eyes off him.

“Surely, you can not be Írildë?” I could feel myself blushing. “Impossible! I’ve not seen you since you were, what, twelve years old?”

“I was twenty, my lord, when last we met, at the Summer Tournament. You bested Surian but not Alcarin that year. He spoke of nothing else for months, driving us all mad with his boasting, until you overcame him again in the autumn. It was a great relief to our family, and so, I offer you our thanks.”

His dark eyes sparkled with humor. “Well, I’ve tried to put the memory from my mind; perhaps that it is why is seems so long ago. Is this your first Mettarë ball, then?”

“It is, my lord.”

“You grace us with your loveliness. Would you care to join me in a dance?”
When he took my hand, my doom was sealed: never would I love any other man.


He began appearing regularly for tea, not weekly but at least once a month. We discussed many things: happenings in the city, history, literature; the strange and fascinating cultures of foreign lands. When he spoke of politics or military concerns I listened intently, keeping my eyes always fixed on his; we had been taught that such a habit gives a woman an air of intelligent understanding.

After he left, I would ask my brothers about the military questions; they laughed and said Denethor had quite enough sources for advice in those matters and was not looking for any from me. So I began to ask my father instead. The first time, he regarded me quizzically; then, perhaps realizing my purpose, began to explain these matters in simple terms that were yet not condescending as my brothers would have been. I think that was the moment my father realized that I was no longer a child but a woman preparing herself for a future in which an understanding of these concerns would be of vital import.


Twelve years. Twelve years from the night he first danced with me; twelve years of meeting formally and informally, dinners and balls, picnics and hunting parties, fencing competitions and horse races. Twelve years of partnering him at the first and last dance, as clear an announcement of interest as a proclamation from the White Tower.

Why did he not speak? I might have asked my brothers if he ever mentioned me fondly, but of course I could say nothing, not even to them. Yet I never doubted for a moment that one day I would be Denethor’s wife – it was merely a matter of patience. Under the sun I appeared cheerful and placid, filling my days with maidenly pursuits, but at night in my bedchamber I tore at my nails until they bled.

One day my brothers came home, even more high-spirited than usual, with news: Lord Denethor would be going to Dol Amroth for three months, to study at first hand the seaward defenses and the Corsair threat. They would be accompanying him as military and diplomatic assistants. Shortly before they left Denethor came to tea; I had noticed that he was most likely to appear when my brothers had duty elsewhere. We chatted of inconsequential matters: the expected weather during the journey, the primitive hostelry along the way, the difficulty of keeping my brothers to their best behavior for any prolonged period. Usually Denethor moved about the room as we chatted, but this time he surprised me by suddenly sitting down next to me and taking my hand. It was the first time he had ever touched me, other than when we were dancing.

“Írildë,” he said; I waited, trying to control the pounding of my heart. If he had chosen now to speak, it was beyond all the bounds of tradition and propriety. He should have first spoken to my brothers; then the three of them would have gone together to my father. Surian and Alcarin would have attested formally to his lineage, reputation and financial stability (as if any of that were in question). Upon acceptance of his suit all the arrangements would have been made before a single word was said, at least openly, to me. I never would have imagined that Denethor would flaunt convention so; I felt both shocked and thrilled at the prospect.

“Írildë,” he repeated. I smiled, encouragingly, I hoped. “You know, of course, that I shall be gone from the City for some time. I was wondering, that is, I was hoping….” Patiently I waited, nodding, smiling; I could hardly breathe. “I was wondering if you could write to me, sometimes, while I am gone? The couriers travel twice a week, though I would not expect you to write so often as that. You have a fine wit; your descriptions would make me feel as though I were still here. I should not miss the city so, were you to keep me informed of all the news.”

I stared at him, stunned - was that all? - then quickly regained my composure. It would not do for him to guess I had imagined him capable of any indiscretion.

“I would be honored, of course. Are there any particular issues of interest you would like me to report? The weather, agricultural prospects, society gossip?”

He smiled broadly, relaxed again. “Dear Írildë! You are such a fine friend! As dear to me as your brothers. I will miss your company sorely while I am away.”

Hardly what I wished to hear, but still, I was content.


They expected to be gone for three months, but the three became four, and then five; finally my brothers and the rest of the delegation came back without him.

“He’s still the guest of Prince Adrahil. We had quite a festive time of it there, when we were not slaving night and day mapping the coastal defenses.” My brothers were as talkative as ever; with five months of news, it would be a lively evening.

“What was Prince Adrahil like? And the city, the people?”

“He’s a marvel! They say he has Elvish blood, but you wouldn’t know to hold it against him. What a swordsman! He bested us all, even Denethor, every day before breakfast without breaking a sweat.” Poor Surian, twenty hours a day of swordplay would not make him any more skillful, nor diminish his love for the sport.

“That must have been a humbling experience, for you two, at least. I wish I had been there to see. What of the rest of the Prince’s family?”

“There’s a boy, Imrahil, twenty or so I think. He’s served notably on land and sea, for all his youth. A good sort. You’d like him, I think. Oh, and a girl, too, Finduilas.”

The fact that Alcarin, noted for his intense appreciation of the fair sex, had so little to say piqued my interest at once. “What of her? Numenorean andElvish blood, and a princess, there’s a good match for one of you.”

Alcarin nearly choked on his brandy. “No, not for me, she’s too bookish. Always going on and on about queer Elvish poetry, or history, or some such foolishness. Pleasant, but she bored me. Surian, now, spent hours and hours with her…”

“I did not! It’s not my fault you were always on duty and unable to join us. She’s nice enough, but not really my type. Thin. I like a bit of, well, curve, to put my arm around, not a bony shoulder. Though she had very pretty eyes; lovely eyes, really.”

I was nearly in tears with laughter. “I hope that I get to meet this paragon one day, just to mark for myself the accuracy or even the kindness of your descriptions.”

They both stared at me, dumbfounded for a moment, then began to laugh. “Of course! That’s the news we forgot to mention! She iscoming here – Prince Adrahil and his entire household are coming, for several months at least. Denethor stayed behind to help sort things out, and escort them here.”


They arrived in Minas Tirith at the turn of the year. She was small and slim, soft- voiced, with beautiful eyes. I liked her immediately, though had some difficulty imagining her paired with either of my brothers. Still, stranger things had happened; unexpected alliances had often resulted in brilliant marriages. Perhaps an infusion of exotic Dol Amroth blood was just what our City needed.


Over the years, it had gradually fallen to me to check every detail at the Lord Steward’s entertainments: candles, flowers, and greenery; music, food, and drink. This Mettarë ball, I thought to myself, was of particular magnificence, displaying our traditional arts quite elegantly to the newcomers from Dol Amroth. I was searching for Lord Denethor, smiling and greeting guests on my way, when I heard the opening chords of the pavane, the customary first dance at every ball.

“Excuse me, my lord Vinyarion, I must speak to the players – they’ve started the first dance too soon, for where is –” My eyes searched the ballroom for him, resplendent tonight in wine-colored velvet, as always the handsomest man in the room. There he was –

Leaning down to speak to his companion, his eyes aglow with a soft light, his smile boyish and eager.

Her eyes shining, cheeks flushed, lovelier than I had ever seen her, as he led her out to dance.

My heart seemed to stop in mid-beat. I must have gasped, stumbled, for suddenly a hand was on my arm.

“Are you ill, Lady Írildë? Would you like some water? Perhaps a glass of wine? Or..” Gently Vinyarion turned me to face him. “Would you care to dance with me?”

In that instant I could see all my future. “I would be honored, my lord.”


Thirty years we had together, and four sons; three gone to soldiers, all gone now.

Vinyarion and Marah, our youngest, fourteen years old, were riding back to the estate house from hay-cutting when they were caught in a sudden storm. A heavy limb, torn by the wind from a cypress tree, fell onto Vinyarion, breaking his neck. When he toppled from his horse Marah ran to his aid; in one mighty gust the whole tree was uprooted and fell upon him. I buried them where they fell, there in the Lossanach countryside they loved.

And so I returned at last to the White City to live the dowager’s life, for the old customs have our responsibilities set out clearly for us. My Lord Denethor is there, stately and cold; I can see it is true that he closed his heart away when he lost his Finduilas. His sons are magnificent: wise and gentle Faramir, with his mother’s eyes; Boromir, the pride of our city, dazzling in his power and beauty, the image of the man I loved so long ago.

~*~2007 MEFA Award Winner Second Place in Genres: Drama: Minas Tirith


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