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At Sea
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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1
At Sea

Did you not know that ships will tell their tales? Down all the days they have gathered in the harbours, jostling together. And you never wondered what they had to say to one another?

There they are – the big ships, telling of far-off lands and battles fought and battles won, boasting of vanquished foreign men, displaying from their masts their colours and their lineage. Here they are, the barges, talking of river-trips and trade, of prices, of their business – spices, perhaps, or cloth, or something to do with fish; and between all these, bobbing about, the little boats, hearing all, and telling all.

Yes, ships have their tales to tell if you would but hear them, and not all are grand – for there are ordinary tales of grand folk, or grand tales of ordinary folk, and some tales are simply ordinary in and of themselves.

I knew the woman well for she had sailed with me since childhood; dancing along my deck, laughing to feel the salt spray on her face. But I could tell from his first uncertain footfall that her companion was no sailor. He came aboard with a heavy step, fingertips kept touching the rail behind him – but she went ahead, and then turned and offered him her hand. He steadied himself, straightened up, stretched out – but she was just a little out of reach. He sighed.

She smiled. ‘Come, my lord. There is naught to fear.’

He frowned. ‘I am quite aware of that, my lady.’

‘Then take my hand.’

He let go of the rail and leaned ahead, there was a long, uncertain moment… and then she caught him and he could step forward, safely.

‘There,’ she said, eyes bright, ‘you are on board. Now we can set sail.’

She led him a few steps across deck where he set both hands upon the rail before him and closed his eyes.

We had not yet weighed anchor.

‘I promised you fair weather,’ she said, after a moment or two. ‘And see how calm the water is! A beautiful morning for sailing.’

He opened his eyes and cleared his throat. ‘Indeed.’

We cast off. His knuckles became whiter. She looked down at his hands, and smiled; looked out across the water – and then laughed.

His mouth tightened as he looked at her. ‘I wonder what it could be that amuses you so.’

‘The Sea,’ she whispered, still looking out. ‘It has ever lightened my heart.’

And although his face remained quite stony, I thought perhaps his eyes had softened. ‘Then I… am glad,’ he replied, and turned to contemplate the deeps himself.

We gathered speed, leaving the harbour well behind, entering choppier waters. He swallowed, hard.

‘I fear I am making a poor hostess,’ she said, lightly, ‘Come! I should take you on a tour of the ship.’

‘You have… troubled yourself enough arranging this trip, madam. I would not inconvenience you further.’

‘It is no trouble,’ she said, and I do believe her mouth twitched as she said it. ‘Indeed, I am rather of the opinion that I would enjoy it.’

‘Finduilas – ’

Will you walk with me, sir?’

She offered him her arm. And since it was plain to anyone about that he was not capable of refusing her, it was no real surprise that he took it. He even contrived to be gracious about it. And so they made their way together – slowly – along my deck.

‘I feared,’ she said, looking about her at anything but him, ‘that the chance would not arise for us to spend some time together before you departed. My father seems to have kept you particularly busy.’

‘We have had much to discuss.’ We rolled. He was mid-step. He clutched at her.

She remained unruffled. ‘And so you depart in the morning and I have barely seen you.’

‘It is my loss, lady,’ he said cautiously.

‘You are very kind to me, sir.’ She smiled. ‘And when I learnt from father that before you departed you intended to “fit in an hour” for me this morning, I knew it behoved me to make our short time together quite memorable. I hope that this,’ she waved her hand about her, ‘repays your kindness to me adequately.’

We rolled again. He paled.

‘For what,’ she continued serenely, ‘could be more pleasant than a morning spent at sea, breathing the salt air, feeling the gentle rocking of the waves, up and down, up and down…’

‘Lady!’ he said, urgently, and then stopped.

‘What is it, my lord?’

‘Let us…’ he gestured with his free arm. ‘Let us go back to the rail.’

‘By all means.’

They went slowly back and as they did so, she waved to the captain that they should go farther out.

‘I believe,’ she remarked, as the sea banked higher than before and his free hand clutched out before him, ‘that you may regret having breakfasted so heartily. For mother intends quite a feast in farewell for you this evening; a brace of duck, I understand, although I myself would have chosen differently since the cooks, in my opinion, always contrive to make duck rather greasy – ’

‘Finduilas, I beg you, cease your chattering!’

She raised her eyebrows at him.

Will you marry me? – quickly, woman, as I am going to be sick!’

‘How,’ she said, calm as a rockpool, ‘could I possibly refuse? And now, sir, over the side, if you please.’

He bent in supplication over the rail, thoroughly soiling my timbers – and the woman laid her arm across his shoulders.

We would miss her in Belfalas, but of all the women of Gondor it was fitting that she should be set first. We would not have surrendered her to a lesser man, and so we gave her to him gladly; yes, even one so lost at sea as he was. For you cannot hold that against him. Ships tell their tales down all the days. Elendil never truly found his sea legs either.

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