He was unsure why he stopped outside this door on his way down from the tower, but he had; and so he entered, taking in the stark neatness of the room. He looked around in the dim light that filtered in from the lamps lit in the hallways outside. He glanced at the bare desk, bereft now of the papers and books that had always littered it and ran a finger over the carved stone of the mantelpiece above the hearth.
A blanket was spread over the bed, once a bright green and blue pattern, now a faded mass of dull colours. He thought of picking it up, but then decided against it and thought of looking for fresh clothes instead.
Opening the chest, he picked the first few items that lay in front of him, ignoring the stinging sensation pricking his eyes the longer he stayed in this room, telling himself he needed to become accustomed to the dulled lights. There was softer material underneath, and he pulled it out and stared at the mantle, colourlessly dark in the unlit room.
Denethor had had some inkling of what Ecthelion had in mind, when he was asked to set out for Dol Amroth in the summer, ostensibly to discuss the situation in Umbar. There was little Adrahil could say that he hadn't already said about the matter. When Denethor arrived at Adrahil's castle, and was greeted with more than a cursory greeting by his daughter; he had no doubt as to why he was there or that the reason was clearly not the Umbar situation alone.
There were many issues he and his father disagreed on; but the suitability of Finduilas as his bride was not one of them. He considered himself too keen-witted to indulge in notions such as love, but by the end of his visit, Adrahil's daughter incited a fondness in his heart that he had not really felt before. She was pleasing to look at; and her speech indicated an intelligence he could appreciate.
It would not be a bad match at all on any grounds. Ecthelion had obviously thought it through very well. There were few unmarried noblewomen of her age in Gondor and to marry her would be most politically suitable. It was not that they needed to purchase loyalty but the fact did remain that it served their best interests to keep the fiefdoms happy and Adrahil could surely see what it meant to that to have a daughter in Minas Tirith.
And Denethor needed an heir, after all.
He courted her with customary diligence. It was not ever his way to appear awkward, and were it required he too could speak pretty words. She did not ask for pretty words, though, and he respected her all the more for that. She accepted his tentative overtures of courtship in the manner of one who had been informed of it.
They spoke long of many things during that one long visit, whenever he could get away from courtiers and councillors and captains. He told her of the City, which she had visited barely twice in her younger days and hardly remembered, save as a vast structure of stone. He spoke to her of the beauty and majesty of that stone, of the walls that surrounded it, strong and unassailed, of the streets that wound through the city, the sights within those walls. He told her of the Citadel and the tower that rose above it, of the view from the walls of the sparkle of the sun on the waters of the Anduin. She told him of Dol Amroth and the sea around it, of the ships and how they built them, so different from the boats that plied up the Anduin at Harlond. She spoke of days that were always sun-drenched and nights cool, of how the sounds and the smell of the sea became ingrained in one, and how it felt to have the sea breeze fall on your face each waking moment.
She could even tell him how the situation stood with Umbar. If he had to choose a wife, he could do no worse than her.
The proposal was offered in due course of time, one night under a night sky that was a deep shade of blue, scattered with glittering stars. Standing on the ramparts of the castle, the waves lapping against the breakwaters below, she seemed as the sea itself, calm on the surface, when she accepted, as he had known she would. Political matches were not really very difficult. He was not unhappy and neither did she appear to be.
When his father suggested he take her a small token - a bauble of the sort women seemed to like - he had nodded in agreement. It was an unnecessary suggestion; he had had the idea already. A fortnight prior, he had called on his sisters' seamstress.
The cloth was soft and of the finest weave, blue in colour, dark as the night sky, with tiny stars lining its hem and throat; thick enough to keep a daughter of seaward vales warm from the northern winds.
When he'd given it to her she'd smiled, and for a brief second he thought he’d caught a glimpse of the radiant young woman behind the fortunate daughter of a noble house who was to marry the most eligible man in the land. He looked into her face and he saw gentleness, understanding, and more that he could not name. He'd realised later that he'd glimpsed a woman who had received a token of affection from one she cared about. He'd hoped then that she'd honour him with that glimpse more often.
He had forgotten that it existed, this soft, dark mantle, lined at the hem and throat with stars. It took him a while to recognise it, a sea of midnight blue, rising out of the soft silk it was wrapped in. He had to pull it out, unravel it and stare it for a few second before he recollected that it was the betrothal gift that he had given her.
She had worn it immediately, he remembered now - made him place it on her shoulders, and fastened it with a pin that she seemed to pull magically out of nowhere. He'd thought she looked very fine in it, and had told her so. And she'd acknowledged his compliment with her customary graciousness, but he hadn't missed the smile in her eyes and the lilt in her voice, or the pride in her words when they had walked into the grand hall in her father's castle to meet those assembled.
She had worn it often later as well, he remembered, wrapping it around herself while she walked on the ramparts of the citadel, watching the river. In the beginning he’d often walked alongside, finishing off his councils early to be with her. But in later days she had taken to walking alone, waiting for him to join her, and later merely walking alone, knowing waiting would be in vain, as he’d grappled with the worries of state. And yet, he knew each time he'd look out of his window, he'd see her in the grassy bank by the ramparts clad in a dark garment he no longer recognised, crooning to the child in her arms, Boromir first and then Faramir, later showing them birds and plants while stopping Boromir from trying to practise sword fighting against a tall bush and Faramir from tasting every flower he saw.
She did not always walk alone though in those later days. On rare occasions he joined her on the ramparts. There, with nothing around but trees and winds not unlike those by the sea save that they brought a miserable cold instead of bracing salt air, they could talk as they could not within the walls of their home, where meals were nearly always attended by guests, and beds were for tired minds in search of rest.
"I would see you happy as you were when we first met in Dol Amroth," he had said once, and then not known why he had said so, for surely she was happy, was she not? She lacked for nothing, and they had children, and both were well.
"I am happy," she had said smiling as she'd tried to untangle strands of her hair from Faramir's fingers, and at the same time held Boromir back from running after a rabbit that had scampered off behind a thorny bush.
It should have reassured him but it didn't. Still, he did nothing.
He had weighty matters on his head, as the threat of Mordor continued to loom over the city, ever a shadow on the white stones that ought to have gleamed proud under the high sun.
She missed open skies and fresh air, warm sunshine, the vibrant, bracing sea air that filled her father’s castle rising above the rocks that stood at the very edge of the land. He could give her none of that here in this city of stark, unfeeling, cold stone where the only lushness she could see was the false one beyond the river. She would not return to Dol Amroth for more than a few days of that luxury - for the longer she stayed there, the more she craved it. He had not understood it then.
When she had died, he had silently and methodically sorted her things into two piles – to give away and to destroy. Working swiftly in the dim firelight, he removed anything in their rooms that might remind him of her.
A few had remained though – he had known that. Boromir had saved a few of her things, though what those may have been he had not thought to consider then. There were other matters on his mind, then and later, and he had forgotten that his elder son had saved a few signs of the mother he had never really known and that the younger one too would have shared in those few fragments of memory that were all that were left.
As the folds unravelled over his gnarled fingers now, he remembered more that he had forgotten these years. And then he wept over all he had forgotten, and over all that he had turned away from. And then he thought of all that was left to him and of what he had seen.
He dried his tears. And then he rose, and gathering with Faramir's clothes walked out of the room to the chamber where his son lay dying, resolved not to turn away this time.