With thanks to all who helped in one way or another in the revision of this story or commented on it: Avon, Raksha, Elanor of Aquitania, Tasare, Ann, Wolfwind, Meril, F_B and Maya. Special thanks to Marta, for her wonderfully detailed beta and the lovely lines I have stolen. All errors and infelicities remain my own.
A Mantle of Silver Stars
“The mantle was wrought for his mother, Finduilas of Amroth, who died untimely, and was to him but a memory of loveliness in far days and of his first grief; and her robe seemed to him raiment fitting for the beauty and sadness of Éowyn.”
~The Steward and the King~
The Return of the King
“Hush, my lord, or you’ll wake him.”
Smiling, he came to her on silent feet. “I would not wake him now, for all the world.”
The evening crocus-light slanting in through the tall windows, lit her slim hands and bent head as she rocked the cradle in and out of light and shadow. Her hair, braided with jewels, was bound at the ends with tiny golden apples that chimed when she moved. And though the chill of early spring lingered still in the air, she wore no mantle or cloak over her plain dark kirtle.
“Where is Boromir?”
“He is asleep.” Finduilas smiled up at him from her low seat. “You should have seen him, skirling like a curlew round the room, and Aerin scolding and running after like a mad thing.”
He followed her gaze to the far corner of the little chamber, past the loom and its half-woven tapestry to the tangled skeins of many-coloured wools spilling onto the floor in a riot of colour.
“Ah, I see. He has been a little whirlwind then.”
“So he has. How we shall unsnare those threads again I shall never know,” she answered, her eyes suddenly twinkling with laughter. “But our little one has been good today. At least he sleeps when I bid him.” The lady bent her gaze again to her other child swaying in his cradle, and with gentle fingers brushed his cheek. “He is beautiful, is he not?” she whispered.
“He has a beautiful mother.”
“My lord learns to use honeyed words in his old age,” she said with gentle mockery.
“It is a useful skill to have,” and he smiled, the slow smile that always came a little unwillingly to his face. “But come, my heart and see what I have brought for you.”
He took her hand and gently turned her round so that the evening light fell full upon her and she glowed like a rose touched with fire.
She saw then, the thing he had kept hidden behind his back. A mantle, warm and dark as a summer night, hemmed with silver stars, now touched to gold by the sun. It fell in soft heavy folds over her shoulders, slowly unfurling until the shining hem slipped like star-spray to her shadowed feet. For a long while she looked down and said nothing, feeling only its warmth and softness under her wondering fingers. And she did not meet his gaze, for she could not bear that he should see her tears and think her sorrowful.
“You look like a queen,” he declared, “Elbereth, with all the heavens as her mantle.” And Finduilas raised at last her bowed head and saw the smile behind his sombre grey eyes. “You are very quiet, my lady. Do you not like it?”
“Oh but I do - very much indeed! I have never seen its like. It is as though the very stars were drawn down from the sky and woven into it.” He saw then the faint line growing between her brows, the way it always did when she was puzzled. “But why, my lord? What is the occasion?”
“No occasion, silme, but for the joy of giving. You should have the stars and the moon, sunlight on water, and a seabird’s white wings if I had but the power to give them to you, dear lady. But I do not, so you must be content with this poor gift in their stead.”
He stooped and kissed her brow.
He would remember always how she smiled then, and the way her earrings of yellow amber and gold filigree shivered as she drew slowly from the mantle’s midnight depths, the long bright strands of her hair.
“Your gift is all of those, my dear lord. I would have no other,” she said softly, taking his hands in her own. But for a long while, he said nothing, and his keen eyes were grave and full of love.
“Why then do you weep, Finduilas?”
The question lingered in the air, and she did not know how to answer it. How could she tell him that this starry mantle had brought back with it the sweet sharp pangs of memory - of quiet summer evenings spent walking the fiery strands of Dol Amroth, watching the moon and stars rising out of the flaming sea? Of the waves sighing and the sweep of seabirds wings?
She only knew that she must speak, for it was a secret she could keep no longer.
“My lord, I …”
But he never knew what Finduilas would have said then, for a child’s thin wailing came between her and the truth she did not tell till the day before she died. Sweeping the babe up into her arms, she murmured instead the tender nothings that a mother speaks to her child, and made what her husband called her singing magic - a soft dark humming that was the whispering of the sea on a moonlit night.
By and by, the crying ceased; and Denethor let the question and its unspoken answer slip away, and he even laughed a little as Finduilas tipped her head far back to avoid the small dimpled hands that reached out to pat her face.
“There, now,” she whispered solemnly, settling the fidgeting child on her knee. Soon you will be a man, my little wise one, and men do not cry.” And the babe looked back at her out of unwinking blue eyes, still wet with tears.
She held out the child to his father, her eyes now bright with mirth. “Behold your son, my lord, jewel of our hearts.” But the babe, afraid of his father’s long shadow, shrank away. They laughed, and Denethor shifted so that his shadow did not fall on the child.
He took the warm squirming bundle from her, and saw how a small worry-line suddenly creased her brow. Laughing, he said, “Never fear, tinuviel, I shall not drop him. Look how he clings like a burr. He is a tenacious little one.”
How wide and pale the child’s eyes were, fringed with golden lashes. And above them were level brows and the fair waving hair he had from his mother. What did the boy take from him? For a time Denethor studied the grave little face, then decided that the small determined chin, if nothing else, was his own.
“He is his mother’s son,” he said with a grimace, catching a dimpled fist tugging painfully at his hair. “Nay, it is not your time for hunting yet, little one. You have a strong grip, and by and by the forest creatures will learn to fear you.”
She laughed, warm and honey-sweet. “Come, give him to me. It is not so that you should carry a child.” And when the lady had the babe in her arms again, she held him for a while, lost in thought. Then she shook her head and in the quiet her amber ear-drops chimed faintly. “No. He is very like you - not perhaps in face and form, but in spirit …more so than Boromir. I know it in my heart, I who am his mother.”
“It matters little, so long as he becomes a great man and a good one, and a help to his brother when the time comes for him take up the Stewardship in my place. We have much need of such men in these dark times.” Tenderly, he bent and kissed the babe. “One day, my hero, you will be a warrior, and the Darkness shall flee before you. We shall be proud of you, your mother and I.”
But it seemed for a moment that a shadow crossed the lady’s brow, and she drew the warm folds of the mantle close about her and the child as though a cold wind had whispered its way into the little room. “He will be more than a warrior, my lord,” she said firmly. “He shall be a maker of peace, a healer of hurts, a bringer of light to all who know and love him.”
For a long time, he looked upon the lady in her low chair, slender, straight-backed and pale as flame, with her long hair about her. It was so that he remembered Finduilas the very first time he saw her in her father’s Hall by the sounding sea. He had loved her then, for in her eyes he found the high nobility of Númenor in the Elder Days, and in her voice the gentleness and music that had come down to her from one who had sailed the straight road to the Uttermost West long ago. And it was so that he remembered the lady forever afterwards in the long years of loneliness in which she was no more than a memory.
“That he shall be also, if you wish it.”
“I do indeed.”
And so, he said to the child in the voice he used when he spoke to the nobles of Gondor in the Hall of Kings. “Then, let you hear this: Faramir, son of Finduilas, you shall be a maker of peace, a healer of hurts, a bringer of light to all who know and love you. And you shall be a warrior too, if you desire it.” And he turned to his wife, smiling. “Does that please you, my lady?”
“Yes, my love, it does,” she laughed merrily. And in the last rays of the setting sun, the mantle of stars shimmered as she laid her hand on his cheek. “Nothing could please me more.”
* * *
Silme: “starlight” in Quenya.
Tinuviel: “Nightingale” as in Luthien Tinuviel, daughter of Elu Thingol and Melian the Maiar of Doriath, foremother of Aragorn.