The Steward’s son watched the new year dawn, the spears of light rising red and gold from the sea. There will never be another dawn like this. He had not slept, yet he was not weary. His heart was light, yet fearful with waiting; and he knew now what he must do. In his hands lay a small box of rosewood inlaid with mother of pearl he had brought with him from the White City. Long ago, it had come out of Lossarnach, with another princess come to make her home in the fastness of the Tower of Guard; now it was a gift, in an odd way, from one princess to another.
Standing in the shadow of the Great Hall, he waited, watching the seabirds winging overhead, and the dark specks of men on the strand far below, carrying away the remains of last night’s bonfire. Pale and still he waited, each moment an eternity, the rising wind parting the harsh hairs of his cloak.
But the doors of the Great Hall opened at last, and she came, a slight figure in a kirtle of dark blue and a hooded mantle edged with fur. There were no flowers now in her braided hair; but the wind caught the long golden strands, and her maids, laughing, drew the hood over her head. Down the long steps they came, their heads bowed, talking in the soft, animated manner of women, each bearing a covered basket. Then one of the girls caught his eye, and smiling, whispered to her lady, who in turn lifted her head in surprise.
“Good morrow, my lord,” Finduilas said, making her obeisance. “May the sun and stars shine upon you on this day of days, and on all the days of your life.”
“And upon you, my lady.” They stood in awkward silence, neither looking at the other, until at last he found the courage to speak again. “Where do you go, my lady, so early in the morning? The sun has barely risen.”
She smiled. “It is the custom of my father’s house to bring food and clothing to the poor among our people on the first day of the new year. Thus you see us, carrying what little gifts we have to those in need. And what of you, my lord? You have the look of one who has waited long for another.”
“Indeed I have,” Denethor answered simply.
Gravely, Finduilas looked up at him for a long moment. Then, turning to her women, she said, “Lalaith, Aerin, do you bring these baskets to Míriel’s house. I shall come after you.” When the women’s soft footsteps had died away, she spoke again.
“So what is it, my lord that you wish to say to me?”
“Let us speak instead, in a place where none may hear us.”
“Very well then. I know of a place where only the sea and the sky need hear us.”
Down the sea-path she led him, her nimble feet stepping over sand and stone and long waving grass. In silence they walked, for words had abandoned him, and he followed the slight form of his guide over the narrow, winding road, the cliff-edge dropping sharply to sea and sun-warmed strands far below.
At length, the path rose again, and they came to an ancient pavilion of stone scoured white by the salt sea-winds, where it was not covered by the wild honeysuckle that grew in winter. And the sweet scent of it mingled with the smell of sea and grass. He saw the blue shadows of the ruined harbour beneath the sparkling sea, the glittering shores of Langstrand to the west, and far away, the place where sea and sky met and became one.
Laying a hand on the smooth stone, Denethor whispered, “I have never seen its like. Truly, Dol Amroth is a land of wonders.” His fingers traced the faded lines of flowering stone, half hidden by the green curling stems of honeysuckle; and he saw how the high domed roof was fashioned of intertwining leaves and flowers worked in stone, and between the stony spaces, the shifting blue sky.
She smiled, and stooping, touched the shadow-patterns on the ground. “I do not know what it is. Perhaps it was built for Mithrellas long ago when the world was young, so that she might watch the ships that sailed towards the sunset, never to return. Long she lingered here, I deem, singing her sad songs to the sea. I used to come here with my mother as a child, and I come still now and then when it is in my heart to be alone and away from my father’s Hall.”
Rising, her hood fell back; once again the wind took up the long strands of her hair; and to him, she seemed beautiful and sad as one who belonged to another day and another place, and for a moment, there was a shadow on his heart.
“I wish that the day and the light would be ours always and always, and that night need never fall; I wish that there were no tears, no grief, no laments in this world, only laughter and music and songs of joy.”
Slowly, he came to her and took her hands in his own. “But Finduilas, my heart, we live in a world of shadow, for the days of peace have long passed away. Yet I would give them to you if I could; I would give you light, laughter and songs of joy and more – yet love is all these things. And that you shall have from me if you will.”
He drew then from the breast of his tunic the little box of rosewood and took from it a single gleaming sapphire, cunningly fashioned in the shape of a flower nestled in filigree of mithril leaves. A single stone the colour of the sea, or of the twilit sky - the blue of a kingfisher’s feather.
“Will you come with me to the White City?”
For a long moment, she did not answer; and in the silence, he heard only the pounding of his own heart, the rush that was the lapping of waves on the shore. Finduilas turned from the sea to her father’s Hall on the high hill, its great stone roof soaring into blue sky. He saw her shiver, as though a cold wind had brushed her cheek. But there was no wind now, and all was still.
“What do you see, my heart? What ails you?”
She started, as though waking from a dream, then laughed, shaking her head. “Nothing. It is not given to me to see the doings of men in sea-water or hearth-fire, nor to draw down the moon and stars with dark songs.”
Meeting his eyes, she took the ring and held it in her cupped hands as though it were the most precious thing in the world. “I will follow you even unto the City of Stone – anywhere at all, only that it is with you. Love you shall have from me, and faith and constancy in all the days of our lives.”
With a smile, he stooped and kissed her brow. “Let us go to your father, for I must thank him for this greatest of gifts that he has given me.”
* * *
“I regret that I do not have a silmaril for your daughter’s hand.”
Laughing, the Prince said, “Well. She is not Lúthien, and I am not Thingol to deny her to you, though it grieves me much to part with her to any man, no matter how high or worthy.”
The Prince rose. A tall man he was, taller even than Denethor was himself, and the keen blue eyes met his own as he spoke the ancient words spoken by every father to the man who would take a daughter from his hearth:
“What can you give my daughter in place of what she leaves for you?”
“My heart for her keeping, my hearth-fire for her warmth, my kill for her food, my sword and shield for her shelter, and my name for her honour.”
“That is well. So take her from my hearth to yours, and may she be to you all that she is to me and more – a bringer of joy and hope in dark days.” He took their hands and joined them; the hand of a scholar and warrior; and a fairer, slender one, with a blue stone that glimmered in the fire-light.
Smiling down at Finduilas, Denethor said softly, “Great is the gift you have given me, my lord Prince. There is nothing more that I could ask for.”
But across the brazier, Imrahil came to his feet, a dark young man with fire in his eyes. “Keep my sister well, lord Denethor, and love her as you should. If any word should come to me - any word at all of any harm or sorrow you bring upon her, let you remember that Finduilas of Dol Amroth has a brother with a long arm and longer sword.”
“Imrahil!” cried Finduilas softly. “There is no need –“
But Denethor smiled and laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I know well that the Lords of Dol Amroth are not makers of idle threats. When that day comes, you shall find me a swift runner.”
With that they all laughed. And not long after, in the shadowed firelight, three men listened to a woman’s voice rising in the dusk; a voice as sweet and sorrowful as a nightingale’s.
* * *
Long was the way that fate them bore
O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.
This story owes a great debt to many. To the good Professor, without whom the world of Middle Earth would never have been, and whose Lay of Leithian I have quoted extensively; to Maya who has kindly allowed me to steal her idea of starting this story with a letter, as she did in her own story, the “The King’s Justice” and to Altariel who likewise gave permission to borrow the lighting of the candles she has used in her own works, namely “Spirits of the House” and “A Pale Light Lingering.”
I have also adapted from Rosemary Sutcliff’s Arthurian novel, “Sword at Sunset” the following, in which Artos takes to wife Guenhumara:
“…“What can you give the maiden in place of what she leaves for you?
“My hearth for her warmth, my kill for her food,” I returned. “My shield for her shelter; my corn for her quickening, my love for her contentment, my spear for the throat of the man who offers her harm. There is no more that I have to give.”
“It is enough,” said the hollow voice.”
I have no idea how the people of Minas Tirith or Dol Amroth celebrated Mettarë and such celebrations, to my knowledge, do not appear to have been described anywhere in Tolkien’s work. So all the customs found in this story were either adapted by me from the traditions of the Celtic Samhain festival, which celebrates the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new, or were used with Altariel’s kind permission. Thanks also goes to Isabeau who answered my query on Mettarë when I was hunting about for Mettarë traditions in Tolkien’s work.
Adrahil’s speech was adapted from the ritual words found at:
The regional differences in architecture, speech and tradition between Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth is of course entirely speculation on my part. Given that the elves lingered in Dol Amroth for a long time before sailing into the West, it is possible that the people of Dol Amroth adopted their language and customs and held to them more fiercely than in other places where elvish culture had less influence.