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A Maid Waiting
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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8
Waiting No Longer

Waiting No Longer


The second son of Lord Angbor was asked to go to Bidwell to examine the state of the city and the lands formerly administered by Canelmir, and Ivormil was to accompany him. On the day before they were to leave the city, however, Ivormil was recalled from his packing to the lesser audience chamber. He found there the King, Prince Faramir, the Ringbearer, Captain Peregrin, the Wizard, and a few others, including the King’s clerk Trevion. And before them, standing between two soldiers, was Bendred who had been Ivormil’s valet.

“We found him,” one of the soldiers said, “near Casistir on the road to Dol Amroth. He had upon his person these items--” he handed a leather pouch to Captain Peregrin, “--and had possession of two horses. One we judge to have been his own; the other appears to have been that belonging to his master.”

Ivormil looked on Bendred with surprise. “You took Darold, Bendred?”

“Can you describe your horse?” asked the King.

“Yes--a dun gelding, fifteen hands, a white flecking to the left of the breast bone, and white above the front near hoof. His was a mare--grey with silver spots upon the withers.”

“Indeed, such describes the two horses he held, my lords,” agreed the soldier.

At a nod from the King, the Pherian had opened the pouch, bringing out an arm bracelet, five rings, a gold neck chain, and a second pendant on a fine silken cord. Ivormil looked on the pendant with a feeling of grief. “My mother’s seal,” he murmured. “How did you come to have that?”

One of the rings proved to have been Narthord’s, and one Ivormil’s. “I have no knowledge of where the others came from,” Ivormil told them. “The chain was my father’s. But my second ring, which was set with a sapphire--it is not there.”

“I sold it,” Bendred at last admitted when pressed. “But what do they deserve of such things, having brought disgrace on themselves and Bidwell? And why don’t I deserve something to show for the years I’ve put up with their arrogance and abuse?”

At last the King had heard enough. He and Prince Faramir looked at one another before Lord Elessar pronounced, “Then I surrender you to those who keep the prison for now, Bendred of Bidwell. You will be brought before me in public audience in a week’s time, at which time your fate will be pronounced. A second wrong never balances out a prior one, as you know full well.”

“I forgive you,” Ivormil said, “as long as I might have my mother’s seal to cherish. Although,” he added, “it is difficult to forgive you having taken Darold. Missa was your own; Darold has been mine for six years, and I would have been most distressed had I realized he was gone when I arrived at the stables.”

The King nodded, and the soldiers led the former valet from the room. “With your agreement, Ivormil, I will send him north to labor in Annúminas, helping to rebuild the Citadel there. To prove a thief was most unworthy. But your father’s chain and your mother’s seal and your kinsman’s ring--I give them all over to your keeping along with your arm bracelet and your own ring and what coin was found upon him. And I will entrust the others to you to take back to Bidwell and hopefully restore them to their proper owners.”

“Yes, my Lord King,” Ivormil agreed. “I will look first among those within the keep, and then to his own people to seek the proper owners for the rest. I don’t know that Adar’s chain or Cousin Narthord’s ring mean that much to me, though. But I bless you for giving me back Naneth’s seal.”

The King smiled upon him. “Awaiting me in my cousin’s home lie some of those possessions of my own naneth and adar that mean the most to me. Let this stand in promise that at the right time all that you are worthy of will be restored to you.” And it was with that memory and the memory of the Ringbearer standing by him, also smiling, that Ivormil left Minas Tirith the following day for the journey back to Bidwell.

*******


Two years passed before the second son of Lord Angbor returned to Minas Tirith and the King’s presence for the Midsummer Council that had been called, Ivormil son of Canelmir riding in his train. Ivormil rode a different horse now--a young black stallion he’d recently purchased with his earnings, Darold having been judged unfit for the journey to the capital. He also wore a different sword now, one that was fit for use and no longer intended merely for show; and he knew now how to properly wield it. His beard had grown in, and his chest was more properly muscled. He had no servants behind him, having found he had no need for such when tending to himself. He carried in his saddlebags a few gifts, and rode with a high heart at Lord Angthorn’s side, for he looked forward to coming again to the King’s presence. The King had married that first Midsummer after his coronation, and to the daughter of Lord Elrond Peredhil of Imladris, as it was told abroad throughout Gondor. Ivormil looked forward to judging for himself the woman who had apparently long ago caught and held the King’s heart, that when he came to his crown he would look at none of those from within Gondor who sought to beguile him or attract his attention--even he had heard of the failed attempt by the Lady Butterfly to waylay the King in the gardens of the Citadel, after all.

At last they passed out of Lossarnach, and near sunset of a fine day they passed through one of the westward gates in the Rammas Echor. There all paused to look across the Pelennor at the White City standing above them.

“How it has changed!” breathed Ivormil. “It is nothing like I remember--see how the fields shine? This had been trampled near to mud, and was cut across with trenches!”

Angthorn nodded. “And so it was. And look--the trees already grow tall once more.”

Villages had once again begun to grow around the old wells, and farmsteads were reestablished with hedges and stone walls renewed about them. As they started forward they passed a young boy, around ten years in age, chivvying ducklings across the roadway toward a pond. “Get you!” he was saying as he clapped his hands at them. “Hurry--get you!”

Those in Angthorn’s train laughed with heart’s ease. And as they rounded the last of the way to approach the city from the south Ivormil looked up, and gasped. “How beautiful she is!” he sighed. “A queen among cities!”

“Indeed--and look there, where again Osgiliath rises on the river,” Angthorn noted, indicating the former ruins to the east.

Work was still going on on the restoration of the walls to the city, and as they entered in they could see that new houses and halls and warehouses had been built there in the broad First Circle, and the roads now shone with new paving stones. The ways bustled, and children raced across the way as, now afoot, they set themselves to walk up to the Citadel.

As they walked the sky darkened and things quieted as families returned to their homes and torches were lighted. Everywhere they heard echoes of glad greetings as fathers returned to the bosoms of their families after the business of the day, and music and singing from inns and homes where celebrations appeared to be going on. The markets were closing down, and now and then they’d see a Man or woman carrying a roast chicken purchased from a food vendor, headed for home with the meat for their evening meal. Parties of Dwarves were filtering down toward their quarters in the lower city, and Elves were going upwards alongside youths and maidens carrying gardening tools.

They passed inns and eating establishments where diners gathered, and scented fine meals and the heartening odors of flowering things everywhere. Guardsmen saluted them as they went through the various gates, and lights shone behind windows.

At last they emerged from the ramp up from the Sixth Circle to the level of the Citadel, and before them they saw the young White Tree glowing in the twilight.

“Sweet Valar,” Ivormil breathed, “how lovely it is!”

Angthorn, pausing by him, was nodding with solemn delight. “Indeed! Ah, Gondor is renewed indeed, with the coming of our King Elessar Envinyatar.”

More slowly and reverently they approached the doors to the Citadel, where Master Balstador, standing upon the uppermost step, met them.

“My lords,” he said with a deep bow, “the King has left his regrets he cannot see you before the morrow; but he is himself in Osgiliath for the night with the Lady Arwen and Prince Faramir and his lady wife, examining the work done there. Your father arrived this morning, Lord Angthorn, and looks forward to your reunion. The evening meal will be served very shortly, so I shall show you to your rooms as swiftly as possible that you might make ready for it.”

“Master Balstador, it is an honor,” Ivormil greeted him.

The Seneschal looked at him in surprise, then smiled broadly in recognition. “Lord Ivormil? Ah, but it is an honor to greet you as well! But do come that your hunger might be soon stayed.”

Ivormil was given the same rooms he’d known at the last of his previous visit, and he found he appreciated that fact, although he was rather surprised not to have been given rooms in the suite given to the use of Angthorn and his Men. He had washed himself as thoroughly as he could given the time and was donning a clean shirt when he heard a knock at the door. “Enter!” he called, and was somehow not surprised as Nestrion entered.

“If I might aid you to prepare for the meal, my Lord,” the servant offered.

“I don’t really require aid, I suppose. However, as you are here....” Ivormil accepted the Man’s assistance in donning his surcoat and seeing it brushed, then smiled. “I thank you, Master Nestrion. It is good to see you again.”

Nestrion was examining him. “You have filled out, sir, and done so well. Go now--they will wish to begin serving soon.” He opened the door for Ivormil and bowed him out, following him as he pulled the door closed and turned toward his next duty.

The Citadel seemed warmer now and less impersonal than he remembered. Figured tapestries now hung on several walls, as well as portraits and paintings here and there he did not remember. And he was surprised to find the figures of a maiden and boychild standing barefoot over the water of a fountain in the midst of the main hallway off which the living quarters opened. “The King had that placed here to delight the Queen and their guests,” commented a Guardsman who stood outside the doors to the wing where guests from abroad were housed.

He was bowed into the dining hall, and when he would have seated himself at a lower table a server shook his head. “Lord Angthorn asked that you sit by him and his father,” he was told as he was led toward the high table.

“Ah, here you are, Ivormil,” Angthorn said as he was shown his seat. “I was telling my father about how you helped unmask the charlatans in the spring who were seeking to sell foul nostrums to the poor of the city to ward off the fevers we knew then.”

“Yes--good catch there, young Man,” commented Lord Angbor. “It’s good to know how well you’ve supported my errant son here. Oh, how pleased your mother will be to see you home again.”

“She didn’t come with you?”

“With Melissë so close to her time? You couldn’t drag your maman away from Lamedon with a team of horses and oxen together.”

“Then you won’t be returning to Bidwell?” asked Ivormil, surprised.

Angthorn smiled at him. “Oh, no, didn’t you realize? No, I only agreed to serve there for two years to see the city restored and the investigations of what your father and your kinsman had done finished. No, the King is to make final disposition of Bidwell now that all has been set right.”

Then, Ivormil thought, there is to be a new Lord of Bidwell once more? What would he do? Ought he to offer to follow Angthorn back to Lamedon? But he didn’t wish to leave Lossarnach--after all, for all his father had originated in Langstrand, Ivormil himself was of Lossarnach, born and bred. “Bidwell will miss your lordship, sir.”

Angbor scoffed, “I am certain that the King will see it properly served by his new choice as lord. Do not worry for your city.”

But a good deal of his pleasure at being in the Citadel once more was gone as Ivormil rose with the others to offer the Standing Silence.

*******


He returned to his room to find a maid was bending down to light the fire, and he paused inside the doors to admire her grace shown as she performed such a simple, commonplace act. As she turned he smiled. “Mistress Systerien? Ah, but it is good to see you once more! Is all well with you?” he asked.

She was slightly taller than he remembered, her hair longer and more maturely dressed. Her beauty had deepened, and she’d lost a good deal of the petulance he’d seen in her during his first visit to the Citadel those two years and more past.

She was examining him in return, and her eyes warmed with approval at what she saw. “Lord Ivormil? Ah, how good it is to see you as well! The reports we have heard have spoken well of you. Have you found all in order here?”

“Indeed, and especially to find you are again assigned to see to my comfort. Oh, but wait here--I have something for you.” He hurried into the inner chamber and fetched from his saddlebags the gift he’d had made for her, a scarf of the finest linens Lossarnach produced, cunningly woven and intricately embroidered.

She accepted it with wonder. “You thought to bring this for me?”

“When I was here before you gave me much assurance, with your friendship and your warmth, and--and I’d thought, now that my term of service to Lord Angthorn is over, perhaps, if you would allow it, I--I might court you. That is,” he added hurriedly, afraid he must be blushing mightily, “if there is no other that has caught your eye, of course.”

She was looking at him, her eyes shining with hope, he realized. “No, there is no other. You’d think to court me, a mere maid of the Citadel?”

“Why not? It’s not as if I were Lord of Bidwell as my father was, after all. Nay, I’ve learned a good deal serving on Lord Angthorn the past two years; and one is to see beyond place to the person beneath. And even if I were Lord of Bidwell I’d not let it concern me, for a lovely, worthy, and gracious woman is that whether she’s mistress of a great hall or the meanest shepherd’s cot. I would be honored to offer my affection to you, if you would accept it, and--and if you and I find we truly have affection for one another.”

Her eyes appeared to be swimming slightly as she searched his face, before she began timorously to smile. “I’m honored, Ivormil, if you truly wish to see me, and not just the serving girl in the Citadel.”

He reached out his hand to hers, taking it gently. “Systerien--you’re no longer a mere girl.” He lifted and kissed it.

*******


The company of those who were returning from Osgiliath the next afternoon could be seen from the walls of the city, and as they entered past the Rammas Echor it could be easily determined which were Lord and Lady of Gondor, for a particular brown stallion and white palfrey kept pace together at the center of the group, their riders both with dark hair, the strength of the stallion and grace of the palfrey well matched, the rest allowing a certain space to these two. Looking down into the rest of the city, Ivormil and Systerien could tell that much of the population of Minas Tirith was also out upon the walls, and they heard much in the way of singing and cheering from all quarters.

As the party approached the gates a troupe of horse issued forth from where the gates would one day again stand, for Dwarves even now were working in sheds before it, forging the great leaves and pivots of strongest steel, planning just how the counterweights would be placed to allow the gates to be easily opened and closed from within the city, and yet would withstand even the greatest of rams from outside of it. All could see the knights that made up this troupe moving with precision to present themselves before the King and Queen, and to fall in behind the party, and now the singing from the knights themselves could be heard, filling the day with joy.

Many of the greatest lords and ladies from throughout Gondor were beginning to gather within Minas Tirith, Ivormil had learned, to attend the great Midsummer Council the King had called for, and to witness the ceremonies that would seal the betrothal of Lothiriel of Dol Amroth to Éomer King of Rohan. One last time Lothiriel would return to her home upon the shores of the Sundering Sea before she set out on the way through the Ringlo Vale to come to Dunharrow, from where she would be formally escorted by Riders of Rohan to Edoras for the marriage itself at the fall equinox. King Aragorn and Queen Arwen were to travel also to Edoras for the marriage with those from the northern realm who wished to attend, and a gift of cattle to feed the expected wedding party, Angbor advised his son’s protégée, was already being gathered in Anórien to be sent after Éomer’s party as they returned to prepare for the coming of their new queen.

The music and singing could be heard swelling as King and Queen mounted the city; but Systerien, her period of free time over, reluctantly took leave of Ivormil to return to her duty, and he found himself wishing he were part of the company of those who served here that he might perhaps with as glad a heart labor at her side to see all readied for the coming of Lord and Lady. He remained for a time among those lords and ladies who chose to remain on the walls watching the movement of those who processed up the ways of the city, but felt somehow apart from them.

What should he do? Perhaps he would offer his services to the Lord of Lossarnach, or maybe to Prince Imrahil--or maybe one of his three sons. Elphir of Dol Amroth was said to be a worthy lord, after all; and Amrothos, as he approached full manhood, would soon merit his own advisors. Or perhaps he should seek to offer himself to the train of the Lady Lothiriel as she became Queen of Rohan--to have Men of Gondor serving her would perhaps hearten her as she entered her new life.

But he didn’t wish to leave Lossarnach--not truly; or, if he must, he would prefer to come here to the capital and perhaps serve upon the King himself. After all, it was not as if he still were without desirable skills. He had learned much of administration at Angthorn’s side, of record keeping, of how to audit accounts and hear charges of wrongdoing.

He’d sent letters, once a month, to his father in Dol Amroth; and when word came that his father’s health was failing last winter he’d gone himself, but had been sent away soon after, his father unwilling to allow any who’d known him before to see him reduced to being a mere servant. When he arrived at last again in Bidwell it was to find the message riders had preceded him--his father had died the second night after he set out upon the road northward again. Angthorn had embraced him in comfort, and words of solace had been offered him by those who worked alongside of him as well as many of the Men and women who served in the keep, and even from citizens of the city itself.

Nay, he thought, it would not be right to return to Bidwell again to serve under still another lord of the city. He’d do better to offer himself as a clerk or perhaps a secretary here. Better a servant to the King than to be forced to go out, landless and purposeless, to seek a place elsewhere in the realm. It was with this in mind that he followed the rest from the walls to line the way to the Citadel as at last the King’s party started up the ramp from the Sixth Circle.

The King walked before the rest, a great Lady beside him, both of great grace and beauty, a glimmering light as of stars about the two of them as they walked.

“Do you see,” said a lady who stood nearby to her son, barely to be heard by Ivormil, “how the Elven Light shines upon the two of them? She was a great lady among her Elven kindred, or so it is said. And he is indeed descended from Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion all three, and is in turn descended from Elros Tar-Minyatur of Númenor. And with that sword he bears he slew many of the Enemy’s folks who threatened this city, her brothers and many of his kinsmen behind him, they tell me--Elves and Men and Dwarves joined together with the doughty folk of the Pheriannath to offer the final defense against the might of Mordor.” She turned to indicate the dark mountains to the east, mountains that now had begun to show the first green they’d known in nearly six thousand years, or so it was said. Ivormil found himself smiling as he looked at them, standing there east of the great river, then turned once more to watch the passing of King and Queen, feeling his heart rise again as it had when Systerien had agreed to allow him to court her.

He accompanied Angthorn and his father that night to a feast held by Lord Forlong’s son in the great house he kept in the Sixth Circle, near the end of Isil Lane, opposite the empty guest house that, they were told, had once housed the Ringbearer and the rest of the King’s Companions.

Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas, Prince of Eryn Lasgalen, dwelt now within the Citadel when they were within the city, or so it was told. They continued to be the King’s Companions indeed, although both also labored amongst those who helped restore the walls and to plant gardens and trees to the glory of the King’s city. The King himself continued to serve almost daily in the Houses of Healing, and had been known to go down to the work in progress and assist in the lifting of blocks of stone into place in the walls, or to kneel with Elves and young folk of Minas Tirith to help plant flowers and shrubs and trees, or to stand singing in the public squares with minstrels and gleemen. Neither he nor his Lady wife secreted themselves within the walls of the Citadel--no, they were indeed public figures who showed themselves regularly to the people, who held truly public audiences, who came at times to offer comfort to the bereaved and to rejoice with those who knew great joy, who as happily saw to the marriages of the artisans whose stalls filled the great market of the Fourth Circle as they did those of lords and ladies of the realm.

The signs of prosperity were all about them, and contentment filled almost all who dwelt within Gondor. It was to be seen in the visages of those who gathered here in this house, could be heard in the lilt of singing voices, scented in the air like the perfume of flowers, felt in the warmth of the stones used to build the city, tasted in the sweetness of the very water. Laughter and merriment filled the hall where they dined, and somehow the somber thoughts of Ivormil of Bidwell were swept aside and he laughed and rejoiced with the rest. And as he turned to offer thanks to the maid who placed a dish of eels from the river before him Angthorn noted the courtesy he offered and smiled in his own turn. Tomorrow he would make his final report to the King on the state of Bidwell, and he had only tales of good to share regarding this young Man who’d been given unto his service.

*******


Systerien and Airen were among those who gathered in the gallery the following day for the King’s public audience. Many there were who sought to greet the King and his Queen, who stood by his great chair at the top of the dais; and a few brought petitions to be set before them. Peering down, Systerien could see no sign of Ivormil of Bidwell, although she could see Angthorn of Lamedon standing with his father. Patiently all waited their turn to present themselves.

At last the herald called forth the name of Angthorn, who had served the realm as lord of Bidwell at the King’s discretion for the past two years. The young lord stepped forward easily and with confidence to stand once more before their King. “Lord Elessar, it is with great joy today I come before you to surrender the lordship of the city of Bidwell in Lossarnach. The final evaluation of the city and its business has been sent already to your attention, along with the reports of the search of the doings of its last lord, Canelmir. He died at the end of last winter in Dol Amroth, refusing at the last to accept the comfort of his son or to receive your own wishes for his recovery. Much of the riches he had amassed that he had not yet spent upon himself was used to offer reparations to those who were hurt or suffered grave losses at his hands; and much of the injustice he wrought as a result of accepting bribes has been set as much aright as it was possible to do. Weregild has been offered to some families, and their children have been offered preference in the attempt to undo some of the evil, although in at least two cases the rage continues to fill the hearts of the wronged to an extent we have been forced to set a watch upon them while still offering what comfort as we can.

“Overpayments of rents on the lands held there in the name of the heirs to Fíriel daughter of Ondoher have been returned to the tenants in terms of funds, goods, and services offered them; and the rents stolen by Canelmir have been made good to the bankers who have collected these funds for the past millennium. Other onerous rents have also been refunded throughout the holdings Canelmir oversaw, and the farmlands and orchards are now burgeoning to the needs of the province and the realm.

“By my side to this day has stood Ivormil son of Canelmir, who has humbly accepted his new station and has served both myself and the city well. He has trained with my own Men in order to offer defense should it be needed, and offered to go with those who went with you to the Poros last year to the defense of the realm, although I kept him at my side while sending others who were proven in battle. I rejoice that all were returned unscathed to my side, my Lord--for that I thank you for your wise leadership. He has helped to go through his father’s records and has in many cases offered the best suggestions on how it was we could best offer reparations to certain families and businesses, and now all within the city look on him with favor and rejoicing when he rides by. He has been faithful to the role you set him, and has accompanied me here to confirm his fealty to yourself.

“As for me--I have been now away from my own family and lands long enough, and beg to be allowed to return home with my father to see my brother’s first child born.”

The King and Queen shared a smile and a quiet word, and at a nod, the Lady Arwen descended the stair to stand before young Angthorn. “We thank you, my husband and myself, for the service you have given so freely. We accept your petition, and hereby give you leave to depart after the Great Council back to Lamedon and your father’s house to serve there as is needed. We do ask, however, that you remain now for a few moments that you may see one more wrong made right this day.”

Angthorn took her hand and kissed it, bowing low, then stepped back to the place she indicated. At that the King stood and called out, “Let Ivormil of Bidwell in Lossarnach be brought before us now.”

All buzzed throughout the hall, and behind her Systerien could hear the other gathered servants murmuring amongst themselves. “Is he to be reproved for the offense he gave during his first visit to the Citadel?” she heard one ask.

“Nay, for that was given him during that visit. And the fact he must serve where his father was lord has been more than adequate punishment for what rudeness he offered here.” She recognized Nestrion’s voice in that, and was grateful to the Man as she peered downward toward where a herald led Ivormil forward to stand before the Queen. She saw him bow deeply and straighten at a word from her to look up into the Queen’s eyes, and saw how he paused, taken as were all who stood before the Lady Arwen by her beauty and the wisdom of the Eldar he saw there.

“Welcome, Ivormil son of Canelmir,” the Queen said. “Welcome back to the Citadel of Minas Tirith and to the presence of the King of Gondor and Arnor. I regret it has taken so long for me to meet you, for the tale of your father’s perfidy and your contrasting loyalty has been told me. From what I am told, you have grown greatly in respect and courtesy, as well as courage and skills.”

“Indeed, my Lady?” he asked, his voice thick with the awe he felt.

“Ah, indeed, sir,” she answered him. And behind her the King descended the steps from his throne to take his place beside his wife.

“I too rejoice to see you here before me,” said the Lord King Elessar as he stood smiling down at the Man before him. “Indeed you have grown much since I last saw you, and all reports are of a Man coming well into his own. It is now time to make the final decision as to what will be done with you. Is there aught you would say before we set you free of the service you have been made to offer for the past two years?”

She saw the rise of Ivormil’s shoulders as he took a deep breath to steady him to what he would say. At last he spoke, and those within the gallery could hear him well enough. “I did not know until we arrived here within the Citadel that my time of penance and service was up, my Lord King. I am now confused and at somewhat of a loss, not knowing for certain what office I am fit for. I do here offer myself to your personal service, if you will have me. I am now trained to examine records and accounts, and could perhaps serve amongst your clerks, perhaps with Master Trevion....”

But the King had begun to laugh, not in derision but in delight, and soon his joy was being reflected back by all who stood there in witness to what was to be done. Airen, who’d been watching behind the throne, nudged Systerien, indicating a movement there, as a garment and chain of some sort were being brought forward. Systerien, suddenly appreciating the King’s plans, felt both delight and horror. It’s not as if I were lord of Bidwell, or so he’d said to her the other night. The King, however, had drawn Ivormil to his feet.

“Do you remember the four terms I told you everyone who seeks to serve as a lord of this realm must know?” asked Aragorn Elessar, King of Gondor and Arnor.

“Nobility, humility, service, and honor, my Lord,” Ivormil answered automatically, searching the King’s face.

“Indeed--and from what has been told to me of your behavior from the day I first spoke those words to you, you have indeed not only pondered those words but have sought to live them in your heart and soul. And in the past two years you have served Gondor--through your service to Bidwell and its temporary lord--well, evidencing all the qualities I expect of one worthy of honor. And so it is with pleasure--and humility, that I surrender to you the lordship you ought to have inherited from your father.” He turned to see his wife accepting the mantle and chain of office being brought forward by Lord Húrin of the Keys. “Kneel, Ivormil son of Canelmir, if you would accept the lordship of the city of Bidwell.”

One moment Ivormil paused to search his eyes. “You truly think me worthy?” he asked.

“I do, and I will have you know that Sam and Frodo have rejoiced to hear this was to be given you, delighting that you have indeed come to full Manhood so grown to honor.”

At last Ivormil knelt, presenting his sword; and setting his hands upon the hilts he swore fealty to Gondor as personified by her King. And as he rose the King settled the mantle of lordship about his shoulders, and the Queen herself placed the chain of office about his neck. The King turned him about. “Behold--Ivormil of Bidwell, a lord of the realm!” And all cheered--all save one maid within the gallery who rather precipitously turned to blunder through the rest of the gathered servants, seeking the privacy of a small retiring room where those servants who felt somewhat ill might find refuge.

*******


It took her all that day for Systerien to gather up her courage; after supper was over she approached Master Balstador to ask him to set up a private audience with the Queen’s majesty that she might make a request. The next day she was brought to the Queen’s weaving room where the Queen worked alongside some of her maidens upon fabrics of many kinds, much of it intended for use within the Citadel, some of it intended for those who received aid within the Houses of Healing, some of it for gifts to those among the folk of the realm who needed it due to fires and poor harvests and other troubles, who would need fabric for garments, blankets, and the like.

Systerien looked about, for she’d not seen this room before, although she’d heard it described to her on numerous occasions. Long had this room and those by it remained empty or had served as lumber-rooms where unwanted articles of furniture were housed. But the King had had its windows releaded and cleaned, its floors relaid, and the Queen’s looms and others set up here, with chests for woolens, yarns, and threads of all kinds, and shuttles prepared, forms for embroidery laid in, needles of all kinds made ready. Nay, there was no way in which any Man could seek to label the Queen of Gondor and Arnor as idle, not looking at the signs everywhere of industry and creativity. Balstador touched her arm to recall her to herself, and she took a step forward to come around one loom to stand in the Queen’s presence where she sat before the greatest loom of them all, apparently weaving upon it a tapestry depicting what would be the wedding of Éomer of Rohan to Lothiriel of Dol Amroth, undoubtedly as a wedding gift for the two of them, or so Systerien judged.

“Mistress Systerien,” the Queen said as the maid dropped into her curtsey. “Rise and tell me what it is that you would have of me.”

“Please, my Lady,” Systerien said as she straightened, looking into the Lady Arwen’s star-filled gaze, “when first I met your husband he asked me, as he has told me he had asked all others who served the Citadel at the time, what I would do if the choice were given to me--to remain in service here, to follow Lord Faramir to his own house when it was completed, or to leave service altogether.”

Behind her there was a knock at the door, and at a gesture from the Queen one of her maidens went to answer it. There was a murmured conversation, and then the maiden returned and murmured into the Queen’s gently pointed ear--the sign, along with her almost unearthly beauty and grace, that indicated her Elven blood. The Lady Arwen smiled, her face lighting with a private pleasure, as she spoke quietly back, and with a quick step the maiden returned to the doors. Who it was now who entered Systerien could not see, for other looms stood in the way, but she turned her attention back to the Queen as she asked, “And so it has come to the day when you have made up your mind?”

Systerien lowered her eyes as she gave a slight nod. “Yes, my Lady. I would leave the service of the Citadel at this time.”

“Where are you from, Systerien?”

“From Celebstrand in Dor-en-Ernil, my Lady.”

“And why was it you left your own lands to come so far as to serve here in Minas Tirith?”

“It was due to my father’s death, and the ambitions of myself and my mother. We thought that if I were to marry well I could do much to restore our family’s fortunes.”

“Your father is dead? Then tell me the tale of it, and how it was this led you here.”

And Systerien told it, of the death of her father saving Lord Delrond, of her mother’s hope she might beguile a lord of the realm if she were to serve in Minas Tirith, then her decision to set Systerien in the way of Lord Delrond himself when he returned from the wars until it was learned he was now a cripple. “Indeed, he has married after all, and to the daughter of a family friend who appears to love him dearly and who assists him in his duties to Celebstrand and the lands surrounding it. I am glad now I was too shallow to seek to beguile him then, for he is one deserving of true love and happiness, not a marriage based on beguilement.”

She saw the smile of approval on the Queen’s face. “Indeed, and so has my husband told me also, for he holds great respect for Delrond of Celebstrand due to the selflessness he displayed in the battles with the Enemy’s forces, and the courage with which he faced his injuries and resulting disability. That you rejoice in his true fulfillment speaks well of you, Mistress.

“But, you have not yet told why it is you would seek to leave us now.”

“Two years past I finally saw the face of one who stirred my heart with sympathy and--and something more, as I saw one learn his world had fallen from beneath his feet. And the last thought I had of beguiling one of importance to marry me fled me that day, as I saw him look at me and see me as desirable not just because I was comely, but because he recognized I saw him as a Man worth the loving. He spoke to me the other night and asked for permission to court me.”

“And so you would be free to court him in return and perhaps marry him?”

“No, my lady--not that. For I do not believe he will seek to pursue the courtship now. Nay, his fortunes have been restored, and those who will look to him as their lord will not wish to see one who was merely a serving maid as his lady.”

“You think not?”

“And why should they? Do they not deserve the greatest of ladies at their returning lord’s side?”

The one behind her came forward, and she looked up to see that it was the King, and she felt her face flame with embarrassment to know he’d heard her confession. He settled himself upon a stool beside that of his wife, and looked down at Systerien where she’d again sunk into a deep curtsey. “So,” he said, “you would spare the one who loves you the embarrassment of having one who had been a mere maid of the Citadel at his side, would you? Nay, rise, mistress, that I might see your face and not merely the back of your head and your skirts about you.”

She rose reluctantly, her face still turned to the floor until he reached out a finger to raise her visage to meet his. They examined one another in silence for a moment, and she realized the Queen had set one of her shapely hands on the King’s shoulder, and he’d lifted one of his to set over hers. “So,” he said again, “tell me why he might think marriage to you to be an embarrassment.”

“I was not truly born or raised to any rank, my Lord King. And he deserves one who is truly a lady to stand beside him.”

“Even if he does not love her as he loves you?”

She felt confused, for that idea had not been one she’d considered.

He smiled at her. “Listen now, mistress, for I would offer you the instruction I myself was given long ago. On the day I was named a Man grown and told the truth of my father’s name and the name I was granted on the day of my birth, and was told the nature of the office I was expected to fill by nature of my birth, when I left the presence of my foster father I went out into the vale of Imladris in confusion and wonder to think on it all, singing the Lay of Lúthien as I went. And from a wooded glade I heard a singing, and I went out there to find a maiden dancing there, the Light of Stars about her as if my very song had conjured her. And that day, mistress, my heart was lost, returning to me only when my beloved Arwen came here to me in Minas Tirith two years past to accept me as her husband.

“I was raised a refugee in the House of Elrond, who had been the heir to Gil-galad of Lindon. Yes, I was born Chieftain of the remnants of the Dúnedain of Arnor, but Arnor had not known the dignity of being named a kingdom for a thousand years, since my ancestor Arvedui died in the Bay of Forochel when his ship foundered on the ice and his second son drowned with him and what Men were on the ship with the two of them.

“Lord Elrond, whom I’d addressed ever as Adar, saw the love I now bore for his daughter, and reproved me. At last he laid a great doom upon me, that I might not bind any woman of any lineage to me until and unless I were to become King of both Gondor and Arnor, for he would not lose his daughter to any less soul. To reach that estate I had to labor mightily, and for many, many long years. I became a wanderer upon the face of Middle Earth, serving in many lands, even here in Gondor itself under the Lord Steward Ecthelion. I sought to know the natures of those who lived in Gondor, Arnor, Rohan, and their allies and enemies. I fought alongside the sons of Elrond and the Men of Arthedain and the Elves of Mirkwood and the Dwarves of the Misty Mountains and the Iron Hills. For before I left Rivendell to return to my own people, my mother and Lord Glorfindel of the House of the Golden Flower took me aside to counsel me.

“Long would I strive to see the power of Mordor and its dread lord brought down, they told me; but to be worthy to be crowned as King of Gondor and to receive the Sceptre of Annúminas I must first prove myself worthy to serve all; for he who would be the greatest of all in the end must serve all whom he would rule. For I do not serve as King here merely for the glory of it--the glory would wear thin soon enough were that to be the height of my ambition. To be worthy of the honor of remaining King I must continue to serve this people--all of the people, great and small, honored and held in contempt. I must be ever willing to hazard myself for their protection, and to go hungry that they do not do so, and to go without that they might have. So it is that I have insisted that those who serve the realms of Gondor and Arnor beside me must also know the full meaning of nobility, service, humility, and honor.

“Know this--he--or she--who has done well in the lesser service is more likely to do well in the greater service of this realm. So it is that when I was granted the Winged Crown I decreed that all who enter this house are to treat all who serve in this house with respect for the service offered. Do you understand?”

She nodded, feeling tears gathering behind her eyes and seeking to contain them. “I think so, my Lord,” she finally managed.

He smiled at her. “I, too, have just come from a private audience. It appears that one of my younger and newer lords has just declared his love for the woman who has captured his heart as mine was captured so long ago, and came to ask permission to publicly court her, as there are many who would look upon this match as perhaps being beneath the honor of a lord of the realm. I came to tell my wife, as the ruler of this house, that I’d granted him permission and given my blessing upon his suit, as both he and the object of his desire are now judged worthy of the greatest of happiness. After all, as I have found my own hope fulfilled, how am I to deny it to any other?”

So saying, he reached out to her shoulder and nudged her about so she could see the other who had entered this room with him, and she found herself looking into the eyes of Ivormil. “Will you again grant me permission to court you, Mistress Systerien?” he asked.

*******


At Midwinter of the third year of the Lord Elessar’s reign, Ivormil, Lord of Bidwell in Lossarnach, was married by the King to Mistress Systerien of Celebstrand in Dor-en-Ernil, there within the Citadel of Minas Tirith, named anew as the year turned Minas Anor once more. And among the gifts they received was a set of dinnerware sent from the Shire within Eriador of Arnor, chosen, it is said, by the Ringbearer himself. And their firstborn son, born a year and a half after their marriage, they named Iorhael in honor of the Cormacolindo.

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