A Rose Among the Briars: Chapter Four
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
--Break, Break, Break, Alfred Lord Tennyson
Too far, too far, the soundering sea,
Far off the waves are waking
And I awake to hear no sound
But that of my heart breaking
Rhoswen turned away from the window at the sound of her name, breaking the continuous cycle the old poem had been making in her head since she had risen that morning. A Sailor's Lament for the Sea, it was called, but she could not share it with the women who accompanied her now – none of them had ever known the sea like she had.
"Have you an eagle's eyes, that you keep watch on the plain for the Lord Boromir's return?" one of the ladies, Faeldes, asked Rhoswen with merry eyes. Denethor had introduced her to the noble women of the city, and there were not many days now when she did not receive an invitation to attend at someone's house, or host her own party, in the large solar the Steward had given her for her own use. High up in the house, it received much light, and some twenty women could sit there in comfort. It had been built for a queen's use, to hold her retinue. And I am no queen that now uses it, Rhoswen often reminded herself.
"I look toward Anduin," Rhoswen admitted sheepishly. "I am a little homesick, and the water is a comfort to me."
"You have been homesick since you arrived here in the Steward's House and the Lord Denethor remitted you to our company!" Another one of the ladies, Caineth, remarked, glancing up from the blackwork she was stitching onto a tunic of her husband's. "And yet you never speak of this wondrous home you miss so much! Tell us of Anfalas, and the coast, Lady Rhoswen. We are starved here in the city for happier views of the world."
"And starved for happier views of menfolk," the youngest of them, Merethel, added mischievously. "My eldest sister remembers when your brothers were in service in the city, and she says she never saw finer knights. Take care to tell us of them, lady, while you tell us of your home!"
A few of the ladies laughed at Merethel, and some of the elder ones, like Caineth, frowned and continued on with their work, eyes downcast to the sewing at hand but ears wide open for the talk common to a full chamber.
"Speaking of a thing often lessens a need for it," Faeldes counseled quietly. "Perhaps telling us of home will lighten the load on your heart. And it will be good for us, too, to hear of a place where Mordor is not so close, or pressing."
Rhoswen took a breath, remembering and wondering where she could begin. "We have not so many people in Anfalas, or many great cities. There are the fisherfolk of the coast who have their own villages, but inland the ground is not good for farming, and the villages there are small. Sheep thrive well there, in the hill country, and some cattle. Now they would be bringing the herds home from the hill-pens for the winter, and there will be parties and feasts when the flocks return home safely. It will be loud and joyful in the herding villages – it is seldom noisy in the hill country in the summer, when the men are in the high pastures – and my father's men will counting the herds to calculate the tithes and taxes owed. Some will go to our castle at Mithgaear on the coast, and from there they will be loaded onto boats to sail up the Anduin to Minas Tirith."
"And what is happening in Mithgaear, Rhoswen?" Faeldes prompted – the room was soft as the ladies listened, some rapt in attention and others with minds fixed on other matters.
"My youngest brother Erun will be helping my father with the tithes, supervising the men and riding through the outvillages. Carnil will be at home with his wife, Baineth, who is expecting their second child. Erufalion and Lucan live far away, with their own wives. But they are preparing for the end of summer, too. In the castle they will be pulling the rugs and weavings out of their chests to clean them and hang them for the winter. The storerooms will be cleaned, to make room for the harvest and the winter stores. And there will be a feast, there, to celebrate the end of summer. My brothers will be there, and my father. How tall they will look, and fine. My brothers are all tall, with dark hair, like mine, except Carnil, who has reddish hair. My brothers would tease him, when they could run fast enough to get away! Such music we will hear, such songs! We sing the most joyful songs now, to tide us through winter."
"Is it cold?"Merethel asked, caught up in Rhoswen's dream more than some, hanging on her every word. She was forever dreaming, the other ladies said. She is young. Let her have her dreams of bold princes and happy endings, they said. She'll know soon enough the truth of things. I had dreams like hers, once, Rhoswen remembered. Now they have all gone to seed, and I live in the days I dreamed of.
"Near the sea it is cold, and windy, but not as cold as the hill-country. It is the sea that I miss the most. I could hear it every morning when I woke up, the waves outside my window and the gulls crying and the wind. It always smells of salt." Her voice tapered off, staring at a blank wall of the solar, the familiar rooms of Mithgaear unfolding in front of her eyes, populated by people she knew instead of all these strangers she was now surrounded with.
"Let me tell you a little of my home, Rhoswen," Faeldes began, pulling her chair closer so that she and Rhoswen could talk alone, the other ladies, seeing the end of the reminiscence, going back to their own conversations. "Here in the harvest time it smells of grain, and the grass being threshed, and the cold, strong smell of stones. When the time is right there will be a great festival, and the unmarried ladies will go down to the fields to help with the harvest. A symbolic help, nothing more – a single stroke with the sickle. Then there will be a great feast out of doors, and everyone, even the Lord Steward himself, shall sit and dine to rejoice in our good fortunes. If you have a young man you will walk out with him, and when the time for feasting comes you will carry him a cup of new wine, fresh from the vinters that grow their crop on the southern slopes of the mountains. Sometimes those of us with husbands in far-off postings have a little luck and they are allowed to come home on leave for a little while."
"Where is your husband, Faeldes?" Rhoswen asked. She had never thought about that before. She knew that many of the women who came to these gatherings were married, but their husbands were never spoken of. There were many things in the City that were never spoken of. Rhoswen was learning that all too well.
"In Ithilien, commanding under Lord Faramir."
"That is very far, I understand. You must miss him greatly."
"He is not so far in my heart," Faeldes said with a smile. "And I know he works for a mighty cause, and a just one. Keeping his people safe. There is no greater task in the whole of Gondor, for fisherfolk cannot cast their nets and herdsmen cannot mind their sheep if a shadow lies over them and darkness rules them. Love your motherland, Rhoswen, but do not pine for it overmuch – we have our own traditions here, and you will have to learn them," she said sternly, mincing no words to make her point. "Your husband's burden will be heavy, and you cannot help him carry it if your mind is far away in Anfalas."
The younger lady looked down, chastised. "You are right, and wise to tell me. I will make more of an effort from now on," Rhoswen promised. Faeldes took her hand and squeezed it, trying to comfort the younger woman.
"You are young, and I know it must frighten you, to marry so great a man. But he is only a man, as any other man, and not so hard to please."
Rhoswen nodded, and Faeldes smiled, moving her chair back to the other knot of women and leaving Rhoswen again in peace by the window, her eyes gazing south but her mind thinking east, to the White City on the Anduin and the Black Mountains beyond.
As was now their custom, Rhoswen and Denethor took dinner together, privately, as a family might. "My sons are gone, and I grow lonely without them," the Steward had said fondly, when the arrangement had been first proposed. "And it will be a chance for you to know me better, and know your responsibilities here." Rhoswen had dreaded spending more time with the Steward than she needed, but she had done as he had asked.
Her father had gone back to Anfalas two weeks ago, leaving her in the Steward's household. It was a most unorthodox understanding between the two men, and not common at all for betrothal, but Denethor had insisted distance and the responsibilities that surrounded the running of the White City and the Steward's household made it quite a reasonable array. "Are you certain you would not like me to stay longer?" Golasgil had asked, bidding his daughter farewell at the gate to the seventh circle.
"As a leaf departs the tree that bore it, so also a woman must leave her father's house and cleave to her husband, and together grow a new tree that will bear new leaves," Rhoswen had quoted, kissing her father's cheek. "I must leave sometime, Papa. Let it be now. I will be well-protected here, and safe. And I have Maireth, if I have no other company at all," she had reminded him.
But her father's parting was falling into distant memory, and Rhoswen was slowly getting used to this new arrangement in the Steward's household. Dinner was the one meal the Steward took with his children when they were home, and now it was the only meal he took with Rhoswen. She was becoming adept at guessing his moods, strange, change-filled things that they were; one day he might be filled with joy, and the next with melancholy. She knew some of his favorite foods, now, too, and if she could sense his attitude earlier in the day she was sure to alert the kitchens to have them prepare something he enjoyed. Denethor, she guessed, might have begun to see the change, and in time he might give her credit for it.
But Rhoswen was also learning that Ecthelion's son was very slow to congratulate or give praise, even if he was in the best of moods. And he was slower to admit change. That was why she was having so much trouble mustering up the courage to ask about her garden – or rather, Finduilas's garden.
Today he was in an exceptionally good state of mind, seeming rather cheery underneath his heavy black robes of state. Rhoswen had seen his conference with outriders from Osgiliath earlier, and told the kitchens to prepare salmon, a dish she had brought from home and one which Denethor had particularly taken to.
"My lord, I have been here some time, and I find I grow slothful without occupation," she said, after the Steward had begun digging into his salmon, the first bite bringing an even larger smile to his face. "Could some small task be found for me to carry out, something to fill my hours? It need not be important, only useful."
Denethor swallowed, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin."You and my oldest are alike in that regard – always wanting to be useful. What do you desire to do, Lady Rhoswen? What are your likes, your desires? What would please you to work with?"
"I have always loved … gardens, my lord," Rhoswen hinted, thinking again with a little guilt of the key to the Lady Finduilas' garden, still in her jewel box, hidden away. "If I could be given a patch of my own to work and prepare for spring, I would be most glad of it."
"We have few gardens in this city, but the White Rose shall not want for flowers, if she wishes them," Denethor assured her. "The Houses of Healing have plots in the city, and need hands to tend them. I will tell the Warden of your wishes, and he will direct your work there. Anything you need – tools, seed -- shall be given to you."
"Thank you, my lord," Rhoswen said, her heart a little lifted, still saddened that he had not given her the answer she had sought. Silly girl, did you really think he would give up his wife's garden on the whim of his daughter in law? But now she could move on to other matters of state. "I saw that outriders came from Osgiliath today. Did they bring good news?"
Denethor launched into an account of the outrider's news, and Rhoswen nodded, and murmured in all the right places, a game she was also becoming good at playing, though she still did not understand all the names of the players yet. Her mind was not entirely with the Steward – a small part of it was in a garden high up in the King's House, a garden with a locked door and only one key.
A short update, but the story needed to end there for the moment. Updates may become very sporadic in the next three months, as I will be leaving the country to study in IRELAND with 28 of my friends from school. And that'll leave me very little time for writing anything but essays, I'm afraid. As it is, I wish you all the very best for the next three months and hope you all have fun doing whatever it is you're doing!