‘…Amroth beheld the fading shore
Now low beyond the swell,
And cursed the faithless ship that bore
Him far from Nimrodel.
Of old he was an Elven-king,
A lord of tree and glen,
When golden were the boughs in spring
In fair Lothlórien…’
Ivriniel beheld the carven figure with an astonished sense of longing and loss. The artisan who laboured for so long in his craft had created an image of such reality and beauty that it could not help Ivriniel’s eyes from breaking tears. It was the likeness of her younger sister – so perfect, so absolute in feature and form – that it seemed as if it was Finduilas herself, frozen in time for over two decades. This was the twenty-third time Ivriniel had visited the tomb of her sister in the halls of Rath Dínen above the White City, just as it was the twenty-third anniversary of her sister’s untimely death; and yet it was much more than the twenty-third time Ivriniel was hit by just how much she missed those who had been unjustly taken from her.
As she lost herself in the intrinsic curves and smoothes of her sister’s sculpture, Ivriniel could not help but let this face, so interwoven into her life, take her into memories of the past. How bright and beautiful she was, her resplendent robes shining in the last fair days of autumn, when she came home to Dol Amroth to see Ivriniel wedded. True to her vision gifted by the Mirror of Galadirel, upon a ship of white and silver in the fair harbours of her city, Ivriniel bound her life to Orophir son of Galador. Nerellas, her Elven companion from Lothlórien, had stood by her side, as had her brother Imrahil, and her father Adrahil, and all those she cared about in Gondor had come. Could it have truly been thirty years ago? The days had gone so fast since then, like a river rushing towards a waterfall. Thirty years of love with her husband Orophir, thirty years of joy, and thirty years of sorrow. Umbar had again made sure of the latter.
From across the perils of the Bay of Belfalas the Black Sails had come, like Mandos coming to collect his due from the mortal world. The Lieutenant Lorindol, uncle of Orophir, had fallen, as had Ivriniel’s cousin Baranir, whom had wedded in the same month as her. But most grievous of all, the Prince Adrahil had fallen. An old, but determined soldier he had been, and he led his fleet to victory against the onslaught of the Corsairs, slaying the fell Fleetmaster Sanghayando himself, only to be slain himself – lost in the wreck of a tempest at the hands of the vicious captain of The Shrike. That had been but a year ago. Imrahil was Prince now, and she was hurt to her soul that her fair brother would have to rule in such a time of loss. But she would stand by him – two siblings together; orphaned from the wrath of Umbar, and their sister lost, who had withered in the shadow of Mordor.
Though the loss of her father was still crippling to her, there had still been great happiness in the thirty years of her marriage. As the roots of her family were decayed, more branches had sprung. In the last days of Finduilas she had given up a son as fair as she; Faramir he was named; and Imrahil too had wed, taking Gloredhôl daughter of Lorindol as his love, and fathering Elphir, Erchirion, Amrothos and little Lothíriel. Orophir’s sister Gilmith, who had wedded Ivriniel’s late cousin Baranir, too had a son – Maethor he was called – and but weeks after his birth, in the waxing of the summertime, Ivriniel and Orophir were too granted a child, and he was called Morathol.
Ivriniel was awoken from her musings by a familiar voice and the touch of a hand upon her shoulder. Waking as if from a dream, she turned to her son.
‘Pardon me, Morathol, I was lost in my own thoughts…’
‘You do not have to explain,’ he smiled benevolently. ‘You take as long as you need with Finduilas.’
A fire of pride warmed Ivriniel’s heart as she watched her son turn and begin inspecting the tombs of the old Stewards, Captains and Kings with a thirst of knowledge. Now a man of twenty-nine, Morathol was a Knight of Dol Amroth, and under the tutelage of his father had advanced well into the ranks of his order. He had escorted her on the road from Dol Amroth to Minas Tirith, too wishing to pay his respects on the anniversary of Finduilas’ death; and as they had rode Ivriniel looked at him and, for a second, half believed herself back with Galador again, riding to discover the Golden Wood. Yet Morathol was not as fair as Galador or his son Orophir – he was fairer, for in him was the Elven lineage of Ivriniel’s house, and in his face was a touch of something princely – he was as much a descendent of Galador’s as he was Adrahil’s.
‘Here is the tomb of Baranor,’ stated Morathol, reading the obsidian slab of one of the graves. ‘He was a high officer of the Citadel Guard, who died in the assault on the Haradrim army under Boromir and Maethor. His sacrifice truly won great renown in victory.’
‘Yes, I am glad he did not die needlessly,’ agreed Ivriniel, breaking from her reverie. ‘It is a fact I often try to remember. The deaths of our people are not in vain.’
Morathol sternly nodded at this, but in her heart Ivriniel knew he could tell she did not truly mean it. Gifted with the healing skills bestowed upon her by Galadriel, Ivriniel felt powerless in places where the absoluteness of death was so abundant, and all her thoughts would turn to bitterness and regret.
‘We should go, mother,’ requested Morathol, seeing that she had enough time with the respect of the dead. ‘Our dinner with the Lord Denethor is soon, and I dare not be late for a man of such importance, be he my uncle or not.’
With that, the mother and son left the fallen in peace, and walked from the passageways of the Silent City back into the radiance of the afternoon sun, which gleamed off the stoic walls of the White City and glittered upon the Tower of Ecthelion. In the cool breeze of the citadel, Ivriniel thanked Húrin, the Warden of the Keys for passage into the crypts, who in turn appreciated her courtesy, before taking them to Merethrond, the Hall of Feasts, for their audience with the Steward of Gondor.
Ivriniel did not need her high senses of perception to notice the change that had slowly stirred over her brother-in-law through the years. These meetings with him were infrequent – although she visited the White City every year, Denethor was often too busy in his own affairs of responsibility to greet her. Yet, the last time they did meet, the Steward offered to throw a large dinner in her honour – this time, her preferences were not even queried.
The long table of feasting with its great capacity and room only exemplified the silence and emptiness of the Hall of Feasts. At the head of the table sat the Lord Denethor, and Ivriniel and Morathol were asked to sit upon his left as drink was brought for them. As they had entered the room, Ivriniel caught the glance of the cool manner of the Steward – it was as if for a second he had mistook her for someone else, and upon remembering the face of the mistaken person had a pang of sorrow, only to be quickly consumed by bitterness at the memory’s conjuring. Nonetheless, he greeted the sister of his late spouse with words of grandiose and welcome, and soon moved on to matters of family.
‘How is your brother the Prince faring in his new post?’ The Steward asked with a hint of gloating.
‘He has taken to the task with relish,’ said Ivriniel with some pride. ‘He was a born leader, and my father had him ready for this task perhaps decades ago.’
‘Adrahil was a wise man indeed. The ripples of his loss have still not quieted in the realm. He shall be sorely missed. But, as you say, Imrahil is a born leader – as much on the seat of the Princes as on the battlefield, as I hear. And that is a necessary virtue for our times.’
‘A fact that I regret,’ said Ivriniel.
‘The skill of our Captains?’ incredulously asked Denethor.
‘No – the fact that their skill in arms is a necessary virtue.’
The Steward made a noise at this, which Ivriniel could not decipher whether it was a sigh of agreement or contempt. After a pause, he turned to Morathol with a steely glance.
‘Morathol my boy, how goes your role within the Knights?’
‘Well, my lord – my father has been teaching me rigorous tactics of command, leadership and swordplay -‘
‘Then he is grooming you for the rank of Captain, surely. I hope you are up to the challenge, my nephew, for I will need the very best from the aptains of my realm.’
‘I shall not disappoint you, my lord,’ Morathol replied with dignity.
‘All this talk foreshadows our fear of impending war,’ said Ivriniel, with a little heat. ‘Surely our fixation on it should not lead for us to preen all our men into killers?’
Denethor gave a flash of a dark look to Ivriniel, but it soothed, and became almost wi!@#$l. ‘You have the gentle heart of Finduilas, Ivriniel. She would say the same to me. But what would you have me do? If the expectancies of men in Gondor are not to fight then we shall surely perish. The great war of our age will come within our lifetimes – I have predicted this, and even you have admitted to foreseeing it, if your abilities are true. I know it is a grim affair, but it is one that must be confronted, my lady.’
‘Pardon me, my lord, I did not wish to sound impertinent,’ replied Ivriniel. ‘It is merely an emotional day to me – as you of all people will understand – and the losses of war on my people and my family always come home to me with it.’
Denethor was about to reply, when the doors of the Hall were opened by the Citadel Guard and a youthful, but strong-seeming form entered. ‘Has father bored you with his talks about politics yet?’ He smiled as he walked to the trio, who all stood to welcome him.
‘Greetings, dear Boromir,’ said Ivriniel, embracing him. ‘I am so glad you could join us!’
A seat was pulled back for the son of the Steward, which he took, sat by the right hand of his father. He spoke of only having returned yesterday from his inspection of the coastal forts about Pelargir, wishing to return in time to pay his respects to his mother.
‘Then, where may I ask is Faramir?’ Ivriniel inquired.
‘Cirion of Amon Barad and he are still rounding up Easterlings from the enemy’s offensive ten years ago – and a good job he’s done of it, too, having scoured North Ithilien of foes right up to the trees’ end.’
‘And yet he still could not pay his respects to his mother,’ muttered Denethor, which prompted Boromir to give him a look which spoke of an issue they had argued much about. Morathol, eager to change the subject, started again.
‘Well, we heard of your exploits during your so-called ‘inspection’ before we set out. We heard that you had to defend a town against a Corsair raid with only the handful of men you had with you! It seems that you bring dashing heroism to even the most dull affairs, Boromir!’
The young men laughed at that, and Denethor glowed with pride at the mention of his son’s exploits. ‘Yes, it seemed you and your fancy Swan Knights were busy elsewhere, as usual, so I naturally had to intervene,’ smiled Boromir. ‘Yet, I must say you are quite stretched now with the job of holding the southern borders. But, nevertheless, you were probably not informed of which particular Corsair ship we had to repel.’
At this, his tone lowered a little, and the smile fell from Morathol’s face, but Boromir continued. ‘It was The Shrike.’
Ivriniel, already set on edge by her son and her nephew’s shrinking of battle into a joking subject, strained to keep her emotions in check at this revelation. ‘The ship that led my father to his death,’ she said.
‘Unfortunately, yes,’ said Boromir, now much more solemn. ‘There was always the hope that the ship had gone down with Adrahil’s, but it appears not, and by the look of the crew onboard, they’ve been highly honoured in Umbar. I think their captain may have been promoted to a Fleetmaster – and judging by his craftiness, it does not bode well for the defence of the coasts.’
‘Did you face him?’ asked Morathol.
‘Yes. His men call him Dalamyr, and he is unlike any Corsair I have fought before. His fighting styles, according to our research on the Haradrim, show that he is trained in the way of their elite order of assassins, the Hasharii. Not only this, but he carries devices which release smoke when thrown, blinding our men and making his movements unseen. He is a worthy, but very, very dangerous foe.’
At the request of Ivriniel, they soon moved onto a different subject, and so Morathol, getting lighter in tone once more, spoke to his cousin of how they last saw each other five years ago, at the feast held when Boromir and Maethor returned from their adventures beyond the South Gondor border – for Maethor and Morathol had grown up together like brothers, and Morathol desired to hear about him as much as possible.
But this train of speech led them to the discussion of the holdings on the Harondor front – for, in the wake of Thorongil’s secret attack on Umbar, Prince Adrahil and Captain Orophir had used the opportunity to recapture the debated lands in the name of Gondor, though both Lieutenant Lorindol and Captain Baranir, father of Maethor, had fallen in the struggles.
Finding that they seemed to be unable to talk about anything over than war, soon after the dinner, Morathol and Boromir retired, to practice duelling with one another, again causing Ivriniel to sigh at their playfulness towards the matter.
‘Do not worry yourself, Ivriniel,’ Denethor calmly said. ‘Although they are getting older, their youth has still not left them. There is still an innocent quest for valour within them.’
‘You are right, my Lord. But, I fear I must now become a hypocrite. I would like to speak to you about my husband’s plan.’
The Stewards’ brow furrowed. ‘You are referring to the Captain Orophir’s request to make a surprise assault on Umbar’s quays, in imitation of the outsider Thorongil’s scheme during the days of my father?’
‘Yes,’ said Ivriniel, although, as the name of Thorongil was mentioned, she smiled in recollection of her memories of him in Lórien, whilst Denethor almost spat his name in disdain. ‘I believe he is misguided in his purpose.’
‘Misguided? How so?’ queried the Steward.
‘Captain Orophir loved my father greatly,’ she said. ‘After his father Galador died, before I even wed him, Adrahil became like a parent to him. Now that he has gone, I fear a quest of raw vengeance has alighted in his heart.’
‘Vengeance you say?’ mused Denethor. ‘It is a corruption that has tainted the warriors of Gondor for generations. And yet, it is a fuel for their determination to the realm like no other…’
‘What are you trying to say, my lord?’
‘What I mean is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, Ivriniel, that despite the efforts of Thorongil, the Corsairs still have sufficient ships to pose a threat to us, and more are crafted by the day. Their peril is shown by the assault last year. Surely the death of your father shows you how dearly they need to be stopped?’
Ivriniel’s face cracked at the return of the matter of her dead father. ‘Orophir is on a suicide mission, and only you have the power to stop him! Please, I beg you, call his venture off – you sanctioned it, and so you can still undo it! Do not let me become a widow as well as an orphan! Has my family not suffered enough against the Corsairs?’
Denethor gave a great sigh of regret as the emotion of his sister-in-law weighed upon him. ‘When your cousin’s son, Maethor, came to me after the death of his father on the borders and asked to track down the murderer, I would have said no if it were not for the advice of Boromir, for I, like you now, deemed it a suicide mission. And yet if I did not, the chain of events leading to the forestalling of the Haradrim army would not have occurred. You think Orophir is going to his death because of what you think you know – if your perception was different, you might appreciate his effort more. Have you foreseen his death, or the failing of his venture?’
‘Not in my visions,’ she stated. ‘But I know it in my heart.’
‘Then I do not have sufficient evidence to halt him,’ said the Steward. ‘Please try to see the positive outcome – if he succeeds, the threat of Umbar will be crippled once more for years, and if he fails-‘
‘Then he is just one of your more expendable Captains?’ Ivriniel cried with disdain.
‘That is not what I was going to say,’ said Denethor darkly.
‘But that does not negate its truth,’ she said. ‘You took my sister from me, and now you will take my husband.’
Denethor grew mad at this. ‘How dare you! Do you proclaim I killed my own wife?’
‘She withered here as like on a barren rock! You were the means to her end!’
Ivriniel, in her wrath, had found her mark. Denethor, shocked, fell back into his chair in a slump. Without a word, she moved from the table and walked to the doors of the Hall. As the Citadel Guard opened them for her, she said at the last;
‘I did not mean to be so callous, my lord. Forgive me for what I said in rage. But if my husband dies, let the weight of his fall be upon your conscience.’
‘The death of every Gondorian in the field does,’ spoke the Lord Denethor without emotion, as the doors of Merethrond shut behind his sister-in-law.
Ivriniel and Morathol had set out from Minas Tirith promptly, following the south-western roads back to the lands of the Prince. They spoke little on their journey, for the argument with Denethor still bent upon Ivriniel’s mind, as did the foreboding shadow of her husband’s departure. When they returned to Dol Amroth after days of travel, Ivriniel did not go home with Morathol, wishing to see Nerellas, and be comforted by her old friend as she always was. But the Elven maiden was not at her abode – her stays in the city were getting shorter and shorter, as she took to wandering the fields and shores of Belfalas, always in the direction of the ruined Elven harbour of Edhellond. Although night was waxing, still Ivriniel did not return home to Orophir and Morathol, and instead went to her brother Imrahil.
She found him deep in the Prince’s chambers, carrying his weary eleven year-old daughter Lothíriel to her bed-chamber, and as Ivriniel saw her, she had a sudden flash of a vision; of Lothíriel, now much older, riding upon a sleek horse across a far-away land of wide open plains of grass and streams.
After Imrahil had tucked his fair daughter into bed, he returned with a look of weary joy to his sister, asking her of her journey to Minas Tirith. When Adrahil was alive, Imrahil had often gone with her, but now the office of Prince demanded he remained in Dol Amroth as much as possible. After telling him of what had transpired with the Steward, Imrahil grew troubled.
‘You know I would have Orophir stay,’ the Prince said. ‘But his plans were ratified by Denethor himself. I cannot rebel against the word of the Steward.’
‘I know, but I thank you for the thought nevertheless. How goes his preparations? When will he be ready to sail?’
‘I would say in under a month’s time.’
‘Then the date for my sorrow is set.’
It was late when Ivriniel quit the presence of the Prince and finally returned home. In her bed, she saw the sleeping form of her husband, and for a heart-stopping second, she thought in his stillness he was dead already. Without a word to wake him, she slipped into bed beside him, and fell into unconsciousness.
A month of Orophir’s preparations passed – his ship was ready, and his men were chosen. In this time, Ivriniel’s uncle Gîlant had returned from the border forts of South Gondor for a short holiday, for he had taken the place of his dead son Baranir, and served as the Commander of the Border-Forts, watching with vigilance from the central tower-crossing of Harmindon. The happiness that came with his stay soon dissipated, though, for when he left the shadow of Orophir’s assault returned, and now the set date was very soon. Morathol had requested to remain in station at Dol Amroth, for the benefit of his mother, and although he had begged to join his father on his quest, he did not permit it – more for his wife’s sake than his own. Ivriniel had remained joyful-seeming to Orophir, for, she reasoned, if these were to be his last days, better that she be pleasant than constantly warring against his resolve. Yet, it was a day before his leave-taking when her emotions boiled over, and she confronted him at last.
‘I know that I have left it too late, my love,’ she said, ‘but is there a chance that you can be turned from your course? It was in the graveyards of Barad Gilmith that I met you, beside the resting place of your father – I do not wish to say goodbye to you there, too.’
‘And yet someday you must, Ivriniel,’ Orophir returned. ‘You have the high blood of the Princes – your days will outlast mine. Although my death during this offensive is uncertain, it will come in time, upon the battlefield or upon the bed of old age.’
‘You speak as if you have no choice. As if your death in the quays of Umbar is certain, and to fight against it would be foolish. But you do have a choice. Do not see your abandonment of the mission as dishonourable – abandonment of your life would be more dishonourable to yourself. Adrahil fell to the Corsairs, and I understand your vengeance. But do not satisfy them by offering yourself up as well.’
‘I do not offer myself up,’ frowned Orophir. ‘I go to fight them in the name of justice.’
‘And so the circle continues. You slay them – they come for vengeance. They slay you – you go for vengeance. Be the better man, Orophir. Break the circle. Do not fall into the trap that war has set for you.’
Orophir grew silent. For a moment Ivriniel thought she had at last convinced him. But his heart was too set for that. ‘I am a soldier of Dol Amroth. The enemies of my city are forever my enemies.’
‘Do not recite the mottos of the barracks-room to me,’ cried Ivriniel. ‘I deserve better from my husband.’
‘Ivriniel – please. I am not going to battle because I do not care for you, and I do not ignorantly think of the consequences of your grief if I should perish. I do it for duty, and in the hope that we can win the great war which will soon befall us. This is no different from any other battle I ride to, other than that you believe this one will be my death. You can discern the strands of fate, my love, but you know better than any how they can be changed, and their accuracy is uncertain.’
‘Believe me,’ she said with finality, ‘the only way to change this fate is to ignore your calling.’
‘That is as hard as it is for an Elf to ignore the calls of the gulls. But say no more, Ivriniel. I would not upon the day before I go quarrel with you – let your mind be at ease, and let us be happy.’
And so Ivriniel relented at last. Happy indeed was that day, for to she it seemed as if she soaked up the presence of her husband more than ever, and so her love was swollen in her heart. The next day, with tears in her eyes, and with Morathol, Nerellas and Imrahil beside her, she waved at the white sails of her husband’s vessel, until it was inevitably lost in the horizon of the unending sea.
Some weeks after Orophir’s departure, a messenger from Dol Amroth came to Minas Tirith. Giving the passwords of the seven gates, he came to the citadel, and came before the Steward Denethor upon his seat. Giving him the letter sent from the Prince, he bowed, before turning and exiting the hall.
The piercing eyes of the Steward ran across the page. At its conclusion, his hand fell limp, and the letter fell to the marble floor. A tear swelled in Denethor’s worn face. No matter how hard he reasoned, there was no denying to himself what he felt he truly had done. He had sent Captain Orophir of Dol Amroth to his death.