Víressë, T.A. 2957

The girl was hanging so far out the window that her head could not be seen. Only her legs, braced against the wall for support, remained inside the tower. Her slippered feet barely touched the floor as she balanced on her stomach across the broad windowsill.

This was the sight which greeted the Lord Denethor, Warden of the White Tower and heir to the Stewardship of Gondor, as he reached the top of the stairs leading to the hallway outside the Steward's office. Without stopping to wonder who the girl might be or why she was hanging out the window, he strode swiftly down the hall, his long legs eating up the distance between them. The girl squeaked in surprise as he grabbed her by the shoulders and hauled her back inside.

"Have you no sense, child?" he demanded furiously, spinning her around to face him and shaking her slightly. "What in the names of all the Valar did you think you were doing?"

The girl was, he judged, about seven or eight years old. Her face was pale and rather pointed; a silver ribbon was woven into her long, dark plait and she wore a gown of deep blue. She seemed abashed at being scolded by this tall, hawklike young man in the uniform of the Citadel guard. Fixing her grey eyes on his boots, she answered in a small voice, "There is a nest on the ledge. I only wanted to see the baby birds..."

"And did you forget that you did not have wings to fly away, if you tumbled out?"

Her chin lifted slightly at that. "I was not going to fall," she insisted.

"Let us not test that," Denethor replied tersely as he pulled the window shut and latched it. Someone had probably left it open to catch the warm spring breezes, tempting the girl to look out in the first place. Denethor pointed to the polished wooden bench opposite the door to the Steward's office. "Now, sit down and behave yourself." The girl obediently took a seat on the bench and picked up a book which she must have brought with her. Satisfied, Denethor knocked on the office door, then entered without waiting for a reply.

Both Ecthelion II and Adrahil of Dol Amroth, who was making his annual visit to Minas Tirith, looked up as he walked in. Denethor made a hurried bow to the Prince's son and then turned to the Steward. "Father, I beg your pardon for interrupting, but I have just received received an urgent dispatch from Captain Targon. The Rangers encountered a band of orcs in Ithilien yesterday...west of the cross-roads." Ecthelion glanced keenly at his son and Adrahil looked grave. It was the first time the foul creatures had penetrated so far into Ithilien since the province had been abandoned three years before. "The orcs were driven off and the Rangers sustained moderate casualties," Denethor continued. "I have the captain's dispatch here." He drew the folded parchment from his belt and handed it to his father.

Ecthelion nodded. "Lord Adrahil and I have nearly finished our business for today. Come back in a quarter of an hour and we will speak further of this."

"Very well." Denethor turned to go, but was stopped by Adrahil's voice.

"Is my daughter still waiting in the hall?"

"A girl about seven years old, in a blue gown? Yes; I had to stop her from flinging herself out the window just now. Investigating a bird's nest, or so she said."

Adrahil sighed. "I promised her I would show her the town, but I fear she has seen little apart from the inside of the Citadel so far. Please ask her to be patient just a little longer."

Denethor did not relish being made a message-boy, but he inclined his head politely and left the office.

The girl was still sitting quietly on the bench, the book unopened in her lap. She glanced up hopefully when the door opened, but her shoulders slumped a little when she saw Denethor. He guessed that she had hoped her father's audience with the Steward had finally ended. "Your father says he will be finished in a quarter of an hour," he told her. She nodded and looked down again.

Denethor did not, as a rule, have much patience for children, but he felt briefly sympathetic toward her. He had a sudden vision of himself at her age, having accompanied his father on some errand to the Tower, waiting on the same solitary bench while the Steward worked in his office.

Dismissing the thought, he paced restlessly over to the window. He propped his long, lean frame against the wall by one arm and gazed at the scene spread out below. It was an idyllic view apart from the warning tinge of red in the eastern sky, which had become familiar enough to fade from his notice most days. The levels of the White City led like stairs down to the green carpet of the Pelennor, which stretched northward into the distance. By standing at an angle, Denethor could turn his gaze across the river to the verdant hills of Ithilien. To think of orcs treading through its deserted groves and farmsteads made him feel physically ill. His jaw tightened and he clenched a fist reflexively.

Abruptly he became aware that the girl had left her seat and come to stand quietly beside him as she also looked out the window. He glanced down at her, feeling irritated, for he had not wanted company. "Why do you not read?" he asked, nodding toward the bench where the book lay abandoned once more.

"I finished the book an hour ago."

Once again, he felt an unexpected twinge of sympathy for her. He had constantly carried a book himself as a child. To be caught without something to read left him feeling bored and restless. I suppose I too might have been drawn to look for birds' nests, he admitted to himself. An hour was a very long time to a child.

He addressed her again in a kindlier tone. "What is your name?"

"Finduilas, sir." She made a curtsey, with reasonable grace.

Denethor bowed back gravely. "Mine is Denethor."

"Yes, I know. You are the Steward's son."

"And you are the granddaughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth." A small smile tugged at the corner of Denethor's mouth. "Perhaps that is why you tried to fly out the window before--because you thought you were a little swan?"

Recognizing that she was being teased, Finduilas giggled.

Denethor came to a decision. Since we both must wait in any case, I may as well pass the time with her. "Now that we have been properly introduced," he continued, "would you like to see one of the secrets of the Tower?"

Her interest was caught. She nodded eagerly.

"Then come with me." Denethor started up the broad stone stairs leading into the White Tower itself. Finduilas' slippered feet made almost no sound as she pattered after him.

A few short minutes of climbing brought them to the place Denethor remembered: a landing with a window surrounded by an intricately-carved relief of twining leaves and fruits. "How pretty!" Finduilas gasped. She stretched out her hand and gently ran her fingers over the delicate stonework.

"No one knows the artist's name," Denethor told her, "for many craftsmen from all over Gondor worked on this tower. But I will show you where he signed his handiwork." He pointed to a cluster of leaves in the lower corner of the window-frame. There, peeping out from beneath one of them, was a small carved face.

Finduilas gave a little laugh of delight which echoed off the white stone walls. "He looks so shy--as if he would hide himself under the leaf again if anyone saw him."

Without realizing it, Denethor smiled at her pleasure. "This tower is full of surprises. The room at the top has some fine wood-carving."

"Will you show me that too?" Finduilas asked eagerly.

"Another time, perhaps. We should be getting back downstairs now; your father and my father must be nearly finished with their meeting." He let Finduilas lead the way back down the stairs. The door to the Steward's office was still closed when they arrived, so they sat down side by side on the bench to wait.

"What book were you reading?" Denethor asked, gesturing toward the leather-bound volume.In answer, she passed it to him. It was a Sindarin reader which he remembered studying himself at her age--and he had been reading rather above his age level, he remembered with some respect for the girl. "Ah, I know this book," he commented in Sindarin as he handed it back to her. "It contains some fine tales."

"Yes indeed!" she answered fluently in the same language. "I like the story of the Elves awakening at Cuiviénen. The Sun and Moon were not made yet, but they could see the stars..."

She chattered enthusiastically about the book until the door opposite them finally opened. Denethor and Finduilas both rose as their fathers emerged from the Steward's office.

"I hope you and your family will dine with us tonight," Ecthelion was saying cordially.

"Thank you, we would be happy to," Adrahil replied. "And thank you for looking after my daughter," he added politely to Denethor. "I hope she has been no trouble."

"None at all," Denethor responded. "I quite enjoyed it." And to his own surprise, he had.

Adrahil took his daughter's hand. "Come, we still have a few hours to see the city before dinner-time."

"Hooray!" Finduilas cried, fairly dancing as she tugged her father down the hall.

"Slowly!" Adrahil admonished her, but he was laughing.

Denethor called after them, "Remind me this evening, Finduilas, and I will lend you another book."

Finduilas glanced back over her shoulder and flashed him a radiant smile. "Thank you!" she answered sincerely. Then she and her father started down the stairs leading to the Tower entrance and were soon out of sight.

Denethor smiled faintly as he watched them go. Realizing that his father was waiting, he pulled himself back to the moment and followed Ecthelion into the office to discuss the news from Ithilien. But even as the weight of the day's cares settled fully back onto his shoulders, a small part of Denethor's mind busied itself with deciding which of his books Finduilas would most enjoy.