Separate Destinies

1.

The baby girl, wrapped in a dirty blanket, wailed faintly from the cold. The ragged gypsy woman carrying her crooned softly and rocked her gently against her breast. It was important that the baby's noise did not disturb the music or the dancing of the performers. The gypsies, who roamed the whole of the Middle Earth and belonged nowhere, more separate than the Rangers, were visiting Gondor.

They came in a blaze of glamour, dirty ragged clothes ablaze with colour: scarlet, orange, green. Their wagons were shabby, but the paint was still bright. They were cold and hungry, but if they put on a good show they could expect some food, perhaps even a little gold for their pains. The people of Gondor watched them suspiciously; they did not particularly like the Wanderers, they were a strange wild people, not to be trusted. But they stopped to hear the music nonetheless. A beautiful girl was dancing, her dark hair flying out behind her. Her dress was thin shabby silk and her lips were faintly blue with cold, but as she danced people stopped what they were doing to gaze and admire.

The baby girl knew little of this, nor could she know that her fate was about to take a most unexpected turn. The woman looking after her had laid her down whilst she attended to the fire the gypsies had built –in defiance to the laws of Gondor– in the square to warm themselves as they played. A small boy about five years old, warming himself at the same fire, moved curiously over and examined the baby with a strangely dispassionate expression. She was a small thing, even for a baby of the gypsy folk, a race recognisable by their diminutive height. The baby's face was streaked with smoke from the fire and its eyes looked hungry and oddly weary.

The boy gazed down at the baby with a peculiar look of pity.

"Nobody wants you either." He whispered.

"Would you like to hold her?" her heard a voice say from behind him. He jumped, and turned to see the old woman looking at him. Had she not been a gypsy and a foreigner, the woman would have recognised him as Faramir, youngest son of the steward of Gondor, but she could tell from his clothes that he was of noble birth, he might well have money, she thought.

Faramir, as he cradled the child in his arms, thought, I must keep her, I will protect her and I will have a friend.

"I want her." He said to the woman, with the manner of one aware of his superior rank and the privileges it gave. Another woman might have laughed and refused, but the gypsy woman was too hungry for this.

"Five gold pieces." She replied hungrily. She would have given the child for half the sum, but the boy was not to know this. Faramir nodded, and handed her the money. Then he scooped the baby up in his arms and was gone.

Denethor was in an unexpectedly good mood that day. His wife had delivered a fragile baby daughter, and both mother and baby appeared to have pulled through, despite his wife's ill health; he had convinced himself that both would remain alive. His love for his wife, the young and lovely Finduilas, was deeper than many suspected, and in his relief for her apparent safety made him uncharacteristically genial. So when his trusted servant Danthorn brought him the news that his son Faramir had run off again into the city, and had been seized some hours later clutching a baby, Denethor laughed heartily and commanded that Faramir be brought before him to explain himself.

When Faramir came, he was still bearing the baby, and was accompanied by his elder brother Boromir, who seemed equally enchanted with the baby. Denethor smiled, less grimly than was his wont, and said lightly:

"So, my sons, you prefer this little doll-" here he gestured to the baby "to the sword you urged me so eagerly to give you?"

Boromir looked slightly shamed, but Faramir said:

"May we keep her?"

Denethor looked slightly scandalised. There was something odd about Faramir, he thought, he was much less straightforward than his brother. He seemed to have no regard for rank or position.

"How did you come by her?" he asked.

"I bought her. She was with the gypsies. She looked cold." Faramir said.

Denethor was not an inhuman man, but he had a great regard for status and social standing, and the idea of fostering a gypsy brat horrified him. He was about to say this, when Danthorn spoke suddenly.

"It would perhaps be pleasing to keep the child," he said. "This little urchin and your own new daughter are of similar age. Would it not be pretty to keep this little child as a maid for her?"

Denethor smiled. Danthorn knew him too well; he might be persuaded the child to serve a whim that pleased him when he would not foster it out of kindness.

He laughed.

"A pleasant fancy!" he exclaimed. "It would please my dear wife. Very well, we will keep her. But on you, Danthorn, falls the duty of keeping her until she is ready to take up her position and maid to my daughter."

"It is no hard task, my lord." Danthorn replied with a touch of sadness. "My wife and I are childless, and have often longed for a child."

In this way, the baby passed into Denethor's household, and Danthorn and his wife Eméle called her Chione. But before the day was out, Finduilas would be dead, spent by the birth of her child; the baby girl lingered scarcely two days after her mother's death, and after she died Denethor was changed, and his heart was hardened.

And so Chione's advent was tinged with ill omen.