|Thorongil was about to knock on the door of Ecthelion’s study one winter’s evening when a servant interrupted him.
“You are to go straight in, Captain,” the man said, “The Steward is expecting you.”
Thorongil nodded his thanks and entered the room with his customary catlike, almost silent tread. He enjoyed these evenings with the elderly Steward, who had become to him almost like the father he had never known. They would spend long hours together sipping wine and he would listen to the old man’s tales and his hopes and dreams for the land beloved to them both.
Ecthelion was sitting in his favourite chair, clutching a portrait in his hand of a beautiful young woman. There was a sorrowful, faraway look in his eyes as he contemplated the image.
Unwilling to disturb the old man, Thorongil waited for a few moments. He idly studied a tapestry showing Fingon riding aloft upon the back of Thorodor, King of the Great Eagles to rescue his kinsman.
Still Ecthelion did not acknowledge his presence. Ecthelion reached a hand to his eyes as if to wipe away a tear. Fearing he was intruding on the Steward’s privacy, Thorongil coughed.
Ecthelion spun around to look at him, and dropped the portrait.
“Your pardon, my lord,” said Thorongil. “I did not mean to disturb you, but your servant told me I should come in.”
“Yes, my boy, of course. I was merely distracted. Come sit down and partake of some wine.”
Thorongil bent to retrieve the portrait and handed it to his patron before taking a seat.
“She was very beautiful, was she not?” said the Steward.
“Your wife, my lord?”
“No, that is Firiel, my eldest daughter.”
Thorongil looked puzzled. He had met Ecthelion’s two daughters, neither of whom were named Firiel, nor were they beauties like the girl in the portrait. “I cannot recall having heard you mention her before,” Thorongil said at last.
“I rarely speak of her because it pains me to do so,” Ecthelion replied. “I still remember though, especially every time I see her son’s name on a report.” He gestured to a paper, which lay on his desk. It was of a kind familiar to the Captain- the regular report from the houses of Healing to the Steward detailing how many wounded soldiers were being treated at the Houses, as well as reported cases of infectious diseases.
“Your grandson is a healer?” Thorongil exclaimed in surprise.
“It is a long story,” said the Steward. “One that is little known outside my family. For everyone else, it is best that none know that Firiel ever lived.”
Thorongil remained silent.
“You might as well hear it lad,” Ecthelion said after a pause. “You have become as family to me and I know I can trust your discretion.”
“You have my word, my lord.”
“I suppose Firiel was spoilt,” Ecthelion began. “My lady and I were wed several years before she was born to us. As you know, the Dark Lord’s vicinity seems to have damaged the ability of many to have children, so my lady and I were delighted when our firstborn arrived. We had hoped for a son, but Firiel was so fair a babe that our disappointment was soon forgotten. We doted upon her. For many years, she was an only child before her sisters and Denethor were born. My lady and I could deny her nothing, which resulted in her having far more freedom than girls of noble families usually enjoy. That proved her undoing.”
“How so, my lord?”
“I foolishly allowed her to wander the City at will with only a handmaid and a Citadel Guard in attendance.”
“It sounds as if you protected her well, my lord.”
Ecthelion sighed. “How could I have known that the very man who was meant to protect her would prove her bane? He used guile and cunning to seduce my little girl, changing duties with his fellows so that he would always be the one to escort her. I assume he bribed the maidservant to leave him alone with my Firiel. Such girls are easily swayed with trinkets. The first I knew of the affair was when I came upon Firiel clutching a rose and murmuring sweet nothings to herself. When I questioned her, she said she was in love. Love indeed! She was but twenty years of age, far younger than the age when women of Númenorean descent are united in marriage with a suitable man.
Thorongil immediately thought of his own mother, who wed before the usual age, but remained silent.
“To my great relief, Firiel assured me that her virtue was still intact. I forbade her ever to see the guard again. It was late at night when confessed to me and I told her to go to her room and forget about the young man. I was determined to see that he was disciplined and dismissed from the Citadel Guards on the morrow.
“A difficult situation,” Thorongil observed. “How old was the guard?”
“Not more than twenty four I imagine. He was old enough to know better! By morning, my rage towards my daughter had abated. I resolved to ensure she had enough pleasant activities to occupy her until she forgot about the vile would- be seducer. I decided to send her to a kinswoman in Dol Amroth for the summer and treat her to new gowns and trinkets before she left. I was not unduly concerned when she failed to appear at breakfast. Young maidens often suffer from headaches and the like. My lady sent a maidservant to see what ailed her. The girl returned wringing her hands and reporting that Firiel had vanished. She had left a note on the bed saying she could not endure life without the man she loved and they had gone away together to be wed! Wed indeed! She was well below the age at which it is lawful for a girl of good family to marry!”
“That is twenty five, is it not?” said Thorongil. “The peasants marry much younger, though, I believe.”
“They do not have the blood of Númenor in their veins,” said Ecthelion somewhat impatiently. “I sent a message to the Captain of the Guard who reported one of his men was missing. I sent out search parties at once, but eleven long months elapsed before the runaways were found, and too late, as my little girl was heavy with her seducer’s child! They were living together in a small village in Lossarnach and had gone through a marriage ceremony before a local official. Of course, it was not valid given Firiel’s age and the fact I had not consented to the match. The seducer was taken at once to prison and charged with seduction and desertion, but before he could be tried he caught a fever and died, thus escaping the hangman’s noose.”
“A sorry tale indeed,” said Thorongil. “What then became of your daughter and the child?”
“Firiel collapsed when her seducer was arrested,” said Ecthelion. “The soldiers took her to the Houses of Healing where soon afterwards she gave birth to a premature boy. He was strong, though, and thrived. Firiel did not. My lady visited her and told her we would forgive her. After all, her plight was entirely that wretched seducer’s fault. With almost her last breath, she named the child Tarostar. Strange to name such a misbegotten child after a king, but we honoured her wishes. The Warden of the Houses and his wife took the boy and raised him as their own. It was better that way that the scandal might be forgotten. When Tarostar grew to manhood, he became a healer like his foster father. He is a good one too, by all accounts. Every time I see his name though, it reminds me of my poor Firiel.”
“You suffered a tragic loss,” said Thorongil.
“The worst of the matter is, though,” Ecthelion’s voice dropped to a near whisper and his hands trembled. “Sometimes I wonder if she really did love the fellow. They say she tried to cling to him when he was arrested, and he threw himself in front of her when the soldiers came. Sometimes, I wonder if it had been better if we had never found them.”
“The poets sing of love, but sometimes it can be very dark,” said Thorongil. He patted the old man’s hand sympathetically, but his thoughts were far away with a maiden that he himself loved despite her father’s objections. Should he gain fair Arwen’s heart, she would become as a mortal woman with all the pain that entailed both to her and to her kin. “Love can be painful indeed,” the Captain murmured, his words as much to himself as to the grieving old man. “Yet who would be without it, both the sweet and the bitter?”
“That is easy for a young man like you say,” said Ecthelion with an indulgent smile. “We reaped a bitter harvest from Firiel’s ill- chosen passion. My dear lady did not long outlive her while my other children suffered the consequences. My younger daughters led extremely sheltered lives, while Denethor’s youth was blighted with his elders’ grief. But enough of the past, Thorongil, let us share another glass of wine. I will drink to my daughter’s memory.”
Thorongil raised his glass in a toast to the girl who gazed out at him from her portrait. He breathed a silent prayer to Varda, May my love for Arwen bring her joy rather than pain!