[personal profile] martasfic
Title: Those Who Cannot
Words: 1,776 + Notes
Rating: General
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Characters: Finduilas/Denethor
Betas: annmarwalk
Challenge: fanfic100 #72: fixed; advent 2010 series

Summary: A pregnant Finduilas, looking forward to the birth of her own child, finds herself wondering why her son deserves a brighter future than other mothers' sons. A look at social justice in Gondor.


When the healers first told Finduilas that she was with child, she had chuckled loudly, then laughed aloud. They looked queerly at her, and one even asked if she felt well. She guessed she’d sounded a bit like a mad-woman, or perhaps like a drunkard. But she could not help herself; she felt a joy swelling within her, and she thought she would burst if she did not let it out somehow. After a moment she quieted herself and listened to all that the healers told her: to avoid strong tea and wine, to begin the stretching exercises that would prepare her body for birth, and so on. Even so, Finduilas doubted she’d remember half of what they said once she got home.

She was not hysterical but merely relieved, glad that she might finally prove herself in this task. She and Denethor had traded letters since they had first met, the mettarë after she turned twelve. Those letters carried news of their families and of the realm, and snippets of poetry and scholarly findings he thought she might enjoy. But behind those words, Finduilas glimpsed something that others too often overlooked. Here was a man with a quick mind and – yes! – a gentle heart.

He was like a friend and a brother to her, and this last year of marriage had only brought them closer. Now the news was not several months old; nay, she heard of the infuriating council meetings, the sycophantic lords that turned his stomach, not even a day after Denethor had dealt with them. Finduilas listened to her husband pour out all his frustrations, his fears for the future and his hopes as well, and she felt more drawn to him than ever.

But mother to his child! That was a powerful responsibility, and one she was not wholly convinced she was ready for. What if she spoiled the future lord of all Gondor with over-pampering? Or what if she was too cold, so he did not have the heart to bind men to him? And what if she never got the chance to pass that particular test? If she proved barren, if she was incapable of carrying out her most important task … But no; not even a year married, and already her belly swelled with life. Well, that was one small success, at least! And as for the rest, she and Denethor would make their way together. Ah, but let it be a son! A little lordling for both of them to raise together, and a glimpse of the child her husband once had been – how could she help but laugh, in the face of such a boon?

Once that first wave of elation waned, though, a small thought occurred to her. This child, especially if he turned out to be a son, would have all the privilege Minas Tirith could offer. He would have the best tutors, the best storytellers to entertain him. He at least would know the power and pleasure that came from learning – ‘twas the most natural impulse in all the world, to want that for her child.

But could every mother hope for as much? Around the same time she learned she was with child, a different maid began helping her dress. When she asked the replacement about it, she was told that Elwen was pregnant as well, but that she had lost babes in the womb before, so the healers had suggested more rest for her. When Finduilas felt her own babe kick inside her, or when her friends from court came calling and laid their hands on her belly, she thought often of Elwen. She thought too of the women she had seen when she walked down to the Fourth Circle market, leaning back on their little stools to rest their aching backs as they sold their wares. And they were much nearer to birth than either she or Elwen, judging by the way their bellies jutted out before them. They seemed happy enough – joyful, more like, for they smiled and laughed the same way Finduilas did – but Finduilas could not help but think about their children’s futures. Could either the merchants’ wives or Elwen hope to give their children as good a life as Finduilas was hoping for?

That was a new concern to her. In Dol Amroth even the poorest boy knew his letters, and more often than not he could add a ledger and sign his name at need. ‘Twas a natural consequence of the Swan Knights, and the Prince’s practice of taking some of their number from the common regiments. The Knights were not simply men-at-arms but loremasters as well, and every child learned what he could of both skills, and hoped he might be called up to use them.

But what did the boys in Minas Tirith learn? Not the noblemen’s sons, but the lads from the lower circles – the children of tradesmen and peasants, and the orphans and street-waifs? Too often Denethor told her of disputes brought to his clerks for judgment, where one man had signed a contract in good faith, only to find out later he had been tricked into a much worse arrangement than he’d bargained for. That simply did not happen in Dol Amroth. There, each man could read the documents with his own eyes, and usually could understand it well enough. But how could those other mothers’ sons, those men without learning, defend themselves against such lies? Finduilas knew the answer to that. They simply could not, and that thought bothered her.

At first she tried to ignore that niggle. There must be hundreds of unlettered boys in Minas Tirith, most living out of sight of the city’s lords. Did her husband know how they lived? She certainly did not, though she wanted to learn more. Just what would be involved, to find them, and to teach them something that would improve their prospects? Not the grown ones, those who had already taken to pickpocketing; she supposed their future was already set. But their younger brothers – surely they were not beyond help?

At last she brought up the question with Denethor. The first time he smiled indulgently, and patted her belly like her father had once patted her head when she had asked for a new pony. That bulge had come to define her, in the eyes of all too many. She was a bearer of life, the bearer of the Heir, and as such her whims were to be indulged – yet all her thoughts and desires, no matter their weight, were now seen as mere fancies. It was all Finduilas could do not to shove his hand away.

But the next week Denethor shared a report that had crossed his desk that afternoon, of a young thief who had lost his fourth finger for his latest crime. “He is not yet fourteen years old,” Denethor said, wrapping his arms around her, “and already he is unable to handle a sword.” Finduilas rested her cheek against his beard, and mused that he might have found an apprenticeship, if he been born a Circle higher, and Gondor would not be short a soldier.

Denethor tensed at that, but after a moment he exhaled deeply. Finduilas did not press her case, then, but neither did she let the matter rest. Some weeks later, when he complained of a courier who had misremembered an address, Finduilas did not have to point out the obvious solution. That whole problem might have been avoided if the lad could have read the address when he reached the Fourth Circle. Finduilas just quirked her eyebrow and looked knowingly at her husband until he nodded in weary acceptance of her point.

The months passed all too quickly, and before long Finduilas’s days were full of other worries: what she might name their child, if Denethor gave her the choice; who might make the best nanny; a host of other concerns. She did begin to notice odd things, though. Not long after the incident with the courier Denethor had asked her what kinds of things lads learned in Dol Amroth – not her own brothers and cousins, but tavern-boys and the like. And she began to notice odds and ends around their house; an image of a caravan-wain, carved onto rough bark made its way into their bedroom, and she once saw a note written on rough parchment in an unsteady hand atop his desk.

If ever Finduilas asked about these things, Denethor just smiled cryptically, and turned the conversation aside to some other topic.

Finally her time came, and she was seized by a pain worse than any cramp she had ever felt before, and was carried off to the Houses of Healing. At last – at long last, after a night and more of hard labor – at last she heard the babe’s cry. A boy; a son. Denethor laid beside her and ran his fingers soothingly through her hair, until she fell into an exhausted sleep.

She woke some hours later to a much-emptier bed. Denethor sat in a chair by the fire, and in the place where he had laid before, there were now several stacks of paper. Reaching over, she quickly leafed through them. More rough parchment, more unsteady hands: note after note from children, it seemed, wishing her well.

Their names, however, were new to her. There was Aeric, the blacksmith’s son from the Rohirric quarter, whose marm swore by a pint of mead as the best way to ease any lingering pains, and Celebmir, who promised to bring her peonies all the way from the Pelennor when she was well enough. And others. Some had small sketches attached, and offers of friendship for the new babe. Often the letters were backward, some words scratched out; these were clearly not the work of a scribe, or even a practiced hand. Finduilas looked quizzically over at Denethor.

“A class of twenty boys,” he said in answer to her unvoiced question, “from the Pelennor and the lower four circles. They meet for one day a month, in the clerks’ office down on the Fourth Circle; more than that and their families might not be able to spare them.” Walking over to her, he laid back down beside her. “Consider it a trial.”

Finduilas ran her finger down his cheek. Of a sudden she was filled with a deep love for her husband. He had not only listened to her, but he’d heard as well. She kissed him first on the cheek, then on the lips. “Twenty will do,” she said after a long moment. “At least for a start.”
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