I walked from door to door in the July heat until my feet were blistered and bleeding. It seemed no one wanted to employ a seamstress of low degree. There were far too many such as I seeking employment in Minas Tirith; women who knew only enough of the homely arts to tend their families in some smallholding or croft. I was neither broideress nor tailor. I possessed only my mother's old sewing kit and some experience in using it. And all I had left to wear were the clothes, now growing dirty for want of a place of my own to wash them in, that I had stuffed in a sack when my man and I had fled our cottage on the Pelennor before the Southrons had burnt it down. I spent the last of my small hoard of coin several days ago.
Some folk have advised me to ask the King for assistance. Never! I am widowed because my husband followed the Northerner to the Black Gate, where no man in his right mind has ever ventured! Who is this man who calls himself King anyway? Lord Faramir should rule, as did his longfathers before him. This usurper from the North must have tricked him into surrendering his birthright! And what manner of a Man marries an Elven witch? How can such a union be natural?
I feel faint now with hunger. Even the taverns will not employ me. I suppose they want comely wenches who can laugh with the customers. I suspect all can read the sorrow in my eyes, for I cannot hide it. They see the grief of having not only lost my husband, but my parents and sister too, to the Black Shadow. And my baby, my helpless unborn child; was also lost. I know there is one way a woman can always earn a crust, but how could I do that? 'Tis a thing worse than death!
Sometimes I think my soul is dead already. My body simply waits to follow.
I pause because my legs refuse to take one more step. I hear murmurs from a crowd that has gathered in the street. The people look and point, their faces impatient. What do they await? I ask a woman what is happening and she tells me the King is due to pass by. I have no wish to set eyes on the cause of my misery. I try to turn away; only to stumble upon a stone and almost fall. Then an idea comes to me. I am as good as dead, so this usurping foreigner can put an end to my misery. Maybe I can first strike a blow to avenge my husband? I stoop, ignoring the aches in my wearied bones, and pick up the stone.
It surprises me how small the procession is. Just a handful of horsemen ride into view. The man wearing a gem upon his brow in the middle of the group must be the King. The others all wear the black and silver livery of the Tower Guard. A woman rides at his side. She is garbed in the finest silks. I hear her laughter as she turns her face away from me, toward the tall rider. Is this the Elf he brought to be our Queen? What could she know of care and loss? I push my way to the front and cry, "Shame on you, King Elessar for leading good men to their deaths and leaving the women to starve!" I aim the stone. He turns to look at me. His eyes! I have never seen the like. He seems to gaze into my very soul. I see the expected flash of anger; but then his eyes soften with a look of concern and something else. Kindness? I do not understand! The stone slips from my grasp. My sight dims and I sink to the ground.
When I regain my senses, I am lying on a soft bed, much to my surprise. I expected to be in prison. My worn garments have been replaced by a nightgown of fine linen .A woman in Healer's garb sits at my bedside. She smiles at me and asks whether I would like food and drink. I eagerly accept. No doubt I will die soon, but at least I shall eat first. I greedily devour the broth and watered wine that is brought to me. The Healer then brings me a robe and tells me that I shall soon receive a visitor. To my amazement, only a few minutes later, the King himself enters the room!
I had no intention of doing so, but find myself inclining my head respectfully. I keep my head bowed, not wanting to meet those eyes again.
"Look at me!"
I want to resist but cannot. I find myself meeting his grey gaze. His voice is stern but his eyes are filled with compassion.
"What is your name, Mistress?" he asks.
"I am Niniel, daughter of Alcarin, widow of Hador, a seamstress," I tell him.
"And what is your quarrel with me?" he demands.
I find myself pouring out my story to him. He listens intently, saying nothing.
"Mistress Niniel, try to remain calm," he says at last. "A woman in your condition..."
"What condition?" I interrupt bitterly.
"Surely you know you are about five months gone with child, Mistress?" the King says.
"You mock me, lord!" I retort. "I miscarried of my child after my husband died following your banner!"
Just then a woman enters, wearing a silver-grey cloak over a dark blue gown. A fairer lady I have never seen. She is more radiant than the stars. She places a gentle hand upon my belly. "You are indeed with child," she says. "I sense its life force waxing strong within you. Doubtless you were carrying twins and lost one of them while the other thrives. It is not uncommon."
I burst into tears: tears of joy that something of my husband still stirs within me and tears of sorrow that I have no way to support a child.
The woman tries to comfort me. I realise she is none other than the King's Elven bride. I think I was wrong when first I saw her. This lady is no stranger to sorrow. Mayhap she is a fitting Queen for Gondor after all.
"But Mistress, since you were destitute and starving, why did you not seek help?" the King asked once my tears subsided. "Steward Faramir first opened houses of refuge for the war-torn in March; and I have added more since I entered the City.
"I did not want charity," I replied. More tears welled up in my eyes. Was there no dignity left to me?
"It is no charity to offer work to a skilled seamstress," said the Queen, smiling.
"As King, it is my duty to help my people," said Elessar.
I look at him and at that moment I know I love him. Not of course, as a woman loves a man, but as a flower must love the sun.