Claiming the Throne
4. Readying the Last Stand
Aragorn sat slightly distant from his company, Andúril unsheathed and a whetstone in his hand. Carefully he ran the stone along the edge of the blade, testing the sharpness now and then with a finger. In the firelight the sword reflected redly, as if the blood it had spilled stained the metal still.
A footstep roused Aragorn from his concentration, and he looked up. Denethor, wearing a dark cloak, stood silently just outside the circle. Aragorn tucked the whetstone into a pouch and stood to greet the Steward.
“My lord. How fares Faramir?”
“He sleeps,” Denethor said briefly. “I need to talk to you.”
Aragorn nodded, and led the way into his tent. The Steward took a seat, and for a moment simply stared at Aragorn without saying anything.
Eventually he spoke. “I received your messages regarding the troops.”
“I trust you found the arrangements satisfactory?” Aragorn said. “They are your soldiers after all, my lord Steward.”
“They are not, though, are they?” Denethor returned. “In the end, they are Gondor’s soldiers, and the question is – is Gondor yours to rule or mine?”
Aragorn crossed the tent and sat down.
“In all events,” Denethor continued, “I believe the arrangements are as good as we can hope for. The plan is in all likelihood doomed to failure.”
“Doom does not rest with us,” Aragorn said softly. “Our hope is to draw the Enemy’s Eye away from his realm. This, we can do, even if we all die in the doing. In Bree, many months ago, I pledged myself to the service of the halflings. Though Frodo and Samwise are now separated from us, I will keep my word.”
Silence fell again. Aragorn watched Denethor but said nothing, wondering what the Steward was thinking, and seeing indecision on the other man’s features.
“Why did you leave the White City?” Denethor asked after a long pause, not looking up. “What was it that drove you away?”
“Nothing drove me away,” Aragorn said, surprised at the phrasing. “It was simply time to go. There were errands calling me elsewhere; information needed by Mithrandir, and by Elrond.” He smiled a little. “And questions that needed answering.”
“But you abandoned the City,” Denethor persisted. “When my father would have showered you with pomp and honour, you turned and disappeared.”
Aragorn laughed without humour. “My lord Steward – I did not wish for pomp, or honour. I do not wish it. That Gondor is safe has always been one of my greatest wishes.”
Denethor stood up, and began to pace the tent. “Ah yes,” he said, “the ever-modest Thorongil. But you cannot be both self-effacing and King, can you?” He turned, and Aragorn saw a mixture of grief and anger on his face. “Since my father died I have ruled Minas Tirith. I have sat in the Steward’s chair and ruled in the King’s name – in your name – and I have brought my son up to rule after me. And now in a fell swoop my son is dead and you have come to take away the Stewardship. Did you not think my father would have surrendered the rod to you, all those years past?”
“He would have done,” Aragorn said. “I know that. I also know that then was not the time. It was not right, for me or for Gondor.”
“And now it is?” Denethor returned.
“Maybe, when the war is won and Sauron is defeated,” said Aragorn, shrugging. “My lord, I will not enter the City again unless we are successful. If the Ringbearer fulfils his quest.”
“Then you will in all likelihood never enter the Gate again,” Denethor said, taking his seat once more. “I may not know these wizards and these Elves like you, Thorongil, but I know Men. The men of Gondor would fight to the death, and too many of them have. Now they will be led to darkness.”
Ignoring the use of his long-abandoned name, Aragorn decided to cut to the point. “Who will lead them, my lord Steward? Will you ride with us, when we leave? Éomer King and the Prince of Dol Amroth have already said they will lead their forces, but for Gondor there is as yet nobody.”
“I am leading the Dúnedain,” Aragorn said. “Though it is long since we have fought together in such a number, I am their Chieftain and their captain.”
“If I ride, Minas Tirith is left with nobody,” Denethor replied, his head low in thought.
“There is Faramir,” said Aragorn, wondering that the Steward did not mention his second son. “He is hurt in body, not in mind. He is your heir now, my lord.”
“Alas that he is!” said Denethor. “Alas for Boromir!”
Aragorn closed his eyes, remembering Boromir’s struggle with the Ring and his grief before his death. “He died bravely and nobly, a death fit for one of his station,” he said softly. “He died as he had lived. And he is at peace.”
Sudden comprehension flooded Denethor’s face. “Then it was you who arrayed him in the boat? Faramir came upon it by Anduin, and thought it was but a vision.”
“Myself, and Legolas and Gimli. We had no time to lay him to rest, and so we sent him to the Sea.”
“Then ... then I thank you,” Denethor said. He paused, and Aragorn said nothing, waiting for the Steward to speak again. “It is many years since I have fought a battle,” he said, eventually. “Though this sword hangs by my side I have scarce used it in ten years.”
“It is a skill not easily forgotten,” Aragorn said.
Denethor’s lips bent in the ghost of a smile. “That is so. But is the hand that wields the sword as strong as it used to be? I am no longer young.”
“Do your veins not flow with the blood of Númenor?” returned Aragorn. “You are not young, but neither are you a dotard.”
“You would have me ride to my death?”
“Maybe so,” said Aragorn. “But not to a lonely death, my lord Steward. I would say to you, ride at the head of your army, your people. If you must die, die as Théoden did, in glory and honour. Leave Faramir here in your stead.” Denethor looked up, his eyes glinting, and Aragorn met the gaze. “It is your choice, my lord. If you will not ride, I will take command of Gondor’s armies. But if you choose to come, I will ride by your side and fight for Gondor’s Steward, as I once did. Think on it.”
“I will,” said Denethor, rising. “Yes, Thorongil, I will think on it.”
“Use that name no longer,” Aragorn said. “Thorongil is long gone.”
“Then, Aragorn, I will think on it,” Denethor repeated. “I bid you good night.”
Aragorn nodded, and bowed. After a brief moment, Denethor returned the bow and disappeared into the darkness.
* * *
It was dawn. The tents had been struck and the Pelennor was filling with silent, ordered rows of soldiers. Close to the Gate the commanders were gathering, mounted, their faces grave. The crest on Éomer’s helmet was blowing gently in the breeze. A short distance away, the standard-bearers waited: the blue of Dol Amroth next to the green of Rohan, the red of Lossarnach by the brown and gold of Morthond. There too was Meneldil, but he carried a furled banner, the silver cords once again binding sable close.
Imrahil, mounted on a fidgety grey stallion, came close to Aragorn.
“If he does not come ...” he murmured.
“He will come,” Aragorn said, and even as he spoke a trumpet rang out from the Tower and the Guards at the Gate stood back. Denethor, in black armour and followed by his standard bearer with the pure white of the Stewards, rode out of Minas Tirith. With him was Faramir, pale but composed and accompanied closely by a Guard. The company paused by Aragorn and the other commanders.
“My lord Steward,” Aragorn said formally. “The army is ready to depart.”
Denethor turned to his son. “Faramir, into your hands I surrender the City. Lead her well whilst I am gone.” He took the rod of the Stewards from a Guard close by and passed it to Faramir.
“I will serve the White City to the best of my power,” said Faramir, his voice firm. He bowed his head, first to his father and then, with a brief glance at Denethor, to Aragorn. Aragorn returned the bow, and then Faramir turned and rode back to the Gate.
Denethor surveyed the field, and the standard bearers waiting at the front of the massed forces.
“There are more than I expected.”
“Seven thousands,” said Imrahil. “Strong men and true.”
“Then let us show the Enemy Gondor’s might,” Denethor said. He looked at Aragorn, and back at the forces, and then seemed to come to a decision. “Bid your bearer unfurl your standard. If this is to be Gondor’s last ride, let her ride with the White Tree at her head.”
For a long minute, Aragorn looked at the Steward; and then he smiled, and gestured to Halbarad. The Ranger reached up and let loose the cords, and next to the silver already flapping in the wind, the black cloth was let loose. High in front of the army, the White Tree shone again, and with a roar and the clashing of swords on shields, the men showed their approval.
“My lords,” said Denethor, “we ride to war.”
Once again the trumpet rang out, and with the Steward, Gandalf proud on Shadowfax, and Aragorn at its head, the army began to move.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.