Many Guises and Many Names
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Old Friends: 1. Old Friends
Aragorn acknowledged the salutes as he rode out of the Gate, and kicked Roheryn into a canter, feeling the wind in his hair and a sense of freedom outside the City, away from duty. It had only been a short while, but already he was craving solitude and open spaces again, and anonymity.
On the Pelennor, the last funeral pyres were still burning, but around them people were starting to repair buildings and mark out the edges of fields again. They glanced up as Aragorn rode past, and most shaded their eyes to watch him, but did not seem to realise who he was. He bent over Roheryn’s neck and chivvied the horse on to a faster pace, relishing the speed with no urgent engagement at the other end. Today, there was no battle to go to, no message to be delivered. Today was about old friends.
At the Harlond the docks were busy. The ships bringing exiled women and children home were still arriving, along with goods and food from less beleaguered areas of Gondor. Aragorn noted the activity and stored it away for a later date, and dismounted, leading Roheryn through the crowds.
He paused at an inn, busy at this hour in the afternoon, and passed the reins of Roheryn to a young boy hanging around hopefully. Inside, the room was noisy and warm, and Aragorn had to shout his question to the innkeeper busy serving ale behind the bar.
“I’m looking for a man named Minastir,” Aragorn shouted back. “A mariner, a captain. He must be quite old now -- bushy eyebrows, a deep voice?”
“Oh -- Minastir? Aye, I know him.” The innkeeper eyed Aragorn’s good black tunic and the fine weave of the grey Elven-cloak, and added, “sir. He lives in the tall building overlooking the docks. Second floor.”
“Thank you.” The innkeeper nodded, and turned back to his customers. Aragorn left a coin on the counter and went back outside.
The boy holding Roheryn’s reins seemed happy enough to carry on doing so in return for the promise of payment, and Aragorn left his horse and crossed to the other side of the harbour on foot. The tall building’s door was open, and he slipped through and climbed the stairs.
There was a plain wooden door at the top of the fourth flight, and Aragorn knocked tentatively, hoping that his information was correct. After a while he heard footsteps, and a woman’s voice calling, “I’m a-coming!” Shortly the door was opened by the owner of the voice, a stout lady of about fifty. She looked Aragorn up and down, from his boots to the clasp of the cloak, and then said, “Well?”
“I’m looking for Captain Minastir, madam,” Aragorn said. “I am an old friend of his, and was told he lived here.”
“He does, aye,” the woman said. “I’m his housekeeper. An old friend, you say?”
“Yes, madam. May I see the captain?”
“I suppose you may,” the housekeeper said, grumbling a little. “He won’t be too happy about being distracted, mind. He is enjoying watching the activity down there. We haven’t seen so many ships for quite some time.”
“I can believe that,” Aragorn said, following her inside. She closed the door firmly.
“If you’ll follow me?”
He did so, down a dim corridor and into a spacious room with a large window, now flung open. By it, in a deep comfortable chair, sat an old man intently watching the ships at harbour. The housekeeper coughed.
“An old friend to see you, Captain.”
The old man turned his head, and then stood up, reaching for a stick by his side. “I don’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “We gave you up for dead!”
“I survived,” Aragorn said, quickly crossing to Minastir and helping him sit again.
“So I see,” Minastir said, settling back into his chair. “Thorongil. Of all the people…you came back to Minas Tirith?”
"I came back,” Aragorn agreed, pulling up a low stool and sitting down on it. “It was time.”
“What a mess, eh?” Minastir said. “This war -- this war. But they say it’s over now, that we have a King again. What d’you think of that?”
“I confess I cannot quite believe it still,” Aragorn said with a smile.
“Well, I wager he’ll do well enough,” Minastir opined, nodding. “Though he has a tough act to follow. The lord Denethor was a good Steward. Stern, maybe, but good. Not that you ever really got on, did you?” he said, turning a look on Aragorn.
“Not especially well, I’ll own,” Aragorn said.
“Hmm.” The old captain examined Aragorn for a moment. “You’ve done remarkably well, Thorongil. Don’t seem to have put on the years like myself.”
“I am older than I look, my friend,” said Aragorn. “But I did not come here to discuss myself, Minastir. I came to see you. How have the years been?”
“Long and weary,” Minastir said. “I sailed out of Harlond a few more years after you disappeared, and then they put me on shore duty, made me manage the fleets. But we do not have many sailors these days, not as many as we should do.” He paused, looking out of the window. “I saw the Corsairs come up river, the morning of the big battle. Not that I saw much, mind. Folks barricaded themselves indoors, those that were here, when they heard that black sails were beating towards us. I watched, saw the banner fly, and then off they rode as soon as they were docked, all in a great hurry towards the battle. I almost wished I could join them. Reminded me of old times -- of that attack on Umbar.”
“The Pelennor was much worse,” Aragorn said. “Still we won the day, albeit with many losses.” He regarded his old friend. “You say we need more sailors, Minastir. Would you feel capable of organising our navy?”
Minastir frowned. “Me, Thorongil? Old as I am?”
“I am not a dotard yet,” Minastir said, shrugging. “I need my prop to move -- no swords for me now -- but my mind works well enough.” He met Aragorn’s eyes. “Going to suggest it to the King, are you, Thorongil?”
“Nay, Minastir. I am asking you if you would do it. Once, long ago, you helped me and trusted me, and I have never forgotten. I need ships, sailing as they used to. Safeguarding the land is a task difficult enough, and I have few enough men for that.”
“You have few enough men?” Minastir asked. “You need ships?” He paused. “Thorongil?”
“Will you do it?” Aragorn asked in his turn. “You will have all the men and the resources you need, and you can remain in the Harlond to carry out this task.”
“Should I be kneeling?” said Minastir. “Because, my lord, my knees have been remarkably stiff in the last few winters. If I kneel I am not sure I should be able to stand again.”
Aragorn smiled, and shook his head. “No, my old friend. Well?”
“I’ll do it. Your Majesty. If I may stay here. I need to see water.”
“Thank you.” Aragorn sighed. “That has taken a load off my shoulders. I’ll send you a secretary on the morrow. Ask for aught you need. We are stretched for supplies, but I shall make sure you have what you want.”
“So you’re not Thorongil, are you, my lord?” Minastir said.
“I was Thorongil, once,” Aragorn returned. “For many years. Now I must become used to another new name. But my given name is Aragorn, and I would beg you to use that, Minastir. Do not stand on ceremony.”
Minastir laughed his old booming laugh. “Is that an order?”
“It is a request, from an old friend,” Aragorn said, standing up. “It is good to see you again, Minastir. I shall visit to see how the naval fleet is progressing at some stage. Alone, if I can escape the hordes of people who seem to be following me around currently. Thank you.”
Stiffly, Minastir climbed to his feet, and managed a small bow. “I’ll be pleased to see you when you come, Aragorn.”
Aragorn reached out and clasped the old sailor’s brown hand. Their eyes met, and there was no need for more words. Aragorn helped Minastir back into his seat, and then turned and softly left the room.
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