Many Guises and Many Names
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Lords of Gondor: 10. Return of the King
onlookers filled the great square behind Minas
Tirith's main gate with flickering shadows. Ecthelion
waited, his lady at his side tightly gripping his arm.
A Guardsman rode out of the darkness through the
open gate followed by a score or so of his fellows, a
horselitter in their midst. As it came to a stop
before them the Lady Miriel gave a low moan and
released her husband's arm to throw herself on her
knees beside the litter, tearing aside the curtains.
Finduilas, white as her gown but calm, put her arms
around her mother-in-law murmuring comfort.
"He's alive, Mama, the healers will help him -
you'll see. Everything will be all right -"
The Guard captain climbed stiffly off his horse,
approached the Steward and saluted.
Ecthelion looked at him. "What happened."
"An arrow, my Lord, fired from cover just outside
the old city wall. Only the Lord Denethor was hit. We
searched the brakes but found no one." the captain
swallowed. "I drew the arrow myself and set it
carefully aside, but when I looked for it after
binding up the wound it was gone."
"Vanished." Ecthelion said flatly.
The Man looked miserable. "There was much
confusion, my Lord. It could have been knocked off the
stool and trampled underfoot...."
The Steward forced himself to smile reassuringly.
"You are not to blame, Captain, some dangers cannot be
guarded against." the guardsman did not seem
convinced. "See to your Men."
Only then did Ecthelion allow himself to go to the
litter and look at his son. Denethor moved restlessly
as in a fever, muttering scraps of words, but his face
was pale and when Ecthelion reached down to touch as
cold as ice. Not a fever then, but something worse.
Miriel had their son's hand between both of hers
and pressed to her cheek as she begged him to open his
eyes and speak to her. Ecthelion tried to force her
convulsive grip apart. "Miriel, darling, you must let
go - just for a moment, so the healers can see to him.
Please, my heart -"
"Mother." Emeldir's voice cut across his pleas.
"Mother, you must be calm. Father needs you to be
That did it. His wife let go, allowed him to draw
her to her feet, whispered: "I'm sorry, I'm making a
spectacle of myself."
"A mother has a right to cry for her son,"
Ecthelion whispered back, "but we must try put on
brave faces or the people will think it is worse than
She smiled bleakly. "How could it possibly be
The healers could offer little comfort.
"My Lord, my Ladies, we will do all we can." the
Master of the Houses told them. "We have much
experience in treating poisoned wounds but if it was a
Morgul arrow -"
"There is nothing you can do." Ecthelion finished
"It wasn't a Morgul arrow, it *wasn't*" Finduilas
"My little sister is right." Emeldir said firmly.
"We must not assume the worst. A poisoned arrow from
some lurking Orc is far more likely."
"We must not lose hope." her father agreed, an
anxious eye on his wife.
Miriel tried to smile. "My son has a powerful will,
He shall not be easily overcome!"
"And that counts for a very great deal in these
cases, my Lady." the Master Healer assured her
They took turns watching over Denethor, Miriel and
Emeldir by day; Ecthelion and Finduilas by night when
Denethor was more active, tossing in the bed and
raving in broken sentences.
"There, there, my darling." Finduilas crooned,
tucking her husband back into his bed. As always he
quieted at the sound of her voice and touch of her
hands. She settled back into her chair and risked a
look at her father-in-law. "You must forgive him,
Papa, he would never say such things in his right
Ecthelion was staring at his son, face frozen,
unreadable. After a moment he stirred, looked back at
her. "Spoken or not he has felt so for some time."
shook his head helplessly. "I knew he was jealous of
Thorongil but such venom...."
"Not jealous - afraid!" Finduilas corrected
sharply. "Thorongil is a danger to Gondor and to
Denethor himself. We have both seen it."
Ecthelion shook his head again, emphatically. "No!
That I will never believe. He has been more than loyal
"I didn't say he means us harm." Finduilas
interupted. "I know he doesn't. He is a good Man, he
loves Gondor and you too, Papa, but something hangs
over him - something that could destroy us all - and
Thorongil knows it, I've seen it in his eyes."
Ecthelion sighed. Finduilas was not entirely wrong,
he too had recognized how Thorongil's charismatic
presence could become a threat to his son. But the
fault lay in Denethor, not some vague doom hanging
over the Captain. "Thorongil may well be leaving us
soon." he said aloud.
His daughter-in-law looked pleased. "That would be
best for everybody, including Thorongil himself."
The repetition of the hated name had pierced
Denethor's stupor. He jerked upright in bed,
Finduilas started out of her chair to calm him, and
the door to the chamber opened admitting a gust of
cool air that fluttered the candles and twisted the
flames burning in braziers and hearth into strange
shapes. Thorongil stood in the doorway, his dark cloak
billowing around him, looking for one fantastic moment
like a wraith who'd been conjured by his name.
Ecthelion and Finduilas both stared transfixed as
the Captain moved swiftly past them to the bed, firmly
forcing Denethor back onto his pillows. "I see it is
as bad as they said. What happened, my Lord?"
"An arrow shot from cover outside the walls of
Osgiliath." Ecthelion replied, recovering himself. "We
fear it is a Morgul wound."
Thorongil shook his head. "It looks much like it I
grant you, but I have a remedy that will serve I
think.(1) I will need a bowl and some hot water, my
The Captain took a handful of long, glossy leaves
from a pouch at his belt, bruised them then arranged
them in the wide bowl Finduilas brought him and poured
boiling water from the kettle on the fire over them. A
fresh, pungent scent filled the room.
Ecthelion felt suddenly calmer, comforted by
Thorongil's sure presence, and a touch of color came
into Finduilas' white face. The Captain took the
steaming bowl to the bedside, unwound the bandages and
bathed the wound high on Denethor's arm.
The patient sighed deeply and his eyes no longer
moved restlessly under closed lids. As wife and father
watched hopefully Thorongil laid one strong, square
hand upon his brow and said softly but with powerful
authority: "Denethor son of Ecthelion, hear my voice,
return to the Light." then he took Denthor's hand and
put it into his wife's. "Call him, my Lady, your voice
above all will draw him back."
"Denethor? Denethor, my darling, time to wake up
dear." her voice broke. "I need you, my love, please
wake up." and the heavy lids fluttered and opened.
"Finduilas?" his voice was a thin thread of sound,
She gave a cry of joy, and the tears she'd been
restraining for three endless days finally flowed
free. "Yes, darling, I'm here! I'm here!"
Ecthelion felt Thorongil brush past him to the
door, turned and followed him into the dim, cool
passage. "Thank you."
"I am glad I could be of help, my Lord." the
Captain glanced through the open door where Finduilas
now wept in her husband's arms. "Very glad.
Denethor woke to sunlight streaming through the
casement of his chamber and Thorongil sitting silent and
watchful on the window seat.
For a moment the two Men just stared at each other.
Denethor trying to convince himself the luminous
figure, with eyes bright as the star burning upon its
brow, that had commanded him back from the shadows was
nothing more than a fever dream - and failed. It had
been real enough. And he knew now exactly who and what
'Thorongil' really was.
"So who are you?" he heard his own voice say
harshly, "some bastard byblow of an exiled princeling
whiling away his days among the Elves?"
"I am Aragorn son of Arathorn, Heir of Isildur,
Elendil's son of Gondor." the calm voice held a note
of reproof, as Ecthelion's so often did, and Denethor
felt himself flush with the usual miserable mixture of
humiliation and anger.
"Isildur's heir you may be - but you have no claim
"I have no intention of making any claim on
Gondor." the Man he had known as Thorongil rose,
features set in grim lines, eyes bleak. "I admit I had
some thought of doing so when first I came, but I long
ago realized it would be folly. Gondor is the bulwark
of the West, she must not be weakened by divisions and
For a moment Denethor could not answer, struggling
against a treacherous undertow of ancient loyalties.
Long ago his fathers had sworn allegiance to this
Man's ancestors. Served and followed them faithfully
for a hundred generations. Part of him felt the call
of those oaths, longed to submit to the power hidden
within the Man before him. But he armoured himself
with pride and and old hate and pushed the temptation
"We are in agreement then."
A faint smile touched the King's face. "For once. I
ask only that you keep my secret, Lord Denethor.
Should Sauron discover an Heir of Isildur still lives
he would not rest until I was destroyed."
"And he had taken his vengeance on any who had
harboured you." Denethor said grimly. "Never fear, my
Lord. I will keep silent - for Gondor's sake."
The door opened unexpectedly, making both Men
start. Boromir darted through to throw himself with a
glad cry upon his father.
Finduilas followed, face darkening as she picked up
the tension between the two Men. "Surely you two are
not quarreling again so soon!"
"On the contrary, my Lady, the Lord Denethor and I
find ourselves in perfect agreement." Thorongil bowed
to her, to Denethor, and left closing the door gently
Finduilas gave the door a dark frown, then turned
it on her husband. "What did you say to him?"
"So this is the answer to all the mysteries."
Aragorn glanced up from his maps. A look of
annoyance passed over his face and then resignation.
"Of course, I should have realized Denethor's promise
of silence would not extend to you."
Finduilas came into his small workroom, closing the
door behind her, blue eyes fastened piercingly upon
him. "Isildur's heir. You could bring destruction upon
us all should the Enemy learn you exist."
"I know." Aragorn agreed. "But, as I told you, I
have decided against that course."
Looking at him with less hatred and more perception
the Woman saw the hidden pain her husband had missed.
"Do you want so much to be a King?" she wondered. Such
deep ambition seemed out of character for the
Thorongil she knew.
"I am a King, my Lady, acknowledged or not." he
answered quietly. "And as King I must put the welfare
of the realm before my private desires." then the pain
broke through, tightening his mouth and darkening his
eyes. "But if I spare Gondor a new kinstrife, I also
condemn my people in the North to fade away and be
forgotten. Arnor will never rise again." (2)
Finduilas wanted to reach out, to comfort him
somehow, but had none to give. "I'm sorry." she
He shook his head, smiling wearily. "It's not your
doing, my Lady, or your Lord's. Even if Denethor and
Ecthelion were willing to accept me, my decision would
be the same. Gondor must stand, or all the West
1. Notice how Aragorn carefully avoids a direct lie.
2. This is true, but of course there's also the matter
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