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In Empty Lands: 23. All the King's Men
Written for the LOTR Community's "Hit the Books" challenge. For LindaHoyland and TraceyClayborn for their birthdays.
All the King's Men
Frodo sat reading in the silvery light of a window in the great library of the Last Homely House. It had rained yesterday, the rain gently but firmly stripping the last orange and brown leaves from the trees outside, allowing daylight, filtered as it was by today's high clouds, to fall upon the book he was perusing, which lay upon a low table. Frodo sat in a comfortably cushioned chair appropriate to his height, undoubtedly crafted for his uncle, who'd been a resident of Imladris, Boromir understood, for the past seventeen years. Frodo leaned over the book, his left elbow resting upon the table's surface and his cheek cradled in his hand.
Boromir felt a tug at his heart—how this image brought to mind his own beloved younger brother, who whenever he could would sit thus, also bent over whatever tome had most recently caught his interest.
Face it—Boromir was homesick! It was nearly half a year since he'd left Minas Tirith and his brother's company, seeking after the meaning of that puzzling dream that had troubled himself and so many of his kin, including Faramir. He'd not been certain why he'd ended up here in Master Elrond's library until now, seeing the Halfling—Hobbit—with his attention fixed upon his book. At home when restless and wanting to explore his own apparently fathomless thoughts this was what he'd do, after all—head for their father's library or, if Faramir was intent on research (or avoiding the Lord Steward's immediate attention), down to the City's archives where he could count upon finding his brother in just such an attitude, his eyes devouring the information or tale before him. But Faramir had always proved willing to smile up at him, interrupting his own study to speak with his brother, perhaps sharing what he'd just learned from his reading but usually willing to listen patiently and help Boromir identify just what it was that caused his disquiet.
Frodo looked up as the Man approached and nodded an acknowledgment before returning his attention to the book before him—a definite difference between the Hobbit and Faramir that left the Warden of the White Tower with a distinct feeling of disappointment. The Man knew well enough that there was no reason for him to feel disappointed, for Frodo Baggins, after all, was not his brother, no matter how similar their habits when reading. He certainly was under no obligation to turn from his book to give Boromir attention. However, the heart's rules are not necessarily based upon logic, as Faramir was fond of saying….
Uncertain what to do next, Boromir stopped near the table at which Frodo sat, considering the Hobbit and wishing it were Faramir there instead, willing to turn from his own studies….
Frodo had gone quite still, and although he'd not yet lifted his head, the Man was aware that the Hobbit was making the decision as to whether to shift his attention to Boromir or to simply ignore him. At last Frodo gave a soundless sigh and looked up, slipping the bound ribbon between the pages to mark his place as he quietly closed the book. "You wished to speak with me, my Lord Boromir?"
The Man winced. "You do not need to use the title, small Master," he said. "I have no authority here in the northern lands, after all. Certainly I have not heard you use such titles when speaking with Aragorn."
The Hobbit appeared thoughtful, lifting his hand to rub briefly at his left shoulder as he searched Boromir's eyes. "That is true enough, I suppose, Boromir."
The Man felt unexpected relief. "Thank you, Master Frodo."
Frodo shook his head slightly, giving a dismissive wave of his hand ere he settled it again on the cover of his book. "No—if I am not to use your title, then certainly you can call me by name as well."
"As you wish it, Frodo. I am not interrupting you unduly, am I?"
Frodo gave a wry smile. "Oh, I'm well accustomed to being interrupted while reading, considering how often my younger cousins insist that I am in need of their companionship. Did you have a question to ask?"
"You don't mind if I sit with you for a time?"
"No, of course not. Do pull up a chair."
Within a moment Boromir had done just that and sat opposite the Hobbit, who sat bestowing polite attention on him. "I admit," the Man said, "to finding myself growing increasingly impatient to be on my way southward once more, now that Aragorn has seen his sword reforged and the last of the scouts appear to have returned. And with the impatience, it is hard for me to stay still. Were I home in the White City, I would either be in council with my father and the other lords and captains, or I would be seeking out the companionship of my brother, were he, too, within the Citadel."
"You have mentioned your brother before," Frodo commented. "You miss him, then?"
"What is he like?"
Boromir shrugged. "He is some four years younger than I, more slender in build, more at ease in stillness than I, much as you are."
"I remind you of him?"
"Oh, yes, in many ways. I rather suspect you and he will quickly become friends should we have the fortune to spend time together once we reach Gondor."
"If, of course, I find myself within your land," Frodo said, his face paling somewhat. "My path, after all, leads to Mordor, not to Gondor."
"Yet it is likely we shall have to pass through some portion of Gondor in order to reach the Black Land," Boromir countered. "I have not yet been advised as to what path we are to take south and east, after all."
"Tell me of the route you followed to come north," invited the Hobbit.
Boromir gladly described the ride north around the eastern reaches of the White Mountains, past Amon Dîn and westward through Anórien to the border of Rohan at the Mering Stream, the ride through the rolling grasslands of the Riddermark to Edoras, then north on the horse Théodred, Théoden King's son, had chosen for him. He did not go into detail regarding his foolish decision to chance the ford at the ruins of Tharbad in spite of the signs of flooding, merely admitting he'd lost his borrowed steed there and had been forced to proceed on foot.
"As we are to do when we leave here," Frodo said.
"Yes. Not a swift journey we propose to make, but proper to the need for secrecy, I suppose."
Frodo nodded. "I know that neither Gandalf nor Aragorn wishes to draw the attention of either Sauron or the Wizard Saruman. Saruman did not offer you any difficulties while you headed north, did he?"
"No one from Isengard appears to have paid any heed to me when I passed the Wizard's Vale," Boromir admitted. "I saw a few at a distance, but no one close up. Now and then a flock of great crows would fly overhead and perhaps circle, but that was all. Nor did anyone challenge me as I traveled through Dunland. And once I left the site of Tharbad on foot no one appears to have noticed me at all. I saw few upon the road, and most of the farms and villages I passed were ruinous and long abandoned. I might see inhabited land perhaps once every five days or so, and few of those I approached would deign to speak with me. I did not blame them, however, considering the many ruined homesteads and fields overgrown with bracken I passed. Not until I entered the Breelands did I find land that showed signs of long settlement."
Frodo was nodding. "Apparently much of the land east along the Road was heavily populated when Bilbo made his first journey here when he was fifty. He and the Dwarves were able to sleep in inns or at the very least in barns most of the way between Bree and here. He said that he was shocked when he left the Shire when I came of age to see how few of those villages and farms remained, and how suspicious those who lived there were. And when we came east we saw none, although admittedly Strider led us along paths where he knew no Men lived. The Enemy's creatures have so devastated the lands that once comprised Arnor." His attention returned to the book he'd been reading. "According to this, the whole of Arnor was once truly a kingdom, filled with fair cities and villages. There were farms everywhere, and few cities and villages were walled save near the borders and the edges of the Misty Mountains. Cardolan held their richest farmlands, and Rhudaur their most productive mines. And the King's Men guarded the roads and the borders, assisted travelers, and helped keep the peace."
"What book is it?" asked Boromir.
"Its title translates to All the King's Men, from my reading of it. It is a history of the Dúnedain of the North, and particularly of its protectors, those we've always spoken of as the Rangers." Noting the change of expression on Boromir's face, he asked, "That has special meaning to you?"
"Oh, it is but that in the South-kingdom we call those who protect the borderlands Rangers, also. And my brother is their Captain."
"Is he, now? Then the same patterns of protection hold both North and South, it appears."
"Indeed. And the Halflings of the Shire also benefit from the services of the Rangers of Arnor?"
"Apparently, although mostly we have remained ignorant of the protection they offer us. Oh, they've always ridden through the Shire going east and west, or taking the swiftest roads to and from the Sarn Ford. When he granted the remains of Cardolan to us as our own, Argeleb the Second wrote into our charter that we were to speed his messengers along their way when they must pass through the Shire. Only in the centuries since the loss of Arvedui Last-king we have lost sight of the fact that the mysterious Rangers are those Messengers we promised to aid."
"It must have seemed strange to you, then, to find yourself having to trust the one you met in Bree."
Frodo was nodding his agreement. "Nor were we much encouraged by what Barliman Butterbur had to say about him. He's the owner of the Prancing Pony Inn there in Bree, and he is even more suspicious of the Rangers than is your typical Hobbit who lives within the Shire. He was very anxious for us when he found we'd 'taken up with that Strider,' as he put it, although he did his best to aid us once we found our ponies had been stolen by the strange southerners who appear to have broken into the stable the night we spent there. Even knowing that Gandalf trusted Aragorn didn't seem to reassure him any." He gave another wry smile. "And now Aragorn has been revealed as the Heir to Isildur, and rightfully our King--here in the North, at least; and, I must suppose he is planning to present his claim for the South-kingdom as well." He cocked his head as he searched Boromir's eyes. "Your father is Steward there. How is he likely to react to the thought of the King returning after so long with the throne empty?"
The Man found himself shuddering slightly. "I do not believe he will lightly yield up the rule of Gondor to anyone else, no matter how well his claim might be supported. After all, our Kings have ever been of the lineage of Anárion, the second son of Elendil, rather than his older son Isildur."
"But isn't it the custom in Gondor as it is here that the primary heir is the oldest surviving child?"
"Isildur surrendered the rule of Gondor to his brother Anárion's son Meneldil before setting off northward to take up the rule of Arnor in his father's place. When he learned that his uncle had perished along the way, Meneldil would not agree to bow to his younger cousin Valandil as High King, recognizing him only as his peer, not as his superior. And in the South-kingdom the primary heir has been ever the oldest surviving male heir. Daughters do not usually inherit unless there is no surviving brother or uncle or adult male cousin, although they will oft be dowered with land to take with them into a marriage, land that is expected to provide for them should the marriage fail or their husband die betimes."
"Arvedui married the daughter of a King to Gondor, did he not?"
"Yes—Fíriel daughter of Ondoher. But she had two brothers who would have been expected to inherit the Winged Crown before her child, although both predeceased her. It is true that on the basis of her birth Arvedui presented his claim to the throne, intending to rule in concert with her as it was said he did in the North, but the Steward Pelendur would not recognize this claim, and the Lords of the Realm would not gainsay Pelendur's will. Instead they named Eärnil the First as King."
"And you believe that your father will follow the example of this Pelendur?"
"Pelendur did not take the rule of Gondor into his own hands, surrendering it to Eärnil. My father inherited the rule of Gondor as has been true since the days of Mardil, when Eärnur disappeared into the maw of the Morgul Vale, leaving no child or close-enough male kindred to inherit the Winged Crown after him. And so it was that when he disappeared, his Steward Mardil took the Winged Crown to the Hallows and settled it in the hands of Eärnil the Second, and then took the rule of the realm into his own hands until the King should return again. He perhaps might have accepted the claim of Arvedui's son as the oldest male heir to Ondoher, but that one did not come south, and indeed it was said that Arvedui's son drowned with his father in the ice-bay of Forochel."
Frodo appeared thoughtful and tapped his book. "According to this and the lessons Bilbo gave me before I came of age, Arvedui was indeed accompanied northward by one of his sons, but it was not Aranarth, his primary heir. Instead, once the war was won with Eärnur's help, Aranarth and his mother declared there were simply too few of the Dúnedain remaining within Arnor to consider it a viable kingdom any longer, so he named himself Chieftain of the northern Dúnedain instead and withdrew his people into more protected and hidden places until such time as they could recover sufficient numbers to again refill the lands claimed so long before by Elendil and those who built the North-kingdom with him. Only Sauron has ever sent plagues and enemies to keep the number of the Dúnedain small and to threaten the heirs to Elendil and Isildur, until the last heir was taken into fosterage here as a very young child to protect him."
"And that was Aragorn himself," noted Boromir.
"So it has proved," Frodo agreed.
Boromir glanced at the tall Elf who'd entered the library and was lighting the candles and lamps throughout the room, and scratched his chin. "Who wrote this book?"
Frodo looked down at the book's cover before answering, "It was begun by the Chieftain Arador, but finished fairly recently by Erestor, who is the master archivist for Master Elrond as well as one of his chief counselors. Arador indicates that he believed that in a few generations the time should come for the final battles against Mordor and Sauron's armies, and he wished for his heir in that day to know the full history of his lineage that he be better prepared for his destiny and the needs of all of the Dúnedain, north and south."
"So he wished to see all of the Dúnedain reunited as the King's Men, did he?" Boromir considered the wine-colored leather that bound the book.
"Indeed," said another voice, and the two looked up to see Erestor himself leaning over their table with his taper, prepared to light the lamp that lay there against the early twilight outside the windows to the room. "Such has been the hope of all of the Chieftains of the northern Dúnedain, as well as that of most of the Kings of Arnor prior to the final battles against Angmar. Arador was grandsire to our Aragorn, whom we called Estel during his childhood here. Arador wrote most of that during a period not long following the birth of his son Arathorn while he lingered here, recovering from a shattered leg. As is common enough amongst the descendants of Eärendil and Elwing, he displayed a powerful gift of foresight, and believed the time was coming for the final wars against Sauron the Accurst; and he wished the history of all the King's Men within Arnor to be recorded, from that of Ohtar, who carried the Shards of Narsil here after the tragedy of the battle of the Gladden Fields, to the current day. He left it unfinished, expecting his son and grandson to continue the tale; but Arathorn died but a few years of the Sun after his father, so in the end Elrond commissioned me to see it finished and bound, ready to present to Estel on the day on which was judged a Man grown. I left some twenty pages or so empty when I bound the volume, and Aragorn has added to it the tales of his maternal grandsire Dírhael and his Uncle Halbaleg, and intends to finish the book should he indeed earn his seat upon the thrones of Gondor and Arnor, able to both wear the Winged Crown and to carry the Sceptre of Annúminas. And I believe that he hopes to include in it the exploits of you and your brother and your father, my Lord Boromir. I know that he greatly honored what he knew of your grandfather Ecthelion, and speaks with respect of your father Denethor and the reports of his rule of Gondor."
"He follows the doings of my father?" Boromir felt great surprise at the idea.
Erestor nodded with solemn pride. "That he does. Always there have been a few from amongst the northern Dúnedain who have gone south to serve in Gondor's armies, as I believe the Stewards have always recognized. Do you think that they have returned northward with no news at the end of their terms of service? And more than one of these has brought with him a southern-born bride, often of far higher birth than might be expected to agree to wed what is seen as a mercenary."
"And he would add my brother and me to this book as well?"
The Elf answered, "Why should he not? Are you not to accompany him and the Ringbearer south in the Fellowship of the Ring? All stand in wonder at the tale of your journey north in search of answers to the riddling dream you and your brother shared, and he is grateful that you have agreed to offer training to Master Frodo and his companions in preparation for the return south and east. He had already heard report on the confrontation you and your brother had at the bridge of Osgiliath with the Nazgûl, and he feels nothing but respect for what was done there."
"Yet the wraiths got past us ere we brought the bridge down."
"Perhaps. But merely to successfully face them without being reduced to a state of abject helplessness is a great feat that all here in Imladris would honor the two of you for. And such courage and determination can only earn the respect of Aragorn. Believe me, he hopes that you and your brother both will agree to be numbered amongst all of the King's Men. And if your father will do so, also, it will mean a great deal to him."
Denethor, to consider himself one of all of the King's Men? Boromir shook his head at the very thought of it. He himself planned to take note of Aragorn's strengths and skills as they undertook their mutual journey south toward the border between Gondor and the wastes of Mordor. It was very possible that by the time they reached the northern boundaries of Gondor's lands he might well be willing to accept Aragorn son of Arathorn as a candidate for the Winged Crown and the throne of Gondor; and definitely Faramir would rejoice to see the Return of the King. But as for their father….
Little did any of them know Denethor son of Ecthelion if they believed he would gladly give over his own role as ruler of Gondor to any other!
All of the King's Men indeed!
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