Many Guises and Many Names
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Rangers of the North: 25. A Farewell Gift
Aragorn looked up from the papers he was sorting to see the Steward standing in the doorway of his little workroom. "You shouldn't call me that, Ecthelion."
The old Man lifted questioning eyebrows. "Why not, my Lord, when there is none but you and I to hear?" and came in, closing the door behind him. An unecessary precaution as the guardroom beyond was quite empty at this hour of the night.
"Because I am not your Lord." Aragorn replied. "Rather it is I who have sworn an oath to you."
Ecthelion shook his head "To Gondor rather. I know you have chosen not to claim our allegiance but that doesn't change the blood in your veins. You are still my superior in rank, my Lord, descended from a far older and higher lineage than I can claim."
"You Gondorim are overconcerned with blood and rank." Aragorn said disapprovingly. Sighed: "At least there is no need for such ceremony. Sit down Ecthelion!"
The old Man smiled as he settled himself on a bench against the wall. "My aged bones thank you - my Lord!" his smile broadened at his King's exasperated glare and he continued: "If we are overconscious of the claims of blood it is because so little of the High Numenorean strain survives among us. My House and Adrahil's are the most ancient left in Gondor and they are no older than the realm itself.
"We lost many of our noblest to the kinstrife or the Plague and the highest in the land, twenty Great Houses who could trace their lines back to Numenor and even to Beleriand, departed Gondor when Meneldur denied his allegiance to the High King."
"So you remember that." Aragorn said softly.
"It is not written in the common histories but our Loremasters remember." Ecthelion grimaced. "We have been taught to call it treachery, but the true treachery was Meneldur's. Gondor has been tainted from her very begining - and we have paid and are still paying a bitter price for it." looked levelly at the King. "Cemendur believes only return to our rightful allegiance can save Gondor from her long decline - and I agree with him."
Aragorn was shaking his head. "No, Ecthelion, in this I am right. The time for Kings is passed."
"Say rather that it has not yet come." countered the Steward. "I agree with you, my King, to declare yourself now would bring disaster upon us all and an end to all hope." but then his head lifted, eyes gleaming with a strange light, and his voice rang with prophecy. "Your time is not passed but yet to come, King Elessar. You will return to Gondor in our darkest and most desperate hour and you will save us from the Shadow in the East and the shadow on our hearts."
Then his eyes closed and his body sagged and Aragorn was around the writing table in an instant to catch him by the shoulders and keep him from tumbling to the floor. "Ecthelion!"
Blue veined lids blinked open. "Strange," the old Man whispered huskily, "I have not had a forseeing in many years, and never so strongly."
Aragorn leaned him carefully back against the wall and poured a tumbler of strong spirits from a bottle atop a standing cupboard. "Drink this, slowly." watched with concern as Ecthelion carefully sipped the liquor.
He drained the tumbler and gave his King a challenging look. "Well, my Lord, what do you make of that?"
Aragorn sighed, almost as if defeated. "When I was a child I had a dream of coming at the head of an army to the rescue of a white city of seven circles." he admitted, shook his head helplessly. "But how that vision or yours could come to pass I cannot see. But I promise you, Ecthelion, if Gondor ever does stand in need of my aid she will have it."
"Thank you, my Lord." the Steward said, satisfied. Looked at the parchments heaped on the writing table: "A late hour for paperwork."
"I am putting the business of the Guard in order for my successor."
"And who am I to put in your place?" Ecthelion wondered ruefully.
It was a rhetorical question but Aragorn had an answer: "Denethor."
The Steward blinked in surprise. "My son?"
The King sat down on a corner of the table, faced him seriously. "There is nothing wrong with Denethor's grasp of strategy and logistics, and if he does not inspire love at least he commands respect and obedience. There is less need now for a battle leader at the head of the Citadel Guard, and should Denethor ever have need of such he will have my young nephews to call upon."
That made Ecthelion blink again. "You mean to leave them here? And what makes you think Denethor will work any better with them than with you?"
"Of course Ellenion and Ereinion will stay in Minas Tirith - as long as Hurin remains with us in the North. Surely, Ecthelion, you realize that is why they were sent?"
"I require no hostages from you, my King." the Steward told him quietly.
Aragorn smiled wryly. "Your daughter may disagree. But I have another reason for desiring my nephews to stay. Though an open alliance is impossible I would not close the door you and I have opened. We can at least exchange news of our Enemy - and our friends."
Ecthelion nodded. "Yes, I would welcome that. But why should my son prove any friendlier to your kinsmen than to you, my Lord?"
"Because they will not threaten him as I do, being younger and subordinate to him." Aragorn said gently. "Nor will they win your favor as I have done."
The old Man bowed his head. "I have been a fool." he said quietly. "I never realized how bitter was his jealousy - nor how I fed it unknowingly."
"Give him my place, Ecthelion," the King urged softly, "confide in him as you have confided in me, let him see the love and trust you have for him."
"I will." the Steward promised, himself as well as Aragorn. "But before you leave us, my King and Captain, I would ask of you one last service - for Gondor."
"Anything." Aragorn said sincerely.
Ecthelion smiled. "Destroy the fleet of Umbar."
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