Many Guises and Many Names
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Thorongil: 4. Chapter 4
and Aragorn had retired to his lodgings with a book borrowed from the
Tower's library. He had purposely chosen something in Quenya, wishing to
distance himself from the everyday hustle and bustle of Westron, the main
language spoken in Minas Tirith. The book was an old collection of tales,
as it turned out, and Aragorn was quickly immersed in a tale from Doriath
in the First Age, told in a style reminding him of the lays of his youth in
the Hall of Fire at Imladris.
When the knock came it took him a moment to respond, and he called out
"Come in!" in Sindarin before realising it and switching to Westron.
However the door had already begun to open after the first call, and
Aragorn put his book down carefully and stood up.
Denethor closed the door behind him and looked around with evident interest
at Aragorn's small room with its sparse furnishings. He crossed to the
corner and picked up Aragorn's sword in its sheath from where he had laid
it on coming in, drawing it.
"Good evening, my lord," Aragorn said, part of him detesting Denethor for
touching his weapon. Denethor turned his gaze on him for a moment and then
turned his attention back to the sword, swishing it experimentally through
the air. Putting it back in the sheath, he spoke.
"This is a good weapon."
"Yes, my lord," Aragorn agreed.
"As I told your father, my lord," Aragorn said, "I spent some time in
Imladris in my youth, and there my sword was forged for me."
"Imladris?" Denethor said. "Is that not the home of Elrond Half-Elven,
brother of Elros Tar-Minyatur?"
"It is, my lord," Aragorn replied, wondering where Denethor's questions
were leading. The Steward's son shot him another piercing glance and then
sat down in Aragorn's chair, casting a disdainful look at the book. Aragorn
perched on the edge of his bed and for a moment there was an awkward
"I came," Denethor said, eventually, "to thank you for your counsels in
these difficult times. It is long since we had someone who knew much of the
world outside Gondor, and although neither myself nor my father wish to
admit it, until you came we were in danger of becoming somewhat isolated.
You have cured a little of that."
"I am glad to be of service," said Aragorn. Denethor grunted.
"Yet still I find myself wondering about you, Thorongil. Believe me, I have
watched you saying little and noting everything that passes by. What do you
"In life, Thorongil. Women. The other Guards have wives, or sweethearts -
or mistresses. Yet you have none. Is there a woman?"
"None that love me," Aragorn said, an image flashing into his mind of
Arwen's white skin and luminous Elven-eyes, and he heard for an instant, or
thought he heard, the notes of her singing. "None that love me," he
"Well, then," Denethor said. "What do you wish for?"
"That in difficult times men follow wisdom rather than folly," Aragorn
replied. "That if I myself am ever tested, that I pass the test."
"A strange wish," Denethor returned, shrugging. There was another pause.
"What know you of Mithrandir, Thorongil?"
Aragorn contemplated his fingernails, short and ingrained with dust. "I do
not think that any Man, or any Elf for that matter, can truly know
Mithrandir, my lord. It is true I have been acquainted with him for much of
my life; yet he remains mostly an enigma to me."
"But is his counsel good? Do you think it right that my father should trust
"Absolutely," Aragorn said with certainty. "Indeed I should say that the
lord Steward would do well to heed Mithrandir's counsel above all other."
"Even that of Saruman's?" Denethor asked, his keen eyes meeting Aragorn's.
"Even that, yes, my lord."
Denethor grunted, and appeared to be mulling over Aragorn's words as the
bell rang nine times. He rose, and Aragorn stood also. The Steward's son
bowed briefly and went to the door, and Aragorn returned the bow and
watched as Denethor went out.
The conversation awoke in Aragorn many thoughts and memories that had been
lying dormant, and he lay restless in his bed once he had given up with the
book, thinking of Elrond and Imladris, of his mother Gilraen, alone and
isolated, and of Arwen Undómiel, dancing in the moonlight. Suddenly he
found himself missing the North intensely, missing the freedom to be
himself amongst people who knew him and knew who he really was, missing the
sound of light Elvish voices.
He rose early after little sleep, and before the hour had come for the
breaking of the fast, he had walked a brisk circuit of the gardens of the
Tower. Refreshed, he joined his company for the morning meal and then set
out with three of the men down through the City towards the Third Gate,
where he was on duty for the morning. There was a steady stream of people
coming through the Gate, both ways, for the weekly market was being held in
the fourth level of the City. Aragorn and his fellow guard were greeted
with warm voices and women and children tossed them small pieces of food -
apples, or cakes - as they passed.
Towards the eleventh hour, however, there was a clatter of hooves and
armour from below, and shortly three riders with helms plumed with
horsehair appeared, accompanied by a guard from the Great Gate. Aragorn
started, and took a step forward.
"Thorongil!" the guard said, gratefully. "Here are three Riders of Rohan,
come to speak with the Steward on urgent business. I heard you were on duty
here and am ordered to replace you whilst you accompany them to the Tower."
"Gladly, Sirgon," Aragorn said, and the guard, looking relieved, swapped
places with him. Aragorn stepped up to the horses, who were fidgeting in
the unfamiliar surroundings, and looked up at the lead Rider. "Hail, Léod!"
he said in Rohirric. "Glad I am to see you well."
"Thorongil!" Léod returned. "And I may say the same. But this is no time
nor place for conversation. Our errand to Ecthelion may not wait. Lead on!
and I hope I may speak further with you later."
Aragorn nodded, and walking briskly led the horses and their riders up the
stony paths. The group was met with many curious glances and calls from the
people to come and see the Riders. Léod's two companions, for their part,
looked around at the City with astonishment and wonder, and Aragorn heard
them speaking in low tones to each other as they ascended the levels.
At the seventh gate, Aragorn explained to Léod that they must leave their
horses, and reluctantly the Riders dismounted. Calling to a guard, Aragorn
gave instructions for the horses to be stabled, fed, and groomed, and for
the baggage of the travellers to be taken to their quarters, and then he
led the Rohirrim into the Citadel of Gondor.
They were announced by the servant at the door to the great hall of the
Citadel, where they found Ecthelion alone, looking through papers on a low
table by the side of his chair. He glanced up as the four men made their
way up the long avenue between the pillars and the statues. Aragorn paused,
a few steps away from the dais, and bowed.
"My lord Steward, I bring before you three Riders of the Mark of Thengel
King. They say they come on urgent business to you." He beckoned Léod
forwards. "Their leader, my lord, is Léod, First Marshal of the Mark."
Léod bowed in his turn, and Ecthelion, with a brief incline of his head,
acknowledged the obeisance. "Do they speak Westron, Thorongil?"
Aragorn glanced at Léod.
"I do, my lord Steward," Léod said, "though my companions, Wulf and
Aldwine, do not."
Ecthelion grunted. "That is well. However, Thorongil, I believe it would be
best if you remained here whilst the Marshal gives me whatever news he has
brought from Thengel." He gestured to one of the silent servants who stood
around the hall, and soon seats were brought for all. The Rohirrim removed
their helms and sat, and Ecthelion had wine and some bread brought to them.
Léod, once he had drunk deeply of the wine before him, brought out a thick
sheet of parchment folded and sealed with the sign of a running horse, and
passed it to Ecthelion. "Thengel King bids me to say that he begs you take
heed of this missive, lord."
There was a rustle as Ecthelion opened the letter, and silence in the stone
hall as he read it twice through slowly and then dropped it on the table.
"Saruman has never done Gondor wrong," he said. "So a wizard is causing
smoke and fire - who are we to meddle in his affairs?"
"Our scouts have seen strange Men entering Isengard, lord," Léod said.
Aragorn sensed he was holding his emotions tightly in check. "Saruman was .
that is, he used to send regularly to Edoras for news and to offer us
counsel in return, but of late he has become reticent and closed. Thengel
has had no word from him for a year. The Gap of Rohan is of utmost import
to our land."
"But not to mine," Ecthelion said. "It is many miles distant."
"Yet Gondor's borders reach far," Léod returned, "and Thengel wonders
whether you have seen or heard aught of Men travelling from the South
towards Isengard and the North."
"There is still much traffic from the South," Ecthelion said. "Though we
are not friendly with Umbar, with Khand or Harad, still we are not at war
outright. Merchants are allowed. Surely Thengel does not expect me to keep
an eye on all movement in South Gondor?" The Steward raised an eyebrow.
"When Calenardhon was given to Éorl, that was Gondor's gift to your people.
The West Road runs through Rohan as well as Gondor." He sighed. "Still, in
token of our long alliance, I will send to Pelargir and to Adrahil of Dol
Amroth to see if aught has been seen of strange ships, and I will heighten
the alerts elsewhere. Still my heart is against this. Saruman is a powerful
ally and it would not do well to be seen to be against him."
Aragorn coughed. "My lord Steward, if I may?"
"Go on, Thorongil?"
"If you remember, my lord, Mithrandir also counselled you to be wary of
Saruman. I would urge you not to stint in any action that you may take to
be certain of his good intentions. I believe Thengel King is right to be a
little suspicious, and certainly the cease in communication between
Isengard and Edoras concerns me."
"Always Mithrandir," Ecthelion said. "Why trust one old man over another?"
"Because those I have held in high esteem trust Mithrandir also," Aragorn
replied, "and although, as I said even to the lord Denethor yesternight, I
cannot claim to know him, I have been acquainted with him long enough to
have confidence in what he says."
For a moment, Ecthelion's eyes met Aragorn's, and the latter held his gaze
steady until the Steward looked away.
"Very well. I do not see that it was worth Thengel sending his First
Marshal with this, but I will see what can be found out. Thorongil, take
our guests to their quarters. I imagine they will wish to see to their
steeds. I will order the parties for Pelargir and Dol Amroth."
He waved dismissal, and they bowed and left the hall.
Outside, Léod relaxed his stiff bearing. "I see you have come to a very
different place than Edoras, Thorongil," he said in Rohirric.
"Ecthelion is a good Steward," Aragorn said, gently. "He is stern, it is
true, and often unwilling to accept counsel, but he will listen and his
people respect him."
"I am not surprised he is stern, living in this dead stone world," one of
the Riders, Aldwine, said. "How can you cope, Thorongil?"
"Here in the Tower it is quiet," Aragorn agreed, "but elsewhere the City is
alive with people, and there are gardens too. It is not all grey stone, my
friend! And here are your lodgings, I believe." He opened a door and showed
them into one of the Citadel's guesthouses, furnished simply but
comfortably. The Riders' bags were already laid at the foot of their beds.
Aragorn waited until they had changed their travel-stained garments and
laid aside their helms, and then led them to the stables where they
discovered their horses had been well cared for.
They were inspecting the rest of the stables, Léod and his companions
having expressed an interest in seeing what provision for mounts Gondor had
at her disposal, when the bell rang for the noonday meal. Aragorn took the
Rohirrim with him to his company's table, where Léod, as befitted his
position, was seated next to the captain, and Aragorn close to Alfwine and
Wulf where he could translate for them. The Guards were welcoming and warm
towards the strangers, and the meal passed quickly and in a lively fashion.
Afterwards Aragorn was forced to take his leave of the Rohirrim, but he
directed them to a guide who could show them the City whilst he went back
to his duties.
In the evening, after meals had been taken, Léod came to Aragorn's chambers
and took a seat with a deep sigh.
"We ate at the table of the Steward this evening," he said, stretching out
his legs. "Scarce a word was spoken throughout the meal in any language.
Quite unlike the board at Meduseld."
"But this is not Meduseld!" Aragorn said. "You are comparing two very
different places, Léod."
"And glad I am to live in Rohan and not Gondor," Léod returned. "I grant
that the White City is fair, and masterfully built, but it is cold and
enclosed. Instead of the warm golden sun on the roof of Thengel's house,
there is only the glint of silver like steel on the Steward's banner. I say
again, Thorongil, how can you cope?"
Aragorn shrugged. "I am not a Rohirrim, Léod, mayhap you forget that
because I rode with you for so long and speak your tongue? I am a wanderer.
I can make my home anyway, should I have to. And though a portion of my
heart rests in the North, another part yet lies here and always will." He
smiled at his guest. "But let us not talk of me. Tell me how Rohan fares.
How is the King?"
"Old," said Léod. "He leans more and more on Théoden and Éomund. It is
fortunate indeed that Théoden, though young still, will be a good and wise
king. I fear though that Thengel King will not live many more years. Yet he
is sound in his wits. I and some of the other Marshals do what we can."
"That is good," Aragorn agreed. "And abroad in the Mark? The people
prosper? The land is fertile?"
"Yes. We are stockpiling some of it at the Hornburg," Léod said, "in
preparation, in case. Every day the threat of war comes closer, and with
these foul fumes rising from Isengard, and the stories of Southerners
coming, I fear for the Riddermark. Would that Ecthelion took us more
Aragorn smiled ruefully. "He will send out his scouts and if he finds news,
he will send to Thengel. I fear that the attitude of Gondor towards Rohan
will not change soon, my friend. For Ecthelion, and I think perhaps even
more for Denethor his son, Gondor's lineage and power are still counted
greater than that of Rohan's, though Rohan has a king and Gondor . does
not, not at the moment."
"You think the king will come again?" Léod asked with lively interest. "You
think this is possible?"
Aragorn was silent for a moment before answering, and when he did speak, it
was slowly and thoughtfully. "Understand, Léod, I have the greatest respect
for Ecthelion and for his line. They have kept Gondor great through many
years of strife, and have governed well and wisely. But they are not of the
line of the Kings. If the king should come again, at some point in the
future, I believe the time will be appointed not by him and not by the
Stewards, but by fate, and an intermingling of many threads. I dare not
hope that day will ever come."
Léod smiled reassuringly. "He may yet, Thorongil, he may. Till that day, I
remain happy that I am a Rohirrim. We speak with the Steward again on the
morrow before departure; Thengel bade us return as swiftly as we may. Shall
I see you again?"
"I doubt it," Aragorn replied. "Ride safely, and send my humble service to
"I will do that. And return soon yourself, for there will always be a warm
welcome in Edoras for you, or a bed at the end of a long ride. Farewell,
They clasped hands, and Léod went out of the door. Aragorn watched as he
crossed the courtyard out of sight, and closed the door softly behind his
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