13. The White Tree
“I will endeavour to serve my King and my country to the utmost of my ability,” Denethor said.
Aragorn beckoned Faramir forwards from his place at the side of the room. “Faramir, son of Denethor; you have long been a Ranger in Ithilien, and have kept that land safe from harm. For this, I thank you. And I give you Ithilien as your domain, and name you Prince of it. For the Stewards’ Heirs shall now be Princes of Ithilien, until they take up their fathers’ posts in the City.” Faramir, speechless, knelt and Aragorn placed a silver circlet on his hair. “I know you love the woods of Ithilien,” he said softly, raising the younger man up. “Denethor gave me his approval. I trust you will be happy there.”
“Thank you, sire,” Faramir said. He glanced at Denethor, who gave him a nod with raised eyebrows, and the new Prince turned back to the King. “My lord, I must ask you one boon. I have asked the Lady Éowyn of Rohan to be my wife, and she consents. Will you bless our marriage?”
“If the Steward and King Éomer have given their approval,” Aragorn said, “then surely you do not need my blessing also?”
“Need, maybe not,” Faramir said, “but we would wish it, my liege.”
“With all my heart,” Aragorn said, sincerely. “I am glad she has found you, and you her, Faramir.”
“My lord.” Faramir bowed, and moved back to stand behind his father. Aragorn glanced at the parchment list on a small table by his side, and looking out into the hall called: “Beregond of the Guard!”
Later that day, when court matters had been dealt with, Faramir accompanied his father back to the Steward’s chambers, where Denethor laid down his rod of office wearily.
“My lord, why did you not tell me about Ithilien?” Faramir asked, taking a seat by the hearth.
Denethor went to the window and opened it, looking out. “I do not know.” He turned, and sat down. “I also do not know if your Lady of Rohan will like the woodlands.”
Frowning, Faramir adjusted the circlet on his head, and then took it off. “I suppose we shall have to restore Emyn Arnen. I cannot ask Éowyn to live in Henneth Annûn.”
The Steward stood up again, and Faramir watched him, wondering why his father was so restless. He knew better than to ask, however, and waited, running the delicate metal of his circlet through his fingers. Denethor paced the room, and went to a chest in the corner. He paused, before lifting out a bundle wrapped in linen.
“Faramir,” he said, crossing back and laying the bundle on the table, “you are my heir now, and by rights, this belongs to you.”
Faramir reached out to unwrap the object, laying the material out to reveal the two halves of a broken horn. “Boromir,” he breathed.
“Aye, Boromir’s horn,” his father said. “I shall grieve for him until the end of my days.”
“As shall I, father.”
“But you are my heir. Bear it well, in memory of your brother.”
Picking up the horn, Faramir fitted the two pieces together, and then slowly took them apart again. “I will never wind it, but it will be forever an heirloom of our house.”
* * *
In the evening, the captains ate together, the conversation mainly revolving around Harad and Umbar and the potential problems of forging peace with them. Aragorn listened to the talk, offering opinions and explaining the occasional point of Southron etiquette, but on the whole he was silent. At the end of the meal, Éomer rose to go, but first came to speak to him.
“You seem preoccupied, my lord Aragorn.”
“You at least will surely appreciate the preoccupation, Éomer,” Aragorn said. “Inheriting a kingdom is tiring business.”
“It is not just that, though,” Éomer returned. He looked hard at his friend, and then shook his head. “If I have learnt one thing about you, my lord, it is that you will say what you want when you want. I shall not press you.”
Aragorn nodded, and smiled briefly. “Thank you.”
Éomer disappeared, striding briskly out of the hall.
Now only Aragorn, Denethor and Faramir were left. The younger man got up to go, bowing, but Aragorn asked him to wait. Faramir sat down again.
“I suppose that Éowyn told you ...” Aragorn began, and uncharacteristically tailed off.
“I know she admired you, my lord,” Faramir said. “That maybe, indeed, she loved you, in a way. But she said that you seemed not to return her feelings.”
“No, I did not,” Aragorn said. “I owe it to you both, to my Steward and his heir, to tell you that tomorrow my brothers leave Minas Tirith. They are riding north, to accompany Lord Elrond and his daughter back here. I am betrothed to the Lady Arwen – she will be my queen, and I hope, in time, the mother of my heirs.” Denethor said nothing. “Elrond told me that we would only ever be wed if I became King,” Aragorn went on. “In marrying me, Arwen will give up her chance to sail West, with her father.”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Faramir watched Denethor, and said nothing. The Steward turned his signet ring on his finger.
“I find it interesting that you mention this only now,” Denethor said, eventually. “Were you perhaps afraid that I would not concede if I knew these ... conditions ... existed? How long have you been betrothed?”
“Some forty years,” Aragorn said. “After leaving the City, I travelled to Lothlórien, where Arwen was living at that time. But I have loved her since I was twenty, and first learned of my lineage.” He looked at Denethor. “If you doubt my loyalty to the City and to Gondor, my lord Steward, then you are mistaken. My claim is legitimate, I am Gondor’s rightful king, as well you know.”
“But you did not tell me of this at Cormallen,” Denethor returned, his voice cold.
“I did not expect you to swear fealty at Cormallen,” Aragorn said, and gone was the uncertainty he had shown only moments earlier. “In a matter of weeks, my lord, Arwen and I will be wed. That is all.”
Denethor stood up, and faced his king for a brief second before turning on his heel and striding out of the chamber.
Faramir jumped to his feet, his face horror-stricken, and seemed torn between chasing his father and begging for Aragorn’s forgiveness. He chose the latter, and sank down on one knee before the King.
“My liege,” he said, but Aragorn cut him off.
“Faramir, rise. Your father and I will be arguing about one matter or another until the end of our days. Remember he was my lord before I was ever his.”
Faramir stood, and sat down again. He gulped down some wine and regained his composure.
“Nevertheless, my liege, I am sorry for my father’s behaviour. And I must congratulate you on your forthcoming wedding.”
“It is a day I never dared hope for,” Aragorn admitted. He rose, and stretched. “And there will be much to prepare. These are guests such as the City has not seen for an Age.”
“I will help in any way I can,” Faramir said.
The King nodded, and gripped Faramir’s shoulder quickly. “I know, and I thank you.”
They left the hall together, in companionable silence.
* * *
Aragorn put his hand to the sapling, and pulled gently. To his surprise it came away from the dry slope of the mountain easily, and he brushed soil from the roots and lifted it.
“Let us return to the City,” he said, a light in his face.
Gandalf nodded, and together they set off back down towards Minas Tirith, golden in the dawn.
In the Courtyard of the Fountain, Aragorn laid the sapling carefully down on the flagstones. “Guard it, with your very life, Mithrandir,” he said.
The wizard smiled broadly, and settled down on the edge of the fountain, his staff propped in front of him. “Do you mean to plant it now, Aragorn?”
Aragorn shot back a parting smile and strode away.
Sam was deeply asleep when the King entered his room and bent down to shake his shoulder.
“Sam. Wake up, Sam!”
“‘S’not time to get up, Dad,” Sam murmured. “The cock hasn’t crowed yet.”
“Sam, it’s Strider,” Aragorn said. “Wake up, I need you.”
The hobbit’s eyes came open, and he peered up at Aragorn. “Mr Strider? What time is it?”
“Early,” said Aragorn, “but I have a task for you, Master Gardener. Go and meet Gandalf by the fountain when you are dressed. I promise it will be worth your while.”
Sam nodded, and pushed back the covers.
A Guard, standing by the door of the Citadel, snapped quickly to attention as he saw the King hurrying towards him.
“Good morning!” Aragorn said. “Can you go and find a shovel, and take it to the Courtyard?”
“Your Majesty?” the Guard said, clearly confused.
“Thank you,” Aragorn said, and disappeared inside the Citadel.
He went to Faramir’s room first, tapping on the door, and as he had hoped the younger man answered quickly. He was pulling a robe on, and looked tired but alert.
“My lord?” he said, on seeing Aragorn. “Is something wrong?”
“Everything is wonderful, Faramir,” Aragorn returned. “Get dressed, and go to Mithrandir in the Courtyard.”
Faramir’s forehead creased, but he bowed his head and turned to get dressed.
Aragorn went on to Denethor’s chambers, and knocked. From inside came an irritated cough, and then: “Enter.”
Pushing open the door, Aragorn saw that the Steward was up, dressed in a tunic and leggings, working. A candle was burning low, and Denethor was writing quickly, his quill scratching across the paper.
“What is it?” he asked, without looking up.
“Good news, my lord Steward,” Aragorn said, and Denethor glanced around and then stood.
“It is early,” he said, and then looked the King up and down. Aragorn was wearing his travel-stained Ranger clothes, his boots still muddy. “Yet I see you have been out already.”
“Will you come?” Aragorn asked, by way of response.
Denethor reached for a cloak, and followed Aragorn out and down to the Courtyard. Faramir and Sam were already there, as was a shovel. Sam was awestruck as he tenderly felt the leaves and bark of the sapling, and he looked up as the King and his Steward arrived.
“It’s beautiful, Mr Strider.”
“With that I concur,” Faramir added, his own eyes bright with unshed tears.
Aragorn lifted the sapling from the ground, and held it up. “My lord Steward – a sapling, of the line of Nimloth.”
Denethor reached out and brushed a leaf with his finger, and then drew his hand back sharply. “How?”
“Mithrandir took me up to Mindolluin, ere daybreak,” Aragorn explained, “and there we found it. I have called you here to witness its planting – and I have called Samwise Gamgee here to plant it, as he is the best gardener I know.”
“A White Tree, in bloom,” Denethor murmured.
Aragorn nodded, and handed the Steward the shovel. “I beg you, Denethor, take out the old tree. We will lay it in honour in Rath Dínen, in memory of the days that are gone.”
Gripping the shovel, Denethor carefully dug around the roots of the dead tree, and with exhortations from Sam to be gentle, they pulled it up. Reverentially the White Tree of Gondor, that had stood in the Courtyard of the Citadel for so long, was taken and laid close to the fountain. Now King Elessar lifted the blooming sapling. Sam made a hole, his hands smoothing the earth aside expertly and tenderly, and the new tree was planted.
Sam scooped some water from the fountain and sprinkled it around the roots before they patted the earth back, making sure the tree was standing straight and tall. In the fresh air of the new day it gave off a sweet scent.
“There,” said Sam, with satisfaction. “Now make sure it’s watered, Mr Strider, but not too much, and it’ll grow strong and tall.”
“Thank you, Sam,” Aragorn said gravely. “I will.”
“May Yavanna watch over you,” said Gandalf, laying a hand on the trunk, and smiling softly.
They stood in silence, gazing at the tree, as the sun rose over Gondor.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.