Denethor stood silent by Aragorn's side and watched the Elves arrive. At the forefront of the party were Elladan and Elrohir, bearing between them a silver banner without device; they halted and dismounted a short distance from the gate, and bowed solemnly to their foster-brother. Aragorn bowed back, and the brothers entered the City without speaking a word.
Next came a pair of tall, imposing Elves, one dark and the other fair. They too dismounted, and came to Aragorn, and bowed.
"Your Majesty," the dark one said.
"Lord Erestor," Aragorn returned. "And Lord Glorfindel. Mae govannen. May I present my Steward, Denethor."
The Elves turned to Denethor, and repeated their bows. He inclined his head, stiffly, and tried to remember where he had heard the name "Glorfindel" before.
Now a stream of Elves, male and female, came past. The King greeted many of them by name, and introduced some of them to Denethor. The Steward maintained his stiff composure, and let his face show nothing of the disquiet he felt at the sight of the Eldar.
There was a pause, and then a pair taller than the rest came forwards. Watching, Denethor saw that the King was the first to bow, and he wondered who these were. The Lord was clad in a dark green cloak, his silver hair spread over his shoulders, and in any other company he would have caught and held a watcher's attention. But the Lady at his side eclipsed him; her hair golden like the sun and her face as bright.
"My Lady," Aragorn said, a note of deep respect in his voice. "My Lord Celeborn."
"Rise, Elessar," she said, and her tone was like music. She reached out and touched the green brooch that the King was wearing this night, and she smiled. "As was foretold."
"As was foretold," he agreed, and turned to Denethor. "My lord Denethor, here are guests such as the City has not seen for an Age. Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel of Lothlórien."
The name of the dreaded Golden Wood sent a tremor through Denethor, but he bowed formally. As he straightened from the bow, he caught the Lady's gaze, and it was as if time had frozen. All was bare to her, all his doubts and fears and anger and grief. In vain he tried to wrench his eyes away from hers, but she held him too tight.
"Son of Ecthelion, you are afraid," she said, though he could not see her lips move. "Do not be. The Shadow has vanished, from Gondor and from you - let it go. Learn trust again. Let your fear pass!"
She smiled, and her grip disappeared. Denethor took one staggering step backwards, and felt Aragorn's hand on his shoulder. "Denethor!" the King said, softly.
He looked at Aragorn, and saw understanding in the other man's eyes.
"The Lady Galadriel sees far," Aragorn said, "but she sees true."
Denethor did not reply, but he looked to his side and saw the Lord and Lady making their way into the City. He drew himself together.
The Elves had now all entered the gate, save for two. Aragorn had tensed by the Steward's side and was standing tall and straight, his eyes bright. Denethor moved backwards, allowing the King to be alone in front of his City.
The Elf who came forward now bore in his hands a heavy silver sceptre. On it was mounted a single crystal, surrounded by the wings of the Númenórean Kings. As he reached Aragorn, the King went down on one knee and bowed his head.
"I bring you the Sceptre of Annúminas," the Elf said, his voice clear.
Aragorn took the sceptre, and rose. "I thank you, Lord Elrond."
Elrond smiled, a little sadly. "And I also bring you my daughter, as was promised. You are King of Gondor and Arnor, and I consent that you should wed with Arwen Undómiel, and make her your queen."
A murmur went through the crowd, and Elrond held out his hand.
She had been standing aside, a hood over her hair shadowing her face, but she pushed it back as she came to join her father. Denethor's breath caught as he saw her, fair as the evening. Gems glittered in her dark hair and her face was radiant as she looked on her betrothed; and in his turn he smiled, his eyes full of love.
Elrond took his daughter's hand, and laid it in the King's.
Aragorn looked down at Arwen, and she met his gaze. Then, the King bent and kissed his bride-to-be, and the crowd erupted in cheers. "Welcome to your city, my lady," he said, in her ear, offering her his arm.
She took it, and smiled back. "I've missed you, Estel," she said.
He brought her to Denethor, who bowed. "My lady," he said.
"Arwen, this is Denethor, my Steward."
"I am glad to meet you," Arwen returned. "I have heard much about you, my lord, from my brothers."
Denethor privately wondered whether the report from Elladan and Elrohir would have been entirely positive, but said nothing. Now Aragorn led Arwen past the Gate, and they began the climb to the Citadel.
It took a long time. The people of Minas Tirith had turned out in their hundreds to greet their new Queen. Aragorn and Arwen stopped to speak to many of them, and to accept the congratulations from all sides.
The Steward followed, and as the party went through the second gate, he managed to slip past and make his way more quickly up to the Citadel. Once there he found one of his household and made sure that the Elves had all been given quarters and food. They had, and so Denethor went to his own rooms. He closed the door, heavily, and sat down behind his desk.
Opening a drawer, Denethor pulled out a case padded with velvet, and slowly he opened it. Nestling within was an oval portrait, of a woman with a heart-shaped face, dark hair and blue eyes. He touched it gently with one finger, and laid the box down on the table. He sat and gazed, while a tear fell from the corner of his eye.
On Midsummer's Day, Aragorn and Arwen were wed. The ceremony went without a hitch, and the feast afterwards was joyful and long. There was much laughter, chiefly orchestrated by the hobbits; and ethereal Elvish singing. There were speeches, and toasts, and tears. Aragorn seemed more joyful than any there had known him, and at the same time more kingly, and the laughter of Arwen was like music.
Late in the evening, the royal couple left the festivities, and closed the door of the King's bedchamber behind them.
Aragorn took off the circlet he had been wearing throughout the day, and threw off his cloak.
"You are not tired, my love?" Arwen asked, her eyes sparkling. He caught her around the waist and kissed her.
"Very." He held her, and rested his chin on the top of her dark head. "Is this real, Arwen?"
She smiled into his shoulder. "I think so. Accept that it is."
"All my life," he said, "all my life I have been waiting for this, for you. And there have been so many moments since we left Imladris, when I thought all our hopes were failed and all my waiting had been in vain."
"They were not. It was not." Arwen lifted her face, and met her husband's eyes. "Kiss me again, Estel."
* * *
The battlements of the City were quiet; long white stretches of stone broken only by the occasional shadow of a Guardsman on watch. Denethor, a cloak wrapped around him against the evening breeze, walked slowly along the walls to the eastern embrasure. Far below him, the light from campfires burned on the Pelennor, and windows showed the flicker of candles. He had stood here on many previous nights, looking out for the return of his sons, or for a messenger - looking out over his realm.
His realm no longer. The rule of Gondor had passed into new hands. The Steward turned his head, and saw the banner of the White Tree glimmering in the moonlight at the top of the Tower of Ecthelion. He sighed, deeply, and turned back to the view over the Pelennor.
Soft footsteps broke his reverie, and he looked round to see the tall figure of the Lady Galadriel, her hair covered by a white hood.
"I do not disturb you, my lord Steward?" she asked, joining him at the wall.
"Nay, my lady."
She looked hard at him, but this time he was ready for her intrusion. Galadriel smiled. "Ah."
There was silence, while the Steward and the Lady of Lórien watched Gondor.
"I have long wished to see this sight," Galadriel said, eventually, her voice soft. "I have heard tales of the beauty of Minas Anor since she was first built, but never until now have I been able to see her for myself."
"The Tower of Guard is not the Tower of the Sun," Denethor replied.
"Their foundations are the same," the Elf said. "Great cities of Men. And you have prospered, while we have failed." She did not seem too unhappy about her verdict.
Denethor shifted, wondering how best he could make his excuses and leave.
"You need not fear for Gondor, my lord," Galadriel pursued, gently. "Aragorn's heart is true, and he loves this land well."
"I am not afraid," Denethor denied.
She laughed. "You are afraid, but only because you do not understand. You have protected Gondor well, but from the inside; Aragorn knows Gondor's neighbours, enemy and ally. Because of who he is, he understands both Man and Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. And you know Gondor's people, and Gondor's ways. Together, you can make Gondor powerful again, as powerful as she was in the days when Anárion stood here and gazed across the vale to Minas Ithil."
"Together," she echoed. "We leave Middle-earth in the best of hands."
He turned, and looked properly at her. Tall and slender she was, her face young and fair, but her eyes showing the depth of ages.
"Leave?" he asked.
"Our time is over," Galadriel said. "Soon, we will sail West, return home. This is the Age of Men. Look after this world well, son of Ecthelion." She smiled, and suddenly Denethor knew what it truly was to fear, and to love, and to respect. He bowed low.
"I will, my lady. We will."
Galadriel reached out, and touched his face. Smiling, she turned and disappeared into the night. Denethor leaned on the parapet, and thought about her words.
Aragorn and Arwen spent the day after their wedding alone together, wandering in the gardens of the City. They spoke softly of the months apart, and of the future. Arwen told her husband of the journey from Rivendell.
"We knew of Sauron's downfall," she said, twirling a white flower between her fingers. "An Eagle came, but I think Ada knew before then." Aragorn put his arm around her waist, and they sat down on a bench. "We journeyed to Lórien, and found that they had suffered incursions."
"Orcs?" Aragorn asked.
"Yes. They lost many, and the news is that Mirkwood suffered also."
"I must speak to Legolas," Aragorn said.
"Not today, Estel. Let today be for us."
"Not today," he agreed.
"Elladan and Elrohir joined us in Lothlórien," Arwen continued. "They told us of the battle at the Morannon, and of Cormallen. They said that Denethor had been resistant, at first."
Aragorn nodded, looking out at the garden. "I expected that."
"To be truthful," Arwen said, with a short laugh, "they were not exactly complimentary. They said the Steward was harsh, and cold, and that he was unreasonable to deny you for so long."
"Maybe - but that is past," Aragorn returned. "Now, we must work together." He stood up, restless. "But not today. Not today. Will you walk with me, my lady?"
She rose, and took his arm, and they strolled off together.
Denethor came to Aragorn's rooms the next morning, before the hour appointed for official proceedings in the Hall. He seemed more relaxed, somehow; more at ease as he bowed and greeted his King.
"Good morning, my lord Steward," Aragorn said. "Please, sit - I have some more papers to read through before going to the Tower."
Denethor pulled a seat up and sat, resting the rod of the Stewards across his knees. He watched Aragorn read quickly through a parchment before signing it and sealing it.
"I met the Lady Galadriel the night before last," he said, as the King put the order aside. Aragorn glanced up.
"I was ... I was scared," Denethor admitted. "When she arrived, she looked into me, it seemed - it was as if my soul was laid bare before her."
Aragorn put down the parchment he was studying, and gave Denethor his attention. "As I told you then, she sees far and she sees true. But it takes strength to endure her gaze."
"You endure it," Denethor said.
"But the first time I saw her, only for a short time," Aragorn replied. "And for less time than you. What did she say to you?"
The Steward smiled, and to Aragorn it seemed like the years were rolled back. He could not recall seeing such an expression on Denethor's face since the day of his marriage to Finduilas of Dol Amroth. It was a smile speaking of peace.
"She told me that the Elves were leaving. That this is our Age. She explained how we might work together, you and I, to make Gondor great again. That is what I had hoped, at first, but in recent days and weeks I had begun to doubt again."
"You wondered whether my allegiances lay with the Eldar," said Aragorn, "because of Arwen."
Denethor bowed his head. "I see now I was mistaken, sire. And I am sorry. I was envious of Thorongil, and I envied the captain of the Dúnedain, but I shall not envy my King, and I shall not doubt him. Not again."
"Thank you," Aragorn said softly. He stood, and offered Denethor his hand. The Steward looked at it, then rose. The two men clasped hands. "The court calls," the King said. "Will you come, my lord Steward - Denethor?"
"I will come, Aragorn," Denethor answered. "There is much to be done."
"Much to be done, but it can be done," Aragorn said. "For Gondor."
"For Gondor," Denethor agreed. Aragorn smiled, and led the way out of the door.
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.