9. The Steward and the King
Early the next morning, the first ship from Minas Tirith docked by the field, bringing fresh supplies and more tents, as well as long tables and trestles to set them on. Stepping off the ship, carrying a small bundle, and dressed in the green livery of Rohan, was a small figure, and he looked about himself as the bustle of unloading went on, a little lost. Finally, he tugged at the sleeve of one of the soldiers who had come to help with the carrying of boxes.
The soldier looked down, and smiled. “Master Perian. How may I help?”
“I’m looking for my friends,” Merry said. “Pippin, that is, Peregrin Took – a Halfling like me, only he’s in Gondor’s service – and Strider, I mean the Lord Aragorn ...”
“The King?” the soldier said. “I know where he is – this way, Master Perian.”
“The what?!” said Merry, astonished, trotting to keep up with the soldier’s long stride.
“Aye, the King,” the soldier returned, glancing down. “Our Steward swore fealty to him, only last evening. You mix with mighty men, Master.”
“Yes, well, I’m not quite sure how that happened,” Merry said. “One minute, you know, we’re setting off to Rivendell to help my cousin, and the next we’re fighting battles in the South. It’s all rather bewildering.”
“Such are the dark times we live in,” said the soldier. “But mayhap now the King has returned they will look brighter. Here we are, this is his encampment. I will leave you here, Master Perian.”
“Merry,” said Merry. “Meriadoc Brandybuck. Thank you very much.”
“Handir son of Aegnor,” the soldier said, and bowed. “The honour was mine, Master Brandybuck.”
Merry returned the bow, and watched as Handir disappeared again in the direction of the docks. He turned back to the tent in front of him, and noticed for the first time that the black standard with the White Tree was standing in front of it. He went up to one of the Dúnedain standing guard outside.
“Er ...” he began, looking up at the tall guard. “Can I, that is ...?”
The Dúnadan said gravely, “Master Brandybuck? The Chieftain left orders that should you appear, you were to be admitted.”
“Oh. Good,” said Merry. The Dúnadan lifted the tent flap. “Thank you,” Merry said, and went in.
Inside he found Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, the Man and the Dwarf in the middle of breakfast. Aragorn broke off as Merry came in, and stood up with a smile.
“Strider!” said Merry, and then stopped. “Oh. Should I be calling you something else now?”
“No, my dear hobbit,” Aragorn said, coming over to him and bending to give him a warm hug. “I am very glad to see you.”
“As are we,” Legolas said.
“It’s good to be off the water,” Merry returned. “And to be with people I really know. It smells nice here.” He put his bundle down. “Where’s Pippin?”
“In one of the healers’ tents,” said Aragorn. “But he is no longer in danger, and I believe he will be delighted to see you, Merry.”
Merry had gone pale. “I had no idea he was ever in danger – well, apart from the battle, but I’d hoped he had got through that unharmed. What happened to him?”
“He killed a troll,” Aragorn said, smiling. “A mighty deed for one so small. I rather think he was influenced by the renown of his older cousin.”
“I’m inclined to echo Gandalf,” Merry said, “and call him a fool of a Took. Was he badly hurt?”
“Squashed,” Gimli put in. “Underneath a troll is no place for a hobbit. But he’s filled out remarkably well.”
“And has already regained his appetite,” added Legolas.
“And what about Frodo and Sam?” asked Merry. “The messages said they’d been rescued. Can I see them?”
Aragorn knelt, and placed his hands on Merry’s shoulders. “You may see them, but I must warn you, Merry, they were badly hurt. They have been asleep since they were brought to us.”
Merry reached up and put his own small hand over Aragorn’s rough one. “And you’re worried they might never wake, aren’t you?” He smiled, a little sadly. “I still want to see them.”
“This way, then, Master Brandybuck,” Aragorn said, standing and picking up a piece of bread from the table. He led the way out of the tent.
Frodo and Sam were indeed still asleep. Merry stood silently and looked at them for a long time, before going and gently touching Frodo’s hand.
“Well, Frodo,” he said, “we made it. We all made it. So you hurry up and get better, now – Pippin and I have lots of tales to tell you.” He kissed the hand, and turned to Sam. “Dear old Sam,” he said, looking at Aragorn who stood just inside the tent doorway, watching silently. “I’m so glad Frodo had Sam to look after him. But the Gaffer will have a fit, unless we get some food inside this hobbit.” Merry smiled down at Sam’s sleeping face. “All right!” he said, turning to Aragorn. “Take me to Pip.”
Five minutes later there was a squeal of joy from inside one of the hospital tents, and those working nearby looked up with indulgent smiles.
Aragorn spent the rest of the morning seeing people who had come to speak to him about a myriad of matters. Most of them were awkward, not knowing how to deal with his sudden transition from Ranger captain to acknowledged King. For his part, Aragorn did not want to contradict any orders previously given by Denethor, and towards noon he dismissed one of the captains who had come to find out about work for his men, and crossed the field to Denethor’s tent. The Steward had not yet emerged, but there was a Guard outside who, after hastily bowing, confirmed that Denethor was awake.
Aragorn coughed before lifting the tent flap and looking in.
“My lord Steward?”
Denethor was seated on his cot, staring emptily into space, but he started as Aragorn spoke, looked up and then stood up, suppressing a grimace and putting his hand to his ribs.
“Sit down!” said Aragorn, seeing the grimace. “Your ribs are not healed yet.”
The Steward stood for a moment, his eyes hooded, and then slowly he sat down again.
“I did not get a chance to speak to you last night,” Aragorn began.
“To strip me of my office?” Denethor said, his voice low and harsh.
“No. No!” Aragorn said. “My lord ...” He broke off, and then tried again. “My lord Steward, that office will be yours, and your heirs’, as long as my own line lasts. As the Kings of old ruled with a Steward at their right hand, so shall I.” He paused. “There is too much here for one man to do alone; much to be set right even before we return to the City. I need your help. I came to ask you for that help, my lord.”
Denethor looked up, steel grey eyes meeting sea-grey. “And though you do not ask, you want to know why I suddenly made my decision?”
Aragorn held the other’s gaze, and nodded. “It cannot have been an easy one.”
“Nobody remembers the Kings,” Denethor said, slowly, haltingly. “None save your foster-brothers, that is. All we have are dusty documents that nobody reads.” He shrugged. “But we have tales, told to us by the loremasters, about the glory of the Kings of old. How they founded the City, and made Gondor great, great and feared, before falling. I have never believed that a King could return. When you came to Minas Tirith, all those years ago, my father and I guessed you were of Anárion’s line. That Isildur’s Heir still lived, that the line was unbroken, we did not guess. Or we did not want to believe it,” he amended, after a pause. “And I did not believe that someone who could claim the throne would come and then leave us, and so I concluded the throne was not yours to claim. My father trusted you, loved you, even – and for that, I admit, I was jealous.”
Aragorn sat down, but said nothing. Denethor fiddled with the Steward’s ring on his finger. “Then you returned. You fought for the City whilst I despaired. At the Black Gate, I despaired again. I felt all the long years of care upon my shoulders, the loss of my son – but we won. Because of two small creatures with courage befitting the bravest knight of Gondor. And because when the battle needed to be ordered, you did not lose your nerve. Afterwards, I sat and watched you work tirelessly, and I realised that you did care. Not for Gondor’s glory or your own, but for her people. It was the right thing to do.”
“I thank you,” Aragorn said. “I will endeavour to serve Gondor’s people to the utmost of my ability.” He smiled, and rose. “Now, my lord Steward, tasks call us. Will you come?”
Denethor stopped fiddling with his ring, and looked up at his companion. For a moment, Aragorn was afraid he would not come, and then the Steward stood.
“What needs doing?” he asked.
A table was set up outside Aragorn’s tent and the two banners stood side by side behind it, fluttering in the gentle breeze. Dúnedain and Guardsmen hurried around the field, following the orders of the Steward and the King as they consulted each other and the other commanders on urgent matters.
As the afternoon drew on, one of the Dúnedain came up, bowed, and said: “My lords, the Haradric captain is asking for an audience.”
“Bring him here,” Aragorn said. He turned to Denethor. “They surrendered of their own free will, and aided our men in clearing the battlefield.”
“What would you do with them?” the Steward questioned.
“Let us see what they have to say about that first,” Aragorn said, as Almet arrived, escorted by a Guard.
The Haradrim bowed. “My lords,” he said in Westron.
“I hope your wounded are healing,” Aragorn said, in Haradric, which earned him a startled glance from Denethor.
“Two more have died,” Almet returned, “but the rest fare better. I thank you for the medicines, lord.”
“Have you buried the dead?” asked Aragorn.
“We said the words of departure,” Almet said. Aragorn translated briefly for Denethor.
“And what would he now?” Denethor said, and Aragorn turned to the Haradric captain.
“Where would you go now, Almet?” he asked.
“We would return to Harad,” said the captain. “Many of my men have families, children, wives. But would this be permitted?”
“It is long since Harad was Gondor’s ally,” Aragorn said. “How can I be sure that when you return home, you keep the peace?” He looked hard at Almet, who broke the gaze after a moment. “You would tell me that is not your oath to make, am I right?”
Almet bowed his head.
The Steward tapped his fingers on the table, and Aragorn glanced at him.
“You should send an embassy south,” Denethor suggested. “A force strong enough to show Gondor’s strength, and an ambassador to speak with the leaders of Harad and Umbar. Those Haradrim with family could travel with our men, the rest remain in Gondor.”
“A good plan,” Aragorn agreed. “But they cannot go yet. Six months, maybe, would give us some indication of Harad’s allegiances now Sauron has fallen.”
Denethor approved this with a nod, and made a note on the parchment before him in his careful hand.
“Our judgement is this,” Aragorn said to Almet. “For six months you, your men, and any others of your people who surrender to me, will remain in Gondor as our prisoners. You will work to restore some of the evil you have done under Sauron. After six months an embassy shall ride south, and some of you may return home then. The rest will stay until treaties between Gondor and Harad have been formed. You shall be guarded, but have freedom to observe your customs.”
Almet listened, and when Aragorn had finished speaking he put his hands together and bowed. “The King is merciful, and I thank you.”
Aragorn returned the salute, and the Haradrim left them.
As night fell, Denethor rose and carefully stretched.
“Do your injuries pain you?” Aragorn asked.
The Steward shook his head. “No.” He paused, and nodded. “Aye; somewhat, if I am to be truthful.”
“Then rest!” said Aragorn. “Peace is come, and we can continue our business tomorrow.” Denethor looked like he was going to protest, or refuse, but suddenly he smiled.
“I will do as my king commands.”
Aragorn returned the smile. “I do not want a Steward too fatigued to do his office.” They exchanged bows, and Denethor walked slowly away across the field.
Sitting back in his chair, Aragorn yawned and looked up at the night sky.
“Someone’s been working too hard,” observed a voice from nearby.
“And pretending he is not tired,” added another. Aragorn looked round, and Elladan and Elrohir appeared from behind his tent. “Estel,” said Elrohir.
“Being King does not suit you,” Elladan said, taking Denethor’s empty seat. “Arwen will not like it if you are too tired to perform husbandly duties.”
“I am too tired for brotherly jokes,” Aragorn returned. “The lord Denethor and I have spent all afternoon giving orders and being polite to each other.”
“We saw,” said Elladan. “How goes it?”
Aragorn sat up, and began to organise the parchments on the table into orderly piles. “We are too alike to like each other; and there is too much resentment on his part. But I believe we can come to respect one another, and we have a common aim.”
“Gondor!” Elrohir said. He started helping Aragorn with the parchments. “Well, for Gondor’s sake, we think you should rest. In our official capacities as Court Healers, of course. Sleep!”
Standing, Aragorn smiled at the brethren. “I will. Thank you.” Elrohir passed him the bundle of orders, and taking them Aragorn ducked inside his tent. As he put the parchments down on a small table, and began to take off his boots, he heard the light-hearted bickering fade away. Smiling again to himself, he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.
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.