21. The Last Debate
Merry sat upright. “No!”
“Yes!” Pippin grinned. “It seems they use it as medicine here.”
His cousin shook his head. “Men are curious creatures.”
“I agree.” Pippin hoisted himself onto the big bed, handed a plate to Merry and then helped himself to a mug and a slice of bread and marmalade. “Now, tell me the rest of it. How did you get here if Theoden wanted you to stay in Rohan?”
“Eowyn brought me.” Merry answered around a forkful of ham. “She had some sort of understanding with the rest of the troop. They pretended she was just another Rider and acted like they couldn’t see me at all.” He shivered. “I’ve never been so scared in my life as when we came over the hill and saw the city burning and that huge army of Orcs all around it.
“But you were in the charge?”
“Oh yes.“ Merry frowned. “I don’t know what came over me. The Riders were all shouting ‘Death’, even Eowyn, and all of a sudden I was shouting right along with them and I wasn’t scared any more I just wanted to get down there and kill some Orcs!“ he shrugged “So we did. We even brought down one of those Oliphants, Eowyn and I, but then another one fell right on top of us. Our poor horse must have been squashed flat and I thought I was going to be too but it just missed me.
“I think I blacked out for a minute or two. When I came around my eyes and my nose were full of dirt and there was no sign of Eowyn anywhere. I pulled myself together, crawled clear of the Oliphant, and then I saw her.” he shivered again. “A Nazgul had her by the throat and I heard it telling her no Man could kill it.”
Pippin grinned. “But you’re not a Man - and neither is she.”
“No.” Merry agreed. “But I didn’t think of that at the time, just that I had to do something to help Eowyn. So I stabbed the thing in the back of the leg. Not a very gallant blow I’m afraid but it did the job. It dropped her and fell to its knees. My sword vanished in a flash of light and this horrible cold shock travelled up my arm and knocked me flat on my back.
“Eowyn pulled off her helmet. ‘I am no Man.’ she said to the Nazgul and then she stabbed it right where its face would have been if it had one. Her sword disappeared too and she sort of staggered back with this stunned look on her face. And the Nazgul just went to pieces, crumpled up and collapsed in a heap at her feet with this terrible wailing sound, like when Lightfoot killed those Barrow Wights, until there was nothing left of it but a black robe and some bits of metal..
“Eowyn fell down in a swoon and I dragged myself over to her. She was breathing but she looked like death and her arm was all cold, just like mine. Then I saw that she was lying on the legs of the King’s horse, it was dead poor thing, and King Theoden was pinned under it. At first I thought he was dead too, but then he opened his eyes and looked at me. ‘Meriadoc?’ he said, like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
“’Yes, Lord,’ I answered. ’forgive me for disobeying your command.’
“But he wasn’t angry at all; ‘It is forgiven.’ he said. ‘Great heart will not be denied.’ of course by now I was crying so hard I could hardly see. ‘Tell Eowyn not to grieve. I have died as becomes a King of the Mark. A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!’
“I couldn’t bring myself to tell him she was lying wounded just a few feet away. He closed his eyes and I staggered off to get help for him and for Eowyn. But I didn’t get very far before this Southron attacked me. I killed him with the Lady’s dagger but he fell right on top of me - and I don’t remember anything after that until you found me.”
“That wasn’t just any Nazgul you killed but their chief, the Witch King himself.” Pippin told him. “He was the one who stabbed Frodo on Weathertop.”
Merry’s eyes widened. “You don’t say. Well I am glad! we owed him one for poor Frodo.” he took another gulp of his tea and asked: “So what happens now?”
Pippin shrugged. “No idea. That’s for Aragorn and Gandalf and the other grand people to decide. But of course we’re just a sideshow. Frodo is the one who matters.”
Merry’s face darkened. “And we have no idea what’s happening to him - or even if he’s still alive.”
Pippin grinned. “Oh yes we do! Faramir, that’s Boromir’s brother, met Frodo and Sam alive and well in Ithilien not quite a week ago!”
“No, really?” Merry exclaimed delightedly.
“Yes really!” Pippin’s broad grin faded a little. “That’s the good news. The not so good news is he was travelling with Gollum and they were going to try to get into Mordor by a very dangerous route.”
“I don’t suppose there are any safe ones.” said Merry. “But what’s he doing with Gollum of all people?”
“According to Faramir Frodo’s taken him as his guide. He, Faramir that is, didn’t like that much and neither did Gandalf. I just hope Frodo knows what he’s doing.”
“He usually does.” said Merry.
Pippin sighed. “That’s what I keep telling myself.” A bell tolled three times and he quickly crammed the last bit of bread and marmalade into his mouth and finished his tea with a gulp. “Nine o’clock! I have to report for duty now, Merry, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The door closed behind him, then reopened. “I almost forgot,” Pippin said peeking around it, “the healer told me Strider said you can get up if you feel like it, and have a stroll in the garden they have here.”
“Maybe later.” said Merry. “Thanks, Pip.”
“So long.” the door closed.
Merry reached for his pipe and began to pensively fill it with the last plug of Longbottom leaf . The lad who’d just left was definitely not the same Peregrin Took who’d looked so forlorn and frightened when they’d said good-bye in Rohan - and it wasn’t just those grand black and silver clothes either.
“I do believe you’ve grown up at last, Pip.” Merry said softly to himself.
Idril sat at a small writing table in the mistress’ morning room of her north side townhouse reading a sheaf of scribbled reports and lists from the guildmasters and provosts of the City while a lark sang in the garden outside her window.
A surprising number of survivors had been discovered in the lower City. Citizens and soldiers alike, cut off from retreat to the upper circles, had taken refuge from fire and foes in the network of cellars, subcellars, tunnels and drains that honeycombed the foundations of Minas Tirith. And the Great Gatehouse’s garrison had, incredibly, managed to hold out while the rest of the City defenses went down around them. Idril made a note recommending their valor be recognized and rewarded - by somebody.
She was uncertain exactly who ruled the City now; the new King, or Hurin as acting Steward, or Imrahil as head of the Council of Nobles. Or, for that matter, of her own status; Was she still Lady of Gondor? Probably not - but she intended to carry on until formally relieved of her duties. It would be scarcely fair to turn them over to the new Queen with the realm in such disorder.
If the loss of life had turned out to be lighter than their first fears the same could not be said for the material damages. Fire had destroyed the homes and possessions of the City‘s humbler denizens, who lived for the most part in the first and second circles, as well as their workshops and tools and stockpiles of goods, also the rich shops of the third circle. The great public buildings in the first circle; the Guildhalls, and City Hall and the Courts had been gutted and the Pelannor fields swept clean with not a wall or even a tree left standing. How they were to make good these losses, not to mention pay for the rebuilding Idril did not know. Assuming of course they survived long enough to attempt it. Mordor had been repulsed but not defeated. There was still a good chance they would be called upon to die gallantly in a final defense of the world of Men. She sighed; certainly that would be much simpler than trying to remake it.
The door opened and Faelivrin looked in, face bright with smiles. “Pharinzil is awake, my Lady.”
At last a bit of good news.
“A shining lady, all in white, called me back.” Pharinzil was telling Luinil and Annalind earnestly from her bed in the small middle room off the courtyard. “But I don’t know who she was.”
“That was the Queen.” said Idril from the doorway.
“Queen?” Pharinzil echoed blankly. “I don’t understand, my Lady, what Queen?”
“Our Queen, the Queen of Gondor.” Idril laughed aloud at her maiden’s bewildered look. “Poor, Pharinzil, you missed everything. Well, that will teach you not to let yourself get knocked on the head!”
The girl stared at her incredulous, and then looked questioningly at Faelivrin, who could only shrug a little in reply. This kind of badinage was most unlike the mistress they were familiar with, but her maidens were at loss to explain the change.
Idril couldn’t entirely explain it herself. Her father was horribly and dishonorably dead, her City lay in ruins and she was like to lose her rank - but somehow these things weighed feather light against the hope the Returned King had brought with him. And the fact that Faramir was going to live.
Egalmoth, grain merchant of the fifth circle, almost failed to recognize the ragged, soot blackened Man standing in front of his house looking upward at the citadel - then he did and swept his son-in-law into a relieved embrace.
“Gwindor, thank the Valar! We’d feared you were dead.”
“Not quite, not yet anyway.” the younger Man answered with a weary smile. “I’ve been fighting fires half the night - and spent the morning salvaging what I can from my shop.”
Egalmoth let him go. “It burned of course.”
Gwindor nodded. “Still I am more fortunate than my neighbors. Gold and jewels can withstand fire, as silks and spices cannot.”
“Nor grain.” Egalmoth agreed grimly. “I haven’t been down to my warehouses in the first circle yet - but I know very well what I’ll find.”
His son-in-law looked again up at the citadel, shook his head. “I do not understand.”
Egalmoth looked too, and blinked in surprise; the blue banner of Dol Amroth flew above the Hall of the Kings, not the White Tree as he had expected.
“The King did return, didn’t he, it wasn’t just a dream?” Gwindor asked.
His father-in-law smiled a little. “He was no dream, believe me - if not quite what we’d have expected.” he looked again at the blue banner and felt a chill of fear. The King had come - but what if he hadn’t stayed?
“But why is the Prince’s banner flying over the citadel rather than the King’s?” Angbor of Lebennin (1) demanded of Hurin as they, and Ciryandil of Pelargir, entered the Fountain Court.
“Because the King would have it so.” Hurin answered grimly. “He remembers too well Gondor’s long rejection of Isildur’s line and will not understand that times and hearts have changed.”
“He fears opposition even after saving the City?” Ciryandil asked incredulously.
“Why not.” said Angbor quietly. “We turned on Tarondor didn’t we?” (2)
They found three of the surviving Outland Captains awaiting them in the council chamber: Duinhir of Morthond, Devorin of the Ringlo Vale and Golasgil of Anfalas. Angbor took the small figure in the window seat for a young page at first glance, but a second showed that he was nothing of the kind.
Hurin, seeing his perplexed stare, explained. “This is my esquire, Peregrin son of Paladin of the land of the Halflings. A very valiant Man.”
The Halfling straightened abruptly from his bow to give his Lord a chiding look. “I am no Man but a Hobbit,” he said firmly, “and no more valiant than I am a Man, save perhaps now and again out of necessity.”
Angbor laughed. “Many a doer of great deeds might say no more, Little Master.”
Hurin smiled too. “I beg your pardon, Peregrin, no offense was intended.”
The King arrived shortly thereafter. He stood in the doorway with a lovely Elf-woman in worn and stained riding dress at his side. He himself was clad in dusty green leathers but the Captains barely noticed his garb. As Thorongil he had hidden his power but he wasn’t hiding it now; it blazed from him as light and heat blaze from the sun, striking the waiting Men both dumb and motionless.
Mithrandir, Imrahil and Eomer of Rohan moved to join the other Captains at the table but the King hesitated a long moment before taking his place at its head. He stood before the great chair, backed by two tall Dunedain with the star of the North Kingdom on their shoulders, and swept the Men before him with a stern look from silver bright eyes.
“Some of you will remember me as Thorongil.” he said in that soft yet carrying voice. “My true name is Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur’s Heir and Chieftain of the Dunedain of the North. I have come in this dark hour not to press old claims but to join Gondor in her war against the common foe. Sauron and Sauron alone is the enemy.”
He surveyed the dazed faces of the Men before him and seemed satisfied he’d made his point. He sat down and, after a stunned moment, they followed suit. He looked at Mithrandir.
“My Lords, the late Steward spoke truly when he said: ‘against the power that has now arisen there is no victory’ for he had looked into the stone of Anor and not even Sauron can make the seeing stones lie.” said the wizard. “Yet I do not bid you to despair as he did. Victory cannot be gained by force of arms - this we all know. But there is still hope of victory. What you have heard is true, the One Ring has been found but it is not yet in Sauron’s hands, nor is it in ours. In wisdom or great folly it has been sent away, even into Mordor itself, to be destroyed lest it destroy us. We must at all costs keep the Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms but by arms we can give the Ringbearer his chance.
“Sauron now knows for certain that which he has long feared.” The King said quietly. “An Heir of Isildur, who defeated him of Old, still lives and the sword that was broken has been reforged. I mean to challenge him, face to face, and to march with whatever following I can gather on the Black Gates.” He smiled grimly. “I am a bait he cannot resist.”
“Sauron fears the King of Men.” Mithrandir agreed. “He will send out all his power to defeat and take Isildur’s Heir. And we must walk open eyed into the trap, with courage but small hope for ourselves. Even if the Ringbearer succeeds and Barad-dur is thrown down we still may all perish in black battle far from the living lands.”
“This I deem to be my duty as Elendil‘s Heir.” said the King. “And according to my oath to the Ringbearer - to protect him with my life or my death. But I do not claim to command any Man. Let you choose as you will.”
“I’ll go with you, Strider.” a light voice said promptly. It was the Halfling squire, deathly pale but resolute. “Sauron thinks I have the Ring. If he sees you have me along he won’t bother to look for it anywhere else.”
Mithrandir made as if to protest but the King silenced him with a sharp gesture. “Good thinking, Peregrin.” he said warmly. ”The sight of the supposed Ringbearer in the livery of Gondor will indeed give Sauron pause.”
The Halfling managed to smile back. Clearly he knew very well what he was risking. Hurin had not exagerated when he praised his valor.
“The King has spoken.” said Hurin. “Gondor follows, what more is there to say?”
But the King shook his head. “No Hurin. I have told you that I demand no allegiance.”
“And yet you have it unasked.” said Duinhir of Morthond..
“My Lord, my Men did not march for Minas Tirith at the behest of a Captain of Rangers.” Angbor told him firmly.
“Nor did mine.” said Ciryandil. “We have come to follow and serve the Returned King.
Then it was Hurin‘s turn again. “My very dear and stubborn Lord,” He said with both affection and exasperation, “what will it take to convince you that the only Man in Gondor like to oppose the return of the King lies dead by his own hand?”
The King rubbed his eyes, seeming suddenly weary. “We cannot afford division in our ranks, not now.”
“My Lord,” said Duinhir, “giving us a King to rally around will not make for divisions - far from it!”
He gave them another long, considering look, then slowly nodded. “Very well then. I would have chosen to leave this matter to the days of peace, should they come, but if you will have it so then I will declare myself now. In the high tongue of old I am Elessar, the Elfstone, and Envinyatar, the Renewer. Elendil‘s heir of Arnor and Gondor, and by right of blood your King.”
“How splendid.” the Halfling Peregrin beamed at them from his window seat. “Congratulations Strider!”
A rustle of amusement passed over the Men at the council table. Imrahil of Dol Amroth laughed aloud. “It is we who are to be congratulated, Master Peregrin. But is ‘Strider’ a fit name for a King?”
“It will be the name of my house, if I live to found one.” Elessar said with a smile for his small friend. “And it will sound fairer in Quenya; ’Telcontar’ I will be, and all the heirs of my body.
‘Hail Elessar Telcontar, King of Gondor!” said Hurin. “And now, what are the King’s commands?”
“I mean to march in two days, no more,” said Elessar. “And I will take with me only Men who go willingly, knowing their peril.”
Imrahil smiled. “I misdoubt there is a Man in Gondor who would not follow the King to whatever end. Yet the City must not be left undefended, for I hear from King Eomer that there is an army still unfought upon our northern flank.
The young King of Rohan frowned. “If we must ride soon, then I cannot hope to lead even two thousands and yet leave as many for the defense of the City.
“I have brought four thousand Men with me.” said Angbor. “And Ciryandil has one or two thousands more?” he looked questioningly at the shipmaster beside him.
“Little over one thousand when I left the Harlond dock,” he said. “but they were still coming, as many as could find a craft in which to follow the King up the River.”
“We could lead out seven thousands of horse and foot and still leave the City better defended than it was.” Elessar said crisply. “Seven thousand then I will take if we can find so many willing.”
“We should go mostly afoot for the no-man’s lands are an evil country for horses. Eomer, I would have the main part of your Riders remain behind to guard the western road against the army in Anorien and we must send out riders to scout the lands north and eastward.” the King glanced over his shoulder at the grey cloaked Dunedain at his right hand. “Halladan?”
“It will be done, Dundadan.”
“Hurin, I charge you with the defense of the City.”
The Man made a move as if to protest, checked himself, then grinned. “Revenging yourself, Dunadan?”
The King smiled in reply. “A little perhaps. But I wish also to leave my City, and my Queen, in safe hands.” at that the Men’s eyes turned to the Elven lady ensconced in one of the window seats. “But I forget, not all of you know my wife, Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Elrond Half-Elven, twin brother to Elros Tar-Minyatur.”
The Captains rose up and bowed to the Queen, who smiled graciously in reply.
The King also stood. “Go now and choose your Men, but remember I want only those who are willing and understand what they risk.”
“This is the last move in a great jeopardy,” Mithrandir said gravely. “and for one side or the other it will bring the end of the game.”
1. I know the book calls him Lord of Lamedon but that just doesn’t make sense. Why would the Lord of an upland dale be defending a coastal city? More to the point the folk of Lamedon apparently don’t have a lord since their men come to Minas Tirith without a Captain.
2. This is a bit of my own history making: Tarondor was the seventh king of Arnor - 515 to 602 - but his name means ‘King of Gondor, an odd choice you’ll agree. As his reign and his father’s coincide with the first Easterling attacks on Gondor I have postulated that King Ostoher of Gondor (411- 492) appealed to Tarcil of Arnor (435-515) for aid, (Gondor still being young and poor at that time) and for a short time the kingdoms were reunited with the High King’s Heir, Tarondor, co-ruling the southern realm with Ostoher and his successor Tarostar. However once the danger was past Tarostar ousted Tarondor, who fled back to Arnor, and established himself as sole ruler taking the name ‘Romendacil’ meaning ‘east victor’ but was slain in battle against the Easterlings shortly afterwards.
This scenario is based on an early version of the rejection of Isildur’s Line by Gondor found in the HoME.
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.