23. The Palantir
Aragorn knew very well what Pippin had sensed by instinct; to speak to the Dark Lord was to open your mind to him. And he knew too that Sauron was not seeing the weary, unkempt Ranger that was his physical form but something altogether more threatening; the fierce white light of the power of the King of Men unveiled.
Sauron’s will battered against his hard held silence. “Who are you? Who are you?”
He answered not in words but with an image: Himself, Anduril burning in his hand, ascending the throne of Gondor. And he felt the Dark Lord’s mind explode in rage - and fear.
A whirlwind of threats tore at Aragorn’s silence. Images of death and destruction; Minas Tirith in flames, the butchered bodies of his friends, and Arwen - Arwen lying pale and dead, half covered by dry brown leaves.
His spirit reeled and almost faltered - but not quite. Coldly, deliberately, he formed an image of his own: Of Isildur cutting the Ring from the Dark Lord’s hand, of the mere Man who had brought him down just as victory was in his grasp. Sauron writhed in an agony of shame and denial and Aragorn, gathering his strength, sliced the Palantir free from his will as cleanly as Isildur had severed him from his power an Age ago.
The crystal went dark, clear and cool and empty. An instrument waiting to be used. Aragorn buried his face in shaking hands. The image of Arwen’s death had pierced him to the soul. For that would happen now and nothing he could do would change it. Win or lose Aragorn knew that he was going to die, and his death would now be hers as well. He spent a moment bitterly regretting all the years he’d wasted trying to change her mind. The ending would have been no different, but they’d have had more time together. Then he lowered his hands and readdressed himself to the Palantir. Now that it was free it would be a pity not to get some use out of it.
Ten pale faces turned to him as he opened the door to the antechamber. He steadied himself for a moment against the doorframe.
“Did you see him?” Gimli demanded. “What did you say to him?”
Aragorn barely heard, his eyes fixed on Arwen, alive and watching him anxiously. He crossed the room to take her in his arms and hold her tightly for a moment before pushing her back so he could look into that beautiful face.
Gimli however was not about to be ignored. “Aragorn?”
“Yes, I saw him.” he answered, eyes still locked on hers. “But I spoke no word to him, and in the end I wrenched the stone from his control which he will find hard to endure.” A touch of satisfaction warmed the cold emptiness of his exhaustion. “He saw me and I showed him the blade reforged. He is not so mighty yet that he is above fear. He is afraid now, and doubt gnaws at him.
He spoke directly to his wife. “Once I had mastered the stone I saw many things. Arwen, I saw Elrond fighting beside our people in the Ettenmoors.”
“Of course you did.” she said huskily, eyes shining with pride - and fear. “He is Fingolfin’s heir and has the blood of Tuor and Beren in his veins. He might send his people to the ships but he would never abandon his kin in their last need.” her voice faltered a little “Is he - did you see him fall?”
“No,” Aragorn assured her quickly, “no he is safe and whole as far forward as I could See.” he grinned suddenly at the memory. “I only wish the twins could have seen him too - I had no idea our Uncle was so formidable a warrior!”
“They saw him fight, long ago in the Witch Wars.” Arwen reminded him.
He forced himself to let her go and turned to face the others. “Our people are fighting on the marches of Angmar and in the Moria dale as well as the Ettenmoors.” he said quietly to his Rangers. Then to Legolas. “Lorien and the Woodland realm are both under attack from Dol Guldur.” and finally; “Gimli, Dale has fallen and Erebor is besieged.”
The Dwarf glared fiercely at his boot-tips. Legolas roused himself from his own griefs to lay a gentle hand on his comrade’s shoulder.
“One more axe would make no difference.” Gimli said gruffly. “And the Ringbearer‘s quest was a great matter needing the presence of a Dwarf.”
“That is true.” said Legolas.
Gimli looked up at him, alert for a jibe, but saw at once that Legolas was quite serious. His face softened. “It needed an Elf too.”
Legolas smiled a little. “Thank you.”
“It was worth attempting - even if the company did fail.”
“We did not fail, Gimli.” Aragorn told him firmly. “We brought Frodo safe to the marches of Mordor - beyond that we would have been a hindrance and a danger rather than an aid to him. And there was work for us elsewhere.”
Slowly the Dwarf nodded. “Aye, I suppose you’re right.”
Arwen touched his arm. “You are weary, you must rest.”
He shook his head. “No. There is too much to be done.”
“Indeed,” she answered crisply, “and Hurin and the other Captains are doing it. They don’t need you breathing down their necks!”
She had a point but - “I should greet the Men Angbor and Ciryandil brought up from the south,” he argued, “they deserve at least that much courtesy after coming so far and so quickly at my word.”
“Later.” his wife said firmly.
“But -” he began.
She stamped her foot. “Estel! Am I going to spend the rest of my life nagging you into being sensible?”
“Probably.” said Legolas and four of his Rangers in near chorus.
Gimli chuckled and even somber Beregond smiled.
Aragorn gave them all a mock glare then raised his hands in surrender. “Very well.” He glanced quickly at the Gondor Man. “I give the stone back to your charge, kinsman, for now.” then hesitated a moment, choosing his words: “as for the other matter - this is not the time for such things. For now you may consider yourself a member of my following. When we return - if we return - I will render judgment.”
Beregond bowed and Aragorn turned to obediently follow his wife into the bedroom.
She pulled the curtains, dimming the room to pale twilight, and asked: “What was that all about with Beregond?”
“Our kinsman is troubled.” Aragorn answered quietly, sitting on the bed to pull off his boots. “He was forced to break solemn oaths and worse to kill a comrade to save the Lord Faramir’s life.”
Arwen winced. She knew as well as he how hard a Dunedain, especially one of Ancient House, would take that. “I see. He is not likely to fall into despair and seek death is he?”
Aragorn shook his head. “I think not. He is too level headed for such follies. But his conscience will demand some kind of expiation in due course. I will think of something fitting when I have leisure to consider the problem.”
“And in the meantime keep him close so he cannot do himself a mischief.”
“Something like that.” he agreed, and lay down.
She sat on the edge of the bed and nailed him with a straight look. “Estel, what did you see that troubles you so? Not just scenes of war I think.”
“No.” he closed his eyes, bracing himself to speak calmly, then opened them to meet hers. “Sauron showed me your death.”
“My fate is not in his hands.” she said.
“If he gets back the Ring you will die.” he answered flatly. *and even if he doesn’t* he thought but did not say.
Arwen, astonishingly, smiled: “But he’s not going to get it back is he?”
He stared at her for a long moment, then finally smiled back. “No, he is not. We will give Frodo his chance, and he will put an end to the Ring and to Sauron forever.”
“Trust in Frodo,” his wife advised, with a kiss, “and sleep.” She slipped out the door, closing it gently behind her.
Aragorn closed his eyes, and for all his fears and griefs was asleep in an instant.
A knock sounded on the door of Faramir’s chamber. The new Steward raised his eyes from the scroll he was studying to call: “Come in.”
It was the Halfling Peregrin, his worried expression becoming a relieved grin at the sight of Faramir up and dressed and reading in the window seat. “They said you were better.”
The Man smiled. “Much better, thank you Peregrin. You were right.”
The little squire blinked. “I was, about what?”
“About your friend Aragorn. I see now what Boromir saw. He is our King, the King we must have if Gondor is to survive.”
Peregrin sighed with relief. “I’m glad you think so too. Did they tell you he‘s already been accepted by the Council?”
“No, but I am pleased to hear it.” Faramir answered with a glint humor in his eye. “They’d have had me to deal with if they hadn’t!”
The Halfling plopped himself down on a stool with a gusty sigh of relief. “Then that’s all right!”
“It is indeed. Very right.”
Peregrin hesitated then took a deep breath as if bracing himself for something. “I - I wanted to talk to you about Denethor.” Faramir felt his smile freeze and the Halfling rushed on: “He was sorry for what he said, and sorry for sending you away, and he said you’d done well - much better than anybody else could have.” he paused for another gulp of air then forged on. “He was heart broken when he thought you were dying. He did love you, Faramir, very much.”
“I know.” the Man said quietly. There was something different about Peregrin, an almost haunted look in his eyes. Faramir felt a spurt of unreasoning anger against his father. Wasn’t it enough he should hurt his sons? Did he have to harm to his innocent little esquire as well. “Did you see him kill himself, Peregrin?”
The Halfling’s mouth dropped open. “I..I...” he took breath. “Yes I did. How did you know?”
“I knew my father.” Faramir answered grimly, then softened a little. “I felt his grief, and his despair. And I felt him die.”
Peregrin flinched. “It was awful. But your father wasn’t in his right mind, Faramir. You were dying and the City falling, it was all just too much for him. And he didn‘t mean for me to see. He released me from my oath and sent me away - but I came back.”
“To save your life.” Idril said quietly from the doorway.
“My Lady!” Peregrin interupted reproachfully.
“He has a right to know.” she told him, then turned back to her brother. “Father fell into despair, as I warned you he would. He did nothing for the defense of the City, just sat by your bedside watching you fade.”
Faramir winced. Idril, pitiless, went on: “Then when the first wall fell he tired of waiting. He had his men attire you for burial and bear you to the House of the Stewards. And there they built a pyre for the two of you. You were to burn together, alive.”
Man and Woman both looked at Peregrin. “He released from my oath as I said.” he told them steadily. “I ran for help. Beregond came, and Gandalf. They saved you, Faramir. But Denethor -”
“Father was determined to burn, and he did.” Idril said flatly. “Along with all your ancestors back to Pelendur. The House of the Stewards lies in ruin.”
“And you saw all this.” Faramir said quietly to the Halfling. He nodded, two tears leaking out from beneath tightly closed lids. Poor Little One. A fine way for Father to repay his loyalty. “Thank you, Peregrin, I owe you my life.”
“Gandalf and I would have been too late if Beregond hadn’t left his post and kept Denethor talking until we came.”
“Beregond left his post?” Faramir echoed blankly. “But he’s a Fountain Guard!”
“I know,” Peregrin agreed miserably, “and it gets worse. He had to kill the porter to get by him. I don’t know what’s going to become of him now. Please, Faramir, you won’t let them do anything awful to him will you?”
“No indeed.” the Man promised grimly.
“Judgment belongs to King Elessar.” Idril reminded them both.
The Halfling’s face lit in relief. “Old Strider? oh that‘s all right then!”
Faramir hoped it would be. But oathbreaking and shedding a comrade’s blood, whatever the cause, were serious matters. He did not envy Elessar the decision.
“Please try not to be too angry with your father.” Peregrin was saying to Idril. “He wasn’t responsible. It was Sauron getting at him through the Palantir -”
“What!” Faramir interupted sharply.
“Father had been looking into the Anor stone,” his sister explained. “Apparently for years.”
“It’s more awful than you can imagine.” the Hafling told them earnestly, then shuddered. “At least I hope you can’t imagine it. And Denethor did it over and over again. He was very strong but Sauron drove him mad in the end.”
“Peregrin,” Idril said slowly. “How do you know how terrible it is to match wills with the Dark Lord?”
He blushed. “Because I was an idiot. Gandalf had the Orthanc stone, he got it from Saruman. I - I looked into it.” Man and Woman could only stare. “It was - indescribable.” Peregrin continued with a shiver. “Like burning alive and freezing to death at the same time. And that voice inside your head, tearing at your mind - well luckily Gandalf got me out of it before I told Sauron anything -”
“You kept silent?” Faramir breathed.
Peregrin nodded. “I had to. But I couldn’t have kept it up for long. If Gandalf hadn’t rescued me...” he shivered again.
Faramir looked at him in wonder. To resist the will of the Dark Lord was no mean feat. It seemed Peregrin had far more strength and courage than his childlike appearance would suggest - like his cousin Frodo. “You are a brave man, Peregrin Took.”
“Not a Man,” he corrected, “a Hobbit. And not all that brave either - though I am trying!”
Pippin’s next visit was to Merry. He found him in the garden, standing at the wall looking at the fire and darkness in the east.
“It’s all settled,” Merry told him. “Eomer’s going to take me as his squire.”
Pippin sighed with relief. “I am glad. At least we’ll all be together. No more of this business of being split up and scattered all over the landscape.”
Merry nodded agreement. “All but Frodo and Sam.”
“And Boromir.” said Pippin.
For a long moment neither of them spoke as they stood there watching Mount Doom belch fire at the black clouds over Mordor. Finally Merry said firmly: “We will see the Shire again, Pippin. All four of us.”
“I know.” his cousin answered quietly, but Merry wasn’t sure Pippin really believed it.
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.