2. Chapter 2
He returned north along the coast after crossing Anduin at Pelargir, a city in which dwelt mariners of Gondor, and with the Sea always on his left, and the Ered Nimrais on his right, he set his horse to gallop, and swiftly the leagues passed. Finally, after eight long years, Aragorn saw once again the sunlight on the roof of Meduseld.
Thengel welcomed him back warmly, and in return Aragorn gave him all the news he could of the lands on Rohan's borders. It seemed to him that Thengel had aged greatly, despite the birth of a daughter, and he was leaning on the counsel of his son Théoden, now a tall, handsome young man of twenty-two; and on the company of Théoden's closest companion, the eighteen-year old Éomund, son of the Marshal of Eastfold. Aragorn spoke briefly with the two young Riders before they went to oversee happenings in the Marks, leaving Thengel in Meduseld.
"Does all go well in Rohan, lord?" he asked the king, that night at table.
"Well? With the Shadow out East, and my people scared?"
"But thus far there have been no battles?" said Aragorn.
"No deaths," answered Thengel, "but I am no longer content to have Saruman on my borders. A foul stench has been reported close to Isengard, and scouts have seen smokes rising from the valley. It is at times like this I would wish for the coming of Gandalf Stormcrow, for he may have something to say."
"Indeed he may," Aragorn said. "I would counsel prudence in affairs with Saruman, lord, if indeed his attitude towards Rohan has altered. He is powerful and wise, but I myself would trust Mithrandir more."
"It is clear you know Gandalf well, Thorongil, and I will take what you say into account." He pushed away his plate. "And you, what are you going to do?"
"With your leave, lord, I will remain in Rohan a while. But I wish to go to Gondor, sooner rather than later."
"Gondor?" said Thengel, and his eyes bored into Aragorn's. "Why Gondor?"
"I have my reasons, lord," Aragorn replied, "but it is not yet the hour for them to be revealed."
Thengel looked hard at Aragorn for a while longer, and then shrugged, and rose. Aragorn swiftly rose too.
"I said when we met there was much hidden about you, Thorongil," the king said. "Yet I will not press you."
He left, walking slowly away, and Aragorn sat down again, deep in thought.
He remained in Thengel's service for a year, staying near Edoras, riding only occasionally to the fortresses far away. When the four seasons had turned, Thengel called Aragorn to him.
"Now is your time to leave us," he said. "I have a message for Ecthelion in Minas Tirith and I would that a trusted messenger take it. If you are willing, I will release you from your service and send you, Thorongil."
For a moment Aragorn was silent, marshalling the emotions running through him. Then he raised his eyes, and nodded.
"I will accept your offer, Thengel King," he said, "and take the message to Minas Tirith."
Thengel held out a scroll, tied and sealed with the seal of the white horse.
"It must go into Ecthelion's own hands," he said. He handed Aragorn a smaller, folded message. "This is my recommendation of you. You have served Rohan well, Thorongil. Never before have we taken a stranger in, but never has an unexpected visitor served us as you have. You will forever have the freedom of Rohan, and I pray that one day you will return when we need you."
"I shall not forget the green grass of Rohan, lord," Aragorn said. He bowed and kissed the king's hand. "Farewell, Thengel King."
"Farewell, Thorongil," Thengel said. "Journey well."
Aragorn nodded and left the chamber.
He was on the road within two hours, the messages for Ecthelion stowed safely in his pack, urging his horse onwards. He stopped only to eat and sleep briefly, such was his desire to reach his destination, and before the fifth day had reached noon he was riding across the peaceful fields of the Pelennor, the great wall of the Rammas Echor behind him and the towers of Minas Tirith before him. The white walls of the city dazzled his eyes, and the white banners of the Stewards fluttered from the towers, against the backdrop of Mount Mindolluin.
"Minas Tirith!" said Aragorn to himself. "That I should see thee first on such a fair day." He set his horse trotting steadily to the city, and reached the first gate as the bells were pealing six.
"Hail, stranger!" said the guard, turning his tall spear horizontally.
Aragorn withdrew his messages and dismounted the horse.
"I come with a message from Thengel King of Rohan to Ecthelion," he said. "The King bade me deliver the message into the hands of Ecthelion personally."
The guard examined the seals of the messages before turning his gaze on Aragorn.
"The messages seem genuine, but you are not one of the Rohirrim," he said. "How comes a Man of Gondor, for such you seem, to be in the service of Thengel?"
"I come from the North," Aragorn replied, "but I have served Thengel for many years. Should Ecthelion wish for proof of my identity he can send to Thengel."
The guard beckoned to another.
"You will be accompanied through the gates and to Ecthelion," he said, "after which the Steward may decide your fate." He raised his spear, and Aragorn mounted the horse and entered into Minas Tirith.
With his guide, a tall guard in the black and silver uniform of the City, they made their way through the busy streets, past shops and markets, taverns and eating-houses, all handsome and well-kept. The people appeared joyful and healthy and the buildings were fair.
At the seventh gate of the City Aragorn's guard left him in the care of another, his uniform embellished with a tree and seven stars glistening. Aragorn dismounted from his horse, which was led off by another guard, and he followed his new guide down a long stone passage, lit with flickering candles. It could not be more different from Meduseld, thought Aragorn; this place was older and loftier, a house of the Kings of Gondor and of Arnor. The house of his ancestors.
A door swung open, and Aragorn and his guide stood at the end of a huge hall, lined with pillars, at the end of which stood a dais and a stone throne mounted on many steps. At the bottom of the steps a figure sat, a table pulled in front of him, and on either side candles shone.
Aragorn walked slowly up the avenue of pillars to the figure, and once there he bent on one knee.
"Hail, Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor," he said. "I come with a message from Thengel of Rohan."
The figure put aside some papers and raised its head. Aragorn found himself looking into a pair of keen eyes below a lined brow.
"So the messages from the gates have told me," Ecthelion answered, his voice sonorous and echoing in the great hall. "Give the message to me."
Aragorn stood and went to the Steward, passing him the papers from Thengel. There was silence as Ecthelion opened the messages and read them, before putting them down on his table.
"You are Thorongil?"
"Eagle of the Star. Hmm. I see the star upon your cloak. Is that not an emblem of the Northern line of the Kings?"
"It was a gift to me," Aragorn said, treading carefully.
"Thorongil, then, is not your proper name?"
"It has been my name for many years," replied Aragorn, "and I am content with it."
Ecthelion raised his eyebrows. "Indeed. Thengel says you have left his service."
"I had a desire to see Gondor," Aragorn said. "If you will take me, my lord Steward, I will serve Minas Tirith and her lands faithfully."
"Give me your sword," Ecthelion ordered. "I trust Thengel's words, and I trust my own intuition. You have a look that pleases me, and you speak fair. I will take your service."
Aragorn drew his sword and presented the hilt to Ecthelion, who stood and came out from behind his table.
"Kneel. Repeat after me. Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm, to speak and to be silent, to do and to let be, to come and to go, in need or plenty, in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I Thorongil." Aragorn repeated the words. "And this do I hear, Ecthelion son of Turgon, Lord of Gondor, Steward of the High King, and I will not forget it, nor fail to reward that which is given: fealty with love, valour with honour, oath-breaking with vengeance."
Ecthelion raised the sword to return it to Aragorn, but paused to examine the blade.
"Are these Elvish runes?"
"They are, my lord."
"How came you by such a weapon?"
"I spent some time in Imladris in my youth," Aragorn explained. "The sword was forged by the Elven smiths of Elrond's household."
"The mystery deepens," Ecthelion said, and gave Aragorn the sword. "I will order food and livery for you, Thorongil, and you will have lodgings with the Guards of the Citadel. Now go thee and rest, for you have journeyed long. I will call you on the morrow."
Aragorn bowed low before the Steward, and, sheathing his sword, turned and left the high chamber. Ecthelion stared after him for a short moment, then turned his attention back to the affairs of the land.
They gave him a room in one of the buildings of the Citadel, and in the livery room he was handed a uniform: a black tunic and a black surcoat embroidered with the Tree and the seven Stars of Elendil, and a tall helm with silver wings set on either side.
"Thus are our vestments," said the guard who gave him the clothes, "in honour of the High Kings that are gone." He noted the name of Thorongil in a large book. "Though in all probability they will never return," he added, putting down his pen. Aragorn fingered the fine work of the surcoat.
"Never give up hope," he said, and the other man smiled.
"I will not, as long as Minas Tirith stands. Welcome to the Guard, friend!"
Alone in his lodgings Aragorn put on the uniform, buckling his Elven-blade around his waist. Had he known it, he looked verily a leader, his stern grey eyes shining beneath the helm.
He was assigned to the Second Company, and after a few hours spent asleep he was shown around the Citadel by its captain, a grey-haired man named Orodin. He marvelled at the stonework, strong and finely carved, with everywhere images of the old Kings - of Elros Tar-Minyatur, Elrond's brother, of Elendil, Anárion, and of Ostoher who rebuilt the city of Minas Anor. And although Aragorn had spent his life either in the smaller, simpler dwellings of Imladris and Edoras, or wandering in the Wild, he felt that he belonged in the great stone walls of Minas Tirith, here amongst the images of his ancestors.
He ate that night with his fellow-Guards, who proved to be a sociable company, and at table there was much song and laughter, though the food was simple. They welcomed Aragorn warmly, and did not ask too many questions, and after the meal he retired to his quarters content.
Aragorn was woken at dawn by a servant of the Steward bidding him to break his fast with the Lord Ecthelion and his son Denethor, and he rose and dressed quickly. He found the Steward and his son in a small chamber near the main throne room. Both looked up as Aragorn entered, Ecthelion with welcome in his eyes; Denethor with doubt and curiosity.
"My lord Steward." Aragorn bowed.
"Greetings," welcomed Ecthelion. "Thorongil, I present to you my son and heir Denethor."
"Sit, sit," Ecthelion said, waving his hand towards the free seat at the table. "I trust you slept well?"
"Perfectly well, thank you," replied Aragorn, taking the bread offered to him.
"My father tells me you have come from Rohan," Denethor said, meeting Aragorn's eyes with a proud and direct gaze. "But you are not a Rohirrim."
"No, my lord."
"Well, then," said Denethor. "From whence do you come?"
"I was born and raised in the North," Aragorn answered. "And in the North I lived until I came to Rohan."
"And are the Rohirrim still as proud as ever?" asked Denethor lightly.
"They are rightfully proud," answered Aragorn, "for they are noble people and generous, and Thengel remembers his oaths and is prepared to fulfil them should need arise. His son Théoden will be a worthy successor and bears the same principles as his father. They may be far, my lords, but the Rohirrim will always be your allies."
"And what do you know of the Shadow in the East?" Ecthelion asked, lifting his goblet for it to be filled with wine. "What tidings of that have come to Rohan?"
Aragorn thought of the smokes he himself had seen over Isengard. "The Rohirrim are more concerned about happenings in Isengard, lord. Saruman was at times a good ally and neighbour, and spoke often with the kings of Rohan, yet lately he has withdrawn into Orthanc and I myself have seen and smelt the fumes of his work. Nobody knows what he is concocting within the walls. For the Rohirrim treachery from that quarter is of more importance than vague rumours from the East."
"But," Ecthelion pressed, "of the Shadow tidings have come to Meduseld?"
"Yes, my lord. For myself I fear the worst."
Ecthelion nodded and they turned to their food.
The rest of the meal was silent for the most part, and Aragorn kept his thoughts to himself. When he chanced to glance up, he noticed that Denethor's eyes were often on him, and he could not help but wonder what the Steward's heir was thinking. The meal ended with another short silence, and Aragorn made his way to his company.
They spent the day drilling, with two hours of sword practice before the noon meal. Aragorn's captain quickly set him to teaching the younger and more inexperienced members of the company, and he was glad of the task. They proved to be an enthusiastic and polite group of young men, keen and quick to learn; Aragorn was reminded of his own days learning to use a sword, in the shady glades of Imladris, under the experienced eyes of his foster-brothers.
At the noon meal some of the company, emboldened perhaps by a few hours' more acquaintance with the newcomer, began to quiz him. Aragorn fielded their questions about his birth and steered the conversation to Rohan, and this proved wise as the men seemed to be fascinated by the customs of their neighbour.
During the afternoon, once he had been given a list of the passwords and had learnt them, he was sent down to the Great Gate to stand guard. There was a steady stream of people passing through, most of whom called out the password cheerfully as they headed into the city with wares to sell, or out again with empty wagons. Aragorn thought that they seemed a cheerful people, happy and content with their lot, and upon the Pelennor he saw a number of farmsteads and grazing animals. He had a spear, but throughout the afternoon it was not needed, and at the end of the day he walked back through the peaceful streets with his fellow-guardsman, admiring the well- kept houses and breathing in the scent of the evening meals being prepared.
Quickly Aragorn's days fell into a routine - drilling, sword practice, guard duty. Unlike Rohan, life in Minas Tirith was strictly routine, and strictly ordered, and save for the guard duties at the Great Gate, Aragorn saw little grass and fewer trees. His first day off came two months into his service, and leaving behind his uniform he dressed in his old, weatherworn clothes and set out. Walking briskly, he skirted the wall of the city and headed up the slopes of Mindolluin behind, breathing in the fresh air. At noon he paused, and ate the bread and cheese he had brought with him, gazing over the city below him. The topmost turret of the White Tower was parallel with where he sat, and the sun glinted off the rooftops and the plain white standard of Ecthelion. Briefly, he allowed himself to dream of a day when that same sun might shine on the silver stars and the White Tree on a banner of sable, but only briefly; and as he began to descend the mountain his thoughts returned to the Steward and his proud, stern son.
At the end of the following week, Aragorn was ordered to accompany Ecthelion on his quarterly tour of the city's main services - the storerooms for the Guard, the archives, the armourers, and the Houses of Healing, set some way away from the Tower. Aragorn followed at a distance as the Steward spoke briefly with those in charge at each new place. He had seen most of the stops before during his service, but the Houses of Healing were new, and he followed with interest as the Warden took Ecthelion on a tour of the building. There were few patients in this time of peace, but those who lay in the clean rooms seemed at ease despite their illnesses. There was a large and well-stocked storeroom and Aragorn smelt the scents of familiar herbs, separated in wooden drawers labelled with their names in the Common Tongue. The storeroom was tended by a plain but evidently efficient young woman introduced as Ioreth, whom the Warden told shortly not to speak. Ecthelion nodded at the Warden's explanations of the herbs and displayed mild interest in the patients, but as they walked away from the Houses he sighed.
"Always the most tedious of my duties, I think," he said, turning to Aragorn. "Tell me, Thorongil, what think you of the Houses?"
"They're maintained well, and evidently the Warden knows his job, lord," Aragorn replied. "He could perhaps keep a few more of the rarer herbs in his storeroom, but what he has is sufficient for most maladies."
"You know something of healing?" the Steward said.
"Somewhat, lord, yes."
Ecthelion raised his eyebrows and said nothing, but walked on in silence for a while. Towards the Tower, he dismissed quickly the few other servants who were with him, and glanced at Aragorn.
"Come, Thorongil. I would have you accompany me to a final destination."
The Steward led the way up steps and through a passage, and they found themselves before a wooden door guarded by a man wearing the helm of the Guard and carrying a set of keys. At a sign from Ecthelion, he unlocked the door and allowed the Steward and Aragorn through.
They entered a dark and silent street, it seemed, lit only by the sun slanting in through high windows.
"This is Rath Dínen," Ecthelion said softly. "The Hallows of this City, where my ancestors and the last Kings sleep forever."
Aragorn said nothing, but followed the Steward along the rows of tombs until they came to the first of those greater than the ones nearest the door.
"Here lies Eärnil," the Steward said, "last King of Gondor to be laid to rest in the White City."
"But Eärnur has no bed," Aragorn said, gazing in awe at the tomb, and at the casket laid on top of it. Ecthelion shot him a look, and flipped open the locks, displaying what looked like a helm of silver, topped by the high wings of the Sea-Kings. Yet this was higher and greater than any helm Aragorn had ever seen.
"The Crown of Gondor," Ecthelion said. "Here waiting for one who will no doubt never come."
Aragorn remained silent, and after a moment the Steward closed the casket again with a small gesture of annoyance.
Neither of them said anything as they made their way back to the Tower, Aragorn walking a few steps behind the Steward as was customary and occupied with his own thoughts. At the doorway to Ecthelion's private apartments, the Steward turned to him.
"You're a hard man to pin down, Thorongil," he said with a slight smile.
"You think that the Stewards have forgotten their kindred in the North? That we believe the line of Anárion is died out? I am no fool and neither are you. Tell me from whence you came and I will be content."
"My lord Steward," Aragorn replied, "I have told you what little there is to tell."
The Steward grunted, and waved his hand. "So be it. You are dismissed."
Aragorn bowed, and walked away towards his quarters; but Ecthelion watched as he went with a frown on his brow.
From that time on Aragorn was even more careful of what he said about himself in front of the Steward and his son. He knew that secrecy was yet of utmost importance, and that victory against the Enemy would surely never come, if he knew what forces were arrayed against him. Aragorn left off the star of the North-kingdom, putting it away in a drawer rather than wearing it on his cloak.
The routine of duty was not broken again for quite some time, until one day, standing guard at the Gate, Aragorn saw coming across the Pelennor a single galloping horseman, grey robes blowing out around him. As the horseman grew closer, a smile crossed Aragorn's face; and when the horse came to a halt in front of the Gate and Mithrandir took off his tall hat, he could barely suppress his joy.
The wizard gave the password, and then looked again at Aragorn under the tall helm, and a twinkle glittered in his eye. He said nothing, however, but gently kicked his horse and clattered away up the stone street.
Aragorn was in his quarters after supper when Mithrandir came by, his hat gone and his beard perhaps a little longer than when they had last met.
"I cannot stay long," the wizard said by way of greeting, taking a seat and stretching his legs. "I have merely taken a short leave from my lord the Steward, who is anxious to talk to me. All is well?"
"All is well," Aragorn said. "I have grown to love the City and its people."
"Good, good." Mithrandir nodded, approvingly. "Excellent. Thengel gave you leave to go willingly, did he?"
"As willingly as I expected," Aragorn returned.
Mithrandir met his eyes knowingly. "Everyone in the North is in good health, my friend. Elrond, his sons, your mother."
"And the Lady Evenstar?" Aragorn asked, his head bowed. The wizard smiled gently.
"Also in good health. She is staying with her grandmother, in Lórien."
"I thank you," Aragorn said.
Mithrandir stood up, and patted him on the shoulder in a fatherly manner. "Keep your hope, Estel. Now I must be off to talk politics with Ecthelion and that proud son of his. Goodnight!"
"Goodnight," Aragorn said, and he watched the wizard go.
Mithrandir stayed in the City a week, and he managed to come and see Aragorn two or three times during that week. They spent one noon meal together, eating bread and meat on the ramparts, and speaking of affairs in Rohan and the North. Aragorn thought that the wizard seemed weary, older than before, and as they discussed the doings of Saruman in Isengard, and Thengel's struggles in Rohan, he wondered at the burdens on the old man.
At the end of the week it was announced that a tournament would be held on the fields in honour of the visitor and also to celebrate Denethor's imminent birthday. There were to be fencing matches, boxing, and other games; each company of the Guard was to select two men to compete in the fencing and the boxing. Aragorn's company unanimously chose him and their captain to fence, and reluctantly Aragorn agreed.
On the day selected the majority of the townspeople had congregated on the Pelennor. Stalls had been set up selling food and drink, and there was a lively carnival atmosphere. Mithrandir set off a few small fireworks to amuse the children and was received with rapturous applause.
The fencing began late in the afternoon, in a roped-off arena. To begin with there was a series of matches ensuring that every man fought every other, aiming to disarm only. To his surprise, Aragorn discovered that in addition to the Guardsmen, Denethor was also competing, and fighting well. The eight men who had won the most matches went through to another round; Aragorn, his company captain, and Denethor were three and the other five were Guardsmen from different companies. The draw set Aragorn against a tall, slim young man who fought well, quick on his feet but less experienced than himself. By this stage the crowds had gathered to cheer on the men, and as Aragorn sent his opponent's sword spinning out of his hand he caught a glimpse of Mithrandir leaning on his staff and watching. He made his way down to the wizard as Denethor and his company captain took the arena.
"Well fought," the wizard commented. "Still the sword from Imladris?"
"It has served me well," Aragorn agreed, patting the well-worn hilt and watching Denethor parry a blow and attack. "He fights well."
"He's the Steward's son," Mithrandir pointed out. "The bets are being placed between you and him, my friend."
Aragorn frowned. "You know the mind of Ecthelion better than I, Mithrandir. Do I aim to win, or aim to lose?"
"You know your own mind better than any man," the wizard replied. "And your skill. Denethor is a good swordsman and will no doubt know if you hold back."
"No doubt." Aragorn smiled ruefully as his captain picked up his weapon and bowed to the Steward's son, and with a quick look at the wizard went across to speak to him.
As the crowds expected, the final of the tournament proved to be Denethor against Thorongil, and as they took their positions in the arena, there were cheers and calls of both names. Aragorn, weighing his sword in his hand, bowed to the Steward's son, who returned the courtesy with a slight smile. The judge gave the order, and the fight was joined.
Denethor was a tall and heavily built man, and in his armour of dark metal he was an imposing opponent. His thrusts were backed by his weight, but he moved slowly compared to Aragorn and tired more quickly under the armour. It took time, but Aragorn eventually managed to slip under his opponent's defences and an uppercut took Denethor's black and silver hilted sword flying to the ground, followed by its owner as he slipped and fell. The crowd cheered.
Aragorn, his breath coming quickly, bent and helped Denethor up. The Steward's son managed a brief smile as his father stepped into the arena, clapping enthusiastically.
"I hereby announce that the winner of the fencing tournament is Thorongil, of the Third Company of the Citadel." Ecthelion beckoned to a servant, who passed him a large flask of wine. "Accept your reward, Thorongil!"
Aragorn took the flask, bowing. "I thank you, my lord. And I thank also my lord Denethor for a worthy fight." The crowd cheered again, loudest of all the men of Aragorn's company. Ecthelion held his hand up for silence.
"There will now be dancing for as long as any of you can dance for. And I would beg the Lord Mithrandir to amuse us with some of his acclaimed fireworks, if he would be so kind."
The music started up, and the wizard, with only a small grumble, set about lighting a pile of fireworks which sent coloured lights up into the sky, reflecting off the walls of the White Tower. Aragorn took his leave of the Steward and his son and went to share his prize with his fellows, who greeted him enthusiastically and warmly. Before long, however, Aragorn slipped away back to his quarters, where he cleaned his sword and reflected on the strange fortunes of his life which had brought him to this place.
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.