8. Chapter 8
Mithrandir clasped Finduilas's hands in his. "Many thanks for your hospitality, my lady," he said. "I am unaccustomed to such a welcome, and it was indeed much appreciated."
"It was both a pleasure and an honour," Finduilas replied. "Ride safely, until you come to your next safe haven."
Mithrandir bowed his head, and turned to Aragorn, standing beside Finduilas at the Gate, and for a moment their eyes met. Aragorn took the wizard's hand for a moment. "Farewell," he said.
"I'll remember you to old friends," Mithrandir returned. He set his tall hat on his head, and swung himself up into the saddle of his horse. "We've a long road ahead," he said to it. "Get along with you." The horse whinnied reproachfully, but started up a brisk walk. Soon the wizard was a diminutive figure on the road to the outer edge of the Rammas.
Aragorn turned to glance at Finduilas, whose cheeks were flushed pink in the cold wind above her blue mantle. "Shall I accompany you back to the Citadel, my lady?" he asked.
"I would be delighted if you would," she said. "In truth, I was hoping you would walk with me." They set off, through the Gate and slightly upwards on the first of the levels of the City, Aragorn walking slowly to keep pace with his companion. "I liked him," Finduilas said, after a moment.
"Mithrandir?" Aragorn asked. "He is a wise and generous person. Indeed I find it difficult to understand how one could not like him and trust him."
"My husband does not," Finduilas said quietly. Aragorn said nothing. "He feels that the wizard meddles, that he should not concern himself with Gondor." There was a pause. "I disagree, I think. Why should we reject wisdom and honesty?"
"We should not," Aragorn replied. "That course can be dangerous."
Finduilas put her hands inside her mantle. "Are we not beset by dangers?"
"We are," said Aragorn, "and it is for that reason I believe in doing all we can to follow a safer course."
They walked on in silence until they had come through the next gate. Aragorn looked up at the sky and was about to make a comment about the changing seasons, but Finduilas broke in before he could speak.
"Tell me about the North, captain."
"I have never seen any other country save Dol Amroth and this City and the road between. They say you have travelled. What is the North like?"
Aragorn thought, picturing the lands he knew best in his mind before speaking. "It is very beautiful, but of a different beauty to the South. Some parts wilder, more dangerous, some less so. Here," he gestured, "we have fair Mindolluin, protecting us, but in the North lie a whole range of mountains, the Hithaeglir, the Misty Mountains. For much of the year they are crowned with snow, and they are well nigh impassable. Few folk live nearby, yet there are fertile valleys, and waterfalls. The Northern wilderness is mostly forested, and uninhabited. There is one small land, inhabited, of rolling green hills and gentle streams. A fair place."
"It sounds a strange country," Finduilas said. "No grassland?"
"Not until one comes to Rohan, no, lady."
"And do Elves still live there?" asked Finduilas.
"Here I must leave you, my lady," Aragorn said in return, glancing up and seeing they had come to the gate of the Citadel. "My duties call me, unpleasant as they seem after such a walk with such a fair lady." He bowed to her.
"I hate that duty binds you all like this!" Finduilas burst out. "You, my husband, my lord the Steward, my father and my brother . none of you are free!"
Aragorn paused in turning to depart. "It is our duty, though, and we must obey. Farewell, my lady."
He turned, and hurried off, leaving Finduilas a lonely figure in her rich mantle, silhouetted against the white stone of the Citadel.
His company was at their noon meal, and Aragorn slid into his seat at the head of the table amid calls for an explanation of his tardiness. He took a bite of bread and a mouthful of ale, grateful for the food, before responding. "I was accompanying a lady back to her home."
There was a burst of laughter, and one of his senior officers, a twinkle in his eye, said, "the fair Finduilas, perchance?"
Aragorn nodded. "She asked me to. Therefore, I did. Satisfied?"
"Don't be too chivalrous, captain," someone said. "Denethor is already far too jealous of you."
"He's the son of your liege lord," Aragorn said sharply. "I wish that nobody in my company speaks of him in that manner."
"Come now, captain," his second-in-command put in, "you know as well as I and as well as the rest of the men that it's perfectly true. You also know this company gets more applications from the new recruits than any other. There's a simple explanation, and, sir, you're it."
"And we get more attention from the lovely ladies of this City than any other company," a Guard called from lower down the table.
"You beat him in single combat," the second-in-command continued, ticking points off on his fingers, "you speak more languages than him, you're a favourite of Thengel and our own Steward and that wizard . the lord Denethor (Valar preserve him) has many reasons to be perfectly jealous of you." He put a hunk of cheese in his mouth, chewed it, and concluded, "And the worst part, for him, is that most people would agree with him." He raised his mug and called to the company, "A toast, to the captain!"
There was a chorus of approval from the men, which Aragorn responded to with a lift of his own mug. "Still," he said, loud enough for everyone to hear him, "any sign of disloyalty to the City, to Gondor, or to the Steward, will be punished. To Gondor, gentlemen, and then back to your posts. There is still a long afternoon ahead of you all."
The company drank the toast, and then began to disperse. As they filed past Aragorn, many paused to speak with him on various issues, and it was only when the room was empty that he was able to complete his own meal and then go to his desk where a pile of papers awaited him. He hung his cloak up, pushed open a window and breathed in the cold air before sitting and turning his mind to work.
Later on, his tasks done and the evening meal finished, Aragorn went walking on the battlements of the City, looking out over the twinkling lights of the distant homesteads on the Pelennor. The words of his company were running through his mind, and it crossed his thoughts that perhaps it was time to leave Minas Tirith.
He leaned against the wall and gazed through an arrow-slit, looking northwest, and wondered how his kin were faring in their ceaseless work against the foes of the North. Though Mithrandir had mentioned Elrond, and his sons, and briefly, Arwen, he had said little about the Dúnedain, and Aragorn wished he had pressed the wizard further on the subject. It was beginning to seem as if he had been in the White City for too long.
Yet no occasion arose to put the question to Ecthelion and ask for permission to leave. The weather grew warmer again, and it was announced in the City that Denethor and Finduilas were expecting a child. Gifts from the people flooded into the Citadel, and as Aragorn went about his business the talk was all about the prospective heir. Public opinion seemed to be that Finduilas would undoubtedly bear a male child. Finduilas herself stayed mostly indoors during the months that followed, and Denethor began to spend less time looking after business for his father. Ecthelion declared to Aragorn that he cared little, and Aragorn reflected that the Steward seemed to be rejuvenated by the prospect of a grandchild.
As the first snows began to fall on Mindolluin, Finduilas gave birth, and the baby was indeed a boy. The child was blessed by Ecthelion at a ceremony a week later, and named Boromir. Aragorn, filing past Finduilas with the rest of the Steward's counsellors and officers, reflected that the new mother looked tired. Servant gossip soon reported that little Boromir was a fractious child, but that his father doted upon the baby. He had inherited the dark hair of his father's line, and grew strongly and quickly.
Aragorn was at work on the duty-roster for his company one morning when there was a tap on his door, and Finduilas entered accompanied by two ladies, one of whom was carrying the baby.
"My lady," Aragorn said, rising and finding her and the ladies seats. "This is an unexpected pleasure."
"I trust you will excuse the intrusion," Finduilas said. "But I was bored inside, and the baby would not stop crying. Morwenna suggested that he might feel better for a walk, and indeed it was a success."
"He's a beautiful child," Aragorn said, squatting to the level of the baby in the nursemaid's arms.
"He's his father and grandfather's pride and joy," Finduilas said wearily. "When he's a little older I shall take him to Dol Amroth and see if my father and my brother agree with them."
"And is he not your pride and joy?" asked Aragorn, putting a finger out, which Boromir grasped, looking up at him with big grey eyes. "One thing is sure, he has the grip for a swordsman."
Finduilas looked down at her clasped hands. "My lord Denethor said that. Poor child, he is destined for such trials. I wish only he could grow up in peace, and know wisdom and happiness before he has to go and fight for his City."
Aragorn disentangled his finger from the baby's hand and brushed the soft downy hair on his head gently. "He has the best possible start, my lady; parents who love him and a City that adores him. I am sure he is destined for greatness."
"If that means happiness also, then I will be content," Finduilas said. "But we have intruded upon your time too long, captain." She rose, and her attendants stood also, and with polite goodbyes and a gurgle from Boromir, they left.
Aragorn had a strange dream that night, waking suddenly from it whilst it was still early, and remembering vaguely a feeling of grief and loss, and of uncertainty, as well as a sense that he had been beside a river bidding farewell to someone. He could not recall who that someone had been, though he sat for a moment trying to bring the face and the name to his mind.
In the morning, his slight sense of discomfort was broken by the arrival of two messages: one from Rohan, and one from Pelargir. He opened the one from Rohan first, breaking the seal of dark green wax and spreading the scroll out on his table. The message was brief and to the point. Thengel was ill, and for the time being, he had given his son Théoden the powers of King. There had been unrest near the Gap of Rohan, and three Riders had been injured in a skirmish with the Dunlendings. The message concluded by reassuring Aragorn that a similar missive had been sent to Ecthelion, and was signed by Léod. Aragorn let go of the scroll, allowing it to spring shut, and he sat for a while thinking before turning to the next message. This was simply folded and sealed with a plain seal, and marked, "For the Attention of Captain Thorongil, 3rd Company of the Citadel." It was from one of the contacts which Aragorn, with Ecthelion's blessing, had managed to set up in Pelargir under the control of the garrison of Guards, and said that ships from Umbar were becoming more and more common and more and more aggressive.
He turned to his other business - a complaint that one of his men had been caught drunk in a tavern, the allocation of supplies, the armoury budget for the quarter, and succeeded in dealing with most of it before the servant came with the order that he was to report immediately to the Steward.
Ecthelion was in a bad mood. "Have you heard from Rohan also?" he demanded.
"I did receive a letter from Marshal Léod, aye, my lord."
"Théoden is ripe for kingship, my lord Steward. Thengel is not yet a dotard, but he is aging. I do not think you need worry about the governance of Rohan whilst this illness lasts, nor afterwards. As for the Dunlendings - there have been cross-border fights for years, but seldom serious injuries. It strikes me as one more example of our turbulent times."
"Thengel is younger than I am," Ecthelion said, fixing Aragorn with his gaze.
"Thengel is not of Gondorian blood, my lord," Aragorn pointed out diplomatically.
"Hmm. Well, then, I shall trust in his son. Did you meet the lad?"
"I did, my lord. He is an able Rider and the people loved him already, and he was but a boy when I left Rohan."
Ecthelion marked something on a sheaf of papers in front of him, and rubbed a hand across his forehead. "Not yet noon, and already I am fatigued with this endless business. Have you news from Pelargir? I was told a rider arrived."
"There has been more traffic from Umbar, my lord. I do believe that soon we will have to be more direct."
Aragorn nodded. "Perhaps, yes. Myth of Gondor's might will not suffice for these pirates. I am told one ship hoisted warning signals against one of our merchants, just this last week."
"It has never been easy to be a Steward," Ecthelion said wearily. "But I do believe now is harder than ever before." He glanced up. "Would that the King would return and relieve me of my duties!"
"But on the bright side," Aragorn said quickly, "you have a worthy heir, a graceful daughter, and a delightful grandson, my lord."
"Little Boromir," Ecthelion smiled. "Yes, Thorongil, I am blessed, for I also have good counsellors and loyal citizens. I will consider the points in favour of launching some assault against Umbar. Now, I suppose you have business as usual regarding your company."
"My lord Steward." Aragorn bowed, and went out, thinking to himself that once again Ecthelion was proving to be more perspicacious than he himself would wish.
No assault was ordered for the time being, and reports from Pelargir remained similar for many months. Two Gondorian vessels, and one from Dol Amroth, were attacked and raided for goods, but no lives were lost, and although Adrahil wrote angrily to Ecthelion complaining and asking that something be done, Ecthelion seemed more concerned with the welfare of his grandson who was growing swiftly. Aragorn saw him out and about in the Citadel regularly, tottering along holding on to the hand of his mother or a nursemaid. The Guards seemed to appreciate a visit from the future Heir, and would more than cheerfully break off from a tedious task to play with Boromir for a few minutes. Finduilas, over time, recovered a little from her lassitude following her son's birth, and as spring came once more she seemed to bloom again, and some colour returned to her cheeks.
Still the mood in the City began to turn to that of disquiet. In the distance, the small speck of flame that came from Mordor grew stronger, and on windy days there was a plume of smoke or dust from the East. Rangers in Ithilien reported more and more Orc raids, and then in May news came from Pelargir, in the form of an urgent message. A Gondorian ship, carrying wool from Belfalas to the southern fief-lands, was attacked, raided and burnt, with only three survivors, who, clinging to a spar, managed to float ashore. They reported that the pirate ship was a black-sailed Corsair from Umbar.
"It is time to act, my lord!" Aragorn said, taking Ecthelion the report. "Umbar cannot be allowed to think that she has mastery of the Sea. Were your ancestors not sea-faring, rulers of the waves for an Age, with the grace of the Lord Ulmo?"
"That is true, Thorongil," Ecthelion said, bent over the letter. He looked up, and there was a spark in his eyes that had been absent for many a month. "Aye, that is true. You shall have your wish, and you yourself shall lead the attack on Umbar. What do you need?"
Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief, and began to outline the plan that had been forming in his mind for many a week. Over the course of that day, Ecthelion had runners hastening to and fro to prepare the supplies, and had sent a rider to the Harlond to have three ships made ready.
"I will promote your second-in-command, whilst you are gone," he said to Aragorn at the end of the day. "He can command your company?"
"He will make an excellent captain, lord," Aragorn said. "And, with your lord's permission, I would ask that the position be a permanent one."
Aragorn met Ecthelion's eyes. "My lord, I would ask that you release me from your service, and that once this attack is completed, should I live, you will permit me to leave."
"Leave Minas Tirith? Leave Gondor?"
"Yes, my lord Steward. I have been here eight years gone. But I have other tasks to do, and cannot remain here - though in truth I love the White City dearly."
"I will consider the request, Thorongil," Ecthelion said after a pause. "You have much to do if you are to set out within the week. Go, and report developments to me on the morrow."
The company that was to travel from the City with Aragorn was chosen and ready in four days, young, strong men eager for battle. In addition each ship had a crew of experienced sailors. On the last evening, Aragorn packed up his possessions, what he could easily carry, leaving the rest behind, and went to bid Ecthelion farewell. The Steward, a cup of wine by his elbow, was writing on a parchment, which he signed and sealed as Aragorn came in.
"There. Your orders."
"Thank you, my lord Steward." Aragorn took the parchment. "I trust I and my men will meet with success and bring you victory."
Ecthelion nodded, absently, and stood up to pace the width of the chamber once. He paused at the foot of the dais. "You may have your wish, Thorongil. I give you leave to depart Minas Tirith, though I do not release you from your service to Gondor."
"I would not wish to be released from that oath," Aragorn said sincerely. "I would put Gondor before my own life, and will do until the day I die."
The Steward acknowledged this with a grunt, and sat down behind his desk once more, fiddling with a carved stone paperweight. Abruptly he looked up. "Who are you, really, Thorongil?"
"My lord?" Aragorn said, playing for time.
"Have you ever noticed how the people talk amongst themselves, noting your resemblance to my son? They say you must surely be of Gondorian descent. Your complexion, your hair . those eyes . I say again, Thorongil, who are you?"
"A servant of Gondor, my lord, as I have said" returned Aragorn. Ecthelion slammed his hand down on the table with a thump that echoed through the chamber.
"I said to you once, Thorongil, that I am no fool. I know, though most of my people do not, that somewhere in the North the remnants of the Northern line settled. I do not believe that line died out, not completely. You know your history. You speak Quenya, and Sindarin, Westron and Rohirric with equal ease. You came to us from Rohan, but you are not a Rohirrim. You have woodcraft, and you use a sword better than any man in Gondor. And I remember one thing you told me when first we met: that in your youth you lived in Imladris." The Steward stood, and crossed the few yards to his stone chair at the bottom of the dais, but he did not sit. Instead, he gestured at the empty throne raised above him. "Would you ever claim that, Thorongil?"
"My lord, I ." began Aragorn, but Ecthelion interrupted him.
"If I am right, surely you have no need to use that title for me?"
"If I use the title, my lord Steward, it is because you merit it," Aragorn said. "It is long now since the crown lies in Eärnil's lap, and it is not now the time for any man to take it up. We are a secret people in the North, my lord, out of necessity. The majesty of Elendil remains only in this City and her power."
Ecthelion sat down, heavily. "Have I guessed aright, Thorongil?"
"I am of your Northern kindred, my lord," Aragorn replied, treading carefully. "More than that I will not say."
"Then what of Imladris? Was it not once tradition for the heirs of the chieftain of that line to be brought up there?"
"My father died when I was barely more than a babe," said Aragorn, "and my mother, fearful for my welfare, appealed to the Lord Elrond for protection. That is all."
"You are skilled, I know, in avoiding answering questions if you wish," Ecthelion said. "I see I will get nothing more from you."
"My lord, my oath remains true," Aragorn said. "If Gondor is in need, I will return to the City and your service. I thank you for releasing me now."
"May the Valar go with you," said Ecthelion, "and I thank you for your faithful service, Thorongil."
For a moment there was silence, and then Aragorn bowed, and turned his back on the Steward of Gondor.
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.