8. The Memory of the Crowning of the King.
Of his crowning, the King Elessar never spoke.
It was an event well documented, and we have many eyewitnesses whose stories have been written down; the people of Gondor and the peoples of the Enemy both have given accounts, and I have elsewhere recounted the Steward's words.
But the king was silent, and he never broke that silence in voice or writing. Only to his closest, did he divulge some glimpse of that day, and even then, it was through his silence rather than his words that they could guess the pain of the memory.
But despite the numerous accounts, only one has survived to tell us of what happened to the king outside the eyes of the crowd: the report written by the healer that tended the king.
"The second time I was called to oversee Elessar's torment, was on the eve of the coronation. The call came from the Lord's Mouth – I was shown his tokens – but the Mouth was not present himself. The prisoner had been moved from his prison to the guardhouse at the Gate earlier that day, but when I arrived at the Gate, he had already been moved to the orc-camp outside the City.
The Orcs had not been allowed inside the Gate since the Steward surrendered; only the Men in the service of the Great Lord dwelled within the City. But this night many Men were present in the orcs' camp; no doubt the Mouth wanted to ensure that no attempt of rescue or escape would succeed.
I arrived to find the torment already begun.
The prisoner was standing in a circle of Orcs and Men. He was bound with rope sent spinning from man to orc to man. None seemed to be in charge.
The prisoner stumbled and fell several times, for his foot-chains were short, and each time he struggled to regain his feet. The orcs' encouragements did not aid his efforts, and the sound of their jeers were deafening. The men were hardly any quieter.
At his fifth fall, the prisoner was unable to rise again. Then I found that captain Nagid was in charge; he ordered the crowd back and called for me. I had held myself ready to stop the proceedings if I deemed it necessary, and I therefore reached them quickly.
The prisoner was blindfolded with a simple black cloth and gagged with a thin gag of iron. It was of the kind that traps the tongue so that the wearer cannot speak, but it does not muffle sound. I asked that it be removed, for the prisoner was bleeding from the mouth. The captain relented at length, for the Mouth's orders were very clear: no lasting damage, or too severe. The prisoner was to be able to stand come morning.
The gag was sharp and spiked. It took time to verify that the bleeding only came from the pierced tongue, for the wound was bleeding freely and the prisoner did not cooperate. This surprised me, for on other occasions he had not resisted my treatments, and, after more than two months as a prisoner, he should not have the spirit to resist so. His strength speaks of the Great Lord's mercy to his conquered foes.
I was, in the end, able to confirm that the bleeding came only from the wound in the prisoner's mouth, and that he was fit enough to continue. His ribs, however, were bruised if not cracked, and I advised that no further beatings be administered; I feared it would cause too severe damage. Captain Nagid listened to my advice. When he ordered the torment to continue, they used the Umbar ropes.
Because of the great strain the ropes places upon the arms and shoulders, I made sure that the prisoner was not left hanging for too long. Often damage will occur even though no visible marks are left on the body, and to avoid this, I took great care to ensure that the prisoner was allowed frequent rests.
Each time he was re-hung, the prisoner weakened a little, but he made few sounds. This made it harder for me to judge his true strength. Perhaps he was stronger than most men I have known; he bore the torment well and I did not see the signs of danger before it was too late.
In truth, there were no signs to see, as often is the case with the ropes. The fourth time the prisoner was hoisted into the air, he screamed for his shoulders had been pulled from their place.
I called for the prisoner to be lowered to the ground and the torment to end. The orcs were most displeased by this, but Captain Nagid heeded my advice and I was able to reset the shoulders. They should heal with little lasting harm.
The prisoner was awake and aware through the whole."
After the healer had treated the prisoner, Captain Nagid asked him to join his wake. This the healer gladly accepted, for he was flattered that the captain should wish for his company. They stayed within sight of the prisoner, and it may be that the captain was less interested in the company of the healer, and more in keeping him close should there be any complications.
The prisoner was kept kneeling, and a guard of Orcs and Men were sat on him.
"You need not fear his escape, captain," the healer commented when he saw this. "I do not end a torment before there is need."
Captain Nagid did not answer at first. A cup of wine had been fetched for him and the healer, and the captain swirled the wine in his cup. He brought it to his nose and drew in the scent of it.
"This is a fine wine," he said. He sipped and let it linger on the tongue before he swallowed. "A gift from the Great Lord's servant to reward my humble service: my zealous dedication to the Great Lord's will. By my hand this brigand was brought down, and by my vigilance he has been kept. I will not let that vigilance slip so close to the end."
The healer nodded, and did not gainsay the captain. "And what will you do, captain, when the end is past? Surely the Great Lord's reward will be generous."
"I will go where the Great Lord orders," Captain Nagid said. "After tomorrow the Lord's servant will no longer need the hostages, and I will be allowed in the Great Lord's presence. No greater reward can I wish for."
"No greater reward is there," the healer agreed. "My own hopes are more modest: to return to my home, to the house of my father and the arms of my wife. To see again the colours of the sand and the wealth of the water holes. This land, for all the rivers and grass, do not suit me. Its people are ghosts, and they live without shame."
Captain Nagid swirled his cup once more. His eyes were on his captive, attentive to each expression and movement. Elessar would falter, falling forwards, and the guards would pull him back. He would sink back to sit on his heels, and the guards would pull him up to kneel properly. And their dance would start over.
The captain sipped his wine. "Some of the people have too much pride," he said. "They do not know when to bend." The prisoner swayed. He coughed, and blood fell from his mouth. Nagid turned to the healer.
"The southern shores of this land has a beauty unlike the dry lands of the sun," he said, "though their fishermen are unruly. If the Great Lord wishes, I shall make my home where the cliffs fall into the sea, until the Sea-Prince is broken to his will. Or even after." And in the corner of his eye, he noticed Elessar startle.
The healer answered with words of flattery, but it was not from those that Nagid smiled. He drained his cup and held it out to be filled anew. The camp around them was filled with laughter and song, in which the voices of Orcs and Men blended together. Elessar faltered again, and this time he hung slumped between the guards when they pulled him back. Nagid wondered if the healer would speak up, but the healer said nothing. The prisoner was still aware, that much Nagid could see, but it was clear that he could no longer hold himself up.
"The men are joyous." The healer strove to find some topic that would fill the silence of the captain, since his compliments earned him no favour.
"They have good reason," the captain answered. He smiled at the healer. "But I think we have neglected the guest of honour."
Nagid rose. Two steps brought him to the side of Elessar and he knelt down beside him. In his hand was still the cup of wine, newly filled. He swirled the wine under the captive's nose, and saw him smell it. Elessar swallowed at the scent, but he said nothing.
"Your brigand days have ended," Nagid told him. "You should join in our toast, Elessar." And he gave him of the wine to drink.
The taste of the wine lingered in the king's mouth even to the next day.
"The King will leave today."
Faramir stood just inside the door. Imrahil was reminded of one day, too many years ago, when a young boy stood like that, just inside the door of his chamber, afraid to intrude, but needing to speak with his uncle. But the boy was grown, and Faramir should not have needed him now.
"Even if I had not already been told, I would have guessed it," Imrahil said.
"He is strong." Faramir spoke with hesitation in his voice. "His will is unbent, even now."
Imrahil did not answer, and Faramir spoke again.
"Unlike me, he will not bow. I did not think, uncle, when I took up the Rod, that I would crown my King on the demand of Mordor, nor that I would bow to the Enemy and live. But he, mocked and humiliated, would not bend. I saw it in his eyes, his stance; that was my King, as noble and strong as my dreams could have made him."
At the furthest corner of the cell, light fell down from a high window. Imrahil stood underneath it and his face and head was lit by it. He turned his face up; from where he stood, he could see a glimpse of the sky. Grey clouds covered it, and the air that drifted down smelled of rain. He beckoned Faramir, and the Steward came, so like and unlike the boy from all those years ago.
"The sun shone yesterday," Imrahil said.
"Do you think me weak, uncle, that I weep to see him go?"
Imrahil turned towards his nephew. "It will rain today," he said. "The sun will weep."
He paused; a moment only, then spoke again. "I will leave as well. If not today, I will yet leave soon and follow our King."
"And you, uncle, will you bend?"
Imrahil shook his head, but he said: "I do not know. In the end all men must bend, or be crushed. I do not know what choice will be left me." And it seemed to Imrahil that his own voice shook, as if he had already been broken. "I do not know what choice I would make, were I free to choose."
"And do you think me weak, Prince of Dol Amroth," Faramir asked. "That I have already bowed?"
"In Dol Amroth," Imrahil said, "there is a place where the cliffs rise steep up from the sea. The wind is harsh there, and the water churns white even on a quiet day. On the top of the outermost cliff, a birch grows. Small it is, bent and crooked like unto some tormented creature, pitiful and strange. No storm has torn it down; its roots cling to the bare rock and will not let go, however low the wind bend its trunk.
"The strong oaks, tall and unbending, would never have weathered one winter-storm upon that cliff."
"Just of little understanding, then," Faramir answered. "A simple 'yes' or 'no' would have sufficed."
Imrahil smiled – he had not thought that even now he could smile as if nothing had changed – and he answered: "If you had a fault, son of Denethor, it was not of too little understanding." He paused, and grew grave once more.
"Have you spoken with the King?" he asked.
"Yes," Faramir answered. "Once, weeks ago."
"What did he say?"
Faramir turned to gaze up toward the patch of sky. As he stood there, the sky darkened and heavy drops of rain began to fall. Imrahil waited, and the bars of the window grew wet with rain while Faramir stood silent.
"He asked me to do what I could to protect Gondor, even if it was just a little. To rule as his Steward for as long as I could bear. He told me to be the lesser evil.
"He said my part was the harder."
The raindrops fell faster, until they could hear its drumming against stone.
"Did you not believe him, Steward of Gondor?" Imrahil asked. "Did you not believe him, that you would ask me about your strength?"
Faramir did not answer.
"This is no time for self-pity, Faramir."
"No," Faramir answered. "And I do not wallow in it."
Faramir smiled. It was not a happy smile, but Imrahil took heart to see it nonetheless.
"What time, if not this?" Faramir asked, but his shoulders straightened and he seemed lighter, as if touched by some happy memory. "Still, though I may doubt my own strength, I will trust in his. His, and the strength of Éomer king: that those who have not yet fallen will find green grass un-shadowed by the evil we must endure. And as long as he will remain, un-broken, I will not utterly despair."
Imrahil nodded; there were no more words he could say. They watched the rain, side by side, until the Steward was called away.
The rain fell, cold and unrelenting, for more than a month. The farmers feared for their crops, late in sowing, for the sun seemed to them weak and cold, and the rain turned many of the fields into mud where even grass grew slowly. It was the first of many summers with little growth, and it was later taken as an evil omen that the rain should begin on the day when the King was brought to Mordor, away from the land.
At the time, however, the rain was welcome, for little had fallen during the darkness, and what had fallen, had been full of ashes. And so it was that Aragorn left in the cleansing rain of mid-summer.
He welcomed it. His hands were bound, but his eyes were free, he was on horseback, and a cloak had been slung around him against the rain. His head was bare, and he turned his face towards the sky and let the water fall on his skin and soothe it.
The people of the City hid inside; the streets were almost empty but for those that had to brave the rain. They hurried from doorway to doorway, to keep dry. At the third level, a group of children were playing in the puddles. They scattered before the soldiers. One of them caught the King's eye and stood staring at the side of the road while all its playmates fled.
It was a small child, too small to tell whether it was a boy or a girl, but Aragorn saw that a light shone in its eye. He held its gaze and smiled at the child as they rode past, twisting to look until the Road turned. When he turned back, he noticed for the first time that the windows of the houses were covered with black cloth, and on the sills, the people had put white flowers.
An account of the coronation can be found in the first chapter of the first book: WGGG I: We May Yet Stand. Faramir's account is given there, as well as a narration of the day itself.
My thanks, as always, to the people on The Garden of Ithilien and my beta JAUL. Also a thanks to Linda Hoyland for pointing me to some typos that slipped past even
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