Claiming the Throne
8. The Field of Cormallen
“My lord Steward,” Éomer said, with a bow from his horse, “welcome to Cormallen.”
“I thank you, King Éomer,” Denethor said, and Éomer smiled a little sadly at the title.
“As you can see, the camp is well in hand,” he said, turning Firefoot and beginning to lead the way across the grass. “Riders have been sent to Minas Tirith and we expect supplies in a few days.”
“Quicker than that,” Gandalf broke in. “Landroval told me he would fly to the City to break the news. Your son, my lord Steward, and your sister, Éomer, will both know now of the victory.”
“That is well,” Denethor acknowledged. “We will remain here a while, until the men recover a little. The sweet air of Ithilien will aid their healing.”
In the tents erected around the field they discovered sleeping quarters for all, and a smaller tent had been made ready for the Ringbearer and his companion. Frodo and Sam were still in their deep sleep, and made no sign of awakening as Aragorn lifted them carefully from the wagon and into the tent. He unwrapped Frodo’s bandage and examined the stump of his finger. It seemed to be clean, but nevertheless Aragorn called for water and herbs and washed it tenderly before wrapping it again. He bathed the hobbits’ brows with more water, in which athelas had been steeped, and spent some time in silence, seeking their thoughts and calling to them. But still they made no movement, and he left them after a while feeling weary.
He found his foster-brothers seated outside a tent with Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf. The wizard was smoking a pipe and looked the epitome of contentment. Aragorn threw himself down on the ground and stretched out.
“Well?” said Elrohir.
Aragorn shook his head. “I begin to fear it is beyond my skill to heal them. I will keep trying, but I know not what they suffered on their long lonely march, save hunger and exhaustion.”
“If anyone can heal them, you can,” Gandalf put in.
“Maybe,” said Aragorn. “But nonetheless I wish Lord Elrond were here, that I might ask his advice.”
“Won’t his sons do?” Elladan asked, and then laughed. “No, I know in this case we will not do.”
“Well, I hope you can help them,” Gimli said gruffly. “These Elves may think it right to laugh, but until I see Frodo’s eyes open I’m not sure I shall find the heart.”
“Sometimes laughter is the best medicine,” Elrohir returned.
They settled into silence, each occupied with his own thoughts. After a time, the brothers excused themselves and disappeared off together to make a round of the hospital tents. Legolas was next to go, saying he was going to wander the woods of Ithilien, “for it is a fair night.” Gimli, his head nodding, went into the tent and a few minutes later Aragorn heard the familiar sound of Dwarvish snoring.
“And so the victory is achieved,” Gandalf said softly, after a while. Aragorn looked up.
“Against all hope.”
“Not against all hope,” the wizard corrected him. “I, at least, always had some hope – as, I think, did you, Estel.”
“By the end, not much,” Aragorn admitted. “Always some, but not much.”
“And what hope do you have now?” Gandalf asked.
Aragorn sat up and wrapped his cloak around his legs. “Truly, Mithrandir, I do not know. I hoped that Gondor would be free, and she is, and what more can I ask than that?”
The wizard stood, tapping his pipe out against his staff. “Gondor still needs a ruler. Well, goodnight.” He smiled at Aragorn and disappeared into the tent.
Aragorn lay down again and gazed up at the stars, searching for the brightness of Eärendil. Finding it, he let himself drift to sleep.
* * *
Denethor sat outside his tent in the spring sun and watched the camp slowly awaken. He had passed yet another sleepless night, his thoughts in turmoil as he relived the events of the previous days in his mind. Now he followed the sons of Elrond with his eyes as they crossed the field to go to the healers’ tents, talking and laughing at something. With the horses, he could see Éomer, who was busy grooming Firefoot whilst other Rohirrim looked after the other steeds. The young king was bareheaded and dressed simply in a tunic and leggings.
The Steward’s mind wandered back to Minas Tirith, and he wondered what Faramir was doing and how his son was faring. Breathing in the sweet fragrance of Ithilien he found it easier to understand why Faramir had so often stayed away from the City, and his mouth broke in a wry smile as he remembered the arguments and the tension, the harsh words and stony silences. On this March day, with victory a reality, Denethor resolved to try and settle things with his youngest son.
He looked up and saw Aragorn, the Elvish scabbard of Andúril at his side, going the same way as his foster brothers.
“Thoro – my lord Aragorn!” he called, and the Ranger looked round and swiftly came over.
“Good morning, my lord Steward.”
“Is there any word yet on the halflings?” Denethor questioned, and Aragorn shook his head.
“When I left them last night there was no change. I am going now to see them. And you, my lord?”
Denethor had an uneasy feeling that Aragorn was asking about more than his bruised body, but pushed the thought down where the keen eyes of the other could not see it. “Well, I thank you. Do not let me detain you.”
“My lord.” Aragorn bowed, and was gone, with the Steward watching him.
Frodo and Sam were still unconscious, but in the next tent Aragorn was greeted by the welcome sight of Pippin, propped up against pillows and being fed soup by one of the healers. The hobbit’s eyes lit up when he saw Aragorn. “Strider!”
“Master Took.” Aragorn took the soup bowl from the healer, who smiled and disappeared elsewhere. “How do you feel?”
Pippin swallowed a mouthful. “Bruised. But is it true, did we win?”
“We won,” Aragorn said. “Frodo and Sam reached Orodruin and the Ring was destroyed.”
“Oh good!” Pippin said. “But – are cousin Frodo and Sam all right?”
“They are alive, but I have not yet been able to awaken them,” Aragorn explained. “I hope that soon they’ll be sitting up like you, but this may not be.”
Pippin’s face fell a little. “Oh. Well, we’ll have to wait, won’t we? What about the others?”
“All fine,” Aragorn said. “Legolas and Gimli had an argument when they discovered you were missing in the battle. You killed a troll, did you know that?”
The hobbit nodded. “I don’t suppose you found my sword, did you, Strider? I was getting rather fond of it, and I didn’t want to lose it.”
“I think Gimli has it,” Aragorn said, laughing. “If you promise to send them away when you get tired, I’ll ask them to come and see you. Indeed, I think it will be hard keeping them away.”
“I should like that,” Pippin said. He regarded Aragorn. “So what happens now, Strider? Do you get to be king?”
Aragorn put the soup bowl on the ground by Pippin’s bed, and rested his elbows on the mattress. “Hobbits really are direct in their questioning.”
“We can’t see the point of skirting the issue,” Pippin returned. “Well?”
“I do not know,” Aragorn said.
“It’s Denethor, isn’t it?” said Pippin. “I remember he said to Gandalf that he thought you were an upstart. Though he wasn’t well at the time.” His face clouded with the memory. “You know, in the Shire we have a Thain and a Master. I wonder if the same could be done in Gondor?”
Throwing back his head, Aragorn laughed aloud. “My dear Pippin! What would the loremasters say if I suggested modelling the ancient realm of Gondor on the forgotten Shire?”
“It works very well,” Pippin defended himself. “My father and Merry’s father get along, and nobody complains. Yet I see, of course, that this is different. Don’t mind me, Strider. My head is probably still muddled from being squashed. Can you go and find Legolas and Gimli, and old Gandalf, if they’re around? I would like to see them.”
Aragorn stood up, and bent to kiss the hobbit’s brow. “Yes, I will find them for you. Now rest, and do not get out of bed, Peregrin, or I shall have words to say to you.”
“All right.” Pippin let his head fall back on his pillow, and Aragorn picked up the soup bowl and left the hobbit’s bedside.
During the afternoon, men began clearing an area by the river, close to the makeshift docks where the boats from Cair Andros had been moored. Using turves, they made a raised platform at one end of a long green strip of grass. And as the afternoon drew on, heralds around the camp announced that the Steward of Gondor would be holding an audience to thank the captains of the host for the victory, at sunset.
Aragorn was examining some stitches as the announcement was made, with Elladan and Elrohir by his side. The sons of Elrond exchanged glances, and then both turned to the Man, but Aragorn was speaking softly to his patient and made no sign of noticing their looks.
Towards sunset, all men who were able began to gather on the field. Some wore slings to cradle broken arms, and others had bandages wrapped around cuts, but their faces were joyful and the mood light-hearted. Imrahil was there, and Éomer, and the captains of Lossarnach and Morthond and Pinnath Gelin, though their lords had fallen on the Pelennor. Silent in grey, the Dúnedain stood by the silver-clad knights of Dol Amroth, Aragorn with them. Legolas and Gimli and Gandalf had left Pippin sleeping and stood next to the Rangers, Gandalf’s robes glimmering in the half-light. As the Sun began to dip below the horizon, Denethor appeared accompanied by his standard bearer. His black armour had been polished up and some of the dents hammered out, and though he wore no helm his sword was at his side.
The throng grew silent as the Steward walked up to the seat which had been placed on the raised area, and he sat down and nodded to a herald who stood nearby.
“Dervorin of Ringló Vale!” the herald called, reading from a list, and Dervorin came forwards. One by one the captains were called and came to stand before Denethor to be thanked, to the cheers from their men. The light grew red and then pale.
“Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth!” the herald called, and Imrahil went to his brother-in-law.
“I thank you for coming to Gondor’s aid, kinsman,” Denethor said gravely, as they exchanged bows.
“Long have Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth been allies,” Imrahil returned, “and long shall we be so.”
“Éomer King of Rohan!”
“To the Rohirrim I give my thanks,” Denethor said, as Éomer stood before him. “Théoden was a great king and sorely do I mourn his passing, but his heir is worthy and did not forsake his oaths.”
Éomer bowed his head. “And gladly will I renew them, for old friendships,” he answered. But Denethor shook his head.
Éomer’s eyes narrowed, and then he smiled, bowed, and withdrew. The herald glanced at his list, and read out, “Aragorn, chieftain and captain of the Dúnedain of Arnor!”
The host fell silent, and Aragorn went up to Denethor. The Steward stood, and for a long moment, the two men met each other’s eyes. They were alike enough to be close kin, but the Steward’s face was older and greyer, the weight of years in his eyes and on his shoulders. Nobody spoke, all sensing that something was passing here which would shape the course of Gondor’s future.
Suddenly the stillness and the silence were broken with the ring of steel as Denethor drew his sword. Beside Gandalf, Gimli made a movement, putting his hand to his axe, but the wizard stopped him.
“Nay, Gimli,” he murmured. “Be still.”
The Dwarf turned back to watching the two Men, there in front of the host.
Denethor held his sword for a second, and then, coming to a decision, knelt and turned the hilt towards Aragorn.
“Accept my service,” he said, holding the sword out. “I, Denethor, son of Ecthelion and Steward of Gondor, do surrender my sword to you; Isildur’s Heir and rightful king of both Gondor and Arnor.” He looked up. “Accept my service.”
Aragorn did not move, standing still and tall even as one of the statues lining the great hall of the Citadel. For a long moment he paused; and then he reached out his hand and took Denethor’s sword.
“Steward of Gondor,” he said, and his voice rang out so that all the host could hear, “I gladly accept your service, and do this day reaffirm the oaths I once took to serve Gondor faithfully, until the end of my years.” He turned the sword and offered it back to Denethor.
Denethor grasped the hilt, and Aragorn raised him and they stood face to face once more. Then Denethor smiled, and it was as if the sun had come out after many long years of storm, and he turned to the Armies of the West and cried out, “Here is your king!”
As one, the men of Gondor, and of her allies, knelt, and the last rays of the setting sun shone upon Aragorn’s head and crowned him with a halo of flame.
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.