Politics of Arda
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Rangers of the North: 21. Minas Tirith At Last
Cemendur grew more and more nervous as the party of travellers spiralled up the levels of the White City. The young princes had pulled up their hoods to hide their faces, but the shimmering black velvet of their cloaks, the glitter of the eagle broaches on their shoulders and sparkle of the jewels decorating the harness of their horses drew stares from the people in the streets. But the Councillor paid little heed, being fully absorbed in trying to mentally order his discoveries into some semblance of a coherent narrative. It was proving difficult.
*Well, my Lord,* he rehersed silently, *to start with your faithful Captain Thorongil is in truth our rightful King; Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elendil's Heir. These young Men are his nephews, descended from Isildur on their mother's side and the Sorondili on their father's. They have come as hostages for the safety of your grandson Hurin who chose to take service with the Lord Aragorn's grandmother and regent. As for the alliance you hoped for, it seems it may not be unless we accept the Lord Aragorn as our King. Elrond Half-Elven strongly urges this but the Prince Armegil, Lord Aragorn's uncle and lieutenant, and the Lord of Lorien are opposed. Oh and by the way, while we were in the Golden Wood we met the Lord Aragorn's intended wife, Arwen, daughter of Elrond Half-Elven and granddaughter to Celeborn and Galadriel who are Lord and Lady of Lorien and quite pleasantly disposed towards Gondor dispite their disfame.* Cemendur shuddered. Surely there was some gentler, more gradual way of breaking it all to Ecthelion - if he could only think of one! ***
The Steward of Gondor was in his privy chamber reading, or rather trying to read, a tall stack of reports from the outposts but his mind kept turning to his son. Denethor had been hit by a black arrow while riding outside the eastern walls of Osgiliath on one of his periodic journeys of inspection. The Men with him had feared it was a Morgul arrow and certainly Denethor's condition when he was brought back to Minas Tirith had seemed to confirm it. Ecthelion had spent three dreadful nights sitting with his daughter-in-law by his son's sickbed, and heard from Denethor's delirious lips many things to distress and sadden him.
Then Thorongil had arrived unexpectedly, having ridden through the night from Cair Andros immediately upon hearing the news. The great Captain was as skilled in healing as he was in strategy and he quickly assured Ecthelion that Denethor's escort was mistaken, his wound had been caused by an ordinary Orc arrow. Poisoned certainly but Thorongil knew simples that would counteract the venom. Denethor, he said, would make a full recovery. And his condition had indeed improved almost immediately. Just yesterday he had been released by the Healers to return to his own house and the care of his wife.
Yet Ecthelion remained fearful, unable to forget the fate of Boromir, the great Warrior Steward of Gondor. Wounded by a Morgul weapon he had withered away as quickly as one of the lesser Men of Middle Earth. If Thorongil were wrong and it had been a Morgul arrow Denethor would be fortunate to live long enough to see his little son come to manhood - and suffer bitterly for all that short time.
Worse still were the things Denethor had mumbled in his fevered wanderings. How, Ecthelion wondered unhappily, could his only son believe that Thorongil or any Man could ever replace him in his heart? It must be his fault that Denethor felt so - clearly he had failed to communicate to his son just how important and dear to him he was. Somehow he would have to amend that failure in the few years they had left together, but it seemed inevitable that the first step must be to send Thorongil away and Ecthelion was not at all sure Gondor would survive such a loss. And if Denethor - Valar forbid it! - truly had only a brief time to live then young Boromir would need the great captain desperately.
The door opened, startling Ecthelion out of his troubled thoughts. "Forgive me, my Lord," the servant said apologetically, "but you did not answer my knock. I would not have disturbed you but the Lord Cemendur is returned and you left orders you were to be informed immediately -"
"Yes, yes indeed." the Steward got stiffly to his feet. If Cemendur and Hurin had succeeded in their mission then they might be bringing back a solution for at least some of his troubles. *** Ecthelion entered the small audience chamber to find a visibly and uncharacteristically nervous Cemendur standing next to two Men, or so Ecthelion assumed, shrouded in glimmering black hooded cloaks, but no sign of his grandson Hurin. The three Men bowed as he crossed to the chair of state and looked inquiringly at Cemendur.
"Welcome home, my friend. How went your mission?"
The Councillor took a deep breath. "We had a measure of success, my Lord. Our Northern kin still dwell in the Lost Realm. Here are two of them come back with me." turned and bowed to the Man beside him.
The stranger threw back his hood and Ecthelion was instantly struck by his resemblance to Thorongil in coloring, bearing and most of all the smoking glance he threw at Cemendur. "My Lord Ecthelion," he said formally, "I am Ereinion son of Thorondil, and this is my brother Ellenion." the second Man had also unhooded himself to reveal a face identical to his brother's, "Sent by the Steward and Regent of Arnor, with messages for our kinsman Aragorn son of Arathorn Isildur's heir."
There was a moment of tingling silence. Ecthelion sat motionless as pieces of information, misunderstood and misinterpreted until now, fell into new patterns in his mind. Finally he got to his feet and bowed. "You are welcome to Minas Tirith my Lords." he said formally. "Your kinsman is, I believe, here in the Tower. Permit me to find him for you."
The elder prince, Ereinion, bowed his assent and the old Steward headed for the door, then paused and turned. "By the way, where is my grandson?"
Both young Isildurioni looked at Cemendur who looked distinctly unhappy. "The Lord Hurin chose to remain in the North, swearing service to the Chieftain of the Dunedain through his regent."
"I see," Ecthelion said dryly "thank you." ***
'Thorongil' was exactly where the Steward had expected him to be, a side room of the great library head bent over an ancient tome. He looked up, started to rise, and Ecthelion forstalled him with a bow. "My Lord Aragorn."
He went still, as he always did when taken by surprise. To most he would have seemed expressionless but Ecthelion's practiced eye detected shock, chagrin and finally resignation - but no fear, for which he was deeply grateful.
Isildur's Heir sighed. "How did you find out?"
"I sent Men into the North to find your people."
"Cemendur and Hurin's secret mission." Aragorn guessed. Smiled wryly. "Clearly they succeeded."
"Cemendur brought two kinsmen of yours back with him, bearing messages from your Steward and Regent in the North. Ereinion and Ellenion, sons of Thorondil, they called themselves."
Aragorn's eyes widened. "Ereinion and Ellenion!"
Ecthelion frowned. "Are they not your kin? Certainly they look it."
"Oh yes indeed, my cousin's sons." shook his head wonderingly. "And the last time I saw them they were no older than your grandson." "You have given us twenty years, my Lord." said Ecthelion. Then suddenly, urgently. "Why come to us like this, in disguise?"
"I wanted to see the Southern Kingdom." Aragorn answered simply. "Then you told us Gondor thought the line of Kings extinct, and I decided it was safe to stay a while."
"Safe." the Steward echoed bitterly.
Aragorn got up, rounded the table to put his hands on the older Man's shoulders. "I have always trusted you, Ecthelion," he told him softly, "but you would have refused my service had you known who I was - and there were things that needed doing."
"The alliance with Rhovanion." Ecthelion smiled crookedly. "The watch on Mordor. The Ithilien Rangers." he stopped, closed his eyes. "It was a Morgul arrow wasn't it?"
"Yes, but do not fear - "
"I know. The Kings of Old had the power to heal such wounds."
"An inheritance from Luthien, our foremother." Aragorn said matter-of-factly, added gently. "Denethor will recover and live as long as any of his fathers, I promise you."
"Thank you." Ecthelion managed, for the younger Man's casual reference to Luthien as his ancestress had suddenly brought home to him the full realization of who and what 'Thorongil' truly was: Isildur's Heir, Elendil's son of Gondor and Arnor, descended through the Kings of Numenor from the Chiefs of the Fathers of Men, High Kings of the Noldor and Sindar, and a divine Maia older than time. "You say Ereinion and Ellenion have messages for me?" Aragorn asked, rousing him.
"Yes, and I can guess the substance of one of them at least." Ecthelion looked up at his King. "I sent Cemendur and Hurin to find and make alliance with your people if they could."
"Alliance!" Aragorn shook his head, troubled. "I fear that's impossible, Ecthelion, you do not know our position in the North."
"And your news, my Lord, is some twenty years out of date." the Steward reminded him. "Perhaps we should both hear what your young kinsmen have to say before discussing this matter further."
"Very well. Take me to them."
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