1. The Days of Men
"Nay, cousin!" A woman's voice rose above the fray. "They are not boys. These Perian, out of the far country of the Halflings, where they are princes of great fame, it is said. I should know, for I had one to tend in the Houses. They are small, but they are valiant. Why, cousin, one of them went with only his esquire into the Black Country and fought with the Dark Lord all by himself, and set fire to the Tower, if you can believe it!"
Faramir found himself smiling in spite of the situation. Leave it to Ioreth to rise above the crowd even when all Gondor seemed to have poured into Minas Tirith. And leave it to her to get the important facts wrong and feel no shame at mangling them, if she even realized her mistake. She was absurd even on a day like today, and seemed heedless that other folk might think her a fool.
But bless her for that. Elessar was about to come into his majesty, and while Faramir welcomed him with all his heart, today's task of welcoming him felt heavy on his shoulders. Behind him, the honor guard was poised to carry Anárion's – Elendil's – crown out to the new king. Faramir had accepted Aragorn as his lord the moment he'd been pulled from the shadow-realms, but he had never expected to set the crown upon Aragorn's head. This was his father's task, or at least Boromir's in his stead, and the fact that it now fell to him only reminded him of those he could no longer count among the living. Ioreth's prattle was so absurd, he couldn't help but smile at it, and that did him good.
Faramir caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye and noticed that, while her voice was as carefree as he'd ever known it, her smile was stretched a bit too thin, and she could not quite hide the circles from under her eyes. Bergil had mentioned her once or twice in the Houses of Healing that she wasn't sleeping, in truth that many of the healers here in Minas Tirith suffered from war-stress. They were not field medics and had never expected to experience war's most poignant horrors firsthand. Faramir could see it in her eyes, much as he'd seen it in Bergil's in those early days after the Siege of Minas Tirith. She struggled to keep her night-phantoms in check, perhaps, but she managed it for her cousin's sake.
With that thought Faramir stepped through the gate and crossed to Aragorn, confident that whatever personal doubts might prey upon his mind, they wouldn't show on his face. Kneeling, he held out the white rod of his line. "The last steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office."
Aragorn took the rod but then reached out, lifting Faramir's chin so their eyes met, and the steward caught the same victory shorn of gladness in the king's eyes. "That office is not ended," Aragorn said, "and it shall be thine and thy heirs' as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!"
Faramir rose, then, and turned to face the crowd awaiting him in the city. "Men of Gondor hear now the Steward of this Realm!" he cried out, glad to hear his voice was as steady as his father's ever had been. "Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dúnedain of Arnor, the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing." Whose hands had healed him. The names and deeds rolled past his lips and when at last he came to his question, he had little doubt how his people would answer.
And all the host and all the people cried yea with one voice. Behind him, Faramir heard Húrin and Imrahil cheering them on with their grandchildren, and Ioreth chattering merrily with her cousin (if it was forced merriment, Faramir could hardly guess) and Frodo giving a most unprincely whoop. A great explosion sounded above the crowd and a single point of light burst into a hundred flowers, floating down as if upon the wind until the sparkling petals died out just before they reached the ground. Faramir guessed Gandalf would deny any part in it, but he saw a twinkle in the old wizard's eye that Faramir hadn't seen in many a long year.
Aragorn reached out and grasped Faramir's arms in a warriors' salute, and Faramir returned it. This meant camaraderie, and trust, and – so far as protocol would allow – an equality in all things. A kingly gift, and one he would gladly accept.
"Pelendur be damned," he said so only Aragorn could hear him. "I doubt even Denethor could have gainsaid this crowd, and I would not try even if I could. Anárion's throne has sat empty too long, and you have claimed my fealty since you first called me from the shadowlands. But I would have you know the truth: ever since I was a child that ancient decision sat poorly with me. For my part, I welcome thee not only as Elendil's heir, but as Isildur's."
Aragorn smiled widely at that, his eyes shining merrily, before he noted the people all around them and took on a more dignified expression. Faramir raised his hand to the crowd and continued with the words the ministers had set for today's festivities.
"Men of Gondor, the loremasters tell that it was the custom of old that the king should receive the crown from his father ere he died; or if that might not be, that he should go alone and take it from the hands of his father in the tomb where he was laid." He motioned for the guards behind him to bring the crown forward, and he took it from its casket, holding it aloft so all the crowd could see. "But since things must now be done otherwise, using the authority of the Steward, I have today brought hither from Rath Dínen the crown of Eärnur the last king whose days passed in the time of our longfathers of old."
Faramir felt his own smile slipping from his face at the thought of that walk, for the road to the King's House on Rath Dínen had taken him past the gaping hole where his own forefathers had once slept in peace. Where his father had tried to immolate him, dragging them both into everlasting darkness. But he would not falter. Not now, not when his people needed to see endurance beyond hope, and not with the king's return at hand.
Instead, he presented the crown to Aragorn. The king rose the crown above his head, singing the ancient words Elendil had spoken when he first set foot on Middle-earth. Then, he turned to his friends and had Frodo and Gandalf present the crown again, and it was all Faramir could do to keep from laughing. He'd longed, since his earliest memories, for a time when the city of the Men of Númenor might live again in peace. This was not Osgiliath, but Minas Tirith had her king, safe and crowned at last. That would do for a start.
Such sentiments were not his to proclaim publicly, but he knew his people well. He knew their hopes and their losses, and he guessed few men gathered here needed him to voice those thoughts. Instead he turned to face the gathered crowd and with tears glistening in his eyes said the final words appointed for him:
"Behold the king!"