A line of mounted Guardsmen behind the Lord Steward Elboron awaited the arrival of the King’s party at the opening to the Rammas Echor. “Welcome back, my Lord, my Lady, my Lord Eldarion, my Lady Idril, my Lady Melian!” seemed to echo from all sides as the soldiers stationed on the outer wall, mounted Lords, and locals from the nearest portions of the Pelennor called out their greetings.
King and Steward gave their formal greetings. “Your father?” asked Aragorn.
“He is in the Citadel, awaiting your arrival. He is much recovered from the brainstorm in May.” He looked with interest at the small wagon that followed the horsemen in the King’s party. “Pheriannath?”
“Yes--Hamfast son of Samwise, come to serve the gardens of Minas Anor. He begged for the honor. He and his family desire to serve me here.”
“There in the North--did you see, on Midsummer’s night----?”
“The dancing stars? Oh, yes, all saw it.”
“We believe so, although Lord Glorfindel will say neither yea nor nay. But he sang the Lay of Frodo of the Nine Fingers just before.” Elboron nodded and smiled broadly, looking briefly to the West, then turned his steed to lead the way back to the city.
The arrival at the city gates went relatively swiftly as the report of the Captain of the Guard was formally placed in the King’s hands. All dismounted here, and the journey on foot up to the seventh level begun.
Wreaths of flowers were hung, the King noted, about the necks of the four figures in the memorial to the Ringbearer and his companions, with the most hung about the necks of Frodo and Samwise; flowers and greenery were also set in vases and laid upon the ground before them. There were many, apparently, who had interpreted the wonder of Midsummer just as it had been interpreted in Annúminas.
Aragorn indicated to the seneschal and housekeeper that he and Arwen would receive their reports in the morning, and sought out Faramir, who sat in a comfortable chair in the rooms given to the use of the Steward and his family within the Citadel. Aged eyes were raised to the eyes of the King Elessar, and Faramir would have risen had not the King reached him first and pressed down on his shoulder, then set fingers on each temple, seeking to see how things went.
“Do not worry, Aragorn--I have recovered well enough. Some weakening of the right leg and the grip of the right hand--I will not be able to wield a blade again, nor my bow. But I am glad I had already passed the office to Elboron--I was incapacitated for well over a month in its wake.” The former Steward of Gondor smiled, examined his liege. “You look most well--little older than when first I opened eyes to greet you so long ago.”
Aragorn smiled, but focused on his examination, closed his eyes and let his fingers feel deeply. Finally he came back present, and looked into the eyes of his friend, and smiled more fully. “You will be with us yet a time, my Prince.”
Faramir smiled in return, but it was somewhat solemn. “I will accept the Gift soon enough, and will not regret it.” After a moment’s thought, he went on, “You know, my Lord, I find I do not envy you your purer blood--you have already seen so many you have loved gone before you, must miss their company.”
Aragorn examined his face in return, then said quietly, “I will know the joy of that many more reunions on that day.” He rose, turned to another chair in the room, brought it near to sit by his former Steward here in the South. At last he asked, “Where were you on Midsummer’s night, Faramir?”
“I was sitting out on the terrace of Emyn Arnen with my son and grandson. I’d slept most of the day, felt restless, so they helped me outside. We undoubtedly had a better view there than they had here in the city. Frodo has at last gone on, then, and Samwise with him.”
“Did Elboron tell you of the other special happening of that day?”
“Other special happening?”
“Yes, a long hoped-for gift was given us.” He turned to the table beside him, picked up the small silver call bell that sat there and rang it.
A moment later Mistress Annen arrived. “Yes, my Lord?”
“Will you please ask my son and Lord Hirgion to bring the bowl here?” asked Faramir.
She smiled. “The bowl? Oh certainly, my Lord. They have waited with anticipation to present it to the King on his return.”
She hurried out, and Aragorn looked after her, then looked back to Faramir with a look of question in his eyes. Faramir, however, was intent on this remaining a surprise, and smiled while shaking his head. “Hold yourself in patience, my King--this is worth the waiting.”
Arwen and her children now entered, followed by Hamfast Gardner, his wife Iris, and their three children. Faramir straightened in surprise, carefully rose to his feet, and gave a measured, respectful bow. “Welcome to Minas Anor, friends. It is an honor to greet you.” He raised his eyes to those of Aragorn. “This is most fortuitous. These are the Lord Samwise’s kin?”
“One of his younger sons and his family. We have granted Master Hamfast here the title of Master Gardener for the Citadel.”
“Ah, then he will find this most interesting, and I believe it is most, most fitting that this should be presented to you in his presence. Master Hamfast, in honor of your father I greet you most gladly indeed. Please come to stand by us as my son fetches something that I believe you will find worthy of note.”
The door opened, and a procession of sorts entered, first one of the Guards of the White Tree, then Hirgion of the Keys carrying his staff of office, then the Lord Steward Elboron carrying a familiar bowl covered with a cloth of silver, embroidered with the image of the White Tree in blossom, lying over it.
The great bowl was a thing of beauty: blue in color basically, it nevertheless shimmered with all colors of the rainbow in a fascinating display as the light played over its surface. It had been given to the King and Queen many years ago by Frodo Baggins, shortly before he left Minas Tirith and Gondor to return to his own land; and King and Queen treasured it. Usually when they were in residence in the Citadel it was kept full of fruit and lay in the center of a table in their own quarters. When they were gone it was usually kept in a locked glass cabinet to assure its safety. Why it should be brought out now and what it might bear was a mystery. Aragorn and Arwen looked to one another in question--and then suddenly the King realized what it must contain. His face stilled, his mouth opened slightly in wonder, his eyes looked again at the Guard who led the procession and who stood proudly as Elboron knelt before his King, proffering the bowl.
Gently, reverently, the King raised the cloth, looked into the bowl at the great fruit that lay there, one which had not been seen in the city of Kings for over eleven hundred years--the fruit of the White Tree. Gently he stroked it with one finger, awe in his eyes. He took a deep breath, then signed Hamfast and his family to come near, to look. He saw the interest in the eyes of the Perian, the gentleness with which he, too, reached forward to touch the fruit, as he sought to learn of it, to know its ways. Then Eldarion came forward, and he, too, stroked it, bowed low in respect.
Elboron explained. “The day of Midsummer the Tree suddenly blossomed fully once more, and no one could say why. That night the Guards say the blossoms shone bright in the starlight as the stars danced and turned in the West. The light of the two great comets shone on them, most brightly at the top of the Tree. As the petals began to fall away, it could be seen that a single fruit was growing there at the top where the light had shone. It fell yesterday--I have stood watch below the Tree for days, waiting for that, and caught it. All agreed--this was the vessel in which it should be placed.
“Rejoice, my Lord, for the promise is renewed.”
Gently the King lifted out of the bowl the fruit, held it in his hands, blessed it as he had been taught, gave thanks for it, then returned it to the bowl and covered it respectfully once more. Eldarion took the bowl, and accompanied by the Guard he took it back to the King’s quarters where it would remain the night.
Early on the next day the King and his son carried the bowl up the mountain to the Hallows where the current White Tree had been found as a sapling, and with great reverence planted the fruit and the seed it contained as directed in the ancient lore. Eldarion finally left his father there to return to the Citadel to see to the business of the day; and Aragorn remained for a time, giving thanks for many things--for the wonder of the ripened fruit, for the wonder of the dancing stars, for the joy of knowing that Frodo and Sam had known blessed lives, relief, and release in a most blessed manner. The Sun had fallen past her zenith ere he came down again, reluctantly but competently reentered the business of the realm.
The blossoms of the White Tree of Tol Eressëa fell over the place where the two mortal guests of the island had found their release--all save one, near the top of the Tree where the silver and golden Lights had reflected most brightly. A fruit grew there, and many of the residents of the Island came daily to do honor to it, while many came from all throughout Aman in pilgrimage to gaze upon it. When at last it ripened and fell, the Lady Livwen was granted the honor of planting it. Elves and Maiar came to watch, and all felt the interest of the Valar as they waited to see where she would place it.
Long she stood, her eyes closed, as she sang the honor all felt for this Gift, as she held it for all to see. Finally she went still for a long time, and she waited for direction. Then, when at last her eyes opened, she looked up and smiled, then gently carried the fruit back through the gardens to a place near the small summer house where Iorhael had dwelt so long alone until the coming of his friend. She brought the fruit to the place where the body of Samwise Gamgee had been laid with great respect, stood silently there for a moment, addressed one more song of question, then bowed deeply as the choice was confirmed. A spade was brought, a hole dug, the fruit planted with the same respect shown to the one who had been buried there.
Now began the wait, the wait for the promise to be fulfilled, a wait kept jointly in Aman and in Middle Earth.