The trip across the Pelennor was far shorter than that from the palace in Thetos to Risenmouthe, yet was still full of impressions and activity. Farmers and children were busy with the first hay harvest or weeding vegetable plots. Women were caring for children or busy with laundry, a few working alongside their menfolk in the fields. Young boys were herding goats and cattle out to graze in fenced fields while girls stood from their weeding to watch them ride by, squealing with joy and calling out that the King had returned. Small children, some half-dressed, tumbled out of doorways to see, followed by young mothers and older sisters who paused in their words of frustration to watch, their faces lighting with joy to see the King riding toward the city gates. A few came forward to the side of the road to look up, smiling up and calling their greetings to their Lord King Elessar and his beloved wife the Queen Undomiel and receiving greetings in return. Many also called out greetings to Éomer King of Rohan and his Queen Lothiriel, who after all was one of their own, and the royal children of each were loudly acclaimed as well. Prince Faramir and his Princess Éowyn were also plainly greatly loved, and a farmer with a stiff hip saluted as the Prince rode by, receiving a salute in return, and another from Lord Mablung and Captain Damrod.
One place all looked to was a green mound covered with high green grass, surrounded by a low white fence; one place all seemed to avoid looking at was another fenced area beside the first, this bare and drear. Studying the faces of those he could see Ankhrabi found fascinating, and he looked with interest at the fertile fields, the young orchards, the faces of the citizens of Gondor. A brief rain fell, but passed by as quickly as it had started, barely enough moisture to lay the dust before the sky began to clear.
There was another riding out from the city, and this fell into line on either side alongside the first, with calls of welcome and delight. It became harder to see the farms they passed, the young orchards, the faces of those who lined the path. Behind their carriage Ankhrabi could see the King riding the great grey horse, his wife’s white palfrey by his side.
All too soon they were at the walls of the City, and all were swinging down from their steeds, King and Elf swinging legs over the animals’ backs and sliding to the ground, others swinging in their stirrups. A rider approached from the east, dressed in golden browns and greens and approached the King of Rohan, saluting and handing down a dispatch case which Éomer King accepted with serious attention, asking questions and receiving answers in the tongue of his own people. The King Elessar approached, the grey staying at his shoulder, and joined the discussion, then at a nod of dismissal from his lord the messenger also swung down from his horse and led it toward the gate.
The King himself aided those in Ankhrabi’s carriage out, and checked the eyes of each. “I warn you once more it is a long way. A pony carriage carries those who are incapacitated up through the levels of the city, and in this or on a pony Ruvemir must ride as his legs simply cannot make such a climb. If any of you find the climb beyond you, let me know and I will see you into the carriage with him.”
With the acknowledgment by Ankhrabi and his party that they understood, they entered into the gates of Minas Tirith.
Never had Ankhrabi nor Nefiramonrani seen such a city in their lives, and the first sight of the gates awed them. As they approached, the King explained, “The original gates were wrought by the folk of Anárion of wood and steel. Almost three thousand years did they stand before the spells of ruin uttered by the Witch King of Angmar finally allowed his folk to break through them with their great ram, which they called Grond. The Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain worked four years to rebuild them, incorporating the images which first graced them. The one over the gate is Elendil the Tall, first High King over Gondor and Arnor. On the left leaf is Anárion himself, his wife, and his son and heir. On the right gate is Isildur, the brother from whom I am directly descended father to son, and his wife and oldest son, although it was his youngest son Valandil who ended up following him rather than his eldest brother. These are the fathers of my lineage, the first Kings of Gondor and Arnor.”
The Captain of the Guard at the gate approached his King to make his report, pressing a scroll into the King’s hand and indicating all had been basically calm in the King’s absence. The King accepted the report gracefully and indicated he was ready to enter in with his guests. “They are to have the freedom of the city during their stay, and may come and go upon the Pelennor as they please.” With the Captain’s acknowledgment they entered the city of Minas Anor.
The carriages had been left with their teams at the gates of the city. The riding horses were led into the city to the great stable in the First Circle, Olórin nudging his lord one last time and receiving a last pat of dismissal before going in on his own. The Queen’s palfrey and the horse ridden by the Elf also went in with no guidance, and Ankhrabi watched with amazement.
The walk up through the city was taken at a leisurely pace, and in the Second Circle they stopped between two inns that stood on either side of the main way where the innkeeper’s folks came out with trays of drink and white rolls to refresh them along the way. When Lord Hardorn turned to speak to the innkeepers about payment, he was brushed off. “No,” Ankhrabi heard, “this is our pleasure today. So much has the King done for us, may we not now and then offer refreshments simply because it pleases us? We are only glad he is returned safe and whole, he and his family.”
The way was lined with citizens of the city, and many called out greetings and came out with flowers to give to one or another of those in the procession as they walked by. Nefiramonrani and Ankhsarani were both soon holding numbers of flowers and sprays of greenery, and Captain Peregrin Took somehow had been crowned with a wreath of woven wheat. The Princess Melian walked by her parents, smiling as she accepted the flowers handed her, mostly by children, speaking to this one or that, her eyes shining as she rejoiced to return to the home of her birth.
At last they were entering the Fifth Circle where Lord Ghants’pa’amon would be staying with the Prince of Dol Amroth and his family during their stay, and the way past the gate to the Sixth Circle was pointed out to the ancestral home of the family within the city. Then they were going through the sixth gate and entering the level of the guest houses within the city, and the homes of many who served in the Houses of Healing and the Citadel, and at the South end of the circle the quarters for the troops of the city. Here at last the small sculptor stepped out of his carriage and took his leave of the King. “No, my liege--I have rejoiced in your company for the past many weeks. Today will be given to the company of my wife and family, although we have already agreed to attend the feast of return and welcome tonight.”
At last they faced the ramp up to the Level of the Citadel. The King himself walked by Ankhrabi, steadying him, while Master Isumbard did the same for Ma’osiri, who was now tired. Another guard walked by Nefiramonrani to offer his arm if she needed it, and the Queen walked by Lady Ankhsarani. The family and guards and attendants for Prince Ankhrabi and Lady Ankhsarani were to stay in the guest apartments within the Citadel, although Lady Ankhsarani indicated she might prefer in coming days to stay in the Embassy where customs were more those to which she was accustomed.
Then they were at the top of the ramp, looking across the Court of Gathering at the Citadel itself, through the branches of the White Tree, and on all sides there were the sounds of a sudden intake of breath as all looked on the beauty of it all. Slowly they began again, then quickened their pace as they came closer and closer, only to slow as they came abreast the memorial to the Pheriannath. Now all stopped, their attention caught.
It was easy to recognize the figure of Peregrin Took at the back, and in the forefront was a rendition of the one whom they’d seen embodied in the small figure Master Ruvemir had done in Thetos. How different he looked here, almost painfully thin, his clothing ragged, his face full of grief and defiance as he held out on a hand from which one finger was missing a simple ring. Nefirnerini saw the inscription on the raised lip of the surround before him, and slowly she sounded it out in Westron. “... Or would y-you....”
The King read it himself, completing the phrase: “... Or would you destroy it?” He then translated it to Haradri so none could be in doubt as to what was meant. Finally he said quietly, “It took him at the end, and he felt guilty ever after. He gave almost all just to bring the Ring there, to Orodruin, and in the end It took him, and only the grace of Iluvatar saved him--and us.” He reached out gently and touched the fingertips of the figure in a gesture that was becoming familiar to those who knew him. “I would have saved him all if I could have done so.”
Ma’osiri indicated the other two figures. “Who are those?”
Indicating the figure standing to attention with the tip of his sword grounded, the King said, “Meriadoc Brandybuck, Holdwine of the Mark, Knight of Rohan, now Master of Buckland, and cousin to both Frodo and Pippin.” As he turned to the remaining figure of a stouter Hobbit with a barrel chest, bent slightly under the weight of a heavy pack, a sword held at the ready, eyes wary as he looked out from beneath his brows, he said quietly, “And Samwise Gamgee, gardener and caretaker of Frodo’s home of Bag End, and the brother of his heart. He’s now Master of Bag End himself and the Mayor of the Shire, and is beloved both within and without the Shire, in both Gondor and Arnor. It was Sam who accompanied Frodo all the way to Mordor and the Mountain, and who brought him out after to the one place from which they might be rescued.” He smiled gently as he looked at the figure, then turned to the boy. “We would all be under the thumb of Mordor to this day if they had not done what they did, my son.”
A family was approaching the memorial, the father carrying a wreath of flowers. Suddenly their small son called out, “Nana, Ada--look! The Ernil i Pheriannath!” His parents’ eyes, however, were focused on the King and Queen and those who accompanied them. They stopped still, then bowed and curtseyed low. King and Queen gracefully acknowledged the salute and with a gesture invited them to come closer. The family did so, and gently the father laid the wreath against the forward leg of the figure of Frodo Baggins.
Ankhrabi asked, “You wish to honor this one?”
The Man nodded solemnly. “I would not now be alive had he not done what he did--to bring the Ring to the Chamber of Fire so that Iluvatar could see to its destruction. I was fighting at Cair Andros--and I thank you still for that mercy, my Lord King.” Ankhrabi saw his host’s gentle nod and expression of understanding. “An orc was advancing on me. I had managed to kill the one before him, but my sword’s blade was caught against the bone of his shoulder and I could not withdraw it. It swung its blade up to bring it down on me, and then it stopped, stood looking confused and confounded; then turned and, dropping its weapon and shield, it ran away blindly toward the far shore where it went into the water and was swept away by the current.”
The King looked down, then raised his eyes back to those of the Man who stood before him. “The same happened everywhere the fighting occurred. Orcs and trolls and wargs simply lost interest in fighting and fled away. Many lived who would have died but moments later.”
The boy came close to Captain Peregrin. “You are the Ernil i Pheriannath?”
“Yes, so they still call me here.”
“Are you really a prince?”
“Not really, but as close, I suppose, as the Shire produces. We don’t have lords and kings and princes. My father is the King’s representative within the Shire, however, and I’ll be Thain myself one day.”
The boy looked between Pippin’s statue and himself. “It’s a different design on your shirt.”
“Yes, the design now indicates I’m equally a Guard in Annúminas as here.”
“And you look older.”
Pippin laughed. “I am older--ten years older now.”
“Are you related to the Ringbearer?”
The Hobbit’s face became more solemn. “Yes--we are second cousins, once removed.”
“Will you follow after him?”
“No, I will remain in the mortal lands until I die. Only then will I follow him, and then only if he dies before me. Otherwise I suppose he will follow me.”
“But he’s in Aman now----”
The King was shaking his head. “Those of us who are mortal can’t be denied death when it’s time for it, even on Tol Eressëa. Ar-Pharazon learned that.”
“Oh.” The child seemed to think about that for a time. “Then,” he said slowly, “I wonder what the Elves who live there will think about it, since those born there have never seen aging and dying like that.”
“As the Lonely Isle is the entrance to the Undying Lands, many who dwell there are believed to be those who have dwelt here in Middle Earth. They will more easily understand, I suspect.”
The boy nodded slowly, then smiled up thoughtfully at the King. “Was the Lord Iorhael truly your friend, my Lord?”
Now it was the King’s turn to nod. “He is as a brother to me.”
The child’s mother cleared her throat. “Dearling, we must go now.” She turned to the King and Pippin. “Thank you both for speaking with us. He will be able to remember this forever now, I think.”
The Man stepped forward. “Thank you again, my Lord, for your compassion then.”
“I would never force any to go beyond their strength; and you served faithfully where you were able, and did well. All of the Free Peoples owe you a great debt.”
The Man held out his hand, and the King grasped it, and suddenly they were embracing. “I felt so shamed when my fear threatened to overwhelm me; and your gift of a task I could face--oh, Lord Elessar!”
The King murmured quietly into the Man’s ear, and finally they straightened, and the Man again saluted, his stance straight and tall, his face beaming. The King returned the salute. Placing a hand on his son’s shoulders, the father turned away, guiding his son toward the ramp, his wife following after, turning to give one last smile of thanks.
Those in the party watched after. Finally Prince Legolas said quietly, “You are undoubtedly right that many who dwell on the Island have dwelt in Middle Earth in the past, but that does not mean they are necessarily familiar with how many mortals die of age.”
“You do not need to remain to see such a thing.”
The two friends looked long into one another’s eyes. Finally Legolas said quietly, “You know that I will not deny myself that experience for you or Gimli.”
“I ask only that if I die betimes you not wait so long that you cannot bear my farewells to him.”
The Elf sighed. “I do not think that will come, Aragorn. I suspect you will follow after him, not the other way about.”
The King gave a single nod, then turned to continue on the way to the Citadel, pausing to bow to the Tree, setting his hand on its bark briefly. Pippin followed suit, the Haradrim noted. All of the King’s folk bowed respectfully toward the White Tree, but did not appear to expect those from outside the realm to do the same.
Then they were approaching the Citadel itself, and the door to the Hall of Kings was opened by waiting guardsmen, all of whom bowed respectfully to those who came forward. Two waited inside, the Seneschal and the Housekeeper, both of whom held in hand reports ready to present to the Lord and Lady of the place. King and Queen accepted them gracefully and listened to the quick verbal reports and greetings of each, then asked if the rooms requested had been prepared. At word that they had they smiled their thanks. “When we have finished showing them this room we will accompany them with whomever you have appointed to lead them to their quarters, then,” Queen Arwen indicated. “If you will have that one here in a quarter mark’s time?”
“We will do so, my Lady,” said the housekeeper. “My Lord King Éomer, Lady Queen Lothiriel, your usual chambers are ready on the upper floor.”
The Hall of Kings with its black and white appointments, the throne on its high dais canopied by the depiction of the winged helm, the statues of the great Kings and Stewards of the past on either side, awed all from Harad. The King looked at the throne. “I’ve given orders that the dais for the throne in the new Hall of Kings in Annúminas is to be no more than three steps above the floor. That my ancestors chose to build such a high seat is pretentious, and when I am tired it can be a labor to ascend.”
Most of the statues were highly formal and even stylized. That of the Lord King Aragorn Elessar, however, was more realistic, his attitude more relaxed, his head slightly turned to the side, a slight smile on his face; and he was depicted wearing not the winged helm worn by some or bareheaded as were the rest, but with the Star of Elendil on his brow. “Master Ruvemir did this?” asked Lady Nefiramonrani.
The Lady Arwen smiled. “Yes, he did. And I suppose that if some of his predecessors were to see my Estel depicted with the Sceptre of Annúminas in hand and wearing the Elendilmir instead of the Winged Crown they would be most offended.”
The King shrugged and laughed. “Let all know after me that I came from the North and am King by right of my lineage from Isildur and Valandil as well as through Anárion. It is Elendil’s sword and circlet I bear, and he was High King over all.”
“These are all of the Kings there have been of Gondor?”
“Not all of these are Kings. Those who are bareheaded were ruling Stewards. There have been too many Kings and ruling Stewards in three thousand years for all to be shown here; many have over the years been moved to the Halls of Memorial. Elendil, Isildur, and Anárion have ever stood here and ever will do so; but the others have been moved, I suspect, back and forth depending on which of his ancestors and predecessors those who have sat on throne or chair preferred to honor.”
The frankness of that statement was refreshing, Ankhrabi thought.
“What are the two chairs for?” asked Nefirnerini.
“The black chair is the seat for the Steward of Gondor; the grey one for the Steward of Arnor when he is here in Minas Anor. We will have the same in Annúminas as well.”
Now those from Rohan and Ithilien and the others attending on the King withdrew, indicating they would prepare for the noon meal. A woman had been waiting patiently for some time near the back of the Hall, behind the high seat for the King. When at last the King felt his guests had completed their inspection of the room for the time he led the way to her. “Mistress Loren, this has fallen to you?”
“Mistress Belleth is ill, my Lord, and I have been pulled from my service in the guest houses to serve in her place.”
“Is she in the Houses of Healing?”
“No, Lord Elessar--she is in her own home.”
“I will see if I can visit her on the morrow then. If you will lead the way.”
After giving a profound curtsey Mistress Loren rose and led the way past the dais for the throne and through a doorway, then down a hallway to the left lit by mullioned windows. The walls in the Hall of Kings had been stark; here paintings and tapestries hung or statues stood along the way. They walked by a great double door, and she said, “The main dining room for those within the Citadel is there, my Lords and Ladies, although if you would prefer it you may dine in your own quarters at any time--simply speak to the servants assigned to the guest wing.”
More Guards of the Citadel stood at the doorway to another hallway. They saluted those who approached them and opened the doors, allowing them to pass inside. She pointed to a door just inside the door to the right. “The servant on duty for this wing will be found here if he or she is not busy about the wing or fetching meals if you require them.” A suite of six rooms, one a bathing chamber, had been prepared for the Lady Ankhsarani and her attendants. Another of nine rooms had been made ready for the Prince of Harad, his wife, sons, daughter, and their servants and guards. Mistress Loren explained, “I hope you will forgive us that the headrests are not yet available, for we have but a limited number, and they are coming up with your chests from the ship and will be placed for your use once all have arrived.” Sa’Harpelamun had a suite of two rooms, including a bathing chamber.
“The receiving room for this level of the guest chambers is there, my Lords and Ladies. There you may entertain those whom you may wish to see privately, such as those with whom you may wish to discuss trade agreements or artisans.” She led the way into a large room with a number of seats of many kinds scattered about it, along with tables and potted plants, reminiscent of the Hall of Entertainment in Harad. “There is another bathing chamber and room of refreshment there at the end of the room for those of you who will be staying elsewhere. You may pass out into the garden for the wing here, and into the further gardens past the guards there,” she explained, indicating the arched double door set with glass that opened into a walled garden, and the arched gate at the far side.
A white cat sat on the seat of a cushioned chair, and she sighed when she spied it. “Please forgive us--Kitling is not supposed to be in this wing, but will slip in whenever the doors are opened, of course.”
Her guests, however, were anything but upset. “Oh,” the Lady Nefiramonrani smiled, “but in our land it is considered good fortune to be met with a cat on entering a new place.”
“Given the chance, she will undoubtedly sleep with you as well. She’s an independent one, and, my Lord King, I fear a wanton one as well. She will probably give birth within the week, considering the size of her.”
Aragorn gave a laugh and approached the animal, carefully felt it. “Within three days, I’d say,” he said. He spoke to the cat. “Your ancestress would be most ashamed of you, Kitling. And I suppose you have been visiting with either Samwise’s tom or the kitchen’s cat?” He looked up. “Always when I was a boy there was a white cat who was mine, and Elrohir always saw to it there was one to greet me when I returned to Imladris. After Arwen and I were married he had Kitling’s mother brought to me; now Kitling is supposed to be my cat, but she prefers everyone but me, I fear.” He looked at the cat, shaking his head. “Glorien appears to believe herself as much my cat as Melian’s, while this one sees herself as the welcoming cat.”
He smiled. “The noon meal will be served in an hour’s time. If you should wish to bathe or change, Mistress Loren will call for you when it is ready to go on the table. Now, if you will excuse us, Arwen and I need to see to the needs of our children.” The two gave a profound bow and withdrew, followed by Mistress Loren.
The rest went again to their quarters, ready to open their chests, which were now being set into their rooms, and to settle themselves in before the meal.