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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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12
12: Camp on the Pelennor

12

Frodo remained quiet for the remainder of the voyage to the Harlond. How much was concern over Denethor and the memory of the images the Ring had shown him and how much was the weariness of the sail Aragorn could not say. He remained seated for some time, accepted a mug of watered wine brought him, then, just before they reached the wharves he suddenly went white and had to hurry to the rail where he was quite sick. Aragorn held him, and afterwards wiped away the sweat that had broken on his brow. At a sign from the Man Legolas brought a cup of water for Frodo to rinse his mouth with, and then he was coaxed to sip at it slowly.

“Do you know what brought this on, Frodo?”

The Hobbit shrugged. “I think the motion of the ship, and perhaps the richness of the broth.” He looked up, frustration filling his face. “I never lost my meals when we came down the river in the Elven boats.”

“That was before you spent so long without proper food and drink entering and going through Mordor, or breathing in the ash and poisons of the place. It’s likely you swallowed a good deal of the ash, Frodo, breathing it into your mouth and then swallowing. What that alone could have done to your stomach and bowels----”

At that moment the little water Frodo had swallowed came back up as well.

Aragorn looked aft to see Sam was working his way to Frodo’s side. Knowing how uncomfortable the gardener was on boats he appreciated just how worried he must be for Frodo. “What’s wrong?” Sam demanded. “He’s not sick again, is he?”

“I think he is seasick, Sam.”

“Seasick?”

“Some folk become nauseous in boats from the movement of the vessel.”

“But he didn’t do that afore!”

“We know, Sam; but he’s only just beginning to feel better physically.”

“Maybe we ought to of walked.”

“Neither you nor he could have walked that far right now, Sam, not after being so deeply in healing sleep for two weeks and all that happened to you. Nor could you have stood to ride ponies that far. Even a wagon ride would have been difficult for both of you, and particularly for Frodo.” The Man looked down on the Hobbit who still leaned on the rail. “I thought the boat would be the easiest means of travel for you right now.”

“It’s not your fault,” Frodo said miserably. “At least we’re nearly there.” He sighed. “So, I’d have been as likely to be ill no matter how we came?”

“So I’m certain. At least here on the boat you could change your position and move about, which you couldn’t have done in a cart or on the back of a pony.”

Frodo gave a slight nod of understanding. “It was a matter of choosing the least of the various ills, then.”

They were coming to the quays, and fenders were being hung over the side along with long, heavily woven mats of grasses while the sailors made ready the ropes and cables with which the ship was to be tied.

It was with relief Frodo stepped onto the solid shore, although for the first few minutes he found himself struggling for his balance. Sam, his familiar pack on his back, placed his arm about him to brace him, and again, briefly he felt resentment before solidly thrusting that resentment away, knowing that thought was unworthy of both of them. “Thank you, Sam,” he said finally. Then he straightened and moved forward, following Aragorn as those who’d come before led them forward to the tent prepared for them.

There was but a cot this time instead of a full bed, with a low table with a cup of water beside it; but Frodo found it comfortable enough. He sipped from the cup as he sat, then found the blankets warm as he lay down, accepting the draught Aragorn prepared for him and drinking it down, then more water that followed after. He dozed until Merry appeared at his side with a bowl of curds and whey and a cup of apple juice; he ate the one and drank the other, then turned on his side and fell into a deep sleep. Two hours later he awoke to find Gandalf by him with a mug of broth--a lighter broth this time, and Frodo drank it and still more water down gratefully, was helped to the carefully prepared latrine, then came back to Aragorn’s tent. It was past sunset, yet they were still busy setting up tents here and there on the edges of the camp, and the cooks were busy with the thick stew they were serving to most of those here for the night. One of those in grey who stood on duty here quietly gave a cup of water into his hands, then returned to his place, smiling gravely at his thanks.

A folding chair had been set for him, and he sank into it gratefully while the Wizard perched himself on a high stood beside him and pulled out his pipe, handled it thoughtfully, then put it back into whatever pocket from inside his cloak he kept it in with a sigh.

“Why don’t you light it up?” asked the Hobbit.

Gandalf smiled down on him. “No, it’s your healer’s orders that none is to smoke about you, Sam, or Pippin for the next three weeks.” As he watched the approach of Aragorn and two of the other lords with him, he smiled somewhat evilly. “And that restriction includes the redoubtable Ranger Strider as well as Merry, Gimli, and myself and any others from the Northern lands likely to seek that comfort.”

Aragorn looked profoundly different, for somehow he appeared to have bathed and cleansed his hair, his beard and hair had been carefully trimmed, and he now wore a long surcoat of crimson over an undertunic of golden linen, a mithril circlet set with a single great gem upon his brow. He still wore a sword belt, but it was a new one of royal green leather from which the black sheath of his sword hung; and he wore over his shoulders a fine mantle of white wool, clasped with the Elessar brooch. He looked now much as he had when they’d been led out to the feast, but even more kingly than then, if that was possible. Frodo looked down and realized that not only were the dark trousers the Man wore also new, but so were the boots on his feet.

“I almost didn’t recognize you before, when Gandalf brought us out to stand before the host of the army of the West, Aragorn, but there can be no question now who and what you are.” His voice was warm, and he realized with surprise he was on the verge of tears of pride.

He started to rise, but Aragorn restrained him. “No, Frodo--you need to remain seated now. There will be far too much ceremony in the next few days--I’ll not have you rushing it.” The Man went to one knee, and examined his eyes and face, set one hand against his temple and the other his neck. At last he smiled. “Good enough, then. You appear to have recovered from the sail up the River, I must say. Any more nausea?” At Frodo’s shaken head he nodded with satisfaction.

“Now,” he said, rising and automatically dusting the knees of his trousers, “we will discuss what will happen tomorrow. There have been several exchanges of messages between us and the Lord Steward Faramir within the city. He’d be out here himself if he weren’t already under the restrictions of protocol in preparation for what must happen in the coronation. Frodo, I trust you remember Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and Éomer King of Rohan? The lady with King Éomer is his sister Éowyn, the White Lady of Rohan and a shieldmaiden of her people.”

Embarrassed to remain seated while these stood--even Gandalf had risen as they’d approached the tent--Frodo bowed his head as graciously as he could. “I am honored,” he said.

The young King of Rohan smiled. “I must say you look far better than you did when we spoke after the waking feast, Master Holbytla. At that time I think you were so totally overwhelmed you had no idea who I was.”

Frodo could feel his face flush, and he sipped at his cup to cover his confusion.

Merry, Pippin, and a young soldier appeared carrying more folding chairs, quickly setting them in place for the four nobles. Aragorn thanked them all solemnly, and asked them to fetch several more. They smiled, gave proper bows, and hurried away to continue their work. As the nobles seated themselves Gandalf resumed his seat on his stool, smiling with satisfaction.

The Lady Éowyn was examining him with great interest. “It is a pleasure to meet you at last, my Lord Frodo. Merry has told me a great deal about you, of course. I am so glad you have returned to his comfort, for if you hadn’t I fear he’d have faded away in grief.”

She was the first women from among Men he’d ever given much attention to, and she was so lovely that it seemed it stole his breath away. She wore a bandaged splint about her left forearm, although her hand was free. She was dressed in a gown of white and green, with a mantle of deep blue set with white and silver stars upon it, clasped with a brooch of a silver star in which was mounted a diamond; and her golden hair was encircled by a coronet of gold flowers, each blossom centered with a faceted garnet.

“Your arm is hurt, my Lady?” Frodo asked, then flushed at the obvious answer to his question.

She smiled. “It was broken in the battle, although they tell me that if the Lord Aragorn agrees I may have the splint removed this night.”

Her brother was looking at the mantle she wore. “That is new. Did you purchase that here in the city?”

“It was a gift, Éomer, and we shall discuss it tomorrow. There is too much which must be done tonight.” There was an almost stubborn set to her mouth and eyes that indicated she would not be forthcoming in her explanations until such time as she felt best to impart its meaning, and Frodo felt a laugh building in him. How often he’d seen such an expression on Pippin’s or Merry’s face over the years.

Then there was a moment of--apartness--and he felt as if he stood two paces behind himself and a half pace to the left; and he looked at the woman and saw her standing beside Captain Faramir--the Lord Steward Faramir--with his arm about her shoulder, and he knew the source of the mantle. And seeing the look on Prince Imrahil’s face, Frodo knew that this Man recognized the garment and understood its meaning. Then he was back in his seat, looking out again through his own eyes, and felt a bit disconcerted.

The Northern Dúnedain warrior who attended on Aragorn and who resembled him so strongly was approaching, just as Merry, Pippin, and the young Man returned with more chairs. Pippin set down one of the two he’d brought, and at a nod from Aragorn set the second out for the warrior to take, once he was done with his bow to the company. Aragorn turned to the Lady Éowyn. “My Lady, you may remember my kinsman, Lord Hardorn of Eriador, one of the Grey Company who followed me on the dark path. He is now appointed as the head of my personal bodyguard.”

After the exchange of polite murmurs Hardorn sat, and the Prince’s son Lord Elphir arrived, bowed, and accepted a chair from his father’s esquire. Gimli and Legolas approached, Legolas now dressed in keeping with his role as Prince of Mirkwood, a woven circlet of silver reminiscent of branches and beech leaves on his own brow, his expression somehow softer but as regal as ever. Gimli’s harness had been carefully cleaned and his boots, axes, and mail polished; he wore now a new belt; the neck of a new shirt visible under his mail; his helmet removed and his hair and beard freshly braided.

Sam arrived with the healer who’d attended on Frodo along with Aragorn before, a relatively young Man, obviously of Dunedain ancestry himself, both carrying trays. Aragorn rose with respect. “Eldamir, welcome.”

Prince Imrahil’s escort set a low folding table in the midst of them, and another young Man with golden hair and dressed as a Rider of Rohan arrived with a brazier and set it nearby, somewhat behind Frodo and to the right at the Lord Aragorn’s direction. Two armed guards flanked the circled group now as the three serving as esquires took their places near their lords.

The trays the healer and Sam brought were set on the table, and mugs of the stew were given to all save Frodo, who first was handed a draught and then a mug of thicker broth and a roll. The draught was pleasant and strongly smelled of ginger, and it appeared to further ease his stomach, and the broth and roll helped ease the desire for something more filling than he’d had so far.

Frodo looked about him ruefully. “It appears I’m about the only one who hasn’t yet bathed.”

“They’ll be makin’ that right soon enough, Master,” Sam said. “They’ve fixed up a wonderful bathin’ tent, they have. You’ll find it far nicer than many of the streams as we bathed in along the way.”

“It will feel nice. I know we had the baths in Ithilien, but they were rather shallow, to say the least.”

“Well, these are quite deep. Made for Men, they were. But no one was willin’ to interrupt your rest earlier.”

Aragorn and the healer were both watching Frodo as he handed his now empty mug for the broth back to Sam to set on the table, at which Sam handed him a small plate with apple slices. “If you find your stomach upset at all, please tell me,” Aragorn suggested.

Frodo gave a small nod.

Prince Imrahil looked at the three chairs which remained empty. “Whom do we await other than Master Galador, my Lord Elessar?” he asked.

“The sons of Lord Elrond of Imladris. They were taking advantage of the bathing tent themselves. Will you tell me some of Master Galador before he arrives? I did not see him when I went up into the city, and he was at none of the lords’ councils we held before we left for the assault on the Black Gate.”

“He was sent to the refuges with those who did not fight, for he is no warrior, my Lord. Indeed, one hand has been clubbed from birth. Yet he is nevertheless a skillful writer and began his career as one of the secretaries who attended on Lord Denethor. When Master Berengil, who served as Master of Protocol before, became incapacitated due to an evil growth, Galador took his place. He suited my sister’s husband well, but I suspect that you will quite frustrate him and he may well stretch your patience, my Lord, for he is rather inflexible. However, when it comes to knowing who ought to be seated together at a feast and who need to be seated completely apart there is none better. I do not think there exists any individual in the land with a better understanding of the order of precedence for the various lords of the realm of Gondor than he.”

“And why do you think I will frustrate him, my Lord Prince?”

Imrahil smiled. “I’ve seen you sitting there taking down your own notes on the intelligence gathered, dismissing the need to bow and scrape when it is unnecessary, and so on. That will certainly offend against his sense of propriety. And that you would think to personally offer a plate of cakes or sweetmeats to another would horrify him.”

“I see,” his new Lord sighed. “We will seek, then, to let it be known by him that we do things differently.”

“You may find it easier to coax the statue of Isildur in the Hall of Kings to whistle, my Lord.”

“Actually, according to our Adar, Isildur was quite talented at whistling, as was his eldest son Elendur, my Lord Prince,” commented one of the sons of Elrond, who’d arrived together during this last interchange.

Several rose at their arrival, but Aragorn merely indicated two of the remaining three chairs and with graceful inclinations of their heads the two Peredhil joined the council. “If the opportunity offers itself, I will have to indulge my curiosity on the foibles of my ancestors,” he commented, “but I suppose this is neither the time nor the place for it.” But he and his foster brothers exchanged smiles.

At that moment a group was approaching from the direction of the city. The new King sighed. “It appears that he has arrived at the last.” He himself rose to his feet, and the rest of the company rose with him.

Master Galador was of middle height, his face somewhat round, one of those whose expression always appears to be somewhat startled by the happenings around him. His left hand was clubbed and the entire arm somewhat foreshortened, and partially hidden by a rich cloak; and it appeared that his left foot was also twisted inwards. Yet he appeared intelligent and competent enough. He looked about the company, apparently recognizing Aragorn by his height and the circlet he wore.

“My Lord Elessar,” he said, giving a low bow. “Galador son of Garenthor of Lossarnach am I, Master of Protocol for the Citadel of Gondor.”

“Welcome, Master Galador.” Aragorn gave a nod, and the rest of the company sat. “If you will take the last chair, sir.”

Apparently somewhat discomposed by the brevity of the exchange of courtesies, the Man rather diffidently took his seat with the rest. The new King examined him carefully. “So, how long have you served in your post, Master Galador?”

“Fourteen years, six months, and seven days, my Lord.” His expression became somewhat delicate. “There is the need, my Lord Elessar, for us to examine the strength of your claim to the throne....”

Aragorn gave a brief nod, and looked to his two foster brothers. “May we have the Roll, please?” he asked.

One brought out a golden tube some three inches in diameter and the length of his forearm from his belt and proffered it to Aragorn, who in his turn accepted it with a level of reverence, touching certain signs on it gently before removing a cap from one end, then holding out the opened tube to the Master of Protocol. Galador’s expression of surprise now appeared wholly genuine as he accepted it and examined it closely. He looked up with new respect. “This is twin to the carrier for the Roll of the Kings, my Lord.”

“I am aware of that, Master Galador. Three such were made by the goldsmiths of Lindon on the direction of Gil-galad and given to Elendil; he gave the second to Isildur and the third to Anárion. Elendil’s roll and its carrier were lost in the fall of the Dome of the Stars along with the Palantir of Osgiliath; Isildur’s was carried North to Imladris by his wife when he left her with their youngest son Valandil in the care of the Lord Elrond’s people while he went to the war on Mordor. This is that carrier, and it carries the Roll of the line of the Kings of the North. When the Witch King of Angmar looked certain to take Annúminas the Roll was taken back to Imladris, where it has remained ever since in the library of Lord Elrond. Now, if you will remove the Roll and examine it?”

Frodo watched the examination of the scroll taken from the carrier with interest. With it were two other scrolls. He looked up at Gandalf. “Is that similar to a family Book for the Shire?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, the same function,” the Wizard murmured. “The two smaller scrolls are the Rolls for the lost kingdoms--only the line of Arthedain continued, and at the failing of the other two lines Arthedain’s Roll was spliced back onto the original.”

Carefully Galador examined and finally broke the seal on the ribbon which held the scroll together, handing the pieces to Prince Imrahil; carefully he unrolled part of it and began to read. His face became solemn, and he looked up. “The handwriting at the beginning is the same as that of the Roll of Kings here!” he said.

One of Elrond’s sons looked at him with an indecipherable expression. “The first inscriptions on all three Rolls were done by Elendil himself, Master Galador. I would expect the handwriting to be the same, wouldn’t you?”

The Master of Protocol reddened, and returned hastily back to his examination of the Roll. He rolled down through the scroll for quite some time, and Frodo could see where from time to time more material had been added to it, with sheets carefully spliced together. In spite of the malformation of his hand the Man still manipulated the rods carefully and quickly enough. Finally he looked up in question. “Here there is listed the pedigree of Meneldil’s heirs.”

“Yes,” Aragorn said, nodding. “That would indicate when Arvedui married Fíriel daughter of Ondohir, indicating that I am descended from both the sons of Elendil. It is with reason I wear both the Elendilmir and the Sword Reforged.”

For a few moments Galador searched the grey eyes of he who would on the morrow be king. “I see, my Lord.” He went on, looking at the names of sons and daughters. He stopped once and looked up briefly at the Northern Lord with interest, commenting, “Then there was another who bore the name of Aragorn before you?” then continued on. Finally he was getting near the end of the Roll, and he read the last entries with interest. Then he looked up, obviously calculating in his head. “You are eighty-eight years, my Lord?”

“Yes.”

“You are married?”

“Not yet. It was bound on me that I could not take a wife until I came to the end of my labors against Mordor.”

“Then----” Again he reddened, apparently seeking a way to ask a delicate question. He tried again, “Then, my Lord, there is the question of the succession after yourself.”

“And what question shall there be as to that?”

Galador looked more embarrassed. “There was no mention of any brothers or sisters or their children.”

“I was the only child born to my parents, Master Galador. However, if you are concerned as to whether or not I will be able to beget an heir, I assure you I do retain that ability.”

“Then there will be the need to arrange a marriage as soon as possible, my Lord.”

“You need not concern yourself on that account, Master Galador.”

Now the Man went pale. “The lineage of Elendil----”

“I assure you that the Line of Kings will continue.” There was a hint of steel in Aragorn’s voice.

“But, my----” The expression in the new King’s eyes stilled the Master of Protocol.

Aragorn asked, his voice cool, “Are you finished with your examination of the Roll of the North Kingdoms, sir? And do you find my lineage verified?”

“Yes, my Lord.” Galador started to return the material of the scroll to the first rod, but Aragorn stayed him.

“Do not bother. Both Rolls will need to be amended as of tomorrow to indicate the new state of affairs. Please have a long table made available in the Hall of Kings tomorrow afternoon where they can be laid out side by side and where I can make the new additions as necessary.”

“As you say, my Lord. I will have one of the scribes of the Citadel at hand to make the new notations.”

Aragorn straightened. “I am the King. I will make the new notations myself, even as did Elendil, Isildur, Anárion, Valandil, Meneldil, and the rest to the current day. The only times another hand other than that of the King or Chieftain himself made notations on the Roll of the North were those few times when children were born posthumously, and then the notations of births and deaths were made by Lord Elrond.”

Galador cleared his throat nervously. “I--I see, my Lord. So it shall be, then.” He carefully tightened the scroll and slipped the rods back into the golden carrier, then slid in the two smaller rolls above and below it, then returned it to Aragorn, who in turn capped it and gave it into the hands of Prince Imrahil.

“I ask that you keep this tonight, my Lord Prince, as it will hold more authority with the Lords of the Southern realm when they see you honor it.” He turned to Pippin. “Sir Peregrin, please fetch one more chair. I believe Lord Halladan will be joining us shortly.”

Pippin gave a brief bow and a quick “Yes, my Lord Aragorn,” and hurried off.

“Lord Halladan, my Lord King?”

“You saw his name in the scroll, Master Galador. He is five generations removed from the line of Kings, and at this time is second in line after myself, coming after Lord Gilfileg, who is three generations removed. Lord Halladan is second son to my mother’s brother and inherits the seat of the Steward of Arnor from his older brother Halbarad, who fell here on the Pelennor, very near where we sit now.”

“I see, my Lord. Then, you will include some of your Northern kindred in your retinue?”

“I would be a fool not to include in my retinue those whose abilities and honor I have known all my life, sir.”

Galador examined the company, noting the variety of those who now sat before the entrance to the King’s pavilion. “Will--will all these be taking part in the coronation ceremonies, my Lord?”

Aragorn gave a terse nod. “You need not concern yourself about the company of those who will take part in my procession to the gates, Master Galador. All of these took part in the fight against Sauron’s tyranny, including the Perian whom I just sent after another chair. There are few greater names in all of Middle Earth than those who sit here now--Mithrandir of the Istari, now head of the White Council; Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth; Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of the great Woodland Realm of Eryn Lasgolen as it will now again be known; Lord Gimli son of Gloin of Erebor and the Iron Hills, kinsman to King Dain of Erebor; Lords Elladan and Elrohir Elrondilion of Imladris; Lord Hardorn son of Halbaleg, younger brother to Lord Halladan of Arnor and now Captain of my personal guard; Éomer King of Rohan; the Lady Éowyn his sister, whom I believe you already know; Sir Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire, Esquire to the King of Rohan and heir to the Master of Buckland; Sir Peregrin Took of the Shire, a knight of Gondor and who was admitted to the Guard of the Citadel by Lord Denethor as well as being the heir to the Thain of the Shire; Lord Samwise Gamgee of the Shire and Lord Frodo Baggins of the Shire, the Ringbearers.”

Galador’s face was a study in amazement. He rose quickly and bowed deeply to Frodo. “My Lord Frodo--I didn’t know....”

Frodo flushed. “There was no way you could have known--please do not bow to me!”

The Master of Protocol looked with confusion at the new King, who shook his head. “You will find, Master Galador, that things are done otherwise in other lands than they are here. The world has changed. There is a King again in Gondor and Arnor; the two realms are now reunited after three thousand years of being sundered, and all shall be renewed.” He stretched. “You are hereby advised that there will be changes to much of the way of dealing with those who enter the Citadel. There will be much coming and going between the Northern kingdom and Gondor; and Elves, Dwarves, Periannath, and other races will be welcomed freely. We will do our best to make former enemies into allies. With your advice as to how to deal with the lords of Gondor, I think we can successfully cobble together a workable new protocol.

“Now, as to how our procession will be met as we approach the gate....”

Frodo found himself smiling as he saw Galador furiously trying to incorporate all this into a new frame of reference. As he finished the contents of his cup of water he rather thought that Master Galador was going to find the new King of Gondor a great challenge to his expectations.

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