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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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13
13: Party of Princes, and a King Made

13

“Mr. Frodo--it’s time to get up.”

Frodo opened his eyes to find Sam, carefully dressed in a rich tunic of warm brown embroidered with a representation of what appeared to be a mallorn tree over his gilded mail, standing over him.

He had left the confrontation with Master Galador not long after the arrival of Lord Halladan to go to the bathing tent, attended by Sam, and he’d luxuriated in a very warm and full bath such as he’d not known since they left Lothlorien. He’d not bothered to dress afterwards, pulling on a clean nightshirt and a robe, then following Sam back to the King’s tent. Healer Eldamir was there with his evening draught and water and another small, light meal, and then he’d returned to his cot. For a time the nightmares had threatened to descend on him; but Aragorn had come in, leaned over him to see as to his welfare, and Frodo had awakened enough to smile up at him, then drifted back into a deeper, more restful sleep.

Now Sam was helping him don dark blue trousers, the clean quilted undergarment and the mithril shirt, then a surcoat of a deep royal blue embroidered with a single star worked with blue and silver threads. Sam then handed him a brush with which Frodo finally managed to tame his curls. “No time to trim that last night,” Sam muttered. “Although I must say as it looks fine on you longer, your hair does.”

So saying, Sam brought over a second brush to use on his master’s feet, then ran it quickly over his own. Finally he said, “That’ll have to do, I suppose. Now the sword belts and all.”

Gandalf came in with a flat box with two velvet bags inside, from which he removed their mithril circlets.

Frodo paused as he sipped at his mornig cup of water and looked at these with dismay. “No, Gandalf, he wouldn’t do that to us, would he?”

The Wizard laughed and carefully set each in place, then said, “You’ll have to eat standing and try not to spill, I suppose.”

Eldamir came with mugs of draughts for the two of them and a tray of breakfast. Frodo ate sparingly, made as quick a trip to the latrine as possible, and returned in time to find Hardorn slipping silvered mail over Aragorn’s head, then fastening leather-covered plate armor over his chest. Frodo took up a small cup of water from the table and watched with interest. “I see,” he finally said, “that for you there are even more layers than for us.”

Aragorn looked at him, his eyes strangely blank before he finally nodded his head.

The realization startled Frodo. “You are afraid, aren’t you?”

The answer was again delayed. The Man looked down at the top of his cousin’s head as he knelt to fasten grieves over Aragorn’s lower legs. Finally he said, “No, not exactly afraid. I find it isn’t real yet. I feel as though I were suspended in a crystal, seeing all going on around me as if it couldn’t quite touch me.” He looked back to examine Frodo’s own face, then gave a small smile. “I think you know all too well what that is like.”

Frodo’s own face became grave. “Yes, but for me the crystal broke, and it did touch me after all. For you--it’s what you’ve worked for, all your life.”

Aragorn gave a shake of his head. “It wasn’t for this--this is still part of the price I must pay.”

“For what?”

The Man looked away. Finally, his head still turned away, he said quietly, “Adar named me Estel, and all my life I have been the embodiment of the hopes of those who fought for freedom from the fear of Mordor. Now that hope is fulfilled, but I must continue on, for the hope is now changed. You see, my own hope cannot be fulfilled until theirs is.” He looked back. “I will have days when I won’t wish to wear the Winged Crown, when I will wish to return to my worn leathers and stained cloak. I already want that. I only pray that the day of my own hope comes soon, for if it is not fulfilled I will be forced to do my duty with no recompense. I do not wish to resent those who look to me to rule over them.”

Hardorn looked up from the fastening of the second grieve. “He who wears a crown must be prepared to stand alone.”

Frodo heard, echoing in his mind, To bear a ring of power is to be alone. Aragorn was looking into his face, and for a moment each knew the other understood far too well what that sentiment meant.

He who soon would be officially recognized King sighed. Frodo sipped from his cup and finally asked, “Where is Sam?”

“With the woodworker who has been fashioning the seats for the feast hall for the use of you four to check their fit. I will not have those who attend the feast mistake you for children by having to sit in chairs too low for your comfort.”

“When did you start this project?”

Aragorn suddenly smiled. “I met with him first before we marched for the Black Gate. He has sent me reports on his progress while we were in Ithilien. He simply needed to check my estimates to make certain all is in readiness.”

Frodo looked at him. “That showed great hope indeed.”

His friend’s smile was slightly twisted. “I suppose part of my hope has already been fulfilled, to have you by me this day, small brother. But I will admit that when we saw the Mountain in the far distance rent by its final eruptions, I feared two of those seats would remain empty.”

Hardorn rose, and looked long into his cousin’s eyes. “Today is merely the formalization of what has been true for all the days I have known you, Aragorn--that you are the King. And Halbarad must look on you now with full pleasure and pride.”

Aragorn returned the deep look. “It is another part of my joy that I have you and Halladan by my side this day and afterwards, my cousin; and if Halbarad watches me with pride, how much more does he have for his brothers?” After continuing the mutual gaze for some moments, suddenly Hardorn reached forward and drew him into an embrace.

Frodo could hear as Hardorn murmured into his royal cousin’s ear, “May this day be pleasing before Iluvatar, Aragorn, and may your many sacrifices of yourself continue to be blessed.”

It was such an odd thing to have said that Frodo was taken completely aback as he set aside his cup. However, there was no time to consider this further, for the doorflap opened, and Pippin, shining mail beneath his tabard, entered, followed by Merry and Lord Éomer, who carried a fine dagger in a sheath. “A gift for you, my brother,” Éomer said as Aragorn and his cousin pulled apart, offering the knife. “I know you probably have knives and to spare, but for such a warrior as you certainly one more cannot come amiss?”

Aragorn looked at his fellow new King and laughed. “I’ll admit to having quite the collection. I could probably fill a large room in the Citadel with the many given me over the years, but you are correct that considering my calling I have found too much use for each of them.” He took a deep breath. “And the same will, I think, already be coming true for yourself as well.”

The young King of Rohan nodded. At that moment Sam returned, hanging his sword again from his belt. He paused inside the door, and looked up at Aragorn and carefully examined him from head to toe, a solemn smile of pride filling his features. “You are lookin’ mighty fine, Strider, mighty fine indeed. Very much the King.” He looked about the tent. “It’s getting a mite crowded in here, though.” He looked back up at Aragorn. “The chairs will do fine, but it’s odd to be sittin’ so high, I must say.”

“I would have all of you sit at the table and not appear at a disadvantage, Sam.”

“We’ll do well enough, Strider. That you care enough to think for what we need, that means a great deal. For it’s in the way you treat those smaller’n you that you show your quality. That’s one thing as the Gaffer’s always said as fits at the moment.”

“Well, may your Gaffer continue to grace the Shire with his wisdom for many years yet.”

Sam moved to his own cot, already neatly made up, and gently lifted up one of the two Lorien cloaks there, and brought it to drape about Frodo’s shoulders, fastening it with its brooch, checking its fall. He stepped back, and examined his master critically, then smiled, and Frodo could tell that his friend was doing his best not to allow the tears of pride to fall. Frodo went past him and picked up Sam’s own cloak and gently returned the gesture. He pulled one side back to allow the gilded mail to be seen. “Samwise Gamgee, you look wonderful. A fit companion this day for the King.” The two of them embraced, and Frodo found himself clinging to his friend, breathing in the familiar scent of growing things that always hung about him.

Now Hardorn was wrapping the white mantle about Aragorn’s shoulders, fastening it with the Elessar brooch, and the King accepted a silver mantle from Éomer that had been hanging from a second stand and draped his cousin in return.

“It is time,” Aragorn said, taking a deep breath. “Let us go out now.”

Outside the tent he paused and looked at the four Hobbits. “If any of you finds anything in this day overwhelming, let me know immediately, do you understand?” Once all had agreed, they started on their way to the edge of the camp where Gandalf, Gimli, and Legolas waited with the sons of Elrond.

Gimli gave a low whistle of admiration. “I think, Legolas, that we’re outshone today. It’s four Hobbit princelings we have before us. Merry, my friend, you look magnificent!”

Legolas’s eyes were soft, though not distant as they so often were. He examined those coming and smiled. “It was for this, Aragorn, that we followed you through the Paths of the Dead and to the Pelargir. May this be but the prelude for the joy yet to come.” He looked down at the four Hobbits. “And it was to see you thus that we followed the Uruk-hai of Saruman across Rohan. It was well worth the sacrifice.”

Gandalf came forward with his staff, and leaning on it, smiled at them all. “Well, my friends, a party of princes you are indeed. And a day long desired has come. Remember this--this day is not an end of itself, for it is but a beginning of the new labors. That we must labor does not change; and it is the function of princes that they serve those those who believe themselves ruled. For today rejoice in the rewards for the sacrifices already given; but be prepared for those yet be offered. And remember, friends, that all given freely for the good is fulfilled.” His eyes lingered on Éomer, Aragorn, Sam, and finally Frodo. Then he looked back to Sam and Aragorn and added, “And it is undoubtedly fitting that at least two here are already gardeners and understand how gardens must be tended and nurtured.” So saying, he turned to lead the procession toward the walls of the city.

Aragorn walked, Pippin going before him with his sword drawn, his black mantle as a guard of the Citadel hanging about him, the mail beneath his tabard shining as brightly as his sword’s blade. Frodo walked on Aragorn’s right, Sam his left; Éomer with Merry beside him walked behind Frodo, Prince Imrahil with the golden carrier for the Roll of Arnor in his hand behind Sam, his own squire to his left. Hardorn and Halladan walked between them, their own weapons at the ready. The captain of the Guard of the Citadel walked to Sam’s left; another of the Northern Dúnedain walked at Frodo’s right; and behind came on the right those who remained of the Grey Company, while Éomer’s household knights walked alongside them. Before went Lord Elphir with the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth followed proudly by the White Wizard, Legolas, and Gimli flanked by Elladan and Elrohir leading the King’s party.

It appeared all the city had come out before the Gates to greet them, and the nearer portion of the Pelennor was filled with the soldiers of the camp and the wounded, both from the army of the West and from among those who had fought for Mordor. Frodo looked from one side to the other, and knew he ought to feel overwhelmed, but instead at the moment he felt safe--safe under the guardianship of Aragorn and all these others.

Then he looked up to take his first true look at the city of Minas Tirith, and was overwhelmed. Never had he imagined such a city of Men, never in all of his life. The whiteness of the stone shone through the signs of soot and smoke; the towers appeared to reach right up to the sky itself; and behind stood the shining peak of Mindoluin, and he paused in awe. All paused with him, and he felt Aragorn’s hand on his head. He heard Aragorn murmur, “It is rather pretty, isn’t it?”

The sheer understatement of that comment caused him to start to laugh, and he looked up to see Aragorn smiling down at him, laughter in his own eyes. Sam looked across before Aragorn and smiled in satisfaction at his master’s pleasure. Behind him Frodo could hear Merry saying softly, “I don’t think I’ve had a chance before just to appreciate how enormous a place it is. Last time I think I was just seeing the smoke roiling up and being worried for Pippin, somewhere in all of that.”

Frodo gave a nod of understanding.

Slowly they approached the blasted gateway, where waited a party from the city itself.

How small Faramir appeared, standing before the empty gateway, before the Guardsmen who carried between them a black casket bound in mithril, other officials of the city behind them, including Master Galador. As they came closer, Frodo realized that Faramir foresaw the end of his house’s role as providers of the Stewards of the land of Gondor, but was willing to see that in order to have the return of the King to the realm. The closer they came, the straighter Faramir stood, lifting his chin proudly, his eyes lighting with gladness as his King approached. The knights of Dol Amroth and Elrond’s sons pulled aside on each side, and then at last Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli turned to the left to stand near the wall. Now the only one between Steward and King was Pippin with his drawn blade. He looked up into the eyes of the Lord Steward Faramir, and bowed, sliding his sword back into its sheath, then he saluted the Captain of the Guard, and he, too, pulled to the side, standing near to those who carried the casket.

Faramir automatically smiled at the small Guardsman, then turned his attention back to the tall Man who now stood before him. Frodo saw the deep breath he took as he prepared to surrender the rod of his office, and saw the relief and pleasure, followed by the moment of deep humility as the rod was returned to him and Aragorn bade him to exercise his office. Prince Imrahil stepped forward to place the carrier for the Roll of the North into the hands of his nephew, who in turn handed it to the Master of Protocol, and then he was opening the casket of lebethron and mithril and removing the Winged Crown, holding it up for all to see.

Frodo looked up at his friend’s face as he looked on the Crown and saw the mixed emotions there. He wished to take it and have the symbol of what he had worked for; he wished to avoid the restrictions bearing it would impose on him; he was honored to be found worthy of it; he wanted that which only accepting the Crown could bring him to, and again Frodo wondered what that was; he looked for the guidance to wield the power now being granted to him properly. And then Aragorn, the Lord Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, held it high, chanting the Vow of Elendil:

“Et Eärello Endorenna utúlien...”

When he handed it back to Faramir, all were surprised. “It was by the labor of many that this day has come, and in token of this, I would have the Ringbearer bear the Crown to me, and Mithrandir place it on my head.” Frodo looked up into his face and saw the silent plea in Aragorn’s eyes. And the King stepped back that Frodo could stand before Faramir, holding up his hands to accept the ancient crown, feeling the honest weight of it--such a difference from the cheating weight of what he’d borne for too long; and he turned to carry it the few steps to present it to Gandalf, kneeling and lifting it to offer it into the Istari’s hands....

Aragorn went down on one knee, and ancient hands set the ancient crown upon his dark hair--and the King was made.

Again Frodo felt himself standing apart from his body, one or two steps behind himself and a half step to the left, seeing Aragorn in his full glory, the power wrought into the gem clasping his mantle shining in green glory, Aragorn’s own Light mithril-pure as it shown about him, going a soothing blue about his hands, his face full of majesty and wisdom. For a second Frodo saw further, saw the same Man, still as tall, but his hair and beard stark white, his face lined with wisdom and long experience, saw the peace and humor and gladness that had overwritten the grimness that had marked so much of the first century of his life, saw the knowledge there that the time had come to give over his life and the peace and contentment that this should be so, saw a young Man as royal as himself settling the white mantle about Aragorn’s shoulders....

Frodo closed his eyes and drew a deep breath as he found himself back inside his body, but still felt somewhat disconnected. But he was reassured, knowing that Gondor and Arnor--and the Shire--would be led and protected by Aragorn’s wisdom for at least the span of a Hobbit’s expected lifetime or two. And as the singing of the first of the hymns was begun he smiled his gladness that this should be so.

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