“Of course I know the way! I was there just yesterday with them, you know.”
Belveramir could see the two small figures silhouetted against the window at the end of the long hallway off of which the living quarters opened.
“I was just asking, Merry.”
“It’s just that you’ve developed the habit of questioning me all the time. Now, you take good care of Aragorn, you hear?”
The valet’s lips thinned. There was no reason for pages to speak so familiarly of their new King. He quickened his pace as much as his leg would allow him so as to come up and reprimand them, was surprised to see them embrace one another before he realized these were dressed not in the livery of pages of the Citadel but instead in mail, swords girded at their sides. He paused as he recognized the face of the Ernil i Pheriannath who’d attended on the Lord Denethor and the other Pherian who was esquire to the King of Rohan. He remained still briefly, embarrassed and glad he’d not called out to them.
“You have a good day watching over Éomer and the Lady Éowyn, Merry.” The Pherian Peregrin straightened, giving a salute to his kinsman, who returned it with a smile as he turned toward the stairs to the upper guest quarters.
Peregrin then turned to the valet. “Ah, Belveramir, so you have the enviable duty of rousing Aragorn, do you?”
“I thought that Iorvas was assigned to him.”
“Well, after the words from his Elven brothers it was decided I might do better serving him in the morning. I’m well accustomed to waking warriors.”
“That’s a good thing. We found we had to stand well out of reach and cough when it was our turn, for we Hobbits don’t make enough noise with our feet to waken him that way.”
“He’s that wary?”
“You live out in the wild watching for wolves, orcs, wargs, trolls, and other enemies and escorting creatures such as Gollum about, and you’d become wary as well.”
“Oh, I know. I was in the Rangers of Ithilien once.”
“You were? I didn’t know.”
Belveramir smiled. “It was very long ago. I used to serve under the Lord Captain Thorongil when he served Gondor, you know. I served as his aide for a short time during his regular aide’s absence on some errand or another, and I was rather carefully trained how to waken him.”
“How did you go from serving in Ithilien to serving here?”
The valet’s face grew solemn. “The younger son of Lord Beldin of lower Lamedon was granted a captaincy in the Rangers, and fourteen of us were assigned to him. We were attacked one day while we were resting. Only a few of us were alive when the Lord Captain found us. Hirigion died under his hands. I survived, but had an arrow buried deep in my leg and could never walk quietly through the woods afterwards. He removed the arrow and did what he could for me, and I suspect that I would have died had he not been as able with healing as he was. He convinced Lord Ecthelion to allow me to serve here in the Citadel, and here I’ve been ever since. Any time the Captains of the Hosts have been housed here I’ve been the one to waken them, even our Lord Captain Boromir and Captain Faramir.”
“Oh, well, if you could awaken Boromir and live to tell about it then you’ll undoubtedly do well enough with Aragorn.” Belveramir heard the light tone, but saw the grief in the Pherian’s eyes. Together they turned to the Royal Wing.
“I am sorry,” one of the two guards in grey said politely. “Sir Peregrin we can admit, but not you, for you’ve not been identified to us by Master Balstador.”
Pippin spoke up. “I can identify him, sirs. He is Belveramir son of Palastor and a valet to the Citadel, and served as valet for Lord Denethor while I attended on him.”
“If you speak for him, Sir Peregrin, then we will allow him entrance.” Together the two of them opened the door allowing Belveramir and the Pherian to enter in.
They approached the door to the King’s chambers; and after being examined by the one on watch he bowed to Sir Peregrin and gave over his duty. Pippin saluted and bowed, took his place before the door, then opened the door to allow Belveramir to enter.
The door to the King’s own room was closed, and Belveramir gave a soft knock and entered. The shape on the bed looked familiar, somehow, lying half on his side, a knife lying at his hand. Yes, a warrior born and bred, and one too soon come from the battles to remain unarmed. Belveramir smiled, then coughed. The grey eyes opened and examined him without the Man raising his head.
“My Lord King, I have brought you your morning drink.”
“My morning drink.” The voice sounded familiar. “Your name?” Then the Man raised his head and smiled broadly. “Never mind, Belveramir. So, you’ve remained here all this time, have you?”
It was probably as well that he’d already begun to set the tray he carried upon the table inside the door, or he’d have been spending the rest of the day cleaning the carpet. He felt his mouth drop open as he stood transfixed.
“So, they still have you awakening the warriors after they return from the field, do they? A wise idea, although you never used to cough to waken me.”
Somehow Belveramir managed to say, “Sir Peregrin suggested it--said it was how he would awaken you when you traveled together.” He carefully released the tray and turned and straightened, examining his new King. “So, those who said you were from the Northern Dúnedain were correct, were they?”
“Yes. Are you sorry?”
Belveramir shook his head slowly. “No, my Lord Thorongil, I am not sorry in any way.” He felt the great shock he’d experienced being lightened, and his face brightened, and suddenly he began to laugh. “All things are renewed indeed!”
And as suddenly the King was on his feet, a night robe about his tall form, and the two of them were embracing. “I never thought to see you again, my Lord Captain,” murmured the former Ranger of Ithilien turned valet.
“And now I find I have one I know here. It makes things so much easier, you realize.”
Elrohir and Elladan entered with Legolas, who’d come up early from the house in the Sixth Circle. Aragorn had already sat down to the right as one entered the dining hall from the hallway, and was examining a document that Master Galador had brought in for him to read. He looked up in welcome, a gesture stilling the voice of the Master of Protocol. “And how have things gone with the three of you?”
“We saw to the morning draughts for Frodo and Samwise,” said Elladan, “and I do not believe Sam will require further, although he had nightmares last night. From the little Gandalf would tell us, he dreamt of searching through the Tower of Cirith Ungol for Frodo, and hearing him cry out in pain as he was beaten and threatened.”
The King took a deep breath. “He began that dream a few times while they were recovering in Ithilien, and it was one of the worse memories to plague his dreams while he was in healing sleep, although his thoughts were mostly focused during that time on the welfare of Frodo. He never slept anywhere as deeply as I might have wished. Were there any reports of Merry’s or Pippin’s dreams?”
“No, none. No crying out as so often happened there in Ithilien.”
“Good. And Frodo himself?”
“Only grief expressed for the terrors the others had borne.”
“How did the one sent to waken you do?” asked Elrohir.
“Very well. I believe I will use him primarily as my own valet, for he knows well how one fresh from battles and long watches must be dealt with in the morning.”
“Good--I would have hated it had the first day in your new quarters begun with the wounding of the one sent to waken you.”
“He’s done much the same for others, and had a few tales to tell on Boromir--and I told him one of ours during the trip through Hollin.”
“Ah,” Elladan commented, “so he’s experienced, is he?”
“Yes, and well prepared. In fact I believe the one who saw to it he realized how I ought to be roused was Hardorn.”
Galador couldn’t appreciate why the faces of the two dark Elves lighted with amusement. Of course it would be wise for the one assigned to rouse the King to consult with one who’d served in that manner before!
The one called Legolas sat down nearby and shook his head. “So now the Citadel of Minas Tirith begins to rouse to the awareness of just who their King is.”
Aragorn shrugged. Several of the important folk from the Citadel and of his own kinsmen and three lords and their ladies who’d slept in the guest chambers of the place came in and took places at the table, several of those from Gondor apparently surprised to see the King himself in the dining chamber with the rest, while one of the ladies stared with fascination at the three Elves. The King had risen at their arrival and returned their bows and curtseys with a deep bow of his own, greeting each by name and with appropriate questions as to how each had slept and their plans for the day.
At last when those who were to eat all appeared to have gathered he led the Standing Silence, then returned to his seat as those from the kitchens brought in the morning meal.
When almost the whole of the staff of the place had been gathered in the Hall of Kings, the King entered from the back still accompanied by Master Galador who seemed intent on making himself the King’s secretary until the King stopped. “Master Galador, I thank you for all your attention to this point, but I made arrangements to meet the staff of the Citadel at this hour, and I must see to that at this time. I do not wish to have meals not provided properly or the laundry left undone because I must keep them from their responsibilities while I discuss how to respond to a letter of flattery sent by a lesser lord of the realm. If you will excuse me.” Galador flushed deeply and stepped backwards awkwardly, gave a bow and accepted the obvious dismissal as Lord Hardorn entered.
Belveramir and Iorvas stood near Balstador and Mistress Gilmoreth as the King came to stand upon the dais between the black chair of the Steward and the one set the previous day for Lord Halladan of Arnor. Belveramir had, at the King’s request, not shared his awareness of the Man’s past identity with anyone else, but all could see that he straightened with pride as the King’s eyes met his as he looked over the group gathered in the throne room.
The King’s words were to the point. He introduced himself and Lord Hardorn, and explained that his would be a far different manner of dealing with staff than they’d known before. He himself, with Lord Hardorn, would be visiting all parts of the Citadel over the coming weeks to see where each group worked and as to the conditions under which they labored. He then had first Master Balstador and then Mistress Gilmoreth introduce those who headed each group of servants and questioned each as to the focus of their work and how long they’d worked in the Citadel and whether each felt comfortable to remain working here, would prefer to follow Lord Faramir when he left to set up his own household, or would prefer to leave the employ of the Citadel and work elsewhere. The answers in a few cases surprised even themselves, apparently, as three indicated they’d truly prefer to leave the Citadel entirely, four indicated they’d prefer to follow Lord Faramir when that time came, and two admitted they had no idea of what they wished to do and hoped that experience with their new Lord would help them to decide.
“I see. I thank you for your honesty, and hope that your questions will be adequately answered as we come to know one another better.” The King examined the rest of them in turn. “There is no time today for further introductions, but I will tell you this--I will meet with each and every one who serves in this place in the coming weeks. And it is my intent that all who enter and guest in this building shall honor each of you as you deserve for the service you give, and respect you as they expect themselves to be respected. If any offers you true insult, I expect you to inform Lord Hardorn or myself immediately. I will not tolerate discourtesy to those who offer honest labor freely. Nor will I allow any to take advantage of your labor unduly. However, I do ask that in return that while you not allow yourselves to be exploited, yet you should do the best you can to meet the needs of those who take advantage of the hospitality of this house.
“Another thing which needs to be explained now--my personal guard will not allow any they do not know to approach me when I am in my personal quarters or about the work I must or choose to do. Master Balstador, Mistress Gilmoreth, it will be your responsibility to introduce those who head each department to Lord Hardorn and myself and those of my personal guards, and the responsibility of those to bring to our attention any who take service in the Citadel, and particularly all who might seek to serve me or my family and guests personally.
“As time progresses there will be changes to the livery of the Citadel, and I hope each of you will accept these changes as demonstrating the respect we hold for you in your service to the realm. I shall ask all senior staff to join with me at the dawn meal on the High Day to discuss whatever needs to be discussed regarding this house.
“One last thing--I am a healer as much as a warrior. If any shows signs of illness, I wish to be informed immediately. Not only does this give me better chance to ease those who are ill, it will help to halt as much as possible the spread of illnesses throughout the Citadel.
“I thank you all, and you are dismissed back to your work.” He bowed to all and asked, “Master Balstador, Mistress Gilmoreth, will you stay for a time?”
As the party began to disband, one of the elderly servants who oversaw the cleaning of the Hall of Memorials commented, “He reminds me strongly of the Lord Captain Thorongil when he would visit here with the Lord Steward Ecthelion. And certainly this Lord Hardorn reminds me of his aide.” When he was pulled aside by Belveramir he was surprised, and even more so when that one took him back to the Hall to speak to the King personally. When afterwards he returned to his own work with a decidedly shocked smile on his face he would tell no one of what he’d learned; but it was plain that he was well pleased to have spoken personally with the King himself.