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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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48
48: "I Have Found It!"

48: "I Have Found It!"


Frodo returned to the guest house to rest, sending his farewells to King Bard and the rest by way of Aragorn. Gloin particularly was disappointed not to be able to take leave of Frodo, but understood and gave his best wishes to the King to forward when he could.

Frodo slept much of the day. He ate well enough that morning, but as the day progressed he found his appetite flagging and nausea growing. By sunset he was accepting only tea from Sam. “I don’t think I could keep anything else down,” he admitted quietly when no one else was there to overhear his refusal to try what had been prepared for dinner.

“Wonder as what’s bringing this on?” Sam asked. “Not enough sleep last night, maybe?”

Frodo shook his head, not at all certain what had sparked things this time. The ginger and chamomile in the tea seemed to aid the turmoil in his stomach, but he still felt decidedly weak.

Aragorn had ridden out with Bard’s party, and he’d returned to the city to spend much of the morning reviewing the plans to repair the walls with the engineers, masons, stonecutters, and Gimli; after a lunch in the Guild Hall for the Masons he then walked through much of the ruins in the First and Second Circles and spoke with those who were carrying out the cleanup of rubble and such. Many spoke with him that day, and were honored at his interest in them.

By the time Aragorn finally returned to the Citadel he was exhausted and willing to fall into his bed as soon as he had eaten a light dinner.

It was not long after midnight that those who guarded the side door near the living quarters of the Citadel recognized the approach of Lord Mithrandir, his white robes glimmering in the starlight. “I must summon the King,” the Wizard told them.

Belveramir awoke at the knock to his own rooms, then sighed as he went into the King’s own quarters to knock at his chamber door, opening it to set the lamp on the table just inside, explaining that Mithrandir asked he dress warmly and for moving quietly outside the walls of the city. Intrigued and suppressing excitement, Aragorn had risen and dressed in his Ranger’s gear, pulling about him his cloak from Lothlorien, fastening the Elessar stone to the neck of his shirt. He left word for Hardorn that he was going out accompanied by Gandalf, and at last left the Citadel, joining the Istari in the gardens.

“Does the time draw near? Is it needful for me to ride out to meet them?” the King asked.

“We will leave the city by foot, but we do not go far; and we go not down in the end, but up.”

Together they slipped down the secret ways of the city until they reached the barrier at the great gate. None appeared to see them leave through it, or to notice Gandalf leading the grey-cloaked figure south to the foot of Mount Mindolluin where he indicated a barely discernible path leading up the slope. Now Aragorn would go first; then Gandalf would, at a slightly wider place, push past him. Turn and turn about they went, until as the Sun rose they stood on the edge of what Aragorn recognized as the King’s Hallow at the foot of the first of the glaciers which covered the dome of the mountain year round. Once he’d been brought here by Ecthelion, not long before he had gone South to Dol Amroth where he and Adrahil together had planned the assault on the fleet of Umbar. As he stood looking Southwest toward the Sundering Sea, he remembered that day.

“Why have you brought me here, my Lord Steward?”

“I thought you would find it--interesting, my Lord Captain. Was I mistaken?”

“True, it is interesting and the view is spectacular. It is very quiet here, so far above the city and the homes of Men.”

“Yes, and on occasion the great Eagles will come here. It is said that the heirs of Meneldil would speak with them here on occasion, those whom history showed to be the more worthy rulers of Gondor.”

As Thorongil he’d given the Steward a sidelong look. He knew that Ecthelion and Denethor both believed him to be the heir to Isildur, although he would not confirm either one’s suspicions. Had Ecthelion truly felt that he, were he to accept the Winged Crown, would be one seen as sufficiently worthy to warrant converse with the great Eagles? At last he’d hazarded, “Did Manwë send messages via them?”

Ecthelion shrugged. “It is said the great Eagles nest in the heights of the Misty Mountains to the North. Do they speak ever with the chieftains of the remnants of the Dúnedain there?”

He’d shrugged in return. “Would such as I know that?”

Ecthelion sighed, then gave a soft laugh. “Ever you evade the question I would see answered.”

“Would you see the King come again?”

“Yes!” He’d been surprised at the Steward’s vehemence. “The day nears when once again Sauron will move against the lands founded and ruled by Elendil and his sons, and that includes both Gondor and Arnor. Only if all the Dúnedain fight together will any have hope of defeating him. And I fear this land falls further and further toward despair the longer we await the return of the King.” He’d looked down on the roofs of Minas Tirith below them. “I know that my son has given up hope of that day coming and looks now to taking up the rule of the land of Gondor into his own hands. He does not realize just how vulnerable he is to falling to the lies of the Enemy due to how strongly the fear of Sauron’s eventual victory motivates him. He truly believes only might of arms will defeat Sauron’s forces, and so he avoids the counsel of Mithrandir and Curunír, he speaks with dismissal and suspicion of the possibility of seeking alliances with Mirkwood, the Golden Wood, or Imladris, and places all hope on our bonds to Rohan.”

“You would seek alliances with the Elven peoples?” That had truly shocked him.

“Do you think that Sauron threatens only the world of Men? Elves and Dwarves are also vulnerable to him. Just as all the Dúnedain must fight together, so must all those who are threatened by him work in alliance.”

“And why do you tell this to me?”

Ecthelion took a deep, shuddering breath. “This hallow was visited oft by those Kings who most closely followed the will of the Valar. Even if you are not whom I believe you to be, yet you are closest to those who frequented this place of any I’ve yet seen. For all you appear to ignore Mithrandir in company, yet the two of you understand one another automatically. You speak Sindarin as one raised speaking it every day, but it is not pronounced or inflected as it is here in Gondor--it is a purer form of Sindarin than that which we use. You not only understand and can translate Quenya--you are truly fluent with it. Your Adunaic is also fluent, although heavily influenced by the Sindarin of the North.

“The sword you wear at your hip is of Elven make, and you use it as if it were an extension of your arm. You ask questions about our enemies, not only about how they generally plan their defenses and offensives, but also about how they live and what influences them. You move through forests as quietly as a deer, and follow trails days old as if they were clearly blazed. You need but speak an order and your Men immediately follow it, trusting it is best. And I’ve seen your handling of horses--they follow you like hounds.

“And, although you do not flaunt it, your hands are those of the healer. It is obvious you have been well trained in the arts of healing and herbalism; but those treated by you heal more swiftly than is the norm, and all tend to recover from the Black Breath on whom you lay hands.”

The two Men examined one another closely. Finally Ecthelion continued. “The Kings of Arthedain were always close to Imladris--this we know. I can reason well enough, and add two and two and two to reach six. If you are not the heir of Isildur, yet you are very close to that lineage.” Again he laughed. “There is even rumor, looking on you, that you are my get left on a maiden of the Rohirrim from the days I spent among them as a young Man. Yet, although you have become as familiar with Rohirric as any other language I’ve heard you speak, yet you clearly bear none of their blood--or so little as to count for nothing.

“Nay, my Lord Thorongil, whatever name you were given at your birth, I strongly suspect it begins with the royal Ar.”

Again the two of them spent some time merely looking at one another. He’d not dared speak, for he could not yet admit the claim he had on lordship to both North and South, but would not willingly lie to deny it.

When at last Ecthelion spoke again, his voice held a note of desperation. “Will you not tell me either aye or nay?”

He’d had to keep careful control of his own voice. “If I were whom you believe me to be, the time is not yet, my Lord. And if I were to be otherwise, then I have no claim to put forward. And would you have your son’s lordship cut short before it began?”

“I would have Gondor well under the hand of the one intended to rule not as Steward but as King, working in concert with all the free peoples, when Sauron again seeks to overwhelm us all.”

He’d given a great sigh of his own. “Denethor,” he’d finally said heavily, “will not willingly give over his own authority to any other at this time; and were any to seek to forward a claim on Crown and throne it would bring great strife to Gondor, and at a time when all of it must work together. Adrahil and Imrahil would both be torn, for they are now kin to your son by marriage, but would prefer to serve the rightful heir of Elendil. Most of the greater lords of Lossarnach and Lebennin would automatically support Denethor against any other claimant to power. Would you have Gondor be torn apart by civil war the moment you enter the hands of the embalmers?”

Ecthelion’s frustration was clear. “You think it would come to that?”

“I know, Lord Steward, that it would come to that. I, too, can add two and two and two and get six. I have come to know the lords of this land, and can guess which will side with the heir of Isildur, which will side with Denethor, and which will wait to try to discern which will prevail before declaring themselves. When the heir to Isildur comes to claim the throne and Winged Crown, he will come, declaring himself openly, displaying clearly the tokens of Elendil as High King of Gondor and Arnor--standard, sword, and Elendilmir.”

“But only through the heir to Isildur can Gondor, Arnor, and the other free peoples all be brought to work in concert.”

“Perhaps. But if he moves precipitously, Gondor itself is not likely to remain whole long enough to cooperate with the others.”

“You are indeed certain of this?”

He’d looked on the Steward of Gondor’s stricken face feeling a deep compassion for the Man. “My Lord Steward, foresight is common in my family, as well as the ability to reason. I have seen what will happen to Gondor if the heir to Isildur were to seek to claim the throne and Winged Crown now. The day has not yet come, and I fear will not come for long years yet, for the two realms to be reunited.”

At long last Ecthelion turned away. Finally he said in a low, defeated tone, “I thought that if I showed you this place it would help draw you to do what is needed by Gondor. Gondor needs her King.”

“Yes, my Lord, I agree--Gondor needs her King. But little good will he do her if in the donning of the Winged Crown he loses better than half of her due to internal strife.”

“My son already begins to fall from the promise of his wisdom, turning from your friendship and advice, seeking to undermine your authority.”

“If I were to leave Gondor, wouldn’t he then be more likely to return to it once the threat of supplantation was removed?”

Ecthelion shrugged. “He has already fallen from the height of wisdom. He cannot return to his full former promise, having already chosen spite over acceptance.”

And he’d shrugged, set a compassionate hand on the older Man’s shoulder. It had been difficult, watching the tears flow from Ecthelion’s eyes. And it had been difficult at last leaving the Hallow behind as they turned to return to the city below, for he’d felt awareness there of that to which he’d striven all his life.


He turned North, then East, finally back South and then Southwest once more, then West. Those he’d loved as his family would soon go that way, unless one or both of the twins at the last chose to follow Elros rather than their father. He sighed deeply. “It has been long and long since I last stood here. Gondor is beautiful under the rising Sun.”

“Yes, there lies your realm, and the heart of a greater realm yet to come.”

“Yet how is that to come to be if the promise is not fulfilled? No sign have I yet seen that my own hope shall be met. The Tree does not take new life and will not bloom again.”

“Then turn from the living lands to where all seems cold and dormant.”

Aragorn then turned--and saw it growing there, just within the bounds of the snow field; and for the first time since he was crowned King he felt the hope surging up through him as he gently laid his hand on it, and the young White Tree gave up its grasp on the earth with no struggle at all.

*******


“I’m sorry,” Faramir told Lasgon again. “I know not where he has gone. Mithrandir came to call him in the dark hours, and where he led him I know not.”

The page’s eyes were filled with concern. “Master Frodo is in distress, my Lord. He says it is not great, but that is not true. His right hand spasms with pain, and his other shoulder is cold. And I doubt he’s kept aught down since early yesterday.”

The Steward’s face was full of concern. “Have you tried the Houses of Healing?”

“I’ll see if Master Eldamir is free. He ought not to know such discomfort, my Lord.” The boy gave his bow and turned to go back down to the Sixth Circle again.

Legolas and Gimli hadn’t returned the previous evening. Legolas had brought Gimli back to the city, then ridden out again Eastward across the river in Osgiliath into Ithilien. “I have a need to rest in the forest this night,” he’d said, and Aragorn and Gimli had nodded their understanding and wished him a night of refreshment for his spirit. Gimli had decided to accept the hospitality of one from the Guild of Stone Cutters and discuss with him sources of stone for the repairs to the lower walls, and so Aragorn had returned back to the upper city alone, sending word regarding the absence of Legolas and Gimli to the guest house that the Hobbits not worry before he’d gone to his own evening meal and his bed. So it was that when in the early hours of the morning Frodo had cried out in his nightmares the only ones to disturb were his cousins and Sam.

What dreams he’d had they weren’t certain, for he wouldn’t say, but there was no question he was in pain. When Pippin would have sent for Aragorn Frodo had at first forbade him, not willing to see the Man’s rest disturbed after two short nights for himself as well as for Frodo and Sam. Sam had prepared a draught of willow bark and chamomile for Frodo, and for a time he returned to sleep, but it hadn’t lasted long. Sam had kept the door between his room and Frodo’s cracked, and he heard the restless tossing and turning resume within an hour. He’d risen then and gone in. Frodo had a distinct fever; the muscles of his right hand could be felt spasming painfully; and the left shoulder had gone frighteningly cold.

Pippin had looked at Sam and Merry, and had gone up the stairs to call Lasgon, whom he found already donning his clothes.

But the King wasn’t there, he was told, and he’d come back to report on the failure of his mission. He kept busy much of the rest of the night with Merry keeping water heating so that they could lay warm compresses about the left shoulder and arm and the right hand; and by dawn the worst of the pain seemed relieved. Sam sent him back to bed near dawn, thanking him and suggesting he get some rest.

Again Sam prepared willowbark tea, but Frodo hadn’t been able to keep it down for long. Weeping with the pain, Frodo had finally allowed Sam to get up on the bed with him and sit, pillowing Frodo’s head in his lap as he sought to help him soothe himself.

Mistress Loren arrived not long after the dawn and was surprised to find both Captain Peregrin and Sir Meriadoc sitting at the dining table with mugs of tea before them, their faces pale with fatigue and concern. “Is all well?” she asked.

“Frodo’s had a bad night,” Merry told her. “Sam’s with him.”

“Would I be able to help, do you think?” she asked.

Merry shrugged. “I’m not certain how. He’s not slept much and his stomach is giving him fits once more. He couldn’t keep down what Sam gave him this morning.”

She’d gone to peer into the room and found Sam as Sir Meriadoc had described him, sitting on the bed, massaging Frodo’s right wrist, Frodo’s face even paler than it usually was. “Is there aught I can do?” she asked quietly.

“I think as he’s asleep again, but it’s plain it’s not restful,” Sam had murmured. “Thanks, but for now I think as there’s naught else as can be done until the King returns.”

An hour later Lasgon had awakened again, and on looking in on Frodo again and seeing no difference he’d gone again to the Citadel and spoken with the Steward. After that he’d gone to the Healer Eldamir’s house to find he was on duty in the Houses of Healing, then went there.

Eldamir was busy working with a young Man who’d been brought in that morning, injured trying to enter one of the damaged dwellings in the First Circle. These had been cordoned off by the masons and engineers; but now and then someone would seek to slip into a damaged building in spite of the warnings. Eldamir and two others, one of them the Warden himself, labored over the youth, setting his jaw and a broken shoulder, and finally seeing him resting.

Foiled now in calling the familiar healer to Master Frodo’s aid, Lasgon had begged for any to come who could. A middle-aged healer went with him, but was unable to offer Frodo comfort. It was not for lack of trying; but he was both unfamiliar with Frodo’s case and, unfortunately, with the nature of the Ringbearer himself.

“Has this happened before?” he asked.

“Of course it has,” Sam grumbled. “It’s not like as this hadn’t been going on ever since we was brought out of Mordor.”

The Man had insisted on feeling Frodo’s hand and opposite shoulder, and he was nowhere as gentle about it as was the King. When he asked Frodo to remove the nightshirt so he could examine the shoulder more closely his tone was abrupt, which put Frodo’s own back up.

“I don’t really wish to remove my shirt,” Frodo complained. “You can feel it through the fabric.”

“Well, I can’t truly evaluate a wound I’ve not even seen,” the Man returned with equal fervor.

In the end Frodo had complied. The Man had his first chance to see the extent of the scarring the Ringbearer bore, and he stopped dead, his face going almost as white as that of Frodo himself. “Sweet Valar,” he’d murmured. “I had no idea.” He’d pulled back from the scarring in dismay at what the Ringbearer had endured, but Frodo had burned with shame and had pulled the blankets over himself and ordered him gone.

Again Sam sat pillowing Frodo’s head on his lap, holding the throbbing hand, hoping that Aragorn would return soon, although Frodo, once his own quiet weeping was done, had again insisted he didn’t want the King disturbed.

*******


The return had gone more swiftly than the trip up to the Hallow, for Aragorn had returned the way he’d been shown years before by Ecthelion, entering through a secret back gate into the royal cemetery. The Warden for the Silent Street had been shocked to see the two figures making their way past the tombs and the ruin of the House of the Stewards, one cradling a bundle close to his breast as though he carried a dearly beloved child. Not far below the Hallow Aragorn had stopped and removed his shirt, gently set the tree down while he filled the shirt with fresh earth from the mountainside, then gently covering the bare roots of the tree with it and wrapping the shirt around it to keep them from drying out. As he’d lifted the bundle once he’d redonned his leathers and cloak he’d felt the relief of the sapling and its thanks for the concern shown for its comfort, and had carried it even more gently as a result.

“What do you do here, and what is it you carry through these precincts?” the Warden asked before he recognized the King.

Gandalf had straightened. “It is the Lord Elessar himself, and he carries the sign of the hope for the nation.”

“My Lord Mithrandir? My Lord Elessar? How did you come here?” Then he’d paused, looking back along the way they’d come. “You’ve been upon the mountain?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” the King said quietly as if unwilling to disturb a sleeping infant. “We found there a sapling of Nimloth.”

“You found what?” The Warden’s voice was still with surprise and awe. “You found a sapling of the White Tree upon the mountainside?”

The King held it out for inspection, and the cluster of blossoms at the top of it could not be denied. “Make ready a place for the tree from the courtyard,” he said quietly. “It is time for it to be laid to rest.”

The Warden’s face was lit with a solemn joy as he indicated all would be properly prepared, and he bowed to the King and his burden as he saw them through the gate back into the Sixth Circle.

The Guards for the White Tree were amazed when the cloaked figure stopped before them and asked that one of their number be sent to summon all in their group to help remove the old White Tree. “But, my Lord,” one said respectfully, “until a new Tree is found to replace it this is not done.”

Aragorn again held out the sapling he carried, and all looked on it with growing delight. “The replacement has been found,” he said with authority.

The Guards forgot their usual duties, clustered about the King and the young Tree, and gently they stroked its slender stem with a single finger, or one of the crown of leaves, or the opening blossoms. After a mutual look of question, one set off to call the rest of their fellows.

Ropes were gently bound about the limbs of the dead Tree, and all worked together, the King himself adding his own strength to that of the Guardsmen. It didn’t take long, for the roots holding Tree to soil had long since died, and it easily gave up its place, apparently pleased to be able to rest. Six of the Guardsmen set the old Tree aside as the King prepared the soil for the new one; within an hour and a half of their arrival back before the Citadel the young sapling had been planted. “I will go now and dress that we might lay this tree to rest in the Rath Dínen with honor,” the King told them.

Gandalf, seeing all was in hand regarding the planting of the White Tree, went down to the Guest House to summon Frodo and the rest up to the brief ceremony that would accompany the laying to rest of the old Tree. He was pleased, for he knew that now Aragorn was relieved that the riding from the North indeed was in progress, and that he would give over the moodiness and begin preparing for the arrival of one whose coming he’d longed for over the space of almost eight decades.

On entering the guest house, however, he found it quiet. Pippin came out of Sam’s room to see who’d come into the day room and took a long breath of relief. “You and Strider are back, are you? Good! Frodo’s in the worst pain I’ve seen him endure in over a month.”

The Wizard hurried through to the study room, and took a look at the misery on Frodo’s face, gave a nod and turned and hurried back through the house and out again.

Aragorn was just pulling on a surcoat of simple green over his shirt when the door to his chamber crashed open. He turned, surprised anyone would enter his quarters so, and saw the intent face of Gandalf looking at him. “Frodo,” he said tersely.

Aragorn had caught up his red healer’s kit and was on his way out of the Citadel almost before Hardorn could catch up with them. “Where do you think you go now without a proper guard?” his cousin demanded.

Aragorn looked up from where he was fastening the brooch to the neck of his surcoat. “I was not exactly alone, and you know as well as I that I could take care of my own safety.”

“With a young Tree held close to your breast? How were you in a situation to protect yourself had any danger come upon you there?” Hardorn asked.

“Frodo’s ill again,” Gandalf explained.

The grumbling ceased. The Ranger held too much concern for Frodo’s comfort to continue to complain at his Lord Cousin.

Sam looked up in relief as Aragorn entered the room. “Glad to see you, Strider. He’s not been able to keep nothin’ down since last night, and both his hand and his shoulder are botherin’ him.”

“Nightmares?”

The gardener nodded. “Won’t tell us what they are, though. And what he’s been sayin’ isn’t enough to tell.”

Aragorn leaned over Frodo, running his hand gently through his hair, feeling the forehead. “Slight fever. Have you been coughing, Frodo?”

There was a slight shake to the head. Finally Frodo said softly, “The hand has been hurting more and more for the past two or three days, and when it hurts worse, so does the shoulder. Then it seems the stomach can’t bear--can’t bear to be outdone by the rest of my body.”

Aragorn sighed, began to sing the invocation and allowed his fingers to feel deep into the hand, then the shoulder. Finally he laid both hands over the belly.

At last he straightened. “You appear to have a mild case of inflammation of the stomach and bowels,” he said quietly, “and I believe that sparked the hand to begin spasming again, which as you said set the shoulder off, which in turn made the stomach even more uncomfortable to the point of no longer being able to tolerate food. As it is you are nearly dry from the inability to retain enough fluids.” He pinched the skin on the back of Frodo’s hand and watched as it remained wrinkled.

He again set his hands over Frodo’s belly, and the warmth began to spread slowly from there throughout the Hobbit’s body. After a few moments he moved his hands first to the spasming hand where he massaged it gently, moving from the palm to the wrist and then up the arm; then at last laid his hands over the place where Frodo had been stabbed with the Morgul blade. Frodo found himself going limp with relief, and he began to breathe deeper, steadier breaths.

When he at last removed his hands, the King looked down on Frodo sadly. “I cannot heal all the wounds you have suffered, Frodo, only ease them somewhat. But I believe I can heal the current inflammation, at least.”

Frodo nodded. “It is already better.”

Aragorn went to the kitchen were Lasgon had set water to boil as soon as he saw the King arrive, and returned soon with a draught. Frodo drank it slowly, feeling more warmth move out from his stomach to aid in the feeling of relaxation.

Once Frodo was eased, the King turned his attention to Sam, and in a few moments he, too was smiling again. After seeing to it that Merry and Pippin were also reassured, he returned to the kitchen where Lasgon was assisting Mistress Loren to clean the room.

Lasgon looked at him, his face troubled. “I’ve tried to summon you, my Lord, but you weren’t there.”

“No, I wasn’t. But the White Tree has been renewed.”

The boy’s face cleared. “It has? You have found a young Tree to plant in its place?” At a nod from the King, Lasgon gave a whoop of triumph. “At last, my Lord! At last we know that the realm will prosper again fully!”

The King looked at his smallest Guardsman and the Knight of Rohan. “Will the two of you please dress in accordance with your offices and accompany me back up to the Citadel?” he asked. Aragorn then returned to the room where Frodo rested. “Do you feel well enough, small brother, to come briefly up to the Court of the White Tree? I have something to show you there.”

“You have found its child?” Frodo asked, his face lighting with pleasure.

“Yes. I’ve already seen to its planting, before its roots could dry.”

Aragorn ordered some broth brought to Frodo, and suggested he come to the foot to the ramp, down which they’d bring the old White Tree soon. “We’ll then go back up to the Citadel and you can see its child.”

Frodo was somewhat shaky as Sam helped him dress. He drank the mug of broth, and donning his cloak from Lorien he, Sam, and Lasgon went out to wait at the foot of the ramp. They arrived not long before the procession came, and those guarding the top and bottom bowed low as the Guards of the White Tree carried the remains of the old Tree slowly and with honor to the gates to the Rath Dínen, then through them to lay it at last with respect in the place prepared for it.

Aragorn said a few words over it, thanking it for its service to the realm of Gondor and asking that the Valar remember it with joy; and at last with honor they left it to its rest and they returned back out of the Silent Street to the Sixth Circle.

Many from the level had seen the procession and had come out to learn more, and now they followed King, Wizard, and Ringbearer and their attendants as they went back up to the level of the Citadel and paced steadily back to the Court of the White Tree. All looked so strange, for to see the Citadel itself so plainly, unframed now by shapely bare branches, was a new experience for all. The Court of the Tree itself appeared empty--until all came close and saw the slender, small shape of the young Tree as it lifted its small crown of silver leaves and white blossoms skyward. Two Guards alone had remained here to stand honor guard for the new Tree, and now all of those who served in this capacity circled it, bowed deeply to it in welcome and honor. Their captain indicated which two would take up their proper stations alongside their two fellows, and the rest withdrew backward to allow others to come to see.

The last of the shakiness Frodo felt left him as he looked on the small life now standing bravely at the center of the Court, there beside the fountain. Gently he approached it, knelt slowly to look at it and up through its small canopy. Softly he stroked it with one finger. “You have come at last,” he said quietly, “come at last to take your proper place.” He rose and stepped back, bowing, steadied by Sam’s arm. He then pushed Sam forward.

Sam set his hand confidently on the slender shoot, gently caressed a leaf. “No wiltin’ at all,” he commented. “It’s already takin’ hold, Lord Strider. It will do well here, and soon all will rejoice in its shade and beauty.” He, too gave the Tree a bow, and returned to Frodo’s side, where he now stood beside the King.

The King looked at the page. “Lasgon, would you like to go forward and touch it?” he asked.

The boy looked up at him in surprise and delight. “May I?” he asked. At the King’s nod he went forward tentatively, and softly stroked the fine bark. “Welcome,” he said. As he stepped back he looked again at the King. “I can feel a vibration in it.”

The King nodded. “Yes, you feel its life, already strong and rejoicing to be in its proper place,” he said. He looked on the small sapling. “We welcome you here, and pray that as the life of the realm again fills and renews Gondor and the city of its capital that you continue to grow and prosper as well. I cannot speak for all who will follow after me, but I assure you I intend to do only the best I can by the combined realms of Gondor and Arnor, and that I will ever honor you and your ancestor and those who gifted us with Nimloth and your lineage.” All bowed deeply to the young Tree, and gently the King drew Frodo away, into the Citadel.

Late in the afternoon, after Frodo had eaten a few small meals and had retained them, and after he’d slept peacefully for a time, he and Aragorn and Faramir came back out to the Court of the White Tree, accompanied by Sam, Merry, and Pippin, now again on duty. All sat on one of the benches, and Frodo leaned against Aragorn’s side as together all took time to look on the small sapling with joy and wonder.

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