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The Acceptable Sacrifice
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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49
49: Hope Approaches

49: Hope Approaches


At sunset the news was officially released throughout the city by the heralds at the Gates, and already messengers were speeding throughout the realm of Gondor with the word that the White Tree itself was renewed in the Court of the Tree before the Citadel of the Realm. There was a general feeling of joy and holiday shared throughout Minas Tirith as the news spread and was confirmed, and shortly after sunset a parade of citizens was forming as it appeared all of its population was now intent on seeing for themselves the wonder of the Tree renewed.

Gimli had waited much of the day for Legolas’s return. The Elf entered past the barriers not long after noon, and together the two climbed through the city up to the Sixth Circle, arriving in time to see the old White Tree being carried to its rest and to join the procession up to the level of the Citadel. They’d chosen to stay back while Frodo, Sam, and Lasgon were granted first right to touch the small Tree which now grew where the white form of its predecessor had stood dead for the past thousand years. Finally the Elf came forward, and the Guards allowed him to set his hands familiarly against the shoot. Legolas smiled with surprised pleasure as he finally rejoined Gimli. “It is indeed alive and aware--perhaps a bit overwhelmed, but delighted to be where it was intended to grow. And it seeks already for Aragorn’s presence. Our Lord Elessar and it have now become joined in an odd way.”

Gandalf joined them as Gimli shook his head and laughed. “The stones of this city already delight to his tread as he goes up and down and through it,” the Dwarf declared. “That a tree should come to feel the same....” He laughed again.

At a cry from above, they looked up to see, high in the sky, the form of one of the great Eagles circling overhead before it finally broke away and flew back Northward.

The Wizard smiled. “Yes, Tree and City take heart again at the return of the King, and the renewal of all. And from this point the healing spreads outward as do the ripples in the pool when the pebble drops into it. South and North does it spread, West and East as well. And other realms also begin to know healing and change not anticipated.”

*******


The following days were filled with activity. Aragorn and Hardorn were finishing their visits with the various departments that saw to the well-being of the Citadel and those who dwelt therein or visited the place. Aragorn was also doing a fair amount of conferring with Mistress Gilmoreth, and surreptitiously things were being changed in the Royal Chambers themselves. What was happening and why the King did not tell, and the few who must know were sworn to secrecy.

The King sent errand riders out to the North gate of the Rammas Echor, and Men accustomed to serving as scouts to the North and Western borders of Anorien.

What those who lived in the guest house knew only was that their friend’s moodiness had at last fallen away with the finding and planting of the White Tree, and that he lived in an anticipation of delight. Only Gandalf and Legolas appeared to appreciate what was coming, but they stubbornly kept their own counsel.

New lamps were being fitted throughout the Citadel; windows were being opened on all sides and glass was cleaned along with all that could be dusted or polished. Tapestries were cleansed and repaired; rugs and carpets were beaten and relaid or replaced; doors and woodwork were being stripped and refinished.

Aragorn had had the statues changed in the Hall of Kings. Those of Elendil and Isildur and Anárion were cleaned and polished, and he’d carefully chosen those whose visages he would look upon whenever he must sit in this room. Meneldil; Tarostar Rómendacil; Tarannon Falastur; Ciryahir Hyarmendacil; Eldecar; Tarondor; Ondoher; Mardil the Faithful; Ecthelion; Denethor, certain others. Frodo was surprised to learn that not all the rulers of Gondor could be shown here, and he was taken to the Halls of Remembrance to look on the ranks of those who’d served Gondor over the three millennia of its existence. He’d been examining some statues near the far corner of the room when he’d found, hanging on the wall, a portrait that surprised him. He’d hunted for Faramir, who’d been showing him the room, and drew him back to explain it.

Faramir laughed as he looked up. “So,” he said, “that’s where my father had it taken, is it? I’d wondered.”

“But how is it here at all?” Frodo demanded.

Sam, Merry, Pippin, and Gimli, who were all part of the tour, looked at the portrait with interest. “What’s a picture of Strider doin’ hangin’ there?” asked Sam.

“Well,” Faramir began, but the story was interrupted as they heard the door to the hall open in the distance and they heard the halloo of the King as he sought his friends. “We’re here,” the Steward answered, “by the Southwest corner.”

Aragorn came through, accompanied by Hardorn, Gandalf, and Legolas. “I’d wondered where in all this you might be,” he commented, then looked up, and paused. “Ah,” he said, “I see I am discovered at last.”

The Wizard looked up and laughed merrily. “Ah, yes, the portrait of the greatly honored Lord Captain Thorongil, is it not?”

Frodo looked from Wizard to Steward to King in question, and the others followed suit.

“I suppose I should finish telling the tale,” Faramir said dryly. “You see, my grandfather Ecthelion had two whose counsel he felt most worthy--his son, my father; and the Lord Captain Thorongil, the strange mercenary who was so plainly of Dúnedain lineage and who was believed to have come from among the Lost, as folk here have always referred to the Dúnedain of Arnor.” He smiled at Hardorn, who’d straightened somewhat at that title. “He had portraits done of both, and would not allow Thorongil to override him. They hung behind his seat in the Council Chamber.

“My father, once he was Steward, had his own portrait moved to my mother’s chambers in the Steward’s wing. I’ve just had it moved to the sitting room there. But the portrait of Thorongil he kept in the Council Chamber, although he had it moved to the opposite side of the room. He commented once to me when I was younger that he felt he always needed to keep an eye on Captain Thorongil, for he swore he was far more than he’d ever shown himself here. The tone of his voice, however, made it plain that he himself felt that what Thorongil might be was suspicious in the extreme.”

Frodo surprised himself by beginning to chuckle, and soon all were laughing with abandon. Frodo turned to Aragorn. “You always have been a suspicious rogue, you know,” he managed to say.

Sam nodded. “Oh, yes, Longshanks! From the first time as we seen you there in the corner in the Pony!”

The rest laughed. “Ah, Strider,” Gandalf said, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, “how you have long confounded all who have known you over the years.”

Faramir grinned openly. “I, myself, am glad that my grandfather’s beloved counselor has returned at last to Gondor. He so hoped you were indeed the King.”

Aragorn nodded. “Oh, I know,” he said. “But if that was last hanging in the Council Chamber, how did it end up here?”

“Father had it removed here not long after Boromir left in search of Imladris. I think he was trying to actively banish you from memory. A question, Aragorn--why do you have my father’s statue still displayed in honor in the Hall of Kings? He showed you so much distrust and envy.”

Aragorn’s face became solemn with memory. “Yet he served Gondor long and well, save at the very last when Sauron’s lies at last drove him to despair.” He searched Faramir’s eyes. “Would it not have caused you distress if I had removed his statue?”

“Yes,” Faramir answered slowly. “But I would not have blamed you in the least.”

The King shrugged, looked back briefly at the picture, although he plainly recalled its companion. “Yet I always admired him, his knowledge, his understanding of the realm and the city and his ability to read the hearts of those he met. I loved him, Faramir, one of the few here in Gondor I thought of as a kindred spirit. But then the envy took him.” He looked back at Faramir. “My admiration for his wisdom and skills, however, has not waned. I will not seek to punish him for his humanity by banishing his statue when I still honor the memory of his greatness.”

*******


The dreams of ills in the Shire continued to disrupt Frodo’s sleep and to appear in visions at times during the day. Aragorn kept a strict watch on the Hobbit, and on those nights when Frodo had been most restless during the day would make a point of walking down to the Sixth Circle to walk about with Frodo, allowing Sam to rest many times. They spoke of many things during these walks--of their childhoods and their dreams when younger; of their impressions of the lands they’d visited. But other than commenting he felt they needed to return to the Shire soon, Frodo would not tell anyone of the images he kept experiencing of the evils that might be besetting his homeland.

Frodo was surprised to learn that Aragorn hadn’t been aware of the existence of the Lady Arwen during his childhood. “Her portrait hung in Adar’s room, but I had assumed she was merely some relative long passed West,” Aragorn commented. “I saw her first on the day I came of age, just after Adar first told me my true name and lineage. I was amazed at her loveliness. I thought at first she was Lúthien come to life. But I was but a mortal newly come to manhood, and she a great Lady among the Elves, the Evenstar of her people, who had dwelt among her mother’s folk in Lorien for over twenty years. The Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, after all, are parents to her mother.”

“Your brothers never mentioned her?”

“At times, but so obliquely I never understood their meaning. Adar never mentioned her in my presence. Elves rarely speak of those not present to those who do not know them without need. Such is not their way.”

Frodo nodded his understanding, and the subject was changed.

Often they would end either in the gardens for the Houses of Healing or in the Court of the White Tree. When the King brought the Ringbearer back to the guest house he would be relaxed and sleep deeply for a time; but the images he refused to share continued to plague him, and on nights of rain he’d dream one or another of the memories from his encounters with evil.

He told stories to the children who still came to spy on him, and to Lasgon and to Tergil and his small sister as well. He visited Master Iorhael’s shop, and on occasion went further down the city alone or with the King or with others from the Fellowship. He attended many of the King’s audiences and saw more trials, none of them so serious as those he’d already seen, however. He accompanied Merry a couple times when it was Merry’s duty to stand before the tomb where Théoden’s body lay; he went three times to watch the weapons practice, amazed at how good Merry and Pippin were becoming with their swords, thrilled to see the controlled skill Aragorn displayed.

He met important folk and unimportant folk as well, wrote his evaluations, tried to keep up his notes intended for Bilbo’s book, drew his pictures--Master Iorhael reading a book and another time dozing in his shop; Mistress Linduriel nursing her infant, both of them now plainly flourishing; Lasgon and Mistress Loren moving a couch; Gimli and Legolas lounging on the balcony, bickering familiarly; Sam working in one garden or another; Pippin on his duty; Merry with a book in his lap, looking up to tell a story he’d just learned; Gandalf standing on the keel of rock overlooking the vista of Gondor to the South and East, the breeze stirring his white hair, his face full of thought and joy. And at times he drew the images of his dreams and memories, taking care to burn them before his cousins or Sam could see.

He told Lasgon the story of the first meeting with the King, and drew a picture of Aragorn as he’d appeared then, the mysterious Strider the Ranger sitting in the dark corner of the Prancing Pony’s common room, his hood over his head, his eyes lit by the glow of the embers of his pipe. It was the first of several portraits he drew for the boy.

On occasion he’d visit the workshop of Master Celebrion, and he paid the Man the fee he’d indicated he desired for the candlesticks Frodo planned as wedding gifts for Faramir and Éowyn. He sometimes ate in the Citadel with Aragorn, either in the dining room or in the King’s own sitting room.

Aragorn had made some changes to the room. A couple chairs were replaced completely, and colors were now predominantly greens. A picture of a woodland hall seen through trees hung there now. He’d had new dishes made just for the Royal Wing, each painted with a depiction of the Two Trees of the Valar against dark blue set with seven stars. Crystals of amethyst, quartz, and many other gemstones stood on tables. A statue showing a figure of a woman seeming to grow out of a tree stood in a corner of the room. Legolas had long examined this figure, and had turned to look at Aragorn with an unfathomable expression in his eyes, the first time he saw it.

Aragorn was having a new robe made in dark green, simple and elegant, decorated not with embroidery but with a patchwork of squares on the yoke. After he and Frodo left the tailor’s shop where the robe was to be crafted they paused by a weaving room and looked into it. A great loom held on it the beginnings of a great blanket in soft blues and greens, and the King stopped at the sight of it. He went into the shop and he made inquiries regarding it. The weaver had just taken an impulse to weave such a thing--it was not commissioned for anyone in particular.

The King had smiled. “I would purchase it when it is completed, then,” he said; “or if you do not wish to sell this one I will commission another like to it. How long until it is done, do you think?”

Four days later Aragorn accepted delivery of it, and he took it into his own quarters, although Frodo noted it was not laid over his own bed.

Aragorn continued to wait for something, and neither he nor Gandalf would speak of what it was. But whatever it was he awaited, now he waited in joy--that was plain. The Hobbits were mad with curiosity; Legolas would simply stand there, his mouth closed but smiling mysteriously; and Gandalf simply laughed at them all and counseled continued patience. Gimli would just sit near an open window or downwind of Elf and Frodo, looking between the three of them who plainly knew, watching them in a calculated manner.

Prince Faramir was as curious as the Hobbits. “He tells me nothing,” he confided to Frodo, “but I’d hazard his lady is coming, whomever she might be. You have no idea?”

“None of us spoke on our journey of any we cared for,” Frodo explained. “Certainly Sam never mentioned Rosie Cotton, and Merry’s not mentioned any of those he’d been considering. I suspect in the end he’ll marry Estella Bolger, myself, although I can’t tell you why I think that.”

“And you, Frodo--whom would you consider?”

“Whom indeed?” Frodo said, shrugging. He gave a great sigh, rubbing at his shoulder. He was quiet for some time before he finally answered, “I doubt now I’ll ever take a wife.”

“Why not? Are you too old among your people to consider marriage?”

“Too old? No, not exactly--I’m but fifty, after all. But--but after what I’ve been through and how I am now.... Who would have me, Faramir? And on whom would I ever wish to inflict my nightmares and my uncertain health and my----” He didn’t finish.

“Your feelings of guilt?” suggested the Man.

Frodo didn’t answer, merely shrugged again as he looked out the nearest window.

It was with the healers he now found himself in contention. The Man who’d come to the house on the morning the White Tree was found had carried back to the Houses of Healing the description of Frodo’s condition and the scars he’d seen. Eldamir was not pleased, for he knew now that his fellows would not give Frodo any peace. On the next day Frodo came when the King did not they converged on him. Frodo was white with upset as he was coaxed to bare his scars and describe his symptoms. He left vowing not to return unless Aragorn was present, but the healers now pursued him. Every day one or another would come sometime during the course of the day to bring him one or another suggested remedy for the stomach upset or the recurring coldness in shoulder or the ache of hand and Morgul wound. Aragorn arrived as one was urging on Frodo the proposed benefits of rubbing a particular salve on the scars from the whip weals, and quickly sent him packing.

“What was that about?” he demanded, and an embarrassed Frodo confessed how the healers had developed an interest in his condition to him and to Sam. Aragorn left the guest house and went to the Houses of Healing where he demanded to speak to all. Now and then a draught would still appear by Frodo’s side as he was speaking to one or another of those who were served in the Houses of Healing, or a pot of balm would be left on the doorstep. Frodo appreciated the thoughtfulness at the same time he resented what he saw as their insistence on intruding into his life.

Aragorn still sent the morning draught via Eldamir, but Frodo would have to force himself to drink it, admitting that when he didn’t get it he did feel worse. But he wanted an end to it all. He only wished he could be well, and no longer have to deal with a stomach that without warning would become ill, a hand that spasmed from time to time, and a shoulder that ached to some extent almost constantly.

*******


Then one afternoon two of the errand riders came thundering through the gates of the Rammas Echor from Anorien, riding their horses up through the streets of the city, the folk of Minas Tirith scattering to allow them through until they reached the stable in the Sixth Circle. There they dismounted and hurried up the ramp to the Citadel.

“There is a riding of fair folk coming from the North,” one said as he knelt before the King, who stood by his companions near the Court of the White Tree. “They will arrive day after tomorrow, probably not long before sunset.”

“The day before Midsummer,” Aragorn murmured, his face alight with joy. “A fitting time.”

Prince Faramir shared a look with his uncle and then with Frodo. It appeared that the answer to the riddle of the King’s reticence would soon be made plain to all.

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