The characters are the property of the Tolkien Estate
A servant unlocked the Steward’s apartments as Aragorn approached at dawn the next day. It seemed that no sooner had he fallen asleep than he was roused by Imrahil’s squire.
Half asleep, he made his way to the highest level of the city, wondering why people set so much importance by appearance. Surely, the armour that Theoden had lent him would serve well enough?
Entering Denethor’s apartments was like stepping back in time, as the furnishings were much like they had been in his father Ecthelion’s lifetime, almost forty years before. The same heavy carved furniture, the imposing desk littered with papers, the dark heavy tapestries and the slightly musty smell, The rooms had a claustrophobic feel despite their size, as if fresh air were never allowed to enter.
Several servants carrying buckets were either entering or leaving the bathing chamber.
“Here you are my Lord,” said the servant escorting Aragorn, gesturing towards a huge sunken bath, filled with steaming water.” We have left soap and towels in the chamber for you. Do you require any other assistance?”
Aragorn shook his head.
“No, but thank you for all your help. I would be alone now. Please tell Prince Imrahil and his companions to wait here when they arrive”
The man bowed and exited followed by the others, one threw a curious glance at Aragorn, another looked resentful that any should use Denethor’s bath while the third looked totally indifferent.
Once they had gone, Aragorn locked the door behind him and started to divest himself of his clothing, the grey cloak the elves had gifted him, the tunic and trousers he had worn since Rivendell and the fine linens worn beneath, the only clue that here was a man of rank and status.
Gondor was chilly on a grey dawn in March and he shivered at the cold air on his naked flesh and quickly climbed down into the bath.
The hot water felt blissful as it was so long since he had been able to bathe properly and the warmth eased the aches in his arms and shoulders. Yet, there was little time to relax and enjoy the ease.
Sighing he picked up the soap and washcloth and began to rinse away the accumulated grime of travel and battle. His chest and arms remained darkened, not with grime but the many bruises he had acquired over the last few weeks.
He washed away the dried blood from several partially healed gashes, which the enemy had inflicted on him at Helm’s Deep. He was relieved they had not become infected as there had been so little time to treat them properly and so many others needs to attend to.
The warm water soothed his many hurts and he allowed himself a few brief moments to enjoy it, wondering if this were the last time, he would enjoy a bath like this. They were leaving on a fool’s errand today, which would most likely result in all their deaths and yet there was no other choice but to try to distract Sauron as to give Frodo a chance to destroy the One Ring.
He thought sadly of all his hopes and dreams of marrying Arwen and becoming King of a reunited kingdom. Kingship would be a heavy burden and yet he had looked forward to trying to bring peace and prosperity to the land.
These last few days had been the most arduous of a long and hard life. First, the confrontation in the palantir, which Pippin had picked up when Wormtongue threw it from the tower at Orthanc. Looking in the stone had almost cost the young Hobbit his life, yet had steeled Aragorn to do what he knew he must and show himself to Sauron as the lost heir of Isildur. The battle of wills had been waged throughout the night and Aragorn was utterly drained by it. Yet he emerged the victor as he bent the stone to his will.
There had been no time for rest though, for if the Captains of the West were to emerge victorious when Gondor was besieged and they were outnumbered, there was only one choice. Although he had outwardly appeared calm and controlled, Aragorn had felt the same chill of fear as those with him, when he rode the paths of the dead to summon the oath breakers, warriors who were cursed by his ancestor Isildur, never to rest until summoned by his heir to defend Gondor.
Again, his will had prevailed, but he was wearied both in body and spirit. There was still no rest after the battle of Pelennor Fields as many were wounded and under the shadow of the Black Breath, a malady that only the hands of the King could heal.
Stretching out his long legs, he leaned back in the bath, allowing his natural optimism to resurface. Though it seemed likely, he would die in the coming battle he hoped it would not be in vain and he was determined to die bravely, his sword in his hand, fighting against the Dark Lord’s minions. Faramir might yet rule Gondor in peace and prosperity.
He smiled at the thought, once he had recovered, he was certain Faramir would make a good Steward, as he sensed in him a man of rare quality after his own heart, a man he would gladly choose as friend if only the time were given him. The battle for Faramir’s life had been the hardest and drained him utterly, but it was a battle he had rejoiced in winning once he saw the look of love and knowledge on Faramir’s face when he awakened and looked into his eyes.
He washed his hair and reluctantly climbed out of the bath, wrapping a towel round himself as he did so. Once dried, he glanced down at his bruised body thinking he was scarcely in a fit condition to fight a battle, led alone lead one. But such was the lot of many in these evil times, be they common soldier or king.
He had requested that clean linen and a shirt and breeches be left here for him. He dressed in them quickly before Imrahil, Eomer, or Legolas could arrive, as he had no desire for them to see his injuries.
Eomer sneezed as he rooted through a heap of dusty armour, he cursed as he banged his knee against yet another ancient rusted breastplate.
Legolas continued to search diligently while Imrahil looked on, a worried frown creasing his usually serene features.
The vault was packed with armour, some of it very ancient and maybe even dating from when the heirs of Anarion had reigned in Gondor, but most of it was rusted and corroded and that which was wearable was made for someone much broader than Aragorn.
“It seems the Gondorian Kings of old enjoyed their state banquets!” remarked Eomer, kicking aside a breastplate, which looked as if it would have fitted both himself and Aragorn at the same time.
Eventually Legolas’ keen eyes spotted some suitable items and servants were summoned to clean and polish them.
They entered the chamber where Aragorn was awaiting them and made obeisance both as was the custom and as a token of respect to this modest yet noble heir to the ancient throne of kings.
If they were surprised that Aragorn was already dressed, they made no sign thinking maybe such was the custom of the reclusive Rangers from the North.
Aragorn accepted their homage, looking somewhat embarrassed that his comrades should kneel to him.
As the representative of Gondor Imrahil first belted on a full skirt of mail about Aragorn’s slender waist and a shirt of mail was put on that was tightened with leather points that laced through wide leather hems at the back, which were fastened by Eomer followed by a leather belt which Legolas buckled at the back of Aragorn’s neck. Fitted to this were Pauldrons of steel and leather edged in gold and etched with Gondorian motives and large steel and leather rerebraces fashioned to resemble the winged crown and seven stars of the king. Boromir’s vambraces completed the arm protection, those same vambraces, which Aragorn had sworn to carry in honour of his fallen comrade until the last battle was won or lost.
They worked in silence, each all too aware that this could be Aragorn’s and their last battle, one from which it was unlikely they would return.
Warriors all, they would gladly give their lifeblood for the hope of a better future that they would not live to see.
Then Imrahil unwrapped a beautiful black velvet cloak, lined with scarlet silk.
“Faramir bade me request that you wear this,” he said gravely. ”It belonged to Boromir and was made for the ceremony when he was promoted to Captain General of the Armies of Gondor. He wore it only once, but it is a garment fit for a king.”
Aragorn smiled sadly. ”It is beautiful.” He said.” I will be honoured to wear it.”
The King and Princes, who were serving as Aragorn’s attendants stood back and surveyed the results of their handiwork.
“You look magnificent, my friend!” Eomer exclaimed.” A true King!”
Imrahil nodded agreement.
“Something is missing!” exclaimed Legolas. ”Your hair should be braided in honour of Luthien, your elven ancestress! Will you permit me to do it? ”
Aragorn nodded and the Elf set to work, while Eomer and Imrahil looked on bemused.
When it was done, Eomer girded Anduril at his side and he was almost ready to depart, but first he had farewells to make.